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From Ezekiel 40 to the end, the author records a pretty detailed vision of a temple. Historically, what are the main ways this vision been interpreted?

Did the rabbis consider this vision to be fulfilled (or soon fulfilled) with the second temple?

Was there any new consensus in the early church regarding this text, especially considering the new revelation in Christ and the destruction of the temple in 70AD?

Have new views developed since then - perhaps in the Catholic church, among the Reformers, or among modern scholars?

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Good question, but this seems like the subject for a doctorate thesis paper. Any way you could narrow this down so that somebody other than an author of a book on the subject could answer it piece-meal? –  Caleb Oct 8 '11 at 21:27

3 Answers 3

Ezekiel's book focuses on the Temple: its desolation (1–24) and glorification (33–48). In the earlier section we see the Glory of God forsaking the temple and city as a necessary final step before Jerusalem could be laid waste (8–11). In the latter section we are shown the glory of God returning to the temple (43:4–5).

Ezekiel did not introduce a disconnected thought in his "temple" section; he expanded the thought already introduced in 37. In 37, when David would be shepherd and prince forever, the new covenant and its tabernacle would be enacted/erected. But Paul quoted 37:27–28 in 2 Cor. 6:16, in which place he told the Corinthians that they were that tabernacle.

Several additional items also demand their fulfillment in the first century, and especially prior to AD70:

  • The outpouring of the Holy Spirit to bring Israel back to life (Ezek. 37:11–14 & Acts 5:32)

  • The King-ship of Jesus (Ezek. 37:24 & Acts 2:30–31)

  • The New Covenant (Ezek. 37:26 & Heb. 8:8–13)

  • God dwelling with His people (Ezek. 43:7 & Rev. 21:3–4 w/ Isa. 65:17–19)

  • Gentiles as equal heirs with Israel (Ezek. 47:22 & Eph. 2:19–22; 3:5–6)

With these few thoughts in mind, and remembering the Israel's history was allegorical of the eternal Israel (for example, 1 Cor. 10:6,11; Gal. 4:24; Heb. 10:1) it is easy to say that Ezekiel's Temple wasn't meant for literal fabrication at some point future to Ezekiel (and certainly not to us); neither was it a depiction of the church (which seems rather to correspond to the tabernacle); but it was intended to depict the perfection of Yahweh worship under the new covenant.

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Thanks for contributing Rod, and welcome to the site. I hope you find more questions that spark your interest :) –  Jack Douglas Feb 27 '13 at 15:18

The book of Ezekiel follows a literary pattern laid down in the Torah. It begins in the Sanctuary/Garden, moves out to the Land, then out to the World (the Gentile nations), then moves back to the Land and then to the Garden. We see this in the pattern from Adam to Noah, where Noah is a new Adam but a better one.

So the first part of Ezekiel judges and deconstructs Solomon's Temple. This judgment begins at the house of God and flows out to the nations under Israel's influence, who are held accountable now for their idolatry.

What is reconstructed? It is the "oikoumene," a Jew-Gentile construct of people, with Israel working as prophetic advisors in Gentile courts, a precursor to the New Covenant. Daniel is the "male" firstfruits and Esther (the events predicted in Ezekiel 38-39 are fulfilled in the book of Esther) is the "bridal harvest." Both work in Gentile courts and convert the king (as Joseph did).

We know that Ezekiel's temple is still "Old Covenant" because the priests are still forbidden to drink wine.

So the "second Temple" age had a physical (token) Temple but also a spiritual/Covenantal one. The architectural word was becoming flesh. It was a sort of halfway house to the New Covenant, where there is no physical Temple required.

This "oikoumene" is the territory within which Paul preached the gospel, and those Jews and Gentiles under its synagogue ministry were the harvest that was white in Jesus' time.

The Revelation is about the judgment of this construct, and its subject matter follows the pattern of Ezekiel peg-by-peg. Only this time, now earthly token is required. Worship is now centred in heaven, putting it out of the reach of total corruption.

For more on this "oikoumene" interpretation, see James B. Jordan "The Handwriting on the Wall."

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So far I've found two "surveys" (links below), both of which agree that there are four main interpretations of the vision:

  1. Literal (post-Exile) - Under this view the vision anticipates a literal new temple built after the exiles' return. There is little evidence, though, that any of the returning exiles considered the pattern given in the vision as blueprints for the construction of the second temple. There is agreement, moreover, that the second temple's construction did not match the vision.

  2. Spiritual - Proponents of this interpretation see the vision as involving spiritual symbols for the church. Critics charge that this interpretation ignores the attention to detail exhibited in the measurements.

  3. Apocolyptic Typology - This position interprets the vision as eschatological and typological. Constable explains, "These interpreters believe the measurements, for example, represent spiritual truth concerning the coming kingdom, but they do not look for a literal temple complex and worship." However, he criticizes this interpretation along similar lines as the critics of the symbolic/spiritual view.

  4. Millennial - This is a more recent interpretation (mid-twenieth-century) growing out of dispensationalism. It interprets the vision as a vision for a literal new temple at the time of the Millennium. Critics argue that there are aspects of the new temple that seem figurative (e.g. the ever deepening river flowing from the temple).

Sources:

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