In Revelation 11, we find these “two witnesses” that have both puzzled and fascinated many scholars and Bible students through the centuries. Some want to know who they are, and others want to symbolize them away. What is most fascinating about them is that they “have the power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.”
Before we get to this, lets do a small amount of background. We read in Revelation 11:4 that these “two witnesses” are the “two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth”. Now, this is important for two reasons. First, it is important to know that the lampstands in the book of Revelation are symbolic of the churches (Rev 1:20). Second it is a direct link to call us back to Zechariah 4. In Zechariah 4, we find these “two olive trees” next to a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lights on it, with seven channels to the lights. No doubt the book of Revelation is looking back to this in Revelation 1:20 with the lamps and the “stars”.
Who are these two olive trees? The context of the vision here begins in Zechariah 2, however, we find that the answer is given when combining chapters 3 and 4 of Zechariah. One of the olive trees is Joshua the High Priest. The other is Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel. These two men are key in the restoration of the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem when Israel came back after the exile. Yet, they are also symbolic of something beyond them. Zerubbabel is the descendant of Jehoiachin – the same king of Israel that Jeremiah claimed was cursed and wouldn’t ever have someone to sit upon his throne (Jer 22:24-30). Now, this Zerubbabel is symbolic of the Messiah, because according to the word of Haggai, he is the one who is the signet ring of God, the chosen one (Hag 2:23). Christ Jesus comes from the lineage of Zerubbabel (Mat 1:12). Joshuah is the High Priest, and is symbolic “symbolic of men to come” (Zech 3:8). It is Joshua who is called “the branch”, which is once again a messianic title in the prophetic Scriptures. Thus, we have both Joshua and Zerubbabel as symbols of the Messiah – one as High Priest, and the other as King of Israel.
Now, for John to be referencing these two men, the “olive trees”, and for him to put them in the future as two literal men that are to be coming into Jerusalem to prophesy for 1,260 days is significant. What exactly is John getting at that these two messianic figures are supposed to be two literal people that are not the Messiah? The answer is found in Zechariah 4, where we see that though Joshua and Zerubbabel are considered messianic figures, the two olive trees are specifically considered “the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth” (Zech 4:14). Though they are symbolically messianic, they are still two real people.
Now, when we see in Revelation 11 that these two men have the power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want, we instantly should think of Moses. Likewise, when we read that they have the power to shut off the heavens so that it doesn’t rain during the time of their prophesying, we should think of Elijah. John is being purposeful here, because these men are symbolic as much as they are literal people. There is something about Moses and Elijah that we find in no one else through all of Scripture: they were given authority over even the elements of nature. But the question isn’t what, the question is why?
Every plague that Moses sent upon Egypt was against a god of Egypt. Khnum was the god of the Nile River, the guardian if you will, and thus the first plague was to turn the Nile to blood. Osiris was the god of the underworld, and the Nile was the “bloodstream” to the underworld. The Egyptians would have wondered where the goddess Tauret was, the goddess of the river, or where Nu, the god of life in the Nile, was trapped to allow such a thing to occur. The frogs were considered the theophany of the goddess Heqt, the wife of the creator of the world. Heqt was depicted as with the head and body of a frog. The “lice”, or “fleas” that came from the dust of the earth would have been an insult against the god “Geb”, the great god of the earth. The “swarms of flies” is actually missing the word “of flies” in the Hebrew, and thus we see the plague of “swarms”. It is most likely that it was swarms of scarab beetles, the god Amon-Ra being depicted with the head of a scarab beetle.
All of the plagues were directed against the gods of Egypt. But still, the question can be asked, “Why?” The gods are representatives of the principalities and powers. The principalities are demonic forces that influence government, society, culture, and every kind of system – whether educational, religious, governmental or otherwise. They rule and influence through the worship of these “powers” that they manipulate and claim to represent. The powers are these forces of nature that are beyond the control of humanity, but the principalities are somehow manipulating humanity into worshiping them as if they have the absolute control and authority over the rain, harvest, sun, and other aspects of worship through the millennia.
So what about Elijah? Elijah claimed there would not be rain nor dew except by his word. Elijah was speaking this to the king, but speaking past the king into the heavenly realms. The god Baal was the god of prosperity, but he was considered the god over the rain and harvest. So for Elijah to stop up the heavens, he is challenging the authority of Baal, and also showing that it is not by worshiping Baal that we will receive prosperity. Through the drought, Elijah would have bankrupted the whole country, not only of money, but also of faith in a false Baal system.
These plagues, though being manifest upon the earth in physical form, are actually somehow going past the physical and plaguing the kingdom of darkness. So, when we get to Revelation 11, we find that these two witnesses are men that somehow are able to see past the physical and into the spiritual. They see the worship of these false gods – even if we claim that we aren’t worshiping any gods. To follow the Antichrist is to worship him as god. We might call science our god (or emphatically say that it isn’t, yet still give it our every waking moment and devotion). We might claim sports as our god. We might claim education as god. Or maybe our society would worship sex and fertility. Yet, even though our society would say that these aren’t gods, we are serving the same old false gods of the Old Testament. In that, we find that the principalities and powers are still very much in control.
Elijah and Moses are referenced in Revelation 11:6 because these two prophets alone have stories of plaguing the earth, and yet somehow they weren’t merely “plaguing the earth”. The point being made with the two witnesses is that these men will have the authority to challenge the whole Antichrist system to its core – which is to say, to blow the whistle on the lie and unmask the principalities and powers. These men are still a curiosity to me, but I find that in this understanding, a lot more makes sense as to what is happening around this passage. The whole point of the two witnesses, their primary purposes and call in God, is to be a Moses and Elijah in their generation to unveiling the kingdom of darkness, and to make full exposure of their bankruptcy.
The reason this applies to all of us today is that we are supposed to be a prophetic people of that caliber. As the Body of Christ, we are to have the discernment and authority to plague the kingdom of darkness, and therefore expose the lie that many – even Christians – continue to live in support of day after day. The answer to many of the cultural agendas that are anti-religion and anti-god is not some sort of political movement, but instead to recognize the principalities that are at play behind those agendas, and to then uproot them through the use of the authority of God given to the saints. This is not a delegation to “call down fire”, but rather to take up the task of seeing the heavenly realities over our localities and nations, and to therefore war against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.