Why are the two witnesses of Revelation 11:3,4 referred to as the "two olive trees" and the "two lampstands"?

Email Received:

What is your take on the verse that describes the two witnesses in Revelation 11:3,4 as "the two olive trees and the two lampstands"? Does not Romans 11:17-24 allude to the olive tree being Israel and lampstands as the church, as described in Revelation 1:20? I heard someone say Revelation 11:4 is telling us that those two witnesses are Israel and the church.

Tedís Response:

There are several views about this, but I will give you my opinion. I tend to believe that the two witnesses will be two men who will perform miraculous wonders for 1,260 days. Revelation 11:6 says "these men" and 11:10 says "these two prophets."

Furthermore, I feel it is likely that they will be Elijah (1 Kings 17:1; James 5:17; Revelation 11:6a) and Moses (Exodus 7:19,20; Revelation 11:6b), since they appeared with Jesus during His supernatural transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13). Or possibly they could be two other men personifying the "spirits" of Elijah and Moses and representing the Prophets (Elijah) and the Law/Torah (Moses).

Some feel that one of the two witnesses will be Enoch, since God took him away before he died (Genesis 5:24); yet Moses apparently died (Deuteronomy 34:7), although there was a dispute between Michael and the devil about the body of Moses (Jude 1:9). However, unlike Elijah and Moses, Enoch did not appear with Jesus at the transfiguration. Yet, there remains a possibility that he could be one of the two witnesses. I do not think there is a way to be certain whom they will be until they appear.

In the past, after Elijah was taken up into heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11), the "spirit of Elijah" rested on Elisha (2:15). Centuries later, Jesus said that John the Baptist was the "Elijah who was to come" (Matthew 11:11,14). This seems to indicate that, somehow, the spirit of Elijah had rested upon John as well. Therefore, it may be that one of the two witnesses could be yet another man on whom the spirit of Elijah will rest.

In Malachi chapter 4 is a description of the Day of the Lord, which is yet future. God said that He would send the prophet Elijah before the coming of the great and dreadful Day of the Lord (Malachi 4:5). Thus, this would seem to corroborate that either the literal Elijah, having returned in bodily form, or a man with the "spirit" of Elijah would be one of the two witnesses of the future. Also, at every Passover Seder, a place setting and an empty chair are provided for Elijah, plus there is a point when the front door is opened, in anticipation of the prophet's eventual return.

Romans 11:17-24 is talking about the natural olive tree. Jeremiah 11:16,17 implies that this is Israel and Judah. The wild olive tree is the Gentiles, and some of its wild olive branches have been grafted into the natural tree of Israel/Judah. Therefore, I can see how some would equate the two olive trees of Revelation 11:4 with Israel and the church.

This reminds me, though, of Zechariah 4:1-14, with the gold lampstand and one olive tree on either side of it. That lampstand had seven lights on it, which has similarities to the seven lampstands and seven stars in Revelation 1:20. I would say that the lampstand in Zechariah 4:2 represents believing Israel (such as Jacob, Judah, Joseph, Moses, Elijah, Jesus' disciples, Mary, Joseph, etc.), under the old, pre-Messianic covenant; whereas, the seven lampstands in Revelation 1:20 represent the seven churches, under the new covenant that was brought by the Messiah, Yeshua.

In Revelation 11:4, one lampstand would seem to represent believing Israel and the other lampstand the Church (the latter symbolizing all of the churches combined into one). There was only one lampstand in Zechariah 4:2, probably because the second lampstand, the Church, did not yet exist.

In Zechariah 4:3,11, I would say that the olive trees represent the Prophets and the Law/Torah. They "fed" and provided the sustaining "oil" for believing Israel and later for the Church. So it seems feasible that the two witnesses of the future would be representative of both of the following:

  1. two olive trees: Prophets and Law/Torah, and
  2. two lampstands: believing Israel (having existed originally during the time of the old, pre-Messianic covenant) and the Church (existing later, during the new Messianic covenant).
However, I have a difficult time conceiving how a large group of people, partly Israel and partly the Church, could be collectively prophesying, preventing rain from falling, and bringing down plagues upon the earth. I am inclined, then, to believe that the two witnesses simply will be two actual men.

My guess is that they will be the literal Elijah and Moses, both of whom were Israelite believers under the old pre-Messianic covenant and also will be Church believers, in Yeshua/Jesus as Messiah, when they return in the middle of the 70th Week. Just as John the Baptist, instilled with the spirit of Elijah, was a messenger proclaiming the first coming of Jesus, the two witnesses will be harbingers warning of the onset of the Day of the Lord and of the second coming of Jesus.

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