A Guide to Revelation

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The Creation Concept


On the chiastic structure of Revelation


The temple in heaven

On the temple of God mentioned in Revelation 11:1, James Burton Coffman's commentary says:

"Temple of God" in this passage is impossible to accept as a reference to the literal Jewish temple in Jerusalem, called by the Son of God himself a "den of thieves and robbers." That an angel of God should have been concerned with having John measure that desolation (Matthew 23:38) is inconceivable. "It scarcely seems possible to doubt that temple here is used figuratively for the faithful portion of the Church of Christ." In fact, the word here rendered temple is actually sanctuary (ASV margin), "The Greek word [nous] means the "holy house, where God dwells ... The use of [Greek: nous] here for the thing to be measured makes a literal interpretation of temple impossible." "For John, the temple is the Christian Church, the people of God." "This sanctuary symbolizes the true church."

The temple in heaven is mentioned in several scriptures; Revelation 11:19; 14:17, 15:5, and 16:17.

In his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul uses the metaphor of a temple, and applies it to the church. He says the prophets and apostles are its foundation, and Christ its chief cornerstone.

Ephesians 2:19-21
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:

In the same chapter, Paul says that believers have been "quickened ... together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And [he] hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:" [Ephesians 2:5-6]

When a temple is built, its foundation is laid first. This was the case when the second temple was built, after the Jews returned from their captivity in Babylon. There was an interval between the laying of the foundation and the completion of the building. The prophecies of Zechariah, Haggai and Malachi were written during the construction of the second temple. And like the literal temple, the foundation of the spiritual one is laid first; it consists of the saints of the Old Testament, and the apostles.

Since the church is a spiritual temple, would not that imply it occupies a spiritual land? It has foundations, the prophets and apostles. On what do the prophets and apostles stand? They stand on the word of God. It can be nothing else. This suggests a plausible explanation of the significance of the "land" promised to Abraham and his seed. The land represents the word of God, and his promises to his people.

The apostle Peter called believers "lively stones."

1 Peter 2:5
Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

There are two metaphors in this verse; stones being used to construct a spiritual house, and priests who offer spiritual sacrifices. Both are connected to the metaphor of a temple. Jesus promised those of the Church at Philadelphia who overcome, that they will be "pillars" in the temple.

Revelation 3:12
Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.

Pillars are load-bearing components of a building. In the above verse, two metaphors, the temple, and the city of God, each represent the church. Paul calls the church the "Jerusalem which is above" in Galatians 4:26, and in this same passage, identifies the Mosaic system, and the earthly Jerusalem, with Hagar the Egyptian bondwoman, who was cast out of Abraham's house.

Galatians 4:21-26
Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.

Here, Paul mixes two metaphors of the church; it is both a heavenly city, and a mother. It follows that she is in heaven, and we find the woman in heaven, clothed with the sun, in Revelation 12:1. The metaphor of the temple focuses on its construction; the laying of the foundation, the identification of believers as stones, and pillars, that are incorporated in the building. This building is the church that Christ said he would build. [Matthew 16:18]

Paul associated geographic locations and landmarks that were featured in Israel's history with God's revelations and covenants. The earthly Jerusalem was the type of a heavenly one.

Hebrews 12:22-23
But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.

Similarly, the earthly temple was a type of the heavenly one. The temple of God, like the woman clothed with the sun in Revelation 12:1, is said to be in heaven in Revelation 11:19.

Revelation 11:19
And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail.

This temple in heaven is the church. The ark represents the new covenant, as in the temple of Solomon it was the "ark of the covenant" containing the two stone tablets of the law. The temple of heaven is also mentioned in Revelation 14:17, 15:5, and 16:17. These are all metaphors representing the church.

The city, the temple, and the woman are all located in heaven in the above scriptures. What about the land, and the country where the holy city is located? Hebrews also speaks of a heavenly country. Speaking of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sara, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthae, David, Samuel, and the prophets, the author of Hebrews said:

Hebrews 11:16
But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

So the country Abraham and all the faithful saints looked forward to was a heavenly country. This was also promised to those who are Abraham's children by faith in Christ.

The church's "land" and its wealth are not properties or real estate on this earth, but the word of God, and the promises of God. The apostle Peter said we have received "exceeding great and precious promises." These promises are higher, and more substantial, than the greatest mountains on the earth. They are more precious than any earthly real estate.

2 Peter 1:3-4
According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

The "mountains and hills" of Bible prophecy represent the prominent themes, and major features of the scriptures, and the word of God. Mountains are permanent landmarks, and they picture the duration of the promises of God which endure forever.

God's promise to Abraham, that his seed would inherit the land where he was a stranger, was later referred to as a promise of "rest."

Joshua 1:10-13
Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, saying, Pass through the host, and command the people, saying, Prepare you victuals; for within three days ye shall pass over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land, which the LORD your God giveth you to possess it. And to the Reubenites, and to the Gadites, and to half the tribe of Manasseh, spake Joshua, saying, Remember the word which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, saying, The LORD your God hath given you rest, and hath given you this land.

This shows that "rest" and the promise of land were connected. The law also required the Israelites to allow the land to rest every seventh year. [Leviticus 25]

The prophet Jeremiah said Israel went into captivity because of their failure to observe the laws about the land "sabbaths." [2 Chronicles 36:21] Thus, their possession of the land, and their loss of the land, was dependent on their participation in the sabbath "rest."

Paul said to the Ephesian Christians:

Ephesians 6:1-3
Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.

When we look at the commandment, as it was originally given, it refers to "the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee." This refers to the promised land, which Israel inherited.

Exodus 20:12
Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

What was Paul doing, implying that the promised land, the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, was to belong to Gentile Christians at Ephesus? Paul indicated they would inherit the promises, and the land, that was given to Israel! So the real significance of the land promise must be that it represents the spiritual wealth, and rest, that is promised to those who believe the Gospel.

Psalm 95 is quoted in Hebrews 4:9, which refers to a "sabbatismos" or "rest."

Hebrews 4:7-12
He again fixes a certain day, "Today," saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, "Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts." For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

The rest of the saints is pictured by both the sabbath, and by the land, that was promised to Abraham. Entering it requires faith in the word of God.

Copyright © 2010, 2011, 2013 by Douglas E. Cox
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