New Defender's Study Bible Notes
11:3 two witnesses. The identity of these “two witnesses,” with their unique ministry and miraculous powers, has been controversial. Nevertheless, one of them almost certainly is Elijah, who was translated into heaven without dying (II Kings 2:11), and whom God promised at the very end of the Old Testament to send back to earth “before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5). Though he came “in the spirit and power of Elias,” John the Baptist did not fulfill this promise (Luke 1:17), for after John had been executed, Jesus renewed the promise that “Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things” (Matthew 17:11).
The other witness is probably the ancient prophet Enoch, who—like Elijah—was taken into heaven without dying, in the very midst of his prophetic ministry. As Elijah was the great prophet to Israel, ministering essentially at the midpoint of the time from Abraham’s call to the coming of Christ, so Enoch prophesied at about the midpoint of the time between Adam and Abraham, ministering as it were to the Gentile nations. When they return to earth, they will complete their ministry to both Jews and Gentiles, finally dying for the first time in their long lives, as Christ’s special witnesses—“my” witnesses (or “martyrs”) He called them. Though it is claimed by some, Moses could hardly have been one of the two witnesses, for he already had died and will have already been resurrected and glorified, either at the time of Christ’s resurrection or at the time of the rapture. He could not die again in a glorified body. Three of the disciples had seen Moses and Elijah with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration, but this was a vision only—not Moses and Elijah in the flesh (Matthew 17:9).
11:4 two olive trees. The “two olive trees” are in reference to Zechariah’s vision of the trees providing oil for the lampstand (Zechariah 4). The angel told Zechariah that “these are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth” (Zechariah 4:14). That necessarily means that His two witnesses were both standing by Him in heaven during all the times between their translation and their return to earth. Both Enoch and Elijah had been accustomed to walking closely with the Lord and standing by Him during their earthly lives (note Genesis 5:24; I Kings 17:1), and they have continued close by Him in heaven ever since. It is even intriguingly possible that they were at His tomb, where it was noted that “two men stood by them in shining garments” (Luke 24:4). Also, as the disciples watched Jesus ascend into heaven, “two men stood by them in white apparel” (Acts 1:10): These two faithful witnesses have stood by their Lord for thousands of years, and He will be standing by them as they witness for Him once again in this age to come.
11:6 all plagues. The plagues being sent on the earth from heaven, as the Lamb opens the seals and the archangels blow their trumpets, are associated on the earth with the invocations of the two witnesses (Revelation 11:3). As they proclaim that these are God’s judgments, many will “learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:9) and believe on Christ for salvation, even though it may mean almost certain martyrdom for them. Those who refuse to believe will soon come to blame the two witnesses for all their problems, probably as encouraged by television commentators and other news media, and many will seek to kill them, but will be totally unsuccessful (Revelation 11:5), until the end of the days of their prophetic witness.
11:8 Sodom and Egypt. The two witnesses will have returned to Jerusalem as they finish their assigned ministry, where they, like their Lord, will be slain by His enemies. It is sad to note that, even with their enemies defeated and their temple worship restored, so many Israelis will have so quickly departed again from God that their “holy city” has become like Sodom and Egypt.
11:12 Come up hither. Here was the same voice and message which John, representing all believers of the church age, had heard as he ascended up to heaven (Revelation 4:1). This supports the previous understanding that the first call, like this one, is a call of resurrection and rapture, as per I Thessalonians 4:16-17.