The sanctuary must be “measured” before the city can be inhabited, but first, it must be “trampled underfoot” by the nations – Revelation 11:1-2.
In the preceding vision, John was commanded to “prophesy again over many peoples and nations and tongues and kings,” setting the stage for the next two visions, the “measuring of the sanctuary and altar” and the “two witnesses.” Both visions are connected by the equivalent figures of “forty-two months” and “1,260-days.”
The angel directed John to “measure” the “sanctuary,” the “altar,” AND “those who were rendering divine service” in it, and then the “holy city” was handed over to the “nations” to be “trampled underfoot for forty-two months.”
- (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-two months.”
The description of the measuring of the sanctuary alludes to the vision received by the prophet Zechariah. Moreover, it anticipates the book’s final vision when the city of “New Jerusalem” was measured in preparation for its full habitation:
- (Zechariah 2:1-11) – “And I lifted up my eyes and saw, and behold, a man with a measuring line in his hand. Then said I, Where do you go? 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” – (see also Revelation 21:16-26).
In Revelation, the measuring of the “sanctuary” and the “altar” prepares the “holy city” for habitation, establishing the boundaries that will contain the expected population. In the interim, both the city and the sanctuary must be “handed over to be trampled underfoot” by the nations.
“Sanctuary” translates the Greek noun naos, which refers to the sanctuary proper, the court just outside the “holy of holies.” The ancient tabernacle included the altar of burnt offerings in the sanctuary. It was referred to previously in the letter to the church at Philadelphia, and in the vision of the “innumerable multitude,” both of which looked forward to life in “New Jerusalem.” “Overcoming” believers would no longer find themselves “outside” the “sanctuary,” a verbal link to the present vision in which the “outer court” was cast “outside” to be “trampled underfoot” – (Revelation 3:12, 7:15).
As for the “innumerable multitude,” its members wore white “robes” that had been “washed in the blood of the Lamb,” alluding to the consecrated vestments worn by the Aaronic priests in the old tabernacle – (Leviticus 8:6-7).
In the vision of the “innumerable multitude,” its members were “rendering divine service” in the “sanctuary.” That previous description uses the same Greek verb that was applied to the service of the priests in the tabernacle in the Greek Septuagint and now is applied to the “service” of the priestly company that is “measured” by John – (latreuô).
Unlike the Levitical priests, the “innumerable multitude” was composed of men from “every nation and tribe and people and tongue.” Likewise, in chapter 11, the group “rendering homage” in the “sanctuary” consists of “priests” serving before the “altar.” In short, the “innumerable multitude” from chapter 7 is identical to the priestly company that is now “measured” by John – (Revelation 5:9-10).
The same “altar” appeared when the “fifth seal” was opened and the souls of the martyrs were found “under the altar.” They were told to “rest” until their full number “who were to be killed even as they should be completed” – (Revelation 6:9-11).
In chapter 11, the “outer court” was “cast outside.” Along with the “holy city,” it was trampled “underfoot forty-two months.” Elsewhere in Revelation, the “holy city” represents the people of God where His presence dwells. The present image represents the coming persecution of the “saints” by the “Beast from the Abyss” – (Revelation 3:12, 11:4-7, 13:7, 21:2, 21:10).
“Trampled underfoot” alludes to the vision of the “little horn” in Daniel, the oppressive ruler who “waged war against the saints,” profaned the sanctuary, removed the daily burnt offering, and “trampled the sanctuary and the host underfoot” – (Daniel 7:20-25, 8:9-14, 8:22-26).
Before the “holy city” can be inhabited, it must endure abuse by the nations, a bitter pill to swallow. And thus, in the preceding vision, John found the scroll “sweet as honey” in his mouth but bitter in his “belly” – (Revelation 10:11).
Although the “nations” and the “kings of the earth” remain hostile to the “Lamb” throughout the book, both groups are found among the inhabitants when “New Jerusalem” descends to the earth.
The next vision about the “two witnesses” begins to explain how this unexpected and paradoxical turn of events will be achieved. The “Lamb” will use the coming war against his “saints” by the “Dragon” and his earthly vassals to achieve victory and reap the final harvest of the earth. Believers will overcome the Devil by faithfully enduring persecution, and, in the end, “New Jerusalem” will be fully populated.