The book of Revelation is a book of symbols. Admittedly, some of these symbols are difficult to discern. However, there are certain points that seem clear. Let’s consider…
The Two Witnesses (Revelation 11)
The reference to two witnesses, no doubt, relates to the need of adequate evidence (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:5; Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Timothy 5:19-20, 22). Note: Evidence could be counted as a witness (John 5:33, 36; 10:25; 1 John 5:8).
The exact identity of these two witnesses is one of those symbols difficult to discern. Foy Wallace Jr. suggests “The two witnesses are representatives of the prophets and apostles” (The Book of Revelation p. 217). He connects the following passages with Jerusalem and the witness of these men: Matthew 23:31-37; Matthew 24:14; Acts 7:52. John Coffman writhes, “The two witnesses appears to this writer to be definitely and undeniably God’s word and God’s church, those two witnesses indeed being the only two witnesses of God throughout the whole christian age” (Commentary on Revelation, p.239). Wayne Jackson seems to agree, “The two witnesses may be the combined testimony of the Scriptures, along with the example and preaching of the church…Those who attempt to oppose Heaven’s ‘witnesses,’ will only meet the destruction they deserve” (A New Testament Commentary, p. 608). Others have suggested that the two witnesses are The Old Testament and The New Testament. The two witnesses are likened to Elijah and Moses (Revelation 11:6 cf. 1 Kings 17:1; Exodus 7:14-21). Like Elijah and Moses, they provided evidence supporting their message. God was with them supernaturally and providentially.
They were empowered with olive oil, which represents the Holy Spirit (Revelation 11:4 cf. Zechariah 4:6-10, 11, 14). This is what fuels their lampstands. Foy Wallace, Jr. connects the following passages : Matthew 10:18-20; Mark 13:11; Luke 12:12.
They were protected by God until they had finished their testimony (Revelation 11:7). Jesus declared, “this gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world” (Matthew 24:14).
After this, they are killed and disrespected, but in time resurrected and taken to heaven(Revelation 11:11-12). Wayne Jackson commented, “This symbolizes the ultimate victory of truth over error” (p. 188). John Kachelman Jr. commented, “The message – remain faithful to God; when the time is completed reward is assured” (Revelation, p. 66). The crown of life belongs to the faithful (Revelation 2:10). “For Your sake we are killed all day long and accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:36-37).
Notice that it is the city of Jerusalem that did this to the witnesses (Revelation 11:8). This fits what Jesus said that Jerusalem would do to the prophets and apostles (cf. Luke 11:49-51; Matthew 23:34-38).
The Woman and Child (Revelation 12)
The characters: (1) The woman. (a) some see her as Mary. (b) Some understand the woman as Israel, faithful Israel, which would include Mary (cf. Genesis 37:9-10; Isaiah 26:17; 66:7-8; Micah 5:2-3). This fits the context better. (2) The child – the child is Christ (Revelation 12:5; cf. 2:27 cf. Psalm 2, cf. Acts 13:33). (3) The dragon is Satan (cf. Revelation 12:9).
The dragon tried to destroy the child (Revelation 12:4). (a) If the woman is Mary, the reference is obvious (Matthew 2:13). (b) If the woman is Israel, then this may include other attempts to destroy God’s plan (cf. Exodus 1:16-22).
The woman was protected in the wilderness (Revelation 12:6, 13-16). (a) If the woman is Mary, the reference is to the flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-14). (b) If the woman is Israel, then included may be other things, such as the Exodus. It may also include how faithful Israel was protected by God when Jerusalem fell (Matthew 24:15-16; Luke 21:20-21).
The dragon, unable to prevent the birth or ascension of the child went after the woman and her offspring (Revelation 12:17). This clearly better fits faithful Israel. John Kackelman, Jr. commented, “Having failed to destroy Christ…Satan focused his attack upon faithful Israel. The flood seems to refer to persecution” (p. 73).
They were a part of a great spiritual war. The key to victory – “They overcame by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death” (Revelation 12:11). While many details are difficult, it is important for us to remember that the key to our victory is much the same.