Week of Sept. 6

The Critical Truth about Christian Suffering

Read: Ezekiel 29-32; Revelation 11

“Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months.”
Revelation 11:1-2, ESV


I have good and bad news today. The good news is that we have arrived at a central passage in the book of Revelation. Wahoo! The bad news is that it is one of the most difficult passages to interpret in the entire book. Bummer! Nevertheless, if we take the chapter at face value, it will help us to gain a secure footing for a moral application to our lives. We will consider two of the symbols John uses: the temple (11:1) and the Holy City (11:2). They each mean something significant for Christians in every age, so let’s not delay any longer and dive into the text!

A Biblical Lens

Two main approaches to the chapter have been presented. On the one hand, some believe that John was referring to the Jewish people and their place in God’s plan while, on the other hand, there are those who believe that John discusses the Christian church. Traditional dispensational millennial views take up the Jewish perspective but, as we would imagine, there are variations and difficulties with this approach (cf. Smith, Seiss, and Walvoord; EBC)! Part of the challenge with these methods is that they do not link well with chapter 10. Our custom in the Pathway Devotionals is to place each passage in its wider context, so we will approach this chapter in relationship to the broader setting (10:1-11:19; EBC; NAC).

We will aim toward understanding what John was saying to the churches. Robert Mounce offers a helpful perspective. He writes that the measuring of the temple enclosure but not the outer court represents the church from “two different perspectives.” On the one hand the people of God would be safe from demonic assault but, on the other hand, they would suffer from the persecution of the unbelieving world (11:1-2; NAC). We may readily see that our current generation has begun to encounter the harassment that those earlier Christians faced (cf. Hebrews 10:32-34). We have seen a growing legal and social challenge to anything “Christian” on the part of secular culture. Mounce writes that “measuring the temple” symbolized its preservation, so we may take heart from John’s message (cf. Ezekiel 40-42; NAC).

The temple refers to the “Christian community who worship God” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:19-22). God will give spiritual sanctuary to those who are faithful. The Antichrist will not be able to assault them. We need to be clear. This protection does not mean that God’s people will be free from physical suffering or death; instead, spiritual danger is the point (cf. 7:1-8; NAC).

Furthermore, the outer court of the temple was named “The Court of the Gentiles.” You may recall that the inner court of Herod’s temple was divided into three areas: the court of the women, the court of the Israelites, and the court of the priests. A wall separated these three courts from the area of the Gentiles. The wall bore an inscription that threatened death to any Gentile who would pass beyond it. This outer court likely referred to the church, but from a different perspective.

The church was to face severe persecution in the coming days, but that period of torment would not be able to touch its “real source of life.” The hostility of unbelievers would not be able to destroy God’s people. We see that the two witnesses are killed, but they rise and ascend to heaven (11:11-12; NAC). The Christian life is both/and, meaning we will be shielded and we will suffer, but the life that we have in Christ will never be destroyed (cf. 1 Peter 1:3-5). For all of its challenges to a clear understanding, this chapter provides the church today with a much-needed word of clear truth.

A Moral Pathway

Hurricane Laura made landfall in Louisiana in recent days, and I read that a Baptist pastor was one of the 18 casualties in the storm. I grieve over the loss of all those lives. Churches across the state were also among the structures that were severely damaged. The clean-up and repair will be extensive and will take many months to complete. The physical storm illustrates that believers do not live in a bubble! We suffer from natural and human calamities like everyone else. Christ forewarned his disciples of this very thing (Luke 13:4; Matthew 24:3-8).

I do not know of any report where Christians complained that they and their houses of worship encountered extreme and unfair treatment during the storm. Neither do believers complain when they encounter oppression and hatred for their commitment to Christ (Matthew 24:9). Why is this so? Christians, more than any other faith, recognize our pilgrim status along a road that is often filled with suffering (1 Peter 1:1, “elect exiles,” 3:14-15, “if you should suffer”). Our homes may be taken or destroyed, and our livelihoods lost due to harassment, but our eternal home and lives in Christ are eternally secure! John has reminded us today of suffering that may come at any time, but to receive it with that patient expectation of God’s final redemption.

For Your Journaling

1. Write down the major challenges that you are facing presently in your life. How would you describe them? Many of our difficulties are faced by non-Christians and Christians alike. Ask God to strengthen you in your trial.

2. Many Christians today face opposition to their beliefs and practices. Schools, work, and wider culture have all become battlegrounds for those who strive to lead devoted lives to Christ. We will be oppressed, but we need not become distressed! Place your life in the sure hands of the Savior and trust him.

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock