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The two witnesses in Rev. 11:4 are described as being two olive trees and two lampstands, in order to fulfill the prophecy of Zech. 4:11. They are filled with the Spirit of God, which is the olive oil by which the lampstand shines forth the light of truth. Their message of truth seems to be summarized by the word grace, which, when unfolded into its full manifestation and understanding, is the basis of the New Covenant and the restoration of all things.
These two witnesses represent the heavenly temple and the New Jerusalem, but yet their message is to the nations on earth that are yet in darkness. Hence, we see an interaction between heaven and earth—and especially between the heavenly and the earthly Jerusalem. The interaction is the same as Paul described in Gal. 4:29,
29 But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.
The children of the Old Covenant persecute those who are of the New Covenant. It is the classic enmity between flesh and spirit and between the children of the old man (Adam) and the children of the New Creation Man (the last Adam). Each side competes for dominion over the earth, claiming that it has the right to rule by the Dominion Mandate. Each side claims that its form of fruitfulness, whether by flesh or by spirit, is the acceptable qualification to be known as Sons of God. But only one of these claims can be valid. John identifies the truth in his gospel of John 1:12, 13,
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were begotten [gennao] not of blood(line), nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
The struggle over the inheritance often manifests in open conflict and warfare. Rev. 11:5 says,
5 And if anyone desires to harm them, fire proceeds out of their mouth and devours their enemies; and if anyone would desire to harm them, in this manner he must be killed.
What is the “fire” that comes out of their mouth? First, we see that this “fire” comes out of both of the two witnesses. Here it is important to understand something about Hebrew metaphors, because it is apparent that these two witnesses do not literally kill their enemies with fire from their mouths. The sword of the Spirit is the word of God (Eph. 6:17), as opposed to a physical sword. The word of God is spoken from one’s mouth, and so John pictures Jesus in Rev. 19:15, saying, “and from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may smite the nations.”
While this description expresses the spiritual sword in carnal terms, the effect of a spiritual sword is totally different. Physical swords kill physically. Spiritual swords kill “the flesh” in a different sense, for when the word of God is believed and embraced, this sword causes a person to identify with Christ in His death, so that he may also identify with Christ’s resurrection life. So Paul says in Rom. 6:7, “for He who died has been justified from sin” (The Emphatic Diaglott). Death is the great justifier, and it characterizes all genuine believers. There is no life without first dying. The old man of flesh must die so that the New Creation Man can live and take the reins that govern our actions.
Those who identify with the old Adam or fleshly Israel—or any form of flesh—are trying to keep the old man alive and well so that flesh and blood may inherit the promises of God. But Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:50, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”
The fire of God coming out of the mouth of Christ, the two witnesses, and, in fact, the entire body of true believers, is a spiritual sword that brings “death” to the flesh in order to bring about its consequence—immortal life. In this way, “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54).
In Hebrew metaphoric language, the tongue was said to be a sword, and its tip (or “edge”) was its “mouth.” For example, in Exodus 17:13 we read of the battle against Amalek:
13 So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge [peh, “mouth”] of the sword.
Again, the command of God was to destroy idolatrous cities in Israel in Deut. 13:15,
15 You shall surely strike the inhabitants of that city with the edge [peh, “mouth”] of the sword…
Likewise, the Canaanites who opposed Israel’s advance were to be utterly destroyed by the “mouth” of the sword (Joshua 6:21; 8:24; 10:28, 32, 35, etc.). We see, then, that Hebrew metaphors referred to the “edge” (or tip) of a sword as a mouth. Under the Old Covenant, of course, Joshua conquered the land of Canaan by a physical sword, which spoke the word (or carried out the commands of God) by violence and force, resulting in death to all who stood in the way.
Under the New Covenant, however, the sword of the Spirit must be used by the spoken word of God to conquer the earth in a very different way. New Covenant swords kill the flesh, but not the body. While Old Covenant swords bring physical death, these New Covenant swords bring death to the old man in order to give life to the New Creation Man. This is the primary difference between Joshua’s conquest of Canaan and Jesus’ conquest of the earth in our day.
While unbelievers and carnal Christians use physical weapons to force men to convert to their religions, genuine believers use spiritual weapons and the spoken word of truth, “piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit… to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).
If Israel had been able and willing to draw near to hear the word of God, as Moses instructed them in Exodus 20:18-21, they would have received the sword of the Spirit by which to conquer the land of Canaan. Their invitation to meet God on the Mount was given on the day which was thereafter celebrated as the feast of weeks (i.e., Pentecost). But they “stood at a distance” (NASB), while Moses went up the mount alone to hear the word of God.
It was never God’s pleasure to destroy His enemies. The only reason for the Canaanite genocide was because Israel had refused the sharper sword in favor of the duller physical sword. But now that Christ has come as the Mediator of the New Covenant, and now that the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 has given us access to the sword of the Spirit, we are better equipped to bring the word of God to the nations by spiritual force, rather than by physical violence and coercion.
This, then, is the “fire” that proceeds out of the mouths of the two witnesses to devour their enemies. We cannot view this through Old Covenant eyes without reversing the meaning of the passage and the divine intent itself. How must these “enemies” be killed? John says “in this manner he must be killed,” implying a specific manner of death that is distinct from burning people or killing them physically with a sword.
John continues in Rev. 11:6,
6 These have the power [exousia, “authority”] to shut up the sky, in order that rain may not 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.
Once again, the metaphors must be interpreted through New Covenant eyes, even though the references are from an Old Covenant era. What is death under the Old Covenant is life under the New. The types and shadows saw many killed with physical violence, but these actually prophesied of positive things yet to be established under the New Covenant.
First, these two witnesses received the authority given in earlier times to Elijah and to Moses. Authority from heaven is given to exercise the Dominion Mandate as a steward of the throne. So we see God telling Moses in Exodus 7:1 KJV, “I have made thee a god to Pharaoh.” The NASB renders it “as God.” The point is that Moses was given spiritual authority over Pharaoh in order to implement the ten plagues upon Egypt.
Elijah, too, exercised spiritual authority over King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, forbidding the sky to give rain upon the earth for “three years and six months” (James 5:17). This time can also be expressed as 1,260 days or 42 months—which is the time allotted to the two witnesses in Rev. 11:2. It is half of the total time of judgment (2,520 years, or 84 prophetic months).
There may be a short-term fulfillment of the time of the two witnesses at the end of the age as well as a general, long-term time of fulfillment. In long-term prophecy, the two witnesses are represented by many people over many generations, for no one has lived 1,260 years. The overcomers and the martyrs are certainly part of this body of witnesses in the general sense.
The question, however, is whether or not two individual witnesses, having the authority of Moses and Elijah, will arise at the end of the age. Our opinions may vary, but if we study these prophecies, we will be able to understand if and when two such witnesses arise. In the end, our opinions can neither make it happen nor hinder the divine plan from being fulfilled. We must watch and see.
The most important thing to recognize is that these two witnesses are called to bear witness to Christ, who is the Mediator of the New Covenant (Heb. 9:15). Therefore, we must view their actions through New Covenant eyes, rather than looking for a duplicate of what occurred during the time of the Old Covenant.
The plagues under Moses were designed to overthrow the gods of Egypt in order to set the people free. That is the same purpose for the two witnesses. The “plagues” which they bring to the earth are designed to overthrow the gods of all flesh under Mystery Babylon in order to set the earth free from the great harlot—the counterfeit bride.
In particular, John mentions the first plague, where all the water of Egypt was turned to blood. In other words, blood covered the land of Egypt. This was a physical disaster under the Old Covenant, but under the New, it prophesies of the blood of Christ covering the whole earth. (Egypt is a prophetic type of the world or the world system.) Hence, this plague is the means by which Jesus words in John 12:32, 33 are fulfilled:
32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself. 33 But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.
Today this is often interpreted to mean that if we “lift up Jesus” (i.e., exalt Him through praise), then men will be drawn to Him. But John says that Jesus indicated that if He were lifted up on the cross, He would “draw all men” to Himself. It does not depend on the acts (praise) of men, but an act of God’s will to fulfill His promise. The word translated “draw” is helko, which means “to drag.” Jesus used the same word in John 6:44, saying, “no one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” So we can say that because Jesus died on the cross, the Father will indeed drag all men to Himself.
This is the purpose of the fiery word that comes out of the mouth of the two witnesses. It is not to kill, but to restore all men to the Father through Christ. Although the Old Testament Elijah called down fire from heaven in 2 Kings 1:10, 12, consuming two groups of fifty soldiers, this is not to be duplicated by the two witnesses. When Jesus’ disciples wanted to imitate Elijah and call down fire from heaven upon the Samaritans, Jesus rebuked them in Luke 9:55 for having an Old Covenant mentality.
In fact, the main prophetic ministry of Elijah, as seen in Mal. 4:6, is to “restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” Jesus Himself told His disciples in Matt. 17:11, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things.”
Therefore, we see that the purpose of the two witnesses is to restore, not to destroy. When Elijah sealed up the heavens so that it would not rain for 3½ years, it was a prophecy about delaying the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This is designed to give people a thirst for the Spirit of God and prepare them for the “times of refreshing” (Acts 3:19) that will come afterward.