HOW DID JOHN MEASURE THE TEMPLE?

PMW 2019-052 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

In my last article I noted that John measure the temple in Rev. 11:1–2. There we read of John’smeasuring the temple in the holy city.

11:1 Then there was given me a measuring rod like a staff; and someone said, “Get up and measure the temple of God and the altar, and those who worship in it. 2 Leave out the court which is outside the temple and do not measure it, for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months.”

In the last article we saw the significance of this. But now we should ask, “How could he do this?”

It is helpful to note that this material lacks any customary vision-formula markers, opening simply with the word “then” (kai) thereby directly linking this vision with the preceding one. As Terry (364) observes, in the previous vision:

“the appearance of Christ as the light of the world and the angel of the covenant announced the near end of the old age, and commissioned his disciples to proclaim his word to all the nations. . . . This was immediately followed by that apostolic ministry which gathered out of the Israelitish people the ‘remnant according to the election of grace,’ but was a ministry so hateful to the great body of the Jewish people that their testimony was despised and rejected, and they were persecuted unto death.”

Thus, here in Rev. 11 John provides important details regarding the end of the old covenant’s temple which involves Christ’s judgment upon Israel (1:7) — as well as the preservation of believing Jews pictured as true worshipers in the temple.


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John states that “there was given” to him a measuring rod (11:1a), though he does not identify who gives it. Frequently in Rev, edothē is a divine passive (as in 6:4; 7:2; 8:3; 9:1; etc.), so that this reception may represent either God or Christ giving it to him. In fact, v 3 seems to seal the giver’s identity, for the voice continues: “And I will grant authority to my two witnesses” (11:3). This is surely Christ speaking.

Here John (spiritually) enters onto the prophetic judgment scene for the first time, for he is given “a measuring rod like a staff; and someone said, ‘Get up and measure’” (11:1a–b). John’s commanded action involves a form of prophetic theater (an acted prophecy). His primary model for the whole of Rev is Ezekiel, who himself frequently engages in this type of prophetic activity. For instance, the OT prophet acts out several of his prophecies, such as eating a scroll (Eze 3:2–3); laying on his sides for a specified number of days (4:4–8); cutting his hair, burning a third of it, and letting it the rest blow to the winds (5:1–17); packing a bag, digging a hole through a wall, and leaving (12:1–16); eating bread and water with anxiety (12:17–19); and so forth (cp. Eze 24:1–7, 16–18; 37:15–23). In fact, John’s OT backdrop for measuring the temple is Eze 40–43, which it resembles in several respects, and in that prophecy an angel measures the ideal temple (cf. Eze 40:5–15; in Rev 21:15–16 an angel measures the heavenly Jerusalem with a gold rod).

Nothing in the context informs us of how John would get to the temple to measure it. Since he is physically on Patmos his action must occur “in the Spirit.” That is, his measuring must transpire spiritually in a vision rather than physically in a public action, unlike Christ’s driving the moneychangers from the temple (Mt 21:12//). Since elsewhere we see John carried “in the Spirit” to other locations (17:1–3; 21:9–10), perhaps we should understand the same here. He probably does not use the “in Spirit” formula because he reserves this as a narrative-structuring device. In fact, this interpretation may be suggested to us by John’s OT backdrop, for in Eze 40:1–2 “the hand of the Lord . . . brought” Ezekiel to “a very high mountain,” which likely is a case of spiritual transport. In Ezekiel the Spirit of God is associated with God’s hand (Eze 3:14; 37:1) and Ezekiel’s transport is in a vision (8:3; 11:24).


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Surprisingly though, John never states that he carries out this task of measuring, though we must assume he does so for two reasons: (1) He is submissive to heavenly authority, even fearfully falling before an angel to worship him (19:20; 22:9). (2) The action seems necessary for effecting the vision’s point: otherwise, why would it be commanded?

This spiritual call to symbolically measure expects his action to engage earthly matters rather than heavenly ones. This is evident for two reasons: In the first place, in the narrative flow the strong angel (Christ) in the preceding vision dramatically draws our attention down from heaven to the earth: “I saw another strong angel coming down out of heaven” and “He placed his right foot on the sea and his left on the land” (10:1, 2) which is where John must prophesy to the nations (10:11). Secondly, in the present vision we hear of the nations treading down the holy city (11:2) and then in the second part of this two vision set, the two witnesses prophesy on earth, only to be slain (11:3–13). Neither of these visionary actions could possibly be in heaven. Thus, John’s spiritual action is on earth.

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