The Pulpit Commentary

Revelation 11:2 (Revelation 11:2)

But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles; it hath been given (Revised Version). Not merely "leave out," but "cast out." The "court which is without the temple" was entered only by Jews. It seems, therefore, here to signify part of the Church, but that part which is separated from the inner circle of true believers, and given over to the world, which is here symbolized by "the Gentiles." The Gentiles, the nations, throughout the Apocalypse, signifies either

We therefore see

- The Pulpit Commentary

Revelation 11:1-14 (Revelation 11:1-14)

"My two witnesses."

Following on the reception of the little book from the angel's hand, the seer is directed to measure the temple of God, the altar, and the worshippers. The outer court is not to be measured; for it, with the holy city, is to be trampled underfoot forty-two months. During this period (or a like period) there are to be two witnesses for God, clothed in sackcloth, who, though they have power with God, are slighted by men; against them a great onrush is to be made. They are silenced, and that effectually, by being put to death. The honour of burial is not to be theirs. This the world refuses. Rejoicing that it has stilled their disturbing voices, their bodies are to lie exposed, and the helplessness of their cause is to be the subject of merriment and ridicule. But lo! after a period of three days and a half, they again come to life, to the terror of their persecutors. Their ascension follows on their resurrection. As they have been made partakers of the sufferings of Christ, so also are they of the glory that should follow. What does all this signify? Dean Alford declares that no solution has as yet been given of it. The late Bishop of Manchester (Dr. Fraser) says, "I have no interpretation of this vision, nor any but the most vague and general key to its meaning." £ Those who regard the tenth chapter as indicative of the Reformation look at this one as pointing out the main features of the epoch which should follow it. We readily, as we have often done in previous homilies, recognize the correspondence between prophecy and event. This is what we might expect. But the correspondence is not such as to warrant us in saying that this or that event is the fulfilment of the Word, although it may be a partial one. Nor is it in any one's power to decide when the twelve hundred and sixty days begin. If they represent as many years, and are, according to the prophecy, to follow on from the events in the preceding chapter, and if those events signify the Reformation, then there are twelve hundred and sixty years to follow on the Reformation. In other words, we are at least seven hundred or nine hundred years from the end. But we have long ago given up this sort of attempt to assign dates, as at once impracticable and unprofitable. We see in the chapter before us a symbolic setting forth of that which is ever, ever fulfilling itself again and again before our eye. £ It is a stay to our faith to study the principles here disclosed.

I. THE EXTENT AND LIMIT OF THE TRUE CHURCH OF GOD ARE CLEARLY DEFINED . ( Revelation 11:1 , Revelation 11:2 .) At the time of this prophecy the literal temple was no more. The once holy city was defiled by the "abomination of desolation." Then the true temple, the true holy city, existed in "the Church of the living God." The outer enclosure is not to be reckoned as a part of the temple in this divinely appointed remeasurement. All this most impressively sets forth the fact that Zion's external buildings cover a much wider space than the real heart worshippers whom God will own. There may be, and there are, large masses of people at the outer fringe of our Christian services. But if now a heavenly messenger were to come among us who was appointed to measure the real living temple of God, would it not turn out that, of a very large part of our surroundings, the order would be, " Measure it not"? This measurement from on high is ever going on. And if the great Lord of the Church saw fit to show us in a vision who are in his Church and who are not, many would be without whom we thought were in, and many within whom we thought were out. But not by any human hands can the true temple of God be built; nor yet by any human eye can its limits be discerned.

II. THE SPACE WITHOUT THE TEMPLE AND CITY OF GOD IS LEFT FOR A WHILE IN HOSTILE HANDS . "It hath been given unto the nations: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months." We know not what period of time is thus indicated; nor from what moment it begins. We know only three things concerning this matter:

1. That the worldly power will act in opposition to and preponderate over the Church.

2. That this will be for a limited time.

3. That this permissive limit is fixed by our God. £

Thus far all is clear. The world in its facts answers to the Word in its statements. If we attempt to go beyond this, we shall be in confusion.

III. DURING THE WHOLE OF THIS PERIOD OUR LORD WILL PRESERVE HIS FAITHFUL WITNESSES . "My two witnesses." Why two? "Is it not written in your Law that the testimony of two men is true?" Although the number should be small, there should always be enough to preserve in the world a testimony for God. Further, the symbolism is based on the vision of Zechariah (4). Therein we have two olive trees conveying oil, and two lamp stands holding light. Just as in the times following the Captivity there were anointed ones to stand by the Lord of the whole earth, so throughout the times of the Christian Church there will be men anointed by him to maintain on his behalf a faithful testimony; whose witness bearing would be at once "means of grace and centres of light" (Vaughan). We have several details here given respecting them.

1 . They are to prophesy in sackcloth. So much of their witness has to be a protest against sin in the world and against corruption in the nominal Church, that their work often bears upon it an impress of sadness which cannot be removed till the corruption ceases.

2 . They are to have Tower with God and for him. As Moses and Elijah had power to smite the earth or to shut up heaven, so with those who should come "in the spirit and power of Elias." They would make men feel that God is among them still.

3 . Their work is also to give out a testimony to man. Even under the Old Testament, when a priestly order was in accordance with Divine appointment, God set it aside because of its corruption and inutility, and brought on the scene prophets to declare his will. Much more now, under the New Testament economy, where every human priesthood is but a pretence and a sham, will he carry on his work by the voice of the prophet, that men may learn through the ear that which they will fail to see by a histrionic parade.

4 . Around these witnesses there should be a special guard. (Verse 5.) No one can willingly wound or plot against any witness for God without suffering for it, either in his reputation or in his peace, Nor can any one seek to injure a Church that is true to its Lord, without bringing on himself, sooner or later, the judgments of God. God surrounds his witnesses as with a wall of fire.

5 . This guard will be around them till they have finished their testimony. (Verse 7.) "Man is immoral till his work is done." There are forces of ill, concealed, pent up, restrained, which, if they were but let loose, would soon make havoc of the Church; but an all controlling Power keeps them in check, and as long as God has anything for a witness to say, that witness will be spared and empowered to say it.

6 . At some time or other there will be such an onrush of the great world power as to seem, for a while, to silence this witness bearing. Just as our Lord was hedged round with an impenetrable guard until his hour was come, so shall it be with his witnesses. Just as there came a time when his voice was stilled in death and the enemy triumphed, so shall it be with them. There is yet to be permitted such an onrush of the powers of darkness as shall seem for a while to carry all before it, and the voices of the witnesses shall be stilled.

7 . The silencing of the witnesses will cause their foes to triumph. (Verses 8-10.) These prophets were the torment of the ungodly (verse 10). Hence the world's hatred. In proportion to its hatred of the message and the messengers will be its gladness when the messengers can trouble it no more. Ill will run riot. The wickedness of a Sodom will be renewed. The Holy Ghost has forewarned us what to expect. Tares will ripen; evil men will grow worse and worse. Perilous times will come. "When the Son of man cometh, will he find the faith on the earth?"

8 . The triumph of the foe is but for a season. (Verses 11, 12.) Just as the Master put to shame all his foes by rising again on the third day, and afterwards ascending to heaven, so, after a like period, will that power, which the enemy thought was at an end, revive again. The world shall yet see that those whom it vilified are those whom God has glorified.

9 . The Divine glorification of his witnesses will be accompanied with a mighty visitation of judgment on the world. (Verse 13.) They who think to stop the mouths of God's witnesses will have to meet a Power before which they will melt away in terror, and the very earth on which they were committing these crimes will be made to reel beneath their feet. Providence will affright these who sneered at the voice of the prophet. "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh, and the Lord shall have them in derision" ( Psalms 2:1-12 .). "And the rest were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven." In all these nine points of detail the chapter gives us not only that which is true now and then, but that which is continuously true in one part or other throughout the Christian age; and instead of the chapter seeming to be shrouded in unintelligible mystery, it is actually radiant with a light that makes all things clear. For note, in conclusion:

- The Pulpit Commentary

Revelation 11:1-2 (Revelation 11:1-2)

The measuring of the temple.

Whether this chapter be the history of events that had already taken place when it was written or were then happening; or whether it consists of predictions inspired of God of events then future, though near at hand in the history of Judaism and of the Church; or of events yet future in the experience of the whole Church, as many affirm; or whether, yet again, the whole chapter be an inspired allegory which, under the likeness of actual historical events, or of incidents recorded in the ancient Scriptures, were intended to convey to us spiritual teachings applicable to all times;—who can positively and certainly say? And like doubt hangs over the interpretation of the forty and two months told of here and elsewhere, whether they are to be taken literally, symbolically, or according to the reckoning of those who count each day to mean a year. We stay not, however, to discuss these questions, but prefer to take these verses which tell of the measuring of the temple as echoes of those earlier teachings of this book, and of many other Scriptures beside, which tell us of the Lord's perpetual presence in his Church, his strict investigation and his perfect knowledge of all who constitute her membership, and of all that occurs therein. "The Lord is in his holy temple; his eyes behold, his eyelids try the children of men:" of such words does this command to "Arise, and measure the temple" remind us, and in the sense they suggest we desire to consider them now. Let us observe, therefore—

1. THE MEASURING . We have a similar command in Ezekiel 40:1-49 ., when in like inspired vision that prophet beholds the glorious restored temple of God. And so in Revelation 21:1-27 . of this book we read of the angel who had the golden reed to measure the holy city. But as in those other representations we cannot think that material earthly buildings are meant, or any literal measurements whether of city or temple, so here we regard the temple as telling of that glorious spiritual fabric of which we so often read under like imagery in the Epistles of St. Paul; and the measuring is a metaphor to signify that careful investigation and scrutiny whereby true knowledge is gained as to the nearness or otherwise of that which is measured to its proper standard and ideal. For it is to be noted:

1 . God has an ideal for everything, a standard to which he would have it conform. He had in the creation of the world, and we are told how he saw all that which he had made, and declared that it answered to his ideal, and that it was "very good." And he looks down from heaven—so we are told—to see what is done upon the earth; he taketh account of all that men do. All other creatures fulfil their ideal, there is no need to take account of them; but man, endowed with the terrible power of contradicting and refusing his Maker's will, as well as of assenting to it—and he could not have the one without the other—it is needful that the Lord should "behold" and "try" his actions by an unerring standard in order that he may be the more readily led to try them in like manner himself, and so conform them thereto the more nearly.

2 . Christ is the ideal Man, and therefore called "the Son of man." He did in all things so answer to his Father's intent that he was the "beloved Son in whom" God was "well pleased." That is the standard to which we are to look, and by which we are to regulate our lives. Happy they who follow him closely "whithersoever he goeth."

3 . And this " measuring " is continually going on. There is an inward monitor as well as an outward one. Conscience affirms, consents to, and confirms what the Word of God declares, and is perpetually holding up both the standard and ourselves, and making us inwardly if not outwardly blush when we see the contrast between the two.

4 . How grateful we should be for this! "Lord with what care thou hast begirt us round!" so sings holy George Herbert; and one evidence of this care is in the constant bringing before our consciences the rigid rule of right. But note next—

II. THE MEASURED THAT ARE SPOKEN OF HERE . The temple, the altar, and the people.

1 . The temple of God. No doubt St. John, as a devout Jew, and one who had often frequented with joy the courts of the Lord's house at Jerusalem, had that temple—for it was still standing, though soon to fall—before his mind. And it was to him a symbol and type of all Israel, if not of the whole Church of God (cf. St. Paul, "In whom the whole building fitly framed together groweth into a holy temple unto the Lord"). He is telling of the Church of God throughout the whole world and in all ages of time. Therefore we may take "the temple of God" as representing the Church in its outward form. Now, God has his ideal for this. What is it? The Catholic declares the true Church to be the great body of the baptized, organized into one organic whole. The individualist asserts that there is no such body that man can know of, but that the Church consists of "living stones," that is, of individual souls who have been quickened into the life of God by personal faith in Christ. And there are multitudes of subdivisions under each of these two ruling beliefs. But all such outward forms will be measured, tested, tried. And what will the standard be to which conformity will be demanded? Christ's herald said, "Now also the axe is laid at the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire" ( Matthew 3:10 ). By this supreme test will all our Church organizations be tried. What fruit have they borne in that which is the end of all religion—the making of bad men good, and good men better? Have souls in such Churches been quickened, converted, cheered, built up, and helped heavenward? If so, well. If not, then not well. No antiquity, orthodoxy, catholicity, popularity, beauty, wealth, or any other such plea will stand if God's standard be not answered to, and his demand for "good fruit" be not met. The axe will fall, and the tree will go down.

2 . The altar. This also was to be measured. We may take "the altar" as the symbol of the worship of the Church. Around it Israel gathered; on it the fire was perpetually burning; from it was taken the fire which enkindled the incense that went up in the immediate presence of God. It was the centre of Israel's worship: there was but one altar for them all. It therefore does set forth the worship of the Church according to the Divine ideal, and the altar was to be measured, that that worship might be compared with that ideal. Is our worship fervent? On that altar was an ever burning fire. Upon the heads of the disciples at Pentecost descended fire, telling that Christ's people were to be known by their ardour. And the altar fire tells that worship is to be fervent. Is it spiritual? Does it ascend up to God as the smoke of the sacrifice mounted up and up into the heavens,—symbol, beautiful, striking, appropriate, of that uplifting of the heart, that real outgoing of the soul after God, which belongs to all true worship? And, above all, is it sacrificial? The altar was for sacrifice. Worship that has not this element in it will be rejected when that measurement of the altar told of here takes place. And let no one think that having correct views as to the atonement of Christ, and making mental reference thereto, or verbal, by adding on, as we should, to all our prayers, "through Jesus Christ our Lord"—let no one think that that fulfils the ideal of altar worship. No; our worship may ring with the mention of that ever blessed Name, and our views may be of the most unexceptional sort, and there be not one atom of "sacrifice" in our worship. And often and often, as in the Lord's prayer, that Name may not be heard at all, and ideas about the atonement may be very crude, and yet the worship be full of sacrifice, and will bear well the measuring which is to be applied to all our worship. Sacrifice means giving up something which we should like to keep. Was not Christ's sacrifice such? Is not all sacrifice such? If, then, worship do not carry with it the giving up of anything, save the little time that it occupies to get through with it; if sin be not given up, nor self, nor that which we have and could spare, and our brother needs;—if there be naught of this, where is the sacrifice? how will our worship bear God's test?

3 . The people. "Them that worship therein"—so we read. Now, the Divine ideal for these may be learnt by noting what was not to be measured. And we are told in verse 2 that "the court which is without the temple … measure it not." It was to be cast out, left out of the reckoning altogether. Now, the outer court of the temple was the addition of Herod; he was given to erecting magnificent buildings, and the addition of this outer court did undoubtedly add much to the splendour of the whole fabric. But such court had no place in the tabernacle nor in the temple of Solomon or that of Zerubbabel. But Herod had made this outer court in the temple at Jerusalem. It was thronged by all manner of people. There it was the money changers had their tables, and they who bought and sold doves. The Gentiles might come there, though they might not pass into what was especially the temple, and which was sacred to Israelites only. And so it represented all those outer court worshippers, those mixed multitudes which are found associated with God's true people everywhere of them, but not truly belonging to them. The courts of the temple were separated literally. No Gentile durst pass the boundaries which parted the outer court from the rest of the temple on pain of death. But there is no such visible, material, separation in the throng of worshippers in the professing Church of God. We cannot draw the line nor apply the measure. But all the same there is such a line drawn, and it is clearly visible to the eye of God. He can discriminate, though we cannot, between those who profess and those who possess true religion, and one day he will make this difference plain. Tares get in amongst the wheat, bad fish amid the good, the foolish virgins were associated with the wise; and the worshippers in the true temple of God today are mingled with those whose place is in the outer court. But as in the parables referred to separation did come at last, so will it be for the Church of today, when the Son of man sends forth his angels, and they "gather out of his kingdom all that do offend, and they that work iniquity." The question, therefore, for us all is—Where do we belong! In that outer court were many who were well disposed towards Israel's God, and professed more or less of attachment to his worship; but they were not true Israelites. And the like is true still. "Let a man examine himself, and so let him" take his place in the Church of God.

III. THE MEANING OF ALL THIS . It was because a time of sore trial was imminent, close at hand. For "forty and two months" the court and the city were to be trodden underfoot by the nations. The invasion and overthrow of Jerusalem by the Romans, and the escape of the Christian Church to Pella, supply illustrative historical incidents of the treading underfoot told of here, and of the measuring, like the sealing of Revelation 7:1-17 ., for the purpose of separating and preserving God's faithful ones. God ever has, even in the worst of times, a remnant of such; like the "seven thousand" who had not bowed the knee to Baal. And he takes notice of them, and will keep them securely, whilst those who are not as they are subjected to his sore judgments. The measuring means preservation for the faithful, judgment for all else. "As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people." The measuring is ever going on. Let us each ask—On which side of that unerring line am I?—S.C.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Revelation 11:1-19 (Revelation 11:1-19)

The cause of right on earth.

"And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread underfoot forty and two months," etc. What does this chapter mean? Has it any intelligible meaning? Is it to be taken literally or ideally? One of our most modern, able, and distinguished biblical critics—Archdeacon Farrar—has said concerning it, "There neither is, nor ever has been, in Christendom, in any age, or among any school of interpreters, the smallest agreement, or even approach to an agreement, as to the events which the seer had in view ... There are no two writers of any importance who even approximately agree in their interpretation." Shrinking, as I do, from contributing anything to the unsightly pile of interpretations which have been given to this chapter, I shall merely use it as the heavenly Teacher used the lilies of the field and the birds of the air—to illustrate truth. The subject which it serves in some extent to set forth is the cause of right on earth. It illustrates the fact—

I. THAT THE CAUSE OF RIGHT ON THIS EARTH HAS ITS MEASURING RULE . "And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying [one said], Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein." Two things are suggested.

1 . That in the human world there is right and wrong. There is the temple of God, the altar, and "them that worship therein." At the same time, there is the court that is outside—the "court which is without the temple "—a sphere discarded by the right and trampling on the holy. This, however, is only for a time.

2 . That right here has its measuring line. Take the "temple" here as the emblem of right on the earth, and the "reed" as that of the moral Law of God—the Law that measures moral character. Such a Law we have here, here in the conscience, here in the Decalogue, here in the life of Christ. This measuring line concerns qualities rather than quantities; it analyzes all the elements of character and decides their qualities. It is a plummet that sounds the deepest depths of being; it is a moral analyst to test the quality of every thought, affection, and deed; a moral gauge to measure the height, breadth, depth, of all. Supreme sympathy with the supremely good is the Law. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God," etc. "Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity [love], it profiteth me nothing." This is the "reed" to measure the moral temple of the soul and all its worshippers. Right here requires testing; so much passes for right that is wrong that a measuring line is necessary for testing.

II. THAT THE CAUSE OF RIGHT ON THIS EARTH HAS ITS MIGHTY DEFENDERS . "I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy." Who are the two witnesses? Moses and Elijah? Caleb and Joshua? John the Baptist and Christ? Enoch and Elijah? Peter and John? No one knows, although hundreds pretend to say. Did I believe that the chapter had a literal or historic meaning, I would accept the theory that they were the collective representatives of the Jewish and Gentile converts in preference to any other. I take them here to illustrate the mighty defenders of the cause of right in this world. The cause of right has ever required defenders, for in every age it has countless hosts of antagonists. It has had its Elijahs, and its Johns, and its Pauls, its Luthers, its Cromwells, its Garibaldis, etc., men who have stood up, spoken in thunder, and shed their blood for the right. The vision here suggests three things concerning these defenders of the right.

1 . They do their work in sadness. "Clothed in sackcloth." To fight for the right has never been an easy work, and perhaps never will be. They fight not in radiant robes, but in sackcloth. It is not a light work to stand up against a corrupt world and struggle against an age grinning with selfishness, sensuality, and cupidity.

2 . They contribute Divine light. "These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks." Language borrowed from the Book of Ezekiel. The olive trees fed the lamp, and the candlesticks diffused the light. Were it not for the Divine defenders of the right, grand heroes in moral history, all the lamps of truth would go out, and the whole race would be mantled in midnight. They are the lights of the world.

3 . They exert tremendous power. "If any man will [desire to] hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt [shall desire to hurt] them, he must in this manner be killed," etc. (see verses 5, 6). The true defenders of the right are invested with a terrible power. Their words flash devouring flames, so shake the corrupt moral firmament under which their contemporaries are living, that the very heavens seem shut up and the rolling streams of life seem turned into blood. It is said that Moses turned the Nile into blood, that Elijah prevented rain descending on the earth for the space of three years. The true defenders of the cause of right are the organs of Omnipotence; their words are mighty through God. To them is committed the work of causing the moral heavens to melt with fervent heat, and spreading out "a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness."

III. THAT THE CAUSE OF RIGHT ON THE EARTH HAS ITS TERRIBLE ANTAGONISTS . "When they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them," etc. (verses 7-10).

1 . The antagonists of the right are malignant. They not only murder, but they exult in their cruelty. They are "wild beasts" that fight and kill; they arise from the abyss of depravity. The spirit of persecution is an infernal virus that gallops through the veins of the intolerant persecutor, and physical violence is the weapon. Not only did their malignity destroy, but revelled in the cruelty and destruction: "shall rejoice over them, and make merry." Their feet are "swift to shed blood;" like savage beasts of prey, they revel in the tortures of their victims. Who can study martyrology without being astounded at the ruthless cruelty that runs in the blood of those that hate the right? They rent the heavens with the cry, "Away with him! away with him!"

2 . These antagonists of the right are ever frustrated. It is said, "After three days and a half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet," etc. (verse 11). Observe:

IV. THAT THE CAUSE OF RIGHT ON THE EARTH IS DESTINED TO TRIUMPH . After the passing of the first two woes there is yet another to come, and after the close of the sixth trumpet the blast of the seventh is heard. "And the seventh angel sounded; and there were [followed] great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms [kingdom] of this [the] world are [is] become the kingdoms [kingdom] of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever" (verse 15). Two things seem now to occur.

1 . The rapture and adoration of the good. Sainted men and angels are represented rising from their seats, falling on their faces and worshipping, and the reason of their worship is that the kingdoms of this world have passed into the actual possession of Christ. "The kingdoms of this world." What have they been? What are they now? Hellish mimicries of eternal right and power. Like muddy bubbles on the great stream of life, they have broken into the clear and fathomless river of rectitude, and will appear no more, and this will continue "forever and ever"—"unto the ages of the ages." Well, then, might the righteous worship and thank God. "We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come," etc. (verse 17).

2 . The increased accessibility of heaven. "And the temple of God was opened in heaven" (verse 19). When right shall become universally triumphant, heaven will come near to man. The holy Jerusalem will come down from heaven; heaven and earth will become one.

CONCLUSION . Suspect not the failure of right; have faith in its winning power. It has life in it, indestructible life, life that will germinate in every land, which will multiply and cover all parts of this globe. "The kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord." "There shall be a handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains; the fruit thereof shall stroke like Lebanon and they of the city shall flourish like gross of the earth."—D. T.

- The Pulpit Commentary