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KJV Ezekiel 43:13-17

13 And these are the measures of the altar after the cubits: The cubit is a cubit and an hand breadth; even the bottom shall be a cubit, and the breadth a cubit, and the border thereof by the edge thereof round about shall be a span: and this shall be the higher place of the altar. 14 And from the bottom upon the ground even to the lower settle shall be two cubits, and the breadth one cubit; and from the lesser settle even to the greater settle shall be four cubits, and the breadth one cubit. 15 So the altar shall be four cubits; and from the altar and upward shall be four horns. 16 And the altar shall be twelve cubits long, twelve broad, square in the four squares thereof. 17 And the settle shall be fourteen cubits long and fourteen broad in the four squares thereof; and the border about it shall be half a cubit; and the bottom thereof shall be a cubit about; and his stairs shall look toward the east.

The above text describes the Altar more or less similar to the one which was destroyed together with the temple around the time of Ezekiel. Historically the temple and its vessels were never rebuilt till today.

In visions, Ezekiel is taken to Israel and shown the temple together with the great Altar and it's not clear whether the vision pertained to the future Altar or not.

Could Ezekiel have been referring to some future restoration of the great Altar?

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    The visions of Ezekiel, similarly to the visions of John cannot be drawn or modelled as there is not enough information and/or the details cannot be reproduced in physical terms. Therefore we are neither to expect, nor are we to attempt to accomplish, a material construction, but rather to see spiritualities within the prophetic imagery. Which spiritualities can be realised (within ourselves, if we be faithful).
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 13:56
  • @NigelJ but some of his visions did actually play out in physical like the exile Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 14:05
  • . . . . . . but not the physical descriptions. The whole message of Revelation is that Christ will not return to this earth (to build yet another temple). The temple envisaged is in heaven and will be realised in new heavens and a new earth and there will be no need of a temple for God will dwell in his people.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 14:07
  • Needs clarification: "Historically the temple and its vessels were never rebuilt till today." Did you mean that Ezekiel's temple was never built? "Rebuilt" implies that this temple had been built in the past. Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 17:15

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Let us be very clear - the series of prophecies in Eze 37-48 involves a temple, city and nation that never existed and thus, far, never has existed. Whether it will ever exist is another matter, but we must keep the following in mind.

  • the nation of "Israel" as described in the last chapters of Ezekiel is the entire nation of Israel involving all 12 tribes plus all the levites; Eze 37-39
  • God and the "prince" will rule over the nation and all the nations of the earth; Eze 37-39
  • The entire world will be at peace with all people serving God and the "prince" and no one profaning the name of God
  • The description of the wall and its outer court with a large gate in each has never existed; Eze 40.
  • The description of the new temple with wall six cubits thick, rooms for the priests, etc, has never existed; Eze 41, 42
  • God's glory has never returned in the fashion described in Eze 43
  • The description of the great altar is far grander and larger than any that previously existed in Eze 43
  • Eze 44 also describes a restored priesthood. (This is not possible because all records of the dependents of the levites have been lost.)
  • Eze 48 describes the division of the land among the tribes of Israel which is not possible given the geography of the land around Israel
  • Eze 47 describes the river flowing from under the threshold of the temple that becomes a great river too deep to wade through and heavily stocked with fish. Again, this is not possible in literal terms.

All that one can say about this prophecy of Ezekiel is that it cannot be literal in this life for the reasons stated above, nor the life to come because we already know that the New Jerusalem does not contain a temple, Rev 21:22. Further because there is no death in the New Earth or heaven there can be no altar of burnt offering.

[Further, for much of the material in Eze 37-48 (especially Ch 37) to be fulfilled literally, would require major divine miracles such as that described in Zech 14:4. Not that this should be discounted for that reason!! However, there are other matters that prevent this being literally true as stated above - no temple and no death in the New Jerusalem.]

Thus, the purpose and function of this prophecy is much debated. It is safest to assume that this material in the final chapters of Ezekiel should be read spiritually. Certainly, the NT alludes to this on a number of occasions with deep theological lessons such as:

  • "the river of the water of life" (Rev 7:17, 22:1, 6, 17 see also John 4:14, etc) appears to allude to the river in Eze 47
  • "Gog and Magog" (Eze 38) make an appearance in Rev 20:8
  • Many believe Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem through the eastern gate may have been at least a partial fulfillment of Eze 43:4, but this is contentious.
  • The NT teaches that the levital priesthood is no fulfilled in the "priesthood of all believers" as taught in 1 Peter 2:9, 10.

CONCLUSION

All the descriptions in Eze 37-48 should be understood spiritually and not literally, including the description of the great altar in Eze 43.

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  • I can see why you think Ezekiel's vision should be understood spiritually in a general sense, but "all the descriptions in Eze 37-48" is going too far. E.g. chapter 45 describes procedures that must have been meant literally and indeed were re-instituted in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 17:08
  • @DanFefferman - that cannot be true - the land was never divided as per Eze 45 - no land was set aside around the temple, no land was set aside for the "prince", there was no 25000 cubits, 10,000 cubits, etc, etc. This was never done.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 19:55
  • Agreed. I did not mean to suggest that all the procedures of Eze 45 were implemented. (that word "all" is a two-edged sword, apparently) I was thinking about the advice about weights and measures and the celebration of passover etc. Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 20:39
  • @DanFefferman - that is hardly contentious - it was simply a repetition of the instructions elsewhere and not unique to Ezekiel.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 20:41
  • the word "all" is one of my pet peeves. Sorry. Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 22:55
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Ezekiel's vision pertains to an event in his future. It would have been written shortly after the destruction of the first Temple. It may be that some of what he described was realized when the Temple of Jerusalem was rebuilt after the Babylonian Exile.

In particular, the Great Altar he describes may have been used as a model for the Second Temple's altar, even though most other architectural features of the Temple were not incorporated. However, we cannot be certain of this because the exact dimensions of that Second Temple's altar are not described in the Bible.

The rebuilt altar was defiled during the time of Antiochus Epiphanes (the Hanukkah story) in the second century b.c.e. It was soon rededicated, and eventually the entire Temple complex was greatly expanded by Herod I, shortly before the birth of Jesus. According to Josephus, its dimensions then were 50 cubits square and 15 high, much larger than the description in Ezekiel's vision. Source

Ezekiel's description of the Great Altar could have been used by the builders of the Second Temple. However, other physical details of the Temple he described were not realized. The OP asks if the passage could describe some future restoration of the great Altar. Since the vision is open to interpretation, the answer is yes, but several other meanings are also possible.

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Is the great altar in Ezekiel 43:13-17 still in the future? The answer is "No", nor would the great temple described in Chapter 40-42. There was condition should the Ezekiel's temple to happen. Ezekiel 43:10-11 read

10 “Son of man, describe the temple to the people of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their sins. Let them consider its perfection,

11 and if they are ashamed of all they have done, make known to them the design of the temple—its arrangement, its exits and entrances—its whole design and all its regulations and laws. Write these down before them so that they may be faithful to its design and follow all its regulations. (NIV)

The condition was "if they are ashamed of all they have done", then make known to them the temple.

The name Ezekiel was not mentioned in Ezra, Nehemiah nor the prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. Presumably, the Israelites were not ashamed to the satisfaction of the Lord, and Ezekiel's temple was hidden from knowing.

The Lord's Temple was a sign of the Mosaic Law and we are now in Christ that free us from Mosaic Law, temple of the Lord is no longer required. John described what he saw in the New Jerusalem. In Revelation 21:22 he wrote;

I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. (NIV)

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