Summary: symbolism in Revelation
Revelation 11 verses 1-14
We come this morning to one of the most difficult passages in the book of Revelation. Is this passage to be understood literally? Symbolically? I think it is fair to say that the majority of bible scholars take, at least part of, this passage, to be symbolical. So this morning I want you to really concentrate as we go through the passage because it has important things to teach us, as all God’s Word does. This passage has at its heart the fate of the witnessing Church of God during its final period of opposition and persecution. Some scholars see this chapter as a summary of the rest of the book of Revelation. This chapter helps us to know what are the duties of the Church during the period prior to the return of Christ. This passage is set in the period before the final judgment - remember that as we go through the passage.
Verses 1-2 - John is now commissioned to another task and his participation in the Revelation continues. Most commentators state that what follows is in fact the content of the little scroll which John has taken from the hand of the mighty angel and swallowed. John is given a measuring rod, a cane, with the instructions to go and measure the Temple, the altar and the people who worship there. In the ANE such measuring rods were common. They would be 6 to 8 feet in length, usually stalks of bamboo. They would have been 6 cubits in length of the day. A cubit was the length from the elbow to the end of your middle finger - approximately 18 inches or so. However, the measuring here is not physical but symbolical. Often we encounter prophets in Scripture ho are called to do something visible to accompany their words. Symbol laden action which accompanied their words to make a point. Hence we meet Isaiah who walked about barefoot and naked as a sign of impending captivity to Assyria or Ezekiel who dug through the wall of his home and carried out his belongings as a sign to Israel that they were about to be taken into exile. Even in the NT such symbolic acts occur - Acts 21 - Agabus, the prophet, binds Paul’s hands and feet as a sign of what will happen to Paul at the hand of the Jews in Jerusalem.
So what is the meaning behind this measuring of the temple, the altar and the people who worship there? Firstly, it is to show their preservation. In Ezekiel 40-48 every part of the temple was measured with painstaking care in order to restore it. So we have here a parallel to chapter 7 where the people of God are sealed - not against physical death, as we shall see, but against spiritual danger. The Temple is the Church - the living stones built by God - Ephesians 2.20-2, I corinthians 6. It is taking the measure of the people of God.
Herod - the court of women, the court of the Israelites, the court of the priests - beyond that there was the court of the Gentiles beyond which they were not allowed to venture.
However, John is told not to measure the outer court, the court of the Gentiles because it will be trampled by the gentiles. There is a division happening here. There is a definite distinction between the sanctuary and the outer court. Some see this as symbolically referring to the nature of the Church - the inner sanctuary being the invisible church, visible only to God - the people who are truly His and the outer court - the visible church - nominal members, those who attend but are not born again. However, the problem with this is that this court gets trampled and in chapter 13-14 it is the people of God who gets trampled. So in my view making this distinction does not work in the theology of the book as a whole. I think what this is saying is that part of the people of God do get trampled. They do suffer. They do experience persecution.