Two Lampstands: Two Branches
Women and the Restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood
Michelle G. Wiener, M.A., M. Ecum. Studies
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 (lampstands) standing before the God of the earth. Revelation 11:3-4
Then said he, “These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the
Lord of the whole earth.” Zechariah 4:14.
We have all heard of the two witnesses prophesied in Revelation. What if they are not who we have always assumed them to be? And what if this requires a radical reconfiguration of all we know to be true concerning the role of women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood? As both a former evangelical and convert to the Church, I would like to explore this topic further, using Revelation 11: 3-4 as my focal point of reference.
I remember as a sixth grader in a fundamentalist Christian school hearing about the Rapture for the first time ever. The way it was presented in this school was very scary, to say the least. We were told that after the Rapture occurred and the believers were taken up into heaven, great calamity would ensue worldwide. After some time, two mysterious witnesses would appear in the streets of Jerusalem and prophesy, and they would be killed after three and a half days, to be resurrected miraculously. My sixth grade teacher firmly believed these two witnesses would be Moses and Elijah, since Elijah never saw death and no one knows where Moses is buried (Deut. 34:5-6), therefore both have the possibility of being resurrected. However, if Moses died, would he adequately fit that description? The other possibility that has been proposed is Enoch, due to the fact that he was “taken up” (Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5). Evangelicals have not been quite as quick to embrace this view, although it seems this theory is gaining more and more momentum today.
I no longer believe in the Rapture. I am no longer an evangelical or Southern Baptist. I am a Mormon feminist married to an incredible Jewish man! From time to time, however, I see my inner evangelical rise to the surface – and yes, it frightens me a little. Lately, I have been pondering the book of Revelation and I have been noticing that it is nothing at all like I was raised to believe. I am finding a fascinating picture emerge; one that contradicts everything I once thought true about God, Jesus and the end times. And I have found myself as of late, pondering the identity of the two witnesses. Countless theories have been proposed; it has even been speculated in LDS circles, and even in the LDS blogosphere, that the two witnesses may even be taken from among the First Presidency or General Authorities. That said; the Scriptures themselves leave the identity of these two witnesses open ended. I believe there is a reason. The true identity and nature — the restoration and fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood are revealed in and through them.
One of the debates brought up surrounding this issue is that of lineage. Are the two witnesses from the tribe of Judah? Or are they from among the ten Lost Tribes? (the Northern Kingdom, collectively known as Ephraim). While Peter, James and John restored the Melchizedek Priesthood to Joseph Smith, the true power of the Melchizedek Priesthood lies in Elijah of the Northern Kingdom Israel, who bestowed the Melchizedek Priesthood to them, alongside Moses, on the Mount of Transfiguration, “We learn from latter-day revelation that Elijah held the sealing power of the Melchizedek Priesthood and was the last prophet to do so before the time of Jesus Christ.” Herein provides a clue to the identity, nature and mission of the two witnesses, and reveals the identity of the first. The power behind the Melchizedek Priesthood, which is intricately connected with Elijah, and as revealed to Joseph Smith through the angel Moroni, turns “the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers…” (Malachi 4:6; see also verse 5). Elijah, who was taken up into heaven without seeing death, or translated, is the first lampstand, the first branch of the Melchizedek Priesthood. However, it is my firm belief that the restoration of the Melchizidek priesthood is not complete; there is another lampstand, another branch, and once again, the tribe of Ephraim is the key to bridging that gap.
Why Ephraim? Historically, we know that the ten northern tribes of Israel became “lost” to the annals of history as they were overtaken by the Assyrians, dispersed and became intermingled with other tribes—and entangled with their gods. They became disconnected from the sacred traditions of their ancestors. They are essentially, of mixed lineage, with their ancestry going back to ancient Israel. The key to understanding their return to Zion is provided in and through the symbol of the lampstand (Rev. 11:4).
Lampstands, or candlesticks provide light and are a sacred symbol used throughout the Scriptures to represent Israel, a priestly nation (Exodus 19:6), a “light unto the Gentiles” (Isaiah 49:6). Ten lampstands lined the inner court of King Solomon’s Temple; “five on the right hand and five on the left” (II Chronicles 4:7). The lampstands represent the ten lost tribes, with five parallel to the other five. The parallel structure here, as well as the positioning of the lampstands, is significant, with the two witnesses, symbolized by the two lampstands, lighting the way, leading the ingathering – bringing the ten tribes from outside the court of the Gentiles and into the sanctuary and jurisdiction of the Temple: “But the court, which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given to the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.” (Revelation 11:2). Only those who are under the protection and jurisdiction of the Holy Temple will be protected in the midst of all the turmoil that will ensue at that time. It is interesting to note that the two witnesses also serve a fierce protective function for the House of Israel, which will be instrumental in the final ingathering (see Rev. 11:5).
The two witnesses, the two parallel lampstands, serve as a light to Ephraim to redirect them to their lost roots and reaffirm their sacred lineage as “worthy members of the House of Israel,” a common phraseology reiterated in many LDS patriarchal blessings. The two lampstands light the way, leading Israel back to the Temple; back to the traditions of their ancestors, and back to the Holy of Holies, wherein the golden lamp stand stood, thus fulfilling Malachi 4:6 and the words of Moroni. Therefore, the two witnesses would have to be from the tribe of Ephraim in order for their children to be able to fully relate to them. Moses is from the tribe of Levi and would not qualify, as he represents a lesser priesthood, although he stands alongside Elijah at the Mount of Transfiguration, the lesser being a shadow of the greater. As Joseph Smith pointed out early on, “All Priesthood is Melchizedek, but there are different portions or degrees of it.”  It is interesting to note that the tribes of Levi and Judah are not represented through the lampstand symbol, but through the two pillars that guard the Temple. Therefore, Moses could not, by default, be one of the two witnesses in Revelation, as the symbolism implies that Ephraim will be gathered in collectively.
What other clues do we have to suggest that Elijah, who represents the Northern Kingdom, is one of the two witnesses? Revelation 11:6a provides the key to understanding the nature of their ministry, “These have the power to shut heaven that it rain not in the days of their prophecy,” in essence exerting control over natural phenomena. This is a natural function of the Melchizedek Priesthood, and characterized Elijah’s prophetic ministry while he was here on earth. In a Priesthood session talk given by Elder Bruce R. McConkie, he states that one of the blessings bestowed to bearers of the Melchizedek Priesthood is “the power to govern all things, both temporal and spiritual kingdoms of the world, and the elements and powers of the earth.” He goes on to say, “With reference to this, our scriptures say: ‘For God having sworn unto Enoch and his seed with an oath by himself; that every one being ordained after this order and callings should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course…’” 
This reference to Enoch is the key to understanding the identity and purpose of the second lampstand. The descendants of Ephraim are also the descendants of Enoch, as are all children of Noah, with Enoch being the founder of the great city Zion and we can assume, first bearer of the Melchizedek priesthood, ordained by God: “And Enoch and all his people walked with God, and he dwelt in the midst of Zion; and it came to pass that Zion was not, for God received it up into his own bosom;…” (Moses 7:69). Herein lies the bridge to this gap; for when Melchizedek, the king and high priest of Salem appears to Abraham, he seems to appear out of nowhere. “And he (Melchizedek) blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth.” (Genesis 14:19- emphasis mine). Notice here the blessings that follow— including that of controlling the elements.
Ephraim, the youngest son of Joseph, was the one who was given a special blessing upon his father’s death, as well as an important mission. What is Ephraim’s mission and why is it central to the Restoration of the Gospel? As Latter-day Saints, we are the tribe of Ephraim, although other tribes are certainly numbered amongst us. We are Israel, the restored lost tribes collectively. We are the children of Joseph, and as restored members of the House of Israel, we have a special mission to the world, “Of the twelve tribes, the tribes of Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, will be gathered first and then direct the other tribes in their gathering. (see JST, Genesis 48:5-11; Deuteronomy 33:16-17; D&C 133:30-39)”  The Student Manual goes on to point out that it will be a marvelous sight for the other tribes to see the promises of Isaiah and Jeremiah fulfilled through Ephraim’s efforts. Ephraim, alongside Manasseh, will lead the way in the ingathering of the twelve tribes. Notice that Ephraim and Manasseh are blessed by Jacob, their grandfather, before he even calls his sons in for their patriarchal blessings — and Ephraim is favored over Manasseh, the elder son. (Genesis 48). This is breaking of tradition on two accounts and a common theme expressed throughout the Hebrew Bible, that of the younger son taking precedence over the elder.
Consider for a moment Joseph’s blessing – “Joseph is a fruitful bough, even as a fruitful bough by a well whose branches run over the wall…Even by God of thy father who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts and of the womb.” (Genesis 49: 22; 25). Notice here the blessings of heaven and earth and the power to exert control over the elements— and the powerful feminine imagery that accompanies it. Is the feminine imagery accidental? And how does this all tie in with Enoch and the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood?
When Joseph Smith established the Relief Society, he proclaimed “that the Society should move according to the ancient Priesthood…Said he was going to make of this Society a kingdom of priests as in Enoch’s day—as in Paul’s day.” This reference to Enoch is key, as Enoch is the one with whom the power of the Melchizedek Priesthood resides, and this Priesthood is extended from Melchizedek to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and now Ephraim through Joseph, on to us as his descendants. It is Ephraim’s birthright, and Joseph Smith is making it clear that women, daughters of Ephraim, are included in this holy birthright. When you add in the feminine imagery of Ephraim’s blessing, it makes Joseph Smith’s declaration all the more powerful.
So who is the second witness in the Book of Revelation? Who is the second lampstand- another descendant of Ephraim standing shoulder to shoulder with Elijah? Who is the second branch of the Melchizedek Priesthood? The clue, I believe can be found in the feminine imagery employed in the blessing to Ephraim, this “daughter of Zion” who will be as a “tower of the flock,” (Micah 4:8), or “Midgal Eder” (which translates “tower of the flock”) to the scattered remnant of Israel in the last days (see verse 7). This “high tower” of the flock is none other than Mary Magdalene, the female counterpart to Elijah. She holds the keys to something very powerful that often goes overlooked in the LDS community – and she was given a special commission by Christ himself immediately following the Resurrection.
Once again, the feminine imagery employed in Ephraim’s blessing is the key to understanding this progression of thought in the Scriptures, for Mary Magdalene serves as the archetype of Rachel, Joseph’s mother and Ephraim’s grandmother, “weeping for her children” to return to Zion (Jeremiah 31:15; Matthew 2:18). Speaking of the last days, the country prophet Micah continues, “Now why does thou cry out aloud? is there no king in thee? is thy counselor perished? For pangs have taken thee as a woman in travail” (4:9). There is a deep sense of loss and hope for return reiterated throughout all the prophets in the Hebrew Bible, symbolized first and foremost by Rachel, the mother of the lost house of Israel. Her continued overshadowing, enigmatic presence throughout the Scriptures cannot be overlooked, as she is always eagerly awaiting the return of her lost children, her flock – thus fulfilling Malachi’s decree of bridging the gap between the generations, a critical function of the Melchizedek Priesthood.
Consider the following from Doctrine and Covenants 101: (12) “And in that day all who are found upon the watch-tower, or in other words, all mine Israel, shall be saved. (13) And they that have been scattered shall be gathered. (14) And all they who have mourned shall be comforted. (19) And all these things that the prophets might be fulfilled.” Note here the references to scattering, gathering, mourning, and most importantly, the overarching symbol of the watch-tower, which serves a protective function in battle, as well as provides a focal point of reference for all within its jurisdiction. The added symbolism of the “olive trees” employed in D&C 101 also matches up with the olive tree imagery in Revelation 11:4, an additional symbol used to describe the two witnesses.
It is interesting to note that the two witnesses are clothed in sackcloth while they prophesy, sackcloth being a symbol of mourning (Revelation 11:3). Historically, Mary Magdalene has been depicted as a woman in mourning. In a very recent issue of the Ensign, there is a woman pictured cradling the bottom of the cross, overcome by intense emotion. This unnamed woman is wearing a coat of many colors, clearly symbolic of Joseph and representing the lost remnant of Israel. I do not believe the symbolism employed in the artwork is accidental.
As a young person growing up in the Baptist church, I was always frightened by the prohibition in Revelation 22:18-19 concerning the dangers of “adding to and taking away” from the prophecies contained therein. Is this not easy for anyone to do –whether knowingly or unknowingly? With all our additional Scriptures and continuing revelation in the LDS Church, how do we know we are not guilty of this? Certainly the evangelicals harshly criticize Joseph Smith for violating this prohibition. However, what if our Book of Mormon and modern day revelations are all legitimate continuations of these prophecies; in essence, the living tradition? And furthermore, what if the “little book” mentioned in Revelation 10 is actually a reference to the Book of Mormon— and the “angel standing upon the sea,” is a reference to Moroni, pointing to the day when the Gospel will reach the far ends of the earth?
Notice here the logical progression – first the Book of Mormon in chapter 10, the two witnesses are killed off and resurrected in chapter 11, and then the Queen of Heaven emerges in Revelation 12:1. –then, and only then is the dreaded Beast, the Antichrist brought onto the scene. Once the two witnesses, the two lampstands of Ephraim, carry out their mission, the ingathering is complete and the Queen of Heaven (Heavenly Mother) is elevated to her rightful place (Rev. 12:1). Taking the Scripture within its proper context, is there any denying the identity of the second witness? And is it possible that there is indeed, a second branch of the Melchizedek Priesthood symbolized by her? If so, why has the original vision of Joseph Smith concerning the Relief Society and restoration of the Priesthood not been fully realized? As someone who spent my teen years doubting my salvation and fearing the Rapture, now I find myself eagerly awaiting the day when I finally hear the words, “Come up hither.” (Revelation 4:1)
 LDS Freedom Forum, “Questions re: Two Witness in Jerusalem,” question posted by Joppa: April 23, 2009, http://www.ldsfreedomforum.com/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=7227 (accessed September 7, 2013). Includes responses by various authors.
 Elder David A. Bednar, “The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn,” Ensign, November 2011, 24-27.
 Ibid. Elder Bednar also quotes from JSH 1: 30-39, concerning the angel Moroni revealing this to Joseph Smith, concerning the role of Elijah in the latter days.
 Joseph Smith in “Teachings” (180-181); borrowed from quotes “The Holy Order of Melchizedek”: http://emp.byui.edu/WightmanG/OT_301/Class_Articles/Holy_Order.html (accessed September 7, 2013).
 Elder Bruce R. McConkie, “The Ten Blessings of the Priesthood,”
http://www.lds.org/ensign/1977/11/the-ten-blessings-of-the-priesthood (accessed September 7, 2013).
 Ibid; additional scripture reference made JST, Gen. 14: 30-31.
 Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual: Religion 430-431: Salt Lake City: Intellectual Reserve, 2004. http://www.ldsces.org/inst_manuals/doc-gosp/manualindex.asp (accessed September 7, 2013). See chapter 24.
 Church Historian’s Press. Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, from March 30, 1842, 19.
http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/nauvoo-relief-society-minute-book?dm=image-and-text&zm=zoom-inner&tm=expanded&p=19&s=undefined&sm=none (accessed September 7, 2013).
 Although this cannot be 100% proven and does not reflect official LDS doctrine, I argue in another paper “Women and the LDS Church” that Mary Magdalene, like Elijah, was also translated. See my corresponding blog series on www.agitatingfaithfully.org for more information. (post is no longer available)
 “Woman, Behold Thy Son” artwork by James Tissot. reprinted in the Ensign: April 2013, 35.
 *Additional Note: Also the reference to “come up hither” (Rev. 4:1) is an intentional play on words. In page 32 of the Nauvoo Relief Soceity Minutes, Joseph Smith stresses the importance of “magnifying your callings,” all the while, waiting patiently on the call to “come up higher.”
Bednar, David A. “The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn.” Ensign, November 2011.
Church Historian’s Press. Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, March 30, 1842.
Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual: Religion 430-431. Salt Lake City, Intellectual
Reserve, 2004. http://www.ldsces.org/inst_manuals/doc-gosp/manualindex.asp
LDS Freedom Forum. http://www.ldsfreedomforum.com/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=7227.
McConkie, Bruce R. “The Ten Blessings of the Priesthood.” Ensign, November 1977.
“The Holy Order of Melchizedek” Accessed September 7, 2013.
Tissot, James, “Woman Behold Thy Son” artwork reprinted in the Ensign, April 2013.
What an insightful drawing together of thoughts and references. Lots for me to ponder!
The fullness of the Melchizedek priesthood has been on the earth beginning with Adam and was restored by Elijah in the latest dispensation (as recorded in the D&C) whose sealing powers are exercised in the temple. It is the priesthood that operates in the temple and in families. Here’s a great summary: http://www.lds.org/ensign/1985/08/what-i-hope-you-will-teach-your-children-about-the-temple?lang=eng
It is in the temple that we become a kingdom of priests, kings, & queens unto God (Rev 1:6). I believe many have misunderstood statements to this effect by Joseph Smith.
It should also be noted that 2 Nephi 8:18-20 refers to these two witnesses as sons.
Finally, the woman driven into the wilderness has long been associated with/representative of the Christian church, the bride of Christ, that through apostasy was driven into the “wilderness” (if you continue reading Rev 12 after verse 1) until the Restoration, the twelve stars representing the apostles who hold the keys of the church/kingdom of God on the earth.
I personally am glad that the scriptures are rich enough to have multiple true layers of interpretation, and that the final word has not been spoken on very many things. I agree that Michelle’s interpretation is speculative. I think there is value in making room for this kind of speculation in our minds and in our church. I love the story of Joseph Smith being asked to discipline a man for teaching an erroneous interpretation of revelation. His reply was, no man was ever damned for believing too much, only for believing too little.
John, if women had written scripture, if they had been acknowledged as fully human, viable souls (the bible texts were written at a time when women were considered only partial souls, I believe it was 2/3 of a soul) you might find entirely different readings and interpretations of various revelations. As it is, those of us who now know we are indeed fully developed, sentient beings, are entitled to revelation just as you are. The spirit whispers truth to each of us in our own language. If you can only accept a traditionally male interpretation of scripture, you may miss important messages.
This is beautiful. Thank you for taking time to compose and share this message.
I am a devout, active Latter-day Saint. Just last week I was visiting with a good friend. I told her about how – many years ago – I began to wonder if there were offices within the priesthood specifically intended for women; offices or branches of what we now see only as male priesthood. This idea has pressed on me with varying intensity for over twenty years. My friend said she had felt the same thing – that perhaps, we are veiled from important truths, that there may very well be a wing of priesthood reserved for women and as yet unrevealed to humanity at large.
That’s when a powerful image came to my mind: As a church, we are like a single-winged bird, earth-bound, flightless, without a second wing to lift us to where I believe God wants us to be. How it will all unfold is a mystery to me. I doubt I will witness the eventual flight in my lifetime. But I’m convinced the unfolding has begun.