The Two Witnesses of Revelation

This blog offers reflections on Scripture, theology, and the Christian life, inviting readers to journey together as we seek to live out our calling as faithful witnesses in anticipation of Christ's return.


Justin Hoke

3/18/20245 min read

a lamp post with a tree and a light post with the words,'the
a lamp post with a tree and a light post with the words,'the

In the mysterious and often perplexing style of the book Revelation, the narrative of the two witnesses stands out as a beacon, calling the Church to embody a prophetic witness in a world marred by sin and darkness. This article seeks to explore the identity and mission of these two witnesses, not as mere characters in a divine drama but as symbols of the Church's enduring call to testify to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our journey through this exploration is not just an academic exercise but a pastoral encouragement to live as faithful witnesses in anticipation of Christ's glorious appearing.

The Identity of the Two Witnesses

The two witnesses of Revelation 11, described as "two olive trees" and "two lampstands," have long been subjects of intrigue and speculation. While interpretations vary, a considered approach, drawing upon a literal-grammatical-historical-contextual method and viewing Scripture with Christ at the center, suggests that these witnesses symbolize the Church's prophetic role throughout history. Just as olive trees and lampstands signify life, anointing, and light, so does the Church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, called to bring light to the darkness of this world.

The Symbolic Identity of the Two Witnesses: A Reasoned Defense

In the book of Revelation, the depiction of the two witnesses as "two olive trees" and "two lampstands" invites a deeper symbolic interpretation that transcends a literalist reading of these figures as merely two individuals. Let us attempt a reasoned defense of understanding the two witnesses symbolically, engaging with, reasoning through, and respectfully refuting a literalist interpretation of these figures as two men performing miracles, undergoing martyrdom, and experiencing resurrection.

Symbolism Rooted in Scripture

Firstly, the imagery of "olive trees" and "lampstands" is deeply embedded in the Old Testament tradition, particularly in Zechariah 4, which portrays these symbols as representations of God's Spirit-empowered witnesses in the world. This connection underscores the symbolic nature of the witnesses in Revelation, suggesting they represent not individual entities but the broader, Spirit-empowered testimony of God's people. The use of such symbolic language aligns with the apocalyptic genre of Revelation, which frequently employs vivid imagery to convey spiritual truths beyond the literal descriptions.

Historical and Theological Precedent

Moreover, the history of prophetic literature in the Bible shows that apocalyptic visions often convey messages through symbols and metaphors, addressing realities beyond their immediate context. For instance, Daniel's visions of beasts and statues represent empires and kings, revealing a pattern of God communicating profound truths through symbolic means. This historical and theological precedent supports a symbolic reading of the two witnesses, viewing them as embodying the collective witness of the Church through the ages, rather than restricting their identity to two literal individuals.

The Universality of the Church's Witness

A symbolic interpretation also aligns with the universal scope of the Church's mission. By understanding the two witnesses as representative of the Church's prophetic role, this view honors the comprehensive and ongoing nature of Christian testimony across time and cultures. A literal interpretation, focusing on two specific individuals, may inadvertently narrow the scope of God's redemptive work through His people, limiting the profound, time-transcending impact of the Church's witness against sin and for the Gospel.

Addressing the Literal View and Its Limitations

Critics of a symbolic view might argue that the detailed description of the witnesses' actions and fates (miracles, martyrdom, and resurrection) demands a literal interpretation. However, this perspective may overlook the apocalyptic genre's characteristic use of dramatic imagery to express spiritual victories, struggles, and truths. Just as the resurrection of the witnesses symbolizes the vindication of God's faithful people, their miraculous powers reflect the transformative impact of the Gospel. This interpretation does not diminish the reality of God's power but rather broadens its application, illustrating how through the ages, the Church, empowered by the Spirit, confronts darkness with the light of Christ's truth.

Embracing the Depth of Symbolism

In conclusion, the symbolic interpretation of the two witnesses offers a theologically rich and scripturally grounded understanding that captures the essence of the Church's mission in the world. While respecting the sincerity of the literal perspective, the symbolic reading invites us into a deeper engagement with the text, encouraging us to see beyond the surface to the spiritual realities it signifies. This approach does not negate the miraculous or the historical but invites us to see the Church's enduring and empowered witness as a vital part of God's unfolding story of redemption—a story that calls each of us to bear witness to the light and life found in Jesus Christ.

The Actions and Experiences of The Witnesses

The vivid description of the witnesses' actions—shutting the sky, turning waters to blood, and striking the earth with plagues—while reminiscent of the miracles of Moses and Elijah, can be understood as symbolic of the Church's confrontational and transformative mission. Their death, resurrection, and ascension echo the pattern of suffering and vindication central to the Christian faith, reminding us that the Church, like its Lord, will face opposition but is assured of ultimate victory.

The Role of Miracles, Signs, and Wonders

In the post-apostolic era, the Church has wrestled with the continuation of miracles, signs, and wonders. While the miraculous gifts of the early Church authenticated the apostolic message, the true miracle today is the Gospel's power to transform lives. The Church carries out its miraculous ministry through spiritual renewal, embodying the "greater works" Jesus spoke of—not through outward signs, but through the inward work of the Holy Spirit.

The Contemporary Church as a Witness

This approach invites the contemporary Church to embrace its call to prophetic witness with renewed enthusiasm. Being a witness for Christ today means speaking truth to power, living out the Gospel in actions and words, and standing firm in faith amid trials. Our witness is not dependent on the ability to perform signs and wonders but on our faithfulness to the message of the Gospel and our commitment to embody Christ's love and grace in the world.

Pastoral Encouragement

As we await the glorious appearing of our adorable Lord Jesus Christ, let us be encouraged to live as witnesses of His Kingdom. Let our lives be marked by the light of His truth, the warmth of His love, and the hope of His return. Let us engage in this divine calling not as solitary figures but as a community of believers, supporting one another in our mission to testify to the transformative power of the Gospel.

The narrative of the two witnesses challenges us to look beyond the temporal and to set our eyes on the eternal, reminding us that our ultimate vindication and victory lie in Christ. As we persist through the complexities of our time, may we find peace and strength in the knowledge that we are part of God's redemptive plan, called to be lights in a dark world, olive trees nourished by the Spirit, and lampstands that illuminate the path to salvation.

Let this exploration of the two witnesses inspire us to further discussion, deeper reflection, and, most importantly, a more fervent commitment to living out our faith. As we consider the symbolic and prophetic dimensions of their story, may we be moved to embody the prophetic witness of the Church in our day, eagerly anticipating the day when we will see our Lord face to face, and all mysteries will be revealed.

In the meantime, let us hold fast to our calling, living as faithful witnesses to the hope we have in Christ, and encouraging one another with the promise of His return. May our lives and our communities reflect the light of Christ, drawing others to the beauty of the Gospel and the joy of His Kingdom.

For Further Study

More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation By William Hendriksen

Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation by Dennis E. Johnson

Revelation: A Shorter Commentary by G. K. Beale