The following is an excerpt from Peter Leithart’s forthcoming two-volume commentary on Revelation (T&T Clark).
You must prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings,” a voice tells John (Rev. 10:11). Then someone gives him a “reed like a rod” and instructs him to measure (11:1). Apparently, the reed is the tool he needs to prophesy. Why does a prophet need a reed? How is prophesying like measuring?
Measured things—the bronze altar, the table of showbread, the lampstand and the golden altar, the ark—are holy things. Measured spaces are holy spaces, and measured furniture is holy furniture. Measured people, that is, counted people, are holy people. With a measuring rod, John is called to draw boundaries that mark off holy space.
John’s work seems more suited to a priest. Priests were specialists in sanctity, experts in measuring the holy and profane, distinguishing between the clean and unclean. That’s what John’s prophesying will accomplish. Prophecy, like priestly measuring, is an art of division. John’s prophetic work, like all prophecy, is priestly.
John’s reed is like a “rod.” A rod is not a measuring device, but a symbol of rule. Shepherds use rods (Gen. 30), and Moses’s rod is the instrument of his power in Egypt (cf. Exod. 7). The son installed by Yahweh on his throne bears a rod of iron (Ps. 2), and the shepherd king of Psalm 23 guides his flock with rod and staff. Jesus wields a rod of iron and promises the same authority to victors (Rev. 2:27; 12:5; 19:15).
Priestly measuring is always an exercise in authority. Continue here.
Peter J. Leithart is President of Theopolis.