With our general overview, we desire to answer only a few questions. First, where in our timeline are we? Second, what does some of the symbolism mean? Third, what is the general concept behind the chapter?
To the first question we have an answer given quite explicitly. We see in verse 2 that the outer court is handed over to the Gentiles for 42 months, and then in the following verses of the two witnesses we see that they prophesy for 1,260 days. When we come to the end of the chapter we find an earthquake and people worshiping God – the exact effects of the seventh trumpet listed in verses 15-19. Whether the last section of the sixth woe (verses 12-14) is the return of Christ or not will be debated at a future post. However, the most likely interpretation would be that this is indeed chronology leading up to the seventh trumpet and not a part of the seventh trumpet.
So, what we see is that just prior to the return of Jesus with the seventh trumpet (maybe a few days at most) is the finality of this scene regarding the two witnesses and the beast who slays them. Thus, it is most trustworthy to interpret that chapter 11 takes us from somewhere around the halfway mark unto the very end. This is after the abomination of desolation, because the outer court is already in the hands of the Gentiles, and thus after the exact midpoint of the last seven years.
For the symbolism, we really only need to define two symbols: the two witnesses and the beast who slays them. The two witnesses absolutely must be two people. They cannot be symbolic of the Church and/or Israel. The reason for this is simple: they get caught up before the rapture of the church. In 1 Corinthians 15:52, the rapture takes place at the last trump, and their death and resurrection occur just prior to that final trump. They are specific to Jerusalem, and not worldwide, based on simple context. Most likely the title comes from Deuteronomy 19:15, that these are the two witnesses that shall testify against the beast and his followers so that in all things God is just for His judgment.
The identity of these two individuals is highly speculative. Some have interjected Moses and Elijah, others Enoch and Elijah. The reason behind these interjections are simple. Enoch and Elijah never died, and it is appointed once for man to die. However, I would point out that we need to read the context of Hebrews 9:27, because the context is about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and not about whether you absolutely must die. The context is clearly not saying that all of humanity is forced to undergo physical death, but is in relation to the Day of Atonement, and how God is judging the nation of Israel on that day. That is the day that either all of the sin of Israel is forgiven or God will condemn the whole nation.
So, we conclude that this idea of Enoch and Elijah is not satisfactory. We then turn to the other notion: Elijah and Moses. This comes from the types of plagues that these men perform. They have the authority to shut off the heavens, like Elijah. They also have the authority to turn the rivers and waters to blood, like Moses. Thus, we assume them to be Elijah and Moses, however the question is raised: “Are they Elijah and Moses or are they two men in the power and likeness of Elijah and Moses?” This question comes from John the Baptist being likened to Elijah by Jesus (Mat 17:12-13). With this it is fairly easy to assume that we are looking at two like Elijah and Moses, and not Elijah and Moses returned.
Finally, what is the general concept behind the chapter? The chapter as a whole is looking at Jerusalem during the time of the Antichrist, and most likely the seven bowls of wrath in chapter 16 is the overlay of what we see here. We see the powers of darkness facing off against the powers of light. We see the ministers of God opposing the ministers of Satan. We see both literal description of what shall happen as well as pattern. While it appears that the darkness is winning, both in that they have laid claim to Jerusalem and that the beast will eventually kill the two witnesses, the victory is not so lengthily celebrated. Ultimately, love wins. So it is with all the saints.