The Two Witnesses

Throughout the Bible and throughout human history, there are two important entities that are credited with standing by the Lord. We see direct references to these two entities in many places throughout the scripture, and even more indirect illusions to these entities. There is powerful imagery used to highlight them and communicate their attributes, their work, their relationship to God, their impact in the world, and their legacy both on earth and in eternity. 

In one of the places that the Bible directly references these two entities it calls them "The Two Witnesses" - a clear explanation of one of their purposes on the earth - to provide a testimony to the plans and purposes of God and to make those plans and purposes known to the people of the earth who will listen. They are a testimony to the earth, a joy to those who hear, but a torment to the lost - those who refuse to listen.

Powerful symbolism is used to highlight the function of these two entities. They are called the two olive trees and the two lampstands. Lamps provide light and oil fuels the lamps. Their light is a light to the world, causing some to rejoice, but exposing the deeds of others, causing them anguish, and consequently anger and hatred.

These two are each made up of twelve smaller units. We also see the twelve and twelve scattered all throughout the Bible, both in the stories of the Old and New Testaments and throughout the symbolism and prophetic language of books like Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation. 

We also see the two witnesses, the twelve and twelve, working hand in hand with God, and even ruling and reigning along side Him in the powerful imagery of the throne room in heaven.

We also see that there are thousands upon thousands of people who make up the twelve and twelve, who serve as God's witness and light, and who are rewarded with salvation.

So who are these two witnesses and the twelve and twelve of which each witness is comprised? 

The first witness, the chosen of God, who brought the word of God into the world is the nation of Israel. Comprised of twelve tribes, Israel provided the foundation to the Kingdom of God in the world. This witness is Judaism.

God promised Abraham that in his Seed, all the nations of the world would be blessed. And in keeping that promise, Christ was brought into the world as that Seed. And through the life, ministry, and work of Jesus Christ, the second witness was given: Christendom. Christ called the twelve disciples, who later became the twelve apostles and who spread the word throughout the world. 

Our two witnesses are Judaism and Christendom. One witness brought the Word into the world, one witness spread the Word throughout the world. 

Check out Zechariah chapter 4. It is a fantastic introduction to this entire concept. It starts with Zechariah being awoken by an angel who shows him a vision of two olive trees on either side of a lampstand and whose oil flows to the seven lamps of the lampstand. Chapter 4 ends with the angel interpreting the vision for Zechariah, explaining that the two olive trees are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord all throughout the earth. 

In the new testament we are given additional clarity regarding the olive trees in Romans Chapter 11. In a discussion that highlights the challenges faced by Israel, the loss of some of them through unbelief, and also their salvation, Israel is called a cultivated olive tree, and that Christians, though a wild and uncultivated olive branch, are grafted into this olive tree by their faith. Romans 11 tells us that Israel will be saved and that Christianity should not boast of their salvation apart from Israel, for we have been grafted in - that both Israel and Christianity are important to God, that both will be saved, and that we should rejoice in God and in His wisdom, knowledge, and judgment.

Now take a look at Revelation Chapter 11. Here we are shown an incredibly clear picture of our Two Witnesses. The two witnesses will prophesy to the world. They will be powerful in that their prayers are heard by God and that He responds to their requests. It is clear that they are opposed by the world, and that many die in the cause of their mission, and that the world rejoices over their death, but that their resurrection is assured and they will be gathered into heaven with God while their enemies look on. 

Revelation Chapter 11 is also important to this discussion because it clearly reveals that the two witnesses are the two olive trees and the two lampstands (Rev 11:4). And in the same language as Zechariah 4, it declares that these are the two olive trees and lampstands that stand before the Lord of the whole earth. 

The twelve and twelve play an important role fulfilling all the plans and purposes of God. He does not do his work alone, we of the twelve and twelve play a part. 

In Revelation Chapter 4 we are given a tour of the throne room of heaven. Of course God is there at the center. Surrounding Him and His throne are 24 thrones upon which are seated 24 elders with golden crowns on their heads. Twelve and twelve are obviously 24. The scripture doesn't say specifically in this case that the 24 elders are the twelve tribes of Israel and twelve apostles of Christ, but a later verse in Revelation does provide this correlation for us. 

See Revelation 21:12 where John is shown the New Jerusalem as it came down from heaven. It is described as having twelve gates and twelve foundations. On the gates were written names of the twelve tribes of Israel and on the twelve foundation stones were written the twelve apostles of the Lamb. This symbology is incredibly powerful: the tribes of Israel provide the gates into the Kingdom of God and the apostles of Christ are it's foundation. (It may not be significant, but I do find it interesting that the verse address of that scripture of Revelation is 21 and 12)

So we can comfortably conclude that the 12 and 12 of the gates and foundations of New Jerusalem are the same 12 and 12 that surround the throne of God. These various references highlight the importance of the Jews and Christians to the plans and purposes of God.

The next important revelation is the count of the sealed and saved. Revelation 7:4 tells us that 144,000 is the number of those who were sealed, and that they came from every tribe of the sons of Israel. It is probably obvious that 144,000 is 12 times 12 times 1000. The number 1000 is used several times in scripture to mean a vast number and generally to mean "all", or "complete", or "the full number", and if you remember back to the fact that Christians, the wild olive branch, are grafted into the cultivated olive tree, then you'll know that both Jews and Christians make up this number. 

We see the 144,000 again in Revelation 14:1 where the Lamb is shown standing with those who have His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. So a vast amount, the full number, of those who are saved, coming from the twelve tribes of Israel, times the twelve apostles of Christ represent the number of the saved.

So when you are tempted to think that we as Christians or that the saved of Israel aren't a significant force on the earth and an important part of God's plan for salvation, or that the witnesses of Revelation are two "end times" characters that have some special power, instead be reminded that we Christians, along with the Jews, are one of the witnesses of God, both on earth, and in heaven. We are the ones anointed with the power to call down fire from heaven; we are the ones who rule and reign with the Father from the throne room of heaven; we are the ones who stand beside Him; and yes, we are the ones who are saved. 

Revelation Isn't Chronological

One of the things that makes interpreting the visions of John, Daniel, Ezekiel, and others difficult is our tendency to try to read them chronologically. The reader of, say Revelation chapter 11, might assume that the events described there happen before the events of Revelation chapter 20. This approach makes a common sense interpretation impossible.

The visions given to the prophets are highly symbolic. The writers are seeing an image in their mind and then putting those images to paper in the form of words - using words to describe what they saw.

They weren't seeing future events, like watching the news. They were seeing scenes, full of symbolic images that conveyed concepts about the future. Remember God's goal in giving these visions to the prophets: to tell the saints that they ultimately win.

The Purpose of Parables

But I think God has another goal in choosing to reveal these things in symbolic language: to keep this message concealed from those for whom it is not intended - to keep it hidden from the enemy and the lost. The message of the prophets isn't plain. You really have to think about it. You need the help of the Holy Spirit to understand it. You have to want to know the truth and seek it every day. God wants to reveal His plans to those who love Him, love the truth, and prove that by pursuing it every day.

Jesus said that He spoke in parables so that they "would not understand" (Matthew 13:10-17). The message of the parables is intended for those who love and follow the truth. A parable is a memorable and convenient way to deliver a deep message - but only for those who "have ears to hear". Those who pursue, accept, and respond to truth will get it - and be given more.

In parables, ideas are conveyed through stories, or scenes. The images given symbolize something else. The diligent student will start to pick up on these symbols and through that start to "decode" meaning from the scenes being described.

The visions given to the major prophets are intended to accomplish the same thing as when Jesus spoke in parables; namely, to communicate deep meaning to the person for whom it is intended and who is willing to seek it out and believe it.

Interpreting the Visions

When interpreting the visions written down by the prophets, I believe the reader must be ready to approach them understanding this fact: the writers of these visions write what they saw chronologically, but what they saw isn't chronological. For example, in the Book of Revelation, after the messages to the churches in Revelation 1-3, John sees a vision of the throne room of heaven in Revelation 4. He starts with the words, "After this I looked, and behold a door standing open in heaven!"

Revelation chapter 5 starts with "Then I saw..."
Chapter 6 begins with, "Now I watched..."
And chapter 7, "After this I saw..."

Each of these is a variation on the statement, "and I saw". John is telling us the order in which he saw things - not necessarily the order in which they are meant to be understood or that they take place in historical time.

Further, we are reading these visions as experienced and told by prophets who know clearly what they saw, but not necessarily the meaning of what they saw.

Progressive Revelation

Through all the the prophetic visions, especially Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation, we the readers are receiving a progressively expanding picture of what is going on in heaven, on earth, who the major participants are, and the nature of each of these things - all delivered through the language of parables. We are receiving progressively more information with each vision. Especially in the Book of Revelation, with each "and I saw", we pick up additional information about some element of the story that increases our understanding of the whole.

Think of the way people tell a story of something that they experienced. They tend to tell highlights, the things that were most memorable, followed by other details as they come to mind and are needed to fill in the gaps. If a child comes home from an amusement park, they don't start with talking about how they rode in the car, then stood in line for tickets, then walked through the park, etc. They start with, "Mom! I rode a roller coaster!" Then as the story unfolds about their experiences of the day, other less poignant details get added. "We ate hotdogs for lunch, and Dad let me have a chocolate shake." You get a progressively expanding picture in your mind of the day that was experienced by the child, although the story wasn't given to you chronologically.

In each "and I saw" John is revealing some additional facet, some truth, some detail that is relevant to what the churches will face in the future, who the major players in this story are, and how it will turn out - but the order of these "and I saw" statements is not communicating the order in which they will happen as prophecy unfolds.

To miss this fact will require wild interpretations of the prophetic visions - especially the Book of Revelation which is quite long and contains lots of detail. Requiring a chronological interpretation of events will entirely distort the meaning of the book.

All the major prophecies found in the Bible communicate to the reader a complex scene that is multi-dimensional. While time unfolds in a linear manner, describing it linearly doesn't work. To get the full message, John, in the Book of Revelation and their other prophets in their writings have to see and communicate to us ideas and concepts that are happening partly in heaven, partly on earth, with some events having elements in the past and others in the future, with parties that are involved in some elements and not others. There is a lot going on here which cannot be explained with an "A happened, then B happened, then C."

Let's say that someone is writing a book about the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. Fully describing this major historical event could not be done chronologically very well. A better method would be to tell the story over and over - each time from a different perspective. In one chapter you may discuss it from the perspective of a soldier on the front lines. In another from the perspective of the President. Later from the point of view of family whose loved one is on battlefield. You may tell the story of a slave whose future hinges on the war's outcome. The writer will probably move from perspective to perspective, focusing here for a bit, there for bit, moving forward and backwards through chronological time to emphasize elements at the appropriate point to communicate the ideas that the author finds most important.

With each rendering of the same story, the reader picks up additional detail and gets a deeper understanding of the events, their impact, the people affected, and how they were affected. This is the technique being used by God as the prophets experience the various visions that they wrote about.

So lets dive into the Book of Revelation next "reading" it in this context.

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