Revelation mentions three different periods that are all the same—1,260 days, 3½ years, or forty-two months. If we do the math, they all come out within a day or so of one another. If we use 30-day months (as many prophecies do), they come out exactly 3½ years to the day. The forty-two months figure is found here and in one other place, Revelation 13:1-5, where the Beast rising out of the sea is the subject:
He was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue forty-two months. (Revelation 13:5)
These time periods appear in various places in Revelation—but particularly in chapters 11-13. In Revelation 11:2, the Two Witnesses prophesy for 1,260 days. In Revelation 12:6, the woman goes into her place in the wilderness, and she is fed there 1,260 days. Then, at the end of the chapter, the woman is given two wings of a great eagle, and she flies into the wilderness where she is nourished for "a time and times and half a time" (Revelation 12:14), which is 3½ years. A "time" is a year, and "times" is thus two years. "Half a time," then, is half a year. So, added together, they are 3½ years. The woman is protected from the presence of the serpent for 3½ years.
The book of Daniel also mentions various time periods of similar lengths. It can be quite difficult to sort out, which is how many who study prophecy become confused about the timing of events.
The prophecy of Revelation 13:5 seems to be dual. As we understand it, the Beast power down through history was given forty-two months—or, using the day-for-a-year principle, 1,260 years—of sway over primarily the lands of Europe. This sway was seen in the power of the Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire during that time. But the time period will likely be dual, that is, it will apply to a time in the past, the type, and to a time in the future, the antitype. We see in Revelation 11:2-3 that this same period of time is when the Gentiles—the nations—will have rule over the city of Jerusalem. So, at the end, there will be a period of a literal 1,260 days (3½ years, not 1,260 years) in which the Beast will have sway.
This is also mirrored in Revelation 12, which shows a period of 1,260 days, which can be interpreted as the 1,260 years in which the church fled into the wilderness, that is, God hid its existence from the visible church by keeping it alive in remote areas. Then, at the end of the chapter, there is a period of "a time and times and half a time" (or, literally 3½ years) in which the end-time church is protected from the depradations of Satan. So we have mirrored occurrences of a literal time of 3½ years (1,260 days or forty-two months) and a typical time of 1,260 years.
Here in Revelation 11:2, the context calls for a literal 3½ years. It is an inset chapter, that is, one that interrupts the flow of the rest of Revelation to concentrate on an important matter that needs to be explained. That flow of story has now reached the point of the 3½ years of the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord, culminating with the return of Jesus Christ to bring about the end of this present, satanic world.
There is no need to become confused about these forty-two months or 1,260 days in verses 2 and 3 because they are indicating the same period. As far as we know from the church's long study of prophecy, they are essentially the same as the 3½ years of the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord, ending with Christ's return.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Two Witnesses (Part 3)
In Revelation 11, during the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord, John describes the Two Witnesses as having God-given power to witness and, if need be, call fire down from heaven to destroy their enemies. While they preach God's last warning to the human and demonic powers of earth just before the final Trumpet sounds, God gives them supernatural protection.
Before the start of their 3½-year commission, the Two Witnesses will already have been witnessing by their example and through their preaching. They will already be producing good works. God will inspire them to utter a specific message directed at the descendants of Israel and the rest of the world, indicting the world of sin.
Revelation 11:3 says:
And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.
The word "power" is not in the Greek text, which simply reads, "I will give to my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy. . . ." Paraphrased, God says, "I will grant to My Two Witnesses the right or power of prophesying during the time specified." Translators must add a word like "power," "privilege," "opportunity," or "boldness" to complete the sense in English.
The meaning is not that God would send two witnesses to prophesy, but that they are existing witnesses who receive additional gifts and powers. During that time God will give them the privilege and the strength to proclaim the truth that they will be commissioned to communicate as His "witnesses" to mankind.
The phrase "and they will prophecy" does not necessarily mean that they would predict future events, but that they would proclaim the truth as God had revealed it. The indication here is that the Two Witnesses would publicly preach or maintain the truth before the world.
God promises protection to those who obey Him, provided it is His will. Some of the faithful are given the spiritual strength to be martyred, and others are protected from such unpleasantness. God decides for His own purpose how He wants us to represent Him. Revelation 11:5 describes part of God's witness protection program, "If anyone wants to harm [the Two Witnesses], fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies." Christ is reliable and true. Not a hair of our head is affected without His approval.
Martin G. Collins
'You Are My Witnesses...'
All the inset chapters are introduced in a significant way: by an angel coming down from heaven or a spectacular and unusual vision of someone or something, such as a woman clothed with the sun, moon, and stars or a Beast rising up out of the ocean.
Chapter 11, however, does not begin this way because it is not the beginning of the inset. The inset actually begins in Revelation 10:1 where the spectacular vision occurs. Chapter 10 does not follow chapter 9 in time sequence anymore than the material in chapter 11 does. Chapter 11 merely continues the vision begun in chapter 10.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Revelation 10 and the Laodicean Church
Revelation 11 is inset material. The only possible period of time when the Two Witnesses could testify is during the three and a half years that precede Christ's return—the time of the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord.
Most of this period of time has already been covered by chapters 6 (the fifth and sixth seals) and 8-9 (the trumpet plagues). Chapter 11 clarifies what has already occurred in the narrative, answering how people can possibly be converted during the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord. The answer is that they are hearing a message thundered by the Two Witnesses! Revelation 7:9-17 suggests that by their preaching, an innumerable multitude will be converted.
The information is given in a digression—an inset chapter— from the main story flow. Inset chapters clarify what is happening within the time sequence.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Revelation 10 and the Laodicean Church
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Revelation 11:2: