So let us begin our conversation with the temple in Jerusalem. “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.” John had just taken the book in the last chapter and has eaten the book. He was then the recipient of the promise that he would prophecy again. It would be interesting then that if the 69th week of Daniel ended with the destruction of the temple (fulfilled in the A.D. 70 by Titus of Rome – but fulfilled spiritually at the death of Christ – Matt. 23:38, Luke 13:35) where Daniel said, “And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary” (Dan. 9:26). The 70th week assumes that the temple will be rebuilt (Dan. 9:27). So the first thing that John prophecies after receiving the book is to speak of this temple, thus picking up where Daniel had left off when he had sealed his book. The book is opened.
John is given a reed by the angel for the purpose of measurement. A reed is, according to Barnes, “a plant with a jointed hollow stalk, growing in wet grounds.” It is not a sturdy thing (Matt. 11:7, 12:20). But it is not here meant to be a power tool but a tool for measuring. A reed is generally anywhere from 6 to 10 feet long and no precise number can here be given. The only descriptive thing said about the reed was that it was like unto a rod. This is probably meant to signify its straightness and relevant sturdiness. It was a sufficient measuring tool for its purposes.
Whatever the significance of the reed which is like a rod it is important to note the parallel scriptures. There are two Old Testament texts which are noteworthy; Ezekiel and Zechariah. First, the text in Ezekiel states this, “In the visions of God brought he me into the land of Israel, and set me upon a very high mountain, by which was as the frame of a city on the south. And he brought me thither, and, behold, there was a man, whose appearance was like the appearance of brass, with a line of flax in his hand, and a measuring reed; and he stood in the gate” (Ezek. 40:2, 3). The text goes on over the next couple of chapters and describes the measuring of the temple and the court. Now there are significant differences between the temple described by Ezekiel and the temple here described by John and as our text unfolds that will be made apparent. Ezekiel’s temple is greater in scope and to be the center of Christ worship during the millennial reign of Christ. This temple is trampled under the feet of the ungodly with a very small remnant of true worshipers of God. The significance of the parallel is simply the fact that God in both cases is directing the measurements which tells us that the time of God’s care and attention is again focused on the temple mount. The other text is found in Zechariah: “I lifted up mine eyes again, and looked, and behold a man with a measuring line in his hand. Then said I, Whither goest thou? And he said unto me, To measure Jerusalem, to see what is the breadth thereof, and what is the length thereof” (Zech. 2:1, 2). Now our text seems to deal with the measurement of the temple and its courts specifically and Zechariah seems to measure Jerusalem as a whole but the one surely can be contained in the other and our text will go on and speak of Jerusalem as a whole. But Zechariah is fixated on the message of the return of the Lord of glory and will later also speak of the two witnesses that are described further in our text (Zech. 4:1-6). The significance therefore in the parallel is that this is a description of the end and the prophetic event of the coming of the Son of Man is here. Lift up your heads for your God is measuring His temple and His coming is drawing nigh.
Setting aside the parallel of scriptures let us consider the measuring in and of itself. We need to consider three things here: what it means to measure, what rule or tool is measuring, and what exactly is being measured. First, what is meant by the term measure in our text? To measure something intimates that that thing is finite and the extent to it is knowable. If we were to measure a thing we are discovering its boundaries or limits; its finitude. There are certain things in the scriptures that are not knowable or measurable, for instance. The love of Christ is not knowable (Eph. 3:19), the elect of Israel cannot be numbered (Hosea 1:10), the multitude in heaven in the seventh chapter no man could number, and the fullness of the Spirit in Christ cannot be measured (John 3:34). So this gives us some idea about the measuring of our text and that is the fact that the things measured are limited and (at such a time) are very limited in their nature. Secondly, by what rule are those things measured? We have already noted the reed. There will be another reed used to measure things in the book of Revelation and that is the measurement of the New Jerusalem and that will be measured with a “golden reed” (Rev. 21:15). So this is not a glorified instrument given to John here. But we can be sure if its trueness still because it is an instrument that comes from heaven. We cannot measure and know the limits of anything in this world or in the world to come if the tool we use is not given to us by God. It is the fear of God that is the beginning of knowledge (Prov. 1:7). We must rely on God for true measurements of things; or else we will never be able to discern the limits or boundaries of anything (spiritual, physical, moral, etc.). The word of God is our plumbline by which we measure all things. Thirdly, what is being measure? There are three specific things that are measured and one thing that is purposely left unmeasured. The three things that are measured are the temple, the altar, and those that worship therein. The thing that is left unmeasured is the outer court without where the Gentiles dwelt. Let us consider these more fully.
First, the temple was measured, “Rise, and measure the temple of God….” There will be a temple and apparently it will be a thing that is truly dedicated to God despite the wickedness of the city of Jerusalem at that time because our text says that it is indeed the temple “of God.” John is asked to measure the limits or boundaries of the temple. Now, physically speaking the measure of the temple is known. Spiritually speaking what is the measure of the temple. We know what the measure of the temple should be, it should be limitless. “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King (Ps. 48:1, 2). The worship that happens there should truly be the joy of the whole earth but was we see in our text as it unfolds, its limits do not stretch any further then the boundary of the outer courts and is surrounded immediately by dogs and by a city that is known as Sodom and Egypt and by a world of unrepentant sinners. This may in figure apply to the church in our age. We are the temple of God (I Cor. 3:16). What are the limits of the church? Is it like our text and stretches no further than the doors of the building? The world right now will not let the church have influence beyond its wall; spouting some foolish doctrine of separation of church and state. Is the voice of the church heard in the streets? Does its effects reach beyond the pulpit or does the measure stop there? Our text is measuring the influence of the temple at such a time.
Secondly, the altar was measured, “Rise, and measure…, the altar.” If the measure of the temple is meant to ascertain the influence of the temple then the measuring of the altar is meant to do the same. The physical measures of the altar were known. The brazen altar is probably meant here. It was there that the daily sacrifices were made and men came confessing their sins. It was there that daily the blood of substitutes was poured and atonement was made. But if the altar of incense is meant then that was the place where prayers were offered up to God. What was the measure of the altar? If there is a limit to the altar than there is a limit to reconciliation. Men are not coming and are not seeking atonement for their sins. Men are not being reconciled to God. The measure of the altar, just as the measure of the temple of itself, ends at the boundaries of the temple. The altar is where the work of God occurs (Lev. 17:11) and sadly that is limited in this world yet to come. Again, we see today Christ (who is both the gift and the altar that sanctifies the gift) is limited to the doors of the church (if even that) and is not welcomed in the public square.
Thirdly, the people who did worship were to be measured, “Rise, and measure…, them that worship therein.” This too is limited. The number of true believers has been reduced to few. One can surmise that outside of the two witnesses that we shall shortly speak of that we can know the exact number of these that worship in the temple, 144,000, 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes. It would appear that the measurability of the worshipers would indicate that the rest of the Israelites as well were not yet turned to the Lord. As it was in the days of Ahab where outside of Eliah there were only 4,000 (a measurable remnant) Israelites who had not bowed their knee to Baal, so it shall be again in this idolatrous future. These are true worshipers of God. They are worshipping Him in spirit and truth. They are people of faith. The limit described begs the question already asked by Christ, “Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth” (Luke 18:8)? The answer in our text is that He will find very little. But, however small it may be, this small pocket of true measurable worship which apparently was enjoyed for the first 3 and ½ years will be short lived. The antichrist will not allow this to continue. The devil will attempt to stamp out all worship of God and will soon send his antichrist into that temple to declare himself to be God, commit the abomination of desolation (signifying the end and the beginning of the Great Tribulation), and scattering what worshippers are there. The devil will not allow any vesture of worship to occur. We see that today with the gay rights movement where it is not enough for the activist to get their way as far as policy but they want to force Christians to believe exactly as they believe; worshipping with them in their own self-willed idolatry.
Lastly, John was told not to measure the courts without. “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 under foot forty and two months.” This is indeed the time of the Gentiles as Jesus said, “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). The fact that it is not measured may indicate that all that is without the temple is of no consequence to God. God has directed His care to those therein; His remnant. God has set a definite line of demarcation between the righteous and the wicked. There are those that are strangers and foreigners and there are those that are in Christ (Eph. 2:12). Jerusalem itself has been trodden down by Gentiles since the days of Babylon. Even in the days of Christ it was under the control of Rome. It will continue to be under the political power of others until the day that God brings these days to an end. Soon the image of worldly kings will be smashed to dust by the coming of the Son of Man (Dan. 2). The important thing in our text is not that which is without the temple is not measured as to its extent. It is indeed measured but it is measured in another way. It is measured in terms of time. God has set a boundary to the time in which they will be allowed to continue. There are now only 42 months left and the end of all is being declared by God. For the first 3 and ½ years the Gentiles have allowed the Jews to worship in relative peace but that is about to come to an end and thus will the time of the Gentiles be numbered as well. As it was with the kingdom of Belshazzar “God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it” (Dan. 5:26). And so it will soon be with Satan and His kingdom who will come down to earth knowing that his time is short.