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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.
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.
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).
Early Christians, such as Tertullian, Irenaeus, and Hippolytus of Rome, have concluded that the two witnesses would be Enoch and Elijah, prophets who did not die because God "took" them. Others have proposed Moses as one of the witnesses, for his ability to turn water into blood and the power to plague the earth.
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 purview 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's Exposition 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.
According to Codex Alexandrinus (A), Codex Vaticanus, Codex Ephraemi (C), as the oldest manuscripts, as well as early church theologians such as Arethas of Caesarea, the original Greek text of Revelation 11:8 uses the word 'body' instead of 'bodies', whereas later the text switches back to using the plural form 'bodies' in verse 9. The plural v. singular ambiguity is reinforced in Rev. 11:5 where the original Greek text of the oldest manuscripts uses the term 'mouth' in the singular instead of 'mouths' in the plural. Therefore verse 11:5 reads: "If any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies," and verse 11:8 reads "And their dead body shall lie in the street of the great city." Some authors have suggested that this grammar is the strongest clue to identifying who this end time prophets (or prophet) are, such as Leon G. Van Wert is his book The Jewish Popes: The Two Harbingers of the End Times, who elucidates how it is possible, based on the grammatical interpretation of the text, that the two witnesses be represented by just one person who would be a Jewish Pope, since the text requires that the "two" witnesses have one common i.e. shared mouth, and one shared body, and therefore "they" have to be a single person. However, others have suggested to use the scriptural definition of the meaning of one body from Genesis 2:24, where a husband and a wife are united to form one flesh. In Mark 10:8 Jesus emphasizes that after marriage a husband and a wife "are no longer two, but one flesh." There are many Bible readers and theologians who share this view, and they have pointed out that this fact of the possibility of an end-time female prophet should be allowed to surface to greater public awareness in spite of fears due to alleged accusations of a deeply rooted misogynistic attitude at certain echelons in Church and theological organizations.
In the Seventh-day Adventist interpretation, Uriah Smith and Ellen G. White considered the two witnesses to be the Old and New Testaments. They believed that the French Revolution was the time when the "two witnesses" were killed.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that the two witnesses would be two prophets on a mission to the Jews in the modern nation of Israel, possibly two members of their Quorum of the Twelve or their First Presidency, who are considered to be prophets by the church.