The Two Witnesses
Who are the two witnesses of Revelation 11? When will they come? Will you know them? Or will you be deceived?
Much speculation has arisen since the Apostle John mentioned the two witnesses almost two thousand years ago. They will appear at the end of this age to give testimony (witness) of Christ prior to His return. They will have the power to call down fire from heaven and to smite the earth with plague. Over the centuries many have claimed to be one of the two witnesses only to disappoint their followers when the second witness didn’t appear, or they couldn’t call down fire upon their critics and Christ didn’t turn up on cue. So far all these false witnesses have come to naught and we still wait in expectation for the identity of the true witnesses to be revealed.
What does the Bible say about the two witnesses? John wrote, “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. And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed. These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.” (Revelation 11: 3-6).
For three and a half years they will prophesy, having the power to call fire down from heaven, cause drought, turning water to blood and striking the earth with plagues.
Two Olive Trees
Notice that John called them the ‘the two olive trees’, a term also used in the Book of Zechariah written some five centuries earlier. Zechariah was shown a golden lampstand that symbolized the spiritual power with which the Messiah will accomplish God’s promise to bring salvation to all the families of the earth, “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.” (Zechariah 4:2-3).
When Zechariah asked, “What be these two olive branches” he was told, “These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” (Zechariah 4:12, 14). Some translations call them “The two sons of the oil” (Darby, and Young’s Literal Translation). They are ‘sons of oil’ as opposed to sons of God, or sons of man. Oil represented God’s Holy Spirit which seems to indicate that these two sons of oil may be symbolic of spirit beings rather than human. They are depicted as ‘standing by’, or standing in the presence of the Lord (Christ) who is to be the King over this earth as the Book of Revelation reveals (Revelation 19:10-16, 20:4).
When Abraham received three visitors (Genesis 18:2) one was identified as the Lord (verse 13) and the other two as men (verses 22) and as angels (Genesis 19:1). The 'Lord' was the one who later became Christ and the two angels were His witnesses. They were sent to warn Lot and to call down fire from the Lord on the cities of Sodom and Gamorrah (Genesis 19:13 and 24). They witnessed the evil that existed in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah after which judgment was executed.
A similar configuration existed much later in ancient Israel when representations of two spirit beings were placed over the mercy seat from which God spoke to His people. Moses had been instructed to, “…make a mercy seat of pure gold: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof. And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat. And make one cherub on the one end, and the other cherub on the other end: even of the mercy seat shall ye make the cherubims on the two ends thereof. And the cherubims shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubims be.” (Exodus 25:17-20).
The tabernacle was patterned on what Moses had been shown (Exodus 25:9) which according to Paul was the pattern of heavenly things (Hebrews 8:5). It was understood that the mercy seat represented God's throne in heaven beside which stood two cherubim. It was from the mercy seat, between these cherubim, that the God of Israel spoke to His people, “And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel.” (verse 22).
Other passages also indicate that God dwelt between the cherubim (Numbers 7:89, I Samuel 4:4, Isaiah 37:16, Psalm 80:1 and 99:1). Significantly the tabernacle with its mercy seat and cherubim was described as the ‘tabernacle of witness’ (Numbers 17:7-8, II Chronicles 24:6) - the cherubim were witnesses to God’s presence.
The God of Israel, who had brought them out of Egypt was none other than Jesus Christ Himself as explained in I Corinthians 10:1-4. He was the one Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu (along with seventy elders) saw on Mt Sinai (Exodus 24:9-10). It could not have been the Father whom no man has seen (John 1:18).
The same configuration of two cherubim was continued in the temple built by Solomon. The Bible says that these cherubim were made from olive trees covered in gold, “And within the oracle he made two cherubims of olive tree, each ten cubits high.” (I Kings 6:23). This could account for both the prophet Zechariah and the Apostle John describing the two witnesses who stood by the symbolic lamp stand as two ‘olive branches’ , or ‘olive trees’. They were the witness who Zechariah said were “standing by the Lord of the whole earth” and described similarly by John as “standing before the God of the earth”.
When Jesus Christ returns at the end of this age as King of Kings He will rule over this earth (Revelation 19:10-16, 20:4). He is symbolized by the lampstand as being the spiritual light to the world (John 8:12, 9:5 and 12:46). The two olive trees that stand either side of the lamp are witnesses as were the two cherubim who stood by the mercy seat in the tabernacle of witness. These two who have witnessed His presence here on earth in the past are most likely to be the ones who witness at His return.
If these two witnesses are cherubim they will be manifested in the form of men which is how the prophet Ezekiel described the cherubim he saw, “Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man.” (Ezekiel 1:5).
It is also interesting that when Mary looked into Christ's tomb she saw, "two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of the Jesus had lain." (John 20:11-12). Bullinger compares these to the cherubim at either side of the mercy seat. And those who were with Christ when He ascended saw two men, or angelic beings who could have been cherubim manifested as men, “And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;” (Acts 1:10). They said to those present at the time, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (verse11). Throughout the history of this earth it appears that two witnesses stood by Him when He ruled Israel and during His life on earth as Jesus Christ. And having witnessed His ascent into heaven two thousand years ago will probably ‘in like manner’ witness to His return at the end of this age.
They will be the ones who will powerfully pronounce his return, “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. And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed.” (Revelation 11:3-5).
It is during their witnessing at the end of this age that the gospel of the Kingdom of God will be preached to all the world, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” (Matthew 24:14). This is something that man has not yet achieved!
Although the Bible does not definitely say whether the two witnesses will be angelic beings or human there is enough evidence in the Bible to suggest that they will most likely be angelic beings. But some may have difficulty with the concept of spirit beings being killed and resurrected, which is prophesied for the two witnesses (Revelation 11:7-11). However, we need look no further than the example of Jesus Christ who had a spiritual pre-existence, became human and was later killed then after three days was resurrected back to a spiritual existence.
As the world moves closer to the end-time configuration will we see more false witnesses pronouncing Christ’s return? According to the Bible many shall preach in the name of Christ yet deceiving many “For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.” – “And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.” (Matthew 24:5 see also 11). Some false prophets will be so convincing that even the elect are in danger of being deceived, “Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” (Matthew 24:23-24). The words “Lo, here is Christ, or there” indicate that they will proclaim his return and predict when this event will take place as Luke confirms, “…for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them.” (Luke 21:8). This is exactly what many are doing today, the more blatant of which are those who claim to be one of the two witnesses. Luke says not to follow these false prophets who make such predictions.
The two witnesses are coming to give testimony (Revelation 11:7). God requires two witnesses to give testimony under His law, one alone has no validity (Deuteronomy 17:6 and Mathew 18:16). Those who claim to be one of the two witnesses have no validity unless there is a second witness.
The Church is warned to beware of men because they may not be what they seem, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” (Matthew 7:15).
They are filled with the vanity of their own words, “Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.” (Ephesians 5:6).
They will make merchandise of those who follow them, “And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you:” (II Peter 2:3).
Those who think they may be wise in these matters are warned not to deceive themselves, “Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.” (I Corinthians 3:18). This includes all who claim to be apostles, prophets, special witnesses, or anointed ones.
Pray that you will not be deceived and that you will be led into truth so that you will recognize the true witnesses when God sends them to announce the soon coming return of His son.