And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” They are “the two olive trees” and the two lampstands, and “they stand before the Lord of the earth.” If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die. They have power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.
With these verses, John introduces two new characters to the vision. As is true with so much in Revelation, there are a great many notions about what these two witnesses represent. As is always the case in Revelation, we need to bear two things in mind as we investigate: First, Revelation is apocalyptic in nature, so our text is not literal but symbolic. Second, we must remember the context in which it falls: We are still in between the sixth and seventh trumpets, thus we are within the period of this present evil age that runs from John’s time to the return of Christ. With that in mind, we have some word searching to do!
Searching out the images in theses verses quickly revealed marked similarities between the witnesses and four Old Testament characters: Moses, Elijah, Joshua and Zerubbabel.
Notice verse 6; doesn’t that remind you of Moses, who turned the waters of the Nile to blood and brought plagues upon the land of Egypt, which as we’ve previously seen, represents the “world”? (see EX 7-12) Compare this also with what Elijah said in 1 KI 17:1: “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” The drought continued until the prophets of Baal were destroyed (1KI 18:45). Both Moses and Elijah were powerful prophets of God, and by connecting the two witnesses with them, John identifies them as mighty prophets of God’s Word. Joshua and Zerubbabel were powerful leaders of the Jewish community that returned to Jerusalem from the exile; this is not the Joshua who led the people into Canaan. Zerubbabel was a descendant of King David, governor (“king”) under Darius who led the returning Jews in the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. Joshua, a descendant of Aaron was the high priest in the rebuilt temple. God set these two apart saying, “These are the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth.” (Zech. 4:14) In this context, Zech 4, Joshua and Zerubbabel are being identified as the “two olive trees” and the “two lampstands” (Zech. 4:1-14 cf. Rev. 11:4). By linking these two to the two witnesses, the two witnesses not only symbolize mighty prophets, but kings and priests. Now, consider how they are linked with Christian saints in Rev. 8:3, whose prayers unleash the plagues of the six trumpets, and we must conclude that the two witnesses represent the church.
This theory is confirmed by what follows in Revelation 11:7 ff. in which the witnesses are persecuted and killed after their testimony is complete, which is the exact situation John has been telling us about in the present evil age, and of course we have the fact that their time is 1,260 days, the symbol of this age, as we saw in the previous post. Then there is the sackcloth they were, a symbol of mourning for the martyred saints that reminds us of what we saw in the interlude of the vision of the seven seals. Thus, throughout this age, Christians will serve in the church, a “kingdom of priests” as God’s prophets who deliver His message of reconciliation, the Gospel, to this world, just as in the earlier vision in which the rider on the white horse rode out in conquest throughout the world, with persecution close behind. In this connection, these words jump to mind:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
At this point, we only have a few images to clear up before we move on… First, why “two” witnesses? Remember that in the Old Testament two witnesses were required to establish truthful testimony (Deut. 19:15). Placing “two witnesses” here, John is showing that these are true witnesses of God’s message. Finally, we have the image of fire coming out of their mouths to devour any who try to harm them while they are giving their testimony. Consider what is coming out of their mouths; the Gospel message. The Gospel is both a message of love and redemption, for those who receive it, and a message of condemnation for those who decide to reject it. Anyone who seeks to harm the witness seeks to silence the message of redemption from God, and thus they must die by the Word of God, which is to say that they have sealed their eternal fate by rejecting God’s offer of mercy. This concept has Old Testament precedent in passages such as Jer. 5:14: ‘Therefore this is what the Lord God Almighty says:
“Because the people have spoken these words,
I will make my words in your mouth a fire
and these people the wood it consumes.”’
Next time, we will continue with the two witnesses; see you then!