The book of Revelation is highly symbolic, and in it there is this curious passage which speaks of the coming of two witnesses who prophesy for three and a half years, and are then killed by the "beast from the abyss," which many take for a future Antichrist (Rev. 11). If we take a survey of how different groups interpret this passage, there are differing opinions. In the early Christian Church, the two witnesses were taken to be the prophets Enoch and Elijah, for they were two prophets that had been taken up into heaven without dying. Such a theory is also described in the apocryphal book of Enoch, which has many portions which preceded the writing of the book of Revelation. In more recent times opinion shifted that the two witnesses represent Moses and Elijah. The Bahai faith states that they are the prophets Mohammed and Ali. The Seventh Day Adventists take a more symbolic approach, and state that the two witnesses represent the Old and New Testaments, and the time when the two witnesses were killed was the period of the French Revolution. The Seventh Day Adventists are actually close to getting the timing right (see The Prophecy of the Abomination of Desolation, The Prophecy of the Abomination of Desolation, part 2, and The Spiritual Meaning of the Abomination of Desolation).
Most interpretations are very literal, seeking fulfillment in two individual persons. Very few interpretations take the two witnesses to be symbolic, which I think is the correct approach in the context of the entire book of Revelation, which is full of symbols. But if the two witnesses are symbolic, they are symbolic of what? Without understanding the symbolism behind scripture, and direct revelation, one will be at a total loss to explain not only this passage, but most of the Apocalypse. And so the issue remained closed until the 18th century, when Emanuel Swedenborg's vision was opened so that the internal senses of scripture could be revealed. He wrote two large works on the book of Revelation: Apocalypse Explained and Apocalypse Revealed. Beyond Genesis and Exodus, he was instructed to especially focus on Revelation.
THE BOOK OF SEVEN THUNDERS
The two witnesses appear right after an angel descends out of heaven with a little book (Rev. 10), who utters seven thunders - and mysteriously the apostle John is told not to write them down. This is indicative that a future revelation would be made - and such a revelation did occur when Swedenborg's vision was opened. The angel who descends with the little book represents a forgotten doctrine of Christianity, which is hidden in its theology but is rarely explained accurately due to other false doctrines. It is the doctrine that Jehovah himself descended to become incarnate, and made His human body Divine. This Divine Human is what is known in scripture as the "Son of God." A portion of this doctrine is found in the Athanasian Creed, which declares that in the one person Jesus Christ man became God and God became man, and are united as one as the soul and body. This is explained in detail in The Mystery of the Book of Seven Thunders Explained. Why did John not write it down? That in itself is symbolic - it symbolizes that the doctrine would be forgotten and rejected. And that is the case today in the illogical tritheistic conception of God as three persons, instead of one.
THE TWO WITNESSES ARE TWO PRINCIPLES OF THE NEW CHURCH
The meaning of the two witnesses in the book of Revelation follows from the meaning of the book of seven thunders. To sum up the answer, the two witnesses are two principle doctrines of the New Church, which doctrines were spelled out in the 18th century in visions to Emanuel Swedenborg:
1. That God is One in Person in our Lord Jesus Christ, andANY person, who follows these two principles, and exposes the error of the former churches, essentially become a representation of the testimony of the two witnesses. They are the two basic principles of the New Church. These two principles are opposed by two prevalent theological concepts within the Christian Church, which through the centuries gradually deviated from scripture:
2. One must repent and live by God's commandments in order to be saved.
1. That God is three in persons, a trinity of three beings or persons, and,2. That one is saved by faith or belief alone, and punishment for sin is automatically transferred onto the cross (theory of "vicarious atonement").Most denominations subscribe to the first principle of a Trinity of three persons, a theology that cannot be explained according to logic or reason. So the theology demands that no one question it by calling it a "mystery of faith." Faith is what is of truth, not blind obedience to authority. As for the second principle, that is held mainly by the Protestant denominations, who make faith separate from good works, by misinterpreting the writings of Paul who was speaking about Jewish rituals. For this see Christus Victor and "Pauline" Christianity. The two theologies are exactly opposite to each other, and Swedenborg was shown that a spiritual war would result between the two. And this direct opposition is what is described in the book of Revelation.
That the first principle, that God is one in person, who made his human Divine in Jesus Christ, Swedenborg explains as follows:
"And I will give unto My two witnesses, signifies those who confess and acknowledge from the heart that the Lord is the God of heaven and earth, and that His Human is Divine, and who are conjoined to Him by a life according to the precepts of the Decalogue. These are they who are here meant by the two witnesses, because those two things are the two essentials of the New Church. That the first essential, that the Lord is the God of heaven and earth, and that His Human is Divine, is a testimony, and hence that they who in heart confess and acknowledge it are witnesses, may be seen n. 6, 846, and also from these passages: I am the fellow-servant of thy brethren who have the testimony of Jesus; for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy (Apoc. xix. 10). The angels of Michael overcame the dragon by the blood of the Lamb and by the Word of His testimony: and the dragon went away to make war with the rest of her seed, who kept the commandments of God, and had the testimony of Jesus Christ (Apoc. xii. 11, 17). The souls of them who were beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the Word of God (Apoc. xx. 4). These are they who acknowledged the Lord. This is called the testimony of Jesus, because the Lord testifies it from His Word, and thus from Himself; therefore He is called the faithful and true witness (Apoc. i. 5; iii. 14): and He says, I testify of myself, and my testimony is true; because I know whence I come, and whither I go (John viii. 14): also, When the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, is come, He shall testify of Me (John xv. 26). That the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, which is also the Holy Spirit, is the proceeding Divine, and that this is the Lord Himself, may be seen in the Doctrine of the New Jerusalem concerning the Lord (n. 46-54). Now because the Lord Himself is the witness, therefore they also are meant by witnesses who testify this from the Lord as John did: Jesus said, Ye sent unto John, and he was a witness to the truth; yet I receive not testimony from man (John v. 33). John came for testimony, that he might testify concerning the Light: he was not the Light, but that he might testify of the Light. The Word, which was with God, and which was God, was the true Light (John i. 1-14, 34)." (Apocalypse Revealed, n. 490).That the second principle is repentance and a life of obedience to the 10 commandments, Swedenborg also deduces from other scripture:
"That the second essential of the New Church, which is conjunction with the Lord by a life according to the precepts of the Decalogue, is a testimony, is manifest from the fact that the Decalogue is called the Testimony; as in these places: Thou shalt put into the ark the Testimony which I will give thee (Exod. xxv. 16). Moses put the Testimony into the ark (Exod. xl. 20). The mercy-seat which is over the Testimony (Lev. xvi. 13). Leave the staves of the tribes before the Testimony (Num. xvii. 19). Besides other places, as Exod. xxv. 22; xxxi. 7, 18; xxxii. 15; Ps. lxxii. 5; Ps. cxxxii. 12. Something shall here be said concerning conjunction with the Lord by a life according to the precepts of the Decalogue. There are two tables upon which those precepts are written, the one for the Lord, the other for man. The first table teaches that many Gods are not to be worshipped, but one: the second table, that evils are not to be done. When therefore one God is worshipped, and man does not do evils, conjunction takes place; for as far as a man desists from evils, that is, repents, so far he is accepted of God, and does good from Him. But who now is the one God? A trinal God or a triune God is not one God, when the trinal and triune is in three Persons; but He in whom the trine or triune is in one Person, He is the one God; and that God is the Lord. Perplex the ideas as far as you can, yet you still will not bring it out clear that God is one, unless He is also one in Person." (Apocalypse Revealed, n. 490)That these two principles are the two witnesses, makes sense from evidence of other passages of scripture, but especially from the two greatest commandments:
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:36-40)
OTHER SYMBOLISM OF THE TWO WITNESSES
Swedenborg wrote volumes on the Apocalypse or book of Revelation, and in order to interpret the symbolism he goes through it line by line, and discloses the symbolism by referencing other scripture. There is no other book that I know of that goes into such detail. So what about the rest of chapter 11 of the book of Revelation , what is its spiritual meaning? Here is a short summary:
And they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and sixty days = to prophesy is to teach, and this time period means from beginning to end. The emphasis of the New Church should be to teach these two principles, from beginning to end. Other than the Swedenborgian Church, the Pentecostals fulfill the first principle in their Oneness doctrine, and the Seventh Day Adventists fulfill the second principle by their focus on the 10 commandments.
Clothed in sackcloth = mourning on account of the lack of reception of these two truths within the Christian Church in general, which has become corrupted. There will be a period of sadness.
These are the two olive-trees and the two candlesticks, which stand before the God of the earth = from these two principles comes all love and intelligence from the Lord.
And if any one will hurt them, fire shall go forth out of their mouth, and shall devour their enemies. And if any one will hurt them, thus must he be killed = those who turn against these two principles will perish from their own selfish loves. Every evil contains its own punishment.
These have power to shut heaven, that the rain fall not in the days of their prophecy = those who turn against these two principles will be unable to receive any heavenly truth, for all heavenly truth is founded on these two. As plants grow from water, so love grows from truth.
And they have power over the waters to turn them into blood = those who turn against these two principles will falsify and profane what little truths they know.
And to smite the earth with every plague as often as they will = those who turn against these two principles will suffer in many ways from their own selfish desires. Anything that turns against one God will begin to focus on the self, and anything that turns against the commandments will justify and ignore sin.
And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that cometh up out of the abyss shall make war with them, and shall overcome them, and shall kill them = those especially who espouse the doctrine of justification by faith alone will hate and reject these two principles of the New Church. Justification by faith alone will be used as the "measure" by which all others are accepted or rejected, blind to the fact that scripture does not support such a doctrine (thus, the abyss of darkness).
And their bodies shall lie upon the street of the great city = these two principles will be regarded as nothing by those who are in faith alone.
Which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt = those who teach the doctrine of faith alone are in the pride of their own self love and the pride of ruling others from their own self intelligence.
Where also our Lord was crucified = the non-acknowledgement of the Lord's Divine Human. This originates from dividing God into three persons, and the Lord into two natures in the Chalcedonian Creed.
And they of the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations shall see their bodies three days and a half - at the end, when these two principles are rejected by the majority so as to be practically non-existent, and closed to all discussion...
And shall not suffer their bodies to be put into sepulchres - they will utterly condemn such doctrines as heresy...
And they who dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them and be glad, and shall send gifts one to another = they shall continue in their false worship together, delighted in the doctrine of faith alone...
Because those two prophets tormented them who dwell upon the earth = the principle of one God in one person, and a life according to the commandments, are in direct opposition to a trinity of three beings, vicarious atonement, and justification by faith alone, and thus those who are in such worship will be upset when shown what they believe to be false.
And after the three days and a half the spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet - when the doctrine of faith alone appears victorious, the Lord will intervene and fill those who followed these two principles with a new inner spiritual life.
And great fear fell upon them who saw them = means confusion in those who grew up believing in a trinity of three beings, and justification by faith alone, when they realize what they have been taught was false.
And they heard a great voice from heaven, saying unto them, Come up hither = these two essentials will be protected by heaven.
And they ascended up into heaven in a cloud = those who follow these two essential truths will have conjunction with heaven, and will have support from the literal sense from scripture.
And their enemies beheld them = and those who were in faith alone remained fixed in their belief of justification by faith alone, unwilling to recognize the falsity in their own beliefs.
And in that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth part of the city fell. And there were slain in the earthquake names of men seven thousand = and after the truth was shown to them, and they rejected it, they became spiritually condemned, and completely separated from heaven. Their visible church on earth will begin to collapse from within, and decline.
And the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven = means that there will be a few, a small remnant, who will adjoin charity and good works to faith, having recognized the error of those who promoted justification by faith alone.
The second woe is past; behold, the third woe cometh quickly = lamentation over the corrupt state of the Christian Church, and its coming judgment.
And the seventh angel sounded = exploration by heaven into the internal spiritual state of the church on earth.
And there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become our Lord's and His Christ's and He shall reign for ever and ever = Now, a New Church will gradually grow where Jesus will be recognized as Jehovah in human form, who made his human Divine.
AN UNEXPECTED INTERPRETATION
This interpretation will obviously be an unexpected twist to many. In Apocalypse Revealed and Apocalypse Explained, it is supported by numerous scriptural references, where symbolism is used to abstract the text from person, place or time. For most expect two literal witnesses, who will use miracles to fight against a future political tyrant, an Antichrist. But the Antichrist is not an individual political tyrant, it is a false system of thought that has been gradually planted within the very church itself, until it is no longer a church, but a false image of it. But consider this: what is more illogical that God should be divided into multiple persons, where the church is no longer monotheistic? What is more illogical, that religion should be one of belief only, that it does not matter what you do? The Antichrist is not a person, it is a false system of thought, a false Christianity. Should we automatically assume the religion we were born in is the absolute truth? Question the truth, and search scripture to determine if it is true or not. Don't follow tradition for sake of tradition.