Saturday, 6 February 2021
And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” Revelation 11:3
John is conveying the words of the Angel. He was instructed to measure the temple of God, but to omit the court outside the temple, noting that it had been given to the Gentiles. Now, the angel says, “And I will give power to my two witnesses.”
The word “power” has been inserted. Based on the coming verses, that is possibly correct. However, it could also be “authority” or some other concept of appointment. Some translations simply leave the thought alone and say, “And will give to my two witnesses.” Also, they are preceded by a definite article in the Greek –
“And I will grant to the two witnesses of me.”
This then implies that they are known figures who serve the Lord. How they are known will come in the next verse.
Who these two witnesses are is as debated as anything else in the book of Revelation. Some see them as two people and the identification of them starts from that point. Some see them as representative of sets of twos, like when Jesus set apart his disciples to go forth two by two in Luke 10:1. Some think they are two institutions, such as two bodies of believers. Others see them as two general categories such as saved Jews and saved Gentiles, or the two testaments of Scripture.
As there are two, the meaning of the number should be explained. Two demonstrates that a difference exists. As E.W. Bullinger says, “We now come to the spiritual significance of the number Two. We have seen that One excludes all difference, and denotes that which is sovereign. But Two affirms that there is a difference—there is another; while One affirms that there is not another!”
Two is the minimum number given to bring charges against another as well. This is seen in the precept found in both testaments that says, “By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established” (2 Corinthians 13:1).
For this commentary, and without giving a defense against every one of the innumerable guesses as to who these two witnesses are, it is assumed based on their description that they are two people. These witnesses predate Christ’s first advent (as will be explained in the next verse), and they have a difference between them that fits what has already been revealed. In this, they are identified as Enoch and Elijah.
Some point to them as Moses and Elijah because they appeared to the Lord at the Mount of Transfiguration. This is incorrect for one obvious reason. They will be killed in verse 11:7. If they are two men, one cannot be Moses –
“And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” Hebrews 9:27
Moses’ death is recorded already, and it excludes him from being one of these men. The arguments against this fail to adhere to this verse which states a firm and fixed precept. Further, the reason for Moses and Elijah’s appearance was one of symbolism. Bringing back Moses, who had already died, to appear on the Mount with Jesus was to make a theological point concerning His power over both the living (Elijah) and the dead (Moses). It also served to demonstrate that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah).
Some see the two as Elijah and John (the Apostle John). This is assumed because of the statement made by Jesus at the end of the Gospel of John –
“Jesus said to him, ‘If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.’” John 21:22
Such an interpretation is incorrect. Jesus never said John wouldn’t die. He was speaking to Peter about Peter. What was to happen to John had nothing to do with what would happen to Peter. Further, John does not precede the first advent of Christ in his ministry, something that is required for these witnesses. That will be put to rest with the analysis of the coming verse. Without defending against any other such claims, the two are more than probably Enoch and Elijah.
Only Enoch and Elijah are recorded as having been taken directly to heaven without dying. They were both taken before Christ’s first advent. Enoch was not a Hebrew (Abraham is recorded as the first Hebrew), while Elijah was. Hebrew means “to cross over.” This designation is important because of what has already been seen in measuring the temple but not the outer court. The temple is associated with the Hebrew people; the outer court is associated with Gentiles. The difference is seen in the sum of their testimony which is for all people. One testifies to the Hebrew people and the other to the Gentile people.
A clue of exactly this is found in Daniel 12 –
“Then I, Daniel, looked; and there stood two others, one on this riverbank and the other on that riverbank. 6 And one said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, ‘How long shall the fulfillment of these wonders be?’
7 Then I heard the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand to heaven, and swore by Him who lives forever, that it shall be for a time, times, and half a time; and when the power of the holy people has been completely shattered, all these things shall be finished.” Daniel 12:5-7
Two men accompanied the Lord, who was above the waters. One is on one riverbank while the other is on the other riverbank. It is the same typology as seen above – one is a Hebrew; one is not. The word Hebrew means “to cross over.” The symbolism is that one has crossed over the river and is a Hebrew. The Lord above the waters is Lord of both. Of these two, the verse continues with, “and they will prophesy.”
The word can mean giving a testimony of repentance, sharing the gospel, predicting the future, and so on. It gives the idea of speaking out the inspired word of God as a witness. This is what they will be doing, and it will be for a period of “one thousand two hundred and sixty days.”
This is the same as “forty-two months,” or exactly three and one-half biblical years. A biblical year is three hundred and sixty days per. It signifies one-half of the tribulation period, meaning Daniel’s seventieth seven. During this time, it says they will be “clothed in sackcloth.”
The word is a transliteration from the Hebrew word sak. Wearing it is a sign of mourning and woe. Wearing such garments is to show great distress and humility before God. It is also as a petition that, even though destruction is deserved, there is a hope for mercy. In the case of these two, they are in sackcloth on behalf of the people they are speaking to. They are demonstrating that great woe is coming and that the people should take heed and join them in their humble petitioning of God for mercy. Sackcloth is seen numerous times in the Old Testament in this manner. If the people they witness to fail to mourn over their sins and repent of their unholy lives, there will be consequences.
The three- and one-half-year period is not unique in the Bible. Elijah withheld the rains from Israel for this amount of time. This is testified to by both Jesus and James in the New Testament (Luke 4:25 and James 5:17).
Life application: This three- and one-half year period was prophesied by Daniel. It is pointing to a future date, not something that has already been fulfilled. The key to understanding the times we live in today is to understand Israel’s role in prophetic events. Israel has been planted again in her land, never to be uprooted as the Lord has promised (see Amos 9:15).
The rebellion of Israel, and their being cast off from the Lord, is used by many scholars and theologians to justify the stand that the church has replaced Israel. This is a poor analysis of Scripture. It fails to take into consideration the unfailing nature of the Lord to His covenants. Israel’s disobedience in no way negates the Lord’s faithfulness. If the Lord could cut off Israel, He could also be unfaithful to His guarantee of redemption for those He has saved (see Ephesians 1:13, 14). Such can never be the case. We are dealing with the faithful Lord. We are dealing with JESUS.
Heavenly Father, the precise details of the future events revealed in Your word, including set time periods, tells us that there is a sure plan. It also reveals that there will be an end to the dispensation of grace that we now live in. And more, that the time is fixed and will not be changed. What You have ordained will come to pass, and all we can do is be in prayer that eyes will be opened and hearts will be responsive – to Your glory, O God. Amen.