In our last Revelation post, we saw that John ate and swallowed a “little scroll” that was as sweet as honey to taste, and that went “sour” in his stomach. After this, John was told “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings” (10:11). He ate that scroll so he could prophesy, and the chapter ends. In chapter 11 we have his prophecy concerning “many peoples, nations, languages and kings.” (cf. Rev. 11:9)
Before we continue, I must ask you to keep two things in mind: First, that these passages are not literal, they are apocalyptic and use imagery to convey a message. Second, we are still in the interlude between the sounding of the sixth trumpet and the sounding of the seventh and final trumpet. OK, got it? Here we go…
There is both a “sweet” element to this passage, and one that isn’t so sweet; a positive and a negative message. John will frame this present evil age and the Christian’s experience in it, in the light of all that God has in store for us at the culmination of the church.
I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, “Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, with its worshipers. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. (11:1-2a)
Upon reading this, we might recall that in Ezekiel 40-43, the prophet is shown a vision of the temple and told to measure it with a measuring rod. In a similar way, John adapts this image to his subject here. The temple that John had known was divided up into several courts that were clearly marked. There was the Court of Praise, located just outside of the main building into which only Levite priests could enter. Here was located the Altar. Just outside the Court of Praise was the Court of Israel where only Jewish men could go. Outside that was the Court of Women, where Jewish women could gather to pray. These three courts were reserved for Jews only, which is to say only for people who were in a covenant relationship with God. Farther away from the inner courts was the Court of the Gentiles, where even Gentiles could come; this was the court John was not supposed to measure.
While all of this is interesting history, we must remember that this is a prophetic vision, not a history lesson; John is not concerned with the literal temple and its various courts, he is giving us an image that makes an important distinction by comparing the temple with a present day reality. Just as there was a separation between God’s covenant people and everyone else in the temple, in our existing world there is a separation between God’s covenant people and everyone else. God’s covenant people in this age has nothing to do with literal Jews and literal Gentiles, for God’s covenant people are both Jew and Gentile, for they become His covenant people by entry into the New Covenant that was established by the blood shed by God’s Son on the cross. There is a very big distinction between those who have accepted God’s grace, and those who have refused God’s grace, certainly there is a big distinction from God’s point of view.
John is taking the measure of who is and who is not sealed with the seal of God, parallel to the 144,000 of Revelation 7. The fate of those included in John’s count will be quite different than those on the “outside’ and we will see this unfold shortly when we look at the two witnesses…
Before we can do that, however, we have a little more to consider here:
They will trample on the holy city for 42 months. (11:2b)
Clearly, “they” are the “Gentiles” the ones outside of covenant relationship with God… non-Christians. They will “trample” the “holy city”. The “holy city” Jerusalem in apocalyptic writing is much more than a dot on a map. Jerusalem came to be identified with Israel, almost the embodiment of the Nation of God. It was “holy” in that it was “set apart” for God’s service, the home of the temple, which was the very dwelling place of the presence of God on the earth in the midst of God’s people. In Revelation 11, it isn’t a literal place at all, it is representative of the place where God dwells on earth now, which is in the midst of His Church, and therefore, the “holy city” is the people of God. “Gentiles” trampling the “holy city” means non-Christians mistreating Christians.
Finally, we come to “42 months”. This is a very important symbol in Revelation, one we will see many times. It has a parallel with Daniel 12 that we have seen already (Dan. 12:6-7). In Daniel, we found “time, times and half a time”. What is 42 months? Three and a half years. Expressed as Daniel expressed it, this becomes 12 + 24 + 6 = 42. Generically, time, times and half a time looks like this: 1 + 2 + ½ = 31/2. The unit of measure determines the outcome, and since John mentions months, we have 3 ½ years, but John doesn’t always use this formula with months, sometimes it is years, other times it is days, as we will see. In John’s day, time was reckoned with a lunar calendar that had 12, 30 day months thus 1,260 days become 3 ½ years as in 11:3.
This symbol in Revelations appears as follows: “Time, times and half a time” (Rev. 12:14. “Three and a half days” is in Rev. 11:9 and 11:11. “42 months” appears in Rev. 11:2 and 13:5. “1,260 days” appears in Rev. 11:3 and 12:6.
It is vital that we understand that all of these symbolize the same thing: In every case, they represent the period of time between John receiving the revelation of this book, and the final consummation of the Church; this entire age in which we live.
Therefore the message of 11:1-2 is that Christians will be persecuted from the first century AD until Jesus returns to the earth. That was the case for John, who received this revelation while in exile (being persecuted) on Patmos, and continues today, and will continue until Jesus returns. In verses 3-6, John will elaborate on this, but we’ll have to wait until next time for that discussion; see you then!