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Revelation 11:1-14



“And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies … These men have power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying …


Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them. Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city …


But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them.

(verses 3-8, 11)

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Triumph and defeat. Power and weakness. Testimony and martyrdom. We see it all in this short passage, played out for us in the experience of these two witnesses.


There is great debate regarding how to interpret what John reports. Some take the whole literally, seeing clear reference to two specific individuals, even though there are unmistakable symbolic elements in John’s reporting (the witnesses themselves are called “the two olive trees and the two lampstands”). Others take the whole account symbolically. We’re going to follow this latter route. But regardless, the main theme that emerges is the Lord’s over-riding sovereignty in the witness of his people – whether they are experiencing triumph or defeat, the Lord ensures their testimony reaches completion.


So, who are these two witnesses? Viewed symbolically, they represent the faithful church of Jesus Christ. There are several elements pointing in this direction. The witnesses are identified as “the two lampstands,” which comes against the background of John’s initial vision of the exalted Christ. He was seen standing among seven lampstands. The Lord himself gave the interpretation: “the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20). That there are now “two” may cause us to remember the two churches (Smyrna and Philadelphia) which alone proved fully faithful, and also the Old Testament standard for reliable testimony, the “testimony of only one witness” not being viewed as adequate (Deuteronomy 17:6).


These two witnesses, whether taken literally or symbolically, are powerfully preserved by the Sovereign Lord, even in the midst of a hostile world. “If anyone tries to harm them,” they are not able. The Lord works his wonders through them until “they have finished their testimony.” It’s a reminder of the Lord’s promise through Isaiah: “My word that goes out from my mouth … will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire” (Isaiah 55:11). Such testimony will not be thwarted.


But neither are these witnesses exempt from the experience of Jesus himself. “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also,” Jesus said (John 15:20). So, with their work now complete, they are attacked, overpowered, and killed by anti-Christ forces represented by the Beast. It’s a reminder that the Greek word for “witness” is also the source of our English word “martyr.”


Defeat. Weakness. Martyrdom. The forces of evil have worked their worst. It looks like the end.


But it’s not. Resurrection happens. “A breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet.” Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.


What powerfully good news for persecuted believers in the first centuries of the church. What hope-filled, riveting news for Christ’s followers at every stage and circumstance since. We are called as witnesses of Christ, each one. Don’t hold back the good news. Live it faithfully. Declare it boldly. There will be resistance, yes – indeed, opposition. But Christ is the Victor. Resurrection is assured. Triumph is his. Praise his name.

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Sovereign Lord, all time and circumstances are in your hands. Your faithful testimony goes forth unhindered. I submit myself afresh to your calling on my life. Use me in your purposes. Strengthen me in hardship. All to your glory.

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Reflect:

In what sphere has the Lord placed you as his witness? Talk to him about the circumstances – whether easy, difficult, threatening, or oppressive. Recommit to his calling.

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Photo by Joe Shields on Unsplash


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