Of all the visions in Revelation I find this one actually the most puzzling. Firstly at the time John is seeing these things the temple has been destroyed by the Romans so people have theorized that in order for what is to follow to be true, the temple needs to be rebuilt. The problem is that in some prophetic visions of the Old Testament there are visions of the temple that do not fit any temple ever built and they also do not fit the measurements here either. So the question becomes is this a literal temple or a temple in the realm of heaven and not on earth. There are several visions that support the notion that there is a temple to worship in heaven so perhaps this is the temple that is being spoken of.
From a standpoint of Christ’s return it becomes very difficult to bring forth an interpretation that says: The temple needs to be rebuilt before Christ can return because the early Christian writers lived in the expectation that Jesus could return at any time. My money is on the idea of a temple in heaven not necessarily on earth.
This makes the two witness a little less of a puzzle to me as well as the fact that if I look at them through the eyes of John the significance to two people doing prophetic ministry would not have been lost to him as it was the way Jesus taught his disciples to minister. This could make these two prophets purely symbolic. This is also added to the fact that the beast makes war on them but they continue fight him off by the power of God. Just as much as the beast is symbolic of a spiritual force these two witnesses could be the same.
I can definitely see the preachers of the gospel cast in the role of the two witness and thus the war between them and the beasts is the war that exists between the saints and the spirit of anti Christ. Even their martyrdom would be symbolic. Seeing that we have already seen angels in the previous passages and the word for these people is the same ‘messengers’ it is very possible these are angelic figures seeing that they do much the same things as Angels did in the Old Testament. The fact that God also references them with two other symbols, the lamp stands and the olive trees, also reinforces this symbolic idea. All f these refer back to Israel and the Jewish nation more than anything else. The time frame of course is listed be symbolic which means we may not be able to tell the full meaning of this vision.
The other possibility is that this has already taken place and John would have looked at it from the standpoint of one of the pairs of his friends that died for preaching the gospel somewhere. This is a distinct possibility given that in a couple of cases the twelve did see the pair die together doing their works as preachers of the gospel. I simply throw this out there in that John and the seven churches may have known exactly who this was but that understanding was lost to history and we may never know. Because of the references to Sodom and Egypt however I would say it would relate to Rome to them and the world they knew.
The fact the two witnesses come to life to me reinforces the idea of symbolism because no matter how the enemies of the gospel and the beast have tried to destroy the ministers of the gospel and their message they come back to life and continue to do their work. Satan and his minions cannot destroy them or it. This may be more the message of this vision than anything else.
The second woe is now past according the text and now the third woe is to come as the last trumpet is about to sound.
Next: The Vision of the Seven Trumpets (Part Five)