“Then I was given a measuring stick, and I was told, “Go and measure the Temple of God and the altar, and count the number of worshippers. But do not measure the outer courtyard, for it has been turned over to the nations. They will trample the holy city for 42 months.”
Revelation 11:1-2 NLT
The Apostle John was still in his vision. And he was given a job to do, which was to go and measure the dimensions of the Temple and count how many people were worshipping God there. Strange? Possibly, until we start to unpack what might be happening.
Why would God want to measure His Temple? He knows it’s physical dimensions of course. But what other dimensions does it have? So John must have been transported there in the Spirit but …. hang on a minute … wasn’t the temple destroyed in AD 70? And the scholars reckon the Book of Revelation was written in AD 96. So what Temple was John measuring? The Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was nothing more than a pile of rubble.
Perhaps we need to consider that the “Temple of God” in this verse was the Church, and the “measuring stick” wasn’t a ruler calibrated in metres or yards, but something with spiritual dimensions marked off. After all, John was still “in the Spirit” in his vision. So perhaps John was tasked with assessing the spiritual well-being of the Church, using a set of measurements that we can find in the Bible.
Here’s my suggestion for calibrating the “measuring stick”. First of all, we are Jesus’ disciples. Jesus said in John 15:4, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.” So our status as a follower of Jesus could be the first mark on the ruler. Here’s another suggestion for the second. Are we friends with Jesus and obedient to His commands? “You are my friends if you do what I command.” it says in John 15:14. Number three. Are we fulfilling the Great Commission? “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19). Number four. Have we been rebirthed into being a new person? “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Number five. Are we allowing God to perfect our faith? “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honour beside God’s throne.” (Hebrews 12:2).
Perhaps the “measuring stick” has got a reverse side (most rulers are two-sided). How are we impacting our societies as “salt and light”, as Jesus taught about in Matthew 5:13-16? And in James 1:27 we read about our responsibilities in our societies. “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” James only singled out the most disadvantaged in his society but each generation has its own challenges. What are we pilgrims doing to bring God’s light into our dark societies, helping those who seem unable to help themselves?
But before we know it we have invented a checklist. The temptation is to start ticking the boxes and find out how good we are as Christians. And if we manage to tick all the boxes then … But of course we can’t do that, and our spiritual ruler cannot be a serious contender for John’s mission if it’s wielded in our hands. Isn’t it amazing that we can be very good at assessing the good and bad points of others but are unable to come up with an honest assessment of ourselves. If John visited our churches today with his “measuring stick” what would He find? Thankfully, only God Himself can assess how we are shaping up as Christians. We can only humbly bow before Him with repentant hearts, accepting His love, encouragement and grace.
We live in increasingly secular times. Jesus, in His explanation of the End Times in Matthew 24, stated that “… many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other.” (Matthew 24:10). The Christian life is not an easy choice, particularly as the challenges to practising our faith are increasing. But before we give up we remember. There was a time two thousand years or so, when “… God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIVUK). We pilgrims remember that priceless act of love, that melted our hearts and turned us around from a life devoted to sinful ways to a life devoted to serving, to loving, to embracing the One who gave Himself for me.
Father God. We are so grateful for Your grace. You are a loving Parent who wants us to become more like Your Son, Jesus. We pray today that through You we have that opportunity. Amen.