Revelation - The Heavenly Temple

The book of Revelation in the Bible is one of the most difficult books to understand. It is full of symbolism and mystery that requires an in-depth knowledge of the rest of the Bible. There are 4 major interpretive frameworks for understanding Revelation but each of them have their difficulties. It seems that the framework determines the interpretation more than the actual content of the book. This might not be a fair assessment, but it is the motivation for me to try to understand the book of Revelation on its own before adopting a framework. In the next couple of months I will be writing about different aspects of Revelation as I explore this amazing book in the Bible.

One of the symbols found in Revelation is that of a heavenly temple. Temple imagery is found throughout the book but there are three main references that all come from the throne of God. In chapter four we find that from the throne come"flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder." This same imagery is found during the seventh seal (8:1-4), seventh trumpet (11:15-19), and seventh bowl (16:17 - 20). Each of these scenes in the book contains the same description of what comes from the throne in chapter 4, but with additional and increasing intensity. The seventh seal contains an additional earthquake. The seventh trumpet includes heavy hail as well as an earthquake. The seventh bowl contains a great earthquake as well as even heavier hail. Preceding this literary device we find short descriptions or references to the opening of the heavenly temple.

The first scene is of an angel with the prayers of the saints to offer on the golden altar. In both the Tabernacle and Solomon's temple, the golden altar was found in the Holy Place just before the Most Holy Place. It was also known as the altar of incense (Ex. 30:27) and the altar before the LORD (Lev. 16:12). When the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and God went to consume them, Moses said to Aaron, "Take your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the LORD; the plague has begun (Num. 16:46)." Another reference of the golden altar is found in the death of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu. They offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, and He consumed them (Lev. 10:1-2). Throughout Scripture we can see that the golden altar is a place of decision. If the offering is wrong like Nadab and Abihu then they are consumed with fire. If the offering is pleasing to God they are protected from the judgment of God, like the congregation when Aaron stood between the dead and the living because of their grumbling (Num. 16:47). The golden altar in the heavenly temple is a reminder that God will protect those who chose him from the judgments that are coming.

The second scene is of the temple of heaven being opened and seeing the ark of the covenant within. This scene is depicting that we are now in the Holy Place of the heavenly temple. There is no mention of a veil across the entrance to the Most Holy Place. The veil was ripped when Jesus died on the cross (Matt. 27:51), but that may not be the only explanation. It could also be a reference to Solomon's temple where the poles could be seen from the Holy Place, but not from outside (2 Chron. 5:9). In either case the judgments in Revelation are bringing us into the Holy Place. God has begun to reign, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever (11:15)."

The third scene is when the seventh angel pours out his bowl into the air and a voice from the temple says, "It is done!" This is referring back to the beginning of the bowls where the Most Holy Place of the temple in heaven is opened and the seven angels with the seven last plagues come out. Nobody can enter into the sanctuary until the plagues are finished because God's glory is there (15:1-8). When the last plagues are finished we will be able to enter the Most Holy Place. The judgments of God have made a way into his presence, from the golden altar, to the Holy Place, to the Most Holy place. Access to the heavenly temple is open but that is not the end of the story because there is no longer need for a heavenly temple. The new Jerusalem has no temple. "I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb (21:22)."

In Hebrews we read that Moses was instructed to make the tabernacle in the pattern of the heavenly things (Heb. 8:5). The purpose of a temple is for God to dwell with man. "Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst (Ex. 25:9)." It is needed because God is holy and we are sinful, but it will no longer be needed once God's judgments are complete. Instead of seeing shadows we will see His face (22:4).


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