There is a false teaching in the congregation that Moses and Elijah will physically return and prophesy before the Lord’s Second Coming. Those who propagate such teachings claim that this is what Rev 11:4-12 means. It is high time to confront them with what the Text actually states.
4 These are the TWO OLIVE TREES and the TWO LAMPSTANDS which stand before the Lord of the earth. 5 And if any one would harm them, fire pours out from their mouth and consumes their foes; if any one would harm them, thus he is doomed to be killed. 6 They have power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to smite the earth with every plague, as often as they desire. 7 And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that ascends from the bottomless pit will make war upon them and conquer them and kill them, 8 and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which is allegorically called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. 9 For three days and a half men from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, 10 and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth. 11 But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. 12 Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up hither!” And in the sight of their foes they went up to heaven in a cloud. Rev. 11:4-12
Two olive trees and two lampstands are four things, not two people. Further, these four things are in a book of symbols, not a historical narrative. So, instead of pulling some interpretation out of our hats, lets look at how are these symbols used in the rest of the Bible.
In scripture the olive tree are always symbolic Israel. [Jer 11:16; Rom 11:17] A literal interpretation would be absurd, Literal olive trees cannot bear testimony, unless they are like the apple trees in The Wizard or Oz. Hopefully, a bit friendlier.
Lampstands or Menorahs:
and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. Rev 1:20b
So if John the writer of the Revelation says he was told in the first chapter that the lampstands are churches, why would anyone think that they meant anything else in the same book? Or they could be literal like Lumiere in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
They are said to do four things that are directly from Old Testament passages.
- If anyone harmed them: fire came from their mouth and consumed their foes. [Jer. 5:14]
- They have the power to shut the sky. [1Kings 17:1]
- They turn the water to blood. [Ex. 7:17]
- They may smite the earth with every plague. [Num. 16:41-50]
For this time I will send all my plagues upon your heart, and upon your servants and your people, that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth. Ex. 9:14
Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who smote the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. 1 Sam. 4:8
So what do all these Old Testament passages have in common?
- When Jeremiah breathed fire he told the people that Babylon was coming to take them into captivity for 70 years. No one listened.
- When Nebuchadnezzar finally took the city he found Jeremiah down in a cistern where the king had put him [Jer. 38].
- Elijah shut up the sky so that it did not rain for three years. No one listened. Ahab and Jezebel tried to kill him.
- Moses turned the Nile into blood. Pharaoh did not listen, he hardened his heart.
The symbolism of The Revelation passage is faithful prophets gave warnings that were never heeded. The warnings never resulted in the repentance of the people. They did not hear Jeremiah, Pharaoh did not hear Moses, Ahab did not hear Elijah. When Messiah Himself came, the people did not listen to Him either.
We learn from this passage of the two olive trees and two lampstands, that they are few in number and that no one listens to them.
Why Then is it “Two Witnesses”?
Two is the minimum number needed under The Law [Torah] to establish testimony for a capital crime. [Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6-7, 19:15]
In Revelation 11, a symbolic religious capital crime has ocurred. Only a few Jews and Gentile believers have the strength and courage to speak up about it.
That capital crime was the corruption of the Roman Church during the Dark Ages. As the light of learning and truth dimmed, all of Europe sank into ever-darkening blackness of superstition and ignorance. The Church should have stepped up and been light and salt to the world; they instead used the darkness to build an empire of power over the souls of men.
The believers and the Jews in the Middle Ages were persecuted and killed. They spoke the truth, God’s Word, but the message was rejected. The Church of Rome did not repent, but set about to destroy the messengers of God with their Crusades and the INQUISITION.
The monks and priests had prohibited the common people from reading the Bible. The very rich might get permission to have a Latin copy. In all this darkness, the Waldenses and the Albigenses maintained and protected the precious light of the Gospel and the oil of The Word.
They had copied the Bible in the Vulgar Latin that could be read by average people. As merchants, they descended from their mountain homes into the towns and villages selling their wares. However, hidden in their wares were precious hand-written passages of the Bible. Their teaching reached others causing the Hussites and the Lollards to come out of the Church of Rome. [Rev. 18:4]
Dead Witnesses rise again
The Church of Rome imprisoned and burned the heretics till none were left. At least none that would say so. The Church’s Fifth Lateran Council (May of 1514) challenged anyone who refused to obey the Pope to say so. No one came forward. The witnesses were dead. This does not mean that they were all literally dead. They were afraid and no longer bore testimony.
No one answered the challenge of the Council for 3 1/2 years (a day for a year). The Pope and the council celebrated. Banquets were held and further laws against heresy were established. Among these laws was the forbidding of burial for any heretic. However, on October 31, 1517, exactly three and a half years later, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg Castle. The Witnesses were back as if from the dead.
The truth of God’s word could not be put asunder as the written word spread rapidly through the works of many translators. At the same time Guttenberg and his new invention of the printing press made it much easier to disperse the Word of God. The world would read that the just shall live by faith from writings of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and many others.