And I will empower my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth."
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.
I will give power unto My two witnesses.1. The prophecy under consideration gives us an undeniable evidence of the Divinity and truth of the gospel.
2. The prophecy under consideration assures us of the continuance of the gospel ministry.
3. We are here taught what is the character of Christ's approved ministers, and what are the duties which he requires of them.(1) They, as witnesses, are to bear testimony to the gospel by professing their own faith in it, by exhibiting the evidences of its Divinity, by defending it against the cavils of unbelievers, by exemplifying the virtues of it in their conversation, and by sacrificing in its cause their worldly interest, and even their lives, if occasion should require.(2) They, as prophets, must preach the Word with plainness of speech, adapting themselves to common capacities: they must speak with demonstration of the Spirit and with power, commending themselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God: they must declare the whole counsel of God, however disgustful any part of it may be to vicious and corrupt minds: they must reprove prevailing iniquities, and confute licentious errors, whoever may practise the former or patronise the latter.
4. This prophecy teaches us that in times of prevailing infidelity and corruption there is always a pointed opposition to the ministers of the gospel. If men wish to exterminate the religion of Christ, they will first oppose the means of its support; and of these one of the chief is a learned and godly ministry.
5. We are taught in this prophecy from Whence arises the enmity of wicked men against the stated launchers of religion. St. John says that when the witnesses shall be slain, they who dwell on earth "shall rejoice over them, because these two prophets tormented them." How did these prophets torment them? Not by persecution; for they possessed neither the power nor the authority to persecute; but merely by proclaiming those solemn truths which condemn the practice, expose the guilt, and announce the punishment of irreclaimable sinners.
6. Another observation which here presents itself to us is that the Christian Church is meek, humble, and peaceable. So she is represented in this prophecy. She suffers persecution from her enemies, but does not persecute them in return. Her deliverances are effected by the hand of God, not by her own hand. The main instruments of her defence are the excellency of her religion, the purity of her works, and the fervour of her prayers. These weapons of her warfare have proved mighty through God to confound the devices and defeat the power of those who sought her overthrow.
7. We are taught the great efficacy of the prayers of good men.
(J. Lathrop, D. D.)I. THE CHARACTER OF THE TWO WITNESSES. "The two witnesses" are the Son and Spirit of God; the doctrines of their Divinity, or, more particularly, the justifying righteousness of the one, and the regenerating influence of the other.
1. These are the two principal witnesses of God in the Church. They are witnesses of the highest credibility, and to whom alone God would commit His cause. They are best qualified to give evidence upon a subject in all the particulars of which they have been personally concerned. They are the parties to whose care the whole affairs of the Church have been officially consigned. They alone are acquainted with the whole mind and will of God.
2. They are frequently spoken of as witnesses for God in other parts of the Scripture (Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 55:4; John 5:31, 32; John 15:26; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Hebrews 10:14, 15; 1 John 5:6-10, 20, etc.).
3. This view of the two witnesses is sustained by the preceding allusion. Their emblems are "water and blood." In the court of the temple are the water and the blood. Here are the altar of burnt-offering and the brazen sea; or, in other words, the "water and the blood." These are the only furniture of the court. The altar is between the entrance to the court and the brazen sea; and the brazen sea is between the altar and the door of the tabernacle. None without passing by these could enter the holy place.
4. The two witnesses we have named agree with their denomination as prophets. The claim of the Son and the Spirit to the title of the two prophets of God in the Church, above all others, is substantiated by these two Scripture declarations: "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him," and, "When He the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all truth."
5. Our selection of these witnesses accords with the metaphorical illustration of them in the fourth verse. They are the olive trees from which, and the golden pipes through which, the oil of grace is supplied to the Church of God. These olive trees are represented to John as still standing before the God of the earth. Are they not then "He who is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever," and the Spirit of Christ which testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow?
II. The rejection of these witnesses. "And I will give unto My two witnesses, and they shall prophesy, clothed in sackcloth."
I. THE UNFAILING TESTIMONY. Throughout the entire period during which the usurping worldly power shall oppress and tread down the adherents to the truth, the voice of testimony is heard. It cannot be silenced. Forty and two months is the holy city trodden underfoot; a thousand two hundred and three score days do the witnesses prophesy. Not any particular two; but the confirmatory two. The number may be minished; but the voice is clear. One herald is sufficient to make a proclamation.
II. THE PAINFULNESS OF WITNESSING AGAINST EVIL AND THREATENING JUDGMENT IS BUT TOO OBVIOUS. The witnesses prophesy, "clothed in sackcloth." So must all who stand in opposition to evil find the painful bitterness of their sad duty.
III. THE DIVINE DEFENCE OF THE WITNESSES. "If any man desireth to hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth." The Lord defends His witnesses; His anointed must not be touched. The word of their mouth is itself a penetrating sword of flame; nor can the adversaries of truth escape those external judgments which fire always represents, and which the God of truth uses for the punishment of evildoers, This is further seen in —
IV. THEIR PUNITIVE POWER. But it is of a nature correspondent to the entire character of the gospel. "They shut up heaven. Sad indeed is it for them who stay the holy work of the heavenly witnesses. For if their work be hindered it is as the shutting up of the heavens — no spiritual rain, no teaching. The world is the sufferer. The loss is unspeakable. By the removal of the earth-preserving salt — the Word — a plague is brought upon the earth. Alas! though the testimony is continuous through all the time of the worldly oppression, yet the witnesses are finally slain! Here the vision may be for the comfort of the witnesses to the truth themselves. And we reflect —
V. UPON THEIR TEMPORARY DESTRUCTION AND FINAL TRIUMPH. They are slain, and so far the world triumphs. So it did with the one faithful and true Witness. Or we may see here a temporary triumph of the evil worldly spirit, and the final supremacy of the truth. Probably the former. But in either case the faithful witnesses to the truth are assured in this, as in many other ways, of the final reward to their fidelity and the final triumph over them who make them their foes.
(R. Green.)I. WHY THE SAINTS AND PEOPLE OF GOD ARE CALLED WITNESSES. Because it is their work and business to bear witness to the truths and ways of Christ, in opposition to the ways of antichrist. This is the work that we are born for: For this cause, saith Christ, was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I might bear witness unto the truth. This is the work of our generation, witness-bearing to the truths of Christ in opposition to the ways of antichrist, in anti-christian times. You will say, What shall I do that I may be found faithful in this witness-bearing; what shall I do that I may witness a good confession in these days of ours? Something by way of rule. Be sure that your testimonies do agree. Though there be a hundred witnesses about a business, if their witness does not agree it will be of little worth. And now so it is, Christ's witnesses this day are divided into many opinions and persuasions, but they may agree in the main for Christ, they may all agree in opposition unto antichrist. If then you would have your witness valid and good, labour, you that are the witnesses, for unity in your testimony. Again, if you would witness a good confession in these days of ours, then you must be willing to own the truth of Christ, to own it whensoever you are called thereunto. It is said, our Saviour Christ He witnessed a good confession before Pontius Pilate. Pray what kind of witness was it? Was it any long confession, or large? No; but the manner of it was this: when they called Him before them to give an account of any fact, He left them to prove it. When they called Him to give an account of the doctrine that He held, "Art thou the King of the Jews"? then He owned it. He left them to prove the fact, and He owned the truth; so should we do. If you would witness a good confession in these days of ours, then you must be willing also for to suffer for the truth of Christ. Those that cannot suffer for the truth of Christ and run the hazard of a suffering, they cannot bear their witness fully. See how they go together in Revelation 13:10. If you would witness a good confession, then take heed that when you have borne your testimony you do nothing that may revoke the same, either directly or by consequence. Thus by way of rule. And now by way of means. If you would be faithful in bearing your testimony, in bearing witness to the truths of Christ in opposition to the ways of antichrist, observe what the root is that a good confession grows upon, and labour for to strengthen that. Now what is the root that a good confession grows upon, but faith working by love? Labour in the work of self-denial, and use yourself now to deny yourself. In the next place, take heed that you be not scared too much with the scarecrows of the times, but go to God for boldness, that you may be emboldened with the boldness of the Holy Ghost.
II. BUT THEN WHAT ARE THESE WITNESSES MORE EXPRESSLY IN REGARD OF THEIR NUMBER, AND IN REGARD OF THEIR QUALITY? In regard of their number they are two: "And I will give power unto My 'two' witnesses." Two is but a few, and yet it is enough to bear witness, for "out of the mouths of two or three witnesses shall every word be established." Two, a few, and yet enough. The note is this: Christ will always have enough to bear witness to His truth in the darkest times. But then as for their qualification, For their quality: "These are the two olive trees," at ver. 4. If you look into Zechariah, from whence this is taken, you will find the two olive trees are the godly magistrates and ministers, by whose assistance the golden oil is emptied into the candlesticks and lamps. But what are the two candlesticks? Our Saviour tells you that "the seven golden candlesticks are the seven Churches." They were seven; now in anti-christian times reduced to a lesser company, two candlesticks. Though, as I said before. Christ will lose none in the latter times, yet in anti-christian times reduced unto two. These are the two candlesticks. Christ tells you the candlesticks are the Churches; so then put this together. Would you know what these two olive trees are, and the two candlesticks? They are the godly magistrate and godly minister in conjunction with the saints of God and Churches of Christ. Here we may see who those are that are fit to bear witness of Christ in anti-christian times, to bear their testimony. They are to be a fruitful, profitable people, and a lightsome people, that can hold forth light unto others in some measure.
III. IN SACKCLOTH; WHAT IS THAT? If you ask what this sackcloth means, it represents the sad and afflicted condition that the saints and people of God shall be in in anti-christian times. Is it not a sad thing for the saints to be persecuted to the very gates of Zion? And if Christ's witnesses shall be in sackcloth 1,260 years, will not you be contented to be in sackcloth three or four years?
IV. PROPHESY — WHAT IS THAT, AND HOW DID IT COME TO PASS THAT THEY SHALL PROPHESY IN THE TIME OF THEIR SACKCLOTH? Prophesy — what is that? Why prophesying is sometimes taken in Scripture for the revelation of the mind of God, whereby a man doth foretell things to come. Prophesy is taken for a declaring and making known of the mind and will of God. For, I pray, do but mark, this their prophesying and witness-bearing seems to be all one. "I will give power unto My two witnesses, and they shall prophesy in sackcloth." I will give power to them; they shall have their orders to preach from Myself; they shall have power from Me to preach, and to prophesy, and to bear their testimony.
V. BUT THEN WHAT IS THE DEFENCE AND GUARD THAT THESE WITNESSES HAVE, WHEREBY THEY ARE GUARDED AND DEFENDED IN THEIR PROPHESYING? The text saith, "If any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth and devoureth their enemies." What then is this fire that proceeds out of the mouth of the witnesses but the devouring judgments of God, whereby the enemies of God's people are destroyed by the prayers and threatenings of the people of God that come out of their mouth.
VI. WHAT ARE THE GREAT THINGS THAT THESE WITNESSES WILL DO IN THE END OF THE DAYS OF THEIR PROPHESYING AND OF THEIR SACKCLOTH? "These have power to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will."
(W. Bridge, M. D.)
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