The Land as Covenant Backdrop, Part 2

January 20, 2011

Revelation 11:1-2, 8—The Land

The first two verses of Revelation 11 read:

Then I was given a measuring reed like a rod, with these words, “Go and measure God’s sanctuary and the altar, and count those who worship there.  But, exclude the courtyard outside the sanctuary.  Don’t measure it, because it is given to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for 42 months (HCSB).

Since the Greek word translated “sanctuary” here (naos) is the standard term for “temple,” or the “sanctuary” within the Jewish temple,[1] there are only two questions that must be answered to determine whether this passage is a New Testament example of the ongoing land promise to Israel: 1) Is this passage referring to an earthly or a heavenly temple? 2) If an earthly temple is in view, is Revelation 11 referring to a past time frame (i.e., before the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in A.D. 70) or a future one (i.e., related to end-times events)?

The first question can be answered easily.  There are 16 inclusions of vaos, the normal Greek word in the Gospels for the Jerusalem temple (e.g., Matt. 23:35; Mk. 15:38; Lk. 1:9; and, notably, the Johannine usage in Jn. 2:20) in Revelation (3:12; 7:15; 11:1, 2, 19 [twice]; 14:15, 17; 15:5, 6, 8 [twice]; 16:1, 17; 21:22 [twice]).  Eleven of the 16 include the additional descriptors “before” or “from [God’s] throne” or “in heaven” in the immediate context.  Three of the remaining five uses point beyond the Second Coming to a temple either during Christ’s earthly kingdom (3:12) and to the eternal state, when no temple will be needed (21:22). 

The only other uses in the Apocalypse are those cited above, in 11:1, 2.  The vaos of 11:1, 2 is described as being located in “the holy city” (11:2), where the two witnesses of 11:3-7 are killed.  The “holy city” here must mean Jerusalem, given that the same city in 11:8 is described as “where also their Lord was crucified” (HCSB), i.e., Jerusalem. 

In regard to the second question, with but the scantiest attempt at proof, Burge asserts, “Most interpreters see genuine allusions to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.”[2]  However, his sweeping claim is drastically overstated.  Had Burge stated something like “Since the publication of John A.T. Robinson’s amazingly influential Redating the New Testament,[3] there has been an increase in the number of commentaries and other studies championing a pre-A.D. 70 dating for the Apocalypse,” I would have had no problem.  But, that’s not what he wrote.  His claim is that the bulk of (presumably) contemporary scholars of the Apocalypse date its writing before A.D. 70, which allows for the temple in Revelation 11 to be the one destroyed in A.D. 70.

That, however, is not what “most interpreters” who have published in the post-Redating the New Testament era actually hold. For example, writing in 1989, esteemed evangelical New Testament scholar and editor Walter Elwell writes:

The traditional view for the date of the composition of Revelation is during the reign of Domitian (A.D. 81-96).  The early church fathers affirmed this and most scholars since then have accepted this… .  For those who want precision in such matters, there is a virtual consensus that Revelation was written between AD 94 and 96.[4] 

Similarly, in 1997, G.R. Beasley-Murray, in the Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments, stated:

The majority opinion as to the date of Revelation is that of Irenaeus, who wrote concerning the book, “There has been no very long time since, but almost in our own day, toward the end of Domitian’s reign (Irenaeus Haer. 5.30.3).[5]

Since then, noted writers on the Apocalypse as diverse theologically as Raymond Brown (1997),[6] Grant Osborne (2002),[7] Ian Boxall (2006)[8] and Marvin Pate (2007)[9] all concur that the dating of the book during the latter years of the reign of Domitian is the clear majority view. 

            Let me clear as to what has been concluded so far: 1) Based on the usage of the term in Revelation, it is far and away the most likely understanding that the vaos in 11:1-2 is an earthly temple in Jerusalem (i.e., in the promised land); and 2) In spite of Burge’s contention that the Apocalypse was written before the Second Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, it is the considered view of scholars with an acknowledged specialty in regard to Revelation that it was written in the 90s, well after the temple was destroyed by the Romans.  Since there has been no temple that has stood in Jerusalem in the nearly two millennia since, the logical conclusion is that what is pictured in Revelation 11:1-2 is still future from our day.  And, if there will be a Jewish temple in Jerusalem, it follows that there will also be Jewish people.


[1] W. Bauer, W.F. Arndt, F.W. Gingrich and F. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Second Ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), s.v. “vaos, 533-34.

[2] Burge, Jesus and the Land, 105. Italics mine.

[3] (Philadephia: Westminster, 1976).  Yarbro Collins makes the precise same point (“Revelation,” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, gen. ed. D.N. Freedman [New York: Doubleday, 1992], V: 701).  In actuality, Robinson’s work is thought-provoking, but largely amounts to a 400-plus page extended argument from silence, developing questionable implications of this probably unanswerable question: “If the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 had already happened, why isn’t it recorded in the New Testament?”

[4] W.A. Elwell, “Revelation,” in W.A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), 1199.

[5] R.P. Martin and P.H. Davids, eds. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1997), 1028.

[6] An Introduction to the New Testament The Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 805.

[7] Revelation Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 9.

[8] The Revelation of Saint John Black’s New Testament Commentary (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2006), 8.

[9] J.D. Hays, J.S. Duvall and C.M. Pate, Dictionary of Biblical Prophecy and End Times (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 375.

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