Peeling the Onion: Revelation 11: 1-6

This week ends with another object handed to John. It’s a measuring rod, like a staff.

People in my small WASP subculture remember scout staffs – we’d each make a rod, marked in feet and inches – we even learned to fight with them in my troop – like Friar John with Robin Hood – but with discipline. They had many outdoor uses, as well.

I imagine John’s rod as more elegant, of course, but of a similar length, the height of a person. The focus which was on the figure towering over Turkey, is not zooming in to Jerusalem’s Temple. Easy for me to visualize now, framed like many documentaries on PBS. How did John dream it?

At any rate, he is to take the measure of the temple, the altar, and those who worship.

Let’s guess that pre-scientific John is not gathering data, but rather is evaluating, assessing, weighing the value against the standards of the original Ark of Covenant of the temple of David and Solomon. The Second Temple, growing since 500BCE, recently redoubled in scale under Herod the Great. How does it ‘measure up’ Against the originals – and against the celestial vision given John?

John is not even invited to measure the Court of the Gentiles, it is already surrendered to the nations, not the focus of holiness trampled for 42 months: (3 and ½ years: Half of a perfect 7 year span.)

The two witnesses get to prophesy, 1,260 days: just under 3 and ½ years (we can quibble, as in counting 40 days of Lent, if the witnesses get some days off, to make it fit) These witnesses, olive trees or lampstands, present and re-present truth, in the midst of not truth.

In our age of ‘truthiness’, the witnesses resonate differently to me – What’s a God’s eye truth, eh?

They are protected from enemies, able to spew fire from their mouths to kill those who would harm them. These are prophets, nor warriors or rulers – they witness to the truth, but don’t implement it. They can bring drought, or biblical plagues to demand people’s attention and invite them to repent as Moses and Aaron did for Pharaoh. Lots of people have claimed this role fulfilled for themselves or for their preferred mouthpiece. It has shaped our cultural understanding of propaganda.

Our a-millenial tradition, denying one accurate timeline, looks for the shape of this vision in the shape of every time and compares any voice, witness, or truth claim to these.

That seems to me to be consistent with the passage: the idea of ‘taking the measure’ of reputed holiness and truth within a wider frame of reference. It may be wise to take this Sabbath pause now, before, like Leacock’s Lord Ronald, we ‘fling ourselves from the room, fling ourselves on a horse, and ride off madly in all directions’! That’s my 500 for today!

New Jerusalem Bible

 1 Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told,  ‘Come and measure the temple of God and the altar and those  who worship there,   

2 but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample over the holy city for forty-two months.   

3And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy for one thousand two hundred and sixty days, wearing sackcloth.’  

4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands  that stand before the Lord  of the earth.   

5And if anyone wants to harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes; anyone who wants to harm them must be killed  in this manner.   

6They have authority  to shut the sky,  so that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying,  and they  have authority  over the waters to turn them into blood,  and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire

NRSV

1 Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told,  ‘Come and measure the temple of God and the altar and those  who worship there,   

2but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample over the holy city for forty-two months.   

3And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy for one thousand two hundred and sixty days, wearing sackcloth.’  

4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands  that stand before the Lord  of the earth.   

5And if anyone wants to harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes; anyone who wants to harm them must be killed  in this manner.   

6They have authority  to shut the sky,  so that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying,  and they  have authority  over the waters to turn them into blood,  and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire