The Two Witnesses
In Revelation 11:3, 4 we read,
3 And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth. 4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.
In the flow of John’s revelation, we see that the outer court of the temple has been given to the nations. This outer court is in “the holy city,” which is the term John uses later for the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven (Rev. 21:2). Again, in Rev. 11:19 he speaks of opening “the temple of God which is in heaven.” There is no question, then, that John’s temple is a spiritual temple and that the holy city is the New Jerusalem.
On the other hand, this spiritual temple is here on earth, because the living stones are true believers who are living on the earth.
In the World, but Not of the World
There is a temple in heaven itself, but since the time of Moses, God has been building a spiritual temple and city here on the earth. The heavenly structures were used as patterns to construct duplicates here on the earth, so that heaven might be brought to the earth, as Jesus prayed in Matt. 6:10.
The first structures were physical as seen in Moses’ tabernacle and Solomon’s temple. But these were never meant to be permanent. They were types and shadows to be seen as object lessons to teach us of spiritual things. The greater temple yet to come was to be made of living stones, originating in heaven, but being built and expressed on the earth. This was to be done by the work of the Holy Spirit in people on earth.
In John 8:23 Jesus told His disciples, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world.” He was referring to the fact that the disciples at that time were not yet begotten by the Spirit. They had come from their earthly parents and were therefore of the first Adam and of Jacob-Israel in the flesh. By a second begetting, they were to shift identities from the first Adam to the last and become new creatures, all having a heavenly Father. Only then could they be like Christ and say truthfully, “I am not of this world.”
That which is not of this world is being constructed in the world in order that heaven might come to earth. So we see the holy city coming down out of heaven in Rev. 21:2. Its origin is in heaven, and it is a spiritual city, but yet it is being built in the world. The same is true with the temple that God is building here on the earth. The overall purpose is for the Kingdom of God to include all that He created at the beginning in Gen. 1:1.
The Nations in the Outer Court
The outer court in Rev. 11:2 serves as the meeting point between heaven and earth. In the three parts of our temple, the Most Holy Place is our spirit; the Holy Place is our soul; the outer court is our body, that is, our flesh. As believers that are part of the temple of God, our flesh is subjected to the spirit, which is in turn yields to the Holy Spirit’s leadership. However, unbelievers, that is, “the nations,” are limited to the outer court, because they are yet fleshly until they have been begotten by God. So they are drawn to the outer court in order to see the light of truth borne by God’s witnesses.
The nations in their fleshly condition are carnal, unruly, and restless, for they must come as they are in order to see the light of truth. They are pictured as the sea that is constantly tossed. Isaiah 57:20, 21 says,
20 But the wicked are like the tossing sea, for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up refuse and mud. 21 “There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”
The great harlot sits upon the waters of the sea, and in Rev. 17:15 we read,
15 And he said to me, “The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues.”
Hence, when God gives the nations access to the outer court, it is as if a sea of humanity, being tossed to and fro, boisterous and unruly, is drawn to the temple of God to hear the word and to see the light of truth. God is not so concerned if they profane the sanctity of the outer court or the city itself. His purpose is to change their hearts and to include them in His Kingdom.
The Witnesses are Lampstands
There are two lampstands in John’s temple. Recall that there was but one lampstand in Moses’ tabernacle (Exodus 25:31), and ten in Solomon’s temple (2 Chron. 4:7). The ten were divided into two groups of five, one on the left and the other group on the right, as if each group were meant to provide us with a double witness of grace.
Thus, John reveals only two lampstands. John’s revelation appears to be drawn primarily from the fourth chapter of Zechariah, which is slightly different, but serves the same purpose. Zech. 4:2, 3 says,
2 And he [the angel] said to me, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold with its bowl on the top of it, and its seven lamps on it with seven spouts belonging to each of the lamps which are on the top of it; 3 also two olive trees by it, one on the right side of the bowl and the other on its left side.”
The prophet sees seven lamps on a single lampstand, as we see so often today in a menorah. But he also sees “two olive trees by it,” whose function is to produce olive oil for the lampstand. This is explained later in Zech. 4:11-14,
11 Then I answered and said to him, “What are these two olive trees on the right of the lampstand and on its left?”
The angel seemed to ignore the prophet’s question, so the prophet asked the angel again, but this time with a more detailed description of what he was seeing.
12 And I answered the second time and said to him, “What are the two olive branches, which are beside the two golden pipes, which empty the golden oil from themselves?” 13 So he answered me saying, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, “No, my lord.” 14 Then he said, “These are the two anointed ones [“sons of fresh oil”], who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth.”
This simple explanation raises more questions than it answers. However, it is as if the angel expected Zechariah to know the answer from what he has already seen. No doubt this is also why the angel ignored the prophet’s first inquiry. So if we look at the things that the prophet was already shown in the previous verses, we can get a better and more complete answer.
Zerubbabel, the First Son of Oil
In Zech. 4:6, 7 we read of one of the “sons of oil” in that time. It is Zerubbabel, the governor.
6 Then he answered and said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel, saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts. 7 ‘What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of Grace, grace to it!’”
As the governor, Zerubbabel’s job was to lay the “top stone” (NASB), or the “headstone” (KJV) in building the second temple. So Zech. 4:9 tells us,
9 The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands will finish it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.
In Ezra 3:8, 9, 10 we read the actual account of the temple’s foundation being laid in Jerusalem. Prophetically speaking, the headstone represented Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:20), the true Anointed One, that is, the Messiah. Ezra does not record the shouts of the people when this headstone was laid, but Zechariah says it was laid “with shouts of Grace, grace to it!” So John tells us many years later in John 1:17,
17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.
This is consistent also with the two sets of five lampstands that Solomon built for his temple. Five is the biblical number of grace. The two sets of five depict “grace, grace.”
As a son of oil, Zerubbabel was a type of Christ in his civil calling, or in his exercise of the Dominion Mandate. Before him were other types of Christ such as Moses and King David. Haggai 2:23 also tells us,
23 “On that day,” declares the Lord of hosts, “I will take you, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, my servant,” declares the Lord, “and I will make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you,” declares the Lord of hosts.
A signet ring is what was used to sign and seal a document or decree. Hot wax was poured out, and the signet ring pressed into it, which engraved the seal of the king on the document to make it official. Zerubbabel, then, was God’s signet ring, for he bore witness to the decrees of God and implemented them in the earth. In doing this, he was a type of Christ, who carried out all that the Father spoke and decreed.
Joshua, the Second Son of Oil
In the third chapter of Zechariah we are shown the other son of oil. We see the high priest Joshua being given clean garments so that he could minister in the temple. Between the governor and the high priest, we see the two sons of oil who are called to feed the lampstand with oil in order to give light to the people. The governor exercised the Dominion Mandate (Gen. 1:26), while the high priest exercised the Fruitfulness Mandate (Gen. 1:28). Together, they portrayed the complete birthright which ultimately belongs to Jesus Christ Himself.
Zechariah 3:6, 7 says,
6 And the angel of the Lord admonished Joshua saying, 7 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘If you will walk in My ways, and if you will perform My service, then you will also govern My house and also have charge of My courts, and I will grant you free access among these who are standing here.’”
So Joshua is the other son of oil, and he actually carries the name of Jesus. Joshua, or Yeshua, is Jesus’ Hebrew name that means “salvation.”
The purpose of these “two witnesses” is to supply the oil for the lampstand by which the light of the word may spread throughout the whole earth. Hence, they are depicted as “two olive trees” in Zech. 4:3 and again as “two olive branches” in Zech. 4:12.
John sees it in a slightly different way, for he sees “two olive trees and the two lampstands” in Rev. 11:4. Zechariah sees two olive trees and just one lampstand. Nonetheless, it is clear that in order to understand John’s revelation, we must compare it to Zechariah’s prophecy. Zechariah pictures the lampstand as separate from the olive trees, whereas John pictures two distinct lampstands, which are the two olive trees.
In other words, in John’s vision, we see two witnesses each portrayed as an olive-tree/lampstand, as if their source of oil is now internal. Yet it is clear that these two witnesses carry the Dominion Mandate and the Fruitfulness Mandate in the earth, and that their calling is to minister not only to the believers, but to the nations in the outer court. Their ministry is to share the light of Christ to the nations.
Next we will see how the two witnesses relate to Moses-Joshua and Elijah-Elisha.