Two witnesses in sackcloth. Who are they? Rev. 11 even says they will be resurrected from the dead. According to Mal. 4:5, will one of them be Elijah? Not at all. Jesus said that John the Baptist was that foretold Elijah. (See Insight #28 and Insight #29.)
The two witnesses are to testify in sackcloth for 1,260 “days.” In Insight #177, I offered evidence for applying the “day-for-a-year” key to the seven texts that predict this period. I offered evidence for seeing the fulfillment in the Dark Ages when the Roman papacy wielded maximum power against God’s truth. During the same time God’s church, the woman in the wilderness of Rev. 12, was suffering “underground,” as they say today.
But what of the two witnesses who testify in the same period? Some students consider the two-witnesses text to be the most difficult in Revelation. According to the historical view, who could they be? The period is too long to apply it to two individuals. Some students apply it to many people in many places. How can that fit the concept of “two”? Is it possible that the two witnesses are not human? Revelation is filled with symbolism. Everyone knows the harlot of chapter 17 is not some street woman. In fact, Rev. 17:18 says she is a city. Rev. 11:4 also says the two witnesses are “two olive trees” and “two lampstands.” Neither one is human. How do trees and lamps witness?
A witness testifies. “Testimony” and “testament” are related words. In Deut. 31:26, Moses told the Levites to “take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark… that it may be there for a witness against you.” A book was a witness! Jesus echoed the same thought: “Search the Scriptures; for… they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39). The OT Scriptures testify of Jesus! The NT also testifies: “This is the disciple which testifies of these things, and wrote these things” (John 21:24). John, an eyewitness, gave us written testimony in the NT. Two testaments; two witnesses!
The witnesses are called olive trees and lamps. Olive trees produce oil for lamps. What Bible lover is not acquainted with Ps. 119:105: “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Nobody has trouble with this beautiful symbolism, so why not let it help us with Rev. 11?
What of the fire from their mouths? Such figurative language is not new either. God told Jeremiah, “I will make my words in your mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them. Lo, I will bring a nation upon you from far…” (Jer. 5:14-15). A “red-hot” message warned the Israelites of destruction to be caused by a far nation (Babylon). The words in Rev. 11:5, “fire proceeds out of their mouth, and devours their enemies,” is virtually identical. In both cases, the words are not literal fire. Rather, they are words about the destruction that God would cause.
The same is true regarding the plagues mentioned in Rev. 11:6. Just as Jeremiah did not himself devour the Jews with fire from his mouth, so the witnesses of Rev. 11 do not have to directly cause the plagues mentioned — but indirectly, yes: “For I testify unto every man that hears the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18). If a person adds to the book, God himself sends the plagues.
Some will not accept this explanation of the two witnesses. I know of no explanation that better fits the immediate and wider context. The next Insight examines how the sackcloth represents the suppression of Scripture during the 1,260 years, and considers a possible meaning of their death and resurrection.