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And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner. These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.

When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three-and-a-half days, and not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves. And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth. Revelation 11:3–10.


The Two Witnesses Under Catholicism


We learned the identities of the two witnesses the previous last lecture. The first witness is Jesus Christ, Himself, as the Word of God that makes atonement for the sins of the world and by whom we can be cleansed from all sin and unrighteousness. The second witness is the Holy Spirit, Who brings about the new birth and indwells the redeemed so that they manifest the righteousness of Christ in their lives.

We now find the glorified Christ as the head of His church and using the power of the Holy Spirit prophesying for a symbolic period of 1260 days. But notice that there is an impediment to their prophesying: the two witnesses are clothed in sackcloth. Sackcloth is a cloth of coarse texture, dark in color and made of goat’s hair. It was used mainly for making sacks but was also worn by people during times of mourning and deep grief. You will recall that when the sixth seal was opened there was a great earthquake and the sun became black as sackcloth. (Revelation 6:2) There we learned that at the end of the Reformation the visible church-at-large hid the light of the gospel through its divisions, creeds, rituals, and various organizational structures. That sackcloth did not originate with the Reformation; it was carried over from the influence of Catholicism where it began.

Catholicism, both in its papal and Orthodox forms, hid the Word and the Spirit of God behind the draping of tradition, ritual, and the teachings of the Post-Nicene Fathers. At this time it was necessary for pseudo-Christianity that was both formal and apostate to hide the gospel from the people. First, it kept the people ignorant of the truths about sin, redemption, and holiness, substituting ritual and so-called sacraments for the new birth. Second, because the people were ignorant it protected the clergy from criticism and reaction from the people. It gave the clergy license to do whatever they wanted. Verse 5 tells us there is a consequence attached to this: “And if anyone wants to harm them [the Word and the Spirit], fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner.”

An apostate clergy may enjoy power over the lives of people and the material benefits they gain through that power—but God takes notice. Fire, an emblem of the Holy Spirit, proceeds from the witnesses in the form of God’s judgments and devours them. There are incidents in history where God actually struck people dead in a unique and providential way. Remember King Herod in Acts 12:22–23, “And the people kept shouting, ‘The voice of a god and not of a man!” Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died.’”

Priests, bishops, popes, monks and the like that pillaged the church in the name of Christ were not necessarily eaten by worms in their lifetimes but as soon as they died they faced God with all the evil they had done in the name of Jesus and the church. Seconds after they died they found themselves in a place, according to Jesus in Mark 9:44, “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” That fire which proceeds from the two witnesses torments them for all eternity. However, the greater torment that afflicted them was that “the word of God grew and multiplied” (Acts 12:24). In spite of their efforts to harm the two witnesses the Word of God grew and affected even lives that supposedly were under their control.

Jesus also says of anyone that wants to harm the two witnesses, he must be killed in this manner. During the reign of Catholicism the church literally killed thousands upon thousands of people that turned to the Word and Spirit of God. In reality, they only sent those saints to their eternal reward in the presence of Christ. But these murderers are still facing the eternal judgment of God in eternal torment. But this is not just limited to a time long ago; religious persecution by people professing to be the church still exists today and will continue to exist until Jesus comes. Let us be careful not to harm the Word and Spirit of God in both  their spiritual state and in the lives of God’s people

The witnesses “have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire” (Verse 6). The sackcloth that hid the Word and Spirit essentially let the apostate clergy have its way for a long time identified in this part of the vision as 1260 days. The church-at-large beggared and hid the preaching of the Word and disallowed the moving of the Holy Spirit. In response, Jesus backed off and let apostasy take its course as we have seen from the letters to the churches of Asia. The witnesses restricted the power of heaven in their days as often as they desired. This is a negative thing with regard to the visible church-at-large but within this is hidden a blessed truth. The powers of the two witnesses held back the power of the church so that when people that actually reached out to Jesus through the spiritual darkness they were brought into salvation in spite of the gross spiritual darkness that surrounded them.


The Witnesses Prophesy in Sackcloth for 1260 Days.


Barnes, at the conclusion of his commentary on Revelation chapter 11 makes an assumption based on his thinking that chapter 10 refers to the Reformation. He thinks that the sixth trumpet in chapter 11 “refers to the necessity, at the time of the Reformation, of ascertaining what was the true church, of reviving the Scripture doctrine respecting the atonement and justification, and of drawing correct lines as to membership in the church.” He goes on to say:


All this has reference, according to this interpretation, to the state of the church while the Papacy would have the ascendency, or during the twelve hundred and sixty years in which it would trample down the church as if the holy city were in the hands of the Gentiles. Assuming this to be the correct exposition, then what is here said (Revelation 11:3–13) must relate to that period, for it is with reference to that same time—the period of “a thousand two hundred and threescore days,” or twelve hundred and sixty years—that it is said (Revelation 11:3) the witnesses would “prophesy,” “clothed in sackcloth.” If this be so, then what is here stated (Revelation 11:3–13) must be supposed to occur during the ascendency of the Papacy, and must mean, in general, that during that long period of apostasy, darkness, corruption, and sin, there would be faithful witnesses for the truth, who, though they were few in number, would be sufficient to keep up the knowledge of the truth on the earth, and to bear testimony against the prevailing errors and abominations.


Barnes, while identifying the Papacy, mixes the time of the Gentiles with the time of the two witnesses because 42 months and 1260 days are the same amount of time and concludes that they are coinciding rather than contiguous. Never-the-less he has captured the essence of the condition we have described as the time of the two witnesses and consequently the time of the papacy—a long period of apostasy, darkness, corruption and sin.


The Two Witnesses Under the Reformation


Verse 7 introduces another complicated picture concerning the two witnesses under the sixth trumpet. When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them. From this it is evident that this action takes place after the 1260 days in which the two witnesses prophesy in sackcloth. Here we find a beast that comes out of the bottomless pit to make war with the two witnesses and eventually overcomes and kills them.

We encountered the bottomless pit in the sounding of the fifth trumpet, which we learned revealed things about the Protestant Reformation. This is the first time such a beast is mentioned in the Revelation and because this beast comes out of the bottomless pit we must assume that it has something to do with the Reformation. Earlier we said that the Reformation was definitely a work of God, but how could this moving of God that restored clarity on salvation and other critical truths of the gospel have anything to do with a beast. The word beast in Greek does not denote a tame, domesticated animal that serves mankind; rather it denotes a wild beast. Also, from this point on in the Revelation the concept of the wild beast appears numerous times. So it is important that we capture something of its nature to understand what happens here under the sixth trumpet and as we study the rest of the Revelation.

Recall that smoke came out of the bottomless pit from which a swarm of locusts emerged whose purpose was to torment men for five months. These locusts had a king over them named Abaddon and Apollyon, both names meaning destruction. This beast is king Apollyon—king Destruction. His destroying nature is evident in that he makes war with the Word of God and the Spirit of God and kills them; that is, he destroys their influence.

The war against the two witnesses was waged mainly through division. Attempts at unity among the Reformers were numerous during the Reformation but certain issues were deemed to be too important to overlook and stood in the way of unity. Some of those issues were the meaning of the Lord’s Supper and, since the early Reformed churches were protected by their respective governments, national identity was deemed more important than the actual unity of the churches. Also, the Reformed churches tended to identify with their leaders and to distrust the motives of other Reformers.

Church organization differed from church to church: Episcopal, Presbyterian, or Congregational. The influence of John Calvin. His doctrine of predestination was highly disputed among the Reformers and the various churches subscribed to varying and incompatible degrees of the doctrine. The unique creeds and confessions of faith of the different churches, however close in content they were, restricted each church to their particular expression of the Christian faith and disallowed all others.


War Against the Two Witnesses


The war against the two witnesses by the beast of the bottomless pit was subtle rather than a war of direct confrontation. An examination of the creeds of the Reformed churches reveals that they all subscribed to the essential doctrines of salvation and even agreed on the definition of the Christian church.

The Bible was translated into national languages, read in churches, and personally read by literate people that could afford to purchase a Bible. Rather than attacking the Bible and people’s access to worship (Word and Spirit, the two witnesses), the structure, practice, and liturgy of the churches stood between the witnesses and the people so that the witnesses were ineffective—the churches killed the influence of the two witnesses substitution membership for salvation.

This is one reason why John Wesley, who was a priest in the Church of England and had done missionary work in North America, was not actually saved from sin until he heard sound preaching on the gospel from the Moravians at Aldersgate in May of 1738.

Verse 8, “And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.” The Reformed churches acknowledge the Word and Spirit but rendered them ineffective through ritual and division—ritual killing the effectiveness of the Word and division killing the effectiveness of the Spirit. But the Reformed churches never tried to do away with the Word and Spirit as did the Catholic church; rather, they displayed them in their forms of worship as something essential but essentially inaccessible.

Their bodies were dead but visible in the street of what is identified as a great city called Sodom and Egypt. Sodom was a place of sexual immorality, fornication. We have seen in the letters to the seven churches of Asia that spiritual fornication exists when churches unite people with themselves instead of with Christ—in simple words, church joining and corporate membership. Egypt was a place of bondage. Without preaching the gospel they professed to believe, the churches were unable to bring people to a saving relationship with Christ and left them in the bondage of sin. This city is the place where our Lord was crucified. King Destruction causes the Lord to be crucified when he causes people that were enlightened with the gospel to fall away into sin as we see in Hebrews 5:4–6,


For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.


The Reformation may have eventually killed the influence of the Word and the Spirit in the general work of the church but it did not abolish them as did the Roman and the Orthodox churches. The leaders of the Reformation would not allow the Word and Spirit to be buried but displayed them in their creeds, confessions and catechisms. Under the Reformation and in Protestant-denominational churches it was possible for people to hear the gospel and be brought into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Many people did; but perhaps many more people were just church members.

The Protestant creeds admit the great majority of the people were merely nominal Christians yet integrated into the recognized memberships of the churches.