I’m reading Richard Bauckham’s book “Theology of the Book of Revelation” along with a few others as part of my reflection and study for my ongoing series on Revelation.
The book is very good, I’ll say that up front. If you want to learn about Revelation, you should buy it.
But in particular, I was struck by his discussion of the seals, the visions accompanying them, the content of the scroll which only the Lamb could read and the two witnesses. Specifically, Bauckham does a great job explaining that the judgements pronounced are warning judgements meant to bring humanity to repentance. Of great importance is the fact that *judgement does not meet with the desired outcome* and so the seven thunders–most likely further judgements against the earth–remain unimplemented.
Instead of judgment, it is the witness of the Church–the preaching of forgiveness and grace–that results in repentance for those who *do* repent, with the final judgement on the whole earth being meted out to those who fail to repent.
What is key in this is the representative nature of the two witnesses. Whether one accepts them as actual prophets returned for this role (Moses & Elijah or Enoch and Elijah, two traditional understandings) or in a purely metaphorical sense, they stand for the witness of the Church:
“The content of the scroll is not that faithful Christians are to suffer martyrdom or that their martyrdom will be their victory: these things are already clear in 6:9-11; 7:9-14. The new revelation is that their faithful witness and death is to be instrumental in the conversion of the nations of the world. Their victory is not simply their own salvation from a world doomed to judgement, as might appear from chapter 7, but the salvation of the nations. God’s kingdom is to come not simply by saving an elect people who acknowledge his rule from a rebellious world over which his kingdom prevails merely by extinguishing the rebels. It is to come as the sacrificial witness of the elect people who already acknowledge God’s rule brings the rebellious nations also to acknowledge his rule. The people of God have been redeemed from all the nations (5:9) in order to bear prophetic witness to all the nations (11:3-13).
This is what the story of the two witnesses (11:3-13) symbolically dramatizes. Two individuals here represent the church in its faithful witness to the world. Their story must be taken neither literally nor even as an allegory, as though the sequence of events in this story were supposed to correspond to a sequence of events in the church’s history. The story is more like a parable, which dramatizes the nature and the result of the church’s witness.” (Kindle Edition, Location 1061)