The two witnesses have been identified by various theologians as real individuals, two groups of people, or as two concepts. Dispensationalist Christians believe that the events described in the Book of Revelation will occur before and during the Second Coming of Christ and attempt to associate references in the Book of Revelation with historical or current happenings and people.
John is told that the court of God's temple would be trampled on by the nations for 42 months. During that period for 1,260 days (or 42 months, or 3½ years), two witnesses would be granted authority to prophesy. They are described as two olive trees and two lampstands who stand before the Lord of the earth. Both are able to devour their enemies with fire that flows out of their mouths. Also, they have power over the sky and waters and are able to strike the earth with plague. After their testimony, the Beast overcomes the two witnesses and kills them. For three and a half days, the people of the earth celebrate the death of the two witnesses who have tormented them for three and a half years. Then God resurrects the two witnesses. This strikes fear on everyone witnessing their revival and the two witnesses ascend to heaven. In the next hour, a great earthquake occurs and kills 7000 people, destroying a tenth of the city.
These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. Revelation 11:4
The Apocalypse of John is considered by most Christian theologians to be the apostolic writings that incorporate more Hebrew (i.e., Old Testament) scriptures into the text than any other book of the New Testament. The images, symbolism, and allegorical language used throughout the Revelation are impossible to fathom or interpret without a fairly comprehensive knowledge of the original "Testament". The purpose and destiny of the two witnesses is to decry the reign of the Antichrist-Beast.
According to the text, the two witnesses are symbolised as the "two olive trees and the two lampstands" that have the power to destroy their enemies, control the weather and cause plagues. Their description as "two olive trees and two lampstands" may be symbolism, allegory, or literal. Some theologians believe that the two olive trees represent the peace that the witnesses try to bring to the sinful Earth and the two lampstands represent the light that they shine for Christ.
In attempting to exegete Revelation 11, commentators who hold to a premillennial eschatology generally interpret the two witnesses in one of three ways: (1) as individuals either manifested in some form of reincarnation; or "in the spirit" of Biblical prophets who once appeared in Bible history; or simply as two individuals newly arrived on the earth; (2) as corporate in nature (human) standing for the Church only or for Israel only; or both Israel and the Church; or for both Jewish and Gentiles believers in Jesus; or (3) as symbolism or an expression of biblical concepts (i.e., the Old and New Testaments; the Law and the Prophets; Mercy and Grace).
Modern theologians, such as John Walvoord, have furthered the point of indivisualism by comparing the "two lampstands" and the "two olive trees" of Revelation 11 to the two golden pipes and two olive trees/branches of Zechariah 4. By the identification of the two olive branches as "two anointed ones" or "two sons of the oil", in Zechariah, this reinforces the literalist interpretation that the two witnesses are two people. The personification of the two witnesses in Revelation, is so prevalent that according to theologian William Barclay, the passage seems to refer to definite persons.
Walvoord pointed out that because the Revelation passage does not specifically identify who the two witnesses are, it would be safer to conclude that they are not related to any previous historical character. The literalist typically has a dispensationalist or futurist interpretation that the two witnesses will appear in the Last days.
The two witnesses have been interpreted as representing the Church or a similar concept. The 1599 Geneva Study Bible has asserted that the two witnesses are the exclusive purvue of the church.Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible gives one church interpretation as consisting of believing Jews and that of the Gentiles.John Wesley in his commentary on Revelation 11 suggests a more spiritual, almost ambiguous, application.John Gill'sExposition of the Bible interprets the two witnesses as the true Church in counterdistinction to the antichrist system of Roman Catholicism. Ross Taylor's Verse by Verse Commentary on Revelation clearly defines the Church as the "two olive trees and the two lampstands."
Similarly, the two witnesses have been identified as Israel and the Christian Church. The number two has been associated with the witness of Israel to the Gentile nations during the 70th Week of Daniel's prophecy. The olive tree in the Scripture signifies Israel. The "witness of the Church" is signified by the two lampstands, whose identity was disclosed by the seven golden lampstands (i.e., candlesticks) revealed in Revelation 2-3 as the "churches." Revelation 2:1 refers to the churches as golden lampstands.
It has also been proposed that the two witnesses are the witnessing church, because Jesus sent out his disciples "two by two",
^Smith, p.539 - "But 'the triumphing of the wicked is short;' so was it in France, for their war on the Bible and Christianity had well-nigh swallowed them all up. They set out to destroy Christ's 'two witnesses,' but they filled France with blood and horror, so that they were horror-struck at the result of their wicked deeds, and were glad to remove their impious hands from the Bible"
^White, p.265. "The war against the Bible, carried forward for so many centuries in France, culminated in the scenes of the Revolution."