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Revelation 11:3

my two witnesses
The TR text indicates that it is an angel which is speaking with John (Rev. Rev. 11:1+). Yet here, the speaker speaks of the two witnesses as being his own. Either (1) the angel is speaking in the first person for God; (2) the angel speaking to John is the second person of the Trinity (see Divine Similarities); or (3) the voice is that of God directly from the throne. These witnesses are said to be my witnesses because, like the prophets who preceded them, they are dedicated to speaking forth His word and judgments as His servants (Rev. Rev. 10:7+). There are two witnesses because two is the number of witness prescribed by the Law of Moses (Num. Num. 35:30; Deu. Deu. 17:6; Deu. 19:5 cf. Mtt. Mat. 18:16. 2Cor. 2Cor. 13:1.). See Two: Witness. witnesses is μάρτυσιν [martysin] from which we get the word martyr . Like many of God’s witnesses during the Tribulation, these two individuals will be steadfast in their faith unto death (Rev. Rev. 11:7+ cf. Rev. Rev. 2:10+; Rev. 12:11+; Rev. 20:4+). They cannot be killed until “they finish their testimony (μαρτυρίαν [martyrian] )” (Rev. Rev. 11:7+). The saints and even the angels are witnesses in the sense that they share in the “testimony (μαρτυρίαν [martyrian] of Jesus” (Rev. Rev. 19:10+). The coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was to empower the church to be a witness to Jesus (Acts Acts 1:8; Acts Acts 2:32; Acts 3:15; Acts 13:31). Since their ministry is reminiscent of Moses (plagues, turning water to blood) and Elijah (consuming with fire, shutting off rain from heaven), their message will undoubtedly be that of both the law and the prophets —the writings which are frequently mentioned as a dual witness elsewhere (Mtt. Mat. 5:17; Mat. 7:12; Mat. 11:13; Mat. 22:40; Luke Luke 16:16, Luke 16:29; Luke 24:44; John John 1:45; Acts Acts 13:15; Acts 24:14; Acts 26:22; Acts 28:23; Rom. Rom. 3:21). The Jewishness of this chapter, and especially the ministry of these two witnesses, must be seen within the larger context of God’s promises to restore Israel. In an important parallel passage, the apostle Paul anguishes over Israel’s need of the gospel:

Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. . . . How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? . . . But I say, did Israel not know? . . . I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! . . . For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? [Eze. Eze. 37:1] . . . God is able to graft them in again . . . For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” (Rom. Rom. 10:1, Rom. 10:14-15, Rom. 10:19; Rom. 11:11, Rom. 11:15, Rom. 11:23, Rom. 11:25-26)

These two witnesses are among the “beautiful feet” which preach the gospel of peace (Rom. Rom. 10:15) to Israel. Their ministry involves the entire earth, but takes place in Jerusalem and has all the markings of OT Jewish prophets. They are a key element in the plan of the Deliverer to “turn ungodliness from Jacob” (Rom. Rom. 11:26) in preparation for the Millennial Kingdom to come. “The purpose of God to make Israel and her land the centre round which He shall gather the nations, is not frustrated, but postponed. Our chapter presents the initial stages in the development of this glorious earthly purpose.”1 The breadth of interpretations expositors have assigned to these two witnesses is legend: from literal individuals such as the apostles James and Peter2 to symbolic ideas such as the church preaching Christ in the two testaments.3 There are two forks in the road of interpretation on the way to determining who these individuals might be. The first fork which separates interpreters is whether the text describes symbols, institutions, or individuals?

Symbols, Institutions, or Individuals?
SymbolicCorporateLiteral
“Expositors within [the symbolic] category agree on one point: The witnesses are not human beings. These scholars vary, however, in their opinion of what the witnesses represent. The main interpretations in this group are these: (1) The two witnesses represent the testimony of the church from the Law and the prophets, (2) the Old and New Testaments, (3) the Word of God and the Spirit of God.”4 “Ten views on the witnesses’ identity have been suggested in this category: (1) the church in its function of witness-bearing, (2) the church represented in the east by the Paulikians and the west by the Waldenses, (3) believers who suffer martyrdom, (4) a literal group of people (i.e., the number two may be symbolic of a large multitude), (5) the Christian church and the Christian state, (6) the line of witnesses in the Eastern and Western church against the papacy, for 1,260 years (taking each day for a year, Rev. Rev. 11:3+) until the sixteenth century, when it was exterminated, (7) Israel and the church, (8) the house of Israel and the house of Aaron, (9) the believing Jewish remnant during the tribulation, (10) the two nations descended from Abraham (i.e., the Arabs and the Israelites).”5 “Expositors in this category agree that the witnesses are two individuals, but they disagree on who these people are, as exemplified by the following ten interpretations: (1) Elijah and Moses, (2) Elijah and Enoch, (3) Elijah and John the Baptist, (4) Elijah and John the Apostle, (5) Elijah and an unidentified person, (6) Peter and James, (7) Peter and John, (8) Peter and Paul, (9) the two high priests, Ananus and Jesus, who nobly withstood the zealots in Jerusalem, and were massacred by them, and (10) two unknown persons who will minister in the spirit and power of Moses and Elijah in the future.”6 “These witnesses are individuals. No reader of the account, having no preconceived theory to defend, would ever think of taking them for bodies, or successions of people. All the early fathers, from whom we have any testimony on the subject, regarded them as two individual men.”7

We concur with many other interpreters who see abundant evidence indicating the witnesses are to be understood as two individuals:8

The classical use of μάρτυς [martys] is “in the sense of human attestation or testimonial.” The word thus implies that the “witnesses” (μάρτυσιν [martysin] ) are human beings. This consideration is further suggested by John’s use of the article τοῖς [tois] , which indicates specific persons. Elsewhere in the New Testament μάρτυς [martys] is always personal (Mtt. Mat. 18:16; Luke Luke 24:48; Acts Acts 1:8; 1Ti. 1Ti. 5:19; Heb. Heb. 10:28; Rev. Rev. 1:5+). Therefore symbolic interpretations must be rejected. Second, Revelation Rev. 11:3+ states that the two witnesses “shall prophesy” . . . The activity of prophesying, then, is personal and involves personal beings. This too suggests that symbolic interpretations are inadequate. Third, the overall context in which the activity of the two witnesses is described (Rev. Rev. 11:3-12+) supports the preferred view. In these verses witnesses, depicted as individuals, speak (Rev. Rev. 11:3+, Rev. 11:6+ ); are given power to kill their enemies (Rev. Rev. 11:5+ ); are heard, handled, and hated (Rev. Rev. 11:3+, Rev. 11:7+, Rev. 11:10+ ); have mouths, ears, and feet (Rev. Rev. 11:5+, Rev. 11:11-12+ ); wear “sackcloth,” and after their martyrdom John saw their “dead bodies” (τό πτώματα αύτῶν [to ptōmata autōn] , Rev. Rev. 11:8-9+ ). By no stretch of the imagination, then, can an interpreter regard these witnesses as other than real persons.9

they will prophesy
Their ministry will be like that of John (Rev. Rev. 10:11+) in that their prophesy will be global in extent, for they shall not only prophesy (which includes correction and exhortation), but they shall also torment those who dwell on the earth (Rev. Rev. 11:5-7+, Rev. 11:10+).

one thousand two hundred and sixty days
This is the first half of the final week of the seventy weeks of Daniel, before the beast reaches ascendancy and is able to overcome them (Rev. Rev. 11:7+).10 It cannot be the latter half of the week as some suggest:11
  1. It is the beast who is destroyed at the close of the week (Rev. Rev. 19:20+), not the witnesses. See Events of the 70th Week of Daniel.
  2. It is more natural to understand the overthrow of the Jewish prophets as leading to the defilement of the Temple in the Abomination of Desolation to follow. Prior to their overthrow, they are invincible and almost certainly would not allow the beast to sit in the Holy Place to declare himself as god (2Th. 2Th. 2:4).12
  3. Why would the two Jewish witnesses, who are key in the revival of the Jews during the Tribulation, be found in Jerusalem after the Jews have fled elsewhere due to the intense persecution of the dragon which begins at the midpoint of the final week (Mtt. Mat. 24:15; Rev. Rev. 12:6+, Rev. 12:13-14+)?
  4. How could the beast overcome the witnesses at the end of the 70th week and the world throw a big celebration at the very time Antichrist is heavily involved with the Campaign of Armageddon and Christ arrives?13
  5. The overthrow of the prophets would more naturally contribute to the rise and fame of the beast.14
  6. If Christ returns with the resurrected saints to the earth at the end of the 70th week, why do these two resurrected witnesses ascend to heaven?
These problems disappear if the 1,260 days mentioned here are understood as denoting the first half of the week, including a powerful witness to Jerusalem culminating in the ascent of the beast to overthrow the witnesses and exert full control over the Temple, as Paul relates of the man of sin (2Th. 2Th. 2:4).

in sackcloth
Sackcloth was a rough, course cloth, or a bag-like garment made of such cloth which was worn as a symbol of mourning, grief, or repentance (e.g., Jer. Jer. 4:8; Jer. 6:26; Jer. 48:37; Jer. 49:3; Amos Amos 8:10). Its association with mourning and sorrow may have been not only due to its coarseness on the wearer, but also because it was made from black goat hair. When prophets wore sackcloth, it indicated their own brokenness over the message of doom and judgment which they themselves were delivering. Prophets were never cavalier in their dire predictions, but grieved over the judgment they proclaimed (Isa. Isa. 20:2). In this sense, the sackcloth of the two witnesses is akin to the bitterness which attended John’s consumption of the little book of prophecy (Rev. Rev. 10:9-10+). The sackcloth indicates the message of the two witnesses is one of impending judgment to which their listeners should respond in repentance. Although this chapter records a rare case of repentance in the judgments of God at the time of the end, it is not directly due to the testimony of the witnesses (Rev. Rev. 11:13+). The pattern elsewhere is one of failure to repent (Rev. Rev. 9:21+; Rev. 16:11+). These two witnesses are 1) clothed in sackcloth, 2) have a ministry matching that of previous OT Jewish prophets, and 3) minister in Jerusalem. These factors, along with the absence of the Church (see Rapture ) and the sealing of the 144,000 Jews (Rev. Rev. 7:4-8+), argue for the Jewishness of the two witnesses.

Notes

1 Walter Scott, Exposition of The Revelation (London, England: Pickering & Inglis, n.d.), 218.

2 “We have no hesitation in naming St. James and St. Peter as the persons indicated.”—J. Stuart Russell, The Parousia: The New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord’s Second Coming (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1999, 1887), 434.

3 Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001), 324.

4 Daniel Wong, “The Two Witnesses in Revelation 11,” in Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 154 no. 615 (Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, July-Sep 1997), 345.

5 Ibid., 345-346.

6 Ibid., 346-347.

7 J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), Rev. 11:3.

8 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), 304-313.

9 Wong, “The Two Witnesses in Revelation 11,” 348.

10 “The duration of man is often reckoned in days (Gen. Gen. 47:9, Gen. 47:28; Ps. Ps. 90:10, Ps. 90:12; Ps. 119:84), whereas judgments are sometimes reckoned in months (Gen. Gen. 8:5; Rev. Rev. 9:5+, Rev. 9:10+; Rev. 13:5+).”—Jerome Smith, The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992), Rev. 11:3.

11 [John MacArthur, Revelation 1-11 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999)], [Monty S. Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John (Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries, 1987)]

12 “The three-and-a-half year period of the prophecy of the two witnesses corresponds to the first half of the tribulation. . . . [The] absolute rule by the beast (Revelation Rev. 13:5+) apparently becomes possible only by the execution of the two witnesses by the beast (Revelation Rev. 11:7+) As long as the witnesses exercise such power over both men and nature, it is impossible for the beast to acquire world power.”—Henry Morris, The Revelation Record (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1983), Rev. 11:6.

13 “But here in revelation 11 instead of the awful advent of the Lord from heaven ‘immediately’ after the killing of these witnesses, we read of a hideous celebration of their death by the nations and tribes of the earth. . . . it is at the beginning of the Beast’s successful blasphemous career, that he kills these two witnesses.”—William R. Newell, Revelation: Chapter by Chapter (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1994,c1935), Rev. 11:14.

14 Pentecost cites English: “There is thought-provoking logic in the argument that their testimony will be given during the first half of Daniel’s prophetic week, and that their martyrdom will be the first persecuting act of the Beast, after he breaks his covenant with the Jews (Dan. Dan. 9:27).”—Pentecost, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology, 309.

Read Revelation 11