Who are the “Two Witnesses” of Revelation 11?
Revelation is a prophetic book of signs and symbols filled with allusions to the Old Testament. To understand these allusions, we must let Scripture interpret Scripture.
“The two witnesses… are the two olive trees and the two lampstands” (Revelation 11:4). This a clear allusion to the “two olives trees” in Zechariah which are “the word of the Lord” (Zechariah 4:3-6). The “two lampstands” are also an apt representation of the Scriptures. David says, “The entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130) and “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).
Throughout the Bible, the Word of God is portrayed as having a twofold nature. The Ten Commandments were written on “two tablets of stone” (Exodus 34:1). The Old Testament is referred to as “the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40). The Word of God is likened to a “two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). The Scriptures are a combination of humanity and divinity (2 Peter 1:21). And Jesus, the Word made flesh (John 1:14) is both human and divine.
During the 1260 days [literal years] of Roman Catholic supremacy, 538 AD to 1798, the two witnesses prophesied in “sackcloth” (Revelation 11:3). Sackcloth was the garb of prophets (Zechariah 13:4) and a sign of mourning (Jeremiah 4:8). The Bible was kept from the common people during this period, which made it a time of mourning for the two witnesses.
They have power “to strike the earth with all plagues” (Revelation 11:6). It was the Word of God that brought the plagues upon ancient Egypt and it is the Word of God that will bring the seven last plagues of Revelation 16.
During the Reign of Terror, the French burned Bibles and their “dead bodies” (Revelation 11:8) lay in the street. Beginning in 1793, the national assembly outlawed the Bible for “three-and-a-half days [literal years]” (Revelation 11:9).
Afterwards, they “stood on their feet” (Revelation 11:11) and heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Come up here” (Revelation 11:12). The two witnesses’ resurrection and ascension to Heaven represent the printing and widespread distribution of the Word of God by the many Bible societies of the 19th century.
Jesus upheld the importance of both portions of the Bible. He says of the Old Testament, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify [bear witnesses] of Me” (John 5:39). Of the New Testament He said, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).
“In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (1 Corinthians 13:1). It is by God’s “two witnesses”, the Old and New Testaments, that His Word is established.
Dig Deeper – The Great Controversy, Chs. 15, 29; Revelation 11; Matthew 27:11 – 55; Romans 8; 1 John 4