Harry Whittaker
A Fresh Look at Ezekiel’s Temple

Ezekiel’s Temple not a Millennial Temple (3)

In this study of Ezekiel’s temple it has already been suggested:

  1. that it was not intended as a temple for the age to come, but
  2. for erection in Jerusalem when Israel returned from Babylon.
It is now possible to go a step further and show that there are indications that...

  1. the Jews themselves so understood it and endeavored to follow the prophet’s instructions.
But first it is desirable to emphasize how much Israel were in need of a new religious code. With the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, they lost not only their temple but also everything associated with it. The ark of the covenant was gone. There was therefore no mercy seat, and therefore no Day of Atonement was possible. The holy fire, which had been unquenched since God signified His good pleasure by accepting Solomon’s sacrifices (2 Chr. 7:1), was now gone out. So the offering of true burnt offerings was likewise out of question. Neither had they a high-priest with Urim and Thummim who could give a divine judgment in time of perplexity. Indeed all the indications were that God had altogether abolished the system of worship which had been given hundreds of years earlier for the guidance and help of His people: “He hath violently taken away his tabernacle... he hath destroyed his place of assembly: the Lord hath caused the sabbaths and solemn feasts to be forgotten in Zion, and hath despised in the indignation of his anger the king and the priest. The Lord hath cast off his altar, he hath abhorred his sanctuary... the king and her princes are among the Gentiles: the law is no more” (Lam. 2: 6,7,9).

So unless God gave His nation a new start, Israel returned from captivity would be a people spiritually adrift.

Evidently, then, Ezekiel 40-48 was designed to show the Jews how they were to worship and serve God when their seventy years of exile were expired — what kind of temple they were to fashion; the character of their priesthood; their offerings and their feasts; the due status of priest and prince; the re-allocation of the Land to the tribes; and especially, they were to be inspired with the possibilities of Jerusalem as a center for worship, not only for Israel but also for the strangers in the Land, and — more than that — as a source of spiritual blessings radiating to all the nations of the world.

The phraseology of the prophecy plainly suggests this kind of aim and intention: “Declare all that thou seest to the house of Israel....Son of man, mark well, and behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears all that I say unto thee concerning all the ordinances of the house of the Lord, and all the laws thereof....And thou shalt say to the rebellious, even to the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God, O ye house of Israel, let it suffice you of all your abominations....Show the house to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities....And if they be ashamed of all that they have done, show them the form of the house....that they may keep the whole form thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and do them” (40:4 and 44:5 and 43:10,11).

The reason why this new house of God should be revealed to Ezekiel in particular is now evident. All through the captivity the godly amongst the exiles would be able to pore over it and by it would nurture their faith in the promised restoration. By its guidance, plans would be drawn up and details worked out for the renewal of divine worship and praise in Jerusalem. What an in-spiration it would be to them during the long years “by the waters of Babylon”!

And yet there would also be the sad recognition that even when re-established on mount Zion, the service of Jehovah in such a temple could never again be considered adequate. For Ezekiel’s vision had no mention of a Day of Atonement, it gave no hint of a golden candlestick or table of shewbread before the Lord, neither was there a hint of the lavish use of gold and silver which had contributed so much to the splendor of Solomon’s temple; and the high-priestly garments for glory and for beauty were lost; and the genealogies of the priests had gone up in the flames of Nebuchadnezzar’s holocaust.

Splendid and holy as their new temple was to be, its limitations only emphasized in their minds the abiding need for a new and better order, with a Messiah who would be both Prince and Priest ministering a Sacrifice which would be all-sufficient, and not merely temporary and typical.

The hints in Ezra and Nehemiah which connect their new temple with that described by Ezekiel are interesting and instructive.

In Ezra 6:3 the details of the decree of Cyrus include the actual dimensions as given by Ezekiel — central sanctuary 60 cubits long and 60 cubits high. These are the identical measurements which are to be deduced from Eze. 41:2,4.

Further, Ezra records that when the temple was finished, “they builded and finished it according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, etc.” (6:14).

If it be asked what command of God is referred to here, there is none to which reference can be made except Ezekiel 40-48. Unless some divine instruction which is not included in the Scriptures be presupposed, there seems to be no evading the conclusion that Ezra’s temple was regarded as being an attempt to fulfill the prophecy of Ezekiel.

It is useful also to recall that Ezekiel’s scheme required that Jerusalem be developed as a sanctuary area one mile square — approximately the size of the ancient city. There was to be no rebuilding of the business or residential area of the city, but instead Ezekiel planned another city called Jehovah-Shammah south of Jerusalem.

In harmony with this scheme there are certain remarkable features about the record in Nehemiah. when the temple was erected, apparently no town buildings were constructed in the vicinity. The grant of timber from the king’s forest was “for the gates of the palace (temple) which appertained to the House, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I (Nehemiah) shall enter into” (2:8). There is no mention of ordinary civilian dwellings.

The decree of Artaxerxes similarly emphasized: “Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven (in Ezekiel 40-48?), let it be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven; for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons?” (Ezra 7:23).

Apparently at this time other cities were being or had already been built, but not so the civilian part of Jerusalem (Neh. 11: 20). This is a very extraordinary and significant fact. It is almost as though after World War II all the cities of England were speedily and completely restored whilst all that was done in London was the patching up of St. Paul’s. Such would have been a fair parallel to the unique state of affairs existing in Judea at this time. Can anything be found to explain it except the highly probable idea that these returned captives were seeking to pattern their development of the Land on Ezekiel’s instructions.

Similarly, as Ezekiel had planned for the Levitical ministers to have cities to dwell in in the immediate vicinity of Jerusalem (Ezek. 45:5 Septuagint), so under Nehemiah “the singers builded themselves villages round about Jerusalem” (Neh. 12:29). Yet “the city was large and great: but the people were few therein, and the houses were not builded” (7:4). Indeed, the few who were now dwelling in the city did so “that in the night they may be a guard unto us, and may labor in the day” (4:22).

If Ezekiel’s prophecy be not the explanation of this remarkable state of affairs, then what is?

In harmony with all this is the record of the consecration of the wall of Jerusalem when it was completed. This was done (Neh. 12: 27-43) as a great religious celebration. The degree of holy joy implied in this part of the narrative suggests that the people saw this not just as the renewal of the walls of their ancient city, the pride of all their history, but the first stage towards accomplishing that which Ezekiel had foretold - a frame of a city a mile square which was to be all temple.

But the people of Israel were unable to carry the project through to its culmination. Their own efforts were halfhearted. They were hindered and discouraged by enemies without and the beginnings of a renewed apostasy within. Thus, bit by bit, they lost their early idealism, and though the temple was built — probably, so far as one can tell, on the pattern of that planned by Ezekiel — it never achieved that which was intended for it. The Glory of the God of Israel did not return unto it, and Ezekiel’s great ideal still goes unrealized until the day when the new Jerusalem descends from God out of heaven; and then it will find expression, not in reeds of wall and cubits of altar but in the spiritual realities which those solid facts were intended to teach.

Ezekiel’s Temple intended for the Return from Babylon, not for the Millennium

  1. 13 years between ch. 39 and ch. 40 (see 32:1)
  2. The land smaller than Genesis 15:18 (47:20).
  3. In Ezekiel, Jerusalem not to be built except as an enormous temple. Instead, a completely new city on the site of Bethlehem. Contrast Zech. 8: 4,5, etc.
  4. The Prince is not a High Priest: 45:8,9,16,22; 46:18. He has wife and family: 46:16,17. He might die: 46:17,18. Warning against oppression: 45:8; 46:18. Goes no further than the court of the priests: 46:2. Offers sacrifice for sin: 45:22; 46:10-12.
  5. No uncircumcised person: 44:9. What of Gentile saints?
  6. Temple for Jews only: 43:10,11.
  7. Levites (priests?) degraded because of sins of their fathers: 44:10,11; contrast 18:2.
  8. East gate shut six days in seven: 46:1. Contrast Isa. 60:1.
  9. Warnings against fraud: 45:9-12.
  10. Dan (48:1,32) omitted in Rev. 7.
  11. Israel back from Babylon needed a new code. They had no ark, no mercy seat (therefore no Day of Atonement), no holy fire (therefore no sacrifice). Lam. 2:6-9. This is a new revelation for them (emphasized by 40:4; 44:5; 43:10,11).
  12. Back from Babylon, they followed Ezekiel very largely. Ezra 6:3 is dimensions of 41: 2-4. Ezra 6:14 — what commandment of God, if not Ezekiel? Ezra 7: 23 — temple erected, but no town buildings. Other cities built but no dwelling in Jerusalem. Singers not in Jerusalem; compare Neh. 12:29; 11:38 with Ezek. 45:5; 48:13. The only reason for dwelling in Jerusalem, to be a guard: Neh. 4:22; contrast 7:4. The wall consecrated with sacrifices: Neh. 12: 27-43. Zechariah 8:4 probably implies no civilian dwelling in Jerusalem in his day. All 12 tribes returned: Ezek. 47:13, etc. Cp. Neh. 7:73; Ezra 8:24,25; 2:70.
  13. What about 47:1-12? This must be symbolic.
  14. Gentiles already in the land given “equal” inheritance.

Typist’s note: This work is, on the internal evidence, not complete. But it is all that is available. (This will probably also explain the outline form of the final section.)

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