The “two witnesses” must complete their “testimony” before the Beast is unleashed from the “Abyss” – Revelation 11:3-7.
Next, in its task of prophesying before “nations and kings,” the church is symbolized by the “two witnesses” as they give “testimony” against the “inhabitants of the earth.” Their work continues for the entire “twelve hundred and sixty days” or “forty-two months,” until they “finish” their work., when they are “slain by the beast from the abyss.”
Two things link the “two witnesses” to the commissioning of John to “prophesy to nations and kings,” and to “measure the sanctuary.” First, they are sent “to prophesy.” Second, the “twelve hundred and sixty days” is the mathematical equivalent to the “forty-two months” from the preceding vision.
- (Revelation 11:3-6) – “ And I will give to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy a thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the Lord of the earth. And if any man desires to harm them, fire proceeds out of their mouth and devours their enemies; and if any man desires to harm them, in this manner must he be killed. These have the power to shut the heaven, that it rain not during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to smite the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.”
The commission to “prophesy to nations and kings” plays out on the earth in the work of the “two witnesses.” Though they are not killed until the end of the “1,260-days,” they do endure persecution, which is why they prophesy in “sackcloth,” the “bitterness” tasted by John when he ate the “little scroll.” Their persecution corresponds to the “holy city” being “trampled underfoot,” for the “forty-two months.” The reiteration of this period links the “two witnesses” to the “measuring of the sanctuary.”
As they give “testimony,” the “two witnesses” inflict the “plagues” of the “seven trumpets” upon the “inhabitants of the earth.” Their “word” causes “fire” and other “plagues” as described in the first six trumpets, including turning “water into blood.”
The book now weaves imagery from the prophetic careers of Elijah and Moses into its portrait. At the word of Elijah, fire fell from heaven and consumed his persecutors. When he prayed, it did not rain for three and one-half years. And before Pharaoh, Moses turned the waters of the Nile into blood – (1 King 17:1, 2 Kings 1:10-12, James 5:17).
Likewise, the “witnesses” have “the power to shut the heaven, so that it does not rain during the days of their prophesying.” Like Moses in Egypt, they have the authority to turn the waters into blood, and “to smite the earth with every plague.”
The two speak as one. The fire unleashed by their “word,” singular, issues from their“mouth,” also singular. When they are killed, their single “body” lies in the street of the “great city.” The same “plagues” issue from both “witnesses,” and both stop the rain and turn water into blood.
Verse 4 alludes to the passage in Zechariah when the prophet saw a “golden lampstand” holding seven lamps with “two olive trees” on either side. A voice declared, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says Yahweh of hosts.” The two “olive trees” provided oil to the lamps and represented the “two anointed ones” – Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel of the royal line of David – (Zechariah 4:2-14).
In Revelation, “lampstands” symbolize churches. If its symbolism is consistent, then the “two lampstands” also represent churches. Previously, John saw “seven lampstands,” but now, only “two.” Possibly, they represent the priestly and kingly aspects of the church, the “kingdom of priests.” Elsewhere, this is a combined reality – a priestly kingdom – and not distinct ministries or groups within the church.
By their “word,” fire falls and “waters turn into blood.” Likewise, the second trumpet produced the “great mountain burning with fire” that was cast into the sea, turning “the third part into blood.”
They “smite the earth with every plague.” Likewise, at the end of the sixth trumpet, the men who were not killed with the “plagues repented not of their work.” Thus, the plagues unleashed by the trumpet blasts are connected to the “testimony” of the “two witnesses” – (Revelation 8:7-9:20).
When any man attempted “to harm” (adikeō) them, fire issued (ekporeuomai) from their “mouth” and devoured him. Similarly, the locust-like creatures from the “Abyss” were not “to harm” (adikeō) any man that had “the seal of God on their foreheads.” When the sixth trumpet sounded, out of the mouths of the horses “issued” (ekporeuomai) fire, smoke, and brimstone by which a third of humanity was killed – (Revelation 9:1-18).
Thus, the “word” of the “two witnesses” determines the judgments unleashed by the “seven trumpets.” Their “testimony” coincides with the period when the first six trumpets sounded.
- (Revelation 11:7) – “And as soon as they have completed their testimony, the beast that is to ascend out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them, and slay them.”
The “Abyss” was introduced by the fifth trumpet blast. From it, the horde of locust-like monsters “ascended.” It is the source of satanic personalities and destruction. As will be seen, the image of the “beast that ascends from the Abyss” corresponds to the later “beast that ascends from the sea” and wages “war against the saints” – (Revelation 9:1-2, 13:1-2, 17:8, 20:1-3, 20:7-10).
The present passage uses what for Revelation is a key passage from the Book of Daniel, the same passage also used for the Dragon’s “war” against the Woman’s “seed,” and the “war” of the “beast from the sea” against the “saints”:
- (Daniel 7:21) – “I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them.”
- (Revelation 12:17) – “And the dragon was enraged with the woman and went away to make war with the rest of her seed, those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus.”
- (Revelation 13:7) – “And it was given to him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them.”
The “beast” was not authorized to kill the “witnesses” until “they finished (teleō) their testimony.” Just as the word of the “two witnesses” unleashed the “plagues” on the “inhabitants of the earth,” so the “beast” could not “ascend from the Abyss” to slay them until they had completed their “testimony.” The term “finished” links the passage to several other verses that describe events reaching their conclusion:
- (Revelation 17:17) – “For God put in their hearts to fulfill his will, and to agree and give their kingdom to the beast until the words of God are finished.”
- (Revelation 20:3) – “And cast him into the Abyss and shut him up…until the thousand years should be finished, then he must be loosed a little season… And when the thousand years are finished Satan shall be loosed out of his prison.”
Thus, the “second woe” does not end, nor does the “third woe” begin, until the “two witnesses” complete their mission, just as John was told when he received the “little scroll”:
- (Revelation 10:6-7) – “And he swore by him that lives forever… that there shall be delay no longer, but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then is finished the mystery of God, according to the good tidings which he declared to his servants the prophets.”
When their “testimony” is finished, then victory and judgment unfold with the blast of the “seventh trumpet.” But first, the “two witnesses” must be killed for their “testimony.”
Despite the great “plagues” inflicted on the “inhabitants of the earth,” they do not heed the “testimony” of the “two witnesses” and repent. Instead, the “beast ascends from the Abyss” to destroy them. But the “slain Lamb” will turn apparent defeat into victory, and the “testimony” of the martyred “witnesses” will be vindicated at the final trumpet blast.