I, John, heard a voice from heaven speak to me: Here are my two witnesses:
These are the two olive trees and the two lamp stands that stand before the Lord of the earth.
The Book of Revelation has had an enormous effect on Catholic worship. Symbols from the book appear in our stained glass windows, our statuary and our rituals. We cannot imagine worship without the lamps (candles), the incense, the wheat and the wine.
Perhaps that is why, in nearly every Catholic church or chapel I have ever visited, there are two witnesses on either side of the main altar. They are usually Mary and Joseph, but sometimes they are Mary and Francis of Assisi, or some other couple. Here at Mount Saint Francis both witnesses have placed one foot on an apparent evil: Mary treads upon a snake; Francis steps over a bag of coins. Their stepping over these objects is a prophetic statement about our values. We have no truck with evil; we are gravely suspicious of money.
Since the day of its appearance Christians have pondered who these witnesses might be. Did Saint John have two particular martyrs in mind as he describes their death, resuscitation and ascension? Perhaps his first readers knew something that has been lost to history.
I'll go with the NABRE interpretation, that they represent the disciples Jesus sent two by two. There is far greater power in the witness of companions than there is solo missionaries. Anyone can declare "God is love!" with great affect, but does this missionary truly act lovingly?
I have known of at least one incredibly effective solo missionary in the recent history of my own province. He went off to a foreign country and drew people to himself, then came back to the US to raise funds for his projects. In the last half century he collected millions of dollars. But, as time wore on, problems emerged. He could not relinquish control; he began to lord it over his grateful subjects. When called to account by his superiors, he abruptly left the community.
The original Christian church surely had the same problem with enthusiasts who couldn't abide companionship. The intimacy of travelling together, of hearing the same sermon time after time, of noticing certain discrepancies between what the companion says and what the companion does become too much to bear. You'll remember that even Saint Paul and Barnabas split after a while. They quarreled about retaining John Mark in their company but there may have been more issues than Saint Luke -- who often glossed over problems -- wanted to record.
It's not easy to be Christian or Catholic -- which leads me to an old saying that I thought up recently:
1) You cannot love Jesus without belonging to a church. (If you think you love Jesus but refuse the fellowship of a church you are loving an imaginary god.)
2) You cannot belong to a church -- you'll find it unbearable! -- if you do not love Jesus with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.