THE SYMBOLISM OF THE TWO WITNESSES (EXCERPT OF IT IS TIME FOR A REFORMATION OF CHRISTIAN THINKING)
From: It Is Time for a Reformation of Christian Thinking
Copyright © 1991 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
It is believed commonly that the two witnesses of Revelation, Chapter 11 are two men from ancient times who will descend from Heaven, or who will be raised from the dead, in order to bear witness of the coming of the Kingdom of God to the earth. We find it more reasonable to believe that the anointed ones are a symbolic way of representing the power of the Holy Spirit to bear witness.
If we are correct in our interpretation, the eleventh chapter of the Book of Revelation is describing a double portion of God’s witnessing power that will enable the saints of the last days to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom for a testimony to every nation on the earth.
We saints are one witness, and the Lord Jesus who works with us and confirms the Word with signs following is the second Witness.
“And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days [3½ years], clothed in sackcloth.” (Revelation 11:3)
It is believed commonly that the “two witnesses” are two men from ancient times who will descend from Heaven, or who will be raised from the dead, in order to bear witness of the coming of the Kingdom of God to the earth. This understanding is based in part on the resemblance of the deeds of the two witnesses to the deeds of former witnesses of God, such as Elijah and Moses.
There are some problems with this interpretation.
First, the text of the eleventh chapter of the Book of Revelation does not speak of two witnesses coming down from Heaven or being raised from the dead. The assumption in the passage is that they have been present but now are empowered to prophesy.
Second, Jesus declared that he who is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than any of the prophets. Also, the Book of Hebrews points out the superiority of the new covenant to the old covenant.
Why would the Lord Jesus, at this most critical period of earth’s history, resort to persons from an inferior covenant to bear the end-time witness of the soon coming of the Kingdom of God to the earth? The responsibility for bearing witness of the coming of the Kingdom of God belongs to the Christian Church.
Although the message of the two witnesses is not described, it no doubt will be as follows: “Christ will return soon in the power and glory of His Kingdom to judge all men. Repent and be baptized so you may be saved in the Day of the Lord!” This was the message of the apostles and prophets of the early Church.
If Christ were to recall two men to bear this witness they probably would be Paul and Peter, or perhaps James and John. A possible combination might be Paul and Elijah. However, Jesus informed us that many who are last in time will be first in rank in the Kingdom of God. Therefore we feel certain there will be saints in the last days whom Christ will use to proclaim the soon coming of the Kingdom of God to the earth.
A third reason for not accepting the common understanding is that nowhere in the Scriptures, Old Testament or New Testament, is the statement made that two prophets from former times will return to the earth and bear what well may be the most important witness of all history. There is no scriptural basis for the current teaching. It is conjecture.
Are the members of the Body of Christ so spiritually weak they cannot be trusted with such a tremendous work? Or are they so “precious” in God’s sight that God cannot bear to have them perform a dangerous task?
The fourth objection may be the most convincing. It is that there are statements in the Scriptures themselves that reveal the meaning of the two witnesses. In these passages, the two witnesses are not portrayed as two men who will come down from Heaven and preach on the earth.
These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. (Revelation 11:4)
Two olive trees and two lampstands. The reference here is to the fourth chapter of the Book of Zechariah.
And he said to me, “What do you see?” So I said, “I am looking, and there is a lampstand of solid gold with a bowl on top of it, and on the stand seven lamps with seven pipes to the seven lamps.
“Two olive trees are by it, one at the right of the bowl and the other at its left.” (Zechariah 4:2,3)
Zechariah asked the angel the meaning of the golden lampstand and the two attending olive trees.
Then the angel gave the meaning of the vision to Zechariah.
Notice carefully that the angel did not say, These are two prophets of God who will return to the earth in the latter days and announce the soon coming of the Kingdom of God to the earth.
Rather, the angel declared:
So he answered and said to me: “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 4:6)
The immediate application of the vision was to the rebuilding of the Temple of Solomon after the Babylonian captivity. The Lord was informing the builders that it was God’s Spirit who would accomplish the work of restoration.
The prophecies of Zechariah concern Christ and His Kingdom. Therefore we apply the above interpretation of the vision to the work of the Kingdom of God.
The meaning of Revelation 11:4 and Zechariah 4:2,3 is stated in the Scriptures. It is that the work of God, in particular the finishing of the work of building the house of God, will be accomplished by the Spirit of God and not by the efforts of men. This is the interpretation of the “two witnesses” of Revelation, Chapter Eleven.
The two witnesses of Revelation are clothed in sackcloth. God’s “witnesses” of today often are arrayed in the most expensive of clothing, drive the finest of automobiles, and attempt to live as wealthy people. If our understanding is correct, the day of the “big preacher” is drawing to a close. The massive “latter rain” revival at hand will utilize the humblest of people. The Lord alone shall be exalted in that Day!
The number two signifies the double portion of God’s power that will abide on the saints who bear the end-time witness of the soon return of Christ in His Kingdom. Two speaks of the validity of the witness:
“One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established. (Deuteronomy 19:15)
Also, of the power of God:
God has spoken once, Twice I have heard this: That power belongs to God. (Psalms 62:11)
The latter-rain revival is the “second” prophecy (see Revelation 10:11), the first prophecy (former rain) being the revival of the Book of Acts.
The symbolism of the two witnesses is related to the two wave loaves of the feast of Pentecost (Leviticus 23:17), and also to the double portion that rested on the Prophet Elisha. The life of Elisha is strongly typical of the ministry of the two witnesses.
For example, there is the incident in which two bears (two witnesses) slew forty-two lads (II Kings 2:24). The number forty-two is symbolic of the forty-two months during which the two witnesses will prophesy.
An “Elijah” portion of anointing rested on the saints of the first century—a “former” (planting) rain of the Spirit. An “Elisha” portion will abide on the saints of the last days—a “latter” (harvest) rain of the Spirit.
James 5:7 associates the “latter rain” with the “coming of the Lord.” The latter-rain downpour of God’s Spirit, the outpouring of Joel 2:28, cannot be found in the Book of Revelation except for the two witnesses of the eleventh chapter.
The “two olive trees” are the two “anointed ones” who stand by the Lord of the whole earth (Zechariah 4:14). Only Elijah and Elisha used the expression, “the Lord God before whom I stand.”
However, it is difficult for us to accept the idea that the two sons of oil are Elijah and Elisha from Heaven. These two prophets are not going to return to earth and preach the message assigned to the members of the Body of Christ. It is possible that God may place the spirit and power of Elijah and Elisha on the saints of the last days as He placed the spirit and power of Elijah on John the Baptist (Luke 1:17).
We find it more reasonable to believe that the anointed ones, while they may be two cherubim through whom the Holy Spirit continually anoints Christ—Head and Body, actually are a symbolic way of representing the power of the Holy Spirit to bear witness.
We believe this to be true because the golden Lampstand of the Tabernacle of the Congregation typifies the fullness of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit of God who abides on Christ.
It is not likely that Christ is anointed continually by Elijah and Elisha. More reasonably, Elijah and Elisha were a reflection on the earth of the Spirit of Christ in Heaven.
The golden Lampstand of the fourth chapter of the Book of Zechariah, and the lampstands of the first and eleventh chapters of the Book of Revelation, can symbolize only Christ, the Anointed One of God, and the churches that are an integral part of His Personality. A lampstand, being solid gold, cannot typify humanity. Gold always symbolizes the Person, the Substance, of Deity.
It is our point of view that the fact there is only one lampstand in the fourth chapter of Zechariah, but two lampstands in the eleventh chapter of Revelation, suggests that the second lampstand is the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ was not in existence at the time of Zechariah’s prophecy. There was only the one Lampstand, representing Christ Himself.
To those who may object that the Body of Christ is human and not Divine let us submit that the Body of Christ indeed is Divine. The Body has been fashioned from the body and blood of Christ, not from the fallen human nature of man. The testimony of God always is of God Himself even though it is borne by human beings.
To those who may object that Christ cannot be overcome and killed (Revelation 11:7), let us remind the reader that the eleventh chapter is a symbolic vision no matter what one’s interpretation may be. It is not that Christ Himself is overcome and killed or that a true member of His Church can be harmed by Antichrist (unless the saint is deceived and walks out from under the protection of God.)
The eleventh chapter of Revelation is speaking of the overcoming of the testimony, of the witnessing power of the majority of the believers, by means of the subtlety and viciousness of Antichrist. Christ Himself never can be harmed, but His followers indeed can be overcome (and indeed are being overcome in the present hour) by the world and the spirit of Antichrist. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament teach that the saints will be overcome in the last days.
He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute [wear down] the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law. Then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time. (Daniel 7:25)
It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation. (Revelation 13:7)
What happens to the saint happens to Christ, according to the Scriptures. When the saints are in prison, Christ is in prison. When they are thirsty, He is thirsty. When they are sick, He is sick (Matthew 25:45).
If we are correct in our interpretation, the eleventh chapter of the Book of Revelation is describing a double portion of God’s witnessing power that will enable the saints of the last days to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom for a testimony to every nation on the earth. We saints are one witness. The Lord Jesus who works with us and confirms the Word with signs following is the second Witness.
And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen. (Mark 16:20)
This is similar to the pattern of Jesus and the Father working together:
“I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me.” (John 8:18)
The end-time witness will be borne, and when it is finished God will permit Antichrist to overcome the testimony for a season. The “bodies” of the witnesses lying in the “street of the great city” refer, we believe, to the Christian institutions, such as churches and schools, that Antichrist will subsidize but that will be void of the witnessing power of the Holy Spirit.
Only the strongest, most faithful of the saints will survive Antichrist’s season of temptation.
As soon as God determines that wickedness has come to the full He will enter His true remnant of saints in the sight of the wicked of the earth (including the worldly “Christians”). Now will come to pass that which is written:
The LORD also will roar from Zion [body of Christ], and utter His voice from Jerusalem; the heavens and earth will shake; but the LORD will be a shelter for His people, and the strength of the children of Israel. (Joel 3:16)
Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you.
For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the LORD will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. (Isaiah 60:1,2)
After the testimony of the resurrection of the saints has been given, God will raise His witnesses from the earth until a cloud hides them from sight, just as the Lord Jesus was taken up until a “cloud received him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9; Revelation 11:12).
The wicked, beholding the awesome majesty of the Lord, will be terrified; but this is just the beginning of their torment.
Now will commence the Day of God’s wrath and the work of judging the dead. Now will the kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.
(“The Symbolism of the Two Witnesses”, 3738-1)