Measuring the Temple: Revelation Chapter 11

Most studies of the Book of Revelation focus on identifying the meaning of the symbols. Certainly this is a valid endeavor; the Lord has given us this glorious unveiling of His end time battle plan to reclaim the nations of the earth from the powers of darkness and the wicked leaders who are under their control, and He wants us to search it out and seek understanding of what the Spirit is saying to the churches. In fact, most of the symbolism used in the Revelation is not that difficult to understand. Revelation itself identifies the meaning of many of them, and the rest can be understood from other passages throughout the Bible. But I have long held that each chapter of the Revelation has a take-home message, a main thought that communicates to even a new believer what Jesus is saying, even if there are details that remain cloudy to the reader. This is the beauty of Revelation; it is both simple in a general sense and profound in its detail with each phrase and word pregnant with the Revelation of Jesus as the returning King, Bridegroom, and Judge.

Another of my convictions as a long-term student and teacher of this book is that much of the time we miss the impact of a passage by focusing an inordinate amount of attention on interpreting the meaning of the symbols. Perhaps nowhere else in Revelation is this seen as frequently is it is when chapter eleven is discussed. Virtually everyone focuses so heavily on attempting to identify the Two Witnesses that a vitally important event is skimmed right over: The measuring of the temple and the worshipers in verse one and the leaving out of the outer court in verse two. I believe that a very important truth, along with a warning, is contained in these seemingly innocuous two verses. Most readers and preachers skip right over these and begin in earnest in verse 3 and the revealing of the two witnesses.

And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months. And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a 1260 days, clothed in sackcloth. (Rev. 11: 1-3)

I will leave discussion of the Two Witnesses to another article, but suffice it to say that identifying the names of the two witnesses is not necessary in order to understand the big picture of chapter eleven. But let us consider the opening verses and seek to gain wisdom to have an ear to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

The first order of business is to determine if we are talking about a literal rebuilt temple in the Middle East, or a prophetic picture of real events using symbolic imagery. Any attempt at rightly dividing the message of Revelation must include an ability to discern literal statements from those that use symbolism. Schools of interpretation that insist on one to the exclusion of the other are prone to error and often cause the study of biblical prophecy to come into disrepute. The general trend is to over-symbolize the book and it must be emphasized that even the symbolism of Revelation paints a picture of real events. It is a fact that most of the symbols used in the Book of Revelation are explained in the book itself, and the rest are illustrated throughout the rest of the bible. Jesus Himself establishes the precedent in chapter one of the use of symbolism:

This is the meaning of the mystery of the seven stars you saw in my right hand and the seven gold lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (Revelation 1:20)

Symbols are used in this verse, but they speak of seven actual geographic churches with real leaders. Why does the Lord use symbols instead of speaking plainly? One purpose is to give depth to a description; in this case identifying the churches as golden lampstands shows that they are partakers of His nature (golden) and they give light. In many other verses throughout the Revelation, literal events are described and no attempt should be made to soften the impact by arbitrarily claiming that these are symbolic. The context of a particular verse, the application of other passages of scripture, and illumination of the Holy Spirit are needed to discern the literal from the symbolic. The woman seen in chapter twelve is an example of real events portrayed using symbolic imagery; the visible return of Jesus with blood on His robes in chapter 19 is an example of a literal event to be understood at face value exactly as written.

There will be a temple in Jerusalem during the Millennium, there are references to this throughout the bible complete with detailed measurements. Will a temple be rebuilt in Israel prior to the tribulation? It seems so when considering passages such as Daniel chapter 9 and Matthew 24 (let the reader understand.) However, I firmly believe that the temple seen in Revelation 11:1-2 is a symbolic picture of the global church on earth at the time of the beginning of the 3 ½ years of great tribulation spoken of by Daniel, Jesus, and others. It is not a twisting of scripture to describe the church as God’s temple:

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? (I Cor. 3:16)
And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. (I Peter 2:5)

Not only is God building a spiritual temple, but the stone temple in Jerusalem was a type and shadow of this spiritual temple. The three areas of the literal temple correspond to three levels of relationship with God and three levels of maturity in believers, both individually and corporately. The three main areas of the temple are the Outer Court, the Inner Court (also called the Holy Place), and the Holy of Holies.

The Outer Court contained the brazen altar for daily sin offerings and the brazen laver for washing. It was the outermost area of the temple and was lit up by natural light. The Outer Court is the way of approach to God. Sin must be covered by blood sacrifice and the worshiper must be washed with the water of the Word. This area corresponds to the Fundamentalist arm of the church, with emphasis on sin, hell, salvation, and external holiness (as expressed through lists of do’s and don’ts.) The Outer Court experience is essential to come to God, but it was never intended to be the whole expression of our earthly relationship with God. It is a sacred starting place, not a destination to guard and defend while denying a deeper experience.

The Inner Court or Holy Place was closed off from outside illumination. It contained a golden table with two loaves of bread, the golden altar of incense, and golden lampstands filled with oil. It was a place of deeper relationship and special illumination. The Holy Place corresponds to the Pentecostal and Charismatic arm of the church, with emphasis on the baptism of the Holy Spirit, tongues, prophecy and other gifts, prayer and worship, and illumination by the Spirit. The Holy Place experience is vital to pressing in to the fullness of God’s presence but it was never intended to be a place of permanent habitation, or a doctrinal campground to be defended.

The Holy of Holies was located behind a thick veil that separated it from the Inner Court. The Ark of the Covenant was located here and the only illumination was the glory of God. Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and only on the annual Day of Atonement that was part of the Feast of Tabernacles. When Jesus gave up His spirit on the day of His crucifixion, the veil separating the Holy of Holies from the Inner Court was torn in two from the top down, signifying that Jesus had removed the veil of hindrance to God’s presence.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh… (Heb. 10:19-20)

We should press in now with spiritual violence to enter this realm, although it must be acknowledged that we will not experience the fullness of this realm until we see Jesus and are changed into glorified bodies. The fulfillment of the Day of Atonement when sin is forever broken from our lives will come when Jesus returns and the Feast of Tabernacles is made a reality, just as the Feast of Passover and the Feast of Pentecost were experienced fully at His first coming.

With this background of understanding, let us examine Revelation 11:1-2.

And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. (Revelation 11:1)

It makes no sense to suggest that John was instructed to measure a literal building, altar and people with a literal rod. This is obviously a spiritual measuring being illustrated with symbolic language. But as noted earlier, these symbolic pictures predict actual events or consequences. What is being described here? I suggest that this is a measurement of maturity, preparation, and intimacy with Jesus. Note the language used by Paul in his letter to the church at Ephesus:

…till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13)

Notice that John is told to measure three things: The temple (a measure of our corporate maturity), the altar (this is surely a reference to the golden altar of incense which represents the prayers and worship of the saints, not the brazen altar in the outer court area), and the worshipers (individual believers.) Here we see the church, its individual members, and the prayer and worship movement all being measured and found to be mature. It is important to note that this is not the “latter rain/ manifested sons” dominion doctrine that teaches that a group of super believers will arise in the last days with the same power and anointing that Jesus had. Rather, this group has been found to be mature according to God’s measure, pressing in to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, in the midst of great pressure. But notice the next verse:

But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months. (Revelation 11:2)

For those with an ear to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches, this is an alarming statement! The Greek literally says “cast out” those in the Outer Court and exclude them from this measurement. They shall be given to the Gentiles (Nations) and trampled underfoot for 1260 days. This corresponds to the final 3 ½ years of Daniel’s 70th week, also called the great tribulation in scripture. I believe that there is both a literal fulfillment and a symbolic fulfillment of these two verses. We know from scriptures such as Zechariah 14:2 that the city of Jerusalem shall fall and that half the city shall be taken into captivity. Consider also that scripture teaches that the antichrist will stand in the Holy Place. (Matthew 24:15) This is obviously a literal event that Jesus warned the Jews to flee from. So, there must of necessity be a literal Holy Place (let the reader have understanding) that the antichrist stands in, and a symbolic Holy Place that is not trampled during this same period of time.

If we are talking only about a literal temple in Jerusalem, how will the nations trample the outer court area for 3 ½ years while leaving the Inner Court and the Holy of Holies alone? That would be like suggesting that home invaders come into your garage for 3 ½ years but not come into the house! And how will the antichrist commit the “abomination of desolation” by standing in the holy place if only the court that is without the temple is tread underfoot by the Gentiles (nations)? It should seem obvious from comparing these scriptures that this is a spiritual temple and the outer court consists of those who did not measure up; and that the Holy City that is trampled underfoot refers to both literal Jerusalem and the outer court church.

Jesus is not forsaking either group! The next few verses describe the release of power to God’s two Witnesses, and these prophets will provide guidance during this time of unprecedented shaking. I believe that the same prophetic picture is seen in Revelation chapter 12 where we see a woman giving birth to a man child. The woman then flees, and is given help for 3 ½ years by “them” which seems to refer to this man child group. Jesus burns with love for all His people and it is His desire to bring the lukewarm to repentance so that they might be protected during the time of testing that is to come upon the whole world shortly. We must remember that Jesus gave one of His best promises to those who would overcome this sin of complacency:

To him that overcomes will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. (Revelation 3:21)

Revelation 11:2 is a frightening warning to those living comfortably in the periphery of “churchianity.” Jesus is calling His bride to awaken and buy oil while there is still time. The day is coming when He will take a measurement of His church, and those living in the Outer Court experience of irrelevant, organized religion won’t make the cut. The stubborn fundamentalist denial of the baptism of the Holy Spirit (and the resulting rejection of His gifts and power) is a recipe for disaster in the coming crisis. Even religious Charismatics who have left a burning love for Jesus and have settled into a dull routine of lukewarm living are in trouble. Those who don’t see the need for a fasted lifestyle of separation to God, solemn assemblies, and individual and corporate repentance will be dull of spirit and vulnerable to great deception, and many will fall away. Recently one saint, in response to my call for fasting and national repentance, told me that “God wants us to be happy and care-free all day long.” This typifies the modern sleeping church with its false grace message, and it makes Jesus feel sick to His stomach. (Rev. 3:16)

Beloved, we are the Holy City, the Spiritual Temple of the Lord. A portion of this Holy City will be trampled underfoot for 3 ½ years by the Gentiles. While I do believe that God has significant purposes for Israel and Jerusalem in the end times, and have no doubt that Revelation 11: 1-2 applies to them in an equally significant way, this warning is not limited to Jews in a building in the Middle East. This message is for all those who call themselves Christians; it is past time to wake up and seek the Lord with all our hearts! It is time to know the season in which we live and respond accordingly. The Spirit is drawing believers all over the world to fast and pray, and to be known of the Lord in His secret place. When He decides to measure His temple, we do not want to be numbered among those found to be in “the court that is without the temple!”