Summary: The Two Witnesses Introduced
The Two Witnesses, Rev 11:3-6
And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth." These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth.
And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner. These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire. Revelation 11:3-6
The Two Witnesses
Scholars recognize Revelation 11 as one of the hardest chapters of the Bible to interpret. In studying for this particular passage, 11:3-6, I did a listing of what scholars position was on the time frame of this passage; men that I respect highly were divided on this issue. I mention this because it is important to remember that there will be some division of opinion on the timing, but in both cases there are good arguments. In this section of scripture, there are two main challenges in interpretation: first is, as mentioned the time frame (1st half or 2nd half of the Tribulation) and second is whom these two witnesses are.
Let's study verse three. The Greek term translated as witness is martus; it is also translated as martyr. This is interesting, because although the term witness is used here in translation (as they present their testimony, as we will see over the next few days) they will be killed for their faith (which we will see next week). It is important that there is not just one but two witnesses. Old Testament law required testimony in legal proceedings to be according the accounts of at least two witnesses (Deut 17:6; 19:15). MacArthur notes "Witnesses is the plural form of martus, from which the English word martyr derives, since so many witnesses of Jesus Christ in the early church paid with their lives."
We are told by Jesus Himself to "take up our cross daily" (Luke 9:23). This particular figure of speech has been wrongly interpreted by many well meaning Christians; some think that it may be dealing with a certain sin or perhaps even just the trials and tribulations of life. But if you look at the context, this is clearly not the case, and the term cross refers to a means of execution! To take up your cross means to endure persecution, even a persecution to the death if necessary. I hear many brethren that complain that they are "persecuted" for their beliefs but in truth, what we endure is nothing. We are called to be witnesses for Jesus, and that calling means that we will at times be unpopular. Our very belief says that those people are wrong, and are going to Hell.
Another key word is prophecy (pronounced prof ah si). When we hear that term, especially in prophetic books such as Daniel and Revelation we think it means to tell the future. Actually, while it can and does mean that here to a degree, the primary meaning means "to speak forth," "to proclaim," or "to preach." (John MacArthur). The message coming from these two witnesses will be two-fold; they will prophecy about the coming judgment, doom and gloom that is about to beset the earth, but they will also proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (Matt 24) Both messages in tandem will bring persecution to these two men.
Time, Times and Half a Time; Mourning and Repentance
These two prophets or witnesses will preach for a total of 1,260 days; this is the same measure of time as mentioned in verse two (forty two months) and also mentioned as "time, times and half a time" (Daniel 12:7; Revelation 12:14) Now if you do some quick math you might think this does not add up, but the Jewish reckoning of a lunar month is 30 days so then it is still accurate.
Lasseigne noted that the usage of 1,260 days is important. Why? Yes, it does add up to 42 months, but because here we see 1,260 days it means that these two witnesses will not just have a ministry time of that length but that they will preach each and every day. They will not have a vacation, they will not have a break, they will preach every single day.
In addition, they will be dressed in sackcloth. Sackcloth is "a rough, coarse cloth, or a baglike garment made of this cloth and worn as a symbol of mourning or repentance." (Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary). It would be like wearing a burlap sack today, only one made of goat hair. It would be itchy, hot and uncomfortable. Noted men in the Bible that wore sackcloth were Jacob when notified at the supposed death of Joseph (Genesis 37:34), David, Joab and others (2 Sam 3:31) and Mordecai (Esther 4:1). Each of these men were mourning because of a deep hurt in the heart.