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Originally published in "The Lord's Coming Herald & Wesleyan Bible Prophecy Advocate," January-July 2008

Revelation Chapter Eleven Explained: Part II

We indicated at the beginning of our explanation of Revelation chapter eleven, in Part I, that the usages of those expression for a three-and-a-half period in this book are symbolical, that is to say, they are ideational correspondents to the last half of Daniel’s seventieth week, and refer to the whole present gospel age. If you are not familiar with this construction of Daniel's 70th week, or if you do not yet fully understand it, then we encourage you to go back and read the many other articles related to this matter that are posted on this website.

We now come to the second parable of Jesus concerning the unfolding messianic age, as given in this chapter. It begins at verse three: "I will give power to my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy one-thousand two-hundred and three-score days" (Revelation 11:3)

We shall start by answering with these two questions in order: (1) who are these two witnesses, and (2) what is the length of the duration of their witnessing activity signified by the 1,260 days.

First, the identity of the two witnesses.

Verse four plainly says that they are the two "candlesticks" and "olive trees" standing before the Lord of the whole earth. Clearly this is symbolic language that forbids any strictly literalistic interpretation. The imagery here comes out of Zechariah 4:1-6. It a beautiful picture of the Spirit-filled Christian Church. The "candlesticks" portrayed in  Revelation 11:4 are so identified by Jesus as His church in Revelation 1:20, of which it is said that He himself is in the midst her.

Now the purpose of a candlestick is to give light. Jesus is the light of the world. His disciples are sent as lights into the world. The "olive trees" mentioned are representative of the anointing oil of the Holy Spirit (Zech. 4:2-3). Just as the olive trees supplied oil to burn in the lamps, so the Holy Spirit provides the spiritual fuel by which the Christian Church must function: "not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord" (Zech. 4:6).

"I will give power unto may two witnesses" (Rev. 11:3). To His disciples Jesus said, "Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and be witnesses unto me" (Acts 1:8). The correspondence and connection of ideas is inescapable. Who are Christ's witnesses? And why is it stated in Revelation chapter eleven that these witnesses are limited to only two in number?

The answer is that every Spirit-filled believer is sent forth as a "witness" for Christ. Thus, the parable here is talking about the whole true Christian Church. But why a limitation to the number "two"?

The answer is because the number "two" is the lowest common denominator in what may constitute the expression of any given local Christian church. Notice, first, that the authority for authenticating the Divine will and revelation is vested at this basic level: "in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established" (Matt. 18:16). Notice, second, that the power for accomplishment of all heavenly directives likewise derives here: "if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 18:19). Notice, third, that the reality of Christ's promised presence in His church is predicated even to this primitive and most basic level: "for where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

Christ presence in a church comprised of only two people, makes three, and a three-fold cord is not easily broken. The church established and maintained, even at this minimal level, is invincible. Such is capable of being the "witness" that God wants her to be, for all the resources of the infinite God in heaven are available to assist her in the accomplishment of such mission.

But, still, one may persist, why the reduction to a lowest common denominator here?

Why not?

What is to be gained by putting in some higher number? Is not rather for the value of the symbolism designed in the use of this parable, the number two vastly sufficient and superior? No other number could possibly be as accurate in its portrayal of the universal nature of the gospel, or of the unlimited scope of the Church's world-wide operation. If Jesus had said that the number of the witnesses here was 1,345,724, or any other random made-up number, be it larger or smaller, that would only introduce confusion, and destroy the balance of unique interaction between free moral agency and divine sovereignty within redemption's wondrous plan.

So, I trust, you get the point. There is no reason for attempting to inject  a wooden literalism here, so as to insist on identifying these two witnesses as any two specific human beings, be they past, present, or future, when the text itself does not do so.  If we were supposed to understand, friend, that the two witnesses of Revelation chapter eleven are Moses and Elijah, than why didn't the text say plainly they were Moses and Elijah? The text does not say that these two witnesses are Moses and Elijah, or Paul and Susie, or Joe and John or any other named individuals.

 So why speculate? The text gives no hint that the explanation of this material swings in the way of wooden literalism. The two witness ARE olive tree and candlesticks. That is the "literal" interpretation of their identity! The literal interpretation of the text, ironically, in this case, dear friend, just happens to be symbolic!

The alternatives are either symbolism or absurdity, take your pick. And if the text is symbolic, than let it also be CONSISTENTLY symbolic. We have no right to pick and choose which elements are symbolic and which are not.

The whole thing is symbolic, consistently symbolic.

And how does that make it any less the infallible and inspired Word of God? It doesn't.

Alternatively, how does absurdity and incomprehensiveness commend this passage as the inspired and infallible Word of God, unless we believe that God is also the author of insanity and confusion?

God is not the author of confusion! This book is a "revelation" or a disclosure. Therefore, in the very nature of things, it has to make sense. No interpretation of the Book of Revelation should be accepted that is not deemed to make at least a measure of good common sense. In the way that we have explained it here, I think, it truly does make good common sense. Wouldn't you agree?

 Now let's go on to the second part of our discussion.

First, we have shown that the two witness mentioned in Revelation chapter eleven refers to the witness of the entire Christian Church--the two witnesses are a symbolic representation for the whole spirit-filled body of Christ on earth, the Church.

Now let's notice that these two witnesses are described as prophesying (preaching) for 1,260 days. Is this number of days literal, or is it also to be understood in a symbolical manner?

Our proposed solution is this: the 1,260 days here refers to the last half of Daniel's 70th week. Why the last half of it?

Because the first half of Daniel's 70th week has already been fulfilled within the confines of Christ's public ministry among the Jews two thousand years ago. Christ in human person was witnessing to the Jews during this period of time. He was witnessing to them concerning the nature and scope of the "new covenant" that He had come to institute, confirm, and establish. In this regard He preached (witnessed) to them the gospel of the kingdom. Then, when the universal and complete sacrifice for sin was made in the midst of Daniel's 70th weeks, He, the sacrificial lamb, arose from the dead. At that point every thing changed. Henceforth Jesus has been alive and doing. He is still the faithful and true witness (Revelation 1:5), and the church, his body on earth, is the extension of that witness.

Now the period of Christ's witnessing activity is no longer time-bounded, as it was in the first half of Daniel's 70th week, before His resurrection. His resurrection introduces to us the concept of elongation in regard to time. It is a different kind of time now, then it was before Jesus came, died for our sins, and arose from the dead. The quality of time now is infused by the in-broken presence of the realized kingdom of God set up on earth. This new feature is called "eternal life." It is salvation,or being born anew into the redemptive kingdom of God's dear Son.

Time is not the issue now in regard to God's salvation. Salvation has come. The kingdom is here. Now is the accepted time. Eternal life has no time-bounded limitations. In this sense, the last half of Daniel's 70th week--the new covenant-confirming period--is endless. Why and how? Because Jesus, life and ministry is now endless. His first coming and work has now opened upon an age of limitless potential and possibilities. The gospel is to be preached to all the world until the end of time. The Church (the two witnesses of Revelation chapter eleven) are to witness 1,260 days, that is the whole last half of Daniel's 70th week, which includes the entire period of time now lying, or stretching, if you will, between Christ's first and second advents.

According to Revelation 11:5-6  The two witnesses (the Church) wields all the tremendous representative power of Christ on earth in keeping with Matthew 18:18 and other of the Church's commissioning promises. It is in their hands to bind or loose--the authority of their proclamation consigning all who hear it either unto eternal bliss, or to damnation. The fire coming out of their mouths to devour their enemies (verse 5) points to the symbolic representation of their divinely-sanctioned authority and power. This is not a literal picture of fire-breathing dragons. It is a picture of the power of the passion of God's word sanely preached, and of the potential that said kingdom proclamation has upon the world for weal or woe.

According to Revelation 11:6, it lies within the power of the Church to bless or curse the world. The Church can open the healing steams of salvation in the desert, or it can turn the fruitful plain into a dry barren waste, all by its initiative, or lack thereof, in witnessing to the gospel.

Now we come to a transition, at verse seven. That transition is found in these words: "when they shall have finished their testimony."

Think about this: when is the church supposed to be finished with its testimony? The answer is "never," as long as the world remains unredeemed. Jesus has never, and will never, call a halt to the work of Great Commission. He came to save the world, the whole world, and will, for His part, not withdraw His hand until that work has been accomplished.

But notice the picture. It is a picture of the two witnesses (the Church) finishing its testimony. Why finishing it? Has the mission been accomplished?

No. There is no picture here of the world as having been, to any full extent, redeemed. Rather, we see something dramatically negative happening to the witnesses themselves. Notice from verse seven onward that the two witness are overcome by the beast and killed!

How do we interpret  this picture of horrible defeat in the witnessing enterprise? Notice the facts here.

1. The two witnesses finish their testimony. (verse 7a)

2. They subsequently lose all their former world-conquering power and are  overcome by the beast ascending out of the bottomless pit, which is the Devil, according to Revelation 20:3, 7-10 (verse 7b). See also in this regard our commentary on Revelation chapter nine.

3. This defeat and demise of the Church occurs in old Jerusalem, where Jesus, too, was crucified (verse 8)

Friends, this is clearly is the prophetic picture of a great apostasy. At the end of the gospel age there will be a great apostasy, in keeping with what is said in II Thessalonians chapter two, and other passages.

At the heart of this end-time defeat of the church in apostasy, friend, lies the cession of her witnessing to Christ by her returning to the weak and beggarly elements of Judaism, as represented by her death in old Jerusalem.  Christians are citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, they have no business returning to the old economy, where earthly Jerusalem was prominent.

The false religion of Pharisaical Judaism that killed Jesus will also in its modern form of Scofield/Darbyite dispensational ideology kill His end-time church as well. The spread of this heresy shuts down on the dynamic within all vibrant Christian organizations. It is a surrendering of the world to the Devil by default, because the Church's witness to the truth of Christ's present messianic reign and kingdom is evaporated, replace by any-moment secret pretribulational rapture--ism, postponed kingdom--ism, and Jewish millennial reign--ism--all man-made notions quite foreign to the true teaching of the Word of God itself.

At the midnight hour of this apostasy, we notice, finally, that the Church is resurrected to new life and power (Revelation 11:11). This event is closely tied to the fall of Babylon, and the last trump resurrection, as we seen in versus 12-13, as well.

Chapter eleven ends at the consummation, whereof verses 14-19 give an overview description. A closing relevant point that can be made is this: according to I Corinthians 15:51-52, the rapture happens  at the "last" trump sounding. We have that sounding of the seventh, or last, trump here in Revelation 11:15ff. 

Notice that verse 18 clearly states the occurrence of a general resurrection. So in this instance, too, a consistent harmony of the sacred Word prevails. That end-time Bible prophecy harmony is best expressed as post-tribulational a-millennialism.

Related Article Links

Revelation Chapter Eleven Explained: Part I
Revelation Chapter Twelve Explained