“What is Ezekiel’s Temple all about?”
I must admit to not having studied this topic deeply until now, so I’ve enjoyed the dig trying to piece it together.
The questioner is not alone in asking this. Ezekiel’s detailed and as yet unfulfilled vision of a future temple has been the object of much speculation and interpretation for centuries. But let’s back up a bit and take a running start at this…
Although Ezekiel was born into the priestly line (1:3a), he served as a prophet (1:3b). In 597 BC Ezekiel was taken into Babylonian exile. From there he encouraged the captives that God would again restore Israel. His vision of the valley of dry bones (chap. 37) is classic.
Ezekiel was certainly the quirkiest of the prophets. The very first chapter starts with what some have called a UFO sighting! Rather than just announce a message from God, Ezekiel would enact them. These enactments included what reads like a divine abduction which left him stunned for a week (2:12-15), or laying on one side for 390 days, then on the other a further 40 days. While in this position he was told to bake his own bread and use his own excrement as cooking fuel (4:1-13). Another time he shaved his head to dispose of the hair in three specific manners (5:1-4).
In chapters 40-48 Ezekiel describes in detail his vision of a magnificent future temple to which God’s glory has returned. The hearts of the people of Israel have been transformed and Gentiles also have a place in this Kingdom.
What’s particularly puzzling about this is that since Christ’s redemption on the cross no more sacrifice or temple is needed. Indeed in speaking of the Heavenly New Jerusalem John records “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” (Rev. 21:22).
Yet earlier in the book, to the church in Philadelphia, he writes “The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God.” (Rev. 3:12). What temple is this? Is it a literal temple? Think for a moment: if this temple is literal then being turned into a pillar must also be literal. Not a happy prospect for eternity in my view.
But I think I personally at least have come to my own resolution and understanding regarding Ezekiel’s Temple. I believe Ezekiel is struggling to describe as best he can something that to him and to his hearers is indescribable. To do so he is using terms and imagery meaningful to the audience to whom he writes. Much like John struggled to describe his heavenly vision of the glorified Christ. Or better yet as Isaiah and others described the coming Messiah. Contemporaries with Christ expected a Saviour to appear who would overthrow Rome and immediately set up an earthly rule, but God had a bigger more eternal picture in mind all along.
In this vision Ezekiel is assuring his people that God will dwell with them once again. A beautiful temple with restored sacrifice and the glory of God obvious paints this picture to Ezekiel’s immediate audience. Christ expanded further just what the kingdom of God truly is and in the Book of Revelation we have more pictures which boggle our minds but stimulate our imagination. One thing is certain, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Cor. 2:9). But by his grace he gives us glimpses. Ezekiel’s Temple appears to be one more such glimpse.
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