SYNOPSIS – The Two Witnesses must complete their testimony before the Beast is unleashed from the Abyss – Revelation 11:3-7.
Next, for its mission to prophesy before “nations and kings,” the church is represented with the image of the “two witnesses” engaged in prophetic testimony before the “inhabitants of the earth.” Their ministry continues for the entire period of “twelve hundred and sixty days,” or the “forty-two months,” until they have “finished” their work, then they are “slain by the beast that ascends from the abyss.”
(Revelation 11:3-7) – “ And I will give unto my two witnesses, and they will prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore 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 hurt them, fire proceeds out of their mouth and devours their enemies; and if any man desires to hurt 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 prophecy; 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.And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them, and kill them.”
Two aspects of this description link this vision to the commissioning of John to “prophesy to nations and kings,” and to the “measuring of the sanctuary.” First, the “witnesses” are sent “to prophesy.” Second, the “twelve hundred and sixty days” is the mathematical equivalent to the “forty-two months” in the preceding vision.
The commission to “prophesy to nations and kings” plays out on the earth in the prophetic ministry of the “two witnesses” – They prophesy for a period during which they are not killed; however, they endure persecution, therefore, they prophesy in “sackcloth.” In the end, they suffer violent death at the hands of the “inhabitants of the earth.” Their persecution corresponds to the “holy city” being “trampled for forty-two months” in the previous paragraph.
The reiteration of the period of suffering from the book of Daniel links the visions of the “two witnesses” and of the “measuring of the temple” – (Daniel 7:25-27 – “Season, seasons, and a dividing of seasons”).
The “two witnesses” execute the previously pronounced “woes” on the “inhabitants of the earth” – Their “word” causes “fire” and other “plagues” as described in the first six trumpets. The “plagues” result from their words pronounced in reaction to the attempts by evil men to harm them – (Revelation 8:13).
Revelation weaves imagery from the prophetic careers of Elijah and Moses into its portrait. At the word of Elijah, fire fell from heaven to consume his persecutors. When he prayed, it did not rain for three and one-half years. 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 that it not rain during the days of their prophecy.” Like Moses in Egypt, they have the authority to turn the waters into blood and “to smite the earth with every plague.”
The “two witnesses” 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. The same judgments issue from either “witness,” and both command the rains to cease and the waters to turn into blood – (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15).
Verse 4 alludes to Zechariah 4:2-14 where the prophet saw a “golden lampstand” holding seven lamps, and “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 “two anointed ones” – Joshua the high priest, and Zerubbabel of the royal line of David.
In Revelation, “lampstands” represent churches. If its symbolism is consistent, then the “two lampstands” also represent churches. Previously, John saw “seven lampstands,” but here only “two.” Possibly, they represented the priestly and kingly aspects of the church – “priests, kingdom.” However, elsewhere Revelation views this as a combined reality – a priestly kingdom – not as distinct ministries within the church.
More likely, two of the “seven churches of Asia” are in view; the two faithful congregations that received no rebuke or correction – Smyrna and Philadelphia. They typify “overcoming” churches that bear faithful testimony on the earth.
By the “word” of the “two witnesses,” fire falls, “waters turn into blood,” and they “smite the earth with every plague.” Likewise, the second trumpet produced a great mountain burning with fire that was cast into the sea, and “the third part of the sea became blood.”
The “witnesses smite the earth with any manner of 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 were due to the prophetic ministry 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 horses “issued” (ekporeuomai) fire, smoke, and brimstone by which a third of humanity was killed – (Revelation 9:1-18).
Thus, the “plagues” unleashed at the word of the “witnesses” correspond to the “plagues” inflicted by the first six trumpet blasts. The “word” of the “two witnesses” determines the judgments unleashed by the trumpets. Their “testimony” coincides with the period when the first six trumpets sound.
(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 in the fifth trumpet. From it, a horde of locust-like monsters “ascended.” In Revelation, the “Abyss” is the source of satanic personalities and mischief. As will be seen, the image of the “beast that will ascend from the Abyss” corresponds to the “beast that ascends from the sea” to wage “war against the saints” – (Revelation 9:1-2, 13:1-2, 17:8, 20:1-3, 20:7-10).
This last verse uses Daniel 7:21 to portray the martyrdom of the “witnesses” – “I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them.” The same passage is used again for the “war” of the “beast from the sea” against the “saints” – (Revelation 11:7, 13:7).
The “beast” is not authorized to ascend and kill the “witnesses” until “they havefinished (teleō) their testimony.” Just as the word of the “two witnesses” unleashed the plagues on the “inhabitants of the earth,” so the “beast” cannot ascend to slay them until they complete their testimony – (“You must prophesy to nations and kings”). This may link to several other passages in Revelation:
(Revelation 10:7) – “But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he has declared to his servants the prophets.”
(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.”
The “second woe” does not end, nor the “third woe” begin, until their mission is complete, just as John was told when he received the “little scroll” – (Revelation 10:7 – “It behooves you to prophesy against peoples and nations and tongues, and many kings”).
Only when their “testimony” is finished do final victory and judgment unfold with the blast of the “seventh trumpet.” But the completion of the task also means the ascent of the “beast from the Abyss.” This may correspond to the loosing of Satan from the “Abyss” at the end of the thousand years to launch his final a “war” against the “saints” (Revelation 11:14-19, 20:7-10).
The “two witnesses” were killed for their “testimony,” a significant term in Revelation. For example, John was on Patmos for “the word of his testimony.” Revelation is the “testimony of Jesus Christ” – (Revelation 1:1, 1:8-9).
Despite the great “plagues” inflicted on the “inhabitants of the earth,” men and women do not heed the testimony of the “two witnesses” and repent of their iniquities. Instead, the “beast” ascends to destroy them, and the rest of humanity rejoices over their demise. However, the “slain Lamb” will turn apparent defeat into victory. The “testimony” of the martyred “witnesses” will be vindicated at the final trumpet blast.