Rev. 11:3 – I will empower my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, dressed in sackcloth. 4These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5If anyone wants to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and consumes their enemies; if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. 6These men have the power to close the sky so that it does not rain during the days of their prophecy. They also have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with any plague whenever they want.
My two witnesses
In verse 3 we are introduced to God’s two witnesses, who dress in sackcloth and prophesy for 1,260 days. They are described as “the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.” They are able to consume their enemies with fire from their mouths. They have the power to prevent rain during the days of their ministry, as well as the authority to turn the waters to blood and to strike the earth with plagues. The identity of these two witnesses is a matter of much debate among commentators. Noted biblical scholar Henry “Dean” Alford once said the 11th chapter of Revelation is the most difficult to interpret in all of the Apocalypse of John, and no doubt the identity of these two witnesses contributes to the difficulty.
There are many views.
Rev. 11:1 – Then I was given a measuring reed like a rod, with these words: “Go and measure God’s sanctuary and the altar, and [count] those who worship there. 2But exclude the courtyard outside the sanctuary. Don’t measure it, because it is given to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for 42 months.” (HCSB)
Revelation 11 continues the interlude between the second and third woes (the sixth and seventh trumpet judgments), although we are warned at the end of verse 14 that the third woe is coming quickly. John is given a measuring instrument and told to measure the Lord’s sanctuary and altar, but to exclude the courtyard, which is given to the nations (or Gentiles) for a period of time.
He then is told that two witnesses will be empowered for the same length of time. These prophets have the ability to kill their enemies with fire, to prevent rain from falling, and to produce plagues similar to those witnessed in the days of Moses in Egypt. Ultimately, the “beast” who comes up from the abyss will conquer them and kill them. Their bodies will be on public display for three and a half days, prompting a global celebration. But then the Lord will raise them from the dead, call them into heaven, and produce a violent earthquake that kills 7,000 people and terrifies the survivors.
Why is John instructed to measure the sanctuary and the altar? Are these in heaven or on earth? Who are the two witnesses, and why are they compared with olive trees and lampstands? Why do they prevent rain and produce plagues? How does the beast manage to kill them, and why does the Lord breathe life back into them, only to snatch them up into heaven? And what does it mean that the survivors of the earthquake give glory to the God of heaven? Do they repent and become believers?
There is much imagery in these verses – and a great deal of disagreement among scholars as to its meaning. So let’s dig in.