“I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.” – KJV- Rev.11: 3-4
I will give power–There is no “power” in the Greek, so that “give” must mean “give commission,” or some such word.
my two witnesses–Greek, “the two witnesses of me.” The article implies that the two were well known at least to John. prophesy–preach under the inspiration of the Spirit, denouncing judgments against the apostate. They are described by symbol as “the two olive trees” and “the two candlesticks,” or lamp-stands, “standing before the God of the earth.” The reference is to Zechariah 4:3,12, where two individuals are meant, Joshua and Zerubbabel, who ministered to the Jewish Church, just as the two olive trees emptied the oil out of themselves into the bowl of the candlestick. So in the final apostasy God will raise up two inspired witnesses to minister encouragement to the afflicted, though sealed, remnant. As two candlesticks are mentioned in Revelation 11:4, but only one in Zechariah 4:2, I think the twofold Church, Jewish and Gentile, may be meant by the two candlesticks represented by the two witnesses.
These are the two olive trees – That is, as Zerubbabel and Joshua, the two olive trees spoken of by Zechariah, Zech. iii, 9, iv, 10, were then the two chosen instruments in God’s hand, even so shall these. be in their season. Being themselves full of the unction of the Holy One, they shall continually transmit the same to others also. And the two candlesticks – Burning and shining lights. Standing before the Lord of the earth – Always waiting on God, without the help of man, and asserting his right over the earth and all things therein.
In this time of treading down, God has reserved to himself his faithful witnesses, who will not fail to attest the truth of his word and worship, and the excellency of his ways. Here observe,
I. The number of these witnesses: it is but a small number and yet it is sufficient. 1. It is but small. Many will own and acknowledge Christ in times of prosperity who will desert and deny him in times of persecution; one witness, when the cause is upon trial, is worth many at other times. 2. It is a sufficient number; for in the mouth of two witnesses every cause shall be established. Christ sent out his disciples two by two, to preach the gospel. Some think these two witnesses are Enoch and Elias, who are to return to the earth for a time: others, the church of the believing Jews and that of the Gentiles: it should rather seem that they are God’s eminent faithful ministers, who shall not only continue to profess the Christian religion, but to preach it, in the worst of times.
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;
..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.
Verse 3. My two witnesses] This is extremely obscure; the conjectures of interpreters are as unsatisfactory as they are endless on this point. Those who wish to be amused or bewildered, may have recourse both to ancients and moderns on this subject.
(I got a kick out of Adam Clark’s commentary on the two witnesses.)
The Four Main Views of Revelation 11:1-6
The Preterist view: They see this passage as a reference to Ezekiel. To measure is seen from Ezekiel, chaps 40-47, to divide from what is holy from what is profane and corrupt as what defines a true Temple of God; the results from the examination mean judgment and destruction. The call to remain pure and reform was rejected by the Jews and thus the Temple was destroyed (Is. 1:12; Jer. 10:16; 51:19; Ezek. 22:26; 40-43; Zech. 2:1-5; Dan. 7:25; Luke 21:24; Rev. 21:15-16). (Forty-two) 42 months is seen as the length of Nero’s war with the Christians and/or the siege of Jerusalem. The two witnesses seem to have baffled many in this camp, as it seems to point to a hole in their theory. (All these views have holes because our reasoning is limited and we tend to look to our own education and agendas, not at the big picture, and do not do all of the inductive research to see what the text is really saying.) Many see them as symbolic of a testimony to corrupt Judaism, as two literal people or prophets who are lost to history, as the “lamp stands” and “olive trees” from Zechariah 4:11-14, or as representative of the witnesses of Christ. Some have said they were Peter and James.
The Futurist view: They see to “measure” as representing God’s ownership of his faithful during the tribulation and/or His preservation and protection of them. The “Temple of God” is seen as a new one, yet to be rebuilt, which, citing examples from Ezekiel, people in this camp see as an even essential prior to Christ’s return. However, a major exegetical, textual problem occurs with this view as the Temple had already been destroyed, then rebut twice, once right after Ezekiel’s prophecy and again under Herod. It was destroyed in 70 AD. The Temple represents faithfulness and/or the Church: the people of God and the “outer court” are seen as representing apostasy and/or the distinction of people remaining faithful or not during the tribulation. The “two witnesses” are viewed as literal forerunners to Christ’s return, those faithful ones who preach and prophecy during the tribulation, or that Moses or Enoch and Elijah actually come back to do that. The “42 months” and “1260” days are seen as the first half of the great Tribulation, the last half, or a time after the tribulation.
The Idealist view: They see to “measure” as God’s awareness of His worshipers—those who are true and those who are not as referenced by the “outer court.” Also, this refers to apostasy invading the Church such as liberality and worldliness. The “Temple of God” is seen as the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies where the high priest entered once a year to dust, which to this view refers to those who are true worshipers of God (1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Tim. 3:15; Heb. 3:6; 1 Pet. 2:5). (Forty-two) “42 months” is seen as grace, limiting the time of persecution (Dan. 7:25). The “two witnesses” refer to the church as a witness to the world from mission movements. “Sackcloth” refers to bringing the message of repentance. The “olive trees” refer to Zerubbabel and Joshua who were agents of restoration. “Fire from mouths” means those who bring harm to the Church will be judged.
The Historicist view: They see to “measure” as to look over and examine the church and see what is real, true, and devout, and what is distorted from God’s call and God’s authority given to those who are to reform the Church. The “Temple of God” is seen as the church of true, devout believers drawing from other N.T. passages (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; 2 Thess. 2:4). The “outer court” or Court of the Gentiles is seen as the visible Church that becomes a corrupt institution, devoid of real, heartfelt worshipers, such as the Roman Catholic Church or liberalism. These were the indicators that gave the Reformers the vision and reassessment to reform the Church back to God and away from corruption which led to the Reformation. (Forty-two) “42 months” is seen as 1260 years, the duration of the Catholic Church and its persecution of true believers up to the Reformation. The “two witnesses” are representative of the faithful Christians who tried to reform and stand against the Catholic Church such as Huss and Wycliffe. The miraculous power given is seen as an instrument and reason for God’s judgments and/or clothed in God’s power (Deut. 32:2; Is. 55:10). “Fire from mouths” means the power of preaching and the power of the Spirit and/or from Jeremiah 5:14. The plagues are seen as the evils resulting from the corruption of the Church, such as wars and the inquisitions.