Articles: The Day

"A New Approach to Revelation" by Tricia Tillin (Part Five)

how the day of atonement Temple service sheds light on the book of revelation: The Temple Setting

Now we can begin to look at the Book of Revelation itself, but in context. We need to understand where the main characters and places are situated. Knowing a little more about the Temple with which John was familiar - Herod's Temple of the first century AD - will make certain passages more clear.

Having seen the link between Revelation and the Temple in the first place, and then studied it for nearly a year, on and off, and collected a drawer full of material about the idea, I cannot see the setting of Revelation today as anything other than the Heavenly Temple.

I hope that by the end of this study you will see it the same way. It places the vision in its proper context and also, as you will see, sheds light on many of the most puzzling prophecies.

Aspects that are particular to the worship ceremonies and practises will be left out of this page, because I intend to cover them all later. For the moment I want to give you a more clear idea of the physical Temple itself - both that of Herod at the time of Jesus, and the Heavenly Temple of God.

We will then begin to see where John was placed, what he saw, and who the main characters taking part in his vision were, because the Second Temple in Jerusalem was merely an inexact earthly model of God's Temple in Heaven.

There is a useful 3D tour of Herod's Temple here:

Go Back to Summary/Contents Page

Short History of Herod's Temple

  • Page of facts with links here
  • Another description with illustrations here

Solomon's Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and slowly rebuilt after the exile. King Herod, in the 18th year of his reign decided to rebuild the Temple completely and it took over 60 years. Indeed, it had only just been completed when it was again destroyed by the Romans in AD70.

The work of rebuilding the Temple began in 19 BC and started by leveling larger portions of the Temple Mount, so that the new building might be erected on a broader base. All around the Temple Mount beautiful marble porticoes were constructed. A wall surrounded the whole area and a small portion of it remains to this day, known as "The Wailing Wall."

While the main part of Herod's rebuilding was completed before his death in 4 BC, the work went on for more than 60 years after that. When Jesus visited the Temple it was said that the place had by then been under construction for 46 years. The work was not entirely finished until 63 AD, only 7 years before the destruction of the entire Temple in 70 AD.

It was a massive structure and very impressive. As can be seen from the floorplans on this page, there were several different areas where people were allowed access. The Temple itself stood on the Temple Mount with an Outer Court or Plaza which was accessible to anyone, unlike the rest of the buildings. Only Jews were allowed through the gates into the inner courts. When John is instructed to measure the Temple, he is told, "But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months." (Revelation 11:2)

The word Gentiles in the bible can also be translated "nations" or "peoples". In terms of the Book of Revelation, this would be the world outside of John's immediate vicinity, the Gentile nations surrounding Israel. John himself, at the opening of his vision, was metaphorically in the place of the Israelites, the inner court.

Below we see a floor-plan of the inner courts. The "Court of Women" was not just for Jewish women, who were housed in a gallery above the Court, but for all other Jews except under certain circumstances. The Women's Court is where ordinary people gathered to take part in the services, specifically at the "time of prayer" which was the offering of the incense. Acts 3:1 describes how "Peter and John were going up to the Temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer." [This was the evening service, at about 3pm]

Mounting 15 steps from that Court we find a huge gate - the Nicanor Gate - which was only opened when a service was in progress. (The link is to a liberal Jewish website but gives some of the supposed history of this impressive gate.)

Beyond the gate was a narrow court where certain Jews could gather to watch the sacrifices more closely, but further than this they could not go. Later we will find that only 24 representatives of the people could enter beyond the Nicanor Gate to watch the sacrifices; others of the common people did not see what was going on.

Here on the curved steps of the Nicanor Gate the Levite musicians with their trumpets, cymbals and other instruments assembled to accompany the recitation of the Psalm (and here therefore we will find the angels with their seven trumpets).

Acts 5:21 speaks of the Council of Elders that met at one time on the steps of the Court of Women. "At daybreak they entered the Temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people. When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin--the full assembly of the elders of Israel". The Council or Senate or Sanhedrin had 23 members so it's tempting to see the 24 elders of Revelation (seniors - same bible word as senators) as the the heavenly version of this. However, it is more likely - given their participation in the praise later on in the book - that they are the 24 representatives of Israel, or the 24 courses of priests that surrounded the Sanctuary. [See plan below]

The Inner Courts

In the area between the Court of Israel and the Sanctuary itself, and surrounding it on all sides, was the Court of Priests where only properly sanctified and authorised members of the Temple Priesthood could minister. Here was the huge altar of sacrifice and the bronze laver for washing hands and feet. There was also an area set aside for the tethering and slaughter of the sacrificial animals.


The Holy Place

From the Priests' Court another grand staircase led up to the Porch of the Sanctuary, and beyond the vestibule of the Sanctuary stood another set of huge doors.

These led into the Holy Place - marked "sanctuary" on the plan. It was a sacred area containing only the Golden Altar of incense (Rev 8:3) the Menorah or seven-branched candlestick (Rev 4:5) and the Table of Showbread.

In Herod's Temple there was a separation between this Holy Place and the innermost chamber, the most sacred of all - the Holy of Holies. However, as we know from history and from our bibles, this Veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom when Jesus opened the way back to the Father by his sacrificial death. (Matt 27:51).

Thus what John sees in Heaven is the Throne of God unveiled, with no separation between God and man. [Oddly however, to preserve the vision as a service in the Temple, John later speaks of the sanctuary as being "closed" and "no man could enter". (Rev 15:8) He also catches a glimpse of the Ark of the Covenant which at one time was housed in the Holy of Holies - despite the historical facts of salvation: "And the Temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his Temple the ark of his testament..." Rev 11:19]

The Holy of Holies

As mentioned above, the innermost sanctuary into which only the High Priest could enter, and even then only once a year, was the Holy of Holies. This was the seat of God in the earthly Tabernacle, and the glorious Presence of God dwelt here until disobedience and idolatry took its toll in Israel and they forfeited the blessing of God.

Originally this holy chamber housed the Ark of the Covenant, containing the tablets of the commandments of God given to Moses, Aaron's rod that budded, and a Pot of Manna. However, the Ark had been removed by the time of Herod's Temple, so it contained only the foundation stone.

NOTE: At first inspection, I Kings 8:9 and Hebrews 9:4 seem to contradict each other. Hebrews states, "…wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant." I Kings 8:9 only lists the two tables on which the Ten Commandments were written. But in Hebrews 9:4, the word translated "wherein" comes from the Greek word Hou. Many concordances, including Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, state that Hou means "at which place." The original Greek word is more general in nature and simply means "in the same location."


In conclusion, the vision of John shows us every part of the Temple and the participants. He begins at the Court of Women where all Jewish people could attend the meetings. There he encounters the High Priest, Jesus, among the candlesticks of the seven churches. Later he ascends to the great door leading into the inner courts, where he sees the angelic priests in ministry to God and the 24 elders.

As events unfold, he also sees the Temple furniture such as the Altar of Sacrifice standing just outside the Sanctuary, the Golden Altar of Incense in the Holy Place, and the Ark of the Covenant once situated in the Holy of Holies.

Now we can go on to see how these things influence our understanding of the endtime prophecies of Revelation.

If you are interested, intrigued, confused, or just want to give me some feedback, please e-mail me direct: Contact Page

© 2014 Tricia Tillin-Booth. All rights reserved. Birthpangs Website:  This document is the property of its author and is not to be displayed on other websites, redistributed, sold, reprinted, or reproduced in printed in any other format without permission. Websites may link to this article, if they provide proper title and author information.   One copy may be downloaded, stored and/or printed for personal research. All spelling and phraseology is UK English.