Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ezekiel's Temple

Several struggles present themselves when one tries to pin down the timing of the intended fulfillment for Ezekiel's temple found in Ezekiel 40-48. [1]

Issues for the figurative interpretation

· The details appear to be far too specific for a figurative account, which would normally include only the details needed for the figure to be illustrated, similar to a parable.

Issues for the historical-literal interpretation

· There are no vertical dimensions
· The horizontal dimensions are expanded and do not match prior temples.
· The description differs from prior instructions and gives no list of materials (1 Ki. 6:2-7:51; 2 Chron. 3:3-4:22; Ezra 6:3-4).
· The absence of the Ark of the Covenant, the cherubim, the Mercy-Seat, the Golden candlestick, and the veil.
· Conditions were given, but were never met (Ezek. 43:9). Israel also did not ever achieve the tribal boundaries prophesied by Ezekiel.
· Hyperbolic language such as a river flowing from the temple (Ezek. 47:1-12).
· The prince is responsible for the expense of providing the offerings as well as actually preparing and making the offerings (Ezek. 45:17).
· Ezra and Malachi both point to ongoing issues with idolatry and corruption in the priesthood so that the ideal experience described by Ezekiel did not take place (Mal. 2:7-9; Ezra 9:1-4).

Issues for a future-literal interpretation

· There is physical circumcision of the priests and anyone who enters (Ezek. 44:9)
· Sacrifice for sin after Christ’s perfect sacrifice (Heb. 7:27; Heb. 10:18)
· The prince is a man and cannot be a 100% literal description of Christ because this prince has sons (Ezek. 46:16) and offers a sin-offering for himself (Ezek. 45:22).
· Ezekiel speaks of types and shadows that have been fulfilled by Christ (Heb. 10:1-2).
· Christ tore the veil from the temple and ended Old Covenant style temple worship (Matt. 27:51; Heb. 6:19; Heb. 10:19-22).

What then is the meaning of Ezekiel’s temple?

Below is a suggested approach that reconciles the various difficulties. Some of the below analysis grew from ideas first presented in chapter 9 of my 2003 dissertation, The Glory of the Lord in Ezekiel: Yahweh's Self-Revelation in Judgment and Restoration.

      I believe the first question we must ask is what did it mean to Ezekiel’s audience? To this question, I believe the response is that they anticipated a literal temple to be built after the restoration and that they would claim the entire boundaries of the land. However, they failed to meet the conditions, so this aspect of the prophecy was not fulfilled. Likewise, the incomplete directions of the temple hint at their inability to meet its demands similar to their inability to keep the covenant. The temple of Ezra and Nehemiah does not match the same specifications, so ultimately the fulfillment is left awaiting a New Covenant fulfillment similar to Ezekiel 36 that precedes the discussion of the temple. Since the new covenant promises to empower them with the ability to keep the demands of the covenant, then the idealized temple of Ezekiel could be realized at that time.

     I also believe that the hyperbolic language in the discussion of the temple points to Ezekiel’s temple as a type of Christ and what Christ accomplishes, just as the temple in general serves as a type with spiritual meaning.

     Thus, I believe the temple and the prince are part of an unfulfilled conditional covenant that is ultimately fulfilled by Christ in the New Covenant and more literally demonstrated in the Millennium.  Based on the NT light that is shed on Ezekiel and Jeremiah, I believe Ezekiel 40-48 speaks of Christ as the perfect prince and perfect priest who will rule from the Millennial temple. However, the nature of a Millennial temple can only be described with conjecture based upon NT passages. Yet, I would not anticipate any activity that contradicts the finality of Christ’s completed work.  I would expect the role of the temple to be highly symbolic, even in the Millennium.

     I see Hebrews 10 as a significant passage for interpreting what a temple could look like in New Covenant times based on the quote in Heb. 10:16 of the new covenant passage from Jer. 31:33-34 that is similarly stated in Ezekiel 36. In the Millennium, if believers came to the temple to offer a sin offering, I believe Christ would say, “ where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin”(Heb. 10:18). Even uncircumcised believers would be accepted into the Holy of Holies to the dismay of Jews. If unbelievers come to the temple to offer sin offerings, Christ would say “I am the priest that has already offered one sacrifice for all time for your sins, I have no desire for your offerings” (Heb. 10:12, 8). Furthermore, he would invite them to enter his holy place to accept his blood sacrifice “with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:20-22). Finally, similar to the way God liberated Isaac from the altar of sacrifice, I see Jesus taking the sacrificial lamb and lovingly patting it on the head to say go free, I have freed you from the curse as I have freed these from their sins. Then, Jesus will turn to the one he has forgiven and state, “I am the final sacrificial lamb. I am the Prince who has paid for your offering. I will remember your sins no more, and I will put my law in your heart so that you will obey my covenant perfectly” (Heb. 10:16-17; Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-36). The only sacrifice accepted in such a temple would be the bloodless sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving as we cry Hosanna to the king (Mark 11:9-10; Ps. 54:6; Lev. 7:11-16).  I could see the Temple as a location for some type of ordinance like the Lord’s supper of the NT with similar purpose as the fellowship offering of the OT.

[1] For a more detailed treatment of the various interpretations and the potential issues listed here, see B. Keith Lester, “The Glory of the Lord in Ezekiel” (PhD diss., Bob Jones University, 2003), 232-42.

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