The Standing Temple

by Roger McCay
16 October 2022
Sermon Passage: Revelation 11:1-2
Link to Audio Version

The date that John wrote the book of Revelation is foundational to understanding the book consistent with the intent it was given. Revelation was written for a specific people who lived at a specific time, in history. Even so, its truths are edifying to the whole church from the time of its writing until Christ’s final return.[1] Revelation also speaks to specific events that would occur within a certain timeframe of its writing. As John says in Rev. 1:1, Revelation is about “the things that must soon take place.” He then, in v. 3, doubles down on this timeframe saying, “the time is near” for the events, of which he wrote, to take place.

People, who take the book of Revelation seriously, generally fall into two camps, when it comes to its dating. They either hold to the book being written circa AD 65 (the early date) or circa AD 95 (the late date). Only one of these is right. And only those who hold to the correct timeframe have any hope of properly understanding the book. Due to the nature of the events to which the book speaks, if you are wrong in your dating of the book (the time of its writing) you cannot help but be wrong from the very get-go in your understanding of the book, much less the historical events (from our point of view) to which the book speaks. Indeed your interpretation will start off skewed and continue to get even more skewed as you move through the book, moving beyond anything intended by the writer of the book or the Revealer of the Revelation.

Those who hold to the late date (circa AD 95) have a difficult time fitting the events prophesied in Revelation to the historical events of that time, even though there have been great efforts to force the fit. So, you usually see these folks taking a general view of Revelation in one of three ways: that it mainly speaks to events throughout history up to their time, or events future to themselves, or ideals that can be applied all through the church age. For those who hold to an early date (circa. AD 65), we are (for the most part) able to reasonably fit the events prophesied (especially the events up through Rev. 20:6) to the time of the generation to which the book was written. These events happened “soon,” from that generation’s point of view, as the events John prophesied were “near” in time for them—either to be fulfilled or to be inaugurated.

Well, how do you know which one it is? Late date or early date? It’s simple really. You look at the evidence. The evidence used for dating is categorized as either internal or external evidence. Internal evidence is what is written in the text of the book. External evidence is what other writers have said about the book.

For those holding to a late date, the only evidence they have, to support their supposition, is external evidence. And that evidence all goes back to one writer—Irenaeus (AD 140-202), writing in the late second century. Over time, people have quoted Irenaeus, then people who came later referenced both him and those who had quoted him (in effect multiplying sources). This has happened again and again to such a point that a false sense of external support for the later date has been built. And I have to say it is disappointing to see otherwise competent scholars stumble in this area and also overlook the unreliability of Irenaeus as a witness. There are serious questions as to the accuracy of the translation of his one statement (and note that it is only one statement), and as to Irenaeus’ personal reliability (as he put forth some demonstrably and grossly incorrect historical statements). So, the late daters rely on one statement (questionably translated) made by one witness (who is questionably reliable) to prove their position. And from my perspective, their position is largely responsible for so much of the rampant confusion that we see today surrounding this magnificent book.

As for the early date of writing (circa. AD 65), there are multiple incidents of both internal and external evidence that support the date. Internal evidence is weighted the most (i.e. considered the strongest evidence), when it comes to dating a Biblical text. For Revelation, three major passages are generally given (although there seems to be support for the early date continuously given and reinforced throughout the book). The three passages generally cited for dating are Rev. 11:1-2 (our passage today, with the standing temple), Rev. 13:18 (with the beast), and Rev. 17 (with the seven kings). As for external evidence, there are several, which include The Shepherd of Hermas (possibly AD 80), Papius (who lived from AD 60-130), The Muratorium Canon (AD 170), and Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215). So, for the early daters (circa. AD 65), in contrast to the late daters (circa. AD 95), there are several external and internal witnesses for the early date.

Now, what has convinced me of the early date is not only the overwhelming strength of the combined witnesses, but how well the histories of the time of the first century fit with the prophecies of Revelation. As I have studied and continue to study the book, from the early date perspective, the puzzle pieces of Revelation continue to fall into place, fitting together, and fitting with the history of the time that was “near” and “soon,” after John’s writing, in A.D. 65. With the pieces falling in place, the picture keeps getting clearer and clearer. And my hope is that the picture John paints is likewise becoming clearer to you, as we’ve been making our way through Revelation here at MPC. If not, come talk to me. Ask questions. Also, we covered most of what I just spoke on in the evening service last year, and that teaching can be found on my website with slides and audio to help your understanding.[2]

As it was, John wrote Revelation for people who were in the midst of “the tribulation” (Rev. 1:9). It spoke to their struggles and fears, and was given as an encouragement. It was a message for the seven churches, but also for all the churches—which would include the church in Jerusalem. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7, 11, and so forth). It spoke to the victory of Christ Jesus, both in their time and the time to come.

Now, for Christians, there is a universal struggle to which our passage today speaks. In the midst of trials and troubles, things can get so tough that we can come to wonder if the Lord has abandoned us. I’ve spoken to many who testify to having experienced, or were at the time experiencing, this feeling. Such has been true for Christians since the beginning. Sometimes we experience a fear of separation from the Lord. We wonder, especially going through times of trouble, “Has the Lord abandoned me?”

It seems that Rev. 11:1-2, in its context, answers that question. And the answer is “Never!” This is true for all Christians of all times (Matt. 28:20). Yet, for the Christians of first-century Jerusalem, during the war with Rome—particularly in the horrifying events leading up to and during AD 70 … for them, such a word from the Lord’s Apostle John, a Word from the Lord to them (the promise that the Lord would never forsake them and was always right there with them) … well, this would have been a word of encouragement that they would have held onto tightly  during all the chaos that descended upon the city. It would help them, through the power of the Spirit of God, to faithfully endure to the end, even if that end was death of their mortal body.

So, take a look at Rev. 11:1. Here John says he was “given a measuring rod like a staff” and “was told, ‘Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there.’” This, of course, raises the question for the late daters, “How could John measure the temple, if the temple was not standing?” The verse is phrased in such a way that assumes the temple was standing. And nowhere does Revelation speak to or hint at the temple having been destroyed already. If the temple had been destroyed 25 years earlier, John’s speaking as if the temple was still standing (without any clarification otherwise) would be an unsupportable anachronism.

Because of this, some late daters attempt to justify their position by suggesting that this verse was written by someone prior to AD 70 and that John, when he wrote Revelation (circa. AD 95), then took that earlier writing and inserted it into his manuscript. Of course there is no evidence whatsoever of such an action. That assertion also denies the testimony John gives in Revelation as to his reception of the book, and it denies the very nature of the book. It calls John a liar.

Another way some late daters handle the conundrum (particularly the dispensationalists) is by saying, essentially, “Well, since the temple had been destroyed when this was written, then that means it must be rebuilt sometime in the future.” But that idea has its own major problems, chiefly because God’s purpose for the physical building of an earthly temple was fulfilled in Christ. To rebuild it and begin the sacrificial system again would be an abomination, as Christ’s sacrifice was “once for all” (Heb. 7:27). And whatever would be built (even on the temple mount in Jerusalem) and called “the temple” would be no true temple of the Lord God.

There is so much more that I wish I could fit in today to describe how far off the mark dispensational eschatology falls, but that would take quite a while. Important to the topic at hand, dispensational teaching is so out there that they think, as Richard D. Phillips puts it, that “the book of Revelation primarily addresses God’s future plans for ethnic Israel and has no direct message about the Christian church.”[3] This fallacy comes out of their doctrine that there are two people of God, not one people—the church (under the New Covenant) being one, and the Jews (under the Old Covenant) being the other. The dispensational position of Rev. 11:1, which says the temple needs to be rebuilt, is suggested from within the sphere of those unbiblical presuppositions. Phillips’ observation is apt:

In this [the literal-futurist dispensational] approach, Revelation 11 speaks of future events completely unrelated to the situation and pastoral needs of the churches to which John was writing…. A more unlikely thesis for the book of Revelation is hardly imaginable. [4]

Anyway, if you understand that John was writing circa. AD 65 and that the people of God are one people (both Jew and Gentile under the New Covenant of the gospel), then no such conundrums exist. The command to measure the temple perfectly fits the time of John’s writing, for the temple was still standing.

Now, John, in Rev. 11:1-2, uses imagery taken from the OT prophets. The idea of measuring is found, among other places, in both Ezekiel 40-43 and Zech. 5:1-5. Ezek. 40-43 describes a measuring of the temple (which had been destroyed) and Zech. 5 describes a measuring of Jerusalem (likewise destroyed, though by his time (520 BC) it had been partially rebuilt). As it is, Ezekiel 40-43 seems most relevant to John’s vision, in Rev. 11:1, as it involved a temple measuring. Yet there are similarities between the prophets—particularly the promise of the Lord to dwell in the midst of his people, which I think John hearkens to here. As for Ezekiel, in ch. 40, v. 1, the prophet states that he received that particular vision 14 years after the destruction of Jerusalem (which happened in 586 BC). Thus, the temple (built by Solomon) was nothing but rubble. Yet, Ezekiel sees “a man whose appearance was like bronze, with a linen cord and a measuring reed in his hand.” The man, evidently a heavenly figure, proceeded to measure the temple in great detail, and the measurements were given to Ezekiel. Ezekiel was then tasked to take the measurements of this ideal temple to the people of Israel so that they might rebuild the temple accordingly, when they returned from their 70-year exile (Ezek. 43:10-12; Jer. 29:10). This fits with our understanding that the temple on earth was but a copy of the heavenly temple (Heb. 10:23).

Unlike Ezekiel, however, John gave no hint that the temple had been destroyed (the one, in his time, built by Herod the Great). Rather than a seemingly heavenly figure measuring a temple not of this earth, it was John who was told to measure “the temple of God,” using wording that implied it was still standing in Jerusalem. Rev. 11:2 also removes any doubt that the temple reference was specific to the heavenly temple, as its outer courts were to be trampled by the Gentiles, which is something that cannot happen in heaven. Thus, the circa. AD 65 dating of his vision fits quite well with the reality presented, because, as we know, the temple would shortly be destroyed by the Roman Gentiles, in AD 70.

Along those lines, the prophetic thrust of vv. 1-2 is toward the coming destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the fate of two different groups in relation to it. The first was the Christians in Jerusalem (most or all being Jewish Christians). The second group was the apostate Jews in Jerusalem.

John was told by God to measure τὸν ναὸν τοῦ θεοῦ (in the ESV, “the temple of God,” or translated in a more restricted sense as “the sanctuary of God”).[5] The word used here for temple, ναός, at other times in Revelation, refers to the heavenly sanctuary, as we’ve seen in 3:12 and 7:15.[6] The particular reference made here, considering the parallel language in the Revelation, thus seems to have been about the portion of the temple complex that corresponded to the heavenly temple and its altar. Thus, Milton Terry suggests that what John references, in v. 1, “is strictly only that portion of the entire sanctuary which constituted the holy place and the holy of holies”—the inner courts.[7]

John’s measurement was to also include both the altar and the people worshipping within. Within the sanctuary, in the holy place, was the golden altar of incense. The only people allowed in the Holy Place were the priests, and only the high priest was allowed, once a year, in the Holy of Holies.

Now, in the Scriptures, measuring is a symbol for various things, such as building, blessing, judgment, and protection. Which is it here? Well, John was told to measure the sanctuary, the altar, and the people worshipping therein. In Ezek. 40-43, the measuring is to present the pattern and dimensions for what must be built up, and in its building the Lord promises to bless his people by dwelling in their midst forever. A result of building the temple according to the measurements given, was that they were then to observe and carry out all of the temple’s  “laws and all its statutes” (Ezek. 43:11). Yet such perfection in obedience and holiness was impossible, as the law of the temple was that “the whole territory on the top of the mountain all around shall be most holy.” Sacrifice was necessary for consecration, which is tied to the idea of judgment. As for protection, in Zech. 5, the measuring of Jerusalem is followed by the Lord’s promise, “And I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the Lord, and I will be the glory in her midst.”

In the Holy Place of the temple, there was the golden altar of incense, where blood, of the sacrifice made on the altar of sacrifice outside of the Holy Place, would be put on the horns of the altar for consecration. After the sacrifice for sin had been carried out and the priests purified, they could enter the sanctuary to minister in worship. There is great symbolism in this, for Christians. In Rev. 11:1, for John to symbolically measure the altar in the Holy Place is to speak to judgment already satisfied, in sacrifice, and consecration. Christians are priests of God (Rev. 1:6), whose sins have been atoned for already, in the sacrifice of Jesus himself, the Lamb of God and he has consecrated us, made us holy in justification and sanctification. The sanctuary thus spoke to heavenly realities. Heb. 9:11-12:

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

The command for John to measure pointed to the spiritual realities behind the earthly realities. John would never be able to waltz into the temple in Jerusalem to measure it. So, the measuring was speaking to something else. In a way, John, here, is in the position of both the man who measures and the prophet who proclaims the measurements, so they might be made a reality (Ezek. 40-43). In that light, the measuring seems to be a reference to the effectual proclamation of the Lord’s Word, the gospel, which was John’s bailiwick, as the Lord’s apostle and prophet (which fits the context of Rev. 10:11). To proclaim of the truths of the gospel, was to unleash “the power of God for salvation to all who believe” (Rom. 1:16). This cascades into the spiritual realities of the gospel, as it is applied to believers. Saved by grace through faith, the true people of God are priests to God (Rev. 1:6), having been redeemed by the blood of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Indeed, the gospel gathers and builds the people of God into the temple of God, in whom God dwells (1 Cor. 3:16). This reality is a fulfilling of Ezek. 43:7, which speaks to the building of ideal temple that had been measured, as being where the Lord had said he would “dwell in the midst of the people of Israel forever.” Thus they are blessed, saved and protected, by God, along the lines of Zech. 2:5.

Now, while these benefits of the gospel are true for the whole people of God, Rev. 11:1 zeroes in upon a particular group of people at a particular place at a particular time. This verse speaks of the Christians who were in Jerusalem (as indicated in Rev. 11:2, with the reference to “the holy city”), the remnant church in Jerusalem prior to the city’s fall in AD 70, during the tribulation. Like with those who were sealed, in Rev. 7, their belief in the gospel resulted in their being numbered in full, with not one of God’s chosen left out, redeemed forever, God present with them forever, God’s protection over them forever, secure in Christ forever.

Now, does this mean that they would not die a mortal death during the tribulation coming upon Jerusalem? No. Many would escape, as we know from history, prior to the final siege.[8] But not all would, as indicated by the two witnesses. But even if they died, their status would not change. The spiritual realities of their mortal existence would become their immediate realities. In death, Christians enter eternal life—numbered in full, not one of his chosen people left out, redeemed forever, present with God forever, protected by God forever, secure in Christ. That reality never changes. Rom. 8:37-38: “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” John 10:28, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand,” so says the Lord Jesus.

Such is in great contrast to the outer courts, in v. 2: “but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months.” John here makes a direct reference to the teaching of the Lord in his prophetic discourse concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple (Luke 21:23-24).

Jesus said, “For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” John is here pointing to the same time period and events that Jesus spoke to in his prophecy. And Jesus said these things would happen to the very generation to whom he was speaking (Luke 21:32).

So, while the sanctuary was symbolic for “the covenant people of God,” the outer court represents, as Keith Mathison explains, the “unbelieving Jews and their city.” These people had rejected the gospel of Jesus Christ, so had no eternal security (like the Christians). They did not have God’s protection and preservation forever. They did not have salvation in Christ. And for their unfaithfulness, God’s wrath was coming down upon them (in the form of all we’ve talked about as we’ve looked at the first six trumpets). Jerusalem, referred to in Scriptures many times as “the holy city” … Jerusalem would be destroyed, trampled, by the Gentile Roman Army, at the culmination of the Jewish Roman War, with their temple destroyed. And isn’t it interesting that this took place during the time of the generation to whom Jesus prophesied? And not only that, how like a puzzle piece sliding into place is it that the length of time from Vespasian’s commissioning by Emperor Nero, and his arrival in Israel to conquer the Jews, in Spring of AD 67, until the final destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in August/September of 70, was a period right around 42 months.

My friends, Rev. 11:1-2 answers the question “Has God abandoned me?” for the first-century Christians and all the churches (in Asia, Jerusalem, etc.) who were going through tribulation. The answer was, “Never!” God never abandoned the Jerusalem Church, even those remaining through the siege until their death. Nor did he abandon the churches in Asia and so forth. And what was true for them is true for every redeemed Christian. God will never abandon you nor I. Never, never, never. We are measured, built up into his temple by the power of the gospel and his Spirit, worshipping in his temple in the obedience of faith, numbered in full, chosen and loved by him, redeemed forever, present with God forever, protected by God forever, and secure in Christ. In that state of blessing, protection, and preservation, in the power of God’s Spirit we, God’s covenant people, will persevere, in the obedience of faith, in Christ Jesus, no matter what may come. We will persevere until the end. You can persevere the end.

Brethren, when life comes at you hard, and you are struggling and suffering, take comfort in the fact that God is with you and will never leave you nor forsake you. “Praise the Lord! Praise the name of the Lord, give praise, O servants of the Lord, who stand in the house of the Lord.” [9] Since the Lord is with his people, we should stand confidently in his holy temple.


[1] We see this in how each letter to the seven churches in Asia (Rev. 2-3) was addressed to a specific church at a specific time in history and also how John includes in each of the seven letters the statement “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

[2] See Roger McCay, “The Book of Revelation Study,” Lessons 5-8 particularly deal with dating. Also, “Handout 2” gives a summary of the pros and cons of the major interpretive methods.

[3] Richard D. Phillips, Revelation, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Philip Graham Ryken, and Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2017), 309.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Cf. G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 557.

[6] Note that and John does not use the general word for temple, ἱερόν, at all in Revelation, which in other places in the NT refers to “the whole temple precinct w. its buildings, courts, etc” (BDAG, ἱερόν, b.).” Also, there is some discussion out there about the differences in the various temples represented in Scripture, in relation to the command here (Solomon’s Temple, the ideal Temple in Ezek. 40ff., Zerubbabel’s Temple, Herod’s Temple, or the Heavenly Temple), and which one is in mind. I think such discussion is beside the point.

[7] Terry, 132. Also, Grant R. Osborne (Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 410), states: “this must be the sanctuary in the inner portion of the temple area.”

[8] Cf. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.5.

[9] Ps. 135:1-2.