Revelation 11:4

These are
αὖτοι εἰσιν [autoi eisin] : These, they are, emphasizing the individuals.

the two olive trees
Israel is referred to by God as a “Green Olive Tree, Lovely and of Good Fruit” (Jer. Jer. 11:16a). The psalm writer referred to himself, one who trusted in God’s mercy, as “a green olive tree in the house of God” (Ps. Ps. 52:8). The definite article (the) is intended to denote a specific pair of olive trees (see below).

and the two lamp stands
Lamp stands is λυχνίαι [lychniai] , the same word which described the seven lampstands which were the Seven Churches of Asia (Rev. Rev. 1:12+, Rev. 1:20+; Rev. 2:1+, Rev. 2:5+). Evidently, these two lamp stands will serve a similar purpose to the seven lampstands (the churches). As in the previous phrase, the definite article (the ) points to a pair of olive trees and lamp stands which would be known to John. The allusion is to Zechariah’s fifth vision (Zec. Zec. 4:1-14) wherein Zechariah is shown a lampstand of solid gold with seven pipes feeding seven lamps. The lamps are fed by a shared bowl of oil which stands between two olive trees into which the oil from the trees drips (Zec. Zec. 4:3, Zec. 4:12). When Zechariah asks an angel concerning the identity of the two olive trees and the fruitful oil-dripping branches which extend from them, the angel responds: “These are the two anointed ones [lit. “sons of oil”] who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth” (Zec. Zec. 4:14). They are two who are anointed by oil (a common figure for the Holy Spirit).

The candlestick itself—the central object of this vision—is doubtless a figurative representation of the seven-branched candlestick in the Temple. There it stood in the Holy Place . . . not only as the emblem and representation of what the whole redeemed family shall finally be “when in union with their risen, glorified Lord they shall for ever shine in the sanctuary of God,” but also as typifying Israel’s high calling in relation to the other nations. In his midst a great light had shone—the light of the self-revelation of the glory of Jehovah—not only for his own illumination, but that he might be the candlestick, the light-bearer, and light-diffuser all around. . . . We know how terribly and sadly Israel failed to respond to God’s purpose concerning Him.1

It is most in harmony with the scope of these visions (one of the great objects of [the vision] was to encourage the two heads, or leaders, of the restored remnant of the nation in their task of rebuilding the Temple) to regard the olive trees as representing Joshua the high priest, and Zerubbabel the prince.2

The fourth (Zec. Zec. 3:1) and fifth (Zec. Zec. 4:1) visions of Zechariah are related. In the fourth vision, upon the stone which is laid before Joshua are seven eyes (Zec. Zec. 3:9). Similarly, the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel is seen by seven “eyes of the LORD which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth” (Zec. Zec. 4:10). As we have seen, these eyes represent the Holy Spirit, the “seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Rev. Rev. 5:6+). The fifth vision concerns seven lamps which also allude to the Holy Spirit: “Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God” (Rev. Rev. 4:5+). Zechariah’s two visions concern the work of the Holy Spirit through two individuals during two restorations:
  • Two Individuals - The fifth vision ends with the statement that the two “sons of oil” stand beside the Lord of the whole earth. In the fourth vision, Joshua is said to be standing before the Angel of the LORD. Throughout the fourth vision, it is the high priest Joshua who is being encouraged. In the fifth vision, Zerubbabel is told that the construction of the temple will be completed “ ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the LORD of hosts” (Zec. Zec. 4:6). Thus, it is by the hand of Joshua and Zerubbabel that the Holy Spirit will accomplish the restoration of the second Temple. “While in relation to the remnant of Israel at that time, and to the Temple then in building, we are to understand by these two ‘sons of oil’ the actual persons of Joshua and Zerubbabel, it is certain that these two, considered merely as individuals, do not exhaust the symbol, for the simple reason that the supply of oil for the candlestick is a vision designed to describe the abiding, and especially the future position and mission of the congregation of Israel, could not be represented as dependent on the lives of two mortal men. They must therefore be viewed standing here as types or representatives of the kingly and priestly offices to which they respectively belonged.”3
  • Two Restorations - In the immediate context of the fourth vision, Joshua is admonished to walk in God’s ways. There is also a distant context of the vision which indicates that God will bring forth his Servant “the BRANCH” (Zec. Zec. 3:8). This is a common title of Messiah (see Four Gospels) and results in the eventual cleansing of the land (Zec. Zec. 3:9). “ ‘In that day,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘Everyone will invite his neighbor under his vine and under his fig tree.’ ” (Zec. Zec. 3:10). This speaks of a time of prosperity and peace—as in the Millennial Kingdom.4 The fifth vision concerns the foundation of the temple (house) and communicates to Zerubbabel that “his hands shall also finish it (Zec. Zec. 4:9). This speaks of the second temple which was underway at the time of the vision. Later, Zechariah indicates that a future individual, called “the BRANCH,” will build the temple and wear two crowns: ruling as both priest and king.5 Concerning this individual, Zechariah relates, “So He shall be a priest on His throne” (Zec. Zec. 6:13b), yet no high priest ever ruled on a throne nor did any king of Israel function in the office of priest. When taken together, these passages indicate both a near-term restoration (the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple in the days of Zerubabbel and Joshua) and a distant restoration (the restoration of Jerusalem and the temple for the Millennial Kingdom under Messiah). The meager temple of the time of Zerubbabel, which caused those who remembered Solomon’s temple to weep in disappointment (Ezra Ezra 3:12-13), which was enhanced by Herod and saw the first advent of Messiah only to be destroyed by Rome in A.D. 70 due to the apostasy of the nation, would one day stand anew in the days of the Millennial Temple (Eze. Eze. 40:1-Eze. 47:1). Zec. 3:8-10). The olive trees and lampstands symbolize the light of revival, since olive oil was commonly used in lamps. . . . God will not bring salvation blessing from human power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Zec. Zec. 4:6). Like Joshua and Zerubbabel, the two witnesses will lead a spiritual revival of Israel culminating in the building of a temple.”6 “[The witnesses] are the corresponding Zerubbabel and Jeshua of the final restitution.”7
The allusion back to Zechariah’s visions is further proof of the Jewishness of these individuals, but also underscores their function in bringing Israel toward the final restoration seen by Zechariah.8 The Church Age having come to a close, the focus has shifted back to Israel in preparation of a faithful nation suitable for the Millennial Kingdom to come.

The history of corporate Gentile Christianity is not as the shining light that “shineth more and more unto the perfect day,” as some who boast in the supposed progress and speak of the conversion of the world before the glorious appearing of Christ ignorantly suppose, but rather that of a bright dawn, developing into an increasingly dark and cloudy day, and ending in blackness of darkness. And there is no hope for Christendom which continued not in the goodness of God when once it is “cut off”; nor is there any promise of the restoration and relighting of its candlestick when once its light has been quenched in anti-Christian apostasy. But it is different with Israel. There is always hope in his end. Not only shall the sceptre of governmental rule and the kingdom come back to the daughter of Jerusalem, after the long centuries of subjugation and oppression, but her candlestick, too, shall be restored after the long period of Israel’s spiritual darkness and blindness, to shine in more resplendent glory than even in the past. This is the meaning of Zechariah’s fifth vision, and it sets forth in symbol the great truth proclaimed by the former prophets in relation to Israel’s future glory as the centre of light and blessing to all the nations of the earth.9

It is the role of the people of God, be they Israel or the Church, to shine forth so that those who do not God may “see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mtt. Mat. 5:14). This mission was fulfilled in the life of John the Baptist (John John 1:7-8; John 5:35) and also in Jesus (John John 1:9; John 3:19). In the absence of Jesus, the Church had presented the light (Rev. Rev. 1:13+, Rev. 1:20+; Rev. 2:5+). Why the need for these two lampstands if the previous seven are still present on the earth? It is our view that this is additional evidence in favor of a pretribulational Rapture for the seven lampstands are not present on the earth during this period of time when the two lampstands minister.

standing before the God of the earth
Standing is ἐστῶτες [estōtes] , a perfect tense participle, while having stood. They took their place before God prior to John having seen them. Here the phrase is an intentional allusion to the nearly identical phrase in the related passage in Zechariah. “These are the two anointed ones who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth” [emphasis added] (Zec. Zec. 4:14). Standing before the Lord describes a position of ministry to the Lord (Deu. Deu. 10:8; 1K. 1K. 17:1; Rev. Rev. 8:2+). These two stand before God and minister to Him by faithfully prophesying and witnessing His word. Although their ministry appears directed toward the earth dwellers, they are in fact focused upon being pure and faithful conduits for God to speak to the nations at the time of the end.

the God of the earth
The term for earth is γῆς [gēs] , which preterist interpreters generally prefer to interpret as designating the land of Israel or the surrounding geographical area in order to restrict the scope of the book of Revelation to Israel in the events of A.D. 70. The global scope of Revelation is seen again here in that these witnesses stand before the God of the entire earth and those which they torment include “peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations” —a global population (Rev. Rev. 11:9-10+).