Then, a measuring reed similar to a ruler’s staff was given to me, saying, “Rouse yourself and measure the temple of God, as well as the altar and the ones worshipping in that place, but the outer court of the temple put outside, and do not measure it, because it was given to the Gentiles, for the holy city will be tread underfoot (by them) in forty-two months.”Revelation 11:1-2
Measuring the temple area appeared in prophetic literature before this Revelation was written. Eight chapters in the Book of Ezekiel, written during 592 – 570 BCE, are devoted to a detailed account of the prophet, in a vision, observing a man measuring the Holy House of God cubit by cubit.
… the hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me there.
… When he brought me there, a man was there whose appearance shone like bronze, with a linen cord and a measuring reed in his hand, and he was standing in the gateway.Ezekiel 40:1-3 (NRSV, emphases mine)
John’s Apocalypse will dovetail with Ezekiel’s description more than once in the remainder of his book.
What was measuring the temple to signify?
Taking the historical view, the temple John is to measure represents the Church.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
… like living stones let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.1 Corinthians 3:16, 1 Peter 2:5 (NRSV, emphases mine)
However, there is a division. The courtyard outside the temple represents a division between the true Church and the visible institution of Church.
John was to
- assess what made up the true, believing-and-living-by-faith Church,
- examine the beliefs within the church concerning salvation and the sacrifice of Christ,
- evaluate who was truly a member of the church.
The Reformation might be an example of this scrutiny, using God’s measurements and standards rather than a church roll, or baptismal count, or any other human-generated system.
What John did not measure—the Court of the Gentiles—represented those who had not made genuine commitments of faith, or who represented an apostate faith, having fallen away from the true worship of God. Theologians with this perspective point to certain practices which had crept into the church.
It is noteworthy God is the one generating this measuring. God gave the measuring reed to the original Reformers such as Martin Luther, the “measuring reed,” being the Bible.
Understood this way, the trampling of the Gentiles over the temple of God becomes the ferocious persecution levelled by the Roman Catholic Church against Reformers and earlier protesters. The time frame would be 1,260 years, counting a year for each day.
In following the narrative of Ezekiel’s experience, John eats the little opened scroll just as Ezekiel ate the scroll given to him.
Then I lay hold of the little scroll from the angel’s hand and I devoured it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I ate it, it soured my stomach.
Then they said to me, “You are required again to prophesy on many peoples and ethnicities and languages and sovereigns.”Revelation 10:10-11
He said to me, “Mortal, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.
He said to me, “Mortal, go to the house of Israel and speak my very words to them.
… The spirit lifted me up and bore me away; I went in bitterness in the heat of my spirit, the hand of the Lord being strong upon me.Ezekiel 3:3-4, 14 (NRSV)
John measured the temple just as Ezekiel observed a man do in a vision (see above).
John was, in a sense, following in Ezekiel’s footsteps, using God’s measurements to ascertain the true faithful. In Ezekiel’s day, the temple was about to be destroyed by the Babylonians. In John’s day, the temple was about to be destroyed by the Romans.
As in Ezekiel, God’s measure is meant to show the divide between true and false, sacred and despoiled.
Its priests have done violence to my teaching and have profaned my holy things; they have made
Ezekiel 22:26 (NRSV, modifications mine)
- no distinction between the holy and the common,
- neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean,
- and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.
Seen this way, John was showing the physical temple would be destroyed, as Jesus predicted.
“… they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations, until the times of the nations are fulfilled.”Jesus, Luke 21:24 (NRSV)
But the spiritual Holy of Holies, where Christians now boldly and freely enter, will be preserved.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh).Hebrews 10:19-20 (NRSV)
Forty-two months represents the siege and sack of Jerusalem (Jewish War, 66-70 CE), and perhaps also the end of Nero’s reign, a time of vicious and vehement persecution of the true faithful.
Scholars who focus on the future explain the temple in view is yet to be built. During the Great Tribulation, the nation of Israel will once again erect a magnificent temple and reinstitute Levitical practices.
John’s instructions are to measure the ναός | naos, “inner temple,” those places traditionally accessible only to the priests, or the high priest, the Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies. The division in this case is between apostate Israel, and the true faithful.
This future temple will be desecrated, according to both Apostle Paul and Prophet Daniel. So, John’s measuring actually signifies God’s intention to protect this spiritual naos and preserve these sacred worshippers from what is about to come, just as God revealed to Zechariah
I looked up and saw a man with a measuring line in his hand.
Jerusalem shall be inhabited like unwalled villages because of the multitude of people and animals in it. For I will be a wall of fire all around it, says the Lord, and I will be the glory within it.”Zechariah 2:1-4 (NRSV, emphases mine)
The forty-two months represent either the first, or more likely the second half of the Great Tribulation, as described in Daniel.
Seventy weeks are decreed for your people and your holy city: to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin
… Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war.
Desolations are decreed.
He shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall make sacrifice and offering cease, and in their place shall be a desolating sacrilege until the decreed end is poured out upon the desolator.”Daniel 9:24-27 (NRSV, emphases mine)
Because naos most often means the Holy of Holies, this is the true spiritual home of God. Those who worship here are those who have been born anew from above, having now the indwelling life and Spirit of God, both being and dwelling within God’s spiritual naos. Being resurrected with Christ, all believers are now positionally in the heavenlies, seated with Christ—in Christ—on the throne of God.
by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ JesusEphesians 2:5-6 (NRSV, emphasis mine)
Here the cyclical nature of John’s oracles comes into play. During the interlude between the sixth and seventh seal, the 144,000 faithful were sealed for preservation by God. Now, between the sixth and seventh trumpet, the true temple is being measured for protection by God. The unmeasured courtyard represents the visible but nominal Church, comfortable with worldly wisdom and philosophies.
Forty-two months signifies a limited, but not necessarily literal, timeframe tracking the arc of church history.
The four perspectives taken from Revelation: Four Views A Parallel Commentary, edited by Steve Gregg