Revelation 11:1, 2
And there was given me a reed like to a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar…
Whether this chapter be the history of events that had already taken place when it was written or were then happening; or whether it consists of predictions inspired of God of events then future, though near at hand in the history of Judaism and of the Church; or of events yet future in the experience of the whole Church, as many affirm; or whether, yet again, the whole chapter be an inspired allegory which, under the likeness of actual historical events, or of incidents recorded in the ancient Scriptures, were intended to convey to us spiritual teachings applicable to all times; - who can positively and certainly say? And like doubt hangs over the interpretation of the forty and two months told of here and elsewhere, whether they are to be taken literally, symbolically, or according to the reckoning of those who count each day to mean a year. We stay not, however, to discuss these questions, but prefer to take these verses which tell of the measuring of the temple as echoes of those earlier teachings of this book, and of many other Scriptures beside, which tell us of the Lord's perpetual presence in his Church, his strict investigation and his perfect knowledge of all who constitute her membership, and of all that occurs therein. "The Lord is in his holy temple; his eyes behold, his eyelids try the children of men:" of such words does this command to "Arise, and measure the temple" remind us, and in the sense they suggest we desire to consider them now. Let us observe, therefore -
1. THE MEASURING. We have a similar command in Ezekiel 40., when in like inspired vision that prophet beholds the glorious restored temple of God. And so in Revelation 21. of this book we read of the angel who had the golden reed to measure the holy city. But as in those other representations we cannot think that material earthly buildings are meant, or any literal measurements whether of city or temple, so here we regard the temple as telling of that glorious spiritual fabric of which we so often read under like imagery in the Epistles of St. Paul; and the measuring is a metaphor to signify that careful investigation and scrutiny whereby true knowledge is gained as to the nearness or otherwise of that which is measured to its proper standard and ideal. For it is to be noted:
1. God has an ideal for everything, a standard to which he would have it conform. He had in the creation of the world, and we are told how he saw all that which he had made, and declared that it answered to his ideal, and that it was "very good." And he looks down from heaven - so we are told - to see what is done upon the earth; he taketh account of all that men do. All other creatures fulfil their ideal, there is no need to take account of them; but man, endowed with the terrible power of contradicting and refusing his Maker's will, as well as of assenting to it - and he could not have the one without the other - it is needful that the Lord should "behold" and "try" his actions by an unerring standard in order that he may be the more readily led to try them in like manner himself, and so conform them thereto the more nearly.
2. Christ is the ideal Man, and therefore called "the Son of man." He did in all things so answer to his Father's intent that he was the "beloved Son in whom" God was "well pleased." That is the standard to which we are to look, and by which we are to regulate our lives. Happy they who follow him closely "whithersoever he goeth."
3. And this "measuring is continually going on. There is an inward monitor as well as an outward one. Conscience affirms, consents to, and confirms what the Word of God declares, and is perpetually holding up both the standard and ourselves, and making us inwardly if not outwardly blush when we see the contrast between the two.
4. How grateful we should be for this! Lord with what care thou hast begirt us round!" so sings holy George Herbert; and one evidence of this care is in the constant bringing before our consciences the rigid rule of right. But note next -
II. THE MEASURED THAT ARE SPOKEN OF HERE. The temple, the altar, and the people.
1. The temple of God. No doubt St. John, as a devout Jew, and one who had often frequented with joy the courts of the Lord's house at Jerusalem, had that temple - for it was still standing, though soon to fall - before his mind. And it was to him a symbol and type of all Israel, if not of the whole Church of God (cf. St. Paul, "In whom the whole building fitly framed together groweth into a holy temple unto the Lord"). He is telling of the Church of God throughout the whole world and in all ages of time. Therefore we may take "the temple of God" as representing the Church in its outward form. Now, God has his ideal for this. What is it? The Catholic declares the true Church to be the great body of the baptized, organized into one organic whole. The individualist asserts that there is no such body that man can know of, but that the Church consists of "living stones," that is, of individual souls who have been quickened into the life of God by personal faith in Christ. And there are multitudes of subdivisions under each of these two ruling beliefs. But all such outward forms will be measured, tested, tried. And what will the standard be to which conformity will be demanded? Christ's herald said, "Now also the axe is laid at the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire" (Matthew 3:10). By this supreme test will all our Church organizations be tried. What fruit have they borne in that which is the end of all religion - the making of bad men good, and good men better? Have souls in such Churches been quickened, converted, cheered, built up, and helped heavenward? If so, well. If not, then not well. No antiquity, orthodoxy, catholicity, popularity, beauty, wealth, or any other such plea will stand if God's standard be not answered to, and his demand for "good fruit" be not met. The axe will fall, and the tree will go down.
2. The altar. This also was to be measured. We may take "the altar" as the symbol of the worship of the Church. Around it Israel gathered; on it the fire was perpetually burning; from it was taken the fire which enkindled the incense that went up in the immediate presence of God. It was the centre of Israel's worship: there was but one altar for them all. It therefore does set forth the worship of the Church according to the Divine ideal, and the altar was to be measured, that that worship might be compared with that ideal. Is our worship fervent? On that altar was an ever burning fire. Upon the heads of the disciples at Pentecost descended fire, telling that Christ's people were to be known by their ardour. And the altar fire tells that worship is to be fervent. Is it spiritual? Does it ascend up to God as the smoke of the sacrifice mounted up and up into the heavens, - symbol, beautiful, striking, appropriate, of that uplifting of the heart, that real outgoing of the soul after God, which belongs to all true worship? And, above all, is it sacrificial? The altar was for sacrifice. Worship that has not this element in it will be rejected when that measurement of the altar told of here takes place. And let no one think that having correct views as to the atonement of Christ, and making mental reference thereto, or verbal, by adding on, as we should, to all our prayers, "through Jesus Christ our Lord " - let no one think that that fulfils the ideal of altar worship. No; our worship may ring with the mention of that ever blessed Name, and our views may be of the most unexceptional sort, and there be not one atom of "sacrifice" in our worship. And often and often, as in the Lord's prayer, that Name may not be heard at all, and ideas about the atonement may be very crude, and yet the worship be full of sacrifice, and will bear well the measuring which is to be applied to all our worship. Sacrifice means giving up something which we should like to keep. Was not Christ's sacrifice such? Is not all sacrifice such? If, then, worship do not carry with it the giving up of anything, save the little time that it occupies to get through with it; if sin be not given up, nor self, nor that which we have and could spare, and our brother needs; - if there be naught of this, where is the sacrifice? how will our worship bear God's test?
3. The people. "Them that worship therein " - so we read. Now, the Divine ideal for these may be learnt by noting what was not to be measured. And we are told in ver. 2 that "the court which is without the temple... measure it not." It was to be cast out, left out of the reckoning altogether. Now, the outer court of the temple was the addition of Herod; he was given to erecting magnificent buildings, and the addition of this outer court did undoubtedly add much to the splendour of the whole fabric. But such court had no place in the tabernacle nor in the temple of Solomon or that of Zerubbabel. But Herod had made this outer court in the temple at Jerusalem. It was thronged by all manner of people. There it was the money changers had their tables, and they who bought and sold doves. The Gentiles might come there, though they might not pass into what was especially the temple, and which was sacred to Israelites only. And so it represented all those outer court worshippers, those mixed multitudes which are found associated with God's true people everywhere of them, but not truly belonging to them. The courts of the temple were separated literally. No Gentile durst pass the boundaries which parted the outer court from the rest of the temple on pain of death. But there is no such visible, material, separation in the throng of worshippers in the professing Church of God. We cannot draw the line nor apply the measure. But all the same there is such a line drawn, and it is clearly visible to the eye of God. He can discriminate, though we cannot, between those who profess and those who possess true religion, and one day he will make this difference plain. Tares get in amongst the wheat, bad fish amid the good, the foolish virgins were associated with the wise; and the worshippers in the true temple of God today are mingled with those whose place is in the outer court. But as in the parables referred to separation did come at last, so will it be for the Church of today, when the Son of man sends forth his angels, and they "gather out of his kingdom all that do offend, and they that work iniquity." The question, therefore, for us all is - Where do we belong! In that outer court were many who were well disposed towards Israel's God, and professed more or less of attachment to his worship; but they were not true Israelites. And the like is true still. "Let a man examine himself, and so let him" take his place in the Church of God.
III. THE MEANING OF ALL THIS. It was because a time of sore trial was imminent, close at hand. For "forty and two months" the court and the city were to be trodden underfoot by the nations. The invasion and overthrow of Jerusalem by the Romans, and the escape of the Christian Church to Pella, supply illustrative historical incidents of the treading underfoot told of here, and of the measuring, like the sealing of Revelation 7., for the purpose of separating and preserving God's faithful ones. God ever has, even in the worst of times, a remnant of such; like the "seven thousand" who had not bowed the knee to Baal. And he takes notice of them, and will keep them securely, whilst those who are not as they are subjected to his sore judgments. The measuring means preservation for the faithful, judgment for all else. "As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people." The measuring is ever going on. Let us each ask - On which side of that unerring line am I? - S.C.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.