Revelation 11:1–14. The Two Witnesses. Intermission I.
Key Notes: Two prophetic witnesses work in Jerusalem for three and a half years. Other 3.5 year periods of judgment. God's servants in tough places.
This chapter appears to break the continuity of the text, as if to call for an intermission. The message is simple: two witnesses are at work in a city for three and a half years, are killed, revived and taken up to Heaven. The episode lends itself to the classic reporter's questions: who, what, when, where and why.
Where is the city? In the preface (11:1–3) John is told to measure the temple of God, the altar and the worshippers but not the outer court because it would given over to the Gentiles and they will trample over the Holy City for 42 months. It is the city where their Lord was crucified. This is most certainly Jerusalem. Ironically, it is also called Sodom and Egypt because of its sexual impurity and idolatry.
Using a measuring rod in prophetic literature is a way of describing God's concern and care, e.g. Ezekiel's vision of the temple (Ezek.40–43) and Zechariah's vision of Jerusalem. (Zech.2:1–5). On the other hand, a plumb-line is associated with destruction. (Amos 7:7–9). So God's concern is expressed for the temple, the altar and worshippers in the Holy City.
Who are the two witnesses? They are not named, but their powers remind us of two OT prophets, Elijah and Moses. Elijah (IK.17:1) had the power to stop the rain. (Rev.11:6). He also was able to call down fire from Heaven. (IIK.1:9–16). Moses had the power to bring plagues on Egypt (Ex.7–12) and turn the water to blood. They were also seen together at the Transfiguration. (Matt.17:1–13). From this information, commentators have concluded that Moses and Elijah, or witnesses modeled after them are intended.
11:4 "These are the two olive trees and the two lamp-stands which stand before the Lord of the earth." The cross-reference is to Zech.4:14 "These are the two anointed who stand by the Lord of the whole earth."
In Zechariah the relationship between the olive trees and lamp-stand is given. The olive trees are the oil-source for the lamps. The message to Zechariah (4:6) is "not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts." That is, the oil of the Holy Spirit is the source of the leaders' power. Similarly, in Revelation, the olive trees are thought to represent the power of the Holy Spirit upon these witnesses. In Revelation 1, the lamp-stands stand for the churches (1:20), but there is no credence given to the idea that these two witnesses are two churches. Individual prophets seem clearly intended.
Why are they called witnesses? They are not evangelists, preaching the Gospel, or priests, mediating between God and men. They may be witnessing their experience, as we commonly think of witnessing, or they may be like court witnesses against unbelievers. Because they are two, and Deut.17:6 (or IICor.13:1) gives the rule that every serious decision requires two witnesses, a witness against unbelievers is suggested. After their death, many give glory to God, so that ultimately their work is rewarded.
When do they witness? The witnesses will prophesy 1260 days = 3.5 years.
A period of 3.5 years is repeatedly associated with the time of the Great Tribulation in both Daniel and Revelation. Rev.11:3.
• The "little horn" will have power over the saints of the Most High for a time, two times and a half time = 3.5 times or years = 42 months. Dan.7:25
• “He shall make a strong covenant with many for one week; for half of the week (3.5 years) he shall cause sacrifice and offering to cease; upon the wing of abomination shall come one who makes desolate.” (Dan.9:27)
• "...from the time that the continual burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1290 Days" = 3.5 years. Dan.12:11
• The Woman will be kept in the wilderness for 1260 days = 3.5 years. She will be nourished for a time, times and a half time = 3.5 years. Rev.12:6
• The Beast will speak blasphemy for 42 months = 3.5 years. Rev.13:5
History records several other 3.5 year periods of judgment.
*Elijah's drought lasted 42 months. James 5:17
*Antiochus Epiphanes, a Greek, desecrated the temple for three and a half years--from June 168BC to Dec.165BC. (W. Barklay’s commentary on Daniel). He is believed to be the "little horn" of Dan.7:25.
*Jesus' public ministry was approximately 3.5 years.
*The siege of Jerusalem lasted 3.5 years. (Beale's commentary on Revelation)
*Persecution of Christians under Diocletian lasted from Feb.23,305 to July 25,308 AD.
In summary, two messengers from God, like Elijah and Moses, witness with great power by the Holy Spirit against unbelief in Jerusalem during 3.5 years of the Great Tribulation. When their mission is done, they are killed by the Beast and exposed in the streets for 3.5 days until God resurrects them and they are received to Heaven in the sight of all.
What good lessons do we derive from this doleful prophecy?
1. These witnesses were invulnerable until their mission was complete. "Christians are immortal until their work is done." We should not fear the enemy; we should fear only God. (Matt.10:28). He has our times in His hands. Psa.31:5
2. In the epicenter of the Great Tribulation, God has His best servants at work. When Israel was being destroyed and exiled by the Babylonians, God had His stellar prophets in the centers of trouble and of power. Jeremiah was in Jerusalem during the Babylonian siege, Daniel in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar the conqueror, and Ezekiel sitting with the exiles in Babylon.
And at a time when the Evil One seems to have total control of the world, God has His two witnesses fighting the battle, seeming to fail but victorious in the end. They are victorious because God vindicates them by their resurrection and ascension, and because of the many giving glory to God when they see what happened. In this respect, they resemble Christ, Himself, who was slain through Satan's manipulation of Judas, dead for three days, with an earthquake accompanying His resurrection and ascension to God. And thousands were converted shortly after, at Pentecost.
"He did not leave Himself without a witness". (Acts 14:17). God is at work in the midst of the worst of tribulations.