The Book of Revelation, Part Two, Chapter 6, An Interlude

Chapter VI

An Interlude

Revelation 10:8-11

So also in this case John received the revelation of the Word of God. And to the mouth of the believer the Word of God is sweet, never to the unbeliever. To him that word is nauseating from the beginning. His taste is corrupt. The Word does not even appeal to him, and therefore he does not even swallow the book, but spews it out. But in the case of the believer it is quite different. He has been changed by the grace of God. He has received a new taste, the taste of faith. And to that taste of faith the Word of God appeals, always appeals, so that he takes it and eats it whenever that Word is given him. But does this mean that this same Word has no bitter after-effects when it reaches the spiritual digestive organs? By no means; the process of assimilation and digestion is often a painful one, not because that Word is deceiving and different from what it is promised to be, but because the power of sin is still in our hearts and minds. Now the Word has a battle against the influence of the flesh and the lusts thereof. And this battle of the Word, however sweet it was when taken and swallowed by faith, is. a painful one. It causes bitterness and struggle till the medicine of the Word of God has done its work and transformed us. And this is especially the case with the word of this prophecy, of the prophecy as we have it in the book of Revelation. Surely, the book speaks of redemption and of salvation, of heavenly glory and a new creation, of highest joy and eternal life. But the book speaks of this only after it has pictured the battle of faithful witnessing, of self-denial and suffering. It holds before our eyes the glory of the future, but only at the end of a dark and terrible road to travel. It is the road of battle for the kingdom of God. It is the road of persecution and mockery on the part of the world. It is the road alongside of which you may read the notice, “He that shall save his life shall lose it, but he that shall lose his life for my sake shall save it.” And that is hard. That is not according to the flesh. That causes inward pain and battle. And therefore the bitterness of the book when it begins to work its work of transformation. May that also be the result on our part. May the study of this little book in the future have this effect, that it is indeed sweet to our taste because it is the Word of God, sweeter than honey to the taste of faith, so that we do not rebel but swallow it, eat it, and hide it in our inmost heart. But may it also have this result, that when it begins its work of transformation, the truth of the book may at first seem painful as it mortifies the old man, and more and more leave nothing but one desire, that the kingdom of God may come. That should be the effect of our assimilating this little book of prophecy. 

CHAPTER VII 

The Measuring of the Terrific 

Revelation 11:1, 2 

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 to 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 an easy chapter 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 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 that 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 of 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 the more we may ourselves 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, 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 we are discussing at present there needs to 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 with its holy and most holy places and the altar and the people that congregate there for worship. In the second place, mention is made of the outer court, the open space that 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 and most holy place as it 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 that 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 altar 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 in their 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 that 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 farfetched and mistaken evidence that John in the vision is “called thither” in chapter four, verse one. 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 in 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 that 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 Cor. 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 Cor. 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, Eph. 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. Gal. 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. And 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 three, verse 12 we read the promise to the church of Thyatira: “He that overcometh, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go out thence no more; and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven.” Needless to say that neither a literal pillar nor a literal temple nor a literal city are meant. And in Rev. 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 that 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. And therefore, once more, I maintain that the text does not speak of a literal temple and city, but oft 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 dwelling places, sometimes surrounded, by a wall or by forts to keep out the enemy. It is simply a habitation or a dwelling place 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 dwelling place of God Most High. And instead of the dwelling places 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 that 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, the Lord willing. 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 dwelling place 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 any more to enter the city and ask, “Where is the house of God?” For the city itself is God’s dwelling place, 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, of the eternal holy city. For that reason it is called more than once “the city of God.”Psalm 46:4Psalm 48:1Isaiah 60:14. It is called “the city of the great king,” Psalm 48:1Matt. 4:5, “the city of truth,” Zech. 8:3, “the city of righteousness,” Isaiah 1:26, “the faithful city,”Isaiah 1:21, 26, “the holy city,” Nehemiah 11:1Isaiah 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 where also 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.

—H.H.