I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, “Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, with its worshipers. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months. And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” They are “the two olive trees” and the two lampstands, and “they stand before the Lord of the earth.” If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die. They have power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want. – Revelation 11:1-6
Well as anticipated Revelations is hard and feels like a continuous series of class IV rapids. Anyone who has ever rafted knows that a few nice rapids can be exiting and exhilarating, but if there are too many all packed together they can transform into tiresome tasks. That is how I am feeling about the passages in Revelations at the moment. The catastrophes unleashed by the seven angels are both confusing and, at times, downright depressing as they describe this future “war of worlds“.
Today’s passage is a bit of a breather from yesterday’s mysteries and mayhem. The author is given a seemingly innocuous measuring rod to “measure the temple of God and the altar, with its worshipers”. Why this sudden focus on cubits? One typically measures something because they want to know its size. Of course that would be if one were measuring a physical object. I am not sure how one would measure a spiritual object. The closest thing would be when we “take the measure” of someone. I am a big Mary Poppins fan and I used to watch the movie all the time as a child. Mary Poppins uses a mystical measuring tape to take the measure of Jane and Michael Banks. She determines not their physical size but that Michael was “Extremely stubborn and suspicious”; and Jane was “Rather inclined to giggle. Doesn’t put things away.”
Mary Poppin’s measurements, and those taking place in this passage, are metaphysical measurements of things unseen – surveys of the soul. One cannot simply count heads to determine who is a worshiper of God. This is true in this passage just as much as it is true in the pews of a church. We do not have the ability to see into souls the way that God does. Nevertheless the author of Revelations has been given the task of “measuring” the immeasurable, just as in many ways they have the task of describing the indescribable.
A distinction is made between the temple of God and the altar; and the “outer court” which is reserved for the gentiles. This sort of distinction would seem to be part of the old system of approaching God rather than the new access provided by Jesus. It seems these “gentiles” are not very sensitive to old traditions and ways and “trample on the holy city for 42 months”. Some sort of guardians are placed to stand guard over the holy city. These guards apparently have power to “stand before the Lord of the earth.” Sort of like a neighborhood watch for souls struggling to survive these spiritual squalls.
These guardians also “have power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying”. This is an interesting detail. It could be describing a physical lack of rain and drought that will impact the land, but it could also be alluding to some sort of spiritual disconnection from the Father of the Rain, God. They also have the power to “turn the waters into blood”. I am not sure why these two are given this power and what this really means. My sense from the Gospels is that we all have access to the spring of Living Water that Jesus provides and there is no power that can take that away from those who choose it. Perhaps this section is describing physical events and there is no intended spiritual meaning. I do not know.
I am also not sure what the deeper take home meaning is here. Maybe that the measure of our lives is fundamentally spiritual and other ways that we find and measure our worth are meaningless in the end. Whether we are short or tall, smart or stupid, thin or fat, plain or beautiful matters little in the final analysis and when we meet God. He will be measuring our souls using a metaphysical measuring tape.
Prayer: God help us to focus on the dimensions of our souls rather than earthly measures of our worth.