The two witnesses in Revelation had invited much speculation over the years. Some have identified them as Moses and Elijah, some as the church and Israel, and many more views besides.
While some ambiguity may exist in the best of interepretations, I think the book of Revelation itself provides solid evidence for taking the witnesses as representative of the whole church.
John’s Prophetic Witness
Revelation 10 and 11 form a unit in Revelation that aims to show how both John and the church receive a prophetic and testifying role. As Jesus is the faithful witness (Rev 1:5; 3:14), so John and (as I will argue) the church become faithful witnesses like the Lord. The first stage of receiving that prophetic witness involves John.
John receives the little scroll from the angel in Revelation 10. This scroll likely should be associated with the scroll that the Lamb received (Rev 5) and unsealed (Rev 6–8). That seal reveals God’s redemptive and punitive purpose for the world. Here, in Revelation 10, John takes and devours this message like Ezekiel had before him (Rev 10:10; Ezek 3:3).
By devouring it, he absorbs the word of God in his new, prophetic role. As heaven declares to him, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings” (Rev 10:11 ESV).
The Church’s Prophetic Witness
In Revelation 11, the same mission will be handed off from the apostle to the church who are represented by the two witnesses. The witnesses are called lampstands (Rev 11:4), a term which Revelation 1:20 has already defined as the church and which Zechariah 4 defines as the temple of God.
Since Revelation 11 draws on Zechariah 4 for its imagery, the temple connection here for the people of God seems entirely appropriate to designate the church in which God’s Spirit dwells (see also John 2:19–21).
The two witnesses are two prophets (Rev 11:10) who prophesy (11:3, 6) until they have finished their testimony (11:7). As Jesus before them, they become faithful witnesses to the world until their work is done.
More could be said on the details here, but since Revelation calls for the church to become faithful witnesses like Jesus, since lampstands represent churches (Rev 1:20), and since Zechariah 4 identifies its lamptstand as the temple, then it follows that the two witnesses portray the church in its prophetic witness on earth.
Mark Matthias says
This is really right on course, Wyatt. We know that Moses and Elijah are traditional choices with a fair amount of grist to make a case; yet, so is your insight. Revelation warns what will happen to those who would harm God’s two witnesses.
“If anyone wants to hurt them fire proceeds out of their mouths and devours their enemies.” This happened in the experiences of both Moses and Elijah, and so on. So there appears to be a fair amount of grist for both points of view. Notwithstanding, certainly the number ‘two’ doesn’t necessarily have to be two in number. So I would have two go over this quite thoroughly to single out a distinct dialectic that could stand alone.
Linda Foster says
Thank you for your insight into Revelation 11
Alan Finch says
So that there would be no confusion, the Lord in Revelation 11:10 states that the 2 witnesses are Prophets. Prophets have physical bodies. Only physical bodies can lie dead in the street for 3 1/2 days, and then have the Spirit of God enter into them causing them to stand upon their feet, and then ascend up to Heaven which is stated in the 11th Chapter of Revelation.
Revelation 19:10 says that the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. In other words, all who have the testimony of Jesus are prophets. And when they have finished their testimony (of Jesus), then the beast with seven heads and ten horns makes war against them. The Lord also tells us that they are lamp stands and olive trees and that fires comes out of their mouths. Can fire come out of our physical bodies?
Do you see the symbolism?
Carolyn Silvius says
Thank you Wyatt. This makes more sense than any thing I’ve heard so far!