Two witnesses prophesy (on earth?) clothed in sackcloth.* Is this a period of time for witnessing and building between the 6th and 7th trumpet, some what like the half-hour of the 7th seal between the seals and the trumpets? Is it also related somehow to the first and fifth seal? This is also likely to be a time of mourning for what has happened and what is going to happen on the earth. Will it be a time of repentance also?
Olive trees mean witnesses, see Zechariah 4:1-14. A lampstand represents God's house or the light bearing qualities of God's house. Revelation 1:20 indicates that lampstand means church. It seems that the 2 lampstands and 2 olive trees in verse 11:4 indicate the combined witness of both the Old and The New Testaments. Representing both Jewish and Christian understanding of how God deals with humankind. This is the period of the Trumpets, so we have to assume these witnesses are used by God to call His People.**
"If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die." (11:5). While they are prophesying they have power to shut off the rain, turn water into blood and "...strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want." (11:6). Non-believers may blame them for all of their problems up to this point in time. No wonder the inhabitants of the earth will refuse to bury them and gloat over them when they are killed by the beast!
Imagine their terror when the witnesses are raised by God after 3.5 days and called to heaven!! See 11:11-13.
11:1-2 seems to be a vision of what is going on in heaven while the 2 witnesses are active on the earth. "...Go measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshipers there." (11:1). There is some similarity between this and chapters 7, 14 and 21. Many places in the Bible the same events are recorded over and over again, usually from a different perspective. In this case however, it seems like the author is visiting the same locations (heaven and earth) over and over again, but at different periods of time. There seems to be a progression. "...the outer court...has been given to the Gentiles..." (11:2). The temple in 1 Kings 6:36 & 7:12 was surrounded by an inner court and and outer court. Since 5 times as many Canaanites as Israelites built the first temple (1 kings 5:13-16; 2 Chronicles 2:17-18; 8:7-9), it is quite possible non-believers will be involved in constructing the holy city. Perhaps their work space and living quarters will be in the outer court.
*Sackcloth: "So put on sackcloth, lament and wail, for the fierce anger of the Lord has not turned away from us." (Jeremiah 4:8; also see 6:26; 48:37; 49:3; Lamentations 2:10; Ezekiel 7:18; 27:31). "So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes." (Daniel 9:3). "Put on sackcloth, O priests, and mourn; wail, you who minister before the altar. Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you who minister before my God..." (Joel 1:13; note Amos 8:10). "The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth...(also the king)...Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence..." (Jonah 2:5-10) "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes." (Matthew 11:21 & Luke 10:13). Use a concordance to the Bible to look up other "sackcloth" references.
"Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days." (Genesis 37:34).
42 months (11:2) and 1260 days (11:3) are both 3.5 years or about 5 minutes according to God's time (at a scale of 1000 years = 1 day).
**The two witnesses passage reads as if there are two individual people. An interpretation meaning two groups of people, each "acting as one person" (as if each group were part of a corporation), would also fit the language. Throughout the book of Revelation there are several references to two groups of God's people, such as:
Those on earth and those in heaven.
Lamb and 144,000; bride and bridegroom.
These examples are not the same groups, but seem to convey the message that God wants all people to be God's people. Unfortunately however, not all people will be God's people. Our thoughts are not God's thoughts and our ways are not God's ways, so some of the people we think are God's people may not actually be God's people and some of the people we think could not be God's people may actually be God's people. God looks at the heart... See: Matthew 15:19, 22:37; Mark 7:21, 12:33; Luke 6:45, 10:27, 12:34, 16:15; Romans 10:6-13; 2 Corinthians 3:2-3; Ephesians 3:17-21, 5:19-20; Colossians 3:15-16; 1 Peter 3:15; Revelation 2:23.