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More detail about symbolic and apocalyptic interpretations of Ezekiel's temple were given in an answer to another question, but that answer left me wondering more about literal interpretations of Ezekiel's temple as depicted in chapters 40-48 of the book.

Though open to answers addressing arguments for or against literal interpretations of the passage, I'm particularly interested in knowing how the millennial interpretation of Ezekiel's temple handles these chapters (an interpretation mentioned in that other answer, and one of the four main interpretations of the passage as given in this answer), both with the temple itself, as well as how the temple rites (the sacrifices particularly) fit into such an understanding.

  • I'm not sure why this question had three close votes due to it being "systematic theology" related, when it clearly was asking a question about one type of interpretation of the later chapters of Ezekiel. However, I have modified the question which I hope fits the format of BH.SE better, with more emphasis on the particular interpretation in question. If my edits have taken away anything that you desired, please feel free to re-edit. – ScottS Oct 14 '14 at 12:46
  • Yeah, this is a good question--focused on a text and one particular hermeneutic for it. – Frank Luke Oct 14 '14 at 13:23
  • Excellent question which i hope receives an answer. – Bagpipes Oct 14 '14 at 14:07
  • @ScottS I'm afraid my original question may have 'strayed' into the 'systematic theology' rubric, although that was not my intention. I'm glad you caught my 'flag' and sculpted it to fit what I'm sure will be an excellent response. – Tau Oct 15 '14 at 22:00
  • There is a literal interpretation of the "Third Temple" - being the temple that was present when Jesus was alive, (Herod's Temple). Related: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/27385/… – elika kohen Jun 19 '17 at 16:09
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A "Literal" Hermeneutic

The grammatical-historical (literal) hermeneutic recognizes symbolism in language, but differs from symbolic and apocalyptic interpretations of Ezekiel's temple because of its commitment to take Scripture's communication at face value unless something clearly deems otherwise. So in Ezekiel's vision of the temple, the literal interpretation of the text assumes:

  1. That the imagery and content was comprehensible to Ezekiel (as receiver of the vision and author of the text).
  2. That the text was written to communicate something meaningful to the audience of Ezekiel's day.

Part of the major criticisms of the symbolic and apocalyptic views given in the answer to another question related to their not fulfilling one or both of these ideas.

A note about genre: an added criticism of the apocalyptic view would be from Dr. Peter Youmans, who in his dissertation demonstrated that Ezekiel 40-48 is not apocalyptic literature, concluding it is "a prophetic vision report of legislature",1 and so D. A. Carson's belief that it "is better ... to take these chapters as belonging to the borderlands of apocalyptic literature and typology" is at least suspect.

A "Literal" Interpretation of Ezekiel 40-48

(Note: all references are to the book of Ezekiel unless otherwise noted, all quotes from the from the NKJV unless otherwise noted.)

The historical context of Ezekiel at the time of the vision of the later chapters finds Israel in captivity in Babylon, without a temple in Jerusalem, as God's presence had departed from it (10:18), and Jerusalem and been captured (33:21), during which the temple had been destroyed, as Ezekiel's contemporary Jeremiah reports (Jer 52:12-13, 17-23; cf. Ezra 5:12), and the sacrifices ceased.

So when Ezekiel is shown the temple and rites in chapters 40-48, and specifically noted to "Declare to the house of Israel everything you see" (40:4), it is hard to argue against the fact that in historical context, Israel would understand the vision to refer to a literal rebuilding of the temple and re-institution of rites (though the temple and those rites differ some from Solomon's temple and Mosaic Law respectively, and so have generated much discussion among Jewish interpreters about why that is so).

If so, the vast number of details given in the chapters have real meaning, reflecting perhaps not fully, but at least more than merely summarily, what the situation will one day be like regarding the temple and its ceremonies. Enough detail is given that some fairly consistent models and plans have been produced to reflect what the structure might look like, while admittedly noting that some "interpretation" plays a role in those attempts.

Nevertheless, this literal restoration is then the essence of both the literal views noted (the post-Exile and the millennial) in one of the earlier answers to another question. The temple imagery in the chapters may indeed have some symbolism to it that later revelation utilizes, but not before it first has a purpose of conveying a message to Israel about a promise of restoring their lost site of worship.

A "Literal" Interpretation Leads to a Millennial Conclusion

To clarify, "millennial" is a literal Christian interpretation of the text that gets its name from a literal understanding of the 1,000 years (Latin, millenium) in Revelation 20:4-6, as it is during this time that it is believed this temple will exist.

However, the view is not imposed on the text without first having been derived from certain points of Scripture that lead to that conclusion. Taking the broad literal interpretation noted above as a basis (of how Israel would understand it),2 the millennial interpretation arises from various evidences, but the following considerations provide a good core argument:

  1. A Continued Grammatical-Historical Hermeneutic of that Passage—A continued literal reading of the chapters coupled with the historical fact that a temple such as that described has never yet existed, indicates that such a temple must still be future in time (still a prophecy yet to be fulfilled). This is the primary reason for rejecting the post-Exilic view, because the details do not match up.
  2. A Revelation Regarding the Eternal State—A literal reading of Rev 21:22 shows that after the recreation of the heavens and earth (Rev 21:1), the "New Jerusalem" (Rev 21:2) that comes has (emphasis added)...

    no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple

    This means Ezekiel's temple cannot be existing in the eternal state.

  3. God's Presence Returns—After giving some construction details of the temple in ch. 40-42, ch. 43 has the return of Yahweh's presence ("the glory of the LORD") to this temple (v.4-5), and this presence characterizes "the name of the city from that day," being now "THE LORD IS THERE." It is after the returned presence that the functioning of the temple takes precedence for the majority of the remaining chapters.

    The nature of the description regarding God's presence in the temple indicates that the temple referred to cannot be that which is to be defiled by "the son of perdition" (2 Thes 2:4; cf. Rev 11:1-2) prior to "the day of Christ [or Lord, variants exist here]" coming (2 Thes 2:2), which means it must be a temple after the coming.

  4. The Millennial Period—The only period Scripture notes following the temple defilement and call for worship of that defiler (2 Thes 2:4 with Rev 13:12-15) that is after the Lord's return (Rev 19) but also before the eternal state (Rev 21) is what millennialists refer to as the Millennium, that 1,000 period of Christ reigning on earth while Satan is bound (Rev 20:1-6).

    Therefore, if reading Scripture literally, the evidence points to Ezekiel's temple being on earth during that thousand year period.

Counter Arguments to Proposed Issues with the Millennial Interpretation

Some major arguments used against the millennial view are as follows:

  1. Prophecy (miracles) do not exist, so the passage must be symbolic if it has any meaning at all. Some classify such rejecting as liberal, some note philosophical foundations for it, but this rejection of the literal view of the millennialist is far broader than just this interpretation of this passage. Suffice it to say that if such a rejection is warranted, Christianity itself is pointless (as Paul himself noted of the miracle of Christ's resurrection in 1 Cor 15:16-19). The millennial view is founded on their being such a thing as prophecy.
  2. Certain details are too extreme to be realistic. D. A. Carson's short critique serves as a good basis for this:

    [a] The division of land (chaps. 47–48) is all but impossible for anyone who has seen the terrain.

    Carson apparently forgets that the terrain will be vastly different by that time (Rev 16:20), and while there must be some continuity with what exists now,3 the great changes are also going to make things a lot different. Even despite this, there are many who have come up with similar mappings of the layout on current terrain (how accurate those are may be debated, but the point is that such is not unimaginable).

    [b] The impossible source and course of the river (Ezek. 47:1–12) strains credulity—and in any case both the temple and the river of life are given quite different interpretations in Revelation, the last book of the Bible.

    Carson makes two errors here: (1) the river reference in Revelation is to the eternal state (Rev 22:1), not the millennial period of Ezekiel's temple (so they should not be equated even though certain aspects are similar); (2) there is nothing "impossible" about the "source and course" of the river in Ezekiel's account—the source being under the temple (47:1) and the course being flowing eastward (47:2-5) into a sea (v.8) has no problem whatsoever (again, perhaps he is viewing it from present day terrain, which repeats the error from [a]).

    [c] With the best will in the world it is difficult to see how the prescribed tribal purity of Levitical and Zadokite lines could be restored. Intervening records have been lost, so that no one could prove his descent from Aaron. Presumably a dispensationalist could argue that God could reveal the necessary information. But the point is that the tribes have been so mixed up across the centuries that they cannot be unscrambled. The problem is not one of information, but of mixed lines. Thus this interpretation, precisely because it deals with something at the end of time when the tribal lines are no longer differentiable, is even less credible than the previous one.

    Surely Carson can see that no matter how "mixed" tribes became in intermarriage, descent of male heirs (as Jewish lineage would typically be accounted) is still "knowable" to God and is never truly "mixed." That is, some ancient Zadokite priest had a male son, who had a male son, who had a male son, etc., through history. Whether each son in history married a wife from Judah, or Dan, or whatever tribe (or a Gentile!), that did not make each one less a relation to the Zadokite (just as I, and every person on earth, is related to Noah, and also to Adam, despite all the mixing we have done—I am of course considering the descent of mankind from Adam's start and through the Genesis flood of Noah's day as literal to mankind's history when I make that statement, but the point also serves as an illustration here that a "mixed" heritage is not actually possible, one either is or is not part of the line of descent from any one particular individual).

  3. Christ's sacrifice was the ultimate, so what purpose could renewed animal sacrifice at the temple serve? The previous link to Carson also hits on this critique, stating:

    [Dispensationalists believe] The sacrifices would look back to the sacrifice of Christ in the same way that the Old Testament sacrifices looked forward. But it is very difficult to square this view with the theology of Hebrews.

    His reference to the "theology of Hebrews" refers to how the OT sacrifices pictured Christ's sacrifice in the book of Hebrews (mainly ch. 9-10), which sacrifices were part of what was just a "shadow of the good things to come" (Heb 10:1). There is indeed some difficulty "to square" the millennial view with Hebrews, but difficulty in certain theological matters is commonplace. Carson does refer correctly to one (older) dispensational view on this, that which sees the millennial sacrifices as looking back (like a memorial) of what Christ had done,4 or some pedagogical function.5

    However my personal view (I am a dispensationalist) follows more in line with a more recent understanding, one advocated extensively by Dr. Jerry Hullinger. He has a number of articles out that address this,6 but the most recent offers these points (emphasis added):7

    First, sacrifice will serve to restore the individual Israelite to the theocracy of which he or she is a part. ...

    [There is an] impairment caused by sin in this community relationship in the Old Testament. For example, if the consequences of sin were not removed, the physical destruction of the sinner was inevitable (Lev 26:14-39). The same will be true in the millennium. Any outbreak of blatant sin will be punished by physical death as Christ rules with a rod of iron (Ps 2:9; 72:1-4; Isa 11:4; 29:20-21; 65:20; 66:24; Zech 14:16-21; Jer 31:29-30). The function of sacrifices in the future will have nothing to do with eternal salvation or the forgiveness of sin before God but rather with the community adjustments within the theocracy.

    Second, it is seen in the meal and peace offerings that thanksgiving and worship were part of the sacrificial system. There is no reason to think that this would not continue to be an important function during the kingdom period as shown by Ezekiel’s many references to these. ...

    A third reason for the reinstitution of sacrifices during the future theocracy is the very important fact that the divine presence will once again be dwelling in the land; it is clear that impurity was contagious to both persons and sancta. Furthermore, it was inimical to Yahweh who would refuse to dwell among His people if uncleanness remained untreated. Because God has promised to keep His presence on earth during the millennium (the New Covenant) His withdrawal is not an option. Therefore, it will be necessary to reinstitute sacrifices so that judgment against impurity will not break out on earth. Leviticus teaches that the purgation offering served primarily to purge the sancta of uncleanness. Furthermore, Ezekiel has numerous references to the same offering, and ascribes to it an identical function during the kingdom period. Therefore, this offering will be reinstituted in order to purge the sancta so that the divine presence will be protected.

    A fourth function of renewed sacrifice during the millennium will be the reparations made on the human level as embodied in the reparation offering, which would preserve horizontal relationships between persons within the theocracy.

    A final suggestion for the function of millennial sacrifices is that ceremonial cleansing will be made on behalf of people for their uncleanness or inadvertent sin. For example, a sin offering was required for ritual cleansing after childbirth (Lev 12:6-8), leprosy (Lev 14:13-17), contact with the dead (Numb 6:11, 14), or for those suffering from abscesses and hemorrhages (Lev 15:15, 30). Again, this cleansing would be related to the guarding of the sanctifying presence of the divine glory; it should also be kept in mind that these items had nothing to do with personal sin, but simply with the impure state of the human race in a non-glorified condition.

    In short, the sacrifices will still function for community inclusion, worship, for reparations between people, and most importantly (both 3 and 5 cover this) for purifying the un-glorified flesh (Heb 9:13; not the cleansing of conscious as Christ's does, Heb 9:14) and instruments/places of worship (the "sancta" he refers to). Note that Ezekiel's temple is missing reference to the ark of the covenant, and no reference is made to the Day of Atonement sacrifice in chapters 40-48 (though many others are referred to, as Hullinger notes). These are missing because Christ's sacrifice did fulfill what those performed under Mosaic law.

Conclusion

The millennial view is an outgrowth of reading not just Ezekiel literally, but Scripture in general through a grammatical-historical (literal) hermeneutic. When doing so, not only do the details of Ezekiel 40-48 then matter and the whole becomes intelligible to the original audience (within their context of being without a temple), but it also fits in to the other points Scripture indicates elsewhere regarding the events and character of a non-fictional "future history" (I'm rather disappointed that Wikipedia article does not even acknowledge the presence of "postulated history of the future" in Scripture, since it was doing it long before any "subgenre of speculative fiction (or science fiction)" was, and with much greater accuracy).


NOTES

1 Peter Youmans, "A Viability Analysis of the Apocalyptic Genre within Ezekiel 40-48 and its Influence upon the Interpretation of the Millennial Sin and Trespass Offerings" (PhD diss., Piedmont International University, 2012), 214. TREN ID 130-0004 (not a free source, though electronic access possibly available through a library).

2 I am not fully versed in all the Jewish interpretations, though I can imagine three main types: (1) essentially a post-Exilic view that sees the second temple as the fulfillment, (2) a futuristic view that does still see it as a coming literal temple, possibly the final temple (this would match close to the millennial view in some ways), and (3) symbolic.

3 The borders of the land is given in terms understandable in their day (examples 47:13-22, 48:1). Whether this is to illustrate to them the geographic location in terms they could relate to while the terrain may be completely different at the time of implementation, or whether these geographic locations will still have significance at the time of the temple's construction, I do not presently have an answer for (but either would account for the literalness).

4 John L. Mitchell is an example, seeing "these sacrifices will be types and symbols of their faith in Christ’s death, but that does not make them any the less real" ("The Question of Millennial Sacrifices Part 2," Bibliotheca Sacra 110:440 [Oct 1953], 360).

5 John C. Whitcomb sees them as a means of "spiritual instruction" using "animal sacrifices as an instructional and disciplinary instrument for Israel" ("Christ’s Atonement and Animal Sacrifices in Israel," Grace Theological Journal 6:2 [Fall 1985], 217)

6 For Hullinger's articles spanning 1995 to 2013 (as of this writing), see this listing from Galaxie Software (most of these deal with the topic of animal sacrifice in the millennial period, though a few do not). Hullinger was actually the chairman of Youman's dissertation (see n.1), so there was undoubtedly some influence.

7 Jerry M. Hullinger, "The Compatibility Of The New Covenant And Future Animal Sacrifice," Journal of Dispensational Theology 17:50 (Spring 2013), 47-64.

  • 1
    "Therefore, if reading Scripture literally, the evidence points to Ezekiel's temple being on earth during that thousand year period". Yes, and I don't know how you can read that passage and form any other conclusion-though there certainly are. I would like to see other answers, as I'm sure there are; however, as it stands I believe this is the best answer(short of a book) which could be written on this question. – Tau Oct 15 '14 at 23:03
  • 2
    (-1) Despite including very well-researched and well-argued content, there's a fairly clear air of bias right from the first section, which detracts from the quality of the underlying argument. Suggesting this view is different from alternatives "because of its commitment to take Scripture's communication at face value" is a backhanded way of suggesting that those who disagree are not taking the text seriously: symbolism really is sometimes the 'face value' of a text. Points 1 and 2 are not exclusive against all symbolic interpretations either, so there's a false dichotomy being set up. – Steve Taylor Jun 19 '17 at 10:25
  • 3
    @SteveTaylor: You may vote as you wish for reasons you wish. But I would counter (1) that all interpretations have some bias (airing that first gives context of presuppositions); (2) that just because one interpretative method reads at "face value" does not imply others take the text less "seriously," just less "literally"; (3) symbolism, by definition, is never face value, for the symbol represents the literal it is symbolizing; and (4) points 1 & 2 relate to the linked answer to another question, where symbolic interpretations of Ezekiel's temple fail on one or both of these points. – ScottS Jun 20 '17 at 23:51
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EZEKIEL'S TEMPLE & THE 'MILLENNIAL' PERSPECTIVE:

The question posed is (as I understand it): “How does the ‘millennial’ interpretation of Ezekiel's temple prophecy, found in Ezekiel chapters 40-48, handle the details of those chapters, both with regard to the nature of the temple vision itself and how the temple rites and ceremonies, there described; the animal sacrifices in particular, fit into such an eschatological framework?

THE “MILLENNIAL INTERPRETATION”:

Of the three principal views concerning how ‘the millennium’ (the 1000 years referred to in Revelation chapter 20) should be understood (premillennial, postmillennial and amillennial), I understand that it is the premillennial view that we are being asked about here. Specifically, how does the premillennialist “handle” the detail of Ezekiel’s temple prophecy (Ezekiel 40-48)?

Premillennialism is a theological perspective, primarily (though not solely) based on a narrow reading of Revelation chapter 201 and many premillennialists appear to be completely unaware of the many theological and exegetical problems that accompany the premillennialist view2.

It would appear that the premillennial-dispensationalist3 comes to Ezekiel’s temple vision (Ezekiel 40-48) already committed to a premillennialist perspective and, as a result, imposes this eschatological framework upon the text, notwithstanding the fact that nothing in the text itself warrants it and scripture, generally; particularly the New Testament witness concerning the person and work of Christ, point to a very different interpretation.

PREMILLENNIALISM AND DISPENSATIONALISM:

Although many premillennialists would describe themselves also as dispensationalists, not all premillennialists subscribe to the dispensational model. Some premillennialists (notable George Ladd4) have distanced themselves from some forms of dispensational theology by preferring to use the term “historic premillennialism,” as opposed to “dispensational premillennialism” which remains the more prevalent premillennial view:

The essential difference between these two premillennial views (historic premillennialism and dispensational premillennialism) is the way in which they view the physical nation of Israel (i.e. the Jewish race) eschatologically. According to dispensationalists, ‘the millennium’ will be a time marked by God’s fulfilment of the physical promises made to Old Testament Israel, with a simultaneous restoration of many elements of the old Mosaic system, including a rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple, complete with restored physical priesthood and blood sacrifices (supposedly after the Ezekiel model).

Therefore, the fundamental aspect of dispensational premillennialism lies in its distinction between Israel and the Church. “The dispensationalist believes that throughout the ages God is pursuing two distinct purposes: one related to the earth with earthly people and earthly objectives involved, which is Judaism; while the other is related to heaven with heavenly people and heavenly objectives involved, which is Christianity.”5 According to Ryrie, this distinction is probably “the most basic theological test of whether [one] is a dispensationalist”6.

Historic Premillennialism on the other hand requires no special role for the physical nation of Israel during the millennial period, but sees all of God’s people as being of ‘one group’ or one single spiritual nation7.

THE HISTORICAL-GRAMATICAL METHOD:

I confess that I have some sympathy with the “historical-grammatical method” method, which is often said to underpin the premillennial and dispensational views, and I take no real issue with Cooper’s “Golden Rule of Interpretation” which defines ‘literalism’ as follows:

When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied, in light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.8

However, although premillennialists and dispensationalists profess to employ a ‘historical-grammatical hermeneutic’ along the lines of the above rule; it is often those very ‘related passages’ and ‘fundamental truths’ that are either underplayed, overlooked or simply dismissed, when they fail to fit the premillennial / dispensational paradigm.

Even George Ladd, a modern proponent of “historic premillennialism,” and often criticised for his dispensationalist stance, nevertheless, took the view that, when it comes to interpreting Old Testament prophecies, “the ‘literal’ hermeneutic does not work. Old Testament prophecies”, he insisted, “must be interpreted in the light of the New Testament to find their deeper meaning.” Ladd did not see how it was possible to avoid the conclusion that “the New Testament applies Old Testament prophecies to the New Testament church and in so doing identifies the church as spiritual Israel.”9 [emphasis mine]

Hence, Sam Storms, in discussing the “hermeneutics of eschatology," lays down five interpretive assumptions, the first being that "Jesus Christ and his Church are the focal and terminating point of all prophecy." Storms also builds on the foundational truth “that Jesus is the true temple of God” to show how "the Old Testament finds its consummate fulfilment in the person of Christ and his body, the Church."10

But for premillennial dispensationalists, the ‘fulfilment’ is not to be found in the person of Jesus alone, but in a restored physical nation of Israel, in which many of the Old Covenant rituals and ceremonies become, once more, not only prominent, but nationalistic in nature.

So, in the place of a faith that is now universal and spiritual, we are expected to find reintroduced the very nationalism which Jesus repudiated11 and the ceremonialism which Paul denounced12.

A ‘LITERAL’ INTERPRETATION?

The interpretive principle, employed by premillennial-dispensationalists, is the “grammatical-historical hermeneutic” method (articulated in a previous answer)13, which, while allowing for such things as types, symbols, figures of speech, and genre distinctions in language, professes to maintain a consistently ‘literal’ interpretation.

But a ‘literal’ interpretation is never a consistent position since premillennialists, amillennialists and postmillennialists all believe scripture should be interpreted literally, at times and figuratively at other times, depending on the context of the passage and related interpretive considerations.

The problem is that premillennialists and dispensationalists appear to read Ezekiel 40-48, as they do many of the Old Testament prophetic passages, through the lens of their narrow interpretation of Revelation 20. As Storms argues, the premillennial interpretation of Revelation 20 has become so deeply embedded in the minds of its advocates that it borders on “unconscious assumption”14.

Quite apart from the fact that it is impossible to “square” the premillennial / dispensational view with the clear teaching of Christ and the Apostles (e.g. Paul tells us that “…flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God…” (1 Corinthians 15:50) yet, we are asked to believe that unregenerate men and women will form a large part of a so-called “millennium Kingdom”).

The Ezekiel text itself, if we take a ‘literal’ approach, doesn’t appear to support the premillennial view either.

WHAT THE TEXT ACUALLY SAYS:

The command to build the temple, described in the vision, appears to be directed specifically at Ezekiel himself and the exiles of his own day15 (Ezekiel 43:9;10-11; 18-25). The stated reason given in the text is: “...that they may be ashamed of their iniquities and let them measure the pattern…and if they be ashamed…show them the form of the house, and the fashion thereof, and write it in their sight, that they may keep the whole form thereof” (Ezekiel 43:10;11) [emphasis mine].

What these verses plainly state is that, if the Jewish exiles thoroughly repented and were ashamed of all their sins; they would respond in faith to the instructions given, upon their return from the captivity in Babylon. Ezekiel and his fellow exiles would not have been thinking of some distant future temple. They had experienced a deep sense of loss and had a strong desire to return to Jerusalem and to its temple; which Isaiah had already prophesied would certainly be rebuilt.16

From the text, we can know the following:

  • The vision was for Ezekiel and his fellow exiles (43:9;10-11; 18-25).
  • The instructions and details described in the vision were intended to inspire faith and bring about repentance on the part of the exiles (43:10;11).
  • The system of animal sacrifices described in the vision are stated as being for atonement and for sin offerings (43:20, 22, 25; 44:24, 29).
  • The instructions to build the temple, as outlined in the vision, are presented as being conditional on the response of the exiles (43:11).

As the stated conditions were not met, the temple described in the vision was never constructed and, as we shall see, was clearly never intended to be. However, the prophetic vision remained to point forward to a more glorious temple to come. One which would go beyond the narrow limits of the Law of Moses and provide greater access into the presence of God17 According to the New Testament, this has been fulfilled in Jesus, whom the New Testament reveals is the true temple of God (John 2:19-22; Hebrews 10:5).

But why the detailed instructions?

I am reminded of the story about the late Professor Haim Hanani of the Technion Institute of Technology. The professor once gathered together a hundred students and asked them to draw up a plan to construct a pipeline to transport blood from Ashdod to Eilat? (two Israeli cities located over 250 km apart). The students did as they were instructed and started working on a solution right away. Using drawing boards and slide rules, they sketched out a design for a sophisticated pipeline, meticulously planned the route, taking into account the topography of the landscape, the pipe’s diameter, flow calibration, corrosion resistance etc.

When the students finally submitted their plans, Professor Hanani announced that they all failed the test, saying: “I did not ask to test your ability to plan a blood pipeline, but to examine your moral sensitivity. None of you asked whose blood will flow through the pipes, or who is asking to build it in the first place."18

The professor’s instructions, though specific, were never intended to be carried out, but were given purely to help his students think about and question what was being asked of them, as well as to test their ‘moral sensitivities’.

This is how the returning exiles were to understand Ezekiel’s prophecy and this is partly evidenced by the fact that neither Ezra, Haggai, Zechariah nor Nehemiah, who led the post exilic reconstruction work, made any reference to the instructions given to Ezekiel in his vision, nor appear to have regarded them as having any bearing at all on the actual temple building activity.

But why the detailed plans?

The idea that architectural plans may be used as an expression of something other than that of actual construction, is one which comes out of a long Christian tradition.

Haito, the abbot of Reichenau from 1806-1823 AD, sent to Abbot Gozbert a plan of an ‘ideal’ monastery at St Gall. The drawing was never intended to be built from, though it included everything from cloisters and cemetery to cow byres and infirmary. It was meant to be a visual embodiment of the Benedictine rule and, as such, its purpose was to promote meditation on the purpose of monastic life. Haito wrote to Gozbert: ‘believe that we drew it through the love of God for fraternal affection and for you to study.19

This is the spirit in which the details in Ezekiel’s prophecy are given. They are visionary, but point to a more perfect form of worship and to something greater than the physical temple that was built according to the instructions given through David (1 Chronicles 28:11; Matthew 12:6; John 4:24).

JESUS, THE TRUE TEMPLE OF GOD:

In Old Testament times, Israel worshipped and ‘met with God’, through the mediation of the priesthood, which mediatorship was not dependant on any direct personal influence with God but, rather, on an elaborate system of animal sacrifices, of which the priest was merely the official agent at the temple.

However, the New Testament makes plain that, to meet with God, to talk with him and worship him, we no longer come to a building made with hands. We come to Jesus who is the true temple of God. As Gary Burge states: “Divine space is now no longer located in a place but in a person.”20 (John 4:24; Acts 7:48–50).

The New Testament also teaches that the Church is the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13) and, as such constitutes the temple in which God is pleased to dwell (Ephesians 2:21-22; 1 Peter 2:5).

To reinforce this point, the apostle Paul conflates several Old Testament texts (Lev 26:11-12; Isa 52:11; Ezek 11:17; 20:34,41; 2 Sam 7:14) which prophesied of a coming temple, one of which is the following:

I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people (Ezekiel 37:26-27).

The New Testament puts it this way:

… Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (2 Corinthians 3:16-17). What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore, glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's (6:19-20).

A SUPERIOR REVELATION:

Surely the overall integrity of scripture is seriously undermined when any hermeneutic fails to be holistic in its approach. For those who believe that all scripture: “…is given by inspiration of God” (1 Timothy 3:16), any individual text of scripture needs to be understood in the light of the whole biblical narrative and, particularly, for Christian believers, in the context of the New Testament revelation of Jesus as God’s final word (Hebrews 1:1-2) and the prophesied Christ” (Acts 2:36).

Unfortunately, this is precisely what the “historical-grammatical method,” as employed by premillennialists and dispensationalists, often fails to do; and this is especially true in the case of Ezekiel’s temple prophecy.

For Christians, the New Testament is not a just a supplementary addition to the writings that make up the Jewish Tanakh. It, serves, as it were, “as the ‘lexicon’ of the Old Testament’s eschatological expectation.”21

It is the revelation of the new man, Jesus, “the last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45), replacing the first, who was merely “…a pattern of the one to come” (Romans 5:14 NIV). It is in Christ that all previous revelation finds its fulfilment, and through whom all previous revelation must be understood (Luke 24:44). The New Testament speaks of a ‘new creation and a new order (2 Corinthians 5:17) and these “axiomatic and fundamental truths” need to guide our understanding of what was spoken of by the Old Testament prophets.

For example, the letter to the Hebrews (1:1–3) affirms that, whereas, in times past, God spoke to the people of Israel “…in fragmentary and varied fashion…by the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1-3 ISV), the revelation that has come through Christ is more complete and authoritative because he is more than a prophet, but “the reflection of God's glory and the exact likeness of his being.” It is a revelation of the new order in Jesus Christ, in whom all previous revelation finds its fulfilment, and through whom all previous revelation must be understood.

It is the New Testament epistle to the Hebrews (e.g., 10:1–18) which speaks of the cross of Christ as a termination of the efficacy of “the blood of bulls and goats”, such animal sacrifices as those Israel offered in the temple.

If Ezekiel’s vision applied to a time yet future, why would we again find the offering of animal sacrifices?

The dispensationalist answer is that the millennial sacrifices will not be intended to atone for sins. The blood of Christ precludes any need for that. Just as the Old Testament sacrifices anticipated the death of Christ as a future event, it is suggested the future millennial sacrifices will commemorate the death of Christ as a past event. However, as explained above, the text of Ezekiel, precludes such an interpretation, since the various sacrificial offerings in the temple are said to be sin offerings to “make atonement for the house of Israel” (45:17 YLT). Thus, the sacrifices described by Ezekiel are presented as atoning sacrifices and not as memorials. So much for a 'literal' interpretation.

Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper to commemorate and proclaim his death (1 Cor. 11:24–26). The idea that God would replace this with the blood of animals; a sacrificial system in which God was never pleased (Ps. 40:6; 51:16; Heb. 10:6) is irreconcilable with the New Testament witness.

CONCLUSION:

It is not hard to see how employing a theological framework, such as dispensationalism demands, leads inevitably to a particular ‘handling’ of Ezekiel 40-48, by which, plain New Testament teaching to the contrary notwithstanding, the text is constrained to fit a “millennial" context.


NOTES: (Scripture references AV unless otherwise stated)

[1] The Revelation 20 passage makes no mention of Christ reigning on this physical earth with his saints for 1,000 years, or of a bodily resurrection of saints. It refers to souls, not bodies, being raised to life, which it described as “the first resurrection” and which it contrasts, not with a ‘second, bodily, resurrection’, but with “the second death” (Rev 20:4; 6)

[2] See Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative; Mentor 2013; Storms, Sam; Chapter 5

[3] I am aware that I am generalising here. Not all premillennialists hold to a dispensationalist paradigm and not all dispensationalists share the same perspective as to how Ezekiel’s prophecy is to be interpreted (e.g. there are dispensationalists who do see Ezekiel’s temple as ‘literal’ but see the sacrificial system and other details described by Ezekiel as ‘symbolic’ – see Ironside, Dr. Harry; Ezekiel the Prophet, pp. 327,328, Loizeaux Brothers, 1949)

[4] “Ladd was a notable, modern proponent of Historic Premillennialism, and often criticized dispensationalist views” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Eldon_Ladd

[5] Chafer, Lewis Sperry – Dispensationalism - Dallas Seminary Press 1936 p.107

[6] Ryrie, Charles C. – Dispensationalism Today Chicago Moody Press 1965 p.45

[7] “A major difference between historic and dispensational premillennialism is the view of the church in relation to Israel. Historics do not see so sharp a distinction between Israel and the church as the dispensationalists do, but instead view believers of all ages as part of one group, now revealed as the body of Christ. Thus, historic premillennialists see no issue with the church going through the Great Tribulation, and they do not need a separate pre-tribulational rapture of some believers as the dispensational system requires” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historic_premillennialism

[8] Cooper, David L. The World’s Greatest Library Graphically Illustrated (Los Angeles: Biblical Research Society, 1970), 11

[9] Ladd, “Historic Premillennialism” in Robert G. Clouse, ed., The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, ed. Robert. G. Clouse, InterVarsity Press, 1977)

[10] Storms, Sam: Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative; Mentor 2013; p.16

[11] “Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence’” (John 18:36) - N. T. Wright says this in his book Mark for Everyone: “Part of Jesus charge against his fellow Jews was that Israel, as a whole, had used its vocation, to be a light for the world, as an excuse for a hard narrow, nationalist piety and politics in which the rest of the world was to be not enlightened but condemned.”

[12] "To Paul's great sorrow, the church at Corinth has been infiltrated by the devastating plague of ceremonialism" – MacArthur, John: 2 Corinthians MacArthur New Testament Commentary p.94

[13] ScottS - Oct 15 '14 at 19:56

[14] Storms, Sam: Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative; p.142

[15] “[Ezekiel 43:19] suggests that the temple would be constructed in the prophet’s own lifetime, since it was Ezekiel himself who was to provide the animals for the priests to offer in the temple and it was Ezekiel who would prepare the daily sacrifice (46:13). But due to the Jews’ selfishness and lack of spirituality, they failed to respond in faith; unlike Abraham to whom God also gave clear and specific instructions (i.e. to go and sacrifice his son), saying: “…Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you;” Yet, we know from the account in the book of Genesis that God had no intention of allowing Abraham to carry out these instructions, but, rather was testing the patriarch’s faith and providing a shadow of what he himself would later do, when he “…spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all.”

[16] Isaiah 44:28 “This prophecy, which thus speaks of Cyrus by name, as foreknown and appointed by the divine counsel for the performance of the great work designed by providence, is one of the most remarkable contained in Scripture…” Benson, Joseph - Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

[17] Ezekiel makes no mention of a veil covering the entrance to the Holy of Holies in his vision of the temple and neither is there described a wall of partition between the outer and inner courts, which, inevitably, bring to mind New Testament references such as the following: (Matthew 27:51; Ephesians 2:14)

[18] Gideon Levy; The Punishment of Gaza; p.87. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/blood-pipeline-what-can-planners-learn-from-one-smart-lior-steinberg/

[19] Wolfgang Braunfels; Monasteries of Western Europe: The architecture of the orders – Thames and Hudson 1972 (Quoted in the magazine: The Third Way, January 1986 Vol 9 No. 1, P.23)

[20] Burge, Gary – Jesus and the Land: The New Testament challenge to Holy Land; Grand Rapids 2010, p.52

[21] Storms, Sam: Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative; Mentor 2013; p.30

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