Harry Whittaker
A Fresh Look at Ezekiel’s Temple

Ezekiel’s Temple not a Millennial Temple (1)

For many years there have been well-intentioned efforts by Christadelphians to interpret the last nine chapters of Ezekiel’s prophecy as a picture of a new temple to be built in the Land of Promise, a center of worship for all nations during the Millennial Reign of Christ. Such efforts have been confined to a comparatively small handful of students, the rest being somewhat daunted by the difficulties involved.

Because of this there has been a tendency to accept somewhat uncritically the results achieved by others — a startling exception to the normal Christadelphian way of things, that a Biblical exposition shall only be accepted when the detailed evidence has been examined bit by bit and thereafter approved or rejected.

Thus it has come about that the monumental work of Bro. Henry Sulley of Nottingham, published in 1892, has been allowed to set the pattern of Christadelphian thinking with regard to this temple. His scheme has been accepted in a remarkably uncritical spirit, largely — one imagines — because he was a well-qualified and successful architect who was deemed to be equipped well beyond the rank-and-file reader for the task of producing a definitive interpretation of the temple chapters.

The present writer is persuaded, however, that the work of that well-intentioned author was completely vitiated from the start by certain seriously mistaken presuppositions which dominated and distorted his synthesis in nearly all its main essentials.

Nor is it possible, because of technical difficulties over the production of a big set of diagrams, to go into the question as to what Ezekiel’s temple really was intended to look like. For the present it must suffice to say that the remarkable number of correspondences with Solomon’s temple in measurements and in the phrasing of the descriptions leads one to believe that essentially this temple was to be a second edition of the first temple, with certain modifications appropriate to the changed circumstances of its use.

But certainly the idea of a massive square of buildings with an inner ring (the “Holy Place”) equally magnifical, surrounding the base of an unscalable conical mountain which itself is crowned with a gigantic altar for countless animal sacrifices — this idea, it is emphasized, must be abandoned as being far away from a correct interpretation of Ezekiel’s specification. Ezekiel’s temple certainly has an enclosure about a mile square, but there is nothing to suggest that the buildings are that size. Actually the sanctuary itself is of much more modest proportions.

Probably it is the assumption that the temple was for use in the millennium which led to this mistaken notion of vast proportions. But where did that assumption come from? Primarily from the sequence of chapters in Ezekiel’s prophecy:

  1. ch. 37 — the “resurrection” of Israel
  2. ch. 38, 39 — the great invasion of the Land, and the final divine intervention.
  3. ch. 40-48 — the temple of the future age, surely.
But a careful comparison of 32:1 with 40:1 reveals a gap of no less than thirteen years between items (b) and (c). The connection of the temple with the preceding chapters is now seen to be illusory. Chapters 40-48 stand well apart from all the rest, and are to be judged entirely on their own merits and not on context, for the context is non-existent.

When the investigation is pushed further, there soon piles up a veritable mountain of evidence all of which insists that a temple like Ezekiel’s, with ritual such as is described there, was never intended for the abiding Kingdom of God with its divine King-Priest and immortal hierarchy.

The most casual reading reveals an intention to reinstitute sacrifice, ceremonial cleansing, the observance of Sabbaths and much else that was already made familiar through the Law of Moses.

But the New Testament is almost over-emphatic in its insistence that all these things, fulfilled (filled full) in Christ, have been taken away once and for all, and that the purpose of God has no further room for anything of the kind:

  1. Heb. 10:12: Christ has “offered one sacrifice for sins for ever.”
  2. 10:14: “by one offering he has perfected for ever them that are sanctified (through association with him).”
  3. 10:18: “where remission of these (sins) is, there is no more offering for sin.”
  4. 9:9: “gifts and sacrifices that could not make him that did the service perfect as pertaining to the conscience.”
Then what could sacrifice in the kingdom achieve? If it be argued that these millennial sacrifices are not expiatory but commemorative, to remind mortals that their King of Glory once hung on a cross, the answer is fivefold:

But to return to the weight of N.T. witness:

  1. Heb. 7:12: “The priesthood being changed (from that of Aaron), there is also of necessity a change also of law.” If, and only if, Aaron is to resume his priesthood in the age to come, can animal sacrifices be re-instituted.
  2. 7: 18,19: “The law made nothing perfect....the weakness and unprofitableness thereof”.
  3. 10:9: “He taketh away the first (law), that he may establish the second.” This word “take away” is translated in twenty other places “put to death.” Is there to be a resurrection of that which the Lord has condemned to death?
  4. 8:8,9: “Behold, the days come when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” That new covenant has not yet been made with the nation of Israel, but only with the true Israel of God. Nor can it be made with the Jews until they say “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” But when that covenant is made, it will be “not according to the covenant (ratified with animal sacrifices and associated with tabernacle service) that I made with your fathers....” But what Ezekiel describes is a re-institution of those very things. Therefore his code is not for Israel in the day when at last they receive the blessings of the New Covenant in Christ.
  5. In Gal. 4: 9,10, Paul reproached his converts for “turning again to the weak and beggarly elements” and “observing days and months and times and years.” In that day when he rises from the dead, is he to spend his first millennium of immortality reversing that message?
  6. The last witness on this is Stephen: “The Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hand” (Acts 7:48).

This part of the argument is conclusive in itself. The details of Ezekiel’s vision present a picture of a system of worship utterly incompatible with the principles of redemption in Christ. The coming of Jesus as sacrifice and high-priest has made all other offering and any other mediatory priesthood utterly nugatory for all time.

If it be argued that the immortal saints are to be kings and priests in the coming age, then let it be remembered that a priest had and has other more important duties than the offering of animals. “A priest’s lips shall keep knowledge: and they should seek the law at his mouth” (Mal. 2:7). It was in this sense that Israel was intended to be “a kingdom of priests” for the evangelization and instruction of the rest of the world. This honor will have all his saints when they share his Messianic glory.

In the next part of this study it is proposed to go back to Ezekiel 40-48 and demonstrate from the details there that a Millennial fulfillment is utterly out of question.

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