The angel is obviously speaking for God—they are not the angel's witnesses but God's! We should note the use of the English possessive "My," which suggests both personal ownership and affiliation.
However, the Greek reads more literally, ". . . the two witnesses of me." While this rendering also imparts the idea of possession, it adds a vital element: that the Two Witnesses testify about God Himself. They are God's direct representatives in the crucial last years of man's civilization. And they represent Him, not just in words, but in everything they do during their prophetic ministry.
In other words, these two men are not run-of-the-mill Christians by any means! Not a single word of censure is aimed at them in either Revelation 11 or Zechariah 4. They will be model Christians, followers of Christ and His righteousness to such a degree that when the people of this world observe them, they will see human reproductions of the life of Christ. In much the same way as Jesus represented the Father during His physical life, so will the witnesses represent Jesus during the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord (see John 14:9). While they will not be perfect, they will be men of godly character and virtue.
It is no wonder, then, that they attract the wrath of Satan and the Beast, as well as the hatred of the whole world! Just as Jesus was opposed, mocked, persecuted, and finally killed, so will these men draw the fire of the anti-Christ, end-time population of earth. Thus, Christ endues His two prophets with power to preach, to plague, and to defend themselves against harm (Revelation 11:5). In order to survive their mission during a time of Noachian-type violence, God will give them the tools and protection to reveal Him for a final time as a witness before Christ intervenes in world affairs.
Therefore, we should not be looking necessarily for great signs and wonders being done by two prophets, as that activity will likely be confined to the final three and a half years. By that point, it will be obvious to the enlightened who they are. As Revelation 11:9-10 suggests, by the time they are finished with their work, the whole world will know who they are.
Instead, at this time we need to be looking for Christ-like servants who are fulfilling the type of the two olive trees—feeding the churches through their Holy Spirit-inspired works—and who are focused on "measur[ing] the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there" (Revelation 11:1). They will be intensely laboring to achieve the equipping of the saints (Ephesians 4:12) for the terrifying days to come and the return of Christ.
Who the Two Witnesses are has not yet been revealed, and how long we have to go before the time of their appearance no one knows. However, in looking for them, we need to concentrate on what Scripture reveals so that we might properly identify them. Ecclesiastes 3:11 in the Moffatt version declares how God works in these matters: "He assigned each [thing] to its proper time, but for the mind of man he has appointed mystery, that man may never fathom God's own purpose from beginning to end." God will make them known when their time has come. So, wait and watch!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
God's Two Witnesses
This verse actually reads, "I will give to these witnesses of Me." He does not say that He merely possesses them, that is, that they are His witnesses. Instead, He says that they witness "of Me." They point everybody in the world to Jesus Christ and thus on to God the Father. It is their job to witness of Him.
The whole Old Testament points to Jesus Christ, and the New Testament tells His story. So the entire Bible is also a witness of Jesus Christ and therefore of God the Father. In a sense, everything comes down to witnessing of Jesus Christ. What are we called? "Christians." Our whole lives should be totally focused on showing or manifesting Jesus Christ in us. These Two Witnesses are pinnacles of that among men. They will witness of God for 3½ years, in the face of the entire world.
It is interesting how these Two Witnesses correlate with Jesus Christ Himself. We could say that, individually, they will be images or representations of Jesus Christ. God has called us all to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ, and these Two Witnesses—these two prophets—will show the world in themselves what this means. Their witness will be so true, it will be as if they are two "Christs" walking the earth. Perhaps this is exaggerating things a bit, but it is indeed one of the ways in which a person witnesses, which is why these two prophets are so important.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Two Witnesses (Part One)
This is the temper of patience. It enables a person to plod determinedly on. It may not be spectacular, but such a person will go on toward perfection. This quality will have to be part of the makeup of the Two Witnesses. God has clearly prophesied of three-and-a-half years of their lives being filled with great confrontation, persecution, and at its end a shamefully undeserved and public death!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Patience
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...'
There is a general expectation among God's people that the Two Witnesses will begin to prophesy soon, if only because we anticipate Christ's return in the near future. Obviously, the two events are linked in the flow of prophecy. Revelation 11:3 plainly states that the Two Witnesses' ministry of testimony is confined to the "one thousand two hundred and sixty days"—three and a half years—of the Great Tribulation. They are martyred by the Beast three and a half days before the first resurrection, when they are raised to join Him in the air with the other firstfruits of God's Kingdom (verses 11-12; I Thessalonians 4:15-17).
If this is so, then the timing of their work for God is set and known. No two people will officially be "the Two Witnesses" before this time. Therefore, if the Great Tribulation has not begun—if the holy city has not come under the dominion of the Gentiles (Revelation 11:2)—then the Two Witnesses have not officially begun to prophesy. Until then, according to the silence of the Scriptures, they will be essentially anonymous servants of God.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
God's Two 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
"Clothed in sackcloth." II Kings 1:8 is the response of some people who reported what they had seen to the king, Ahaziah: "So they answered him, 'A hairy man wearing a leather belt around his waist.' And he said, 'It is Elijah the Tishbite." Matthew 3:4 describes John the Baptist: "Now John himself was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locust and wild honey." So Elijah and John the Baptist both wore sackcloth. In a way, they are types of these Two Witnesses.
Being clothed in sackcloth has several meanings in the Bible. They are all somewhat similar, but they have nuances that we need to consider.
Sackcloth was worn by those who were in mourning. Recall in Ezekiel 9 that the angel was supposed to mark all those who sighed and cried for all the troubles of Jerusalem. That is a sign of woe, of mourning, or of being sorry for the fall of this once great nation or for their sins.
Sackcloth also can mean repentance, as an outward sign of the inner repentance of a person. Therefore it also has another meaning of being humble. A repentant person should be a humble person. He has seen his sins and turned from them.
Another meaning is austerity. This is one that the world often sees in John the Baptist and Elijah, that they were "poor" men. However, that is not necessarily the case. Austerity does not necessarily mean that one is poor. It can mean though that a person leads a simple lifestyle, and that he has removed the frills that complicate his life. Wearing sackcloth, then, could mean a person has stripped down to the simplest essentials of his physical life.
Of course, the one that goes with this would then be poverty, yet not necessarily physical poverty (a lack of money) but spiritual poverty (poor in spirit). This is a fine way of looking at the wearing of sackcloth in the case of the Two Witnesses—and frankly, of Elijah and John the Baptist. They were ready to be filled and given the riches of God because they had considered themselves lowly and needy. They knew they needed what only God could give. They were poor in spirit.
However, all of these meanings could apply to the Two Witnesses: They mourn for the troubles this world is going through; they are repentant and humble; they are austere, not having any of the frills and complications that clutter other people's lives—they have stripped themselves of the things that would weigh them down so that they can run (Hebrews 12:1); and they are certainly poor in spirit.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Two Witnesses (Part Three)
Notice the anthropomorphic language—all the descriptions of human traits and behaviors—of this passage. In verse 3, for instance, the Two Witnesses are clothed in sackcloth. How could this apply to two parts of a book? Most of our Bibles are "clothed," if you will, in leather bindings or cardboard and cloth covers. It takes quite a bit of mental gymnastics to see how one can fit this type of terminology into the idea of the Two Witnesses being the two books of the Old and New Testaments. A person must symbolize away nearly the entire description of them.
Also notice verse 6: "They have power . . . to strike the earth with any plague as often as they wish" (The New Testament in Modern English by J.B. Phillips). In other words, these Two Witnesses have the power of volition, or will. They can make decisions, and they can execute them within the scope of the power God has given them. The Old and New Testaments are not animate beings with minds of their own, and as such, those two collections of books cannot express volition. They cannot make decisions, nor can they execute decisions in this sense.
In verse 7, the Two Witnesses die, and they are described as having bodies that lie in the streets of Jerusalem. Admittedly, we can refer symbolically to the death of an idea. We can describe the end of an era as a kind of death and so forth. However, death in this passage does not appear to be metaphoric because God speaks of their bodies lying in the street and remaining unburied. This type of language is not amenable at all to understanding the Two Witnesses as the Old and New Testaments.
Then notice verse 11: "The breath of life from God came into them" (The New Testament by Richmond Lattimore). Are there any known instances of God breathing life into books? The idea of them being the Old and New Testament becomes even more ridiculous when we realize that the Two Witnesses then stand on their feet—this is a real resurrection—and they are translated to heaven!
In verse 10, John actually uses the word "prophets." In Greeks, it is the word prophetes (Strong's 4396), which appears about eighty times in Scripture. This word is always rendered in the King James Version as "prophet" or "prophets." For instance, Jesus uses the word in Matthew 13:57: "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country." There is not one instance where this Greek word refers to the Scriptures; it always refers to a person or to people.
A great deal of other evidence exists as well. For example, Revelation 11:3 tells us that God empowers His Two Witnesses for a limited period of time, 1,260 days. But does God ever set a time limit on the power of His Scriptures? God does not, in fact, set a time limit on the power that He gives His Word. Notice Isaiah 55:10-11:
For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
God is saying through an analogy here that, throughout the span of history—or as Solomon would say, "under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:3, 9, 14, etc.)—rain has always worked to produce food for mankind. In like manner throughout that same span of time, throughout all of history under the sun, God's Word has been effective to carry out His purpose. Isaiah 55 places no limitation of 1,260 days or any other. Therefore, Revelation 11:3 cannot refer to a limited period of time when God empowers the Old and New Testaments to be effective because God's Word is always effective.
Let us not belabor the point. A careful textual analysis makes it clear that the preponderance of the language of this passage points to the Two Witnesses being individuals, not collections of books.
Charles Whitaker (1944-2021)
Who the Two Witnesses Are Not
The primary texts on the Two Witnesses are Revelation 11 and Zechariah 4. What does not fit the facts and implications of these two prophetic passages we can discard as highly speculative and not worth serious consideration except in dismissal. Some people have asserted truly wild ideas about these two prophets, but we will see that they derive from their own imaginations rather than from the Bible.
First, the Two Witnesses will not be crazed, unstable individuals. Nothing in the Bible—much less these two passages—suggests that God ever uses people of unsound minds to accomplish a major work for Him. The apostle Paul tells us that God's Spirit in us is not "of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (II Timothy 1:7). While some of God's prophets had personal problems and were commanded to do some strange things to get God's point across in symbolic ways—Ezekiel comes to mind—they were far from being lunatics. They were different from the world around them because they believed God and did His will, but they were quite sane and rational.
Second, they will not be anything other than men. We can take this on two levels. Some have suggested that the Two Witnesses are entities like the Old and New Testaments, Israel and the church, the Jews and the Gentiles, or even the Philadelphia and Laodicean eras of the church! However, Revelation 11 is quite clear that the Two Witnesses are "prophets" (verse 10), that they can be killed (verse 7), that they have bodies (verses 8-9), and that the breath of life enters them upon resurrection (verse 11). The literal meaning of these details is the best interpretation, leading to the conclusion that they are people, not things.
The other level is gender, a touchy subject in these inclusive times. Many have tried to hold the door open for a woman to fill the role of one of the Two Witnesses, but the language in the primary passages is overwhelmingly masculine (except where the natural gender of the languages demands it). Additionally, the pronouns are consistently masculine plural, as is the word "prophets" in Revelation 11:10.
Although it can be argued that the masculine is the Greek default gender for groups of mixed gender, the biblical pattern reveals that it is far more likely that God would choose two men to shoulder the burden of this final work. In addition, the allusions to types within the two primary passages are to men: Moses, Elijah, Joshua, and Zerubbabel. This is not to say that a woman could not do this work, but that the preponderance of Scripture argues against God choosing a woman to do it.
Third, the Two Witnesses will not be resurrected saints from the past, such as the aforementioned Moses and Elijah or perhaps Enoch. These three are often cited as candidates because the Bible describes their deaths so mysteriously, as if they are not really dead but in heaven waiting for God to send them back as His witnesses in the end time. There is no indication in the primary passages even to suggest this. So much time has passed since their lifetimes that it is ridiculous to think that anyone on earth today would even know who they are!
Besides, Hebrews 9:27 and the rest of New Testament theology, as well as God's consistent patterns, challenge this view. Except for Jesus, all the dead await the resurrection. In addition, God has never used a servant in two separate times. Jesus Himself tells us, "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets [in Scripture], neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31).
Fourth, and finally, they will be neither unconverted nor recently converted people. In other words, they will be baptized members of God's church and probably ordained ministers. Again, God's pattern in working to bring His plan to fruition reveals that the Two Witnesses will come from among His people, just as the prophets came from Israel and the apostles were chosen from among His disciples. The apostle Paul may seem to be a glaring exception to this rule, but even he was required to undergo a three-year period of instruction before he was sent out to fulfill his expansive calling (see Galatians 1:16-18). Due to their mission's magnitude, the Two Witnesses will likewise be prepared for it over an extended period beforehand.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
God's Two Witnesses
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
Who Are the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:3)?
No one now knows who the Two Witnesses are. But when they do appear, we will know that the return of Christ is not far away.
The Two Witnesses are two human beings who will be given extraordinary power for 3 1/2 years just before Christ's return (Revelation 11:3). If anyone attempts to harm them before they complete their ministry, "fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies" (verse 5). Note the similarity between this and the power given to Elijah (II Kings 1:9-15). They will also have power to produce drought and famine, as did Elijah (Luke 4:25; I Kings 17:1-7), and to smite the earth with plagues, as Moses did in Egypt (Revelation 11:6). However, there is no biblical justification to believe that the Two Witnesses are indeed Moses and Elijah; God has never resurrected a prophet or apostle to do a work centuries or millennia later. God always uses people of the time to carry out His work.
The most notable work of the Two Witnesses will be to give one final warning to this world. This message of rebuke and repentance will bring them into conflict with the people and the governments in power, and they will be martyred. The whole world will rejoice and give each other gifts as they view their dead bodies, lying unburied in the streets of Jerusalem (verses 9-10). However, those same people will be struck with great fear when they see the Two Witnesses come to life again and ascend into the sky in a cloud (verses 11-12).
Verse 4 calls them "the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth," an obvious reference to Zechariah 4:14. Combining this Old Testament prophecy with the interpretation of the lampstands in Revelation 1:20, it appears that the Two Witnesses will also have a profound ministry to the church of God: They will supply the church with "oil," that is, they will spiritually feed the church during the "famine of the Word" (Amos 8:11). Thus, the Two Witnesses will be affiliated with and teaching the members of God's church before and possibly during their greater worldwide ministry.
The Two Witnesses (Part Four)
The Two Witnesses (Part Five)
What Is a False Prophet?
God's Two Witnesses
Do You Have Enough Oil? (Part One)
Witness and Warning to the Powerful
The Appointed Time of the Resurrection
The Handwriting Is on the Wall (1996)
God's Sovereignty and the Church's Condition (Part Two)
A Calendar Summary
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Revelation 11:3:
Song of Solomon 5:1-10