on Revelation 11 :3
My two witnesses - This is extremely obscure; the conjectures of interpreters are as unsatisfactory as they are endless on this point. Conjecturas conjecturis superstruunt, parum verosimiles, says Rosenmuller: quorum sententias enarrare, meum non est. I say the same. Those who wish to be amused or bewildered, may have recourse both to ancients and moderns on this subject.
on Revelation 11 :3
And I will give power unto my two witnesses - In respect to this important passage Revelation 11:3-13 I propose to pursue the same method which I have pursued all along in this exposition: first, to examine the meaning of the words and phrases in the symbol, with a purpose to ascertain the fair signification of the symbols; and, secondly, to inquire into the application - that is, to inquire whether any events have occurred which, in respect to their character and to the time of their occurrence, can be shown to be a fair fulfillment of the language.
And I will give power - The word "power" is not in the original. The Greek is simply, "I will give" - that is, I will grant to my two witnesses the right or the power of prophesying during the time specified - correctly expressed in the margin, "give unto my two witnesses that they may prophesy." The meaning is not that he would send two witnesses to prophesy, but rather that these were in fact such "witnesses," and that he would during that time permit them to exercise their prophetic gifts, or give them the privilege and the strength to enunciate the truth which they were commissioned to communicate as his "witnesses" to mankind. Some word, then, like "power, privilege, opportunity, or boldness," it is necessary to supply in order to complete the sense.
Unto my two witnesses - The word "two" evidently denotes that the number would be small; and yet it is not necessary to confine it literally to two persons, or to two societies or communities. Perhaps the meaning is, that as, under the law, two witnesses were required, and were enough, to establish any fact (notes on John 8:17), such a number would during those times be preserved from apostasy as would be sufficient to keep up the evidence of truth; to testify against the prevailing abominations, errors, and corruptions; to show what was the real church, and to bear a faithful witness against the wickedness of the world. The law of Moses required that there should be two witnesses on a trial, and this, under that law, was deemed a competent number. See Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16; John 5:30-33. The essential meaning of this passage then is, that there would be "a competent number" of witnesses in the case; that is, as many as would be regarded as sufficent to establish the points concerning which they would testify, with perhaps the additional idea that the number would be small.
There is no reason for limiting it strictly to two persons, or for supposing that they would appear in pairs, two and two; nor is it necessary to suppose that it refers particularly to two people or nations. The word rendered "witnesses" - μάρτυρί marturi - is that from which we have derived the word "martyr." It means properly one who bears testimony, either in a judicial sense Matthew 18:16; Matthew 26:65, or one who can in any way testify to the truth of what he has seen and known, Luke 24:48; Romans 1:9; Philippians 1:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:10; 1 Timothy 6:12. Then it came to be employed in the sense in which the word "martyr" is now - to denote one who, amidst great sufferings or by his death, bears witness to the truth; that is, one who is so confident of the truth, and so upright, that he will rather lay down his life than deny the truth of what he has seen and known, Acts 22:20; Revelation 2:13. In a similar sense it comes to denote one who is so thoroughly convinced on a subject that it is not susceptible of being seen and heard, or who is so attached to one that he is willing to lay down his life as the evidence of his conviction and attachment. The word, as used here, refers to those who, during this period of "forty and two months," would thus be witnesses for Christ in the world; that is, who would bear their testimony to the truth of his religion, to the doctrines which he had revealed, and to what was required of man - who would do this amidst surrounding error and corruption, and when exposed to persecutions and trials on account of their belief. It is not uncommon in the Scriptures to represent the righteous as witnesses for God. See the notes on Isaiah 43:10, Isaiah 43:12; Isaiah 44:8.
And they shall prophesy - The word "prophesy" does not necessarily mean that they would predict future events; but the sense is, that they would give utterance to the truth as God had revealed it. See the notes on Revelation 10:11. The sense here is, that they would in some public manner hold up or maintain the truth before the world.
A thousand two hundred and threescore days - The same period as the forty and two months Revelation 11:2, though expressed in a different form. Reckoning a day for a year, this period would be twelve hundred and sixty years, or the same as the "time and times and the dividing of time" in Daniel 7:25. See the notes on that place; also Editor's Preface. The meaning of this would be, therefore, that during that long period, in which it is said that "the holy city would be trodden under foot," there would be those who might be properly called "witnesses" for God, and who would be engaged in holding up his truth before the world; that is, there would be no part of that period in which there would not be found some to whom this appellation could with propriety be given. Though the "holy city" - the church - would seem, to be wholly trodden down, yet there would be a few at least who would assert the great doctrines of true godliness.
Clothed in sackcloth - Sackcloth - σάκκους sakkous - was properly a coarse black cloth commonly made of hair, used for sacks, for straining, and for mourning garments. See the Revelation 6:12 note; Isaiah 3:24 note; and Matthew 11:21 note. Here it is an emblem of mourning; and the idea is, that they would prophesy in the midst of grief. This would indicate that the time would be one of calamity, or that, in doing this, there would be occasion for their appearing in the emblems of grief, rather than in robes expressive of joy. The most natural interpretation of this is, that there would be but few who could be regarded as true witnesses for God in the world, and that they would be exposed to persecution.
on Revelation 11 :3
11:3 And I - Christ. Will give to my two witnesses - These seem to be two prophets; two select, eminent instruments. Some have supposed (though without foundation) that they are Moses and Elijah, whom they resemble in several respects. To prophesy twelve hundred and sixty days - Common days, that is, an hundred and eighty weeks. So long will they prophesy, (even while that last and sharp treading of the holy city continues,) both by word and deed, witnessing that Jesus is the Son of God, the heir of all things, and exhorting all men to repent, and fear, and glorify God. Clothed in sackcloth - The habit of the deepest mourners, out of sorrow and concern for the people.