Who Are the Two Witnesses?

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Zechariah 4:1-3:

And the angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep. And said unto me, What seest thou? And I said, I have looked, and behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof: And two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof.

Zechariah 4:11-14:

Then answered I, and said unto him, What are these two olive trees upon the right side of the candlestick and upon the left side thereof? And I answered again, and said unto him, What be these two olive branches which through the two golden pipes empty the golden oil out of themselves? And he answered me and said, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord. Then said he, These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the LORD of the whole earth.

Revelation 11:3-4:

And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.

The question is, are these two literal witnesses, or are they symbolic of something else? I will further address this in the near future, but for now, I leave you with the opinion of William R. Williams, author of Lectures on Baptist History, (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1877, page 111-114:)

"[Sir Isaac Newton] was accustomed to hold, that the Baptists and the Arians--or at least the Eusebians, a special division of the Arians--were the Two Witnesses named in John's Apocalypse. We have this statement on the authority of William Whiston, who succeeded Newton in his professorship at Cambridge, a man wrongheaded but singularly honest...Whiston, who in his own life more than once repeats the statement, adds to it the remark that he, Whiston, was both Baptist and Arian, but he did not, as did his illustrious friend, hold the Baptists to be identical with one of the two witnesses. Whiston rather inclined, with the learned Bishop Lloyd before him, and with many later scholars, to regard the two witnesses testifying for God and slain by Antichrist, as being the Waldenses and Albigenses. Heylin, the learned but bigoted biographer of Archbishop Laud, was loth, as he said, to follow the Waldenses and Albigenses into 'their conventicles' for the succession of witnesses to God's true gospel."

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"Much of the imagery of the Apocalypse is reproduced from prophetic books of the Old Testament. In the earlier volume, the golden candlestick is one, as Zachariah saw it; but fed by two golden olive trees, emptying their golden oil by golden pipes into the candlestick, which needed this feeding to keep up its blazing. God presents, to the view of the apostle John, two candlesticks as well as two olive trees, where Zachariah had discerned but one candlestick, with a twofold supply from olive trees, not waiting for olive-gatherer or olive-press to cull and crush their fruit, but shedding the richness of their juices directly into the lamp-fires. It has seemed to us not impossible that God may have intended to symbolize and emphasize thus the peculiar distinction of preaching in the church of the New Dispensation. The written Scriptures were the source of guidance, and the reservoir of divine inspiration, to the earlier of the dispensations. But the King, now at last setting up his actual sovereignty on the earth in his own church, made the ministry its great means of edification and increase, and of spiritual aggression as against the world. It was a new and additional olive tree. The light of divine truth, in the character and story and dominion of Christ, is to shine steadily and with enhanced brightness over our own and all other lands. It is to be, under the plenary influences of the Spirit, fed, on the one side, by the written oracles, the record of the utterances of the old prophets of the Pen; on the other, it is to be fed by the evangelist and pastor, if truly commissioned of God, as his prophets of the Voice. They have no right to affect, or the merest approach to the authority of, the inspired prophet and apostle, whose testimony the Bible preserves. But, if truly called of God and commissioned by the Spirit, they are to be mighty in the Scripture, and, as was said of an old worthy, 'men of one book:'--thus spiritual, and distilling in a devout and lifelong study the lessons of Holy Writ, as by the living voice, into the ears and hearts of the church and the world, they cherish the flame that God lit; and that, once having lit it, the faithfulness and veracity and unchangeableness and unity of the Godhead will, evermore, guard, replenish, and heighten."