So I went to the angel and said to him, "Give me the little book." And he said to me, "Take and eat it; and it will make your stomach bitter, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth." Then I took the little book out of the angel's hand and ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. But when I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter. And he said to me, "You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings." 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." (Revelation10:9 - 11:2, NKJV)
John has seen an open book in the hand of a "mighty angel," whose influence pervades both land and sea. When the angel cries for a cessation of time, the voice of seven thunders reverberates throughout the heavens and earth. As he has throughout this revelation from Jesus, John prepared to write what he hears. However, he is forbidden to do so. It is not that the thunders uttered something irrelevant or unrelated to the purpose of God. The time, however, was not appropriate for their message to be revealed.
Throughout the Scriptures, this perspective of the heavenly Kingdom is proclaimed and exhibited: i.e., that revelation, illumination, and spiritual insight are granted only when appropriate to the times or individual. Understanding is never an end of itself. As with everything else in the Divine economy, it plays a role in the administration of the will of the Lord. For example, the children of Israel remained relatively small in number until "the time drew near for God to fulfill his promise to Abraham" (Acts 7:17; Gen 15:13). When Daniel knew the conclusion of the Babylonian captivity was coming to a conclusion, he began to seek for understanding from God (Dan 9:2-27). It was only as "the time drew near" for Jacob to die, that he received insight direct Joseph concerning his burial, bless Joseph's sons, and his own twelve sons (Gen 47:29-49:33). As Jesus sensed the time approaching when He would be received up into glory, He "steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51).
Jesus upbraided the Pharisees and Sadducees for not being able to "discern the signs of the times" (Matt 16:3). Why did He do this? Because it was a time when an understanding could be received from God-an understanding that would have enabled preparation and appropriation. Along this line, Paul reminded the Romans of the responsibility to know "the time" - to be aware of Divine workings and provisions (Rom 13:11).
This, then, is a Kingdom principle - that God opens the truth in a timely manner. For John, it was not time to know what the thunders uttered. However, everything was not hidden to him. It was the time for the church to learn in remarkable detail of the encroachment of the devil. This is why the message of Revelation is so essential-it is a timely message, without which we will not be sufficiently equipped for the times.
The truths now revealed had been introduced in earlier Apostolic writings, but not with the details now provided. Paul wrote of a "falling away" that would come. Through him, Christ made known this "falling away" would be initiated through religion-a system of thought propagated by one claiming Divine qualities (2 Thess 2:3-4). Timothy was told this departure would be the result of giving heed to "seducing spirits and doctrines of demons." He too was told the digression would be a religious one, and accompanied by religious teaching (1 Tim 4:1-3). Paul also told Timothy the coming apostasy would allow for immorality and spiritual corruption, while maintaining a "form of godliness" (2 Tim 3:1-5). It would also be a time when sound spiritual thinking would fade from view, and men would become devoted to "fables," gathering about themselves teachers who would feed their corrupt appetites (2 Tim 4:3-4).
Now, as this dreaded time of apostasy moves closer, the Lord unveils more of its attending details. I want to emphasis this is not an appeal to the idle and unproductive curiosity of people. As with all of Scripture, this is intended to make the child of God "perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim 3:17). The Lord Jesus is not only unfolding the purpose of God, but the strategy of the devil as well. His purpose is to enable us to avoid being snared by Satan's devices (2 Cor 2:11). I cannot conceive of anything being more practical than the message of this neglected book!
Once again, the time was approaching when Satan would step up his initiative against the people of God. His approach would be different that it was up to the time of John. He would not seek to corrupt, rather than destroy the people of God. It is to our advantage to take the message seriously, and to endeavor to grasp its significance. Too, care must be taken not to seek more details than are provided by the King of glory.
THE LITTLE BOOK IS TAKEN
"So I went to the angel and said to him, Give me the little book" (Verse 9a). Remember the word given to John-a word that came from heaven itself. "Go and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel which standeth upon the sea and upon the earth" (10:8). That word was equivalent to the granting of authority to take the "little book." No person in heaven, earth, or under the earth, could void that word from heaven! John could, in other words, obtain understanding concerning this segment of God's purpose. Not merely was the future to be opened to John, but the working of God. His control over the affairs of men would be unveiled to the aged Apostle.
Something of the Kingdom manner is revealed in this event. Throughout Scripture, men are always modest and unassertive in the Presence of the Almighty. Brashness is never seen when men are cognizant of the Lord. Also, boldness is always required to fulfill the Divine mandate! There is no casualness in the presence of the Lord! A perusal of the Word of the Lord will confirm this to be the case. The experience of Abraham (Gen. 15:1), Jacob (Gen. 28:16-17), Moses (Heb 12:21), Isaiah (Isa 6:1-3), Ezekiel (Ezek. 8:3-10), Daniel (Dan 8:27), and others illustrate the point. Those who boast of familiarity with God, yet lack "reverence and godly fear," have simply not told the truth!
While John was directed to "take the little book," notice how he does it. Once again, here is a Kingdom manner. John goes to the angel and ASKS for the book. "So I went to the angel and said to him, Give me the little book." He had received authority to "take the little book," yet asked for it. Those who are not acquainted with the ways of God would have attempted, I suppose, to simply reach for the book. But this is not the way God works! This is one of the "ways" of God that it is essential to know. You may recall that Israel was shown God's "deeds," while Moses was afforded the blessing of knowing His "ways" (Psa 103:7). It is imperative that we behold the "ways" of the Lord, and the "manner of the Kingdom" (1 Sam 10:25) in this marvelous book. Real spiritual learning is appropriated through this means!
Even though there are things "prepared" for those loving the Lord, they are to be sought and asked for! Such things, in a sense, "belong unto us" (Deut 29:29). Yet, we are not to be presumptuous in the appropriation of them. Little wonder the Psalmist prayed, "Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression" (Psa 19:13). To barge into the Divine presence, or to assume to handle eternal things in the energy of the flesh, is strictly forbidden. As John responds to the Divine commission, he is acutely aware of this situation.
John does not reach out his hand to "take the little book," but opens his mouth in a humble request for the book! Oh, there is much to be learned from this! It is true that we "lay hold of eternal life" (1 Tim 6:12,19), "obtain mercy and find grace to help" (Heb 4:16), and "receive abundance of grace" (Rom 5:17). There are Divine provisions that "belong" to us, and which may be appropriated in abundance. There is, however, a sort of Kingdom protocol (for want of a better word) which is to be observed in acquiring them. Abraham, the only man in Scripture called "the friend of God" (James 2:23), conducted himself in modesty when coming before the Lord. "Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes . . . Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak . . . Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord . . . Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once" (Gen 18:27,30). Ezra also approached the Lord with this kind of humility. "O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God" (Ezra 9:6).
Although the Lord determines to work among men, it is often His manner to have them ask for that working. After promising remarkable things to Israel, the Lord said, "Thus says the Lord GOD: 'I will also let the house of Israel inquire of Me to do this for them: I will increase their men like a flock'" (Ezek 36:37, NKJV).
Jesus referred to this Kingdom manner when He said, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened" (Matt 7:7-8). James, the brother of our Lord, also spoke of this manner when he said, "you do not have because you do not ask" (James 4:2).
You might be tempted to think this has little to do with our text-but do not allow such an imagination to grip your heart! Although John was "in the Spirit on the Lord's day," and was shown "things to come," he maintained a humble posture. There are not blessings from God that allow for the assertion of flesh, or for trafficking in heavenly places as though they were common.
John approaches the "mighty angel" and says "Give me the little book!" He knows the book belongs to the angel, and not to himself. He also expresses the Divine will, saying "Give me the little book," while not presuming to simply reach out and take it. There is a marvelous melding of humility and boldness here, driven by desire, and fueled by faith. John is not only obedient, he is eagerly submissive. He wants what the Lord has said he can have! Oh, that this frame of mind and heart were more common among professed believers!
THE LITTLE BOOK IS EATEN
"And he said to me, Take and eat it; and it will make your stomach bitter, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth" (Verse 9b). The book is not simply handed to John. The angel is himself a participant in the reign of Jesus, and he will not relinquish the book to a disinterested and uninvolved person. Among the sons of men, novelties, memorabilia, and souvenirs are common. But this is not the case in the Kingdom of God. Men receive from God only what they are appointed to use! Too, unless there is participation in the truth, men cannot lay hold of it! There is no place for aloofness in the Kingdom of our Lord and His Christ!
This is an aspect of the Kingdom that must be seen. Men, in their attempt to institutionalize the truth, have allowed place for disinterest and a lack of involvement. Such conditions prevail in the institutionalized church, but not among those who "walk in the light as He is in the light." If you want God to open the truth to you, you must reconcile yourself to being involved in His work. It will simply not be opened unless this is the case. Your personal investment is required. That is involved in Solomon's word, "Buy the truth, and do not sell it" (Prov 23:23). This requirement is also seen in the words of our blessed Lord, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you" (John 6:53). If there is no participation, there will be no understanding!
Now, John is called into deeper involvement! He is not given the "little book" to simply hold, or store in some secret place. It is not given to him to place him in an elite group, or give him a higher status. He is told, "Take and eat it!" Possess it and consume it! Let its words "sink down into your ears" (Lk 9:44). This message is to become a part of John's person. Once digested, he will not be able to forget it. It will consume his thoughts and dominate his meditations. In him will be fulfilled the saying, "I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation" (Psa 119:99).
If you are looking for a mere introduction to the Lord, and do not want to give yourself to the contemplation of His truth, the heavens will become as brass to you (Deut 28:23). God is not interested in increasing your worth among men, but in bringing you into involvement with Himself. The experience of John on Patmos perfectly accords with this principle. It is of deep concern to me that we are living in the midst of a religious environment that knows virtually nothing of this spiritual posture.
In prior centuries, God required this same involvement of another prophet. Ezekiel also had to "eat the book" shown to him from heaven. A scroll was spread before him similar to that presented to John. It was filled with "lamentations, and mourning, and woe." In a remarkable parallel to our passage, Ezekiel was told, "Son of man, eat that thou findest; eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel" (Ezek 3:1). Like the Apostle John, the Prophet Ezekiel was not allowed to be detached from his message! Before he could preach, he had to digest the message-take it into his heart and conscience, making it part of himself! Speaking proverbially, the Word of God had to become the blood of the prophet's soul. It had to occupy his mind and fill his vision. He was not allowed the luxury of being distracted to lesser things. You will note this same requirement was found among the Apostles. Their message became their life, the driving compulsion of their being.
Throughout history, no person lacking this trait has let a lasting mark for God. I cannot help but observe once again the near-total absence of this characteristic among those who have been denominated Christian leaders, preachers, and teachers. They have not eaten the book! Their minds are not saturated with the Word of God, and it does not control the way they think. There is too much of the world in their hearts and minds-too many of the sayings of men. The word of the Living God has never reached their "belly" - their innermost person that controls their motivation and view. Such men, however successful they may appear, will not be used mightily of God. They dwell too far from Him to be key figures in the fulfillment of His purpose.
The "mighty angel" tells John up front there will be differing results from consuming the book-from ingesting the Word of the Lord. " . . . it will make your stomach bitter, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth." This is not a mere emotional experience, or a violent disruption of the fleshly processes. The "little book" itself will "make," or cause, the reactions of bitterness and sweetness. Understanding what the Lord is doing will produce both sweetness and bitterness, gladness and sorrow. The heart will be lifted and dashed to the ground by the same message! Both blessing and suffering proceed from involvement with God, and blessed is the individual who sees it!
The message itself causes "sweetness" and great delight to the soul. The implications of the message, and the results that come from it, can cause bitterness of soul. Just as the "sweetness" is not mere fleshly exhilaration, so "bitterness" is a legitimate spiritual experience, not the expression of the lower, or fleshly, nature. The Gospel, for example, brings out who are being saved AND those who are perishing. As it is written, "For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?" (2 Cor 2:15-16). The expression "who is sufficient for these things" means "Who is equal to such a task?" Who has the constitution to handle both sweetness and bitterness, joy and sorrow, delight and languish? It is the person who "eats the book"-who throws himself into the digestion of the King's Word!
There are precious few, it appears, who spend time eating the book! Legion is the name of those who study about the word, but never eat the book! They spend phenomenal energy in learning about the original language of the book, the historical background of the book, and the comments of others concerning the book. It is not that these things are wicked, or that there is nothing of value in them. That is not my point. They cannot, however, become a substitute for eating the book! No one will be an effective laborer in the Lord's vineyard that does not spend time digesting what God has said.
"Then I took the little book out of the angel's hand and ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. But when I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter" (Verse 10). The Apostle does not balk at the word of the angel. He does precisely what is required of him. He takes the book from the angel's hand, and immediately consumes it. The effects are exactly what the angel said they would be. The immediate effect of the Word was sweetness to the spiritual palate. It was a good word because it came from a good Lord! It was sweet because it told of the Lord's doing, which is marvelous in the eyes of those who see it.
David referred to the sweetness of the Word, confirming its initial affect upon the human spirit. "The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb" (Psa 19:9-10, NKJV). Again, it is contained in the 119th Psalm, "How sweet are Your words to my taste, Sweeter than honey to my mouth!" (Verse 103, NKJV). Great delight registers upon the heart of the person choosing to eat the book.
But, alas, that is not the only experience wrought by the book! There is also "bitterness" in the inmost part of the eater. It registers upon the soul of the one consuming the Word that too often those hearing it will be hurt by the very word that brought sweetness to the one consuming it. Like Ezekiel and John, Jeremiah also realized this. With great fervency he cried out, "For the hurt of the daughter of my people I am hurt. I am mourning; Astonishment has taken hold of me" (Jer 8:31). That is the kind of bitterness of which our text speaks. When you digest the Word, you will fellowship with the Lord in this: "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Pet 3:9).
Ezekiel, for example, experienced bitterness, just like John. "So the Spirit lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the LORD was strong upon me" (Ezek 3;14). There was a certain chaffing in his spirit that approximated anger, although it was not fleshly, or sinful. The state he experienced lasted for "seven days," as he sat astonished among those in captivity (3:15).
Daniel had a similar experience. After receiving the message of the Lord and digesting it, he "fainted and was sick for days . . . " (Dan 8:27). Later, when he had heard the conclusion of the Lord's message, Daniel said, "my cogitations much troubled me, and my countenance changed in me" (Dan 7:28). Again, in the tenth chapter of his book, Daniel writes, "Therefore I was left alone, and saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength . . . O my lord, by the vision my sorrows are turned upon me, and I have retained no strength" (Dan 10:8).
Habakkuk also tasted of the bitterness mentioned. "When I heard, my body trembled; My lips quivered at the voice; Rottenness entered my bones; And I trembled in myself, That I might rest in the day of trouble. When he comes up to the people, He will invade them with his troops" (Hab 3:16).
John the beloved was given a message to send to the churches (1:11). Part of his responsibility was to himself consume the message given to him-to "eat the little book." He is given a vision of a great falling away - of the rising of a spiritual Babylon that would dash the saints in pieces, ride roughshod over the truth, and appear prominent among men (chapters 17-18). The message given to him was but an elaboration of the words spoken by Jesus, and written by Peter, Paul, and Jude (Matt 24:12; 2 Thess 2:3; 1 Tim 4:1-3; 2 Tim 3:1-7; 2 Tim 4:1-4; 2 Pet 2:1-3; Jude 18).
John saw and heard, and wrote as directed. He warned of coming realities that would incur the wrath of the Almighty. Yet, in spite of all of the warnings, both those preceding John, and those delivered by him, the apostasy came. Babylon still rose with its corruption, obscuring Christ and bring a flood of delusion. The love of many still waxed cold, and multitudes still departed from the truth. Suddenly, after digesting the Word of God, John is stricken with a sense of God's great love in warning the church. He realizes these things will, indeed, come to pass. The message was then bitterness in his belly. It was much like the "care of all the churches" which came upon Paul every day (2 Cor 11:28).
These are the repercussions that professional religious men never see. It broke the heart of John to know of the unavoidable descent of Divine judgment. He could not be indifferent to it. The fact that God was going to move, and that His purpose would surely be fulfilled, was "sweet." The wake of suffering, however, was like the "vinegar mingled with gall" that Jesus tasted on the cross (Matt 27:34).
This is a form of fellowship from which many draw back. It is revealed in the lament of Jesus over Jerusalem. Do you remember His words? "Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation" (Lk 19:41-44, NKJV). There was "joy"associated with our Lord's mission (Heb 12:2), but there was also bitterness! It will be no different for those who take us His yoke, and put their hand to His plow!
It is ever true, "The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits" (2 Tim 2:6). He must be the first to taste of the blessed sweetness of the message. He must also be the first to taste the bitterness of its implications! Before anyone can effectively labor with God, the Divine message must first be burned into the soul. It must be a part of him-as much as his personality, preferences, and dislikes. He must "eat the book."
There are often bitter consequences to receiving the Word of the Lord. Jesus spoke of this, and we do well to take it into our souls. "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matt 10:34-39, NKJV). Let us once and for all have done with naive and simplistic views of the Kingdom of our Lord and His Christ!
I cannot help but speak, as it were, to John, the Patmos Seer. O John, the things that caused bitterness to your belly have come into the world! Many of us have shared your bitterness from the other side of Patmos. We have seen the truth wasted and perverted! We have seen the saints starved and neglected! Some of us have grown up with those who blushed yo declare to Zion their sins. We have also walked with those who would not have sinners rebuked in Zion. We have seen the church grow wealthy and prominent in worldly terms, but impoverished in spiritual ones. With sadness we have beheld her ministers meet with the approval of the enemies of God, and her houses of worship become jewel-encrusted centers of pleasure and entertainment. We also weep for the abominations in Jerusalem! The bitter implications of the truth of God have settled in our belly, as well as the sweetness of His counsel upon our mouth.
JOHN BECOMES A PARTICIPANT
"And he said to me, You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings" (Verse 11). This is what brought the "bitterness" into the belly of John - his participation in the work. He is going to prophesy to the very people who will taste of the judgment of the Almighty! It was not easy for John. The very Spirit of the Judge entered into John, making him a participant with Him. God has "no pleasure in the death of the wicked" (Ezek 33:11; 18:23,32). John fellowships with the Lord in that circumstance. Although God is just in the most harsh of His judgments, it is still true, "He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men. To crush under one's feet all the prisoners of the earth, to turn aside the justice due a man before the face of the Most High, or subvert a man in his cause; the Lord does not approve" (Lam 3:33-36). Those who are called into the fellowship of God's Son are also called to this experience. Suffering and glory are joined together.
Here again is a principle of the Kingdom that must be seen more clearly by our generation. Kingdom labors are fulfilled by participation, not merely fulfilling obligation. Those who approach the Lord's work from a mere professional view, or for personal advantage, will simply be excluded. Their labors will not be recognized. The reason for this condition is obvious. Apart from union with Deity, we are actually at variance with the Lord. If we are not yoked with Him, we are at war with Him. In his fallen state, man is not even capable of agreement with God. He is not suitable for Divine employment because of this situation.
If men doubt this to be the case, God has clarified the matter. Outside of Christ, "There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Rom 3:10-18). This is a precise statement of the case, all contrary thoughts notwithstanding. Whatever flows from the well of nature conflicts with the will of the Lord. The "carnal mind" is "enmity" against God. It is not subject to the law of God. What is more, it is not possible for it to be (Rom 8; 7). "By nature," or apart from regeneration, we are "the children of wrath" (Eph 2:3). If an effective union is not produced between God and man, it is not possible to avoid His wrath.
This is why participation is essential! It is the compelling reason behind the "exceeding great and precious promises" of God. They have been given to us in order that we might become "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4). And why is this the case? Simply put, God has called us into His own working. We are now "laborers together with God" (1 Cor 3:9). Now, in Christ Jesus, God works in us "both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Phil 2:13). Now, in strict accord with both His nature and His purpose, He is working in us "that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ" (Heb 13:20-21).
In keeping with this principle, John is called into the work of the Kingdom. A "mighty angel" holds the open book, but John will be the one who proclaims it! God has consistently moved in this manner-employing men in the execution of His determined will. He used Enoch to declare the coming judgment of the flood, as well as the coming of the Lord Jesus to judge the world (Jude 14-15). He called Noah into His purpose to judge the world with a flood (2 Pet 2:5). The epoch of the giving of the law found Moses summoned into the work (John 1:17). The "holy prophets" were called into the work, prophesying of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow. Mighty John the Baptist was called into the purpose, chosen to "make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Lk 1:17). The twelve Apostles were hand picked by Jesus that they "should go and bring forth fruit, and that [their] fruit should remain: that whatsoever [they] shall ask of the Father in His name, He may give it [to them]" (John 15:16). In the same manner, Paul was summoned into accord with Jesus to "to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me" (Acts 26:18). This has always been God's way!
Now, in his old age, John is once again called into a higher level of activity. It is not enough for him to be exiled on Patmos! He is brought into the labors of the Lord once more. Now he will "prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings."
If you would work for the Lord, you must get under the yoke with Him. You must embrace His agenda, and consume His Word! Your employment requires that you digest what God has determined and declared. You must dwell upon the Word long enough for it to work an effect with you. It will not be enough to fill your mind with comments about the Word, although that is noble when kept within the proper measure. Your priority, however, must be the Word of the King. That is what must delight your heart. The ramifications of that Word is what must be the source of your bitterness. The Word must dominate you, satisfy you, and awaken within you a fervent desire to be used by God. When this happens, you will join the ranks of men like John!
THE TIME OF MEASUREMENT
"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" (11:1). Increased involvement now begins. Before, John was simply writing. Now, he is going to measure, or judge. At this point, we enter into a most solemn part of this book. Again, I remind you of the folly of thinking the church was removed from the world at the conclusion of the third chapter. John is going to "measure," or evaluate and judge, "the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there." This is certainly not a call to assess what is in heaven. Such a thought is too absurd for any thinking person to entertain. Here, judgment is BEGINNING "at the house of God" (1 Pet 4:17).
The "reed" given to John is a measuring instrument. It is something of fixed length-a means of appraisal that has been determined by God. There are Divine requirements, and they are seen in this "reed." Grace is very real, but so is judgment. Those who do not ponder accountability to the Lord do well to consider this passage. God will view everyone associated with Himself in view of His purpose, His will, and His preferences.
This is not the first time we have confronted Divine measurement. God has always maintained the right to measure things. With great solemnity, Moses was told, "See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain" (Heb 8:5; Ex 25:40). Men are simply not allowed to depart from the Divine agenda in order to gratify their own desires.
Jeremiah also was told of a measuring line. "And the measuring line shall go out farther straight ahead to the hill Gareb; then it will turn to Goah. And the whole valley of the dead bodies and of the ashes, and all the fields as far as the brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be holy to the LORD; it shall not be plucked up, or overthrown anymore forever" (Jer 31:38-39). Here, God would chalk-out, as it were, His own territory. Although death and devastation had been there, He would reclaim it for Himself.
The judgment of Jerusalem was announced to the prophet Ezekiel. That judgment also involved a measuring reed. "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." The extreme bitterness associated with this judgment is seen in the requirement placed upon the prophet. "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."
The measurements were remarkably detailed, extending through the next five chapters of Ezekiel. (Ezek 40-45). The remarkable thing about this passage is its similarity to our revelation text. The temple itself was measured in every aspect (Ezek 40:5-43:12). The altar was measured (Ezek 43:13-44:3). Also, the worshipers, or those serving in the temple, were measured (44:4-31).
In the days of Zechariah the prophet, the measurement of the people of God was again declared. "Then I raised my eyes and looked, and behold, a man with a measuring line in his hand. So I said, Where are you going? And he said to me, To measure Jerusalem, to see what is its width and what is its length" (Zech 2:1-2).
You can see the consistency of God in this matter of judgment. John is being brought into the evaluation of the people of God, just as the prophets before him.
A VITAL PRINCIPLE TO BE SEEN
Here is a principle aspect of the Divine working that must not escape our attention. Anything built, or commanded to be built, by our Lord comes to the time of measurement. It will be inspected to see if it measures up to Divine expectation! There is no way for this procedure to be avoided. It is built into the very nature of the Kingdom of God, and is a precise expression of the Divine nature. Jesus expounded this principle in the parables of the talents (Matt 25:14-30), the pounds (Lk 19:12-27), the barren fig tree (Luke 13:6-9), and the Vine (John 15:1-5). We have been called into God's work, and we will be assessed with that in mind.
A More Precise View
Countless religious people fail to consider the day of judgment, whether a preliminary time, or the "day of the Lord," within the context of Divine purpose. People tend to think of judgment be accomplished by measuring each deed by a right/wrong standard, without regard to how it related to what God was doing. Jesus spoke of "many" who will say in that great day, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?" The Lord did NOT respond with a rejoinder that denied they had, in fact, done such things. He simply countered, "I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Matt 7:22-23).
What accounts for the difference in the assessment of the works in reference? Those who9 did them said they were "wonderful works," or "miracles" (NASB). Jesus said they were "iniquity," or "lawlessness" (NASB). His explanation for that circumstance was, "I never knew you." Notice, He did not say, "You never knew me," although that was, no doubt, the case.
The solution to the dilemma is found in our Revelation text. What Jesus was saying is this: these prodigious workers were not aligned with His purpose. They were not working in union with Himself. Their accomplishments were not in synch with His agenda, and could not be harmonized with His purpose. In other words, they were working on their own, not from within His yoke.
The measuring process to which we are going to be subjected, both in our text and in the day of judgment, will view what we have said and done in that light. Were we working with the Lord, or in separation from Him. Did our activities have anything to do with what he was doing? Did they require the grace of God? Were they accomplished without the Spirit of God? Did we need an Intercessor to accomplish them? Make no mistake about this. Such judgment is eventually coming for everyone. Our text reveals it will come ahead of time for some. History confirms this to be the Divine manner. It is seen in Adam and Eve, Cain, the world of Noah's time, wayward Israel, Ananias and Sapphira, and others.
Now, let us consider the objects of evaluation. What is to be "measured?" In this, we will see the consistent focus of the Lord. We will behold the proper emphasis for God's people. In order of their evaluation, we have The temple of God. This is the realm from which God works, and where His Presence is found. The altar. This is the means by which atonement is accomplished. It is the basis upon which reconciliation is realized. Those who worship therein. These are the ones engaged in Divine service-those who have professed allegiance to the Living God. The history of the world, as well as the destiny of men, hinges upon the Divine assessment of these areas.
What John is NOT told to measure is also significant. He is NOT told to measure the government, although it was infinitely corrupt in his time. He was not told to measure the family, of domestic aspect of society, although that is a vital area. Neither, indeed, was he told to measure the social trends of the day, even though they were remarkably corrupt.
Why were these things omitted? Is it that God never judges these areas? Indeed not! The destiny of men, however, does not depend upon these aspects of mortal life, however essential they may appear. The dwelling place of God, the provision for atonement, and those aligned with God are the real issues. These are all areas that require-absolutely require-the reigning Jesus. There can be a government, family, or society without the glorified Christ! All of those existed before the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us. There can be families without an Interceding Savior. They existed before the Son of God entered into this vile world. There can be productive and helpful societies without a Redeemer. There were prior to the God sending His Son into the world.
But the Temple of God cannot exist without the Son of God. An atonement for sin cannot be effective without the Lamb of God! There can be no human traffic in the heavenly temple apart from the One Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus! All of these are intricately associated with the reigning Christ.
The Temple of God
This is the church, whether in pretension or in reality. Those who profess to be part of this temple will be measured just as though they were. The Divine standard will be placed along side everything that presents itself as the place where God can be met or found.
The church is presented to us as God's temple. "Do you not know that you (plural) 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 Cor 3:16-17). Whether or not men so regard the church, this is how heaven regards it. "The temple of God is HOLY!" Those who defile or contaminate it will not be held guiltless!
The gravity of this circumstance is seen in this word to the Corinthians. "And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (2 Cor 6:16). For the temple of God, separation from the world order is an absolute essentiality. "Therefore come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you" (Verse 17). The "measuring reed" is for a process that includes this type of assessment. Is the church holy! That is a critical question with God!
One of the objectives, if not the preeminent one, involves becoming a suitable dwelling place for God-His temple, as it were. "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" (Eph 2:20-22). If, collectively, the Lord does not dwell within a people, their existence is vain. Such an assembly will not pass the measurement of God. They will come up short. It will be said of such an assembly as it was once said of Israel, "For the bed is too short to stretch out on, And the covering so narrow that one cannot wrap himself in it" (Isa 28:20). The unusual number of religious assemblies in which the presence of the Almighty is not evident confirms the need for this measurement.
Thus John is told to "measure the temple of God." Estimate it by the revealed purpose of God! See how it fits into the Divine agenda, and what it has contributed to the realization of the plan of the ages. Examine its fruit, and see if it has withered. Behold if "nothing but leaves" is found, when fruit is expected (Matt 11:13-14).
God is sensitive about His temple! He has pledged Himself to "destroy" those who defile it! Those who construct, what they call, a seeker-friendly environment, do well to consider this now, for God will consider it then! Hear the Word of the Lord. "But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire" (1 Cor 3:10-15).
This is not speaking of individual works, or deeds-the expressions of individuals. The "works" of reference are the converts-those placed upon the Foundation Stone. In this regard, Paul told the Corinthians, "Are you not my work in the Lord?" (1 Cor 9:1). "Wood, hay, and stubble" are people who will not stand the test of Divine judgment. They will be denied, like those to whom Jesus said, "I never knew you." As inconceivable as it appears to the spiritual mind, there are actually religious men who specialize in "wood, hay, and stubble" Christians. Their programs are calculated to swell the numbers with people who are spiritually weak, and require little nourishment. Religious careers have been built upon such strategies. Regardless of the glowing reports, such men must take the Word to heart. "If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss." There are labors that are wasted! What is more, those who "suffer loss" must themselves pass the fire test. The measurement of the temple of God is sure! We do well to submit to it now.
The measurement will, no doubt, be extensive, as depicted in the book of Ezekiel (Ezek 40-45). The term "Temple" takes us back to the wilderness tabernacle, after which the Temple was constructed. The tabernacle was a precise reflection of heavenly realities"the example of heavenly things" (Heb 8:5; Ex 25:40). The involvements of this measurement are worthy of mention. This is not a mere measure of the perimeter of the temple. There was a holy place, in which the priests ministered daily. There was also a "most holy" place, where atonement was made, and Divine communication experienced. Consider also the table of showbread, the golden candlestick, the altar of incense, and the ark of the covenant with the mercy seat. All of these spoke of the ordained approach to God.
The service of God (Holy Place)
Access to God (The Most Holy)
Spiritual nourishment (Showbread)
Illumination (Golden candlestick)
Pleasing God (Altar of incense)
The covenant (Ark of the covenant)
Place of communion (Mercy Seat)
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but is fairly representative. Each of these things will be measured by God. None of them will be taken for granted or overlooked.
In what way, and by what means, is God served?
How do men seek access to God?
How is nourishment ministered?
What is the means through which spiritual understanding is sought?
In what ways are efforts made to please God?
How is the covenant perceived?
How is communion with God represented?
In the institutionalized church these are normally not areas of consideration. That is a tragic mistake! These are areas of Divine consideration. While the professed church busies itself with institutional concerns, recruitment, budgets, and entertaining programs, the measuring reed is being readied!
"MEASURE THE TEMPLE!"
In this book, the Lord Jesus Himself has already used the measuring reed. In chapters two and three, He measured the seven churches, finding their deficiencies and strengths. That was but a prelude to coming assessments, and the ultimate judgment of the last day. It behooves every church, every congregation, every gathering of believers, to prepare themselves for Divine evaluation. The church is NOT an end of itself! It is the "pillar and ground of the truth," the appointed custodian of the means to salvation. Its Creator is Jesus. The Source of its life is the Holy Spirit. The purpose it serves belongs to God the Father. Because of this, it will be measured!
One of the indispensable ministries of those speaking for God, is to alert the church to Divine measurement. There are countless congregations in existence that never give a thought to this. The jeopardy of their situation, when seen, is frightening to the soul. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!"
The worship of, and acceptance by, God has always required an "altar." Noah is the first one said to build an altar to God. On it, he offered "of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings." It is written, "And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done" (Gen 8:20-21). It was essential that Noah have an altar!
The next man of primary importance was Abraham, the friend of God. As soon as God appeared to Him, confirming the coming blessing to him and his seed, Abraham "built an altar to the Lord, Who appeared to Him" (Gen 12:7). The patriarch, from that day forward, was noted for the altars he built to God (Gen 12:8; 13:4,18; 22:9). Isaac followed the same procedure (Gen 26:25), as well as Jacob (Gen 33:20; 35:1,3,7). As Moses entered into his indispensable ministry, he built an altar (Ex 17:15). The Old Covenant centered in an altar, upon which atoning sacrifices were made (Ex 20:24-26; 27:1-7; 28:43, etc.). An altar was essential to Divine acceptance!
Altars did not begin or end with the First Covenant. It is written, "We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat" (Heb 13:10). This is a reference to the vicarious, or substitutionary death of Christ Jesus. It speaks of the basis of our acceptance with God. It is why we can come into His presence.
As you must know, the professed church is significantly divided on how men approach. Some teach it is only through an earthly priest, or representative-or even through Mary, the mother of our Lord. Some affirm it is upon the basis of a prescribed discipline, or liturgy. Throughout the Apostolic writings, particularly those of Paul, the issue of approaching God on the basis of works, or personal achievement, is the issue. In that case, the altar is of man's making, and the primary sacrifice is that of the individual. More of this type of teaching exists than we care to acknowledge.
John is commanded to measure the altar. How are men approaching to the Living God. The Galatians were doing so through a system of law (Gal 3:2-3). The Ephesians came upon the basis of theological exactness (Rev 2:1-4). The Colossians were being pulled into a system of personal discipline (Col 2:20-23). In these cases, neither the Lord nor the Apostles were gentle. Too much was at stake.
Consider the firmness of the proclamation our altar, and the danger of deviating from it. "You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace" (Gal 5:4). "I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain" (Gal 2:21). Like John, Paul was measuring the altar! He found some who, like the Jews of old, were "seeking to establish their own righteousness," and thus had "not submitted to the righteousness of God" (Rom 10:3). There is never ambiguity on this subject!
Speaking of the altar, Jesus affirmed, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:53-54). This saying offended many that heard it, constraining them to leave Jesus and walk no more with Him (John 6:66). Our Lord was measuring the altar! He has not ceased this activity.
The priests of old ate from the altar, or were "partakers of the altar." Their sustenance came from the sacrifice (1 Cor 10:18; Lev 7:11-17). Likewise, those in Christ are sustained by the sacrifice of the altar. We not only come to God through Christ's sacrifice, we are continually sustained by it. When the Lord measured the altar at Corinth, He found it deficient. They had viewed the altar with contempt, not discerning the Lord's body at the Lord's table. For this reason they were judged (1 Cor 11:26-32).
Here is a matter rarely considered in many churches: the altar provided by the Lord. The atoning death of Christ is rarely mentioned among countless congregations. Legion is the name of the churches and affiliates who hold before us their achievements in the flesh as their recommendation to God. When John is dispatched to measure the altar he will see what position the Lamb of God really occupies. Just as the altar was the center of activity in the court, and the means of entrance into the tabernacle, so the reconciliation accomplished by Jesus is the solitary means of our approach to God. It is the center of our activity.
"The altar" also includes the altar of incense, where the atonement was actually made (Ex 30:9-10). The brazen altar was where the sacrifice was made. The altar of incense is where it was presented. Both aspects are seen in the altar we "have" (Heb 13:10).
The only valid appeal to God is through Christ Jesus. The only means of acceptance is Christ Himself. It is His blood that cleanses (Rev 1:5), sanctifies (Heb 10:29), and by which we are justified (Rom 5:9). We have "redemption through His blood" (Eph 1:7). All of this is involved in "the altar."
If the altar, or means of reconciliation, is to be measured by God, we do well to accentuate that means in our preaching. Over the years, I have found this to be an area of consistent deficiency in the churches. Here-at the altar-is where confidence and assurance are obtained. The conscience is cleansed here, and boldness to enter the presence of the Almighty is experienced. There will be a measurement of the altar!
Them That Worship Therein
People will be measured by God. Those who have claimed identity with the Lord will under the measuring reed! Those in Christ are described as "the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh" (Phil 3:3). They have experienced the "circumcision of Christ," having the "body of the sins of the flesh" removed (Col 2:11-12). That is not something that SHOULD occur-it has already occurred! It is not said that they OUGHT to worship God, but that they DO! Rejoicing in Christ Jesus is not an objective for them, but the experience of them. They are not under a grievous and burdensome commandment to have no confidence in the flesh. Rather, they simply do not have any! These are all realities produced by regeneration. They are evidence of salvation, and aspects of the New Covenant.
Jesus told a woman from Samaria that God is looking for worshipers -"true worshipers" (John 4:23). These "worship the Father in spirit and in truth." Again, worship is not an objective, but a spiritual posture and experience. Notice what the Savior affirms! God is NOT seeking worship. Those accentuating worship have made a grievous error. Their vision has become distorted by an institutionalized religion. Jesus said, "the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers" (John 4:24, NASB). God is seeking "worshipers," and He finds them kin Christ Jesus. There will be worship, to be sure, for that is what makes worshipers "worshipers." Such are not compelled by methods and techniques to worship God. They do so "in spirit." It comes from their basic spiritual constitution. Their worship is not on the surface, or merely soulish. It is not an exhibition of undiscerning emotion. They worship "in truth"-i.e., their worship is real. It is the outpouring of their persons. They know God. Like Moses, they see Him who is invisible (Heb 11:27).
You already know such individuals are relatively scarce in the professed church. There are a phenomenal number of pretenders about us. It is not our purpose to point fingers and become the judges of other people. It is, however, imperative that everyone be alerted: God will measure the worshipers.
The conditions we see all about us had already started in John's time. Jesus had measured only seven churches in Asia, finding the worshipers in five of them deficient. John would now extend the measurement throughout the world. It is this kind of activity that caused bitterness in his belly. It is difficult on the man of God to assess those who come short of the glory of God. That is only a faint reflection of the effects of such things upon the Lord Jesus. As Head of the church, the greatest impact of a deficient church registers upon Him.
OMIT THE OUTER COURT
"But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles" (11:2a). Here we begin to come to grips with the condition of the church. Remarkable deterioration had already set in, and it was going to get worse. It was not easy for the aged Apostle to be confronted with these things. His heart had been knit with the Lord, and he also "loved the church." Already, many had left the company of the faithful to disseminate erroneous doctrines. Earlier, John wrote, "Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us" (1 John 2:18-19). We now deal with the Divine reaction to that corruption.
Remember, the three key areas to be measured are, The dwelling place of God-the Temple. The means by which atonement was obtained-the Altar. Those within Temple, who claim to be worshipers of God. There is, however, one key area left out. It is "the court which is outside the temple," better known as "the outer court." John is to spend no time evaluating it, or measuring it. He is not to save it until last, or give it only a cursory measurement. He is NOT to measure it at all. "Leave out the court which is outside the temple!"
The language here is unusually strong. "Leave out the court which is without the temple." The RSV and NRSV read, "do not measure the court outside the temple." The NIV reads, "But exclude the outer court!" The word carries all of the strength of the command to measure the Temple, Altar, and worshipers. The word "leave out" comes from (ek-bal'-le), and means cast (forth, out), drive (out), expel, leave, pluck (pull, take, thrust) out, put forth (out), send away (forth, out). An even more extended definition includes the following. (1) as ejection by force throw out, expel, drive out (MT 8.16); (2) as expelling or excluding without force repudiate, send away, let go (JN 6.37); (3) as taking out or removing from something, bring out, bring forth (MT 12.35); take out (LU 10.35); pull out, tear out and throw away (MK 9.47); leave out (of consideration), omit (RV 11.2).
This is the rejection of something noxious and offensive. It is the same word used for casting the beam out of our own eye that we may clearly see to cast the mote out of our brother's eye (Matt 7:5). Jesus also used this word when challenging men to "pluck out" the eye that offends them (Mark 9:47). It is also used by Paul when referring to God's word to Abraham, "Cast out the bondwoman with her son" (Gal 4:30). A strong word, indeed! Here is an area that has been rejected. It is not an acceptable place to stay, and there is no hope for those who choose to reside there.
The "outer court" was for the people of God. Only Jews entered into it. This was the court that surrounded the tabernacle. A wall of curtains formed its perimeter-an area 300' X 75'. Two key items were in this court: the laver and the altar. Both were made of brass, and were essential to entering into the tabernacle. The laver was used for washing. The matter was so critical that Aaron and his sons were told they would "die" if they entered the tabernacle without washing (Ex 30:18-21). The altar was the provided for sacrifices, the blood of which was taken within the holy place. As you can see, the outer court was not incidental. Yet, John is told to exclude it from the appointed measurement.
Presented in Type
The "court without the Temple" was the area of approach. There was no communion in this court. God did not speak with the High Priest in the outer court. The blood was not presented here, and the incense was not offered here. It was a place of preparation and approach, both of which were imperative. But they were not enough of themselves! Access to God began here, but was not brought to its culmination. The empowering Presence of the Almighty was not here. Some have called this court "the worshipers square, " where the people of God were allowed access, though they could not enter the tabernacle itself.
A Significant Distinction
A distinction is made between those worshiping in the temple, and any that might be in the court without the temple. Only those WITHIN are to be measured - those who are not merely approaching, but are inside, the dwelling place of God. The casually interested are excluded! Those who are approaching are omitted. Those dwelling in the outer limits are banned from the measurement. "The court that is without, leave out!"
This is another way of saying, "For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God" (1 Pet 4:17). Understand, this is not primarily a search for excellence, but the exposure of inexcusable shortcoming and spiritual dereliction.
Introduced by Ezekiel
It accords perfectly with the revelation given to Ezekiel. In his day, God's judgment came against Jerusalem. Before it was executed, you will recall, those who "sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof" were marked. They were not to be touched by the messengers of judgment. The mandate to six angels is frightening, but we must hear it once again. "Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women . . . " Two special directives were given. In them, we behold a portent of the text with which we are dealing. " . . . but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and BEGIN AT MY SANCTUARY" (Ezek 9:5-6).
No safety Outside the Temple
One might imagine that some degree of safety exists in the outer court, since it is left out of the measurement. But this is not at all the case. All but the faithful in the Temple will be utterly destroyed, as confirmed by Ezekiel's vision. The exclusion of the court "without the Temple" is only for this time of special measurement. Judgment "begins with the house of God," but it does not end there!
WHY THE OUTER COURT IS LEFT OUT
The angel is specific about WHY the court that is without the Temple is excluded from the measurement. "for it is given unto the Gentiles." Herein is a most awesome aspect of the reign of Jesus! Provision has been made for approach without entrance, for introduction without acquaintance, for form without power.
The outer court was the realm of preparation and approach. The sacrifice was made there, and washing was accomplished. But entrance was not found in that court. The light of the golden candlestick was not there. The nourishing loaves of showbread were not there. The pleasing fragrance of the golden altar of incense could not be detected in the outer court. There was not intercession there, nor Divine communication. It was a court "without," or outside the tabernacle and temple.
If corruption comes, it will come in the outer court! It will not be found in the Holy Place, or the Most Holy place.
Who are "the Gentiles" to whom this outer court is given? From one perspective, these are the nations of the world. They are first mentioned in Genesis 10:5, when the first division of mankind is recorded. That was before Abraham and the Jews. From that point on, however, the Gentiles are generally viewed as all non-Jewish peoples. Paul is very specific in his definition of "the Gentiles": " . . . the Gentiles who do not know God" (1 Thess 4:5). These are the people who have had no access to God-to whom no revelation was given, and who were not in covenant with the Lord of all. That is the general view of the word in Apostolic writings (Rom 2:14,24; 3:29; 9:24,30; 11:11; 1 Cor 5:1; 10:20; 1 Pet 2:12; 4:3). The phrase "the nations" is used throughout Revelation in this sense (2:26; 11:18; 16:19; 18:3,23; 19:15; 20:3,8).
"The Gentiles" of our text are the people who do not know God, who are not in covenant relation with Him through Christ Jesus. In this case, we will find they are religious, but not in an acceptable manner. These have a "form of godliness, but deny the power thereof" (2 Tim 3:5). They are, in fact, part of a great "falling away," have embraced the "doctrines of men" (2 Thess 2:3; Col 2:22). They are responsible for the introduction of corruption.
But the King limits the place where their corruption can spread. Hey cannot bring it into the Holy Place. There is no way it can be brought into the Holiest Place. It is confined to "the court without the Temple." Those who "know not God," although intensely religious, cannot purvey their corruption in the realm of Divine intimacy! They can only barter in the outer court. That area, and that area alone, is "given to the Gentiles." Spiritual imposters and pretenders roam about in the vestibule of truth, but they cannot enter into interior! Praise the Lord!
The outer court is not measured because it has been rejected! Those who remain in that area are not accepted. It is therefore unworthy of measurement, for there is no hope for those lingering in the realm of approach. If men do not come into Divine fellowship, there is actually no purpose for the outer court! In the tabernacle shadows, there was no purpose for a sacrifice and cleansing apart from entrance into the tabernacle proper!
Outer Court Religion
We are living in the time of outer court religion. There is an enormous amount of activity in the "court without the Temple," but precious little, proportionately, in the Holy Place and Holiest Place.
Nearly all areas of corruption have to do with approaching God. Ponder the corruption of how to be saved. Denominations present such a distorted picture in this matter, it is a wonder any are saved at all. We have everything from a sinner's prayer, to fulfilling a moral code. Although there is "one baptism," outer court propagators cannot agree as to what it is. Confusion reigns on how to come into Christ, how to receive the Spirit, and how to live the Christian life.
The Holy Spirit identifies the rudimentary matters of doctrine. " repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment" (Heb 6:1-2). It will suffice to say these areas have all been misrepresented by "the Gentiles." These are, so to speak, within the outer court. They are not to be despised, nor are they to be abandoned. They have to do with preparing to enter the Presence of the Lord. But if people do not go forward from these, they will be rejected!
If anyone doubts this is the case, ponder the continued reasoning of the Spirit on this matter. "And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame" (Heb 6:3-6). When spiritual advance, or entering into the "Holiest" (Heb 10:19), does not take place, there will be an exclusion from Divine measurement. In other words, there will be Divine rejection.
Again, this is too strong for some top receive - yet it is the truth. The Spirit is very specific at this point. "For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briars, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned" (Heb 6:7-8). This is an aspect of the Kingdom of God that is hardly known in the church-world! See-the outer court has been "given to the Gentiles."
The Danger of Outer Court Religion
It should be apparent, there is danger if one chooses to linger in the outer court! Being satisfied with introductory views puts the soul in jeopardy of being rejected by God. It is that serious. Staying in the "court that is without the Temple" subjects the soul to delusion, for that area has been "given to the Gentiles."
The outward extremity of the Kingdom has been given over to those possessing no real knowledge of the living God. This does not mean everyone there is hopeless, for we all began there. It DOES mean that everyone remaining there is in danger. Just as there is protection in close proximity to the Throne, so there is peril when remaining at a distance from that Throne. The Throne does not move to us, we move to it!
The seriousness of the our time is seen in the remarkable lack of spiritual appetite. There is a notable satisfaction with shallow views and brevity. Scriptural literacy has nearly vanished, and solid spiritual commitment is exceeding rare. This is the time of outer court religion!
We are admonished to "draw near," having "boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus" (Heb 10:19,22). Growing in Christ is a Divine requirement (1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18; Eph 4:15; 2 Thess 1:3). The economy of redemption is calculated to get us out of the area of beginnings (Eph 4:14-20; Heb 6:1-8). With a sense of urgency, we are admonished to "Go on to perfection" (Heb 6:1), "Put off the old man" and "Put on the new man" (Eph 4:22-24), "Be no more children" (Eph 4:14), "Fight the good fight of faith" (1 Tim 6:12), "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 13:14), etc., etc.
The reason for these admonitions is clear. The "outer court," or the area of approach, "is given to the Gentiles." It is the area where delusion lurks, and jeopardy is found. Exhortations such as the ones cited are calculated to get us out of the outer court, and into the holiest place.
Those who content themselves with spiritual shallowness have not the slightest notion of their coming plight. The reigning Lamb will not long endure such a condition. His atonement threw the door of heaven wide open for concourse with God! To refuse to enter into His presence will not be viewed as a mere oversight. If Jesus "once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God" (1 Pet 3:18), what will be the portion of those who stubbornly refuse to come to God. What will be the destiny of those who remained at a supposedly comfortable distance from God, when Jesus died to bring them near? To ask the question is to answer it! It is that apparent!
"And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months" (11:2b). Although the condition is grievous, it is under Divine control. Notice here that we move from the "court that is without the Temple" to the "holy city." The corruption of the outer court led to the desecration of "the holy city." In the Jewish economy, the "holy city" was Jerusalem, where God had placed His name. Neh 11:1,18; Isa 52:1; Matt 4:5; 27:53). It was the larger environment, the outer court the area of approach unto god, and the Temple itself the place of communion. Using this figure, John is now given to see one aspect of the government of Jesus that causes bitterness in his belly.
The Principles Involved
First, the focus of God is upon the Temple itself, the means of access to it, and those who are within it. Second, the approach to God is not intended to be a permanent place of residence. Third, there is a larger realm related to God-a city, as it were. This third area is the realm of theology itself. It represents the domain in which religious (particularly Christian) thought, and works are accomplished.
Those who defiled the outer court were not content to confine their activity to that area. They ran roughshod over the entire city, debauching the whole of religion.
This speaks of a time of apostasy, corruption, obscurity of the truth, and a general reign of spiritual darkness. The sun of righteousness does not shine brightly in this time. This is not owing to any reduction of its light, but because of obscuring and deceptive clouds.
Keep in mind, the outer court "has been given to the Gentiles." They did not wrest it from the hand of the King-it was GIVEN to them. Their despicable trampling of "the holy city" reveals the wretchedness of their hearts and the maliciousness of their intent. Not only, however, was the "court that is without the Temple" given to them, they were limited in the time they could possess it. Behold the strict Divine control! The saints are safe in the hands of their Lord, "nothing shall by any means hurt" them (Lk 10:19).
Forty Two Months
This is a significant period in Scripture. It is brought up several times under different figures. The variety of ways used to describe it tells us a precisely defined time is not the thing being emphasized. Although we will find a remarkably precise period of time in history that reveals the significance of this text, we must not allow ourselves to be confined to such a view.
This period is identified in three different ways. There is something common in all of these references.
Forty-two months. The first reference affirms the "holy city" will be trodden under foot by the Gentiles for that period (Rev 11:2). The second reference states an opponent empowered by Satan himself would speak great things and blasphemies for this length of time (Rev 13:2).
One thousand two hundred and sixty days. Using a 30-day month, forty-two months equals 1,260 days. The first use of this expression declares God's witnesses will prophesy "clothed in sackcloth" for that period (Rev 11:3). The second use of this phrase tells us the people of God will be secretly nourished by the Lord during satanic assault for that length of time (Rev 12:6). Nourishment amidst oppression.
Time, times, and half a time. The word "time," in this instance, means a year. It is used in this manner elsewhere in Scripture (Dan 4:16,23,25). This, then, would be 3-1/2 years. Again, dividing 42 months by 12 equals 3-1/2 years. Too, dividing 1,260 days by 30 equals 3-1/2 years. It is referring to the same period of time. There are three references to this period of time: two in Daniel, and one in Revelation. The first speaks of a wicked being which shall "wear out the saints" for that length of time (Dan 7:25). The second affirms the shattering of "the power of the holy people" for that duration (Dan 12:7). The third refers to the people of God being nourished "from the face of the serpent" for that time (Rev 12:14).
A Brief Recap
The gravity of the circumstance to which we are being introduced can be seen in a brief review of these texts. Here are conditions associated with this period of time.
The Holy City trodden under foot.
The speaking of blasphemous words by an evil power.
The testimony of God's witnesses is subdued.
The church driven to a secret place in the wilderness.
The wearing out of the saints of God.
The shattering of the power of the holy people.
The church nourished secretly from the face of the aggressive serpent.
Anyone imagining that simplicity characterizes the Kingdom of God must rethink the matter! Those who tamper with the truth, or do not devote themselves wholly to laying hold of eternal life, must be told of this passage! It declares a judgment of God upon those who lost their appetite for the truth!
Here is a time when those hungering and thirsting for righteousness must hide themselves. The saints become weary and heavy laden, while their enemy speaks with brashness and boldness. Spiritual nourishment is scarce, and spiritual corruption is common. And it is all under the government of Jesus! The outer court was "GIVEN" to the Gentiles! The witnesses are sustained by God. A place is prepared for the woman. The woman is sustained by God. The blaspheming beast is "GIVEN" a mouth to peak great blasphemies. The saints will be "GIVEN" into the hands of an opponent to be worn out. However difficult it may be to receive, these are the affirmations of Scripture!
In this sacred place, we learn to approach salvation with sobriety and solemnity. Those who boast of having fun in their religion are not wise in either speech or conduct! God will not long abide such shallow approaches to the salvation that cost the life of His only begotten Son!
What Is This Period?
In principle, this is a period of time during which the people of God will suffer oppression. It will be unusual tyranny, during which religious opponents will appear to have control. It is a time when the rudiments are the focus, and the heart and core of spiritual life is thrust from the masses.
There is a remarkable reference to such a period in the letter to the Thessalonians. It will be profitable to briefly view it here. "Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thess 2:3-12, NKJV).
Here is outer court religion: a falling away and not receiving a love of the truth. The truth is obscured: power, signs, lying wonders. One who sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. The church must flee the situation: let no man deceive you by any means. The saints aggressively opposed: who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped. Blasphemous words are spoken: with all unrighteous deception.
This is spiritual corruption, termed a "falling away." Although it is under Divine control, it is for a lengthy period of time. In the early centuries, heathenism, with is idolatry, were the greatest threats to the church. There also came a time in history when worldly wisdom was vaunted to the place of God, and sought to supplant faith in God. But idolatry and irreligious philosophy are the greatest foes of the people of God. They are not what causes the darkest clouds on the horizon of understanding. Rather, it is when unbelief stands in the "court that is without the Temple" that the greatest danger exists. It is when men move about within the proximity of the Throne, but never quite before it, that the soul is lulled to sleep.
Our next lesson will explore the period of time to which we have been introduced in the last very of this discourse. We know the significance of this period by the number of times it is mentioned. Our hearts must grasp the message the Spirit is giving! It is a most solemn warning!
We have been exposed to the heart and purpose of our Lord Jesus Christ. In accordance with the will of God the Father, this is a message that is to be given to "the churches." While the immediate custodians of the message were the seven churches of Asia, its contents are not confined to them. Whoever has "an ear," or the capacity to hear the Lord, is to "hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches." The people of God are strangers and pilgrims in this world. They do not fit into the realm or its manner. Here, they become companions "in tribulation," and are led through fire and water to the promised land. Often, the affliction is so great, it becomes a distraction. Still, the saints have a promise from God. "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you" (Isa 43:2). This was the promise of God under the Old Covenant, but it is expounded more fully in the New Covenant.
In this wonderful book, the Lord Jesus expounds the matter of suffering more fully. He does so for the consolation of His people. They are given to see things never before divulged.
First, their greatest foes are found in the realm of religion-among those who have a form of godliness, but deny its effectual power. The saints must not become insensitive to the dangers inherent in dead religion! We live in a time when this is scarcely known. That is one of the reasons the times are "perilous."
Second, believers must avail themselves of every Divine resource in order to stand against this subtle attack by the evil one. It is vain to attempt to stand in the energy of the flesh. The forces that are aligned against us are superior to nature in its loftiest and most proficient state.
Third, the Lord Jesus is reigning in the very midst of their tribulation. Every aspect of the saint's experience is under the government of Jesus. He places limitations on the source of the trouble, the nature of the trouble, and the length of the trouble.
Fourth, all evil shall be recompensed, and all righteousness will be rewarded. Although it often appears as though the wicked are going unnoticed, they are not. Too, we may be tempted to think the righteousness of the saints is also overlooked. This is not so. Everything is being logged in the books!
Fifth, the assault against them is an organized. Satan has a purpose-an objective to fulfill against the church. He is shrewd in te execution of that purpose. Even though he is under the authority of Jesus, and is limited in what he can do, the saints must maintain closeness to their Lord. There is no provision in salvation for remaining at a distance from the King.
All of this has been seen in or studies to this point, and further elaboration will be seen. Behind the imagery, symbols, and analogies of this book, there is a resounding message, and we must discern it. The government is not only on Christ's shoulder, it is being faithfully administered. The purpose of the Almighty is being brought to a grand conclusion! The saints have been called into this working. They are participating in the fulfillment of God's "eternal purpose."