The mighty trumpet blasts of Revelation 8 and 9 have been sounding. They have been sounding since the time of Christ’s first coming. As they blast forth, the created order is shaken and undone (trumpets 1–4), the hordes of hell are unleashed upon the inhabitants of the earth (trumpet 5), war and rumors of war ravage the earth, killing a third of mankind (trumpet 6).
The trumpets have been sounding with increasing intensity. Natural calamities seem to be increasing upon the face of the earth. The spiritual assaults of the evil one seem to be escalating upon the inhabitants of the earth. War seems to claim more and more lives with every passing year. The trumpets have been sounding with increasing intensity.
The trumpets have been sounding and will continue to sound, with ever-increasing intensity, until Christ comes again. For these mighty trumpet blasts are harbingers of the last trumpet that will sound on the great and terrible day of the Lord, when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead.
We find ourselves living, then, in the midst of the trumpet blasts. We find ourselves living between the first coming of Christ and His return. We find ourselves awaiting the last trumpet. As we live in the midst of such things, it is good for us to be reminded of the identity and life of the Church. God has graciously given us such a reminder in the great interlude of Revelation 10:1–11:14, which sets before us the identity and life of the Church as she lives in the midst of the world between the first coming of Christ and His return on the clouds of glory.
Recall what we have seen in chapter 10. There John beheld the risen and exalted Christ, the Lord of Glory, coming down out of heaven, clothed with a cloud, a rainbow on His head, His face shining like the sun, and His feet like pillars of fire. He saw Him with a little book—the gospel—open in His hand. He set His right foot on the sea and His left foot on the land. He cried out to heaven with a lion-like voice, raising His hand to heaven, swearing an oath that there should be delay no longer. In other words, Christ Himself has sworn that the next great act of God is His coming at the last day to judge the living and the dead. In God’s conception of things, there is no delay! It is as though the skies were about to be rolled back! It is as though the trumpet were about to resound! It is as though Christ were about to descend!
John is then commanded to take the little book—the gospel—and eat it. It must become part of him, so that the message that he brings is none other than the gospel. John eats the book. It is sweet in his mouth, but bitter in his stomach.
Sweet, for what can be sweeter than the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Bitter, for the world hates that gospel, and seeks to persecute and even kill those who would bring it.
Understand, then, the significance of the preaching of the gospel. The gospel is preached under the impress and weight of the coming day of the Lord! The next great act of God is His coming again to judge the living and the dead. It is under the weight of that fact that you are to hear the gospel’s call to repentance and faith. It is with good reason the Scriptures say, “This is the day of salvation!” Indeed, there may not be another. Christ is coming to judge, and soon!
That is chapter 10. Now as we come to chapter 11, we learn that as the gospel is preached, a separation is made. “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.”
The Temple of God
John is told to measure the temple of God. This is not the literal Old Testament temple that John must measure. That temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, John is writing around the year A.D. 95. The temple in view here is not the literal Old Testament temple.
The temple in view here is the Church of Jesus Christ! Numerous times in the New Testament the Church is referred to as the temple of God. 1 Corinthians 3:16–17: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.” 2 Corinthians 6:16: “And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’” Ephesians 2:19–22: “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted 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.” Again and again the New Testament sets before us the Church as the temple of God. The Church is the dwelling place of God. God dwells in His Church through the Spirit. The Church is the temple of God.
The Altar of God
The temple of God is the Church of Jesus Christ, and John is commanded to measure it. But that is not the only thing John must measure. He must also measure the altar. Once again, in view here is not the Old Testament altar. This is not a literal altar that John must measure. That altar was destroyed, along with the temple, in A.D. 70.
The altar in view here is Christ and His cross. Here the book of Hebrews is most instructive. “Christ offered up Himself as our sacrifice once for all” (Hebrews 7:27). “Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (Heb. 9:28). “And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:11–14).
Is not all of this pushing us to see Christ as the sacrifice, as the altar from which we have the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting? “Indeed, we have an altar from which those who service the tabernacle have no right to eat!” (Heb. 13:10). The altar, then, is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. By that sacrifice we enter the presence of God.
The Worshipers Measured
John is commanded to measure the temple and the altar. But that is not all. He is also commanded to measure those who worship there. Those who are measured together with the temple and the altar are those who, by union with Christ, have been brought into the presence of God. This means that all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are in view here. As Christians, we have been bound to the altar, united to Christ and His sacrifice for us. Through His sacrifice, represented by the altar, we are brought into the very presence of God and bound to the temple. We are measured together with the temple and the altar. God knows those who are His.
The Outer Court
The measuring also effects a separation, verse 2: “But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles.” The measuring is not solely for dimensional purposes; the measuring is for separation. A distinction is being made, a separation if you will, between the true Church and the false church.
In terms of Revelation 11:1–2, the temple is the true Church (known unto God); the outer court is the false church. Notice that the false church is pictured in terms of the outer court. That is significant! Where was the outer court, but in front of, even surrounding, the temple itself. In other words, the false church approaches the character of the true church. The false church appears religious. The false church has a form of godliness, though she does not know the power thereof.
In the visible church here on earth there is a mixing of those who belong to the true Church and those who belong to the false church. There are members of the church here on earth who are not members of the church in heaven. There are members of the church visible who are not members of the church invisible. They are not all Israel who are of Israel. They are not all the Church who are of the church.
What is it that separates those who belong to the true Church from those who belong to the false church? The altar! The altar by which we enter the presence of God. In other words, Christ! Those who belong to the true Church are members of the true Church only by the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Those who do not belong to the true Church have not been united to the Lord Jesus Christ, though they may belong to the church here on earth.
The outer court belongs to the Gentiles, the Gentiles here signifying those who are Christian in name only. And what do they do to the church? “They tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months.” The holy city is again a reference to the true Church, the people of God.
The true Church becomes the object of the world’s scorn and hatred. Yes, tragically it becomes the object and scorn, even of those who profess to be Christian but who are not Christians at all. Through such nominal Christians the world invades the church, even seeking to take possession of it, that they might make it like the world. Those who belong to the false church would seek to make the true Church become like the world. How do the wolves come? They come as wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing! How does Satan work? He loves to masquerade as an angel of light! How subtly the false church works to make the true Church like the world!
This condition will continue for forty-two months, until Christ comes again. The number forty-two is significant. One commentator points out that the number forty-two is the number of 6 x 7. The number six is the number of man. The number seven is the number of perfection. In view here, then, is man’s complete and total effort to build a kingdom and a church unto himself.
Here is the outworking of the gospel, that bittersweet gospel. It is bitter: those who believe the gospel and belong to the Lord Jesus Christ have tribulation in the world. That tribulation is, at times, very bitter, as we shall see in the remainder of the interlude. But it is also sweet: those who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ have the sweet assurance of knowing that they belong to God Himself, and are even now under His protection.
Look back once again to verse 1, and the binding of the temple, the altar, and the true people of God. Christians are bound to the altar, bound to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and thus brought into the temple, the very dwelling place of God. But what happens to that temple in the new heavens and new earth? In the new heavens and new earth, there is no temple! When John sees the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, he says, “But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple! The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light” (Rev. 21:22–23). There is no temple in the new heavens and new earth. God Himself is the dwelling place of His people; God Himself is all in all.
Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, you are bound to the temple, you are bound to the Presence of God, you are bound to God Himself! You are bound to God Himself even now! The finality of the age to come has, in principle, broken into the present. Even though you now dwell on earth, you are a member of the heavenly community; even now you are under God’s protection; even now you are bound to God Himself.
The trumpets have been sounding. But, dear child of God, He has given you the ears to hear. By grace, you have been joined to the Lord Jesus Christ. And in Him, you have the assurance that nothing can separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christ: not the first trumpet, not the second trumpet, not the third trumpet, not the fourth trumpet, not the fifth trumpet, not the sixth trumpet, not even the last trumpet.
This interlude sets before you the identity and the life of the Church. This interlude, beloved of the Lord Jesus Christ, is for your comfort. And you do cherish it, do you not?
Rev. Brian Vos is the Pastor of the Trinity United Reformed Church in Caledonia, Michigan.