(This is a slightly edited repost from May, 2008)
Just who are those two witnesses in Revelation 11:1-14? Who are those two “olive trees” and “lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth”? Well, some say literally there will be two specific men/witnesses with unsurpassed power at the end of the age. Others say similarly that these are two prophets who prophesy during the rapture. On the allegorical side, some have suggested that these two are the Law and the Prophets or the Old and New Testaments.
I agree with the commentators who say that the two witnesses symbolize the Christian church between Christ’s ascension and return (Beale, Mounce, Hendriksen, Poythress, etc). Hendriksen said it like this: “These witnesses symbolize the church militant bearing testimony through its ministers and missionaries throughout the present dispensation [age].” (More Than Conquerors [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1940], 155). Similarly, Bauckham: “Two individuals here represent the church in its faithful witness to the world” (The Theology of the Book of Revelation [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993], 84). Finally, Poythress agrees: “We find here a symbolic representation of Christian witness…[the two witnesses] represent the witnessing church, just as the seven lampstands in 1:12, 20 represent the seven churches of 1:11” (The Returning King [Phillipsburg: P&R, 2000], 127).
Greg Beale gives these reasons why this interpretation fits well:
1) The witnesses are called ‘two lampstands,’ similar to Rev 1.20, where John explicitly calls the churches “lampstands.”
2) In comparing Rev 11.7 and Dan 7.21 (clearly John alludes to Daniel here), Daniel notes that persecution is aimed not at a few individuals, but corporate Israel (called “the saints”).
3) In Rev 11.9-13, the entire world will see the defeat and resurrection of the witnesses – this means that the witnesses are visible throughout the earth – around the globe.
4) The two witnesses prophesy for 3.5 years, the same length of time other followers of Christ are oppressed (11.2, 12.6, 14; 13.6). Especially relevant is chapter 12, where the woman fled persecution for the same amount of time. Beale notes that the woman and the two witnesses signify the same thing: the corporate people of God, the church.
5) Elsewhere in Revelation, the entire community of believers is identified as the source of the testimony to/of Jesus (6.9, 12.11, 17; 19.10, 20.4).
6) Finally, note that the powers of Moses and Elijah in the OT are attributed to both of the witnesses, not split between the two witnesses (see 11.6 for example). Beale: “They are identical prophetic twins.”
The above six points are a summarized version of Beale’s commentary: Revelation (Grand Rapid: Eerdmans, 1999), 574-5.
See also Dennis Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2001), 170-1; he compares 11.7 and 13.7 to make the same point as the above named authors.
rev shane lems