(This is an edited version of chapter 12 of Philip Mauro’s book, ‘The Hope of Israel‘)
Messianic Good News: Ezekiel’s Temple and the outflow of living waters – Where did the Spirit descend at Pentecost?
Chapters 40 to 46 inclusive of the Book of Ezekiel contain the record of a vision given to that prophet, in which he was shown the pattern of a temple and its various appointments, the arrangements, gates, courts, and chambers, their dimensions and other details being stated with minuteness. The space given to the description of this temple would indicate that it is a matter of considerable importance in the eyes of God. So it will be well worth our while to seek an understanding of the vision, and to inquire into the purpose for which it is given – even more so because of much barren conjecture and diverging opinion in this regard, amongst those who seek to expound the Scriptures.
These visions present difficulties of interpretation, as is generally recognized. But whatever they may or may not mean, they certainly give no support for the doctrine of a political future for the earthly Israel. Insofar as this prophecy was to have its fulfillment in the realm of the natural, it was fulfilled after the return from Babylon. But, as with the pattern of the temple showed to Moses on Mt. Sinai, so likewise here it seems we must take the visions seen by Ezekiel on that ‘very high mountain’ (40:2) to be the patterns of things heavenly and spiritual.
Moreover, in chapter 43:9-11 it is distinctly stated that all these promises given through Ezekiel were conditional, and we further know that that people did not fulfil the conditions that were laid down any more than they fulfilled those of the old covenant.
Hence these later promises (along with all the others) have been forfeited irreversibly, and they find their ‘yea’ and their ‘amen’ in Christ, being all ‘unto the glory of God by us’ – the true Israel (2 Cor. 1:20). That is to say, God will have glory through the fulfilment of those promises in and through His new covenant people.
IS IT THE PLAN OF A TEMPLE FOR THE MILLENNIUM?
One solution of the problem we are studying (to which many strongly adhere) is that Ezekiel’s vision relates to Millennial times, when the temple shown to Ezekiel will be erected on Mt. Moriah, when also the system of worship described in the concluding chapters of Ezekiel will be instituted and carried on. This view is characteristic of that peculiar system of interpreting the Scriptures which rids itself of all difficulties in the prophetic Word by simply and expediently postponing their fulfilment to the Millennial age. Thus the Millennium becomes the convenient and oft used dumping ground of all portions of Scripture that offer any difficulty, and the unhappy consequence is that many prophecies which were fulfilled before or at the first coming of Christ, or are currently being fulfilled in this age of the gospel, and many Scriptures, such as the Sermon on the Mount, which apply directly to the saints of this dispensation, are wrenched out of their proper place, and are relegated to a distant future, much to the loss of the people of God and to the integrity of the Scriptures as a whole.
The ‘postponement’ system doubtless owes the popularity it enjoys to the circumstance that its method is both safe and easy. It is safe because, when a fulfilment of prophecy is relegated to the Millennium, it cannot be conclusively refuted until the time comes. All date-setting schemes owe their measure of popularity to the same fact. It is easy because it relieves the Bible student of the trouble of searching for the contextual or Christological meaning and application of difficult passages.
But, coming to the special case in hand, which is illustrative of many others, we must now boldly assert and undertake to show, that there are insurmountable objections to the view that Ezekiel’s temple is for future Millennial times.
To begin with, if the Jews do indeed occupy the land of Canaan again as an earthly nation, and if they restore the ancient system of temple-worship, either according to the plan shown to and described by Ezekiel, or according to any other plan, we maintain that the Scripture plainly forbids it. For it was by God’s own hand that the ancient system of worship was abolished and obliterated, and the obliteration of it was for reasons so closely connected with the redeeming word of the Lord Jesus Christ, that to re-establish it would be to dishonour that work and its achievements.
Moreover, the sacrifices of animals was a strictly temporary institution, belonging to an economy that ‘made nothing perfect.’
I have shown in a previous chapter that the entire system – temple, altar, priesthood and all – was but a ‘shadow’ of that which was to come, ‘a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect as pertaining to the conscience’, that God had ‘no pleasure’ in them; and that they were completely and forever abolished by the ‘One Sacrifice for sins’ offered by the Lord Jesus Christ ‘once for all’ (Heb. 7:18-19, 9:6-10, 10:1-9).
For it was not by the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Roman armies in AD 70, that the Jewish system of worship was overthrown, but by the Sacrifice of the Lamb of God on Calvary, and it follows that, so long as the merits and efficacy of that Sacrifice endure, there will be no room in God’s universe for any other.
It is important for us to recognize and to hold fast to the truth that the ‘old covenant’ and everything pertaining to it – sanctuary, altar, priesthood, feasts, sabbaths, and especially animal sacrifices – have been completely and ‘forever’ done away with. Surely the words in which this truth is declared are plain, and the reason for it is clear.
For the Spirit says expressly: ‘He takes away the first’ – the sacrifices of the law – ‘that He may establish the second’ – the true spiritual worship of the heavenly sanctuary, based upon the one Sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:8-12,18-22). And the words ‘takes away,’ and ‘establish,’ signify something eternally accomplished.
But let us turn to the prophecy of Ezekiel with the object of learning what the record itself tells us of the purpose for which the vision was given.
First we would point out that, in the sixth year of Jehoiachin’s captivity, that is to say, while Solomon’s temple was yet standing, Ezekiel had a wonderful vision in which he saw the glory of the Lord departing from the house (8:1, 10:18). The vision of the new temple was given 19 years later, for Ezekiel is careful to record that it was ‘the fourteenth year after that the city was smitten’ (40:1-2).
To this I will return. At present I wish only to point out that the most conspicuous features of the temple shown in this vision are the various places for the slaughter of animals, and for offering the same upon the altar, sprinkling their blood, etc. Thus we find a description of the tables, eight in number, for slaying the burnt offerings and other sacrifices, and upon which ‘they laid the instruments wherewith they slew the burnt offering and the sacrifice’ (40:38-43).
Therefore, in the clear light of the Letter to the Hebrews and of all Scripture pertaining to the Sacrifice of Christ, it is impossible to place this temple in any dispensation subsequent to Calvary.
But an attempt has been made to avoid this objection and to make possible the locating of Ezekiel’s temple in the Millennium, by saying that the sacrifice of animals in that era will be only for a ‘reminder’ or a ‘memorial’ of the former days. But this is a very weak effort of the imagination. For what grounds have we for supposing that God would require any memorial of those sacrifices which, even in the time when they were needed, He had no pleasure? And how preposterous is the idea that He would require the slaughter of innumerable creatures merely to revive the memory of those other defective sacrifices which could never take away sins! Surely they who advance this idea have forgotten the Scriptures which they all apply to the Millennium, and which says, ‘They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain’ (Isa. 11:9).
But the passage itself completely refutes this idea, for it plainly declares that the sacrifices specified there were not at all for a remembrance or a memorial, but were for the very different purposes of sin offerings, trespass offerings, peace offerings, etc. Also for cleansing the house, making reconciliation both for the princes of Israel and for the people, and the like. All five the offerings of the levitical system are mentioned by name (40:39, 42:13, 43:27, 45:17, 46:20), and provision is made for sprinkling the blood of the sin offering upon the corners of the altar, upon the posts of the house and court in order to cleanse them (43:20, 45:18-19).
In a word the sacrifices are the levitical sacrifices, and they are expressly declared to be for their original purposes. Hence it is impossible to locate this temple, as an actual structure (apart from the spiritual signification of it), in any era other than that of the Mosaic Law.
to be continued..