Sanctuary and Priests

SYNOPSIS – The sanctuary must be “measured” before the city can be inhabited, but first, it must be “trampled underfoot” - Revelation 11:1-2

Chart - Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash
In chapter 10, John consumed the “
little scroll.” He found it “sweet as honey” on his lips, but “bitter” in his belly. Next, he was commanded to “prophesy again over many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.” The directive sets the stage for the next two visions - the “measuring of the sanctuary” and the “two witnesses.” Both visions are connected by the mathematically-equivalent chronological marker – “forty-two months” or “1,260-days - (Revelation 10:8-11, 11:1-2). - [Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash].

John was directed to “measure” the “sanctuary,” the “altar,” and “those who were rendering divine service” in it. Then, the “holy city” was handed over to the nations to be “trampled underfoot for forty-two months” – Thus, the bitterness John had tasted.
  • (Revelation 11:1-2) – “ And a reed like a staff was given to me, and one was saying, Rise, and measure the sanctuary of God, the altar, and them who are rendering homage in it; and the court outside the sanctuary cast outside, and do not measure, because it has been given to the nations, and the holy city they will tread underfoot forty and two months.”
The description alludes to a vision of received by Zechariah, and anticipates the “measuring” of “New Jerusalem” in the final vision of Revelation:
  • (Zechariah 2:1-11) – “And I lifted up mine eyes and saw, and behold, a man with a measuring line in his hand. Then said I, Where are you going? And he said to me, To measure Jerusalem to see what is its breadth, and what is its length. And behold, the angel that talked with me went forth, and another angel went out to meet him, and said to him, Run, speak to this young man, saying, Jerusalem shall be inhabited as villages without walls, by reason of the multitude of men and cattle therein…For thus says Yahweh of hosts: After glory has he sent me to the nations which plundered you…And many nations will join themselves to Yahweh in that day, and shall be my people; and I will dwell in the midst of thee.”
  • (Revelation 21:16-26) – “And he that spoke with me had for a measure a golden reed to measure the city…And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God the Almighty, and the Lamb, are the temple thereof…And the nations shall walk amidst the light thereof: and the kings of the earth bring their glory into it… And the gates thereof shall in no wise be shut by day (for there shall be no night there): and they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it.
The “sanctuary,” the “altar,” and the priestly company were “measured” to prepare the “holy city” for habitation by the nations - establishing the boundaries to contain the expected population. In the interim, both city and sanctuary were “handed over to be trampled underfoot” by the nations - a paradoxical scenario.

Sanctuary” translates the Greek noun naos – (Strong’s - #G3485). In biblical Greek, naos refers to the sanctuary proper - the forecourt with the altar of burnt offering, not the entire Temple complex. The “sanctuary of God” appeared also in the letter to the church at Philadelphia and the vision of the “innumerable multitude”:
  • (Revelation 3:12) – “He that overcomes I will make a pillar in the sanctuary of my God, and outside he will in nowise go anymore.”
  • (Revelation 7:15) – “After these things I saw, and behold, a great multitude, which no man could number out of every nation and of all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, arrayed in white robes, and palms in their hands…Those who are coming out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God; and they render divine service to him day and night in his sanctuary.”
In both passages, life in the “New Jerusalem” is anticipated. The first passage promises that “overcomers no longer” will find themselves “outside” the “sanctuary,” a verbal link to chapter 11 where the “outer court” was cast “outside” and “trampled underfoot.”

In the second passage, each member of the “multitude” wore a white “robe” that had been “washed in the blood of the Lamb.” The description alludes to the consecration of Aaron and his sons for the priesthood:
  • (Leviticus 8:6-7) – “And Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water. And he put upon him the robe, and girded him with the girdle, and clothed him with the robe, and put the ephod upon him, and he girded him with the skillfully woven band of the ephod and bound it unto him therewith.”
The members of the “innumerable multitude” were all “rendering divine service” in the “sanctuary,” the same Greek verb applied to the service of the priests in the ancient Tabernacle by the Greek Septuagint, and to the “service” of the priestly company “measured” by John - (latreuô).

Nations - Photo by Andrew Stutesman on Unsplash
Nations - Photo by Andrew Stutesman on Unsplash

Unlike the Levitical priests, the “
innumerable multitude” was composed of men and women from “every nation and tribe and people and tongue.” The same description applied to the company of the redeemed John saw standing before the Throne:
  • (Revelation 5:9-10) – “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and made them for our God a kingdom and priests.”
In short, the “innumerable multitude” is a priestly company. Likewise, in chapter 11, the group “rendering homage” in the “sanctuary” consists of priests serving before the “altar” of burnt offering in the “sanctuary.”

The same “altar” appeared when the fifth seal was opened. The souls of martyrs were found “underneath the altar,” there, to “rest” until the full number of their brethren “who should be killed even as they were, should be fulfilled” - (Revelation 6:9-11).

In chapter 11, the “outer court” was “cast outside.” Along with the “holy city,” it was trampled “underfoot forty and two months.” Elsewhere in Revelation, the “holy city” represents the people of God where His presence dwells - (Revelation 3:12, 21:2, 21:10).

Trampled underfoot” alludes to the vision of the “little horn” in chapter 8 of the book of Daniel, an oppressive ruler who “waged war against the saints,” profaned the sanctuary, removed the daily burnt offering, and otherwise, “trampled the sanctuary and the host underfoot” - (Daniel 7:20-25, 8:9-14, 8:22-26).

In Revelation, the “sanctuary,” “altar,” and those “rendering divine service” in it were all “measured” in preparation for the coming onslaught. The “sanctuary” was the very center of the city, and the entire “holy city” was handed over to be “trampled by the nations,” including the “sanctuary” with the “altar” and priests. Before the “holy city” could be inhabited, it had to endure abuse by the nations – a bitter pill to swallow.

However, although the “nations” and the “kings of the earth” remain hostile to the “Lamb” throughout the visions of Revelation, when “New Jerusalem” does descend to the earth, both groups are included among its myriad of inhabitants. The next vision – the “two witnesses” – explains how this unexpected and paradoxical goal is achieved.




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