Revelation 11 is probably the most important chapter of the prophecy of Revelation. Almost everything else in this prophecy, from chapter 11 to chapter 22, depends on how we understand this present chapter. And thus we must not be in a hurry when we study this chapter.
This article will deal with the question: who are the two witnesses or Revelation 11?
In Revelation 11:3-4 God introduces us to:
The Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:1-4, James 1:5, 1 John 4:3, Luke 1:17, Matthew 17:12)
But these are not any two run of the mill witnesses. God says these are “My Two Witnesses.”
Let us begin in context in Revelation 11:1:
And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein.
But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.
And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.
These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.
Who is speaking these words?
Do you know that the last verse of chapter 10 says, “And He said unto me, Thou must prophesy again”.
Who was saying this?
It was the messenger who has His right foot upon the sea and His left foot upon the earth. Careful bible study brings one to the conclusion that this was not an angel. This was the Lord Jesus Christ. And thus it is the Lord Jesus Christ who is saying in chapter 11:3, “My Two Witnesses”. And in your King James Bible you can see that the word “power” in verse 3 is written in italics, which means that it is not a word that appears in the original Greek manuscripts, but it was a suggestion by the translators.
Literally the Greek text in the first half of verse 3 reads as follows, “And I will give unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy”. Or paraphrased we would interpret this portion to read, “I will give unto My two witnesses all that they need so that they may not keep silence, but witness for Me and My cause in the midst of this wicked world, which has no knowledge of Me and of My cause”.
Christ gives His two witnesses all that they need to be witnesses.
The very important question that is now before us is this:
Who are these two witnesses?
Who do they represent?
Do they represent two individuals, or do they represent a group of people?
Well, we should not be guessing about their identity. The context should identify who these two witnesses represent. That should always be our mode of interpretation.
We should never rely on our own imagination, for “the heart of man is deceitful and desperately wicked”. All questions in the Revelation of Jesus Christ must be explained by their immediate context and by the rest of the Word of God, and we pray that God the Holy Spirit will indeed enlighten our minds if we will diligently seek His help.
God says in James 1:5: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him”.
This is God’s promise to us, and we strongly believe that God will keep His promise. Therefore it is amazing to me that there have been so many different interpretations of the identity of these two witnesses.
Allow me to mention just three of the many views that have been popular, but would lead us on a side track, because they have not compared Scripture with Scripture.
We see from the context that these witnesses must continually witness until the end of time. Since in verse 7 these two witnesses are killed, some say that this chapter refers to the literal destruction of Jerusalem, and that this destruction of Jerusalem is a picture of the Judgment of the Last Day.
We can dismiss this interpretation immediately, because Jerusalem was already destroyed when John received this vision. Moreover this interpretation would apply only to a short period of time, and not to the entire New Testament period of time.
A second group of people have suggested that this chapter refers to the struggle during the Protestant Reformation. They suggest that the two witnesses are the Old Testament and the New Testament. For a long time these witnesses sound their testimony against the gradually growing corruption in the Roman Catholic Church, but it is all in vain. The corruption continues to grow, and eventually the witnesses are killed. This interpretation is popular with all who see in the pope the Antichrist. Now we know that the Antichrist exists already, for John speaks about him in 1 John 4:3.
But the error of this interpretation is exactly that it limits itself to just the period of what man calls the Reformation. It is not true that the pope is the only manifestation of the Antichrist. Therefore we would deceive ourselves and please the Devil if we would merely look at the Romish Church as the domain of Antichrist.
A third group of people have suggested that the two witnesses are Moses and Elijah, or Enoch and Elijah, who shall return to this sin cursed earth in a literal sense. And so these interpreters believe that both Moses and Elijah, or Enoch and Elijah, will return to earth bodily, and they will once more witness of the name of the Most High in a time of great apostasy, and they will be killed by Antichrist. However these interpreters have not understood that Moses and Elijah were only types of the two witnesses.
That is why God said through the mouth of Zechariah about his son John the Baptist in Luke 1:17: “And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just.”
And that is why the Lord Jesus said about John the Baptist in Matthew 17:12-13, “But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.”
And so, we should not interpret the words in Revelation 11 as if Elijah is going to be literally reincarnated. In fact, Enoch and Elijah and Noah and Moses and many others must be taken as types of the witnesses who are mentioned in Revelation 11.
Let us now look again at Revelation 11:3.
I Will Give That They Shall Prophesy (Revelation 11:3, Romans 8:31-32)
That is literally what we should read here in Revelation 11:3.
And I will give (power) unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.
We must see this verse in the context of verses 1 and 2. From verses 1 and 2 we understand that Jerusalem stands for the world of Christendom. All that stands outside the court of the temple in Jerusalem is symbolic for the false church, which is that part of Christendom which claims to belong to Christ, but in the meantime they trample under foot the blood of Christ and they deny the great truths of atonement and redemption in the blood of the Saviour. All those who add or take away from the Word of God, the Bible, fall in this category of the false church.
Secondly, the outer court of the temple is symbolic for the show-church, the hypocrites, who indeed enter the temple in the outward sense, but never worship in spirit and in truth. They are people who are going to a faithful church, hear the Gospel every Sunday, but are never converted. These two groups, the false church and the show-church, essentially belong together.
Thirdly, the temple proper stands for the true church of Jesus Christ. They are people who are truly saved and who truly are the Bride of Christ. They love and honor the church, the body of believers, the fellowship of the saints, which is the manifestation of Christ’s Kingdom here on earth. This is the church that Christ purchased, for which He suffered and died on the cross. Take a good look at these three groups of people, of which the third group really is the smallest in number.
This has been the condition of the world of Christianity ever since the 1st century AD. But toward the end of time the fraction of true believers will be smaller than at any time before, because Satan will have been released from his prison of stupidity.
It is during the entire New Testament period of time, indicated by the 42 months, that the two witnesses give their testimony. It is therefore a testimony which arises from the true church, from the midst of the true spiritual children of God. It is a testimony which must serve two purposes:
First, it must testify against the wickedness of the false church and the show-church, a testimony which preaches Hell and damnation to all who do not believe on Jesus Christ as the King and Redeemer, and all who do not believe the whole Bible as the Word of God.
Secondly, at the same time it is a testimony which must serve to strengthen the true believers. And the time of their testimony, although being of the same length as the 42 months and the 3½ years, is nevertheless expressed in terms of days, 1260 days, shows that it is a continual testimony which they give.
Therefore, when we search for the identity of the two witnesses, we must look for the following characteristics:
First of all, the testimony for which we must look is a continual testimony, from the exaltation of Christ to His second coming. It is a testimony which is naturally heard from the true church of Christ, not from the city at large, not from the outer court, but from the temple building proper.
Secondly, it is a testimony of sin and repentance against the false church and the show-church. These witnesses are preachers of repentance, as indicated by their being girded with sackcloth. This is how the truth of Christ goes forth.
But why does Christ say: “And I will give unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy”?
Let's now go the Epistle to the Romans, Romans 8:31. We can summarize Romans 8 as written for our comfort. God begins this chapter 8 declaring that we are free from the Law that would send us to Hell on account of our sins. Then He continues to identify who the children of God are, and that they long for the day of the redemption of our body.
Then God writes in the final verses of this chapter that in this life we can have assurance of our salvation. He says in Romans 8:31-32...
What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
“How shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” - That is true. God shall give us all things in the life hereafter. There will not be anything left, so that there will not be any extra rewards for “our good works” done in this life. But not only in the life hereafter will God lavish His graces upon us. Already in this life has God given us Christ, and with Him God has given us all things that we need to remain faithful to Him. That means He has already given us all things we need to be good stewards of the Word of God, and He has given us all things to be good witnesses for Christ.
And now we can understand why He said in Revelation 11:3: “And I will give unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy”.
He shall give to His two witnesses all that they need to faithfully declare the whole counsel of God.
In Revelation 11:4 the Lord Jesus Christ said that the two witnesses are:
The Two Candlesticks (Revelation 11:4, Revelation 1:20, Revelation 2:5, Matthew 5:16, Daniel 9:27)
These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.
What does He mean by that?
What is the meaning of a candlestick in this prophecy of Revelation?
The Lord Jesus said very clearly in Revelation 1:20 that the candlestick represents the local church.
The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels (or messengers) of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.
In other words, the candlestick is not a mysterious object in heaven representing the local church on earth, but the church is the candlestick.
The group of truly saved individuals in that local church is symbolized by a candlestick. If God takes away the candlestick of that church, like in Revelation 2:5, it means that God will remove the core of truly saved individuals out of that local church.
Why does God identify a church with a candlestick?
Is this not a fitting illustration of the work that God has given to a church?
The Lord Jesus commanded us in Matthew 5:16 that we must, “let our light so shine before men, that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father which is in Heaven.”
It is in such a way that we must bring the Gospel that we do not get the glory, but that our Father which is in heaven gets the glory. And thus we begin to see the identity of the two witnesses of Revelation 11.
If the two witnesses are identified with two candlesticks, then at minimum the two witnesses represent two faithful churches, but certainly there are not just two local churches in the world that are faithfully proclaiming the true Gospel throughout the New Testament period of time. There are many who remain faithful until the Lord comes. And thus we have a strong indication here that the two witnesses represent the church worldwide consisting of only the true believers, those who have been redeemed at the cross and who have been “Born Again” at some point in time during the New Testament period of time.
And they preach their message “for a thousand two hundred and threescore days.”
How long is that?
If we take a month to be 30 days then 1260 days is 3½ years. And these 3½ years are symbolic for the entire New Testament period of time.
In Daniel 9:24-27 God gave Daniel a prophecy of the timing of the first coming of Christ. Instead of the word “week” we should read the word “seven”, referring to seven years But then the last “seven” is divided into two entities of 3½ years. The first 3½ years refers to the 3½ years of Christ’s ministry. But the last 3½ years refers to the entire New Testament period of time.
And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make (it) desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.
Because of the overspreading of abominations Christ shall make desolate, since the word “it” is in italics.
Who or what shall He make desolate?
The people who have given themselves over to these abominations shall be made desolate, “even until the consummation”, which means even until the end of time when all unrighteousness shall be consumed. “And that determined” refers to “That which was decreed” shall be poured upon the desolate, meaning Hell shall be poured upon the desolate.
Clearly the last 3½ years are symbolic for the entire New Testment time period. So far in Revelation 11 we have seen 42 months and 1260 days, which both refer to the last 3½ years of Daniel 9:27. And thus we know that the two witnesses of Revelation 11 are preaching the Gospel continuously during the entire New Testament time period.
Can we have a confirmation of these conclusions?
Let us remind ourselves of the words of Revelation 11:4.
The Lord Jesus Christ says in Revelation 11:4: “These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.”
These words are a clear reference to the prophecy of Zechariah.
The Word of the Lord Unto Zerubbabel (Zechariah 4:1-10)
Who was Zerubbabel?
Zerubbabel was the son of Shealtiel, and he was the grandson of king Jehoiachin. But Jehoiachin was taken captive and brought to Babylon, where he died. That left Zerubbabel as the heir to the throne of Judah.
But Zerubbabel never ascended to the throne, according to the curse God put on his great grandfather Jehoiakim. When the Medes and the Persians under the leadership of Cyrus overthrew Babylon, Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to their homeland, and he appointed Zerubbabel to be the governor of the colony. Zerubbabel was in charge of the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the temple. At that time Joshua the High Priest was the religious leader of the colony. And here in Zechariah 4 we have The Word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel.
And the angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep,
And said unto me, What seest thou? And I said, I have looked, and behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof:
And two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof.
So I answered and spake to the angel that talked with me, saying, What are these, my lord?
Then the angel that talked with me answered and said unto me, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord.
Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.
Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it.
Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto you.
For who hath despised the day of small things? For they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the LORD, which run to and fro through the whole earth.
The prophet Zechariah received a vision. He sees in the vision a candlestick with seven lamps. Above the candlestick he sees a golden bowl, or reservoir, filled with oil. This bowl of oil above the candlestick is connected with the lamps by means of seven pipes, through which they are supplied with oil from the bowl in order to give light. He sees also on each side of the bowl an olive tree. These olive trees are again connected with the bowl above the candlestick, so that from them the oil continuously pours into the bowl, and from the bowl into the lamps. That is the vision: a candlestick receiving its oil from a bowl above it, which in turn receives its oil from the two olive trees.
What is the meaning of this vision?
The general meaning is a message to Zerubbabel, as expressed in verse 6: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.”
After the captives returned with joy from Babylon Zerubbabel must be instrumental in the rebuilding of the temple. But in this work the Jews are opposed by heathen tribes around them, and they end up getting the entire imperial world power against them, so that they have to stop the building of the temple. But now, in this vision, Zerubbabel receives the message that by the Spirit of the Lord the opposition of the world power shall be brought to nothing, the temple shall be rebuilt and the Kingdom of God restored. In addition, the general meaning of the vision is that although the Lord employs human instruments, nevertheless the completion of His Kingdom is not the work of human hands, but it is the work of His own Spirit.
The candlestick must give light, and thus the bowl and the olive trees and the pipes are necessary, but what would they be without the oil?
And so it is with the church and with the Kingdom of God. The church as such and the servants of the Lord and the preaching of the word are all necessary.
But what would they be without the Holy Spirit?
They could not shine the light of their testimony in the church and in the world.
And thus, what is the meaning of the candlestick?
The candlestick in the temple, and before that in the tabernacle, was symbolic of the people of God shining their knowledge of God and their testimony in the midst of an Old Testament world engulfed in darkness. In the New Testament it is symbolic of the church of Christ letting its light shine in the midst of a world of darkness and unbelief. The church is that light, a testimony of the truth of God. And thus the two witnesses of Revelation 11 represent the church, the body of believers.
But who are the two olive trees?
Let us continue here in Zechariah 4 and read the verses relating to:
The Two Olive Trees (Zechariah 4:11-14, Revelation 1:6, Revelation 11:4)
Then answered I, and said unto him, What are these two olive trees upon the right side of the candlestick and upon the left side thereof?
And I answered again, and said unto him, What be these two olive branches which through the two golden pipes empty the golden oil out of themselves?
And he answered me and said, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord.
Then said he, These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth.
In the first place, the two anointed ones who are always standing before the Lord of the whole earth are servants of God. It also means that they especially are the ones who are ready to serve the Lord before the whole world with their testimony in word and deed. In the second place we learn that they are anointed servants of the Lord.
What does that mean?
It means that they are officially called and ordained for service. They are divine media through which the people of God receive the blessings of God’s mercy and grace, especially the blessing of the knowledge of God. In the Old Testament there were only two who were thus officially anointed to be servants in that Old testament hierarchy, namely the king and the high priest.
It is for that reason that many interpreters take the two olive trees to represent Zerubbabel the prince and Joshua the high priest. But that would be an interpretation that is too narrow in its time.
What do the two olive trees represent in our time?
Obviously, since all the New Testament believers have been made kings and priests unto God, according to Revelation 1:6, the two olive trees are evidently none other than the divinely ordained and called true ministers of the Word, who must serve as media to supply the church with light. Therefore let us turn again to Revelation 11:4. The two witnesses are not only the two olive trees, and they are not only the two candlesticks, but they are both. The olive trees are not identical to the candlesticks, but the olive trees and the candlesticks cannot be separated. We read in:
These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.
The two olive trees and the two candlesticks together are the two witnesses of Christ in the world. With these words referring to Zechariah 4, if I may paraphrase the Lord is saying:
In the New Testament dispensation I appointed over My people undershepherds who shall feed My people, Israel, and lead them in rich pastures, and in paths of righteousness for My name’s sake, that I may be glorified. My people shall witness of Me and I shall call them “My two candlesticks”, since they are shining as Gospel-lights in the world. And the undershepherds whom I have divinely appointed and ordained I call shall call them “My two olive trees”, since they always serve Me as “the two anointed ones that stand by the Lord of the whole earth”.
And thus we can conclude, on the basis of Scripture, that the candlesticks and the olive trees together are the church of Christ throughout this dispensation. And thus the two witnesses are the congregation together with the divinely ordained servants of the Word, the true ministers of the Gospel, who must serve the Lord as media to supply the congregation with oil for their lamps.
If we understand this the whole passage of Revelation 11:1-4 is rather clear. Christ is giving us a Word of comfort and a Word of warning. The Word of warning is this:
First of all, they are not all Israel that are called Israel and not all is Christendom that calls itself by that name. There is a large mass of so called Christians who laugh at the truths of Christianity and of the truths of Scripture, who renounce the Savior and who crucify Him anew.
Secondly there are in the visible church proper the hypocrites, scattered and hidden among the true people of God. They are dangerous people, who really belong to the enemy, who shall ultimately openly unite with the power of the Antichrist, but who cannot yet be detected.
If this is the condition of the church, then who shall be able to stand?
Shall there be any true church in the future?
But this passage gives us also a Word of comfort, which is this:
Even in the blackest darkness of night the temple proper is still standing, for John was commanded to measure it. Even in the blackest darkness of night the two witnesses are still standing. The Lord shall keep His church even to the end of the world as a shining light. And not only the two candlesticks but also the two olive trees shall remain. The Lord shall not leave His church without its faithful servants. These faithful servants, represented by the two olive trees, shall instruct the congregation in the whole counsel of God, and thus shall serve as media to supply the congregation with the oil of knowledge necessary to let their light shine. Moreover, it shall be especially through them, the two olive trees, that the church shall testify. They shall testify and witness in the midst of the world and they shall testify in the midst of the apostate church, and they shall not hesitate to name names.
What Must They Witness Of? (1 Corinthians 2:2, 1 Corinthians 2:14, Isaiah 46:10, John 17:9, John 14:6, Matthew 1:21)
And what must WE witness of?
In the 1st Epistle to the Corinthians God urges the believers to be of the same mind.
What does He mean by that?
He does not say we must compromise, for throughout chapter 1 of this Epistle He says repeatedly that we were called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ. And thus the element of election is introduced from the first page of this Epistle. We must not compromise on this doctrine of Scripture, but we must be of the same mind on this doctrine.
Then we read in 1 Corinthians chapeter 2:
1 Corinthians 2:2
For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
This is an astounding verse. It means that if we understand the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have practically all the truths the Apostle Paul considers we need to know for our salvation.
Is that really so?
A question that many ask is this: Did Christ pay for the sins of every human being in the world?
Let us consider this question with this verse in the context where it is found. Chapters 1 and 2 focus rather heavily on the wisdom of God. But then we come to verse 14.
1 Corinthians 2:14
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
This tells us that the natural man, the way every human being is born into this world, cannot receive spiritual things, for they are foolishness to him. That is how God in His wisdom made man. It means that every human who died outside of Christ is destined for Hell, because he is unable to repent and to come to saving faith, for it is all foolishness to him, and thus he will die in his sins.
And thus when we witness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified, no one will listen. No one will believe that it is a serious matter; that it is a matter of eternal glory or eternal Hell.
If God does not intervene, the sinner will end up in Hell, and God would be perfectly righteous in sending him there.
Does Christ know who of the human population will turn to Him in faith?
Absolutely yes, for those are the human beings in whose life He interferes.
Does Christ know who of the human beings who do not come to Him in faith?
Absolutely yes, for He is a God who declares the end from the beginning, as He has said in Isaiah 46:10.
Would Christ then suffer and die for the sins of all those who do not turn to Him in faith?
Would He endure the equivalent of an eternity in Hell for those of whom He knows that they themselves are going to Hell?
Of course not!
Christ did not pay for their sins, for He said in His high priestly prayer, “I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given Me” (John 17:9).
And when Christ said in John 14:6, “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me”, does that not imply that of all those nations who came into existence and died in a Christless universe before the birth of Christ, none will enter into heaven, because “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me”?
And that is absolutely true. The plain teaching of the Word of God is that Christ shed His blood for many, but not for all mankind. Of this we must witness. When the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world, He came, “to save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
And who are His people?
If His people represent the Jews, then I would fall by the wayside, because I am not of Jewish stock. But the plain teaching of the Bible is that God put on Christ the guilt of all the sins of all His elect people. These are the ones for whom He came to pay the ransom that the Law of God demanded. The Law of God demanded a payment of an eternity in Hell for each sin committed. The righteousness of God demanded that the penalty must be paid in full. Therefore the Lord Jesus in His soul had to suffer the equivalent of an eternity in Hell for our sins. But since He is God He was able to pay such a severe penalty.
And when He rose from the grave, it proved that He was successful in paying this severe penalty in full.
Of this we must witness!
We must be prepared to find that men do not want to listen to the plain teaching of the Word of God. For this reason we must be prepared to find that there will be a great apostasy near the end of time, for people calling themselves Christians will not listen to the plain teaching of the Word of God.
By Alfred Chompff