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
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:
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
- ch. 37 — the “resurrection” of
- ch. 38, 39 — the great invasion of the
Land, and the final divine intervention.
- ch. 40-48
— the temple of the future age,
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
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:
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:
- Heb. 10:12: Christ has “offered one sacrifice for sins
- 10:14: “by one offering he has
perfected for ever them that are sanctified (through association with
- 10:18: “where remission of these
(sins) is, there is no more offering for
- 9:9: “gifts and sacrifices that could
not make him that did the service perfect as pertaining to the
- the King himself bearing the marks of crucifixion in his
immortal body will be sufficient reminder to any doubting
- the commemorative Bread and Wine instituted by
Jesus himself will be sufficient reminder also: Luke 22:
- Ezekiel explicitly states over and over again
that the sacrifices are expiatory: e.g. 43: 19-26 and 45: 17,22.
- if commemorative sacrifices will be permissible then,
why not in the period A.D. 30-70? Yet there is no mistaking Paul’s
vehemence against those who thought they could achieve a marriage of convenience
between Mosaic observance and faith in Christ.
- is there
anywhere the slightest hint in scripture that God wants men to remember Jesus
the Lamb of God through animal offerings? “The Law was added till the Seed
should come” (Gal. 3: 19). The Seed has come, and accordingly the Law with
all its institutions is gone for ever.
But to return to the weight of N.T.
- 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
- 7: 18,19: “The law made nothing
perfect....the weakness and unprofitableness thereof”.
- 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?
“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.
- 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?
- The last witness on this is
Stephen: “The Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hand”
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
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.