“But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.” – Revelation 11:2
The Tabernacle was built according to the pattern showed to Moses on the mount. It was the center of Jewish worship. All the tribes had their position in relation to it. Covered by the pillar of cloud by day and by the pillar of fire by night, it was the visible sign of the presence and protection of the Almighty.
The Tabernacle, made from the costliest offerings of all the people and built by hands inspired by God to do the delicate work, had a beauty and glory beyond anything man himself could conceive. Whether it is realized or not, man is ever a worshiper and from earliest times has found delight in adorning his temples and making them works of beauty. But the Tabernacle, as well as the Temple and modern churches whose basic structure is that of the Tabernacle, has a beauty beyond that of mere outward form.
There were three parts to the Tabernacle: the Holy of Holies, where was the ark with the two tables of stone on which the Commandments were written; the Holy Place, where were the altar of incense, the candlestick, and the table for shew bread; and the outer court, which had as its furnishings the laver of brass and the great altar for burnt offerings. These three divisions are represented in our churches. The altar on which the Word is kept is the Holy of Holies. The place of the communion table and the lectern from which the Word is read corresponds to the Holy Place; and the seats for the congregation are the outer court.
The Lord said to the Jews: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” They thought that He was speaking of Herod’s temple on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem but, as He told them, He was speaking of the temple of His body. And Paul writes, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?”
Very briefly, The Holy of Holies where the Lord dwells and speaks to us is our inmost consciousness, where His laws are written in our hearts. The Holy Place is the realm of thought. There the golden candlestick is the light proceeding from love, by which we see the possibilities of good and see clearly the distinction between good and evil. The table of shew-bread, or “presence-bread” as it is called, is the determination to do good, and the altar of incense is the gratitude that ascends to God from the mind. The outer court of this spiritual tabernacle or temple is the domain of outward, practical life. The altar of burnt offering is the devotion of our natural affections and desires to the Lord, and the laver is the purification from selfish and worldly thoughts, that our outward lives may be pure and good. So the plan of our sacred buildings is descriptive of the individual life that is in true order.
It is also descriptive of heaven. There is an inmost heaven, where the Lord’s laws are written on the angels’ hearts and where they are led by Him alone. There is a middle heaven, where the clear light of heavenly intelligence guides the angels in worship and in life. And there is a lower or natural heaven, where less loving and less intelligent angels shun evil and do good in obedience to the Lord. They are the Court of the Tabernacle and Temple. There are angels of love, there are angels of truth, who rejoice especially in the light, and there are angels of lower uses.
The Church on earth is the Lord’s sanctuary where He dwells among His people. When we begin the work of regeneration, our concepts of Christian duty are low. We know generally the requirements of the letter of the Commandments and of the Word, and we try to keep them. It is not from an enlightened understanding of them that we act but because “Thus saith the Lord” is our law, and so it ought to be. The Lord accepts our offering though our vision is narrow. We are men of the outer court. Men of simple obedience only are men of the outer court.
In the Jewish Church those who had a right only to the outer court never saw the brightness of the golden lamp in the Holy Place, much less the splendor of the Divine light in the Holy of Holies, but still they were Israelites and were accepted and blessed according to their measure.
In the outer court were two things: the laver of brass and the altar of brass. Christians of the outer court must wash and must sacrifice. Without performing these duties no man is a Christian at all. “If I wash thee not,” said the Lord to Peter, “thou hast no part with me.” And Isaiah writes, “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well.” We must sacrifice also. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” These things are essential to all Christians; all enter the first or outer court. We must first make our daily life clean and good or we can never be elevated by the Lord to the higher states of life.
It must be confessed that Christians in general have a low and indistinct idea of the duties and requirements of the outer court. They have been so used to hearing that no one can keep the Commandments and that salvation comes by faith alone or by revivalist emotionalism that a large number of professing Christians fall far short of washing and sacrificing. Yet it remains an eternal truth that we can not enter heaven without a change of motives, thoughts, and life. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” He must become a new man. And we must wash often in this outward department of our lives. The work of purification even of the outer life is not one single effort but a daily and constantly repeated exertion. We must say with the Psalmist, “Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” Our obedience is never full and perfect, and our garments will many a time be spotted by our contact with the world and its influence upon us.
And there is sacrifice. We are not always in bright happy states. The spirit, the life of the mind must be changed. There is a life that must be lost. “Whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” The inner life of the unregenerate man is largely selfish. Self rules in his natural mind. He may appear generous, devoted, courteous, a kind friend, a good citizen, an excellent neighbor, a man distinguished in science or letters, yet Divine light will disclose to him a selfishness of heart. The subjugation of this natural selfishness is the work of the outer court.
There is a remarkable declaration in the book of Revelation: “But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.” This was a prophecy of conditions which would exist in the time of the end of the First Christian Church and the beginning of the New. The separation of religion from life, making it consist only in faith and emotions, is the treading of the outer court under foot. Politics, business, marriage have been governed by motives springing from self. The rulers of nations have not sought for righteousness but for power, dominion, and glory in the world. Self has been their impelling aim. And what widespread misery and ruin have followed this trampling under foot of the outer court!
“Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” This is also a law of the outer court and the basis of the righteous life.
In social life, as a general rule, what has religion had to do with marriage, except to perform the ceremony? The desire for gain, social position, ambition, and even more degrading motives have often defiled and still do defile this sacred relationship. And what has been the result but incalculable misery?
Happily the forty and two months, three and one-half years, or in other words the end of one dispensation and the beginning of another is being realized. The outer court is being reclaimed.
The great need of our day is the restoration of religion in common life, in the outer court, and the acknowledgment that every part of this world is God’s world and should be governed by the laws of God. There is nothing merely secular. Everything has its religious side. When this is realized, religion will have a power in human life.
This outer court then stands for obedience. When man has continued in obedience until the commandments are established in his outer conduct, the Lord can lift him up to a higher state. He can enter the Holy Place. When the Christian is only in the outer court, his motto is “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” But when he has so far succeeded that he can say that the yoke is easy and the burden light, he is prepared for a higher spiritual state. He desires to see. “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” is his prayer. The Word then is more than just a rule of life. It is a treasury of thought. And the Christian can say, “Therefore I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold.” The struggle is now not between obedience and disobedience, but between truth and falsity. One discerns truth to be man’s friend and falsity a treacherous enemy. The glory of truth breaks upon the soul, and the goodness and mercy of the Lord are acknowledged.
There is a still higher state meant by the Holy of Holies. It was lighted only by the presence of the Lord. John says, “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” The law is then written on the heart, and the new covenant between God and man is fulfilled.