Expound Symposium: Notes on Matthew Brown’s “Cube, Gate and Measuring Tools: A Biblical Pattern”

(cross-posted from www.HeavenlyAscents.com)

The following are my notes on Matthew B. Brown’s presentation at the recently held Expound Symposium that I participated in on May 14th. Matthew’s paper was intriguing — a very insightful treatment of temple-related topics that readers of this blog would surely find extremely interesting.  My notes do not do it justice by any means, especially because my computer battery is so bad that I had to take notes by hand (gasp)!! So, keeping in mind that what few notes I am providing don’t nearly represent the breadth and depth of Matthew Brown’s wonderful paper, nor his own words verbatim, here goes (after the notes, I provide links to my and  to Jeffrey Bradshaw’s papers, for those who haven’t seen them, as they both touch on some of the same temple themes as Matthew’s paper):


Matthew B. Brown

“Cube, Gate and Measuring Tools: A Biblical Pattern”

There is a close relationship between the ancient Israelite temple and the book of the Apocalypse in the New Testament.

The holy of holies of the temple was based on a divine pattern that was revealed to Moses. What we know of the holy of holies can be compared to what we are told about the New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation in Rev. 21. The New Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven is described as a gold cube, just as is the holy of holies of the temple.

The entrance to the New Jerusalem consisted of three gates on each side, each gate guarded by an angel. This reminds us of the veil of the temple, which was decorated with embroidered cherubim who guarded the way to the holy of holies.

The Ark of the Covenant that sat in the holy of holies represented God’s throne and was supposed to have been placed over the “foundation stone” (the “navel of creation”), which, in turn, sat over the “abyss” (the primeval chaos or flood).

This “throne” of God was associated with the divine attributes of righteousness, truth, and uprightness. These three attributes can be seen as requirements for entrance to the temple, as we see in Ps. 15:2 — compare this to Rev. 21 (my notes here don’t contain the details, but perhaps we are to compare all of Ps. 15 with Rev. 21:7-8, and that both should be considered to be requirements for entry into the respective holy place).

Psalm 24 also represents an entrance liturgy that discusses entry requirements for the temple. According to rabbinic traditions (I have no specific reference), the psalm is said to be associated with the king gaining access to the holy of holies of the temple. The psalm speaks of passing through the gates to ascend to the temple.

We are told in Luke 13:22-30 that the gate for entrance into salvation is “strait” or narrow. There is also talk of “striving” (struggling, contending) to enter through the door, and also of knocking at the door (here M. Brown gives an explanation of a Catholic “entrance liturgy” that involves knocking on a door with a mallet).

Note that Psalm 118:19 makes reference to a temple gate known as the Gate of Righteousness.  “Righteousness”, anciently, was symbolized by the plumb line (Isa. 28:17; a measuring tool) and leveling instruments.  The targum to Psalm 89:8 indicates that faithfulness/truth surrounds God like a circle or compass. Also, the Hebrew verb yashar (I don’t have any references he used, but see, e.g., Ps. 5:8) means: to make straight, right, or level. It involves creating a straight line, not deviating to the right or left. (There is much more to this discussion that is missing from my notes — generally, the attributes or requirements for entering the temple, including righteousness, uprightness, etc., are often symbolized by measuring tools, such as those used by God to create the world, or those used to build the temple.)

In Ezekiel 40:3, when Ezekiel is shown in vision the future/ideal temple, he sees an angel “with a line of flax in his hand, and a measuring reed; and he stood in the gate.” We see here again the relationship between the temple gates and the measuring tools — the line/rope and rod are tools used for building the temple. We see this same theme in Rev. 11:1 and Rev. 21:15, where a rod is used to measure the sacred precincts.

Ezekiel 46:1-2 — we get a description of the king kneeling before the temple gate. He had to “measure up” to be worthy to worship at the temple (from this point on I think I became so enthralled in the presentation that I forgot to take detailed notes, basically only taking down relevant scriptural passages — I will attempt to reconstruct what I can based on this paucity of real notes).

Going back to our temple entrance liturgy in Psalm 24, verses 1-2 make reference to God’s actions at the Creation and the conquering of Chaos. God builds the earth upon the conquered Sea. Other scriptural passages describe God as a master builder using builders’ tools.  Proverbs 8:27, 29 tells about how God set his compass upon the chaos waters and ascribed limitations that they could not pass.  Job 38:5 talks of God laying the foundations of the earth, measuring and “stretching out the line” upon it — God used builders’ tools.

In Psalm 89, verse 9 describes God’s power over the chaos waters, how He rules over the raging of the sea. This is an important symbol of God’s power.  In Ps. 89:25, we can understand that God has delegated this divine power to the Israelite king, who shall likewise rule over the sea.

Psalms 2, 110 — God anoints king, sets him on his holy hill and gives him power over his enemies.

1 Kings 5:17 (see also Ezra 6:3) — King lays the foundation stones for the temple, following similar pattern to God in Creation

Psalm 72:1-2 — This psalm is declared, in the superscription, to be “A Song for Solomon”, and attributes to him the powers and duties of God. “Give the king thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the king’s son.  He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment.” The succeeding verses continue to demonstrate just how much divine power God has delegated to the king:

Psalm 72:4-11  4 He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor.  5 They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations.  6 He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth.  7 In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth.  8 He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.  9 They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust.  10 The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts.  11 Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.

The righteousness expected of the king in order to be worthy of this trust is described in Pss. 19:13; 89:24; 101.

In 1 Kings 3:6, we are told that King David possessed the three divine throne attributes (mentioned above): truth, righteousness, and uprightness. The fact that the Davidic king was seen to sit on the very throne of Jehovah (1 Chron. 29:23) emphasizes the need for the king to possess these essential qualities.

The stories in Scripture related to the Creation, the Temple, and the End Times (Eschaton) contain a pattern of similar images and symbols.  We see the cube, the sets of three gates (veil), the cherubim (angels), the Ark of the Covenant (throne of God), the entrance requirements, and the measuring tools — these very significant symbols can be seen in biblical passages regarding the Creation, the Temple, and the New Jerusalem of the End Times.  There are significant parallels between what happens in Heaven and what happens on Earth, and God can be seen to delegate his divine power to mankind.


For more on similar temple-related themes, please see the following papers, also presented at the Expound Symposium (the overlapping of themes was not planned):

Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, “Standing in the Holy Place: Ancient and Modern Reverberations of an Enigmatic New Testament Prophecy

David J. Larsen, “Ascending into the Hill of the Lord: The Psalms as a Key to Understanding the Rituals of the First Temple”

My apologies to Matthew Brown for anything in my notes that may not fully or properly represent the wording or intentions of his presentation.

6 thoughts on “Expound Symposium: Notes on Matthew Brown’s “Cube, Gate and Measuring Tools: A Biblical Pattern”

  1. Wow David, some great stuff here. I’m going to have to take some time to study this post.

  2. David,
    Thanks for this report. Perhaps my question was dealt with in the talk itself and you will recall the answer, but I am curious about how Brown explains that the New Jerusalem is not a cube (12000 stadia L and W, and 140 cubits H). Also, the city is explicitly not a temple and explicitly does not have a physical temple because “the temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” (Rev 21:22). It seems that there is certainly something going on with sacred space, but the text seems to distance itself from the idea of a temple, radically transforming it into the city. And where in Rev 21 does it say that the gates are guarded by angels? I must be missing it.

  3. Thanks, Geoff! And we should all thank Matthew Brown for such an enlightening paper!

    TT, good questions. I’ll start with the last one first:

    Where in Rev 21 does it say that the gates are guarded by angels? In verse 12:

    Revelation 21:12 And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel:

    How does Brown explain the New Jerusalem not being a cube? I don’t remember what Brown’s precise words were in this regard, but I always understood that it was a cube as well. I think you may be misreading something (easily done in Revelation, for sure) — it looks like you’re taking the height of the walls in the next verse (144 cubits, v. 17) as the height of the city. Verse 16 clearly states that all sides of the city were equal:

    Revelation 21:16 And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.

    You are right that it does explicitly say that there is no “temple” in the city, because the Lord is personally dwelling there. I disagree with your assertion that “the city is explicitly not a temple” or that the text is trying to distance itself from the idea of a temple — like you say later on, the whole city has become a temple. This seems to draw on ideas from Ezekiel and Isaiah that can be seen to depict the sacred space in the New Jerusalem as expanded a level, so that the holy city is the temple and the land of Israel is like the temple courts, etc. The language that John is using is most definitely that of the temple in his descriptions of the New Jerusalem, but the holiness of the temple has now extended to the whole city and all its inhabitants are now priests (cf. Isa. 66:20-21).
    Furthermore, if you look at the Greek of Rev 21:22, you will note that it doesn’t use the normal Greek word for temple (hieron), but uses the word naos, which is probably better translated as “holy of holies,” which makes more sense here. John is not going against Isaiah and Ezekiel (he quotes them liberally), both of whom saw a temple in the New Jerusalem, but is saying that there is no Holy of Holies in the new city/temple because there is no need for one. The Lord is walking around in plain sight, so to speak, and so there doesn’t need to be a special sanctuary with a veil drawn in front like there was in the ancient temple. The veil has been drawn aside and all can behold the glory of God freely.
    Rather than “distancing itself” from the idea of a temple, the Book of Revelation is most superbly hierocentric.

  4. Thanks David! That helps! I was obviously reading through Rev too quickly.
    I would disagree with your assessment of naos as restricted to the Holy of Holies since it is widely attested in Josephus, all four gospels, Acts and elsewhere in Rev to refer to the temple proper. I do agree with your reading for why there isn’t a temple, but I think that suggests as it says rather straight forwardly that there is no need for a temple, not because the city is a temple, but because the city is holy. It think that what is at stake is whether we can define “temple” so liberally that even when it says there is no temple we insist that there is.

  5. TT,

    Thanks for correcting the error in my thinking on the naos term. I just looked up the word “temple” in the Greek in that context without considering how it was used elsewhere (can I claim ignorance because New Testament isn’t my field?). Anyways, I’ve gone back and checked and it does seem that in NT times, naos is the word often used for the temple building, while hieron is the whole temple complex (Jesus taught in the hieron, not the naos).

    As far as the city being a temple, I didn’t mean to make the equation so literal, and I apologize if it came across that way. I agree that Revelation is saying that there is no temple building — what I meant to say is that the whole city is made as holy as the temple, so it is AS IF all of the New Jerusalem will be a temple, a suitable dwelling place for God and for the saints. Having said that, Revelation uses a lot of temple language to describe the holy city, which is why I say it’s not distancing itself from the temple. It sees the heavenly temple as the ideal and true temple, the reality of which will become apparent in the eschatological fusion of heaven and earth.

    Some have seen in Ezekiel a similar theme to what we have here in Rev 21:22, where it suggests that “God and the Lamb” is the temple. In Ezekiel’s vision (Ezek 1), he sees the kavod (glory) of the Lord appear to him — after the temple has been destroyed. Some scholars have noted that the description of the kavod of the Lord parallels the descriptions of the articles present in the Holy of Holies (throne, cherubim, etc.), so that the kavod appears to be some sort of portable Holy of Holies. As some (e.g., Silviu Bunta, Rachel Elior) assert, the kavod IS the temple. In other words, wherever the presence of the Lord is, whether there is a physical building or not, there is the Temple. This seems to be the perspective of John’s revelation.

    From the LDS perspective, Rev 21 is describing the situation after the Millennium when the New Jerusalem will descend after the earth has become celestialized. At this point, the earth will truly not need a distinct temple building (as opposed to the Millennial New Jerusalem which will presumably still make use of temples).

  6. This is interesting to as it looks like there are competing interpretations of the symbolism to sort out. In my exploration on apostles I have run across articles by J. A. Draper and D. Mathewson that argue for a community interpretation.

    Mathewson notes parallels between Isaiah 54 and Rev. 21

    Isa. 54.11-12
    stones in antimony
    foundations of sapphire
    battlements of rubies
    gates of 12
    border of costly stones

    Rev. 21.9-21
    precious jewel and stones
    foundations of every precious stone
    gates of pearls
    walls constructed of jasper

    A pesher of Isaiah 54 interprets the symbols as:

    stones in antimony = arrangement of Israel
    sapphire foundations = founding of the council of the community
    agate pinnacles = twelve (priests) who render judgment
    carbuncle gates = heads of the tribes of Israel

    There is some indication that the 3 groups of 12 are suppose to just be one group.


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