Now that we have touched on the earthly temple we are ready to speak more directly about the earthly witnesses. “And I will give power unto my two witnesses….” I guess it would behoove us to first take care of the light controversy of the identity of these two persons. This has been a speculation among Christians since the time of the early church fathers but the further you study this matter the further the possibilities extend. It is assumed that these two witnesses must be persons already known in the scriptures. However, there is nothing inherent to the text that says that it is such. From there other assumptions are made which lead men to guess at their identity. For instance our two witnesses end up being killed and raised again in our text. The assumption is then made built on the scripture that states that it is “appointed unto man once to die… (Heb. 9:27). From that point it is ascertained that since there are two persons who did not taste of death, Elijah and Enoch, then those persons must be the prophets of our text. Granted both were prophets of God who preached against the sins of their generations, this assumption is obviously on shaky ground. There are some people that have been resurrected and have therefore died twice. Still yet there will be some that will never taste of death. Another group will come and say that the significance of the prophets dying in the text is not nearly as important to their identity as the things that they did while they prophesied. Since these persons did as Elijah did (calling fire from heaven and stopping the heavens from rain) and did as Moses did (turning water to blood and smiting earth with plagues) then the two witnesses must be Moses and Elijah. There is a good argument that one can built off of these assumptions. Moses and Elijah showed up with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, the devil disputed about the body of Moses and no man knows where his grave is, and Elijah is prophesied to come again in the last days (Mal. 4:5). None of these truths in and of themselves add up to a necessity that these persons are Moses and Elijah. For instance the Jews even today in the Passover feast leave an empty seat for Elijah. But Jesus said that Elijah has already come when He spoke of John the Baptist and they missed him (Matt. 17:11-13). This does not preclude the chance that one of the witnesses is Elijah but it does not make it necessary either. If John the Baptist was said to be the fulfillment of the coming of Elijah (because he came in the spirit and power of Elijah) then even if it is necessary for Elijah to come again yet it would not be necessary that it be the actual person of Elijah (only some coming in his same spirit and power). From that point one might say that the key to the identity of these persons is found in the prophecy which was referenced concerning them (Zech. 4). We will deal with the prophecy itself shortly but the connection to the two witnesses in Zechariah is with the persons of Joshua the priest and Zerubbabel the governor who led the Jews in rebuilding Jerusalem and the second temple. God empowered them despite the adversity of the enemies around them and the sinfulness of the Jews that they led to do their task. But the same could be said here that was said of Elijah. Just because the original prophecy had a direct meaning to Joshua and Zerubbabel does not mean that it cannot apply to others. The prophecy could just as easily apply to persons who like those individuals will lead their people when the third temple is built. From this point with no actual purpose people could surmise that the identity of these persons be just about anyone in the scriptures. Daniel was said to stand in his place at the end of days so it could be him (Dan. 12:13). The same could be said about John and others as well. All this because we make the unprovable assumption that these persons must be someone that we already know. They may be but they may not be. So we have to set that aside and just deal with the text as it is.
The first thing then that we note is that they are two witnesses. The angel appears to be speaking in the third verse which introduces the two witnesses but the angel appears to be speaking with the voice of God. That leaves us with two ways of looking at the angel: either the angel is speaking on behalf of God or the angel is Christ as some have claimed about the angel of chapter 10. Regardless, it is the voice of God speaking. These are not just two witnesses but they are his witnesses. They belong to Him. I imply therefore that these individuals were saved, have been bought with the price of the blood of Jesus Christ, have been made the children of God in particular. Not only do they belong to God but they appear to be sent of God. They are two. Jesus has always sent his disciples out by two (Mark 6:7). God sent a Moses and Aaron or a Paul and Silas. So they were saved men working the ministry according to God’s word. When Christ wanted to declare that His Kingdom was at hand the first time He came, He sent out his disciples by twos to do mighty things and miracles. Here, prior to His Kingdom physically coming to earth, He will do so again with His two witnesses, who will be declaring again that His Kingdom is at hand. They were true Disciples of Christ. They were his witnesses. It is at the mouth of two or three witnesses that matters are established. In the book of Acts the apostles spoke of themselves as witnesses chosen of God to bear witness of the truths of the gospel (the death, the burial, and the resurrection); to bear witness that Christ was indeed the Messiah because they had seen Him alive (Acts 1:22, 5:32). A witness is someone or something that declares the truth of something. They have a testimony to give just as the witnesses in our text are said to have. A true and faithful witness is one whose testimony is consistent with the truth or with the facts. A false witness is the opposite. We can therefore surmise that these witnesses were witnesses for Christ who like John the Baptist came in the spirit of power of Elijah to bear witness for Christ. They in some way had experienced Christ and became in a special way the witnesses of Christ in such a time. In the darkness of that time Christ would still have a witness. Christ is not left without a witness at any point in time (Acts 14:17). In the darkness of a world that is completely opposed to Christ and embracing antichrist there was still a witness. Christ will still be proclaimed. It could be implied that these were the ones that turned the hearts of the 144,000, the true worshipers who were in the temple.
So they were true witnesses of Christ who were saved and had their ministry ordered by Christ. They also had their ministry empowered by Christ. God said “I will give power unto my two witnesses….” They like the first witnesses of Christ could not be witnesses without the empowerment of Christ. “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In the spiritual arms race of that day, these two had a powerful ally. These two were allied with the one who has all power in heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18). The fact that they are compared prophetically to two olive trees (producers of oil) and two lamps (consumers of oil); they are filled and directed by the Spirit of God as it says in the chapter that contained the very prophecy: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6).
Whether these two are figures that are known or are not known is of little consequence, the important thing is what they were doing. They were witnesses in the New Testament sense and they were prophets in the Old Testament sense. Our text says “they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days….” This time period is obviously a description of the first three and a half years (first half of Daniel’s 70th week) and we know this because their death which is later descried marks the beginning of the great tribulation and final persecution of the Jews as described by Christ. They had a limit to their testimony and a certain number of days in which they could serve. In those days they prophesied. Their prophecies were poignant and powerful because their death was a cause of rejoicing for the world and it said “these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth.” By the description of their powers it is possible that some of the atrocious events happened at their word and it is possible that many of the other events that occurred in the first half of the 70th week happened in accordance with their prophecies. As Elijah was hated and blamed for troubling Israel with his prophecies so shall it be with these two. They spoke and the thing that they spoke came to pass and therefore they were feared and therefore they were hated (Deut. 18:22).
But, these prophets were “clothed in sackcloth.” Sackcloth in the scriptures is that which was worn of people in the state of morning or affliction. It is as it sounds, a rough garment dark in color that is made out of the same fabric one would use to make a common sack. It is particularly a symbol of repentance (Jonah 3:8, Matt. 11:21). These were the first fruits of a repentant Israel. It said that one day all of Israel will repent and turn to the Lord. It said that God “… will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn” (Zech. 12:10). These, as ones born out of due time, were recipients of such a spirit; the beginning of the fulfillment of that very prophecy. They were mourners for their sin and sins of their nation. Therefore they wore the rough garments of a prophet and witnessed and prophesied in the name of their Lord. They were products of true repentance.
Therefore, we have learned somewhat about the identity of these individuals. They are saved individuals that have in some special way experienced the risen Christ and therefore are His witnesses. They are in His ministry by His direction; no doubt preaching His coming kingdom. They are the first fruits of repentant Israel wearing symbols of their repentance. They are filled with the Spirit of God and are prophesying in the name of the Lord.
However, they were also products of prophecy themselves not just here in the words of John but also previously in the Old Testament. “These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.” The measuring of the temple was found in Zechariah and so also were these two prophets. Zechariah stated, “And the angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep. And said unto me, What seest thou? And I said, I have looked, and behold 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” (Zech. 4:1-3). The immediate context of this text is encouraging of Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel the governor of Jerusalem as they were working on rebuilding the second temple. Zechariah went on to explain the meaning of the candlestick and olive trees: “[the angel answered] This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts. Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it…. The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it… (Zech. 4:6,7,9). So we can immediately ascertain something of the picture being drawn here by Zechariah; it has something to do with the work of the temple, it has a special meaning to the specific servants that were working on the temple (which in the context of Zechariah were Joshua and Zerubbabel), and it has something to do with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit in the work that they were doing. Zechariah went on to say that the candlestick (the menorah) was “the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth” (Zech. 4:10). Thus far in the book of Revelation we have seen that the Spirit of God is referred to as the Seven Spirits of God which connects to the candlestick of Zechariah and its connection with work of the Holy Spirit. The candlestick is synonymous with the illuminating work of the Spirit through His people or through the preaching of His Word. It is the convicting and searching light which is searching the earth.
Zechariah goes on to explain the two olive trees: “Then answered I, and said unto him, What are these two olive trees upon the right side of the candlestick and upon the left side thereof? And I answered again, and said unto him, What be these two olive branches which through the two golden pipes empty the golden oil out of themselves…? Then said he, These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth” (Zech 4:11-14). The 14th verse is what is quoted by John in our text but the proceeding verses offer our commentary. Note that the two olive trees are said to be “upon” the left and right side of the candlestick. They are part of the candlestick or in union with the candlestick. Some commentators have made a big deal about the fact that Zechariah mentions only one candlestick but John mentions two. This is just a matter of perception, as we already discussed the candlestick in its relationship with the menorah and the Seven Spirits of God. There are actually seven candlesticks which make up the one candlestick. Just as the sevens Spirits of God worked in union with the seven churches and the seven angels of those churches so the Spirit of God works in union with these two witnesses. They are in the Spirit and of the Spirit. There are also mentioned two olive branches which through two golden pipes continuously supply more oil to the lamps. Whatever the picture may be there the application is clear; those who will be a light for Christ will have the constant supply of the Spirit.
Ellicott reported that this “…reminds us of the returned Jewish exiles, and of those who were then among them, as anointed witnesses, but it shows us that such witnesses are to be found in more than one era; for it is not Zerubbabel and Joshua who can exhaust the fulness of a vision which is the representation of the eternal truth that the oil of gladness and strength from God will rest on those who rely, not on might or power, but on God’s Spirit.” These two witnesses were expected (are expected) to rise in the last days. Just as the second temple had empowered leaders so will the third temple. They are prophetically compared to olive trees which are the blessings of the Promised Land (Duet. 6:11) and fixtures in the first temple (I Kings 6:23-33). The olive tree is a picture of the believer in the house of God who has the precious sap of the Holy Spirit running through them. “Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength; but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness. But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever” (Ps. 52:7 8). It is also a picture of the return of backsliding Israel as we have already seen is essential to the nature of these two witnesses. “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him. I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon” (Hosea 14:4-6). The olive tree is Israel (Rom. 11) and these are the witnesses that will lead repenting Israel and will leave a pattern for the resurrection of Israel from the valley of dry bones. They are also compared to candlesticks which describe their testimony in those last days for Christ. They are filled with Spirit of God and shining as lights for Christ. “No man, when he hath lighted a candle, covereth it with a vessel, or putteth it under a bed; but setteth it on a candlestick, that they which enter in may see the light” (Luke 8:16). The like John the Baptist who also came in the spirit and power of Elijah were burning and shining lights for Christ. They have a testimony to give and a testimony to finish (v. 7). They are also described as “standing before the God of the earth.” This ties us back to our text in Zechariah specifically with Joshua the high priest. “And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him” (Zech. 3:1). Notice that God is referred to as the God “of the earth.” The earth is His and He is claiming it and these witnesses are His ambassadors who stand before Him. Just as it was with Joshua who stood before Him so it is here that Satan stands to resist and that will become plain as the text unfolds. They stand in His presence ready to do his bidding.
So these witnesses are also protected by the power of God. To do the will of God results in one thing; enemies. There are those who wanted to hurt them. So God gave them power over their enemies. “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.” They both breathe fire against their enemies. Just as Elijah called (out of his mouth) fire from heaven to devour those who would kill him so will these witnesses (II Kings 1:10, Luke 9:54). So will these prophets be even as Jeremiah, “Wherefore thus saith the Lord God of hosts, Because ye speak this word, behold, I will make my words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them” (Jer. 5:14). If we are doing the will of God we have no reason to fear what man can do unto us. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal but might through God (II Cor. 10:4).
Above the protection of God from their enemies, God gave them power to afflict the earth. “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.” Apparently they were announcing the plagues that happened in the earlier trumpets and were therefore hated. But, further than that they had their own will involved as well, for some of these powers were exercised as often as they will. They had power, as Elijah did, to shut up heaven that it not rain. To cause droughts. They had power as Moses did to turn waters into blood and smite the earth with all manners of plagues. Therefore they were hated because they reminded this world that God is in control and they as ambassadors and they were true prophets. Since Israel rejected the witness of John the Baptist and the subsequent witness of the apostles there have been no prophets in Israel. Now that they are repenting, God has again raised up prophets in the persons of these two witnesses.