There seems to be a great deal of controversy over who the two witnesses are in the Apocalypse. They really are very mysterious figures and are likened to furniture found in the Holy Place of the Temple. Many people today look for them to arise shortly before the end of time (something the Bible never mentions), and they are supposed to figure prominently in a battle against a figure known as Antichrist (again something which the Bible never mentions—at least not in the context of modern interpreters). Some even believe Moses and Elijah are the witnesses and they will return to life. In any event, there isn’t a lack of colorful interpretations for these two Apocalyptic figures, but what does the Bible really say about them?
In Revelation 11:3 the Angel told John that he would give power or authority to his two witnesses. These two witnesses would prophesy 1260 days, while clothed in sackcloth. I believe that a proper understanding of their being witnesses must be understood in how the word is used of Jesus’ disciples, elsewhere in the New Covenant Scriptures. For example, when the disciples decided to replace Judas (after his death), they wanted to choose someone who traveled with them throughout Jesus’ ministry and was a witness to his resurrection (Acts 1:22). When they preached the Gospel after Pentecost, they claimed to be witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 2:32; 3:15; 4:33; 5:32). Moreover, the claim that they were witnesses to his resurrection was not self imposed. We know this, because unbelievers were among those who saw the resurrected Jesus in Galilee, but they still didn’t believe (Matthew 28:10, 17; cf. 1Corinthians 15:6). Rather, Jesus’ witnesses were chosen by himself (Acts 10:41; 22:12-15; 26:16). In this context, then, we should understand the Angel’s “witnesses.”
A witness is someone who saw and / or heard something and could testify of its validity. While believers, today, are able to testify (witness) to what Christ had done in their lives, this is only a secondary (subjective) witness to the resurrection of Jesus. In other words, Jesus must have resurrected, because he is able to affect my life today. This is not what the Bible means, when it refers to witnesses. The Scriptures will not permit one witness to speak against another man in matters of judgment. By the mouth of a single witness shall no man be put to death (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:5). Rather, two or more witnesses were needed to establish a fact (Matthew 18:16; Hebrews 10:28). In the context of Revelation 11:3, I believe this means that the two witnesses lived during the first century AD and witnessed the resurrection of Jesus.
The season of their prophecy is certainly equal, as far as time is concerned, to the 42 months Jerusalem would be trodden down by the gentiles (Revelation 11:2), but the text doesn’t specifically say the two periods, which the Angel mentioned, are the same. For that matter it doesn’t say they are different periods of time, either. Certainly, on the face, one is led to believe the two periods, although described differently, are the same period of time. I hope to address this in greater detail in a later study.
The Angel claimed that the two witnesses would prophesy in sackcloth. This reminds me of John eating the little book in Revelation 10:10. It was sweat to the taste but bitter in his stomach. Jesus prophesied for 3 ½ years (1260 days), and he was a man of sorrows (Isaiah 53:3). Paul preached the good news, yet he could desire that he was accursed from God (Romans 9:1-3), if only his nation would embrace Jesus as their Messiah. In other words, although the Gospel was good news, indeed, Paul sorrowed continually preaching it, knowing the outcome of his beloved Jewish nation. Therefore, the two witnesses would prophecy with a sorrowful heart.