Revelation 11:1

Revelation 11:1
a reed like a measuring rod
Reed is κάλαμος [kalamos] , the same word which described the mock scepter given to Jesus along with His crown of thorns (Mtt. Mat. 27:29). The soldiers used this “scepter” to beat Him on the head (Mtt. Mat. 27:30; Mark Mark 15:19).

Kalamos (measuring rod) refers to a reedlike plant that grew in the Jordan Valley to a height of fifteen to twenty feet. It had a stalk that was hollow and lightweight, yet rigid enough to be used as a walking staff (cf. Eze. Eze. 29:6) or to be shaved down into a pen (3Jn. 3Jn. 1:13). The stalks, because they were long and lightweight, were ideal for use as measuring rods.1

Later, one of the seven angels (having one of the seven bowls of the seven last plagues) talks with John and uses a golden reed to measure the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. Rev. 21:15+). Measuring rod is ῥάβδῳ [hrabdō] which is translated elsewhere by “rod,” “staff,” or “scepter.”2 This is the word used for the rod of iron by which the rule of Jesus is asserted (Rev. Rev. 2:27+; Rev. 12:5+; Rev. 19:15+).

And the angel stood, saying
This phrase, the angel stood, is omitted by the MT and NU texts which render the voice speaking with John anonymously: “someone said.”3 If we follow the reading of the TR text, then the angel speaking with John would seem to be the angel of Revelation Rev. 10:1+ which told him he must “prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings” (Rev. Rev. 10:11+). A few verses later, the voice speaking with John asserts ownership of the two witnesses as if speaking for God in the first person: “And I will give power to my two witnesses” [emphasis added] (Rev. Rev. 11:3+). Whether the voice is that of an angel or from the throne, the speaker has full divine authority.

In Ezekiel’s vision of the mountain of the Lord’s house, an angelic messenger measures the Millennial Temple using a measuring rod (Eze. Eze. 40:2ff). Ezekiel is told to “look with your eyes and hear with your ears, and fix your mind on everything I show you, for you were brought here so that I might show them to you. Declare to the house of Israel everything you see.” (Eze. Eze. 40:4-5). Measurements were made of both the inner temple and common area (Eze. Eze. 42:15-20). Similarly, Zechariah sees a “man with a measuring line in his hand” (Zec. Zec. 2:1) who measures the dimensions of Jerusalem. The measurement appears to testify of its immense perimeter in a future time of blessing (Zec. Zec. 2:4-5). John is told to “measure” three things: (1) the temple of God; (2) the altar; and 3) those who worship there. The temple and altar are to be literally measured whereas the presence of the worshipers is merely to be noticed and recorded.4 The act of measuring indicates a separation between a portion which God recognizes (the Temple, altar, and worshipers) versus a portion he rejects (the outer court, see below).

Verses 1 and 2 indicate there will be a distinction between Jew and Gentile in this period. The two earlier Jewish temples were divided into four areas: first, the sanctuary itself, which only priests (not even Levites) could enter (this is called the temple of God); second, the area the men of Israel could enter (this included the altar); third, the court of the women in which Israelite women worshiped God; and finally, the court of the Gentiles. John’s instruction was to measure the first three, thus symbolizing God’s interest in, and protection of, the Jewish nation. Chapter 12 confirms this interpretation, for it describes the divine protection symbolized here.5

temple of God
Τὸν ναὸν τοῦ θεοῦ [Ton naon tou theou] . The word for temple, ναὸν [naon] has two general meanings in relation to the house of God in Jerusalem. “(1) In a narrower sense, the inner sanctuary within a sacred precinct (τὸ ἱερόν [to hieron] ) where the divine being resides shrine, (inner) temple (Mtt. Mat. 27:1.51); (2) in a broader yet specific sense, the sanctuary in Jerusalem consisting of the (outer) Holy Place and the (inner) Holy of Holies temple (Mtt. Mat. 26:1.61).”6 The term probably refers to the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place, where only the priests were allowed access. The inner sanctuary, where the divine being resided, is where Jesus predicted the “abomination of desolation” would one day stand in the holy place (τόπῳ ἁγίῳ [topō hagiō] , Mtt. Mat. 24:15). The man of sin, the son of perdition, will also sit in “the temple of God τὸν ναὸν τοῦ θεοῦ [ton naon tou theou] ” (2Th. 2Th. 2:4). This refers to a rebuilt Temple yet future to our time, often called the Tribulation Temple.

Five distinct temples are alluded to by the Scriptures. Solomon’s temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 B.C. Antiochus Epiphanes pillaged and consecrated to Jupiter the temple of Zerubbabel in 168 B.C. Herod’s magnificent temple was reduced to ashes by Titus in A.D. 70. The fourth temple, the edifice described in this chapter, is to be the focus of attention during the Great Tribulation. Finally, the fifth temple will be the Millennial Temple described in Eze. Eze. 40:1-Eze. 47:1.7

Much confusion has been needlessly brought to bear upon this passage by interpreters who insist on ignoring the literal details of the description and spiritualizing nearly everything as pertaining to “the church.” Barnhouse summarizes:

One commentator has brought together on one page the interpretations of his fellows in a way that will explain much of the confusion that has arisen out of this passage. He points out that almost universally the commentators have tried to force the church into the picture that is painted here when, of course, the church is not in view at all. “The temple is here figuratively used of the faithful portion of the church of Christ.” The command is given to John “to measure the temple of God” in order to call his attention to “the size of the church of God.” The “altar” is again, in the mind of one commentator, “the church.” The “outer court” signifies “a part of the church of Christ.” The “Holy City,” according to these expositors is “always in the Apocalypse the title of the church.” The “two witnesses” represent “the elect church of God,” says one (embracing both Jew and Christian), “and the witness which she bears concerning God, especially in the Old and New Testaments.” “The twelve hundred and sixty days” constitutes the period “during which the church although trodden under foot, will not cease to prophesy.” Concerning the war of the beast against them we are told, “The whole vision is symbolical, and the intention is to convey the idea that the church, in her witness for God, will experience opposition from the power of Satan” and so on and on and on. . . . “What wonder, when such diverse expressions are forced to mean the same thing, if there be endless confusion. Literalism may not solve every perplexity, but it does not lead into any such inexplicable obscurity as this.”8

We can avoid much of this mischief by following the Golden Rule of Interpretation. See Temple of God and Tribulation Temple. This Temple is to be contrasted with the “temple of God . . . in heaven” (Rev. Rev. 11:19+).

the altar
The altar was the location where sacrifices were offered. We know that the Tribulation Temple will have an altar because during The 70th Week of Daniel the Antichrist is said to make a covenant which appears to provide, in part, for sacrifices to be offered on such an altar. In opposition to his covenant “in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering” (Dan. Dan. 9:27b). “By being mentioned separately from the Naos (in which was the golden altar of incense) it looks as though the brazen altar of sacrifice was intended. The word will suit either.”9

those who worship there
τοὺς προσκυνοῦντας [tous proskynountas] , present tense participle, the ones presently worshiping. At the time of the measurement, worship is in progress. There is an intentional contrast between John’s instructions to measure the ones worshiping in the temple versus to leave out the outer court which is given to the nations. Worship within the temple is recognized by God, whereas the activity of the outer court is dismissed.


1 John MacArthur, Revelation 1-11 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), Rev. 11:1.

2 James Strong, The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1996), G4464.


4 A figure of speech: Zeugma. The verb measure is by this figure ‘yoked’ to a second object which does not fit it as equally as the first, for worshippers would not be measured but taken account of.”—Jerome Smith, The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992), Rev. 11:1.

5 Monty S. Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John (Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries, 1987), Rev. 11:1.

6 Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 269.

7 W. A. Criswell and Paige Patterson, eds., The Holy Bible: Baptist Study Edition (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991), Rev. 11:1.

8 Donald Grey Barnhouse, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971), Rev. 11:1.

9 E. W. Bullinger, Commentary On Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1984, 1935), Rev. 11:1.