Safety in Numbers (Rev. 11:1-2)
Two weeks ago we saw, from chapter ten, how John was commissioned by the Mighty Angel—a theophany of Christ portrayed with global dominion. John was re-commissioned to proclaim the revelation of judgment that he was receiving. Chapter eleven transitions from John’s personal commission to the church’s global mission.
Some scholars consider this passage to be the crux of the entire book of Revelation because it forces us to pick a particular interpretive approach in order to understand and apply the text. I have argued that the primary goal of Revelation is to provide comfort to the people of God, throughout this present age, because of the hope of Christ’s victory over every force of evil. In fact, Christ’s victory is being carried out even now, despite the ongoing presence of opposition to his will.
But that raises an important concern. How can we be sure that Christ is victorious when we see His church facing periodic defeat? The primary comfort this passage offers to those asking that question is this: The people of God are never separated from the presence of God.Although this sermon will get technical, remember that this passage is meant to convey the simple and comforting truth of God’s eternal presence.
Read Rev. 11:1-2
Before we get into the details of this brief passage it will be helpful to review the major interpretive approaches to Revelation:
- The futurist approach considers the vast majority of Revelation to be describing future events that will take place just prior to Christ’s return. The problem with this view is trying to make sense of its relevance to every audience prior to the final one.
- The preterist approach believes the vast majority of Revelation is describing past events that took place prior to the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. The problem with this view is trying to make sense of its relevance to every audience since the first one.
- The idealist approach is less concerned with specific events, rather they find that the visions convey spiritual principles that are repeated throughout this age.
Now, let’s see how these various approaches interpret Rev. 11:1-2.
THE PROMISE OF GOD’S PRESENCE
I think everyone would agree that the temple represents God’s presence, but the first question we need to consider is the identity of this temple.
Futurists see a literal temple that will exist on Mount Zion just prior to Christ’s return. They understand this temple to be restored and filled with ethnic Jewish worshippers. There are two Muslim mosques presently residing in that location. So, those who take this approach believe that God will orchestrate the overthrow of this Muslim stronghold in that region, at some point before Christ returns.
But, we have to stop and consider the purpose of this restored temple. The literal temple was not simply a place for the covenant community to gather, but all of its components were related to the Levitical sacrificial system. A literal reading means that God is reestablishing something that has already been abolished by the death of Christ (Heb. 10:1-14).
Beeke God destroyed the temple precisely because the Jews rejected Jesus’ atonement. A rebuilt temple would merely reinforce that rejection…The idea of rebuilding the temple and reinstituting its sacrifices denies the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning death.
Plus, didn’t Jesus tell the Samaritan woman that the time would come when true worship would no longer depend upon a specific location, but genuine worship would be “in spirit and truth” (John 4:21)?
Preterists likewise see a literal temple, altar, and outer court. However, they see this as the temple in Jerusalem which was destroyed in A.D. 70. This requires the book to be written in the late-60s, which contradicts the earliest testimonies of the church that John wrote it in the mid-90s.
Idealists see the measuring of the temple, the altar, and the worshipers as partially symbolizing the sealing of God’s covenant people. The temple represents God’s presence on earth and those who are measured within the temple are the recipients of His love. The vision strongly implies symbolism. For who could imagine John literally measuring every individual within the Church.
In Ezekiel 40-48, a man is seen measuring various parts of the temple. With a reed he measures the gates, courts, inner chambers, vestibules, and the altar marking off what belongs to Him. In Revelation 21:15-17, John again alludes to Ezekiel to portray an angel measuring the new Jerusalem, including its gates and walls, with a rod (κάλᾰμος). The measurements are so extraordinary (covering 1,380mi with walls towering 216ft high) its unmistakably symbolic. Interestingly absent from the measurements there, is the temple itself. There is a temple, but it is not physical. In 21:22 John “saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.”
Here in Rev. 11:1, John is given a rod (κάλᾰμος) to measure “the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there.” This takes us back to the promise given to the church in Philadelphia. “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God” (3:12). In Revelation, the temple is depicted as the heavenly presence of God. In each of these passages where measurements are taking place, the repeated promise is that God’s presence is always with his people.
In the NT, the temple frequently represents the gathered people of God rather than a physical structure. Paul encouraged the Corinthians asking, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Cor. 3:16; cf. 2 Cor. 6:16). He called believers in Ephesus “a holy temple…being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph. 2:21-22). Similarly, Peter speaks of believers as “living stones being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt. 2:5).
In other words, the people of God have the promise that nothing can separate them from the presence of God (Rom. 8:35). Has the promise of God’s presence ever given you a sense of comfort in a situation where you would typically be anxious? That is the gift of this promise. If you have been measured (numbered/sealed) as the people of God, then you have the promise that you will never be separated from the presence of God. That is just as true right now as it will be for all eternity. That is true whether you are experiencing a season of great trial, or a season of great triumph.
To be measured is to be counted as belonging to the covenant community which offers…
THE PROMISE OF GOD’S PROTECTION
Once again, most readers understand this passage as promising protection for believers. But, what we need to understand is the kind of protection that is being promised.
Futurists see the promise of physical protection for the Jewish remnant during the great tribulation. Unbelieving Gentiles represented by the “outer court” will persecute the Jews, but their “trampling” will only effect those outside of the temple. God’s protection will last for a literal period of forty-two months.
Preterists see this as a promise of the spiritual preservation of Jewish believers living in Jerusalem during Nero’s persecution. Curiously, Nero’s persecution of Christians never extended beyond Jerusalem, yet, Revelation portrays persecution in Asia Minor. More importantly, if this represents the literal temple prior to A.D. 70, then the protection it promised must be figurative, since the temple was literally destroyed.
Idealists see the promise of spiritual protection in the midst of physical persecution as well. But, rather than that persecution being limited to A.D. 70, they see it as repeatedly occurring between the first and second coming of Christ. The “outer court” (which is also identified as the “holy city”) is simply an extension of the true people of God, although it is portrayed as a portion that is susceptible to persecution. Therefore, the whole church is spiritually protected though it may face physical persecution.
This outer court was open to God-fearing Gentiles, and it also contained courts for male and female Jews, as well as a court of the priests. To interpret the whole outer court as a reference to unbelievers would be out of accord with its use throughout Scripture, and especially the parallel vision in Ezekiel.
Under the new covenant, the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles has been broken (Eph. 2:14). We now worship God as a single covenant community. This community may suffer persecution, but God will preserve their faith.
The forty-two months indicates a period of time in which the world’s persecution is cut short by the will of God. This is the same length of time where the beast “utters blasphemies against God” (13:5). During this same time, the church is also viewed as being protected by God for 1,260 days (12:6) and for “a time, and times, and half a time” (12:14). Each one of these phrases refers to a period of three and a half years. But, once again, the numbers in Revelation are symbolic of a principle. God will cut short the period of persecution at his appointed time.
While persecution will bring physical harm upon the people of God, they will be protected spiritually. They may be martyred for their faith, but their physical death will never separate them from the love of God (Rom. 8:38-39).
This is precisely what we would expect if we are seeing another example of the sealing of the church militant that was portrayed between the sixth and seventh seal (7:2-8). Here we see the spiritual protection of the Church being portrayed between the sixth and seventh trumpet.
How has God protected your faith through persecution or trials? Does this promise stir up your faith and give you a sense of confidence?
The truth is, every one of us desires the comfort and confidence that these promises provide. But, many of us seek them in the wrong things. What we find instead, is a fleeting comfort and a false confidence.
- Maybe you have turned to alcohol or drugs and you now find yourself fighting an addiction that is only sinking you deeper into despair. Are you seeking spiritual comfort from worldly objects?
- Maybe you turn to more acceptable forms of distraction like food or entertainment, but now you feel as though the promises of God’s Word have lost their strength. Does the light of the TV have more appeal than the light of God’s truth?
First, understand where you typically seek comfort. Then ask yourself: How is the promise of God’s protection superior?
This passage is about the safety we have in being measured among God’s people.
It is vitally important that we understand how we can be numbered among the people of God. If God’s protection is only promised to the people of God, then the implication is that their are many who are outside of His protection.
Here’s the critical news that everyone needs to hear and heed: The people of God are never separated from the presence of God because the Son of God was separated from His Father as He bore the wrath of God upon the cross in their place.
In light of this good news, the church has been given the prophetic task to proclaim this truth to every tribe, tongue, and nation. And, we will see next week, that nothing can thwart that mission. Just as the victory of Christ was accomplished through apparent defeat on the cross, so the proclamation of the church will be successful as God preserves them through every trial and tribulation.