We’re almost finished with our series through what is often called the “first cycle of visions” in Revelation; just one chapter to go. So here’s the lightning-fast recap:
- Chapter 4: Is God in control? He sure is, seated on his throne surrounded by throngs of worshippers.
- Chapter 5: If he is, then what’s he doing about all the injustice in the world – particularly the injustice done to him and to his people? He’s already done something, through the slain-yet-risen Lamb.
- Chapter 6: But it looks like his rebellious world is getting away with it. What’s going on? He’s judging them as we speak, giving a foretaste of the final judgement if they don’t repent.
- Chapter 7: Isn’t that going to affect us, too? Yes, but God has sealed you for protection, and you have a glorious future to hold on to.
- Chapter 8: What happens if people ignore God’s warning? He’ll send even greater judgement.
- Chapter 9: How’s that working out so far? Not too well – they still won’t repent.
- Chapter 10: So what’s God going to do next? He’s sending his church on a mission to explain why the world is like it is, and call them to repent. Here, eat this scroll, ’cause that includes you.
OK. We eat the scroll and tell people the message. Simple. Only one problem: remember from last week, it tastes good to us, but turns bitter in our stomachs – meaning it’s not a message much of the world will want to swallow. This could get dangerous, right? How’s God going to deal with that? … What? … He’s sending an angel with a ruler? How’s that going to help?Rev 11:1-3 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.”
So what’s with the measuring? Although in some places Jerusalem is measured prior to its restoration (Zechariah 2:1-5 and Ezekiel 40-42), here in Revelation the measuring has more in common with the apocryphal 1 Enoch 61:1-5, in which God’s chosen ones are measured for protection. Both ideas may be in view, with the point being that God’s inner temple is being protected from destruction, and will soon be restored. And what is God’s temple? It’s where he dwells on earth: in his people. That’d be us.
Why do we need protection? Because the outer court of the temple is going to be trampled by the nations for three-and-a-half years. What’s that all about? There are two layers of background to this:
- This was how long the temple was “trampled” and desecrated back in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes (ca. 168BC), as described in Daniel 8:13-14.
- The Roman siege of Jerusalem was about three-and-a-half years, leading up to its fall in AD70.
It seems that John is deliberately describing the current (and future) struggles of the church as being like these two previous attacks on God’s “holy place” by Gentile rulers. Yes, it will get ugly. (You can see how bad things got if you do some quick reading on what Antiochus did, and on how bad the Roman siege got.) But – just like we saw in chapter 7 – God looks after his holy ones.
No matter what happens to us externally; no matter even what may happen to our physical bodies; we are kept spiritually safe in Christ. Our “inner shrine” – where God dwells – is protected. Our eternity with God is secure. Neither the visible powers of this world nor the invisible forces of evil can put that at risk.
The message to John’s readers, then, is this: although Rome may look big and scary and dangerous – what’s the worst they can do? Harm you physically? Kill you? – So what? God’s bigger and scarier than them, and he’s guaranteed your spiritual protection forever! As Jesus himself said:Lk 12:4 ‘do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.’
Sometimes our mission as God’s church may be dangerous – maybe dangerous to our physical health, safety, and well-being; more often simply dangerous to our reputation, our emotional health, or our financial well-being. But that pales just a little in light of eternity, in which our eternal well-being is assured. As we bring the message of the little scroll to the world – God himself has already measured our “inner temple” for protection.
Spend some time praying for those brothers and sisters who are in dangerous settings as they take the message of the scroll to the world. Pray for God’s continuing protection, and that their confidence would remain strong in him despite how scary things might get.