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…
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 underfoot forty and two months, etc. What does this chapter mean? Has it any intelligible meaning? Is it to be taken literally or ideally? One of our most modern, able, and distinguished biblical critics - Archdeacon Farrar - has said concerning it, "There neither is, nor ever has been, in Christendom, in any age, or among any school of interpreters, the smallest agreement, or even approach to an agreement, as to the events which the seer had in view .... There are no two writers of any importance who even approximately agree in their interpretation." Shrinking, as I do, from contributing anything to the unsightly pile of interpretations which have been given to this chapter, I shall merely use it as the heavenly Teacher used the lilies of the field and the birds of the air - to illustrate truth. The subject which it serves in some extent to set forth is the cause of right on earth. It illustrates the fact -
I. THAT THE CAUSE OF RIGHT ON THIS EARTH HAS ITS MEASURING RULE. "And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying [one said], Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein." Two things are suggested.
1. That in the human world there is right and wrong. There is the temple of God, the altar, and "them that worship therein." At the same time, there is the court that is outside - the "court which is without the temple " - a sphere discarded by the right and trampling on the holy. This, however, is only for a time.
2. That right here has its measuring line. Take the "temple" here as the emblem of right on the earth, and the "reed" as that of the moral Law of God - the Law that measures moral character. Such a Law we have here, here in the conscience, here in the Decalogue, here in the life of Christ. This measuring line concerns qualities rather than quantities; it analyzes all the elements of character and decides their qualities. It is a plummet that sounds the deepest depths of being; it is a moral analyst to test the quality of every thought, affection, and deed; a moral gauge to measure the height, breadth, depth, of all. Supreme sympathy with the supremely good is the Law. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God," etc. "Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity [love], it profiteth me nothing." This is the "reed" to measure the moral temple of the soul and all its worshippers. Right here requires testing; so much passes for right that is wrong that a measuring line is necessary for testing.
II. THAT THE CAUSE OF RIGHT ON THIS EARTH HAS ITS MIGHTY DEFENDERS. "I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy." Who are the two witnesses? Moses and Elijah? Caleb and Joshua? John the Baptist and Christ? Enoch and Elijah? Peter and John? No one knows, although hundreds pretend to say. Did I believe that the chapter had a literal or historic meaning, I would accept the theory that they were the collective representatives of the Jewish and Gentile converts in preference to any other. I take them here to illustrate the mighty defenders of the cause of right in this world. The cause of right has ever required defenders, for in every age it has countless hosts of antagonists. It has had its Elijahs, and its Johns, and its Pauls, its Luthers, its Cromwells, its Garibaldis, etc., men who have stood up, spoken in thunder, and shed their blood for the right. The vision here suggests three things concerning these defenders of the right.
1. They do their work in sadness. "Clothed in sackcloth." To fight for the right has never been an easy work, and perhaps never will be. They fight not in radiant robes, but in sackcloth. It is not a light work to stand up against a corrupt world and struggle against an age grinning with selfishness, sensuality, and cupidity.
2. They contribute Divine light. "These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks." Language borrowed from the Book of Ezekiel. The olive trees fed the lamp, and the candlesticks diffused the light. Were it not for the Divine defenders of the right, grand heroes in moral history, all the lamps of truth would go out, and the whole race would be mantled in midnight. They are the lights of the world.
3. They exert tremendous power. "If any man will [desire to] hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt [shall desire to hurt] them, he must in this manner be killed," etc. (see vers. 5, 6). The true defenders of the right are invested with a terrible power. Their words flash devouring flames, so shake the corrupt moral firmament under which their contemporaries are living, that the very heavens seem shut up and the rolling streams of life seem turned into blood. It is said that Moses turned the Nile into blood, that Elijah prevented rain descending on the earth for the space of three years. The true defenders of the cause of right are the organs of Omnipotence; their words are mighty through God. To them is committed the work of causing the moral heavens to melt with fervent heat, and spreading out "a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness."
III. THAT THE CAUSE OF RIGHT ON THE EARTH HAS ITS TERRIBLE ANTAGONISTS. "When they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them," etc. (vers. 7-10).
1. The antagonists of the right are malignant. They not only murder, but they exult in their cruelty. They are "wild beasts" that fight and kill; they arise from the abyss of depravity. The spirit of persecution is an infernal virus that gallops through the veins of the intolerant persecutor, and physical violence is the weapon. Not only did their malignity destroy, but revelled in the cruelty and destruction: "shall rejoice over them, and make merry." Their feet are "swift to shed blood;" like savage beasts of prey, they revel in the tortures of their victims. Who can study martyrology without being astounded at the ruthless cruelty that runs in the blood of those that hate the right? They rent the heavens with the cry, "Away with him! away with him!"
2. These antagonists of the right are ever frustrated. It is said, "After three days and a half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet," etc. (ver. 11). Observe:
(1) Their victims were divinely reanimated. If the bodies of the two which lay crushed upon the "street" were not reanimated, their spirit, which was Divine, appeared in others. The bodies of good men fall to the dust, but the spirit that animated them lives in others. The spirit of Elijah enters John the Baptist in the wilderness. The spirit of truth and goodness is a resurrection spirit; it enters those who are in the graves of sin, and they start to life and stand forth a mighty army to defend the right. Such a resurrection may well alarm the persecutors. "A great fear fell upon them which saw them."
(2) Their victims ascended to heaven. "And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud" (ver. 12). Heaven is ever open to welcome and receive the faithful defenders of the right. With their ascension terrible calamities befall the earth. "And the same [that] hour was there a great earthquake" (ver. 13). The eternal hour of retribution towards their persecutors moves on; the earth quakes, and thousands are engulfed in ruin. "Be sure your sin will find you out."
IV. THAT THE CAUSE OF RIGHT ON THE EARTH IS DESTINED TO TRIUMPH. After the passing of the first two woes there is yet another to come, and after the close of the sixth trumpet the blast of the seventh is heard. "And the seventh angel sounded; and there were [followed] great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms [kingdom] of this [the] world are [is] become the kingdoms [kingdom] of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever" (ver. 15). Two things seem now to occur.
1. The rapture and adoration of the good. Sainted men and angels are represented rising from their seats, falling on their faces and worshipping, and the reason of their worship is that the kingdoms of this world have passed into the actual possession of Christ. "The kingdoms of this world." What have they been? What are they now? Hellish mimicries of eternal right and power. Like muddy bubbles on the great stream of life, they have broken into the clear and fathomless river of rectitude, and will appear no more, and this will continue "forever and ever" - "unto the ages of the ages." Well, then, might the righteous worship and thank God. "We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come," etc. (ver. 17).
2. The increased accessibility of heaven. "And the temple of God was opened in heaven" (ver. 19). When right shall become universally triumphant, heaven will come near to man. The holy Jerusalem will come down from heaven; heaven and earth will become one.
CONCLUSION. Suspect not the failure of right; have faith in its winning power. It has life in it, indestructible life, life that will germinate in every land, which will multiply and cover all parts of this globe. "The kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord." "There shall be a handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains; the fruit thereof shall stroke like Lebanon and they of the city shall flourish like gross of the earth." - D. T.
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.