Rev. 11:1-14. Dr. Spilsbury concludes that the message of Chapter 11 is a parable of sorts that expands on the message of Chapter 7 regarding the people of God and what they do in opposition to the powers of evil.
A lot of “prophetic” ink has probably been spilled to explain exactly who the mysterious “two witnesses” of Revelation 11 are. (Usually by people who want to be at least one of them.) Dr. Spilsbury suggests that the numbers involved provided an important clue. The witnesses prophesy for 1260 days during the “42 months” that the outside of the court of the temple is “given to the gentiles” while they “tread the holy city under foot” [NKJV]. Both the time of trampling and the time of witnessing add up to 3 1/2 years each. They are killed at the end of their mission, and lie in the street unburied for 3 1/2 days.
These periods of time are used deliberately to remind us of prophetic passages in the book of Daniel. Dr. Spilsbury says, “In Daniel we read of a blasphemous and arrogant superpower that wil ‘wear out’ God’s people for ‘a time, times and half a time’ (Dan. 7:25)–in other words, for three-and-a-half “times (1+2+1/2= 3 1/2). Daniel’s period of crisis was played out in the terrible events of the second century B.C., when the Hellenistic king Antiochus Epiphanes mounted a violent attack on the Jews and tried to destroy both their temple and their way of life. More than two hundred years later, John uses the concept of three-and-a-half periods of time (whether years or days) to talk about another time of terrible crisis… Similar numbers appear elsewhere in Revelation. John sees a horrifying beast that makes war on God’s people and defeats them for forty-two months (13:5). He also sees a woman (symbolizing God’s people) who is threatened by the great dragon, but is protected and nourished by God in the wilderness for 1260 days, which John later calls ‘a time and times and half a time’ (12:14)” (p. 82-83 of The Throne, the Lamb & the Dragon).
The ministry of the followers of Jesus Christ, as a whole, are intended to remind us of those of Moses and Elijah. They are prophets, just like Moses and Elijah were prophets in times of trouble for the people of God. Elijah stopped the rain for 3 1/2 years and rained fire down on troops sent to harm him. Moses turned the Nile to blood and unleashed nine other plagues on Egypt to free the Israelites. These are powerful works that would impress the mighty and important of the world…
… enough to sign their death warrants (11:7-10). They are killed and left for dead for “3 1/2 days” after their mission ends. The entire world celebrates their demise.
Yet they are resurrected at the end of that time. Moses and Elijah also had to practise their prophetic ministries under persecution and the ongoing threat of death at the hands of important rulers of their day.
That these two are shown together is not accident. Three of the Gospel writers tell of the time Jesus was transfigured in a vision before Peter, James and John (Matt. 17:3-4; Mark 9:4-5 and Luke 9:30-33). In all three accounts, Jesus was accompanied by both Moses and Elijah. If John is the same John as the author of the Gospel, he was an eyewitness to that transfiguration vision. It should be no surprise that they should end up together as symbols of the best in God’s people in this vision, too. These are the two “olive trees” and the two “lampstands” (from Zechariah 4:1-4, 14) “who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth,” the two “annointed ones” identified by John as symbolically represented by Moses and Elijah.
Going back to the contrast between what John hears and sees in Chapter 7 helps us understand how they can be both powerfully effective witnesses, yet also victims of the oppressive worldly system. Both are true, as their death and resurrection play out again the story of Jesus Christ, who lives through their lives. Jesus had to be put to death because he defied the religious and political system in great power. Followers of Jesus also defy the same system in their day by living their lives as though Jesus’ will were more important than the will of the governing authorities (which it is!). They are both the heroes and the victims, just as all the people represented in Hebrews 11, for instance.
[The going is tough, and the tough must get going. This is the basic message of the book of Revelation. God’s people are the tough ones who keep on going until they no longer have breath.]
Their wearing of sackcloth represents repentance, so repentance is what they preach. You need only look a far as Acts 2 to see how integral repentance is to the gospel message.
The people of Jesus Christ share in His victory, and in his suffering. They share in his calling to bear witness to the truth, and in his reward for doing that – death at the hands of the ruling system. The good news is that after sharing in the suffering and death, they also share in His resurrection! This is news that a persecuted people at the fringes of power in an oppressive system needed to hear in order to help them thrive as followers of Jesus instead of letting the Empire’s fearsome power and its deadly minions terrorize them into denying Jesus and giving up both their mission and their salvation.