This passage may be the most debated passage in the Apocalypse. Are they figurative or literal? Do they represent two real witnesses or do they represent a witnessing church? That is for the readers to decide.
3 And I will give to my two witnesses1 authority2 and they will prophesy3 for a thousand-two-hundred, and sixty days4 clothed5 in sackcloth6 . 4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands who have stood7 before the Lord of the earth.8 5 And if anyone wants to harm them, fire comes out of9 their mouths10 and devours their enemies.11 And if anyone may want to harm them, this is how they must die12. 6 These men have the authority to shut up the sky so that it will not rain13 during the time14 of their prophecy, and they have the authority over the waters to turn them into blood15 and to strike the earth with every plague as often as they may wish.16 7 And when they will complete their witness, the wild beast17, who comes up from the abyss18, will make war with them19 and will conquer them and will kill them. 8 And their bodies will lie on the street of the great city20, which is called spiritually21 Sodom and Egypt,22 where their Lord was also crucified.23 9 And men from all peoples, tribes, languages, and nations see their dead bodies24 for three and a half days and they don’t permit them to be buried25. 10 And the ones who dwell on the earth26 will rejoice on the basis of them and will celebrate27 and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented the ones who dwell on the earth.28 11 And after three and a half days, a breath of life29 from God went into them, and they stood on their feet, and utter terror30 fell upon the ones who watched them. 12 And they heard a great voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up into heaven in the cloud31, and their enemies watched them.32 13 And in that hour, there was33 a great earthquake and a tenth of the city fell and seven thousand names of men were killed34 in the earthquake and the rest became terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.35
14 The second woe has passed36, behold, the third woe is coming soon37.
1 τοῖς δυσὶν μάρτυσίν μου (to my two witnesses)
“Two” comes from the OT demand that two or three witnesses be used. Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15; and Numbers 35:30. Osborne*** (Pg. 420). Mounce** sees the two witnesses as a representation of believers. (Pg. 223). I will also point out the Jesus sent out his disciples in twos in Mark 6:7.
We get the word martyr from this word translated as “witness”. They will give their life for their testimony.
2 “authority” is not in the text, nor is there anything else here. We finally find out that authority is what is given to the two witnesses only after we read verse 6. Osborne*** points out that the two witnesses reenact the prophetic ministries of Elijah and Moses. (Pg. 422) Mounce** (Pg. 222) also points out that it was Elijah and Moses who appeared with Jesus during Jesus’ transfiguration in Mark 9:4.
What is given to the two witnesses may be the same thing as was given to those who through the ages who have given witness to the word of God. It is the word of God that is contained in their prophesy. It is this word that arouses such anger and hostility by those not of God and will lead to the world rejoicing at their death.
3 Beale* states that the two witnesses are believers as a whole. He bases this on the idea that the early christian community understood that Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2:28-32) had begun to be fulfilled (Acts 2:17-21). “This prophetic gift would be the means by which the entire church would “witness” to the whole would (Acts 1:8).” (Pgs. 573-574).
4 A retelling of the three and a half years.
5 περιβεβλημένοι (clothed)
Greek: “having been clothed”.
6 Sackcloth is a symbol of mourning. Beale* states that the morning was over the judgements that God was enacting over the unbelievers. (Pg. 576).
John the Baptist wore a similar garment as he cried out in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord.
7 ἑστῶτες (have stood)
As is John’s style, ἑστῶτες is in the perfect tense. This participle is also in the masculine and modifies οὗτοί (These). It doesn’t modify either olive trees or lampstands as both of those nouns are feminine.
8 The allusion comes from Zechariah 4:2-6. Note that the lampstands are found in the seven messages to the seven churches. They represent witnessing. Mounce** (Pg. 224) sees the olive trees as suppling the oil for the lamps on the lampstands. This is an indication that the Holy Spirit is with them. Beale* also has this in view and offers a great summary of the allusion to the passage in Zechariah.
There were two items in the temple referred to as witnesses to the Lord. These were the lampstands. They signify the light of the world and were supplied olive oil for burning, which can represent the Holy Spirit. This directs our attention back to the temple.
Note that the temple has been measured. The tribes of Israel have been numbered and sealed. In the last days they give witness to God, as servants to the Most High. Even now, many would rejoice at the destruction of Israel.
“The broader context of Zechariah 4 show the richness of the connection to the present context: (1) in Zech. 1:16-17 and 2:1-5 an angel ‘measures’ Jerusalem to signify that it will surely be reestablished so that ‘God’s house will be built in it’, and God ‘will be the glory in her
midst’ (cf. Rev. 11:1-2). However, Satan, together with the world powers, opposed the reestablishment of God’s temple in Jerusalem (Zech. 3:1-2; 4:7), just as the beast and the world oppose the witnesses (Rev. 11:5-10).” (Pgs. 576-579).
9 ἐκ (of)
10 “mouths” is actually singular here. “their mouth” is not very good grammar. Perhaps it means that the two witnesses were in complete harmony in their witnessing and speak as one.
It is the word of God they speak, so it is not troublesome they speak as one mouth in the Greek.
11 The fire coming out of their mouths probably represents two things, 1. The Word of God as they witness and 2. the Judgements of God.
Jesus spoke of the fire of His word and the wish it was already kindled in the world. The sword of His word serves to judge the world. His is the first word and the last.
12 οὕτως δεῖ αὐτὸν ἀποκτανθῆναι (this is how they must die)
Greek: “In this manner it is necessary to kill him”.
By our words we will be judged. By the law we stand condemned. By the grace and truth of Jesus Christ we live. Apart from Jesus we die.
13 μὴ ὑετὸς βρέχῃ (it will not rain)
Greek: “the rain may not rain”. An allusion to the Elijah story in 1 Kings 17-18 where God shuts up heaven for 3 years. According to Osborne*** (Pg. 423), “later Jewish tradition symbolically represented this as three and a half years in keeping with the apocalyptic image of Daniel 9:27; 12:7.”
There is no refreshing Spirit present. The rain from heaven is dried up. Only judgement pours forth from heaven.
14 τὰς ἡμέρας (during the time)
Greek: “the days” as in “the days of their prophecy”.
15 Parallels with the first Egyptian plague in Exodus 7:20-21, the second trumpet in 8:8, and the upcoming second and third bowls in 16:3-4.
Note the idea that these two witnesses come in the “spirit of” both Moses and Elijah.
These two men of the Old Testament witnessed to the might and power of God, and are identified as the two that met with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.
16 It is worth noting here that some scholars see the two witnesses/ believers as the executers of the trumpet judgements. If this is true, then that would add to the celebration of their deaths in verse 10 as the unbelievers would think that the judgements were over as a result of the wild beast killing them.
17 τὸ θηρίον (the wild beast)
Note the use of the article τὸ (the). The use of the article makes this wild beast a specific wild beast: THE wild beast. John’s readers are expected to know who this vision is referring to even though the wild beast is just now being introduced.
Osborne*** suspects that the wild beast here is an allusion to Daniel’s ten-horned “beast” and the “little horn” of Daniel 7:7-12. There, the prophesy depicts four beast that represents the four empires that nominate the Jews from their exile into Babylon to the Roman empire. Most scholars identify them as Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. The “little horn” is normally identified with Antiochus Epiphanes. In 167 B.C., he forced the Jews to sacrifice to Greek Gods and had a pig sacrificed on the alter in the temple. (Pg. 425).
18 An allusion to Daniel 7:3a LXX: 3 καὶ τέσσαρα θηρία ἀνέβαινον ἐκ τῆς θαλάσσης (and the fourth beasts came up from the sea). John substitutes θαλάσσης (sea) with ἀβύσσου (abyss). John probably does this to make a connection with the locusts (9:2; 11). In Revelation 13:1, the wild beast is seen coming up from the sea: ...ἐκ τῆς θαλάσσης θηρίον ἀναβαῖνον (...a wild beast coming up out of the sea).
19 Mounce** states that the expression “will make war” indicates that the two witnesses should be interpreted as a large group rather than two. (Pg. 225). Beale* expands this idea based on the allusion of the passage to Daniel 7. In Daniel, the wild beasts ἐποίει πόλεμον πρὸς τοὺς ἁγίους (made war with the saints). Beale sees the same in 11:7: ποιήσει μετ ̓ αὐτῶν πόλεμον καὶ νικήσει αὐτοὺς (will make war with them and will conquer them). Since the passage in Daniel is to “all the saints”, then Beale concludes that the two witnesses are “all the witnessing believers”. (Pgs. 587-588).
This war is depicted as taking place on earth, and it is from the earth and sea that the wild beasts rise to persecute the saints. It must be true that anyone giving witness to God in these days is a believer.
20 Most of the time in Revelation, “the great city” is Rome, but here, the context tells us that this great city is Jerusalem. In this context, Jerusalem in not painted as being “the city of God” any longer. They are now part of the “Synagogue of Satan” and the “Jerusalem now” in Galatians 4:25 as opposed to the “Jerusalem above”. It is also possible that Rome and Jerusalem are figuratively combined as they could represent the wild beast’s evil empire that combines all unbelieving people who persecute and kill believers. This comes to light in the 7 messages to the 7 churches in chapters 2 and 3.
Mounce** states that this is not a certain city, but represents all cities throughout the evil empire. (Pg. 226). Beale* states that the “great city” represents the ungodly world. (Pg. 591).
21 πνευματικῶς (spiritually)
or “figuratively” although more is going on here than just a figurative name. John is trying to state that the “Jerusalem now” is now degraded spiritually to the point that it is like both Sodom and Egypt. Osborne*** points out the Jerusalem has become like Sodom in rebellion against God and like Egypt where it has placed God’s people (believers) in slavery and oppression. (Pg. 427). Beale* states similar views but reaffirms that the great city is figurative. (Pgs. 591-592).
Sodom and Egypt epitomize the rebellion on earth. God left His temple dwelling in Jerusalem long ago. He was rejected by His own The new city will reflect the presence of God and the restoration He brings.
23 Beale* sees “where their Lord was also crucified” as modifying “Sodom and Egypt” and thus shows just how unspiritual the unbelievers/ ungodly world are. He doesn’t see it as identifying literal Jerusalem. (Pg. 592).
24 τὸ πτῶμα (bodies)
This is actually singular in the Greek. The style matches the singular “mouth” in verse five. As stated in that note, John’s use of the singular probably shows that the two witnesses spoke in unity. Osborne*** notes that “they function as one”. (Pg. 426).
25 καὶ τὰ πτώματα αὐτῶν οὐκ ἀφίουσιν τεθῆναι εἰς μνῆμα (and they don’t permit them to be buried)
Greek: “and they don’t permit their bodies to be placed in a tomb”. It was a great insult in the ancient world to not be buried. Osborne*** (Pg. 426) and Mounce** (Pg. 226).
There is no need for a tomb. The resurrection of His Son made this unnecessary for those who believe. The power and might of the Lord will be displayed again. Life is victorious over death.
Three and a half days of victory is anemic compared to the three and a half years of witnessing and executing God’s judgements that the witnesses perform. We will find out that the wild beast’s victory is indeed short lived.
26 οἱ κατοικοῦντες ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς (the ones who dwell on the earth)
Throughout the Apocalypse, οἱ κατοικοῦντες ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς always refers to unbelievers.
27 χαίρουσιν ἐπ ̓ αὐτοῖς καὶ εὐφραίνονται (will rejoice on the basis of them and will celebrate)
Note that both verbs are actually in the present tense. The TR/KJV replaces the present tense verbs with future tense verbs. With that said, the context is future in nature.
28 If the two witnesses are meant to be figurative and represent the witnessing believers, then that would explain why and how “all peoples, tribes, languages, and nations” see their dead bodies as bodies would be dead throughout the entire evil empire (combined Rome and Jerusalem). If this is the case and the believers have been the one dishing out the judgements against the unbelievers, they one can see why the unbelievers would be rejoicing. They think that they have gotten rid of the judgements in killing the witnesses.
This could also meant literally two witnesses in a specific place where there are people from “all peoples, tribes, languages, and nations” there as well.
29 πνεῦμα ζωῆς (a breath of life)
or “a spirit of life”. πνεῦμα can mean “spirit”, “wind”, or “breath”. This is a possible allusion to Ezekiel 37 where the dry bones receive breath. Mounce** (Pg. 228) and Beale* (Pgs. 596-597).
One might be reminded here that a remnant of Israel will survive and receive life. David’s throne was established forever. There were a small number that returned from exile in Babylon and rebuilt the temple. God said He would save a few, and so He will. He has done it and will do it.
30 φόβος μέγας (utter terror)
Greek: “great fear”.
Those with no fear of God previously now see reason to do so.
31 ἐν τῇ νεφέλῃ (in the cloud)
The article τῇ specifies a specific cloud. The cloud in question could be the could of the mighty angel in 10:1 Beale* (Pg. ) or could be the cloud that Christ returns with in 1:7. Osborne*** sees the latter.
It is into the clouds that Jesus ascended, and we are told He will return. It is a mighty cloud of witnesses that surround us. A voice spoke from a cloud on the Mount of Transfiguration and led the Israelites in the desert. The hand of the Divine is in view.
32 Osborne*** sees this as the possible rapture event where the believers are “caught up” to heaven, but also states that the timing is off as the true resurrection occurs at the return of Christ at the end. (Pgs. 431-432). Beale* sees the resurrection of the the witnesses as figurative where God restores the church/believers that have been conquered for a short time by the wild beast. (Pg. 597).
33 ἐγένετο (there was)
Greek: “there became” or “there came”.
34 Osborne*** points out that the seven thousand dead is a reversal of the seven thousand in 1 Kings 19:18 (and also Romans 11:10) who were reserved by God because they had not bowed a knee to Baal.
35 Osborne*** (Pgs. 433-435) says that this represents true repentance of these unbelievers but Beale* states that it doesn’t and represents unbelievers who are forced to acknowledge God’s sovereignty, but remain unconverted. (Pgs. 603-604).
It is true that every knee shall bow and confess that Jesus is Lord. This does not mean they accept His Lordship. Consider the demons that plead with Jesus to enter the swine.
36 ἀπῆλθεν (has passed)
Greek: “has departed”.
37 ταχύ (soon)
NT = New Testament
OT = Old Testament
ESV = English Standard Version
NASB = New American Standard Bible
NIV = New International Version
KJV = King James Version
TR = Textus Receptus (A late Byzantine Greek text of the NT. A
predecessor of the TR was used in the translation of the KJV)
LXX = Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT)
The Greek New Testament with Greek-English Dictionary B. Aland (Editor), K. Aland (Editor), J. Karavidopoulos (Editor), B. M. Metzger (Editor), C. M. Martini (Editor)
(BDAG) A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition Walter Bauer (Author), Frederick William Danker (Editor)
A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament Bruce M. Metzger
(Kittel) Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (VOLUMES 1-10) Gerhard Kittel (Editor), Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Translator)
*The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.).) G. K. Beale
**The Book of Revelation (The New International Commentary on the New Testament) Robert H. Mounce
***Revelation (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) Grant R. Osborne
+Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics Daniel B. Wallace
++An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek C. F. D. Moule
+++Biblical Greek (Scripta Pontificii Instituti Biblici) Maximilian Zerwick
A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament Max Zerwick (Author), Mary Grosvenor (Author)
Ἀποκάλυψις 11·3 Καὶ δώσω τοῖς δυσὶν μάρτυσίν μου καὶ προφητεύσουσιν ἡμέρας χιλίας διακοσίας ἑξήκοντα περιβεβλημένοι σάκκους. 4 οὗτοί εἰσιν αἱ δύο ἐλαῖαι καὶ αἱ δύο λυχνίαι αἱ ἐνώπιον τοῦ κυρίου τῆς γῆς ἑστῶτες. 5 καὶ εἴ τις αὐτοὺς θέλει ἀδικῆσαι πῦρ ἐκπορεύεται ἐκ τοῦ στόματος αὐτῶν καὶ κατεσθίει τοὺς ἐχθροὺς αὐτῶν· καὶ εἴ τις θελήσῃ αὐτοὺς ἀδικῆσαι, οὕτως δεῖ αὐτὸν ἀποκτανθῆναι. 6 οὗτοι ἔχουσιν τὴν ἐξουσίαν κλεῖσαι τὸν οὐρανόν, ἵνα μὴ ὑετὸς βρέχῃ τὰς ἡμέρας τῆς προφητείας αὐτῶν, καὶ ἐξουσίαν ἔχουσιν ἐπὶ τῶν ὑδάτων στρέφειν αὐτὰ εἰς αἷμα καὶ πατάξαι τὴν γῆν ἐν πάσῃ πληγῇ ὁσάκις ἐὰν θελήσωσιν. Ἀποκάλυψις 11·7 Καὶ ὅταν τελέσωσιν τὴν μαρτυρίαν αὐτῶν, τὸ θηρίον τὸ ἀναβαῖνον ἐκ τῆς ἀβύσσου ποιήσει μετ ̓ αὐτῶν πόλεμον καὶ νικήσει αὐτοὺς καὶ ἀποκτενεῖ αὐτούς. 8 καὶ τὸ πτῶμα αὐτῶν ἐπὶ τῆς πλατείας τῆς πόλεως τῆς μεγάλης, ἥτις καλεῖται πνευματικῶς Σόδομα καὶ Αἴγυπτος, ὅπου καὶ ὁ κύριος αὐτῶν ἐσταυρώθη. 9 καὶ βλέπουσιν ἐκ τῶν λαῶν καὶ φυλῶν καὶ γλωσσῶν καὶ ἐθνῶν τὸ πτῶμα αὐτῶν ἡμέρας τρεῖς καὶ ἥμισυ καὶ τὰ πτώματα αὐτῶν οὐκ ἀφίουσιν τεθῆναι εἰς μνῆμα. 10 καὶ οἱ κατοικοῦντες ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς χαίρουσιν ἐπ ̓ αὐτοῖς καὶ εὐφραίνονται καὶ δῶρα πέμψουσιν ἀλλήλοις, ὅτι οὗτοι οἱ δύο προφῆται ἐβασάνισαν τοὺς κατοικοῦντας ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς. Ἀποκάλυψις 11·11 Καὶ μετὰ τὰς τρεῖς ἡμέρας καὶ ἥμισυ πνεῦμα ζωῆς ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσῆλθεν ἐν αὐτοῖς, καὶ ἔστησαν ἐπὶ τοὺς πόδας αὐτῶν, καὶ φόβος μέγας ἐπέπεσεν ἐπὶ τοὺς θεωροῦντας αὐτούς. 12 καὶ ἤκουσαν φωνῆς μεγάλης ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ λεγούσης αὐτοῖς· ἀνάβατε ὧδε. καὶ ἀνέβησαν εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν ἐν τῇ νεφέλῃ, καὶ ἐθεώρησαν αὐτοὺς οἱ ἐχθροὶ αὐτῶν. 13 Καὶ ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ὥρᾳ ἐγένετο σεισμὸς μέγας καὶ τὸ δέκατον τῆς πόλεως ἔπεσεν καὶ ἀπεκτάνθησαν ἐν τῷ σεισμῷ ὀνόματα ἀνθρώπων χιλιάδες ἑπτὰ καὶ οἱ λοιποὶ ἔμφοβοι ἐγένοντο καὶ ἔδωκαν δόξαν τῷ θεῷ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ. Ἀποκάλυψις 11·14 Ἡ οὐαὶ ἡ δευτέρα ἀπῆλθεν· ἰδοὺ ἡ οὐαὶ ἡ τρίτη ἔρχεται ταχύ.