In 1981 a man wearing a fedora and a leather bomber jacket went looking for an ancient relic … and he found place in our hearts for the past 41 years. Who am I referring to? Indiana Jones of course!
In 1981 Dr. Jones (played by Harrison Ford) went looking for the “lost” Ark of the Covenant in Steven Spielberg’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Though the story was fiction, the Ark is real … AND the Ark has been somewhat “lost” for 2,500 years now. King Hezekiah is the last figure in the Bible to speak of the Ark. It seems to have disappeared at the time of the Jewish exile to Babylon during the days of Daniel. No one has seen it on this earth since.
What did the ark represent? Well the Ark (like the tabernacle) was mobile. It moved with God’s people in the Old Testament, reminding them that their God (unlike the false gods of the surrounding nations) did not live in temples made by human hands or preside over just one territory. No, the one true God could be anywhere, and sat sovereign over ALL places. The Ark was the holder for the 10 Commandments – God’s Law, and was covered by a lid known as the “mercy seat.” Above the Ark the glory of the Lord hovered. For 2,000 years, the Jewish people have not had a Temple, but for 2,500 years, they have not had the Ark, or God’s presence that was symbolically depicted above it. Indeed, the Ark is lost … and that is a problem.
If you were at Wildwood this morning for worship, you might ALSO have seen that the Ark was missing from my sermon! Though it is clearly referenced in Revelation 11:19, it was lost from my sermon, a casualty of time spent focusing on other verses in Revelation 11. I thought I would take a few minutes to speak about the Ark AND the Temple in Revelation 11 here, to add a few more thoughts related to these verses.
First, let’s talk about the Temple. Well, if we are honest, the TWO Temples referenced in Revelation 11. As I mentioned this morning, the presence of ONE Temple would be note-worthy, as there is currently no Temple in Jerusalem, and there has not been a Temple there since the Romans destroyed it in 70AD (just as Jesus had predicted in Matthew 24). In Revelation 11, though, two Temples are mentioned … one on earth, and one in heaven.
Why do I think there are two Temples referenced here? Well, because one of the Temples is said to be in the “holy city where Jesus was crucified (11:1-8) … this is an obvious reference to Jerusalem. The second Temple is said to be in heaven (11:19) … not on the earth at all. So what are we to make of these two Temples.
Well, the Temple that is in Jerusalem appears to be a rebuilt Temple that will be on the earth during the 7 years of the “Great Tribulation.” This real and earthly Temple is spoken of in places like Daniel 9:24-27, 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, and hinted at in Matthew 24’s declaration of an “abomination of desolation” in the end times. Those “buds” come to full bloom in Revelation 11:1-2 when John is asked to take a reed and measure the earthly Temple in Jerusalem. What is the purpose of this Temple? Well, it seems that this Temple (much like the monstrosity that Herod modified in the first century) is as much a national symbol as it is a religious center. When the Jews rebuild the Temple in the end, the city of Jerusalem is described as similar to Egypt or Sodom (Revelation 11:8) … two places known for sin and idolatry, not worship of the one true God. This makes me think that this Temple is rebuilt out of national pride, not as a place for God to inhabit. The location plays an important role though, for the Anti-Christ, who will desecrate this Temple by personally taking up residence inside it and claiming to be a god (see 2 Thesslonians 2:3-4). So, there is a Temple in Jerusalem again during the end times, but its role is less than holy.
So, what about the second Temple mentioned in Revelation 11 – the Temple in Heaven? Well, this Temple is not desecrated and is not destroyed. This Temple ALSO has something that the earthly Temples of Jerusalem have lacked since the days of Ezekiel in the Old Testament … the presence of the Glory of the Lord! While the Ark may be “lost” to raiders on the earth, it is present in the heavenly places. God’s glory is very much alive and well, and His presence is still with His people. At this point, this presence is a spiritual presence … but one day “the Kingdom of this world will become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ” (as Revelation 11:15 tells us). When Jesus does return to this earth, the glory of God will come with Him. The mercy seat of His throne will be in Jerusalem once again, and He will reign forever and ever. We can be certain of this, because God’s Word has promised it. The picture of the Ark in heaven was a reminder for John that the glory of the Lord was alive and well, protected and sustained, and was awaiting a return to His rightful place in the “holy city.” As Hebrews 9:23-24 indicate, the earthly places of worship are mere shadows of their heavenly realities. The REAL Temple of God is in Heaven, until it comes to the earth at Christ’s second advent.
One final note on these Temples. Many Bible commentators do not see the Temple (or Temples) of Revelation 11 the same way I do. As I mentioned last week, we must be humble in our attempts to understand all of the details of this amazing Revelation. Many Bible scholars see the Temples of Revelation 11 as merely spiritual temples (not physical at all). Of course the New Testament does speak of the church as a spiritual temple (see Ephesians 2:11-21), where God’s presence is known in this era. Because of this language, some assume that the temple language of Revelation 11 must be referring to the spiritual church, not a physical building. However, I think there are some problems with this view (that cause me to see the two Temples I mention above.)
One problem with seeing the “Temples” of Revelation 11 as the church is found in the language used of the measurements of the Temple in Revelation 11:1-2. John is instructed to measure the Temple AND the worshippers. If the Temple IS the worshippers, this would be a strange way of describing what he was supposed to do. A better and more straightforward reading of the passage (in my understanding) would be to see the measurement of both the facility AND the people. Further, the Temple was to be measured, but not the outer courts of the Gentiles. This was a very real and physical location of the physical Temples of the past, and would be expected in the literal Temple of the last days … but is much harder to understand how that language would work if the “church” were in view. Lastly, as I have shared throughout our study, I believe the church will be raptured to heaven before the tribulation begins (see Revelation 3:10). If the church is raptured to heaven, why would John be asked to measure the spiritual church on the earth during His “great tribulation” vision?
So, while I do believe that the church is a Temple of the Lord today (as Ephesians 2 clearly teaches) I also see a physical Temple in Jerusalem during the Great Tribulation (as Revelation 11:1-2 indicates) and a Temple in heaven as Revelation 11:19 indicates.
Just a little extra from these passages for those that may have had questions about the mention of the Temples and the Ark in these verses.