The Measuring Of The Temple - Rev. Herman Hoeksema
1 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.
2 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.
The eleventh chapter of the Book of Revelation is one of the most important chapters of the entire book. It is not a chapter easy to be understood in its full significance, and yet it is of the utmost importance that we do understand the meaning of it as clearly as possible. If we understand this chapter not only as such but also in its relation to the sequel of the entire book, we will have less difficulty to grasp the significance of the rest of the book. But misunderstanding of the chapter which we must now discuss leads us in the wrong direction with regard to practically all that follows.
We have in this portion a general picture of the church as she exists in the present dispensation, a general description of the line of development which must be expected in the future, a general outline of the great battle the church will be called upon to fight throughout this dispensation, but especially toward the end. And at the same time we have in this chapter a brief indication of how the church in special times will receive special grace and strength and how she shall finally be delivered even before the time of the end. All the great truths which the Lord Jesus Christ has already predicted in His discourses about His second coming, - the development and struggle, the great tribulation of the church, but also the shortening of the days for the sake of the elect, - are pictured to us here in a very general outline. And therefore we may rightly say that here we have a general description of what will be presented to us in detail in the rest of the book. It is not as such a revelation of the seventh trumpet; yet it is closely connected with that trumpet. And in the rest of the book we must expect to find many an individual picture taken from the same period that is already described in the chapter we are now considering. In the future we shall understand the relation of this chapter to the rest of the book better than we are able to grasp the connection at this point. But this brief warning . we have to sound so that we may the more pay attention to what the Spirit saith unto the churches, set ourselves to make prayerful study also of this part of the book of comfort, and set ourselves to give heed to the warnings issued in the preceding chapter, namely, that we must eat, that we must thoroughly appropriate, the contents of the little book, so that they may determine our entire life.
Concerning the text under discussion at present there need be no misunderstanding whatsoever. John is called in the vision to do something. A reed, a measuring rod, is given him; and the commission is given him that with this reed he must proceed to the holy city, Jerusalem, and measure the temple.
It may be said from the outset that although he is called to measure the temple only, distinction is made between three different areas. In the first place, the text makes mention of the temple as such, the sanctuary proper, the building of the temple, along with its holy and most holy places and the altar and the people who congregate there for worship. In the second place, mention is made of the outer court, the open space which surrounds the temple building proper in distinction from the temple as such. And, in the third place, the text speaks of a still wider area, namely, the holy city, which shall be surrendered, together with the outer court, to the Gentiles, to be trodden under foot forty and two months. Three areas, therefore, are spoken of. The widest is the holy city itself. Within that is the narrower space of the outer court. And again, within that outer court is the still more limited space of the temple proper. And with regard to these three John is commissioned to measure the temple and the altar and those that worship therein, while he must not measure the outer court, nor, of course, the holy city. And he is told that only the temple will remain undefiled, but that the outer court and the holy city will be surrendered, or rather, is surrendered by this measuring to the power and the mercy of the Gentiles. This rather general picture of the text must, in the first place, be clearly understood; and from it we must draw our conclusion with regard to the explanation.
So far, then, there is no difficulty, and there can be no difference of opinion. But a different story it becomes when we ask the further question: how must we conceive of this part of the book? Must we take it all in the literal sense of the word, so that the temple means the holy place and most holy place as they once stood in Jerusalem, the outer court refers literally to the space surrounding the temple, and the holy city is literally the capital of the holy land as it once stood in all its glory but was made a miserable heap of ruins in the year 70 A.D.? It is then that interpreters begin to differ. And it is the choice at this point which will determine our entire view of the chapter, and, in fact, largely of the entire book in its sequel.
There are many interpreters who maintain that we must take this all in the literal sense of the word. Many maintain that at this period the church is already in heaven and has nothing to do with the tribulation of this present time any more. At the call from heaven to John to "come up hither," the church has followed the apostle and therefore has nothing to do any more with matters mundane, but rejoices in her salvation. And because this is the case, the possibility that by temple in this case the church might be indicated is ruled out from the beginning. No, the text pictures to us merely the condition of the latter days. Jerusalem is again to be built. The temple is to be restored. The Jews shall again worship in that temple in connection with the altars of incense and of burnt offering. And the old Jewish glory shall for a time shine forth once more. Only, they shall not be unmolested. On the contrary, the Antichrist shall come and shall claim a large part of this territory. He shall capture the holy city and shall lay siege to the temple. He shall take possession of the outer court, and he shall defile this part of the possession of the holy people. Only the sanctuary proper shall not be delivered into his power. From that sanctuary proper the witnesses shall appear and testify of the name of their great King till the enemy shall overpower them. In a word, what we have in our text must be taken in the most literal sense of the word. Jerusalem is the holy city; the outer court is the court of the temple; the temple is the Old Testament sanctuary restored; and the people who worship there are Jews; and the nations shall literally trample under. foot the holy city and the court.
We cannot possibly agree with this interpretation, and our reasons are the following. In the first place, the idea that the church at this period and before the great tribulation is already in heaven rests upon the very slender and far-fetched and mistaken evidence that John in the vision is "called thither" in Chapter 4, verse 1. This cannot stand for a moment, as we have seen before. For John remained on the earth. And if he represents the church, the church necessarily remains on earth with him. In the second place, we must remember that the Book of Revelation is given for the church and her comfort. The Lord told the church that she must expect tribulation such as never was before. And knowing her need of comfort, He gave her this book that she might stand in the time of trouble. But if this portion merely pertains to the Jews as such, as a nation, and if the church is already in heaven, it stands to reason that the church has nothing to do with the rest of the book whatsoever. It can derive neither instruction nor comfort from it. In the third place, - and this is a far weightier reason, - I find in the entire New Testament, outside then of this particular portion, no mention made of the temple and of Jerusalem in the literal sense of the word. I find abundant warnings to assure the people of the New Testament dispensation that the temple in Jerusalem has served its purpose and that they must not turn again to sacrifice and ceremony. But nowhere do I find any indication that we must expect once more a literal holy city and a literal temple. Hence, if this passage speaks of such a temple, it is the only passage in the New Testament which speaks of such things.
Still more, if this part speaks of a literal temple, I must come to the conclusion that the rest of the New Testament is positively misleading. For, in the first place, we must remember that Christ Himself speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple, but never with a word does He speak of the restoration of either or both. Paul repeatedly speaks of the New Testament church as the temple of God, the spiritual temple of the new dispensation. In I Corinthians 3:16 he asks the question, "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?" thus referring to the church of Christ at Corinth. And in II Corinthians 6:16, with a literal reference to a passage from the Old Testament, he writes: "For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people."
Again, in his Epistle to the Ephesians, which is based on the very idea that the church, as the body of Christ, is the temple of God, he says, 2:20-22: "And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,
Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." The same is true with regard to the New Testament presentation of Jerusalem. The holy city in the literal sense of the word is never mentioned. But Paul refers to Jerusalem that is above, which is the mother of us all (Galatians 4:25, 26). And in the Epistle to the Hebrews we find that the author speaks of the believers of the New Testament day when he says: "But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem," (Heb. 12:22). It is, therefore, beyond all dispute that the New Testament speaks of a temple and of a Jerusalem different from that city and that building with which we become acquainted in the Old Testament.
If, therefore, we are inclined to take these terms in the symbolical sense, and refuse to take them literally, we do so with the entire New Testament backing us.
This might not be permissible if the case were thus, that either this portion or other portions in the Book of Revelation indicated that John speaks of the literal temple and the literal city whenever he mentions them. But also this is not the case. On the contrary, even in this very book the temple and Jerusalem are symbolic of something far different. In Chapter 3, verse 12, we read the promise to the church of Thyatira: "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God." Needless to say, neither a literal pillar nor a literal temple nor a literal city are meant. And in Revelation 21:2, 10, 22 we read: "And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it."
In the face of all these indications in the New Testament, we dare not assume that without any special mention John would speak of a literal temple and a literal city in the words of our text. But in the light of Scripture we maintain that there is but one possible explanation, namely, that here we have the same symbolic language as elsewhere, and that therefore we must take this passage in the figurative sense of the word. True, many will speak of passages in the Old Testament which seem to prophesy a restoration of the old temple and altar and all its ceremonies. And especially are men fond of pointing to the last chapters of the Book of Ezekiel in order to maintain this point. Of course, we cannot now discuss these portions in detail. But, in the first place, I remind you of the simple rule that in the interpretation of Scripture the Old Testament must be explained in the light of the New. And, in the second place, if the objection is raised that one dare not explain the detailed description of the temple in Ezekiel in the symbolical sense, then I would refer you to the detailed description of Jerusalem in the last chapters of the Book of Revelation, and ask whether you ever hesitate to understand this all in the figurative sense of the word. Once more, therefore, I maintain that the text does not speak of a literal temple and city, but of that temple and of that Jerusalem in the figurative sense of the word that is repeatedly mentioned in the New Testament.
In order to understand the words of our text we must first of all remember that throughout the history of the world a holy city and temple are in the making, - not a city in the literal sense of the word, but a city of which our city is but a vague symbol or type, a city of God. With us a city is constituted of a group of dwellingplaces, sometimes surrounded by a wall or by forts to keep out the enemy. It is simply a habitation or a dwellingplace for men in social communion. So the city of God, which is in the process of completion throughout the history of the world, is the dwellingplace of God Most High. And instead of the dwellingplaces of wood and stone, in this city the people of God constitute the habitations, and in them God dwells in Christ Jesus. Needless to say, this city is the church of Christ, in which God lives and abides in Christ Jesus our Lord.
But now we must consider three stages in the process of completion of this spiritual temple or of this holy city of our God. In the first place, we must have before us the stage of perfection, when that city shall have been perfected and completed. It is pictured to us in the last chapter of this Book of Revelation in highly symbolic language as coming down out of heaven from our God. We shall discuss this in detail when we reach that passage. But here we must note one peculiarity which is mentioned with special emphasis in that connection, namely, that in that city there is no temple, for the Lord God and the Lamb are the temple thereof. Now the question is: what does that mean? Why is there no temple in this city?
And the answer is also very evident: in the state of perfection the city and the temple are one, they are completely identified. As long as there is a temple in a city, it shows that God does not yet dwell in the entire city, but merely in that particular house which is called the temple. There He lives in separation from the rest of the city. To be sure, He dwells in the city, but not in the entire city. He does not fill the city. That shall be no more the case in the state of perfection. When the holy city shall have been completed, there shall be no special dwellingplace of God in the city, for the simple reason that He shall dwell in the entire city, that is, in the heart of every citizen. You do not have to enter the city and ask, "Where is the house of God?" For the city itself is God's dwellingplace, and the temple and the city have become identical. That is the ideal. That state must be reached. And all history must serve to bring that city of God to completion.
But that city has not yet reached its state of perfection in this dispensation. And therefore we must place ourselves, in the second place, before the question: how does that city exist here upon earth? How does it reveal itself?
And then there is a difference between the old and the new dispensation. In the old dispensation that city existed typically in Jerusalem, the capital of the land of Canaan. It was the type of the eternal habitation, the eternal holy city. For that reason it is called more than once "the city of God" (Psalms 46:4; 48:1; Isaiah 60:14). It is called "the city of the great king" (Psalm 48:1; Matthew 4:5); "the city of truth" (Zechariah 8:3); "the city of righteousness" (Isaiah 1:26); "the faithful city" (Isaiah 1:21, 26); "the holy city" (Nehemiah 11:1; Isaiah 48:2); "the throne of the Lord" (Jeremiah 3:17). It is very plain that these appellations are not given to the city because of any inherent truth and holiness and faithfulness. For then, indeed, these names are but poorly chosen. Spiritually, our chapter informs us, the city is also called Sodom and Egypt. And in the prophets of the Old Testament we read time and again that they denounce the city in the name of the Lord because of its unrighteousness and unholiness, its shedding of blood and its adultery, its idolatry and abominations. It is in that city also where our Lord is crucified. But it is called holy, the faithful, the righteous city, the throne of the Lord, and the city of God, for no other reason than that it was a type of the heavenly Jerusalem and that the Lord dwelt there.
But we must remember that Jerusalem was but a very imperfect type. It is rather a type of the spiritual city of God in the present dispensation than of that city in its state of final perfection. For in Jerusalem there was a temple. God did not dwell in all the city. His presence did not fill the city, but He dwelt in a particular house. If you entered Jerusalem as a stranger, you would not immediately be aware of the presence of God, but you would naturally ask, "Where does the Lord dwell in this city?" And the answer would naturally be: "In the temple, on Mt. Moriah."
But even here we must once more distinguish. If we imagine that we approach the temple at the time when the Lord was on earth, - the form of the temple which John undoubtedly had in mind, the temple of Herod, since John never knew any other, - then we must not imagine that the Lord dwelt in all that was called the temple. On the contrary, entering this temple from the right, as worshippers were wont to do, we would find ourselves first of all in a wide, open space, a large square, seven hundred fifty feet each way, - the court of the temple. It was called the court of the Gentiles, for the reason that it was open to all, Jew and Gentile, and one need not enter here for the purpose of worshipping. It is in the midst of this court, the court of the Gentiles, or the outer court, that the temple building proper stood in all its splendor, the sanctuary of Jehovah, with its court of the women, its court of the priests and of Israel, its holy and most holy place, its altars and its throng of worshippers. There was the place for real worship. There was the altar of burnt offering, as well as the altar of incense. There were the chests, or trumpets, where the worshippers might drop their gifts to the Lord. There was the place of atonement and of the worship of our God. We must distinguish, therefore, between three things:
1) Jerusalem was as a whole the city of God, known as such over the earth, the city of God in contrast with the city of Babylon.
2) But in this holy city the Lord dwelt in a special place, the temple on Mt. Zion.
3) And even in that temple we must again distinguish between the outer court and the sanctuary proper, in which latter the Lord dwelt in the literal sense of the word.
But now all this outward show has disappeared in the new dispensation. The temple and the holy city still exist, but no more as a city and a temple built of wood and stone. There is no more such a temple. There is no more such a city. There is no more such an altar built with hands. But the temple is the church, or, in the broader sense, the temple and Jerusalem constitute the church of the living God. And Christ Jesus is our altar of atonement and reconciliation in that city of our God.
But, - and this is exactly what we must remember with regard to the New Testament church, - although the outward form of wood and stone is no more, the distinction between Jerusalem, the outer court, and the temple proper still exists and holds good. And it is on the basis of that truth that we must explain the words of our text. Jerusalem in its broadest sense is the representation of the New Testament manifestation of the entire church, of all Christianity, of all who are baptized, of the entire Christian world, of all nominal Christians. Just as all the citizens of Jerusalem were nominally inhabitants of the city of God in the old dispensation, so also all the so-called Christians belong nominally to the church of God, the spiritual Jerusalem of the new dispensation.
But within this great city of the Christian world one must distinguish between three different classes. In the first place, in this nominally Christian world there is the false church, the church that has openly cast away her Christian garment, that has openly renounced the great truths of sin and guilt, of atonement and redemption, of the divinity of Christ, and the vicarious atonement and sacrifice of our Lord. This false church still calls itself Christian, yea, what is more, still calls itself a church. It lays stress even on Christianity in our time, and it demands that the church shall be up and doing, shall perform all kinds of Christian labors and shall redeem all humanity. It cries out that the church must bring the kingdom of God. But it denies the Christ as the Savior of His people, and thereby denies its own character as church of Christ Jesus. It is the false church, the church that still insists that it is a church, but that has openly cast aside even the semblance of the church of Christ. It is Jerusalem sacrificing to Moloch, filled with abomination, the city of God serving the devil. In the second place, there is also in the New Testament church the outer court. It represents the show-church, that part of Jerusalem which outwardly pretends to belong to the true church, subscribes to its confession, feigns to believe in the great truths of atonement and redemption, but is inwardly hypocritical. They are the tares among the wheat. They go with God's people to His temple for worship, but they never enter the spiritual sanctuary of the fellowship of God. They remain in the outer court. Also they are in the church, as our Lord Himself has so plainly indicated in His parable of the tares. And, finally, there are the real, spiritual people of God, the invisible church, the body of Christ, the real temple and sanctuary proper, where God dwells, and where the people worship at the altar of Christ in spirit and in truth. They are represented by the temple which John must measure. Three distinctions, therefore, there were in Old Jerusalem: the city of Jerusalem proper, the outer court, and finally the temple. So there are also three distinctions in the spiritual Jerusalem of the New Testament day: the Christian world, or the false church; the show-church; and the true church of God, the spiritual people of the Lord. It is to these that our text refers plainly.
The Measuring And Its Meaning
But now we must still answer the question: what is the meaning of what John is commissioned to do?
We read that a reed is given unto him and that the reed looked like a rod. Now a reed is merely a measuring instrument, a stick to measure the dimensions of something. But evidently the purpose is not that John shall ascertain the size of Jerusalem and of the outer court, nor of the temple. But it is said with special mention that the reed looked like a rod. Now the rod is in Scripture a symbol of royal dominion and power. It is equivalent to a royal scepter, with this difference, that the rod at the same time symbolizes physical power to execute authority. Thus we read in Psalm 2:9: "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron." And again, in Revelation 2:26, 27 we read: "And he that overcometh,...to him will I give power over the nations; And he shall rule them with a rod of iron." And therefore, the idea that is implied in this measuring is not merely that of ascertaining the size, but also that of dominion and authority. He must measure indeed, and therefore answer the question, "How large?" And, in the second place, he must measure, touch with a rod, and therefore use the symbol of dominion. And thus we conclude that by this measuring John must answer the question: how large is the real, spiritual dominion of the Lord Jesus in the holy city as it appears in this dispensation?
And then we find that this act of measuring results at the same time in separation. If John had proceeded on his own account, he would probably have measured all of Jerusalem and claimed the whole city for the Lord Jesus Christ. Or, if he would not have done this, he would at least have laid the rod of dominion over the outer court and claimed that all that was within belonged to the Lord of all. But he is directed differently. He must not measure Jerusalem; he must not measure the outer court. But he must simply confine himself to the temple proper, to the sanctuary building that stands within the court. That part of the temple where the altar is, and the true worshippers, must be touched as belonging to the dominion of Christ. All the rest cannot be claimed. And therefore, if the question is asked, "What is the size of Christ's true, spiritual dominion here upon earth?" the answer is: the size of the temple building proper, and that only. And if the question is asked again, "How many are the spiritual subjects of Christ in this dispensation?" the answer is again: as many as worship within the sanctuary of God at the altar of reconciliation. But one more thing we must notice. While the temple is thus separated from Jerusalem and even from the outer court, the court and the city are identified. For so we read: the outer court, together with the city, shall be given to the Gentiles to be trampled under foot. The court, which seems so closely connected with the temple, is separated from it and is identified with the city and is surrendered to the Gentiles.
If now we turn away from the symbolism and ask ourselves the question, "What is the meaning of all this?" the answer is ready. We are taught here in symbolic language not only what is the essential condition of the church in the new dispensation, but also what shall be its outward manifestation towards the end, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As we have seen, in the church in the broader sense of the word are false Christians. There is the false church, which even denies the real Christ. In the church are, in the second place, the outward worshippers, the hypocrites, who do not spiritually belong to the church. And, finally, in the church are the real people of God. All this is pictured to us in the words of our text. By commissioning John to measure with his rod of dominion, the Lord reminds us that we must not expect that all Christianity belongs to Christ in the real sense of the word, that not even all the seeming, outward Christians, the show-Christians, belong to His dominion, and that many of whom we believe that they belong to the spiritual body of Christ will not enter in. That, in the first place. But still more is indicated here. Although essentially both the false Christians and the hypocrites always are separated from God's people, always are enemies of Christ, always defile with their presence the holy city and trample it under foot, yet the time shall come when they shall do so openly. It is now the time of the seventh trumpet. And those who still profess to be Christians, but are not, whether they have been hypocrites, of whom we thought they were faithful, or whether they were openly deniers of the Christ though coming with a show of outward Christianity and good works, they shall reveal themselves as enemies of the true church and of Christ. Also this is indicated in these words. The hypocrites shall identify themselves with the open unbelievers; and all together shall form the enemy of the church, which shall trample the holy city under foot.
As to the forty-two months that are mentioned in our text, I shall have occasion to refer to this again. Let it be sufficient now to call your attention to the fact that forty-two months, twelve hundred sixty days, a time and times and a half a time, mentioned by Daniel, - three and a half years, - are all the same. And if we ask what period is represented by these forty-two months or twelve hundred sixty days, then I think we find the key to this explanation in the twelfth chapter of this book, where we are told that the church is in the wilderness twelve hundred sixty days. There it is very plain that the church is in the wilderness from the time of the exaltation of Christ to the time of His return in the clouds. And therefore twelve hundred sixty days are symbolic of the entire period of the present dispensation. This is also true of the forty-two months. All during this dispensation the church shall conceal in its bosom the false church and the show-church. All through this dispensation, as John already tells us in his epistles, the Antichrist shall be there in principle, only with this difference, that toward the end he shall openly reveal himself and intentionally trample under foot the holy city, as secretly he had done all the time. So it is also in the seventh chapter of the Book of Daniel, where we are told that the time of the fourth beast shall be time, times, and a half, or three and a half times. And if we remember that seven is the period of the completion of God's plan with regard to His kingdom, covering the entire period from the creation of the world to the final restoration of all things, remember that three and a half is half of seven, we shall all the more clearly understand that it is the time indicated between the first and second coming of Christ that is here meant. And as far as the forty-two is concerned, we will notice that it is employed every time of the power of the Antichrist, both here and in Chapter 13. The time he has is indicated by the number forty-two. Seven is the number of completion of the kingdom of God. Six is the number of the beast, the number of man. Six times seven indicates that the power of evil shall attempt to destroy the kingdom of God, and thus finish his work. But at the same time it indicates that he shall fail. He shall come to the six times seven, but he shall not reach the seven times seven. His work shall be a failure. He shall not succeed in destroying the kingdom of God and in establishing his own kingdom.
This is at the same time the great lesson of this portion of the Book of Revelation. The text tells us that there are in the bosom of Christianity the false church, the show-church, and the true church. Hence, we must never expect that all Christianity is Israel in the true sense of the word. In the end many shall fall away openly and shall identify themselves with the false church, from which Antichrist shall come. But at the same time, the true children of God must not be afraid, neither be amazed. If they should find that in the end many should fall away from the church, from the holy city, nay, from the temple proper, and add themselves to Antichrist, they must not fear. For all these things must needs come to pass. Christ rules! The power of Antichrist can come only to the number forty-two. Seven times seven it cannot reach. And, as we shall see, before the darkest darkness of night Christ shall take His church to heaven, and the temple of God shall be perfected in eternal glory.