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And there was given me a reed like a staff, and the angel stood, saying, ‘Rise and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and those who worship therein” (Revelation 11:1,2). What temple was John to measure, and what is the significance of measuring it? As usual in the Book of Revelation, we cannot understand the meaning without understanding the underlying reference passages in the Old Testament.

The parallel Old Testament passage is Ezekiel 40-48 where there is also a man with “a measuring reed[1] in his hand” (Ezekiel 40:3), who measured a temple and its surroundings. The prophet was told, “Declare to the house of Israel everything you see” (v.4). What follows is a highly detailed description, complete with dimensions, of a temple that has never existed on earth. 

The key verses are in Ezekiel 43. “And He said to me, ‘Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever. No more shall the house of Israel defile My holy name…Son of man, describe the temple to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities” (Ezekiel 43:7,10). God wanted to “dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever” and in order for this to happen they must “be ashamed of their iniquities” and “no more…defile My holy name.” Measuring the temple was not simply giving them dimensions of a building. Somehow this measuring would help them to become the kind of people they needed to be so that God could dwell in their midst.

This message was given to the children of Israel when they were captives in Babylon because of their sins.[2]  With the idolatry of Babylon all around them, they themselves were committing “harlotry” and “abominations.” But through the prophet they were given the "heavenly standards" and a call to repentance –“and if they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the design of the temple and its arrangements...that they may keep its whole design and all its ordinances and perform them" (Ezekiel 43:11).

The temple was the building in which sacrificial ceremonies were carried out, a “shadow” of the heavenly reality. When Ezekiel was told to measure the temple, there was no temple on earth to measure, because it had been destroyed by the Babylonians. Nor did his measurement match the temple that was rebuilt by the Jews. He measured the heavenly temple, which is the original and  model for all of the earthly temples,[3] a symbolic picture of God’s plan of salvation.[4]

By the time John wrote Revelation there was again no physical temple—it had been destroyed by the Romans in AD 70.  Paul and Peter made it clear that the church, “the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27), is the New Testament temple.[5] But just as Ezekiel was not to measure the earthly temple but the heavenly, so John was not to measure the imperfect earthly church, but the perfect heavenly Body, Christ Himself.[6] The measuring of the temple is a "Revelation of Jesus Christ".

In order to understand what this passage is saying we need to keep in mind the context. Chapter 11 is a continuation of chapter 10, which began by presenting the seven thunders, prophetic messages that were sealed until the last days. At the end of time they will be unsealed—God's  final messengers will understand them and share them with the world. In 10:7 The Mystery of God we saw that the final messages will be given to the “Gentiles,” people who have been deeply deceived by false concepts about God. As a result a great “mystery” will be accomplished—Gentiles, who have not known God and have been slaves of sin, will through God’s grace become His holy people, and their transformation will be a witness to the whole universe.

In 10:8-11 Eating the Little Book John was given a little book to eat. Comparing with Ezekiel chapters 2 and 3 and Daniel 12, we saw that God's final messengers will understand the prophecies that expose the lies of "Babylon," reveal the true character of God, and show what will happen during the time of the end. This understanding is “sweet as honey” but when the messengers and their message  is rejected “it will make [their] stomach bitter.” However, despite the bitter experience “you must prophesy again”(Revelation 10:11)—God’s messengers must persevere in bringing God’s message to the "captives in Babylon," even though they face opposition and persecution.  

The same context continues in chapter 11. The angel told John to “measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there.” As we saw above, the "temple of God" refers to the heavenly temple and measuring it is a revelation of the character of God Himself. In Revelation 21 where the New Jerusalem is likewise measured with a reed, John says “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Revelation 21:22). The psalmist wrote, “Walk about Zion [the temple  mount][6] and go all around her, Count her towers, mark well her bulwarks, consider her palaces that you may tell it to the generation following, for this is God” (Psalm 48:12). In the earthly temple, all of the features were portrayals of some aspect of God. The seven-branched lamp represented the fullness of the Holy Spirit, which enlightens the darkness. The table of showbread represented Jesus feeding His children the Bread of Life through His Word. The altar of incense represented Christ's intercession for sinners, and the ark of the covenant covered by the mercy seat represented the justice, mercy and glory of God. Unfortunately, every aspect of God has been tragically misrepresented by the Babylonian system that claims to represent Christ.

The great need of the world is to know God as He really is. “Behold, God is great, and we do not know Him” (Job 36:26).[7] This is particularly true of those who are Christ’s but are caught in the confusion of Babylon. Millions believe that God would torture people forever for not believing in Him, or arbitrarily choose some for salvation and others for destruction, or give a law that cannot be kept and then condemn people for not keeping it, or exclude people from heaven because they didn’t happen to have exposure to the Christian message—and these are just a few of the many misconceptions about God. Measuring the temple will reveal the love, mercy, righteousness and justice of God, clearing up all the ‘contradictions’ and misconceptions.

Continue to next section:    THE ALTAR AND THOSE WHO WORSHIP THERE

[1]  The Greek Septuagint version uses the  same word, kalamos, for rod in Ezekiel and reed in Revelation.

[2]  “The Spirit took me…into Chaldea, to those in captivity…so I spoke to those in captivity of all the things the Lord had shown me” Ezekiel 12:24,25.

[3]  See Hebrews 8:1-5, 9:11, 24.

[4]  See Hebrews 9: 1-28.

[5]  2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:21, 1 Peter 2:4,5.

[6]  Jesus insisted that His body was the temple of God, both before and after the resurrection ("destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up" John 2:29) His insistence that He was the temple was one of the main accusations against Him at His trial (Matthew 26:1, Mark 14:58).

[7]  “David brought the ark to Zion, and the hill henceforth became sacred (IISamuel 6:1-12). When Solomon later removed the Ark to the temple on nearby Mount Moriah, the name Zion was extended to take in the temple” (Isaiah 8:18, 18:7, 24:23, Joel 3:17, Micah 4:7). Pictorial Bible Dictionary, (Grand Rapids, MI Zondervan 1973) p. 914 Use by permission

[8]  The Hebrew word for “know” is yada, the same word used in Genesis 4:1 “Adam knew his wife and she conceived”, referring to the most intimate relationship possible.

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