The Two Witnesses
For I cannot imagine that Enoch and Elijah, who have not only been taken to heaven, but who have also been translated and who are now in glory, shall once more return in corruptible bodies to this earth of corruption, testify and suffer and be killed, and then rise again and go to heaven. But in the second place, this limitation makes it to be in conflict with Scripture. True, the Lord says that Elijah cometh, but we must not forget that in this same portion He also says: “But I say unto you, that Elijah has come already, and they knew him not, but did unto him whatsoever they would. Even so shall the Son of man suffer of them.” And the clear remark is added: “Then understood the disciples that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.” And in the eleventh chapter of the same gospel Jesus says with reference to John the Baptist: “This is he of whom it is written, Behold I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.” And again, “And if ye are willing to receive it, this is Elijah which is to come.” If we take into account these Scriptural references, clear in themselves, we have no difficulty. Then we shall no longer maintain the strange notion that in the literal sense of the word Enoch and Elijah shall return, but we shall understand that these men, and especially Elijah, were types. They were powerful witnesses themselves, in the first place. In John the Baptist Elijah returns again as a powerful witness to the people. And so also it must be expected that again such witnesses shall come, according to our chapter, that shall sound their testimony before a perverted generation. Also in this interpretation, therefore, there is an element of truth. Not indeed as if these two prophets of the old dispensation shall return literally, but in the sense that Enoch and Elijah, and, in fact, Noah and Moses and many others, must be taken as types of the witnesses that are mentioned in the words of our text.
There are still other interpretations. But these are the most important. And we rather turn to the text, to see whether it can be ascertained with a reasonable amount of certainty who are meant by these two witnesses. And then we remind you of our explanation of the first two verses, in the first place. Jerusalem stands for Christendom in the broadest sense of the word. Outside of the court and the temple it symbolizes the false church, that part of Christianity that still claims to belong to it but in the meantime tramples under foot the blood of Christ and denies the great truths of atonement and redemption in the blood of the Savior. The outer court stands for the show-church, or the hypocrites, that indeed enter the temple in the outward sense but never worship in Spirit and in truth. These two essentially belong together. And the temple proper stands for the true church of Jesus Christ. It is in that condition and during the period that the church is in that condition that the two witnesses give their testimony, that is, during this entire dispensation, as we have seen. It is therefore a testimony that arises from the true church, from the midst of the true, spiritual children of God. It is a testimony that must serve two purposes, no doubt. It, must testify against the wickedness of the false church and the show-church, a testimony that preaches hell and damnation to all that do not believe in Jesus Christ as the King and Redeemer. And at the same time it is a testimony that must serve to strengthen the true believers. And that the time of their testimony, although being of the same length as the forty-two months and the three and a half years; is nevertheless expressed in terms of days, twelve hundred sixty days; shows that it is a continual testimony which they give. And therefore from the context we gather the following. First of all, the testimony for which we must look is a continual testimony all through this dispensation, from the exaltation of Christ to His second coming. It is during this period that the false and the show-church, as well as the true church, exist. It is during this same period that the testimony of these witnesses is heard. It is a testimony that is naturally heard from the true church of Christ, not from the city at large, not from the outer court, but from the temple building proper. It is a testimony of repentance and sin against the false church and the show-church. And these witnesses are preachers of repentance, as is at the same time indicated by their being girded with, sackcloth. It is a testimony for the truth of Christ and the strengthening of the true believers.
But we must now turn to the fourth verse of the chapter, for there evidently we have the key to the entire explanation. There we read: “These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.” The plain reference here is toZechariah 4. For there we read in the fourteenth verse, in answer to the question, of the prophet concerning the identity of the two olive trees: “These are the two anointed ones, that stand before the Lord of the whole earth.” Here therefore is the key. The two witnesses are the two olive trees and also the candlesticks there mentioned, so the text tells us. Hence, the answer to the question as to who are the two olive trees and the candlesticks in Zechariah 4 is at the same time the correct answer to the question who are meant by the two witnesses.
Zechariah, the prophet, receives a vision. He beholds in the vision a candlestick with seven lamps. Above the candlestick he sees a golden bowl, or reservoir, filled with oil. This bowl of oil above the candlestick is connected with the lamps by means of seven pipes, through which they are supplied with oil from the bowl in order to give light. He beholds, further, on each side of the bowl an olive tree. These olive trees are again connected with the bowl above the candlestick, so thatfrom them the oil continually pours into the bowl, and from the bowl into the lamps. That is the vision: a candlestick receiving its oil from a bowl above it, which in turn receives its oil from the two olive trees.
What is the meaning of this vision? Also that is given in the chapter. The general meaning is a message to Zerubbabel: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.” After the captivity Zerubbabel must be instrumental in the rebuilding of the temple. But in this work he meets with opposition from the imperial or world power. He can make no headway. And now this vision tends to instruct Zerubbabel that by the Spirit of the Lord the opposition of the world power shall be brought to naught and the temple rebuilt, the kingdom of God restored. Still more in general, the meaning of the vision is that although the Lord employs human instruments, nevertheless the completion of His kingdom is not the work of human hands, but of His own Spirit. If the candlesticks are to give light, the bowl and the olive trees and the pipes are necessary indeed, but what would they be without oil? And so it is with the church and the kingdom of God. The church as such and the servants of the Lord and the means of grace are all necessary. But what would they be without the Holy Spirit? They could not shed light of their testimony in the church and the world. But now we must still further ask the question: what is the meaning of the details of the vision? What is meant by the candlestick, and what by the olive trees? We need not be left in the dark as to the answer to this question. The candlestick in the temple and tabernacle was a symbol of the people of God as shining with their knowledge of God and their testimony in the midst of a world of darkness. That was Israel of the old dispensation. And so in the new dispensation it is symbolic of the church of Christ letting its light shine in the midst of the world of darkness and unbelief. The church is a light, a testimony of the truth of God. That this is true is clearly proved by the first chapter of this book of Revelation, where the seven golden candlesticks are the seven churches. But who are the two olive trees? In Zechariah 4:14 we read that they were the two anointed ones, standing before the Lord of the whole earth. From this we learn, in the first place, that they are servants of God. They stand before the Lord of the whole earth. They are therefore ready to serve. And that they stand before the Lord of the whole earth also implies that they are especially the ones that are ready to serve the Lord before the whole world with their testimony in word and deed. But, in the second place, we learn that they are anointed servants of the Lord. They are therefore officially called and ordained for service. They are divine media through which the people of God receive the blessings of God’s grace, especially of the knowledge of God, so that they may let their light shine. In the Old Testament there were but two that were thus officially anointed to be servants in the theocracy, namely, the king and the priest. And there is for that reason no question among interpreters generally but that by the two olive trees, in the first place, Zerubbabel the prince and Joshua the high priest are meant. But in the second place, a general reference is made to the royal and priestly office in Israel. And in the words of our text, therefore, the olive trees are evidently none other but the divinely ordained and called true ministers of the Word, who must serve as media to supply the church with light.
If in this light we turn once more to the words of our text, the whole is convincingly clear. The two witnesses, as our text has it, are not only the two olive trees of Zechariah 4; nor are they only the two candlesticks; but they are both. John identifies them. The olive trees and the candlesticks cannot be separated. They belong together, and together they are the two witnesses of Christ in the world. That John speaks of the two witnesses is also plain. It is not because two individuals are meant, but it is simply because the entire reference of the text is to the two witnesses of Zechariah 4. And the Lord means to say: “Just as in the Old Testament I had two witnesses, just as then I had my people as a shining light and testimony in the world in my people Israel and the servants I appointed over them, so also in the new dispensation, during the forty-two months that the false church and the show church shall exist and defile the sanctuary, I shall have my two witnesses who shall bear testimony before all the world.” The candlesticks and the olive trees in Zechariah 4 are none other than the people of God as lights shining in the ,world together with the divinely anointed and appointed servants of God. So also in our portion we conclude, on the basis of Scripture, that the candlesticks and the olive trees together are the church of Christ throughout this dispensation, together with the divinely ordained servants of the Word, the true ministers of the gospel, who must serve the Lord as media to supply the congregation with light. If we understand this, the whole is rather clear. We have in the words of our text, in the first place, again a word of comfort and warning. A word of warning: for not all is Israel that is called Israel, and not all is Christendom that calls itself by that name. On the contrary, by far the widest area is left out when God’s people are measured. There is a large mass of so-called Christians that laugh at the truths of Christianity and of Scripture, that renounce the Christ and that crucify Him anew. In the second place, there are in the visible church proper the hypocrites, scattered and hidden among the true people of God,—dangerous people, that really belong to the enemy, that shall ultimately openly unite with the power of the Antichrist, but that cannot be detected. And the question might well be asked by God’s people: but is not the whole cause of God a lost cause? If that is the condition of the church, shall there be a true church in the future? Who shall stand? And our text gives us the assurance that throughout this dispensation the two witnesses shall stand, the church shall let its light shine in the midst of the world and in the midst of the apostate church. The Lord shall keep His church even to the end of the world as a shining light. Still more. Not only the candlestick but also the two olive trees shall remain. The Lord shall not leave His church without its faithful servants. These faithful servants, in the first place, shall instruct the congregation in the full truth of the Word and thus shall serve as media to supply the congregation with the oil of knowledge necessary to let their light shine. But in the second place, it shall be especially through them that the church shall testify. The church and the servants of God belong together. The servants are the mouthpiece of the church. They shall above all testify and witness in the midst of the world and in the midst of the apostate church. They shall testify against the wickedness of that apostate Christendom and testify for the name of Christ, testify also against the hypocrisy of the hypocrites and the false church.
This condition is to develop in extreme features toward the end of the world. Apostasy shall increase. Jerusalem shall turn once more wicked. False Christianity shall become more openly false. Days of persecution shall arise! The show church shall unite itself with the false church in the days of persecution. But still the candlestick shall shine. Many shall fall away, according to the words of our Lord. Many also of the servants of God shall become unfaithful. But always Christ shall have the two witnesses, His church and His servants,—yea to the end of the world. And the more the lines are sharply drawn and the greater the apostasy becomes and the more clearly Antichrist develops, the louder and the more clearly and the more definitely the testimony of the faithful church, with its faithful ministers, shall resound throughout the world.
If we bear this in mind, we shall also understand that there have been many types in history of these two witnesses. Types of these were men like Enoch and Noah and Moses and Elijah. Types of these also were Zerubbabel and Joshua. And types of these were the martyrs of the early church, as well as of the church of the Reformation together with the faithful servants of their time. Huss and Wycliffe and Luther and Calvin represent these faithful witnesses. Types of these witnesses, at the final stage of history are the churches and the servants that sound the trumpet today and that will know of nothing but Christ and Him crucified. And through them all we have the realization of the comfort expressed in our portion: “I will give my two witnesses, throughout this dispensation, that they may prophesy. The candlestick shall shine, the olive trees shall supply with oil, all the days of this dispensation, even until the end of the world.” But at the same time we have in our text a word of admonition and calling, a word to the church as such. She must be a witness of Christ. She must let her light shine boldly, fearlessly, testifying against the apostasy of the age with all her might and main. Not according to the imagination of man, but according to the light of the Word of God must she live and speak. Regardless of what the world may say, we must witness. Regardless how beautiful the world may look and however sweet the world may speak of Christ and Christianity, the great question that must always again be asked: do you believe in Christ, the Son of the living God, in the blood of atonement and the redemptive value of the blood of Christ Jesus? If not, the world stands condemned by our testimony. For it, and it alone, is the truth. In the second place, a word of admonition with regard to the relation of the church to its ministers. They are the olive trees. They must enlighten the minds of the congregation with the light of God. The congregation must receive this light. Do not be satisfied with a little siren-song of gospel that cannot establish you in the faith, but be eager to receive the whole Word of God. For you will need its full, abundant light. And, in the third place, a word of warning and admonition to the servants of God in the church: they are the olive trees. They must bring the light of the Word and nothing else. They first of all and above all, must stand and be faithful. They shall have a hard time in the day of judgment if it should be proved that they have given the congregation stones for bread and serpents for eggs. Many have been the false prophets of all times. Many are the false prophets today. Fearful wrath and condemnation, no doubt, there will be in store for those that have pretended to preach the truth of God and have filled the pipes of the bowl with the darkness of hell.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them.
8. And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.
9. And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves.
10. And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth.
11. And after three days and an half the spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them.
12. And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them.
13. And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven.
It seems to me that in the words of our text quoted above we have a very strong corroboration of the conclusion we reached thus far in regard to the two witnesses. In our first discourse on the present chapter of the Book of Revelation we reached the conclusion that Jerusalem and temple and worshippers must not be taken in the literal, but in the symbolical sense of the word. Jerusalem in its all-comprehensive sense stands for the new dispensation, that is, for Christianity in its broadest and most inclusive sense. The city outside of the temple and the court is used as being typical, of the false church, representing the masses of Christianity that still have the seal of the covenant on their forehead and that perhaps would deem it a shame if they were not baptized. But they have renounced the real essence of Christendom, the blood of atonement. The outer court, we found, must be understood to symbolize the show church, the church outside of the real sanctuary, but outwardly belonging to the real people of God, that is, therefore, the hypocrites. And finally, the temple building proper is symbolic of the real, spiritual body of Christ, the elect of God, that certainly shall be saved. We found, further, that the ultimate outcome of this three-fold form of Christendom will be that the show church identifies itself with the false church, and together they shall trample under foot the holy city all through this dispensation, but especially toward the end.
Now I said that in the words which we are about to discuss I find a very strong corroboration of what I have explained in regard to the two witnesses. What is here said cannot be taken as referring to two single persons for the simple reason that they are pictured in universal features, as having a universal influence, noted by all the world, and being the object also of universal hatred and contempt. And their death appears also as an object of universal joy. Neither Enoch nor Elijah created such a stir as these two witnesses. Nor is it conceivable that two single human beings in a single city would cause so much commotion. No, only when we conceive of these two witnesses as the candlesticks and the olive trees, according to Scripture, shall we be able to understand and appreciate to the full all that is told us in the text we are now discussing. And we note immediately, of course, that this passage still speaks of the two witnesses.