The Two Witnesses
Revelation 11:3-13
And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and three score days, clothed in sackcloth.…

In the absolute impossibility of certainly ascertaining what definite historical events were in the mind of St. John when he penned these mysterious chapters of his Apocalypse, we are driven, as perhaps it was designed we should be driven, to take them as an inspired parable or allegory, and so gather from them lessons for our own times. We have done so in regard to the "little book" told of in Revelation 10.; and in regard to the measuring of temple, altar, and worshippers, told of in the first ten verses of this chapter; and we purpose dealing with this record of the two witnesses in a similar way; for we know of no other in which our consideration of them can be of any service to us. This entire episode, stretching from Revelation 10:1 to Revelation 11:13, has to do with these witnesses; Revelation 10. showing their preparation by means of the book; Revelation 11:1, 2 showing the people before whom they would witness; and now the vers. 3-13 tell more especially of the witnesses themselves and their witness for God, and then that of God for them. It might seem as if in ver. 4 we had an authoritative explanation of these two witnesses, as it points us back to the prophecy of Zechariah 4:1-3, and tells us that what he saw was now fulfilled. But Zechariah's symbol merely tells of the characteristics of these witnesses; that they were to be as the olive trees were - supporters and sustainers of the life to which they ministered. The olive trees so ministered to the lamps, and these witnesses so ministered to the people of God. They were also to be as lamps, letting their light shine in such wise as should glorify God. St. John's word, "These are," etc., therefore means no more than that these are represented by, and correspond to, the two olive trees, etc. But we may, we believe, find the antitypes of those ancient symbols and types of St. John's allegory in our Lord Jesus Christ and his Church. They are the two witnesses, and are one to the other as the trees and the lamp; but before the world, both witness. Look at the life of our Lord and the history of his Church; all that is told of here may be read therein. Christ himself is called in this book, "The faithful and true Witness;" and he himself said of his Church in her ministry, "This gospel shall be preached for a witness in all nations;" and it is written of old, "Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord." Hence in Christ and his Church we may find these witnesses, and in what is here recorded of them we may see the mutual fellowship that exists between them. See this -

I. IN MINISTRY. For both that of Christ and his Church was a ministry:

1. Of prophecy. Not in the sense of predicting the future, but in uttering forth the will of God - preaching and proclaiming God's message to mankind. In both there were works of Divine power, signs and wonders; but these were of but subordinate importance as compared to their ministry of the Word. Our Lord was the great Teacher, and he bade his disciples "preach the gospel."

2. Of brief duration. Who knows what precisely is meant by these mysterious twelve hundred and sixty days? It is the same period of three years and a half whether told of as days here or as months in ver.

2. It is the half of seven, the number denoting completeness and perfection. There may be allusion to the time of our Lord's ministry on earth, or to that of the investment of Jerusalem by the Romans, or, taking the year day theory, to some twelve hundred and sixty years during which this ministry is to be carried on. We prefer to take the numbers as telling of a time limited and brief. Such was our Lord's ministry; such the duration of the Church in Jerusalem ere it fled away to Pella; such, in comparison with the eternal ages in which the blessed results of their ministry shall be realized, is the ministry of the Church of today and all past and future days.

3. Characterized by much of sternness and sorrow. "Clothed in sackcloth" - so is it described. Was it not so with our Lord? He was "the Man of sorrows." And has it not been so with his Church oftentimes, just in proportion as they have been faithful to their Lord? See the life of Paul, of Peter, of the martyr Church in many generations, under both pagan and papal Rome. How can it be otherwise when we think of the ends that are to be secured - so momentous - and of the tremendous hindrances in the way of securing these? Such ministry is no holiday pastime, no decorous profession merely, but one that for our Lord and his apostles, for his martyrs and for all his faithful, seems oftentimes to be "clothed in sackcloth."

4. But it is of resistless force. Like as was the ministry of Elijah and Moses. Elijah literally called down fire from heaven, and Moses did that which is here said of these witnesses. And in a real, though not literal sense, vers. 5 and 6 are true. Was not our Lord's word as a fire to his enemies? How it scathed and tormented them! And were not his words fulfilled when Jerusalem was overthrown? And so of the other witness, the Church. What has become of her persecutors - Rome, Spain, and many more? Has it been well with those who have hurt the Church of God? "He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of mine eye" - so hath God said, and historic fact vindicates that word. And so of the withholding of the rain. Elijah did this literally; but was not the righteous and universal judgment on the hardened ones whereby, as our Lord said, "seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand" - was not this a yet more real and terrible withholding of the rain and shutting of heaven against them? Christ was "set for the fall" as well as "the rise" of many in Israel; they would have it so. And the words of the other witness have had like effects. "Whose sins ye retain, they are retained," said the Lord to his Church. "What thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven," he also said. And was not this word fulfilled when such as Paul turned from the Jews who had rejected him and went unto the heathen? What would become of a nation, a community, if the good all went away? What became of Sodom when Lot left it; of Jerusalem, when the Church of Christ left it? Parodies of this power of the Church were seen in the interdicts which proud popes and prelates would at times lay on the lands that believed in them. The threat of such interdict seemed like shutting heaven against them, and they dreaded it with a great dread. And the plagues Moses inflicted on Egypt have their counterpart in the sorrows that have come on men in all ages who have sought to hurt the Lord's anointed ones, and to do his witnesses harm. Yes; this ministry of the witnesses has had resistless force accompanying it, before which its foes have fallen again and again. Let none of us be found fighting against God.

II. IN SUFFERING. We seem in vers. 7-13 to have a piece of the gospel history, of the life of our Lord, given to us. For he was met with the hostile rage of hell. The "beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit" did make war against him. And for a time hell seemed to have vanquished the Christ. For he was betrayed, condemned, and crucified. And with contempt like to that of refusing burial was our Lord treated. "He was despised and rejected of men." It was their "hour, and the power of darkness." And the Church, his co-witness, has had fellowship in his sufferings, and been once and again "made conformable unto his death." The same foe, the same rage, the same suffering, the same seeming vanquishment, the same scorn, these have been her lot as well as her Lord's. And over both have been the like short-lived exultation. Herod and Pontius Pilate became friends over the condemned Christ. His enemies breathed more freely when they knew he was dead. How they mocked him as he hung on the cross! Their joy, as well as their hatred and scorn, are clearly audible in those hideous insults which they heaped upon him. And again and again have the persecutors of the Church exulted in imagined success. Pagan and papal, still worse than pagan Rome, have alike flattered themselves, once and again, that heresy - as they deemed it - was completely put down. They have been "drunk with the blood of saints," and in their wild orgies have rejoiced and made merry as the manner of such is to do. Let us, whose lot has fallen in these quiet days, learn lessons of thankfulness that no such suffering as the Church has had to endure falls to our share, and that, when such suffering had to be borne, grace sufficient for the day was given. What an implied promise of ever present help there is in that! And let us be ashamed to shrink from any suffering allotted to us, seeing how incomparably less it is, which, in witnessing for God, we may be called upon to bear. And let us remember, and be comforted by the remembrance, whence and when such sufferings come. Whence? From hell, and such as were the men of Sodom and Egypt, and the murderers of the Lord. If friendship with such would save us from suffering, would we be their friends? God forbid! And when? It was when the evil they could do could do no harm (see ver. 7). The witnesses had finished their testimony. What a shutting of the door after the horse has been stolen! God's witnesses had done their work; it did not matter now what their foes might do against or with them. God's servants are immortal, yea more, are left unhindered, until their work is done.

III. IN TRIUMPH. (Ver. 11.) Our Lord's resurrection, the fear which fell on his foes, his ascension, Pentecost and its marvels, are all referred to here as patterns of the triumph of the witnesses. In these great events are found the archetype and model, and not merely the mere illustration, of what St. John tells of. It is easy to see what answers in the history of our Lord to what is here said. He was glorified, declared to be the Son of God with power, by means of them. And in his triumph his people share, so that, in a very real sense, what is said of him can be, and is, said of them. Church revivals, of which there have been many, are instances of fellowship in Christ's triumph. Often have hell and Satan, and all that are theirs, thought that Christianity and the Church were crushed. Voltaire vowed that it should be his ecraser l'infame, and he thought that by his writings it should surely be done, and in the awful days of the revolutionary terror it seemed as if his vaunt were not vain, but valid. But revival came. In the blessed Reformation times, what a resurrection unto life for the faith and the Church there was! In the Diocletian persecutions it seemed as if all were lost, but in brief while, Constantine avowed himself a Christian, and the faith which was once persecuted was now praised and preferred everywhere. And today in many quarters, it is feared that faith is dead. Perhaps some fear it for themselves. But behold this parable of the witnesses. Over the grave of all such "Resurgam" may, should be, written. "Failure" is a word unknown in the vocabulary of God, but ultimate and complete triumph is absolutely sure.

CONCLUSION. Witnesses for Christ, does not this bid us be of good cheer? Enemies of Christ, does not the word of his witnesses "torment" you? Does it not rankle within you, driving away your peace, refusing to let you alone in your sins, however much you might wish it would? It scorches and burns inwardly, as if the fire unquenchable were already kindled. Blessed be God that the witness of the Word doth torment, pricking you to the heart, and causing perpetual pain. Yield to it, as did Saul the persecutor, who, by yielding, became Paul the apostle. "The Word is quick and powerful;" it goes straight to the conscience, making many a Felix "tremble" and many an Agrippa resolve "almost to be a Christian." But remember, it may do all this and not save your soul. Oh for that one little step which yet remains to be taken! that actual "arising and going to your Father"! that real coming to Christ that you may have life! If the Word torments, it is only that it may arouse you to listen; it is only that you may take it to you as your guide, your light, and your comforter. Trifle not with that Word which must one day judge you. May Christ give it entrance while it is still light and not fire - "a light to cheer and to enlighten, not a fire to burn and to consume"! (Vaughan). - S.C.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.

WEB: I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred sixty days, clothed in sackcloth."

The Two Witnesses
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