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Revelation 11:3

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

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.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

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; Philemon 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.

Uriah Smith
Daniel and the Revelation, 499

Verse 3

These days are the same as the forty-two months of the preceding verse, and refer to the period of papal triumph. During this time, the witnesses are in a state of sackcloth, or obscurity, and God gives them power to endure and maintain their testimony through that dark and dismal period. But who or what are these witnesses?DAR 499.2

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
In the time of treading down, God kept his faithful witnesses to attest the truth of his word and worship, and the excellence of his ways, The number of these witnesses is small, yet enough. They prophesy in sackcloth. It shows their afflicted, persecuted state, and deep sorrow for the abominations against which they protested. They are supported during their great and hard work, till it is done. When they had prophesied in sackcloth the greatest part of 1260 years, antichrist, the great instrument of the devil, would war against them, with force and violence for a time. Determined rebels against the light rejoice, as on some happy event, when they can silence, drive to a distance, or destroy the faithful servants of Christ, whose doctrine and conduct torment them. It does not appear that the term is yet expired, and the witnesses are not a present exposed to endure such terrible outward sufferings as in former times; but such things may again happen, and there is abundant cause to prophesy in sackcloth, on account of the state of religion. The depressed state of real Christianity may relate only to the western church. The Spirit of life from God, quickens dead souls, and shall quicken the dead bodies of his people, and his dying interest in the world. The revival of God's work and witnesses, will strike terror into the souls of his enemies. Where there is guilt, there is fear; and a persecuting spirit, though cruel, is a cowardly spirit. It will be no small part of the punishment of persecutors, both in this world, and at the great day, that they see the faithful servants of God honoured and advanced. The Lord's witnesses must not be weary of suffering and service, nor hastily grasp at the reward; but must stay till their Master calls them. The consequence of their being thus exalted was a mighty shock and convulsion in the antichristian empire. Events alone can show the meaning of this. But whenever God's work and witnesses revive, the devil's work and witnesses fall before him. And that the slaying of the witnesses is future, appears to be probable.
Ellen G. White
The Great Controversy, 54

Protestants now urge that the resurrection of Christ on Sunday made it the Christian Sabbath. But Scripture evidence is lacking. No such honor was given to the day by Christ or His apostles. The observance of Sunday as a Christian institution had its origin in that “mystery of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:7, R.V.) which, even in Paul's day, had begun its work. Where and when did the Lord adopt this child of the papacy? What valid reason can be given for a change which the Scriptures do not sanction? GC 54.1

In the sixth century the papacy had become firmly established. Its seat of power was fixed in the imperial city, and the bishop of Rome was declared to be the head over the entire church. Paganism had given place to the papacy. The dragon had given to the beast “his power, and his seat, and great authority.” Revelation 13:2. And now began the 1260 years of papal oppression foretold in the prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation. Daniel 7:25; Revelation 13:5-7. (See Appendix.) Christians were forced to choose either to yield their integrity and accept the papal ceremonies and worship, or to wear away their lives in dungeons or suffer death by the rack, the fagot, or the headsman's ax. Now were fulfilled the words of Jesus: “Ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for My name's sake.” Luke 21:16, 17. Persecution opened upon the faithful with greater fury than ever before, and the world became a vast battlefield. For hundreds of years the church of Christ found refuge in seclusion and obscurity. Thus says the prophet: “The woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and three-score days.” Revelation 12:6. GC 54.2

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Ellen G. White
The Great Controversy, 266-7

The suppression of the Scriptures during the period of papal supremacy was foretold by the prophets; and the Revelator points also to the terrible results that were to accrue especially to France from the domination of the “man of sin.” GC 266.1

Said the angel of the Lord: “The holy city shall they tread underfoot forty and two months. And I will give power unto My two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.... And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.... And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth. And after three days and a half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them.” Revelation 11:2-11. GC 266.2

The periods here mentioned—“forty and two months,” and “a thousand two hundred and threescore days”—are the same, alike representing the time in which the church of Christ was to suffer oppression from Rome. The 1260 years of papal supremacy began in A.D. 538, and would therefore terminate in 1798. (See Appendix note for page 54.) At that time a French army entered Rome and made the pope a prisoner, and he died in exile. Though a new pope was soon afterward elected, the papal hierarchy has never since been able to wield the power which it before possessed. GC 266.3

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Ellen G. White
The Great Controversy, 306

Twenty-five years later appeared the next sign mentioned in the prophecy—the darkening of the sun and moon. What rendered this more striking was the fact that the time of its fulfillment had been definitely pointed out. In the Saviour's conversation with His disciples upon Olivet, after describing the long period of trial for the church,—the 1260 years of papal persecution, concerning which He had promised that the tribulation should be shortened,—He thus mentioned certain events to precede His coming, and fixed the time when the first of these should be witnessed: “In those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light.” Mark 13:24. The 1260 days, or years, terminated in 1798. A quarter of a century earlier, persecution had almost wholly ceased. Following this persecution, according to the words of Christ, the sun was to be darkened. On the 19th of May, 1780, this prophecy was fulfilled. GC 306.1

“Almost, if not altogether alone, as the most mysterious and as yet unexplained phenomenon of its kind, ... stands the dark day of May 19, 1780,—a most unaccountable darkening of the whole visible heavens and atmosphere in New England.”—R. M. Devens, Our First Century, page 89. GC 306.2

An eyewitness living in Massachusetts describes the event as follows: “In the morning the sun rose clear, but was soon overcast. The clouds became lowery, and from them, black and ominous, as they soon appeared, lightning flashed, thunder rolled, and a little rain fell. Toward nine o'clock, the clouds became thinner, and assumed a brassy or coppery appearance, and earth, rocks, trees, buildings, water, and persons were changed by this strange, unearthly light. A few minutes later, a heavy black cloud spread over the entire sky except a narrow rim at the horizon, and it was as dark as it usually is at nine o'clock on a summer evening.... GC 306.3

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Ellen G. White
The Great Controversy, 356

The apostle Paul warned the church not to look for the coming of Christ in his day. “That day shall not come,” he says, “except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed.” 2 Thessalonians 2:3. Not till after the great apostasy, and the long period of the reign of the “man of sin,” can we look for the advent of our Lord. The “man of sin,” which is also styled “the mystery of iniquity,” “the son of perdition,” and “that wicked,” represents the papacy, which, as foretold in prophecy, was to maintain its supremacy for 1260 years. This period ended in 1798. The coming of Christ could not take place before that time. Paul covers with his caution the whole of the Christian dispensation down to the year 1798. It is this side of that time that the message of Christ's second coming is to be proclaimed. GC 356.1

No such message has ever been given in past ages. Paul, as we have seen, did not preach it; he pointed his brethren into the then far-distant future for the coming of the Lord. The Reformers did not proclaim it. Martin Luther placed the judgment about three hundred years in the future from his day. But since 1798 the book of Daniel has been unsealed, knowledge of the prophecies has increased, and many have proclaimed the solemn message of the judgment near. GC 356.2

Like the great Reformation of the sixteenth century, the advent movement appeared in different countries of Christendom at the same time. In both Europe and America men of faith and prayer were led to the study of the prophecies, and, tracing down the inspired record, they saw convincing evidence that the end of all things was at hand. In different lands there were isolated bodies of Christians who, solely by the study of the Scriptures, arrived at the belief that the Saviour's advent was near. GC 357.1

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