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Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod. And the angel stood, saying, Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there. But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months. Revelation 11:1–2


Verse 1 begins with John saying, “Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod.” This statement needs context which we find in the last verse of chapter 10, Jesus saying to him, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings.”

The King James Version has John prophesying before many peoples, etc. The English word before means in front of as if John would be standing in a pulpit speaking to these peoples. The Greek word translated before in the King James Version and about in the New King James Version is a complex three-letter Greek word. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon uses 5 pages to explain this little word. Grammatically, it is a preposition in the dative case, which means it introduces an indirect object—that to whom an action is done. When used to introduce the object of an action of verbs of writing, speaking and thinking it is best translated by the English words upon, of or concerning. The New American Standard Bible is true to the Greek translating the statement, “You must prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.” The definition of the English word concerning is: relating to, regarding, about. Of the several King James based versions I use for study, 1 translated the word concerning, 1 over, 4 about, and only the KJV before. John is told not to prophesy standing in front of people, but to prophesy concerning or about them.

John is told that he must prophesy about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings. These words appear to include all humanity. Matthew Henry seems to have captured the essence of what is meant in this command:


The apostle is made to know that this book of prophecy, which he had now taken in, was not given him merely to gratify his own curiosity, or to affect him with pleasure or pain, but to be communicated by him to the world. Here his prophetical commission seems to be renewed, and he is ordered to prepare for another embassy, to convey those declarations of the mind and will of God which are of great importance to all the world, and to the highest and greatest men in the world, and such should be read and recorded in many languages.


Understanding that John represents the church, after the fiasco of our failure as the army of horsemen towards the end of this sixth trumpet, we are to pick ourselves up and continue teaching the full message of the gospel of salvation from sin and the unity of believers in the body of Christ. To do this, we are given a reed like a measuring rod to measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there.


The Reed


What is a reed and how is it like a measuring rod that can be used to measure the temple, altar, and those who worship there? First, before we look at the reed, we must identify what is the temple. In the epistles of Paul there are four mentions of the temple of God.


1 Corinthians 3:16–17. Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.


1 Corinthians 6:19–20. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.


2 Corinthians 6:16. And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.”


Ephesians 2:19–21. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.


These texts define the temple of God as the church. The church is not a corporate organization with buildings, officers, doctrines, and rituals. The church is the people of God—those that are redeemed and filled with the Spirit of God. These people have specific traits which we will learn from the reed by which they are to be measured.

Second, what is the altar? While the word altar appears several times in the NT, there is one specific and obvious reference where it is associated with the NT church. Hebrews 13:10, “We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.” While the definition is obvious it still must be measured according to the reed.

Third, who worships there? Only true worshippers worship in the temple of God.


1 Corinthians 1:2 (Contemporary English Version) To God’s church in Corinth. Christ Jesus chose you to be his very own people, and you worship in his name, as we and all others do who call him Lord.


John 4:23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.


Philippians 3:3 For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.


Romans 12:1 (New American Standard Bible) Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.


Who worships in the temple of God? God’s people.

John, representing the church Jesus built, is given a reed to measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there. The picture here at the beginning of chapter 11 recalls Ezekiel 40:2–4.

 In the visions of God He took me into the land of Israel and set me on a very high mountain; on it toward the south was something like the structure of a city. He took me there, and behold, there was a man whose appearance was like the appearance of bronze. He had a line of flax and a measuring rod in his hand, and he stood in the gateway. And the man said to me, “Son of man, look with your eyes and hear with your ears, and fix your mind on everything I show you; for you were brought here so that I might show them to you. Declare to the house of Israel everything you see.”


God told Ezekiel to declare to the house of Israel everything he sees, which is a vision of the temple to be built in Jerusalem. God gives Israel instructions on how to build the second temple when the Jews are returned from their captivity in Babylon.

Our reed is in the hands of the head of the Church and it is pictured for us in Matthew 27:29, “When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand. And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” This reed was a straight slender herb that grows in marshy places and was often used for walking sticks. It was put into the hands of Jesus as He was being tortured before the crucifixion. It was a mock scepter, the symbol of a king, put into the hand of Jesus to ridicule Him. Matthew Henry comments on the irony of this:


They put a reed in his right hand; this was intended for a mock-sceptre, another of the insignia of the majesty they jeered him with; as if this were a sceptre good enough for such a King, as was like a reed shaken with the wind (ch. 11:7); like sceptre, like kingdom, both weak and wavering, and withering and worthless; but they were quite mistaken, for his throne is for ever and ever, and the sceptre of his kingdom is a right scepter.


King David also commented on this scepter centuries before the crucifixion in Psalm 45:6, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.” From this we are given to understand that the standard by which the church, the altar and those that worship there are to be measured is nothing less than the very righteousness of Christ.


The Measurements


In Ezekiel’s vision the purpose was to anticipate the rebuilding of the temple after the Babylonian captivity. Under the sounding of the sixth trumpet we saw the angels at the River Euphrates released from their Babylonian captivity; Babylon being a church environment calling itself Christian but essentially holding people back from receiving the fullness of the gospel. If the Babylonian captivity of the Jews is a type of the Babylonian captivity of Christians, then measuring the temple of God means that here in the ending of the sixth trumpet it is time once again to measure the church Jesus built by the measuring rod, which is nothing less than the righteousness of Christ.

We have a problem today in measuring the true church. The early church had no problem identifying the church; they were it both in the visible and invisible sense. Under the apostasy of Romanism, the church centered on Rome and under the rule of the pope declared itself to be the church without the possibility of anything else being the church. Under the Protestant Reformation the church was looked upon as having two parts: invisible and visible. The invisible aspect of the church includes the redeemed of all ages; those in heaven and those on earth. The visible church was looked upon as the congregational and organizational structure which contained people that were saved and people that were still sinners. Under the Primitive Church Movement the church was considered to be only the redeemed of all ages and to exist in congregations with practices that mirrored the New Testament example. All these views exist in the church world today and confuse the issue of what is the church.

John is told to leave out the outer court as it has been given to the Gentiles. Therefore, the true measurements of the church are only that which is included within the two rooms of the temple and the inner court that surrounds those rooms. The brazen altar and the laver are in the inner court just in front of the Holy Place, the area of the temple in which sacrifices are killed and washed. The outer court surrounds the entire temple including the inner court. As we measure the temple, we are told not to concern ourselves with this outer court even though it is part of the temple.

The first room is the Holy Place. One has to be saved from sin to enter this room. In this room is the table of shew bread, which symbolizes the word of God that sustains spiritual life. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” Also in this room is the lampstand, which symbolizes the light of spiritual life. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”

Just in front of the next room is the golden altar. Incense is burned on this altar regularly; incense indicating prayer showing us that prayer is an integral part of the church. Also, the blood of atonement is sprinkled on this altar giving access to the sacred room, the Holy of Holies. The ark of the covenant is in this room upon which the Shekinah glory of God rests.

With these in mind we take the reed from Jesus’ hand to measure the temple.


Matthew 16:18–19. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.


First, Jesus builds His church, not reformers, boards, or legal organizations. The church is built on Christ, those that have in truth accepted Him as the Son of God and received the benefit of the atonement in being redeemed from sin—they are loosed from sin on earth as well as in heaven. Also, 1 Corinthians 3:16, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” The Holy Spirit indwells the church enabling the redeemed to live holy lives.

The church Jesus built is purely a spiritual entity consisting of all the redeemed. While there is obviously a physical manifestation of the church in the assembly of believers, the assembly on its own is not the church. In Romans 16:5 Paul greets Priscilla and Aquila and the church that is in their house (also other such greetings). In the New Testament, the church is always the people, not a building or an organization. No organization is the church; this building is not the church; the corporation that legally represents the church is not the church; the church is only the redeemed that come together to worship and work for God here. And for that reason, no denomination, group, fellowship, or church has the right to say that it is the church to the exclusion of any and all that may not belong to it.

John is also told to measure the altar. Remember, the altar is in the inner court just in front of the Holy Place and it is the place where sacrifices are made. No one can enter the temple, the church, without first having experienced what the altar is about. The altar is what inducts sinners into the church. This is not some form of formal membership through baptism, catechism, voting, agreeing to a certain set of doctrines or adhering to some form of outward standards. It is not even a religious act such as raising a hand, going to a prayer bench or talking with the preacher. There is only one altar for God’s church and that is Jesus Christ. Hebrews 13:10, “We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat,”. . . that altar is identified in verse 12, “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.” Adam Clarke makes this quite plain for us: “The altar is here put for the sacrifice on the altar; the Christian altar is the Christian sacrifice, which is Christ Jesus, with all the benefits of his passion and death.” What is the purpose of this altar? 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Finally, John is told to measure those who worship there. Barnes clarifies this for us: “as the temple is the representation here of the church, of those who are in the church as professed worshippers of God.” What does the measuring rod require of those that profess to worship God?


But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. (1 Peter 1:15–19)


Closing Thoughts On Measuring the Temple


In closing our thoughts on measuring the temple of God, Barnes gives an excellent summary: the use of the measuring rod was . . .


To take a just estimate of what constitutes the true church, as distinguished from all other associations of men;


To institute a careful examination into the opinions in the church on the subject of sacrifice or atonement—involving the whole question about the method of justification before God; and


To take a correct estimate of what constitutes true membership in the church; or to investigate with care the prevailing opinions about the qualifications for membership.