The book of Revelation mentions “two witnesses” (Revelation 11:3-13) that appear for a time and then are killed and taken up to heaven. There is widespread speculation as to the identity of these “two witnesses,” based largely on “futurist” and so-called literal interpretations of the book of Revelation. I say so-called literal interpretations because despite claiming to interpret all Scripture literally, they (the “ravenous wolves” and “false prophets”) do so in an arbitrarily inconsistent and hypocritical manner, choosing which words and verses to interpret literally and which to interpret symbolically in a random fashion to support their preferred dogma.
These “futurist” interpreters of Revelation proclaim that these “two witnesses” will be two literal men who stand in the literal streets of literal Jerusalem with literal fire coming out of their literal mouths. Some claim that the two men will be Enoch and Elijah (or Enoch and Moses, or Moses and Elijah) returned from heaven again to earth. Despite being difficult passages to understand, we can say for sure what the “two witnesses” are not: two literal persons breathing literal fire. Such false interpretations are the result of treating symbolic biblical language literally.
Again, I confess that we are dealing with a difficult section of Scripture here, but we must also understand that we are dealing with highly figurative and symbolic language. Much of the book of Revelation is symbolism; it’s like a book of symbols. And further, it’s like a graduate class in Bible study, as it forces one to go through nearly all of the other books of the Bible to understand it. I believe that is by design.
Scripture states that it is by the mouth (testimony) of at least two (2+) witnesses that all truth is to be established (Deuteronomy 17:6, 2 Corinthians 13:1). God has, therefore, always maintained at least “two witnesses” to testify about His truth (and The Truth) to man. In the Old Testament, they were: 1) the Law and 2) the Prophets. In the New Testament age, there are also witnesses for God (and Christ); these are 1) The Word (Old and New Testaments), 2) The Spirit (John 15:26-27), and 3) the Church, for we are all witnesses of Christ (Matthew 5:14-16, 28:19-20, Mark 16:15, Acts 1:22, 22:20, 23:11, 1 Peter 5:1). [As a side note, God has also provided another (third/fourth) witness for Himself at all times: nature (creation and the heavens, rains, food, etc., see Psalm 19:1-4, Romans 1:18-23, Acts 14:15-17).]
The book of Revelation is referring to these witnesses symbolically; the question before us is: Which ones? The text in Revelation gives us clues as to who these witnesses are: “These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth,” and that “fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies,” and they “have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague.” Therefore, one should let Scripture interpret Scripture and read what Scripture tells us about those items. I’ve read a couple of reasonable and sensible opinions on the matter, such as:
- The Church and the Spirit,
- The Church and the Word,
- The Word and the Spirit, or
- The Old and New Testaments (i.e., Scripture, the Word of God, the Bible)
I think a good case can be made for option B, with a slight modification to how it is worded: The “witnesses” are the Church, working together with Word (i.e., speaking, “prophesying”). The “witnesses” proclaim God’s truth to the world, and the fire which proceeds out of their mouths is the power of the Word of God for conviction and judgment (and also salvation). I don’t think it’s meant as a literal “two” either, but symbolic of the principle being portrayed here: It is “by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact [i.e., truth] may be confirmed” (Matthew 18:16), with “two” being used in Revelation symbolically as the minimum number.
God’s people are often referred to as (and called to be) “witnesses” (Isaiah 43:10; Acts 1:8, 22; 10:39-41; 22:15, 20; 23:11; 1 Peter 5:1; Matthew 5:14; Luke 24:47-48; John 15:47, etc.), and “anointed ones” (Psalm 2:2; 18:50; 20:6; 23:5; 105:15; 132:17; Isaiah 61:1; 1 John 2:20, 27), and God’s Word is described as “like fire in your mouth” (Jeremiah 23:29; 5:14). Further Scripture shows us throughout the Bible that it is the Word of God that has the power to enforce judgment, inflict plagues, droughts, etc. (see books of Exodus, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Haggai, etc.). I think another match to confirm it is the church is that the time indicated for the witnesses to “prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth” (Revelation 11:3) matches the period indicated for the church being “in the wilderness” (i.e., living under duress, opposition, persecution, etc., see Revelation 12:6, 14).
It’s easy to focus solely on the identity of the “two witnesses” and miss the wonderful symbolism, meaning, and hope of the scene being played out before us here: It is a picture of God’s people faithfully giving out the Word of God even when under duress and persecution and in the face of opposition and hatred by the world and the institutions of man (“the beast that comes up out of the abyss”). Matthew Henry writes on Isaiah 6:10: “Even the word of God [spoken out of the mouths of the two witnesses] oftentimes proves a means of hardening sinners. The evangelical prophet [witnesses] himself makes the heart of this people fat, not only as he foretels it, passing this sentence upon them in God’s name, and seals them under it, but as his preaching had a tendency to it, rocking some asleep in security (to whom it was a lovely song), and making others more outrageous, to whom it was such a reproach that they were not able to bear it.”
It’s also not uncommon for the world (and worldly institutions of man) to think they have conquered (i.e., extinguished, slain, killed) and prevailed against the Word of God, but in the end, the witnesses (and the Word of God they breathed out – i.e., spoke as fire out of their mouths) will be exalted (as in lifted to heaven) and proven true, good, noble, and worthy, with their enemies (the enemies of God) devoured and defeated on the Great Day of Judgment.
David Vaughn Elliot, in his Nobody Left Behind book and companion series of articles, makes an excellent case for option D.   Ungodly men and institutions have fought against, suppressed, and tried to drown out the Word of God and the Truth of Scripture since the beginning, and that continues to this very day in the gospel age of grace. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church for many years banned people from even reading the Bible and burned, tortured, and killed those who dared to translate it into their own language! The Word was literally down to one language (Latin) and unavailable to the public to even read for hundreds of years because of this suppression – commonly called the “dark ages,” for a good reason.
The reader is encouraged to continue their own diligent study on this subject and develop a reasoned opinion supported by Scripture.
 Henry, Matthew. Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, London. 1706-1710/1721.
 Elliot, David Vaughn (2004), Nobody Left Behind: Insight into “End-Time” Prophecies, Methuen, Massachusetts.