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 chapter 10, John was commanded to “prophesy again over many peoples and nations and tongues and kings,” which set the stage for the next two visions – the “measuring of the sanctuary and altar,” and the “two witnesses.” Both visions are connected by the mathematically equivalent figures of “forty-two months” and “1,260-days.”
An angel directed John to “measure” the “sanctuary,” the “altar,” and “those who were rendering divine service” in it. Next, 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 alludes to the vision received by the prophet Zechariah, and it anticipates the “measuring” of “New Jerusalem” in the final vision of Revelation:
- (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.”
- (Revelation 21:16-26) – “And he that spoke with me had for a measure a golden reed to measure the city, and its gates, and its walls. And the city lies foursquare, and its length is as great as its breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs: the length and the breadth and the height are equal… And the nations shall walk amidst the light thereof: and the kings of the earth bring their glory into it… And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it.”
Thus, the measuring of the “sanctuary” and “altar” prepare 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.” It included the altar of burnt offering. 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 will no longer find themselves “outside” the “sanctuary,” a verbal link to chapter 11, where the “outer court” was cast “outside” to be “trampled underfoot” – (Revelation 3:12, 7:15).
As for the “innumerable multitude,” its members wore a white “robe” that had been “washed in the blood of the Lamb,” which alluded to the consecrated vestments worn by the Aaronic priests – (Leviticus 8:6-7).
In the vision of the “innumerable multitude,” its members were “rendering divine service” in the “sanctuary.” This description uses the same Greek verb applied to the service of the ancient priests in the Tabernacle in the Greek Septuagint, and to the “service” of the priestly company that is here “measured” by John – (latreuô).
Unlike the Levitical priests, the “innumerable multitude” was composed of men and women 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 previously when the “fifth seal” was opened. The souls of the martyrs found “under the altar” 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 – (Revelation 3:12, 21:2, 21:10).
“Trampled underfoot” alludes to the vision of the “little horn” in the Book of Daniel, the 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.” Before the “holy city” can be inhabited, it must endure abuse by the nations – a bitter pill to swallow. And thus, in the prior vision, John found the scroll “sweet as honey” in his mouth, but it embittered his “belly” – (Daniel 7:20-25, 8:9-14, 8:22-26).
Although the “nations” and the “kings of the earth” remain hostile to the “Lamb” throughout the book’s visions, when “New Jerusalem” does descend to the earth, both groups are found among its inhabitants. The next vision about the “two witnesses” will begin to explain how this unexpected and paradoxical turn of events will be achieved.