The Two Witnesses.
SUMMARY.--The Temple Measured. The Holy City Trodden Down by the Gentiles. The Two Witnesses. Prophesying in Sackcloth. The Forty-Two Months. The Witnesses Slain. The Witnesses Exalted. The Fall of the Wicked World. The Seventh Trumpet Blown. The Final Triumph.
1, 2. There was given me a reed like unto a rod. There are several points that must be noticed: 1. Who measures? 2. The measure used. 3. What is measured? (1) A reed is given to John to be used as a measure. It is not an angel who measures, but an apostle, the sole representative of the apostles then living. The apostle is a representative of the apostolic body. It is the apostles who are to measure. (2) The measure is not a human one. John did not make it, nor did any other apostle, nor any man, or body of men. The reed was given to him. It is a divine measure. Whatever is measured is to be compared with a divine standard. There is a divine standard for measurement which was given by our Lord to the apostles. This is the New Testament of Jesus Christ. (3) Measure the temple of God. This cannot mean the literal temple. It was not in the part of the world where John was, if it had been standing; nor was it then standing. What is meant is that of which the temple was a symbol; viz., the Church. See notes on/Commentaries/PeoplesNewTestament/pnt.cgi?book=&chapter=000#_" And the altar. In the Jewish temple the altar was the place where the worship centered. Without the altar worship was impossible, and the altar is taken as a symbol of the worship. The sacrifices of the altar were all typical of Christ's atonement. Hence, the measurement has a relation to the death of Christ. And them that worship therein. The measure shall be applied to those who profess to be Christians. It will be seen whether they come up to the standard. 2. And the court which is without the temple. This was the outer court, the court of the Gentiles, the type of the world. This measurement does not relate to the world so much as to the Church. It is given unto the Gentiles. Not only it, but the Holy City. By the Holy City Jerusalem is meant when the term is named literally, but Jerusalem is used often by both Paul and John as a symbol of the Church. See Gal. 4:26 Heb. 12:22 Isaiah 2:2 Isaiah 52:1 Isa. 52:1 . Hence, the prediction is to be fulfilled by a prostration or desecration of the Church by worldly influences. Forty and two months. This period is given several times in prophecy in varied forms. These will all be considered at once below. Here it will suffice to say that this is a period of 1260 days, and a day being a symbol of a year, the period meant is 1260 years.
After this explanation of the meaning of terms, the significance becomes plain. This prediction will be fulfilled if, under the sixth trumpet, before the seventh is blown, a corrupted Church, corrupted during long ages of apostasy shall be compared with some divine standard. Or, in other words, after 1453 there ought to be an effort to reform the Church, and to conform to the New Testament. Let us ask, who shall measure the Church? It has been measured for hundreds of years, not by the Bible, but by the decrees of councils, and by the decisions of Popes. There was during all this time a voice, almost suppressed, asking that it be measured by the divine standard, but it was stifled. This prophecy, however, implies a movement of commanding power which shall seek to apply the divine reed to the measurement of the Church. Who now, according to John, shall make the measurement; what shall be the standard? Not Popes, not councils, not apostolic fathers, but the reed is given to an apostle, the living representative of the apostolic body. The twelve to whom were given twelve thrones, to judge the twelve tribes of Israel, shall also measure the Church of Jesus Christ in the day signified by the symbolism employed. How? The reed was not their own creation but was given to them. There is but one divine measure that has ever been given. The New Testament, written by apostles, given to them by inspiration, is the divine standard with which the Church, the worship and the worshippers, must be tested. Not the traditions of men, not the decisions of councils, not the decrees of synods, or conferences, not the creeds of any uninspired body that ever met on the face of the earth, but the standard measure is the New Testament.
This is not the only place where the reed is named as the appointed instrument for the measurement of the Church. If the reader will turn to the twenty-first chapter , he will find that the New Jerusalem, the Holy City, is measured by an angel with a golden reed. In Ezekiel, chapter 40 , the prophet sees an angel measure with a reed a temple such as never been seen by mortal vision. The temple itself is just equal to the measure, and it is composed of many chambers, all equal in size to the reed, to each other, and to the temple itself, of which they are parts! This strange symbolism, this representation of what is apparently impossible, most beautifully represents the character of the true Church, when it has reached the fullness of divine measure, and appears as the New Jerusalem. The whole temple is just the size, neither larger nor smaller than the reed. The true Church corresponds exactly with the divine measure of the Word. It neither adds to itself things unknown to the apostles, nor omits the things therein enjoined. As the temple of Ezekiel was composed of chambers, each of which was the same size of the temple, so the Church is composed of many congregations, each of which should correspond exactly to the measure of the whole body. These individual congregations, which make up the spiritual temple, should not differ from each other in name, in creeds, in rites, in observances, as do the sects of modern times. In the true Church, when fully restored, there will be one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one spirit, one hope, one name, one practice.
The symbolism recorded by the apostle evidently describes the measurement of the Church, its worship, and of its worshipers by the divine standard of the New Testament. Our next inquiry is whether history records the fulfillment. Do we find aught in history, subsequent to 1453, which can be regarded as fulfillment of the prophecy? Earlier reformers, such as Waldo, Wiclif, and Huss, made an attempt to reform the Church, but the whole world dates the beginning of the Protestant Reformation with Luther. It was in 1517 that he nailed to the doors of the church in Wittenberg his Theses, by which he broke with Rome. It was held by the Papacy, which then lorded over Christendom, that the writings of the Fathers, tradition, and the decrees of councils were not only an additional measure, but might even set aside the Word of God. The great Reformation planted itself upon the principles maintained by Martin Luther, and the corner-stone of Protestantism is that the Bible is the only rule of faith and practice of the Christian Church. Protestantism has not always been true to its principles, but it has always conceded that the final standard of measurement is the Word of God.
3, 4. I will give unto my two witnesses. These two witnesses are witnesses for the Lord. They shall bear witness for 1260 days, the forty-two months the Holy City is trodden down. During this time they shall prophesy in sackcloth, a symbol of sorrow and mourning. It implies that these witnesses shall be in tribulation during the period named. 4. These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks. The olive tree was the source of the oil used to provide for the candlesticks. The candlesticks, burning the oil, gave forth light. The symbols imply that during this period of 1260 days God shall have two agencies, bearing divine witness, which shall give forth light to men. These agencies shall be filled and sustained by the Spirit.
5, 6. Fire proceedeth out of their mouth. Whatever is signified by these two witnesses, they have the power to destroy. In seeking for the two witnesses we must find agencies which can save life and can destroy it, can shut the heavens and open them, can prevent blessings from descending upon the earth, can inflict curses and plagues on the inhabitants of the earth. The witnesses have supernatural powers.
7-10. When they shall have finished their testimony. The thought is, "When they shall have made their testimony complete." The beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit. The coming up of the beast out of the abyss is named here, in Revelation 13:1 Revelation 17:3 . The powers that come from the abyss are satanic. Compare Revelation 9:2 Revelation 9:11 . The beast, therefore, represents some devilish power or influence. The word rendered "beast" here, in Revelation 13:1 Revelation 17:3 , denotes a savage wild beast of prey. The beast from the abyss should be distinguished from "the beast coming up out of the sea" ( 13:1 ), and from "the beast coming up out of the earth" ( 13:11 ). They are all malign powers, but the power of evil manifested in different forms. Shall . . . kill them. Whatever the beast represents, that power shall assail the witnesses, and shall slay them for a time. 8. And their dead bodies shall lie in the street. They shall not be buried, but remain in plain sight. I believe that this is what is signified. Though the witnesses were slain, their enemies could not get them out of sight. They could not bury them. Of the great city. This term is used eight times in Revelation. It is never used of Jerusalem. It is in contrast with the Holy City. As the Holy City is a symbol of the church, a wicked City would symbolize a false religion, or apostate church. Spiritually is called Sodom, and Egypt. Symbolically so called. Sodom, with its sins, was a type of this city; Egypt, the house of bondage, is also a type. It is a sinful organization which has enslaved the true Israel. Where also our Lord was crucified. Many commentators have insisted that this refers to literal Jerusalem, but we must remember that the place is one in which our Lord was spiritually crucified. This is done by apostasy. See Heb. 6:6 . That the reference is to spiritual declension is plain. 9. Look upon their dead bodies three days and an half. During a period of three and a half days their bodies shall be seen in the street of the city slain, and all shall see them. They shall be conspicuous. This would seem to point to a period of three and one-half years. 10. They that dwell on the earth. This expression, often used in Revelation, always refers to enemies of Christ. These rejoice because the witnesses are slain. They make merry over their death, because these two prophets tormented them. These witnesses, then, prophesied; that is, they spoke the will of God. Their warnings, exhortations, and denunciations of sin tormented the dwellers of the earth.
11-13. After three days and n half. After lying in a state called dead three and a half years, they come to life again. God gave them life. The effect of their appearance was to fill the people of the wicked city with fear. 12. They heard a great voice from heaven. That voice called on the witnesses to come up thither. To be exalted to heaven, symbolically, always means to give power, prosperity and glory. This means that the witnesses now receive power and influence over men. Their exaltation implies that their prophesying is to be accepted as authority over men. 13. In that hour there was a great earthquake. The symbol of commotion, and of political or religious changes. The earthquake is caused by the exaltation of the two witnesses. The result is that the wicked city is shaken, and a part of it falls. A tenth part. A large part. Seven thousand persons. Various explanations have been given for these numbers. In my judgment seven is used because it is the perfect number. Seven thousands would imply totality. The meaning is, therefore, a total overthrow. And the remnant. So complete was the overthrow from the earthquake, that the rest were filled with fear and glorified God. The whole implies that when the witnesses were lifted up, a commotion shook the false religion or apostate church, and that it was destroyed by the commotion. A part of its inhabitants were slain (perhaps spiritually), and the rest repented.
It has been remarked by several commentators that the passage concerning the two witnesses is the most difficult to explain of any in Revelation. Certainly there is a wide disagreement concerning its meaning, but I believe that it can be clearly explained. Let all the facts stated of the witnesses be taken in one glance. 1. There are two witnesses, and only two. 2. These two are witnesses. Their business is to testify to certain facts or truths. 3. The Lord says they are "my" witnesses. They testify for the Lord. 4. The Lord gives these witnesses power. "I will give power," etc. 5. They shall testify in sackcloth. This implies that they shall testify in sorrow, robed in mourning. 6. They shall do this in 1260 days or, since a day in prophecy is the symbol for a year, for a period of 1260 years. 7. These witnesses are likened to two olive trees and two lampstands. 8. It is stated that they shall have power to destroy their enemies. 9. Also to intercept blessings. 10. At the end of three and half years, or 1260 days, shall be slain. 11. Shall lie unburied, but after three and half days shall rise again. 12. The witnesses are "prophets" and they "prophesy;" that is, they speak by inspiration. 13. Shall have great power and glory and be exalted to heaven. 14. The city of sin shall be overthrown.
There are a number of facts recorded here which must be true of witnesses, and the business of the interpreter is simply to ascertain whether there is anything of which they are true and which would correspond with these facts. (1) The first one of the fourteen facts I have noted is that there were only two witnesses. I have lying before me an open Bible. I find that the book of Revelation is in what is called the New Testament. The whole Bible is divided into two great divisions, which are called the Old and New Testaments. There are, then two Testaments. Note further that the term testament is a word that signifies to bear witness. It is derived from a Latin word, testor, which means "I testify." The two testaments, then, imply two witnesses. We have, therefore, in the Old Testament and New Testament, two witnesses, whether they are those described by John or not. (2) These two witnesses of the Bible each testify of the Lord. He said to the Jews concerning the Old Testament Scriptures, "They testify of me." The Apostle John says concerning his life of the Savior, "These things were written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God." One of these witnesses testifies of the Lord in type and prophecy; the other testifies by its history of facts. (3) The two witnesses are the Lord's. He gives them their power and they testify of Him. Thus far the two witnesses of the Bible correspond exactly with the two witnesses of the prophecy. (4) The two witnesses of the Word are fed with the oil of inspiration and give forth light. (5) These two witnesses speak by inspiration, or "prophesy." Passing over some marks of minor importance, we come to (6) the statement that the two witnesses have power to destroy. The Word of God can save and it can destroy. It can justify and it can condemn. In the Judgment the fate of men will be decided by the Word. If the reader will turn to Rev. 19:11-15 , and read what is written of the conquests, triumphs, and destruction by the Word of God, he will require nothing more upon this point. In fact everything stated of the power of the two witnesses has been affirmed of the Word of God. (7) It is said that for 1260 days the witness shall prophesy in sackcloth. Every reader knows that for ages the Bible was forbidden to the people and locked up in the dead languages. It was even a crime, for which many suffered death, to have the Bible in the tongue of the people. It is proper that we should consider here this period of mourning in which, if I am correct, the witness of the Old Testament and New Testament shall be given in sorrow.
This period of mourning, during which the witnesses shall prophesy in sackcloth is 1260 days. The same period is named in several places in this prophecy. In Daniel 7:25 it is stated that the youngest horn of the sea monster shall have dominion for a time, times, and a half time. This is understood to be a period of three and a half years, forty-two months, or 1260 days. The outer court of the Holy City shall be trodden down by the Gentiles for forty-two months, or 1260 days ( verse 2 ). The woman was fed of God in the wilderness for 1260 days ( Rev. 13:6 ). She was nourished a time, times, and a half time, or three and one-half years, or 1260 days ( chap. 13:14 ). In five different passages the same period of time is named, and evidently covers in each case the same period of the history of the Church. The day being used as a symbol for a year, we know that 1260 years, the horn spoken of by Daniel, which speaks great words against the Most High, shall have dominion; that for the same period the Gentiles, the enemies of the saints, shall be in power; the two witnesses prophesy in sackcloth, and the woman, the type of the true Church, flee into the wilderness. This remarkable period is that of the power and glory of Papal Rome. It becomes us, once for all, to settle when this period began and when it ends.
It is somewhat difficult to mark the exact point in this development of the Romish power, which may be regarded as the beginning of the 1260 years. But I believe that the consummation of the usurpation can be pointed out to the year.
In A. D. 527 Justinian ascended the throne of the Eastern Empire. Before his reign the schism had begun between the Greek and the Roman churches. He healed that schism by force in favor of Rome. If the reader will open Gibbon, Vol. IV., p. 528, he will find an account of a terrible persecution, inaugurated by this monarch, in order to make all conform to the Papal rule. "His reign," says Gibbon, "was a uniform, yet various scene of persecution . . . Churches with their congregations were surrounded by Catholic soldiers, and the houses were burned with the congregations in them." At this period, then, the Church is drenched in blood in order to make the Romish power universal. The witnesses certainly prophesy in mourning. What more? In A. D. 531, Justinian, the ruler of the Eastern half of the old Roman world, the ruler of the countries where the churches still protested against the arrogant claims of Rome, decreed and enforced by arms the subjugation of the whole Church to the Roman Pope, and in A. D. 533, he bestowed upon him the title of Rector Ecclesiæ" or Lord of the Church. (D'Aubigne's Reformation, Vol. I., p. 42.) In A. D. 533 the "Man of Sin" was certainly fully revealed. The Papacy was completely established. The universal claims of the Pope were sanctioned by imperial power. Here, then, is the beginning point.
During the long period extending from A. D. 533 to 1793, a prophetic period of 1260 years, the two witnesses, the Old Testament and New Testament, remained in sackcloth. Even where the light had begun to spring up and the Protestant Reformation had taken the place of Romish faith, there was still intoleration. Puritans were persecuted in England, Baptists in Lutheran Germany, Calvin burnt Servetus in Geneva, Quakers and Baptists were punished for their religion in the American colonies.
"War was made upon them." Near the close of the last century the most determined attack ever known was made upon the Bible. Voltaire and Rousseau led in France; Frederick the Great in Germany; Tom Paine, Hume, Gibbon and Bolingbroke in England; Thomas Jefferson and Paine in America. At last the culmination was reached in France. The nation rose in a crusade against all religion. The Convention, composed of the representatives of the mightiest nation then upon the earth, by national law abolished not only the Bible but God. They decreed that France would worship no gods but Reason and Liberty. Atheism became the law of the State.
This is the only instance known to all history of a deliberate enactment abolishing all religion. Most fitly might such an event be styled the slaying of the witnesses who testify of the Lord. For 1260 years the testimony of the witnesses had been in part suppressed; in 1793 it was enacted that they should testify no more, or henceforth should be silent as death. It was decreed that time should date no more from the Christian era, and that the week itself should be abolished because it was a Bible division of time. Let it be borne in mind: 1. That the war was waged by the power from the bottomless pit; an infidel power. 2. The witnesses were slain by the state which has done more than all others to build up and uphold the temporal power of the Pope. They lie in the street of the great city. 3. It is just 1260 years, the prophetic period, from the time when the Pope was styled Lord of the Church by imperial authority, until the state of the abolition of the Bible and of God by "the eldest son of the Church," or from A. D. 533 to A. D. 1793.
After three days and a half the witnesses came to life. This implies that they regain their power and influence. The French "Convention," which inaugurated the Reign of Terror, guillotined all the royal family and many thousand citizens, decreed the dethronement of God, and made itself a terror to mankind, continued in existence for a little more than three years, and in about three and a half years the French nation began to recover from its madness. Its atheistic laws were repealed, and Christianity was acknowledged as the religion of the State. This was not all. The resurrected witnesses were in sackcloth no longer. The age of religious toleration had come. With the beginning of the present century a movement began to sweep over the civilized land in favor of religious liberty.
The exaltation of the witnesses has followed. With the nineteenth century began a mighty movement to extend the circulation of the Bible. It is now translated into every written tongue of the earth, and the Bible societies have made it the cheapest book in the world. To all who are not able to buy it is freely given. All are free to study it for themselves. Ours is also the age of missions. At the same time began a movement to preach the truths of the Bible to all nations. The result of this exaltation is that in our age we feel the heaving of a great moral earthquake. It is stated that a tenth part of the city shall be shaken down. Already Rome has lost its hold upon the governments of Italy and France. The trend of events is now towards the falling of the wicked city, the overthrow of its confirmed supporters, and the repentance of the others. These results are in the future; their fulfillment may yet require generations. We cannot name times and seasons, but the result will come.
14, 15. And the seventh angel sounded. This is the seventh trumpet of the seventh seal. It should bring the end, the final victory, the grand consummation. That is what the apostle now beholds in the vision. The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ. Here is the final triumph. It is the brightness of Zion's glad morning, the long deferred day of victory, the ushering in of the conquering reign of Christ. The Agency by which this conquest is effected is the exaltation of the witnesses, or the diffusion of the Word of God. This exaltation causes the earthquake, the fall of a part of the Great City, the destruction of a part of its inhabitants, and the repentance of the remnant. These events are followed by the seventh trumpet and the proclamation of the universal reign of Christ. Then the heavenly inhabitants join in pæans of victory and songs of praise and thanksgiving.
16-18. The four and twenty elders, which sat before God. These heavenly princes, in some way identified with the work of redemption, join in worship and praises. "The mystery of God has been finished in the days of the voice of the seventh angel" ( 10:7 ). The eighteenth verse will sufficiently explain why this also should be called a woe trumpet. It is the trumpet of judgment.
19. I believe this verse ought to belong to chapter 12, and will there consider it. If it is connected in meaning with verse 18 it signifies that heaven is opened at the close of the seventh trumpet, and that from thence come judgments as well as blessings.
With Rev. 11:18 closes the first great division of the Book. It brings one series of visions which reaches from the time of John to the end of the world to a close. It will aid those who have studied the preceding chapters to study the results in a condensed analysis.
The first four chapters are not prophecy, except as the history of the Seven Churches is outlined. The future history of the world and the Church is symbolized by a sealed book. It has seven seals. These are seven epochs that reach into the future until the end of time.
THE FIRST SEAL.--The White Horse. The Era of Triumph. The Glorious Period of Roman History; Revelation 6:1 Revelation 6:2 . A. D. 96 to A. D. 180
THE SECOND SEAL.--The Red Horse. The Era of Blood and of Civil Discord; Revelation 6:3 Revelation 6:4 . Beginning A. D. 193.
THE THIRD SEAL.--The Black Horse. The Seal of Calamity, and of National Distress; Revelation 6:5 Revelation 6:6 . Beginning about A. D. 200.
THE FOURTH SEAL.--The Pale Horse. The Era of Famine, Pestilence and Death; Revelation 6:7 Revelation 6:8 . About A. D. 240 to A. D. 270.
THE FIFTH SEAL.--The Era of Persecution. The last effort of Paganism to blot out the Christian name; Revelation 6:9 Revelation 6:10 . A. D. 303.
THE SIXTH SEAL.--The Seal of Revolution. The Era of the Overthrow of Pagan Civilization; 6:12-17 . Beginning about A. D. 310 and extending to A. D. 350.
THE FOUR WINDS.--A vision of destructive forces that shall destroy the Roman Empire, but held back until it shall be Christianized. The Four Winds represent Four Northern Invasions, also indicated by Four Trumpets; 9:1-17 . Fulfilled from A. D. 340 to A. D. 395.
THE FIRST TRUMPET under the Seventh Seal.--The Gothic Invasion fulfilled by the Invasion of Alaric; 8:7 . A. D. 409.
THE SECOND TRUMPET.--The Vandal Invasion. The Conquest of the Seas; Revelation 8:8 Revelation 8:9 . A. D. 422
THE THIRD TRUMPET.--The Invasion of Attila the Hun. The Scourge of the Rivers; Revelation 8:10 Revelation 8:11 . A. D. 440.
THE FOURTH TRUMPET.--The Final Overthrow of Rome by Odoacer. The End of Ancient History; 8:12 . A. D. 476. These Four Trumpet Invasions are the Four Winds which were withheld.
THE FIFTH TRUMPET SOUNDED.--The Mohammedan Uprising. The Saracen Empire; 9:1-12 . A. D. 632 to A. D. 782.
THE SIXTH TRUMPET.--The Euphratean Angels Loosed. The Rise of Turkish Power; 9:13-21 . A. D. 1057 to A. D. 1453.
THE LITTLE BOOK and the Seven Thunders.--Symbols of the Reformation of Luther; 10:1-11 . A. D. 1518.
THE OLD PATHS SOUGHT.--The Church Measured; Revelation 11:1 Revelation 11:2 . From A. D. 1516 to the present time.
THE TWO WITNESSES.--The Two Books of the Word of God. In Sackcloth for twelve hundred and sixty years. Slain in 1793. Resurrected near the beginning of this century; 11:3-12 .