Revelation 11:3 MEANING

Revelation 11:3
(3-14) The Two WITNESSES.--It is the opinion of one able and pre-eminently painstaking commentator that "no solution has ever been given of this portion of the prophecy." I quote this that none may be disappointed when no satisfactory solution is given here; further light in the knowledge of the Bible, and the light of history, and, above all, the aid of the Holy Spirit, may show what the real solution is. At present it is best to lay down the lines which seem to lead in the direction of such a solution. First, the aim of the present vision must be kept in mind; and secondly, the vision in Zechariah (Zechariah 4, all), on which this is professedly built, must be remembered. Now the aim of our present vision seems to be to explain that in the great progress towards victory the Church itself will suffer through corruptions and worldliness, but that the true Temple--the kernel, so to speak, of the Church--will be unharmed and kept safe in her Master's hands. But the position of this hidden and enshrined Church will not be one of idle security; in that Temple will be reared in secret, as the rightful king Josiah was, those who will witness undaunted and undefiled for their Lord; throughout the whole of that chequered period of profanation and pain there will never be wanting true witnesses for righteousness and faith. To assure the sacred seer that this would be the ease, to exhibit the nature of their work and its results, is the apparent aim of the vision. If this be so, the witnesses can scarcely be literal individual men, though it is true that many literal individual men have played the part of these witnesses. Turning to the foundation vision in Zechariah, we find that the vision there is designed to encourage the weak and restored exiles in their work of rebuilding the Temple; they are shown that, weak as they are, there is a hidden strength, like a sacred stream of oil, which can make them triumph over all their difficulties: not by might or power, but by God's Spirit, the mountain would become a plain (Zechariah 4:6-7), and "Grace! Grace!" would be the triumphant shout when the headstone of the Temple was raised. In both visions, then, our minds are turned to the hidden sources of divine strength; there is a safe and secret place measured off by God, where He gives His children strength--not of ordinary might or power, but strength of grace. This is the grace which made Zerubbabel and Joshua strong to achieve their work; this is the grace which can make the two witnesses strong to do their part in the building of that more glorious spiritual temple which is built on the foundation of Apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone. The witnesses, then, stand as the typical representatives of those who, in the strength of God, have, through the long ages, borne witness for Christ against all wrong and falsehood, against a world in arms or a Church in error, or against a nominal Christianity in danger of becoming as corrupt and as cruel as heathenism. Such witnesses stand, like the two columns Jachin and Boaz, before the true Temple of God.

(3) And I will give . . .--Translate, And I will give (omit "power") to my two witnesses, and they shall . . . These are the words of God Himself; the omission of the words "and the angel stood" from Revelation 11:1 prevents any confusion of thought on this point. Two witnesses were required for competent evidence (Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15, et al.), and there has constantly been a sending forth of God's chosen messengers in pairs-- Moses and Aaron, Elijah and Elisha, besides Joshua and Zerubbabel, alluded to by Zechariah; and in New Testament times our Lord sent forth His disciples "two and two," as afterwards Paul and Barnabas, or Paul and Silas, went forth to preach. There is, besides the mere mutual support which two can give, a need for the association of two different characters in the same sort of work: the energy and the sympathy, the elucidator of doctrines and the messenger to the conscience, the apologist and the evangelist, the man of thought and the man of action, the Son of Thunder and the Son of Consolation; it is well that in a world-wide work this duality of power should be brought into play. The witnesses prophesy: the word prophesy must surely be allowed a much wider meaning than merely to predict or foretell future events. The compass of their work, as described afterwards, embraces much more than this (see Revelation 11:5-7): they work wonders, showing tokens that remind us of the days of Moses and Aaron; their words are mighty; their life is a testimony.

Their prophesying, or witnessing, extends over forty and two months: a symbolical period, as we have seen, but a period corresponding to that during which other witnesses had witnessed for God. Thus long did Elijah bear witness, under rainless heavens, against the idolatries of Israel; thus long did a greater than Elijah offer the water of life to the Jews, and witness against the hard, unspiritual, worldly religionism of the Pharisee and Sadducee; thus, too, must the witnesses, for God bear testimony during the period that the world- power seems dominant. They are clad in sackcloth-- the emblem of mourning (2 Kings 6:30; Jonah 3:4) adopted by the prophets, whose God-taught hearts saw reasons for mourning where shallower minds saw none (Isaiah 20:2, and Zechariah 13:2). Compare the garb of Elijah and John the Baptist (2 Kings 1:8, and Matthew 3:4), whose very apparel and appearance were designed to testify against the evils they saw. "The special witnesses of God, in a luxurious and self-pleasing age, are often marked out from the world by signs of self-denial, of austerity, and even of isolation" (Dr. Vaughan).

Verse 3. - And I will give power unto my two witnesses. Omit "power." What is given follows, viz. "they shall prophesy," etc. The voice, speaking in the name of Christ, says, "My: The two witnesses of me;" τοῖς, "the," as though they were well known. There is much diversity of interpretation in regard to "the two witnesses." It seems reasonable to understand the two witnesses as representative of the elect Church of God (embracing both Jewish and Christian) and of the witness which she bears concerning God, especially in the Old and New Testaments. The following considerations seem to support this interpretation:

(1) The vision is evidently founded on that in Zechariah 4, where it is emblematical of the restored temple, which only in the preceding verse (Revelation 11:2) is a type of the elect of God's Church (vide supra).

(2) The Apocalypse continually represents the Church of God, after the pattern of the life of Christ, in three aspects - that of conflict and degradation; that of preservation; that of triumph (see Professor Milligan's Baird Lectures, 'The Revelation of St. John,' lect. 2 and 5.). This is a summary of the vision here.

(3) Much of the Apocalypse follows our Lord's description in Matthew 24. In that chapter (vers. 13, 14) we have, "He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come." Again, a brief description of this vision.

(4) It is not probable that two individuals are meant; for

(a) as we have shown throughout the Apocalypse, the application is invariably to principles and societies, though this may include particular applications in certain cases;

(b) it is inconceivable that Moses and Elias, or any other of the saints of God, should return from Paradise to suffer as these two witnesses;

(c) our Lord expressly explained the reference to the coming of Elias, and declared that he had already come; and

(d) there seems no more reason for interpreting these two witnesses literally of two men, than for interpreting Sodom and Egypt in their ordinary geographical signification in ver. 8.

(5) The details of the fate of the two witnesses agree with the interpretation given - the whole vision being understood as symbolical. Thus

(a) the picture of the two witnesses is evidently formed after the pattern of Moses and Elias, on account of the conspicuous witness they bore and the hardship they suffered, as well as their preservation and final vindication. Moreover, Moses and Elias are typical of the Law and the prophets, or the Scriptures - the means (as stated above) by which the Church chiefly bears witness of God.

(b) The time during which they prophesy;

(c) the clothing in sackcloth;

(d) the appellation of candlesticks and olive trees;

(e) their power to hurt;

(f) their apparent death;

(g) the torment they cause;

(h) their resuscitation;

(i) their vindication;

(k) the immediate advent of the final judgment; - all agree (as shown below) with the interpretation given.

(6) Witness is constantly connected in the Apocalypse and elsewhere with the Church, and generally with suffering, sometimes with triumph (cf. Revelation 1:2, 5, 9; Revelation 6:9; Revelation 12:11, 17; Revelation 20:4).

(7) In Revelation 19:10 we are told, "The testimony [witness] of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy," exactly the quality with which the two witnesses are credited (ver. 3), and which is the work of the Church. And they shall prophesy; that is, "prophesy" in its literal meaning of forthtelling God's will and his judgments on the wicked, and so of preaching repentance. This is emphatically the work of the Church, and is accomplished chiefly through the Scriptures. It is this prophesying that torments (see vers. 5, 10). A thousand two hundred and three score days. Or, forty and two months (ver. 2). During the period of the world's existence (see on ver. 2) the Church, although "trodden underfoot," will not cease to "prophesy." Clothed in sackcloth. Thus, symbolically, is expressed the same fact as in ver. 2. The Church there is "trodden underfoot" during the period of the world; here it is said that she is to perform her office during this time "clothed in sackcloth." The treatment by the world of both the Church of God and the Word of God is represented by the apparel of mourning and woe, which is the lot of the Church on earth.

11:3-13 In the time of treading down, God kept his faithful witnesses to attest the truth of his word and worship, and the excellence of his ways, The number of these witnesses is small, yet enough. They prophesy in sackcloth. It shows their afflicted, persecuted state, and deep sorrow for the abominations against which they protested. They are supported during their great and hard work, till it is done. When they had prophesied in sackcloth the greatest part of 1260 years, antichrist, the great instrument of the devil, would war against them, with force and violence for a time. Determined rebels against the light rejoice, as on some happy event, when they can silence, drive to a distance, or destroy the faithful servants of Christ, whose doctrine and conduct torment them. It does not appear that the term is yet expired, and the witnesses are not a present exposed to endure such terrible outward sufferings as in former times; but such things may again happen, and there is abundant cause to prophesy in sackcloth, on account of the state of religion. The depressed state of real Christianity may relate only to the western church. The Spirit of life from God, quickens dead souls, and shall quicken the dead bodies of his people, and his dying interest in the world. The revival of God's work and witnesses, will strike terror into the souls of his enemies. Where there is guilt, there is fear; and a persecuting spirit, though cruel, is a cowardly spirit. It will be no small part of the punishment of persecutors, both in this world, and at the great day, that they see the faithful servants of God honoured and advanced. The Lord's witnesses must not be weary of suffering and service, nor hastily grasp at the reward; but must stay till their Master calls them. The consequence of their being thus exalted was a mighty shock and convulsion in the antichristian empire. Events alone can show the meaning of this. But whenever God's work and witnesses revive, the devil's work and witnesses fall before him. And that the slaying of the witnesses is future, appears to be probable.And I will give power unto my two witnesses,.... By whom are meant, not Enoch and Elias, as some of the ancient fathers thought, who, they supposed, would come before the appearance of Christ, and oppose antichrist, and be slain by him, which sense the Papists greedily catch at; nor are the Scriptures, the two Testaments, Old and New, designed, though their name and number agree, and also their office, which is to testify of Christ; but then to be clothed in sackcloth, to be killed, and rise again, and ascend to heaven, are things that cannot so well be accommodated to them: but these witnesses intend the ministers of the Gospel and churches of Christ, who have bore testimony for Christ, and against antichrist, ever since he appeared in the world; and particularly the churches and ministers in Piedmont bid fair for this character; who were upon the spot when antichrist arose, always bore their protest against him, and were ever independent of the church of Rome, and subsisted in the midst of the darkness of the apostasy; and suffered much, and very great persecutions, from the Papists; and have stood their ground, and continue to this day; and have been like olive trees and candlesticks, imparting oil and light to others. Though they ought not to be considered exclusive of other ministers and churches, who also have bore, and still do bear a witness for Christ, and against the idolatries of the church of Rome: no two individual persons can be meant, since these witnesses were to prophesy 1260 days, that is, so many years, but a succession of ministers and churches; and these are called two, both on account of the fewness of them, and because the testimony of two is sufficient to confirm any matter; and it may be in allusion to the various instances of two eminent persons being raised up at certain periods of time, as Moses and Aaron, at the deliverance of the children of Israel out of Egypt; Caleb and Joshua, at their entrance into Canaan; Elijah and Elisha in the idolatrous times of Ahab; and Joshua and Zerubbabel at the rebuilding and finishing of the second temple. Now the Angel, and who is Christ, here promises that he will give something to these witnesses: some supply the words, "I will give it"; that is, the holy city, or the church, to them, to be taken care of and defended; others, "I will give" them a mouth and wisdom, which their adversaries shall not be able to resist, according to the promise in Luke 21:15. We supply the words, "I will give power"; that is, authority to preach the Gospel, and strength to profess it, and to continue to bear a testimony to it, signified by prophesying; see 1 Corinthians 14:1.

And they shall prophesy; that is, "that they may prophesy"; which is supported by the Arabic and Ethiopic versions, the former rendering the words, "I will give to my two witnesses to prophesy", and the latter, "I will give in command to my two witnesses that they may prophesy"; the sense is, that Christ will give to them a mission and commission, sufficient authority, all needful gifts and grace, courage and presence of mind to preach his Gospel, to hold forth his word, and bear a testimony for him during the whole time of the apostasy, even

a thousand two hundred and threescore days; that is, so many years, which, as before observed, is the date of the beast's reign, of the holy city being trodden under foot of the Gentiles, and of the church's retirement into the wilderness: it is observable, that the date of the beast's reign and tyranny is expressed by months, and the date of the church's being in the wilderness, and the prophesying of the witnesses, is signified by days; and the reason which some give is not despicable, as that the beast and his followers are the children of darkness and of the night, over which the moon presides, from whence months are, numbered; and the church and the witnesses are children of the day, over which the sun rules. The habit of these witnesses during their time of prophesying follows,

clothed in sackcloth; expressive either of their outward state and condition, being poor, mean, and abject, while the followers of the beast are clad in silks, and live deliciously; or else of the inward frame of their minds, as mourning for the sad estate of the church of Christ, groaning under the tyranny and persecutions of antichrist.

Courtesy of Open Bible