Excerpts From E.B. Elliott's




In the Angel’s description of the two Witnesses the following seven several points are observable.

1st, The term designating them implies personality. For in the only ten other places where the word μαρτυς, witness, is used in the New Testament, there can be no question that persons are intended by it; and so too in almost all of the fifty or sixty passages where it occurs in the Old Testament, as derived from the Hebrew word properly corresponding.—The same inference results from what is said of the Witnesses prophesying: for the verb prophesy, which occurs above a hundred times in the Bible, is never used but once, I believe, except of persons. And the same too from that most important parallel prophecy in Apoc. 12:17, which, for many reasons, the reader should never lose sight of: where, after mention of the hiding of the woman, the Church, in the wilderness, from the dragon’s fury, it is said that “the dragon went to make war with the remnant of her seed that observe the commandments of God, and keep up the testimony, or witnessing, for Jesus;” (εχοντων την μαρτυριαν του Ιησου Χριστου·) his device for this purpose being to evoke the Beast from the sea.—I make this observation because not a few modern expositors, following certain others more ancient, have supposed the two Witnesses to mean things inanimate,—the Old and New Testaments. There cannot be a reasonable doubt, I conceive, that living confessors were intended.

2. The appellative “my Witnesses,” points out to us the grand subject of their witnessing, viz. the Lord Jesus; his glory, his grace, his salvation. A point this the rather to be observed respecting them, because of their having been represented by some Expositors as witnesses distinctively and alone against the Papacy; thus furnishing a handle to objectors: whereas, being simply described as Witnesses for JESUS, they need not be supposed to have assumed prominently the aggressive character of direct remonstrants against the Apostasy, whether in the East or in the West, except in proportion as that system should have authoritatively incorporated, and enforced, its growing superstitions and impieties, in open and necessary hostility to the doctrine of Jesus. A similar characterization of them occurs in the parallel prediction just alluded to, Apoc. 12:17; where the same individuals (as I conceive) are designated, as those who “observe the commandments of God,” and also “keep up the witnessing for Jesus.”—Which two characteristics, let me remark in passing, always have been, and always will be, found united. They that sincerely testify for Christ will be the persons most observant of God’s commandments: they that testify other than Christ’s doctrine will be disposed rather to observe the commandments of men.

3. They are described as “the two olive-trees, and the two candlesticks, or lamp-sconces, that stand before the Lord of the whole earth.”

Of these emblems the candlesticks, or lamp-sconces, are explained by Christ Himself to symbolize Christian Churches: i. e. communities uniting together in a true Christian profession and worship; the individual members contained in which would shine, by their consistent doctrine and life, as lights in the world.2—We must remember that these churches might be small, as well as large. We read in 1 Cor. 16:19 of the Church in the house of Aquila and Priscilla; and in Col. 4:15, of the Church in the house of Nymphas. In the present case, as I shall have to observe under my next head, the whole description indicates paucity of number, and depression.

As to the emblem of olive-trees, since it was the olive-tree that supplied nourishment to the temple-lamps,—it being commanded that pure oil-olive should alone be burnt in them,—it would seem that those must be symbolized thereby who supplied the needful spiritual nourishment to the Christian churches; in other words, all faithful ministers and gospel-preachers, ministering to them. And to this effect indeed is the explanation given of the emblem in Zeehariah. “I said, What be these two olive-trees, upon the right side of the candlestick, and on the left? And I answered again. What be these two olive-branches, which through the two golden pipes empty the oil out of themselves?… Then said He, These are the two anointed ones, (or, rather, two sons of oil,) that stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” Now under the Jewish dispensation, they who as individuals, in the special sense of the words, stood before the Lord, and who also were anointed for the purpose, were the Priests and the Prophets; those that under an ordinary, or else an extraordinary commission, (for the prophets, let it be marked, were not always of the sacerdotal tribe and order,) taught and ministered publicly, whether in the word, or in the congregation. Under the Christian dispensation the counterpart to the former of these are regularly ordained Christian ministers; to the latter, evangelists entrusted with a more extraordinary commission.

From the union of the two symbols, of lamps and olive-trees, we are to understand that both the ministers or gospel-preachers, and the churches or communities taught by them, were alike included in the Apocalyptic Witnesses.

4. We must observe the number noted, “my two Witnesses.”—We may take for granted that here, as perpetually elsewhere in the Apocalypse, the representative system is followed: and thus that the two witnesses, instead of being two individuals, as some of the early Fathers fancied, stand for a body and series; the same evidently as in Apoc. 12:17, a verse already referred to.—But why the number two; unity being most usually adopted in cases of representation? To this question the answer of Mede seems sufficient, that two or three witnesses were required in the Mosaic law to constitute a conclusive testimony; and therefore that, had but one witness been made the representative of a number sufficient for effectively testifying, such as is here evidently intended, the usual propriety of emblem observable in the Apocalypse would have been wanting.—At the same time the circumstance of the two, not the three, of the Mosaic law, being the number chosen, seems to indicate that the Witnesses would be only just enough for the purpose;—the smallest number that might suffice to make out the testimony satisfactorily.—Which same fact might seem also implied in the specification of but two lamp-sconces: whereas both in Zechariah’s vision, just alluded to, and also in the vision at the commencement of the Apocalypse, the number of symbolic lamps exhibited was seven. So too in Apoc. 12:17 it was only the remnant of the woman the Church’s seed that was represented as holding the testimony of Jesus; the rest being hidden with her, during the Beast Antichrist’s reign, in the wilderness.

Besides this view of the number two of the witnesses, many Protestant commentators have supposed that two separate lines of witnesses are intended. And certainly, if such were the case, the duality of these representative Witnesses (a duality noted of their emblems the olive-trees and candlesticks, as well as of themselves) would be still more satisfactorily accounted for, and still more according to Apocalyptic analogies. It must however be remembered that this latter supposition is not necessary; Mede’s explanation being of itself sufficient.

5. Their condition, during the time of their witnessing, is indicated by the garb said to be worn by them; “They shall prophesy 1260 days clothed in sackcloth.” Sackcloth was among the Jews the almost universal sign of mourning; as in the cases, for example, of Daniel, Mordecai, and the Ninevites: and it was worn doubtless on this account by the ancient Jewish Prophets; their condition being generally one of trial, and often of persecution, amidst the prevailing apostasy and rebellion of their countrymen. I infer the same respecting the condition of the Apocalyptic sackcloth-robed Witnesses. We must suppose that both their righteous souls would be vexed by the prevalent apostasy and irreligion of those around them, the Paganized Christians of the outer court: and also that they would often suffer persecution from those enemies of Christ and Christ’s truth; politically supreme as they were to be during the 1260 days of the Witnesses prophesying.

6. The next thing noted of the two Witnesses, is the avenging power given them against their enemies. “Whosoever will injure them, fire goeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies:—these have power to shut heaven, that it rain not during the days of their prophecy;—and have power over the waters to turn them to blood,—and to smite the earth with every plague, as often as they will.” There is a reference evidently in all this to the supernatural power that attached to certain of the ancient prophets, of literally thus acting against their enemies: viz. to Moses and Aaron, who turned the Nile-waters into blood, on Pharaoh’s insulting and injuring them; and to Elijah, who both commanded fire from heaven to slay the enemies that would have taken him, and invoked a drought of three and a half years on apostate Israel.—In the present case the figurative character of the whole prophecy shows that these statements (like others of the same class) are meant figuratively; and so too as they might apply to the two Apocalyptic Witnesses, the symbolic representatives of a long succession of many. It could not be that for 1260 years there should be no natural rain:—a spiritual drought must be intended. Again, their turning the waters into blood can only be interpreted of the bloodshed of wars, inflicted in God’s providence on the enemies of the Witnesses; and the fire going out of their mouths of God’s fiery judgments, destroying the apostates nationally that might have persecuted them.—So in fact the phrases are interpreted elsewhere in prophecy: for example in Apoc. 8:8; where the emblem of the sea becoming blood (supposing my interpretation correct) was shown to symbolize bloody maritime war. But this, let me repeat, as the sequel in God’s providence; not as their wish, or intention. On Jeremiah’s testimony being rejected, and himself persecuted by the Jews, God’s predictive declaration, “I will make my words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them,” was fulfilled, we know, by the subsequent burning of their city, and their destruction not individually, but as a nation. Again, as regards the drought spoken of, we read in Isaiah a threatening of the same judgment on the Jews, in the sense of the withholding from them of the dews of the Spirit; “I will command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.” And so too in that most striking passage in Amos;4 “The days come, saith the Lord, that I will send a famine on the land: not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the North even to the East: they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.”—Such seems the sense in which the figures are to be taken here also. To borrow Lowth’s language; “The prophet’s words would be like a judicial sentence against them; with execution almost immediately [I would rather say, sooner or later] following.” A view not dissimilar from that of some of the oldest patristic expositors.

For, let me further observe, immediate fulfilment was not implied, in respect of the destruction spoken of as caused by the fire issuing from the Apocalyptic Witnesses mouths, any more than by the fire issuing from Jeremiah’s. How, were it so, could the Beast from the abyss make war against, and conquer, and kill them, as he is said to do? The individual Witnesses or Prophets might even die; and yet their words remain like fire to consume the guilty people. So it was said by Zechariah to the Jews, after their return from the captivity of Babylon: “The prophets, do they live for ever? yet my words, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not take hold of your fathers?”—Of the judgments noted as to follow on the rejection and persecution of Christ’s Witnesses, one is declared to be continuous, through the whole period of their prophesying, viz. the spiritual drought, or shutting up of the dews of heaven;—one occasional, the smiting the land with plagues as often as they will;—the third we may infer to be final; I mean the destruction of their enemies by fiery judgments from God.

7th, and lastly, with regard to the commencing time of the two Witnesses testifying in sackcloth, it seems coincident (as already hinted) with that of the heathenized Christians treading the Holy City. For not only are the two statements connected together in immediate juxtaposition,—that about the Gentiles preceding, that about the two witnesses following,—and the time 42 months assigned to one equalling the 1260 days assigned to the other, but the connexion almost hinted at as that of cause and effect. Now to fix in history this latter epoch there seems required the concurrence of two things; first the lapse of professing Christendom and its ruling powers into heathen-like idolatry; secondly their oppression of the truth by antichristian laws.—In what was said afterwards to St. John of the same 1260 days period, its date of commencement was further defined as following after the Dragon’s casting water out of his mouth to drown the woman, the Church; and marked by the Woman’s hiding in the wilderness, and the seven-headed wild Beast, that had power given it for the same 42 months, rising from the sea:—the latter Satan’s grand instrument, for warring down them that kept God’s commands and the testimony of Jesus.—From these data to infer the probable commencing epoch will not, I think, be difficult; on proceeding, as we shall now do, to apply the various figures of which we have been speaking, to the facts of real history.

Elliott, E. B. (1862). Horæ Apocalypticæ or A Commentary on the Apocalypse, Critical and Historical (Fifth Edition., Vol. 2, pp. 207–215). London: Seeley, Jackson, and Halliday.