The Mystery of the Temple in Ezekiel 40-41

(Today’s post by Wayne Bunting)

Ezekiel 40:48 – 41:26

ezekiels templeEzekiel 40 is the beginning of the end of the book of Ezekiel, which from chapters 40-48 focuses on the details of a future temple. Ezekiel 40:48-41:26 is situated in a section that details the measuring and description of a temple. It’s almost like a contractor’s description of a building that is going to be built. The interesting thing is that the book of Ezekiel finds itself on the timeline of Israel at a point after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Now, being in exile in Babylon, this prophetic book is written to a people who have no home, a broken identity, and certainly no temple. God destroyed the old temple because His people had become obsessed with it and made it an idol. So what is this temple that is described in Ezekiel 40-41?

Notice how in these chapters there is the painting of palm trees on the inner walls of parts of the temple as well as imagery of angels. Palm trees were also seen in Solomon’s temple (the one that was just destroyed) in 1Kings 6:23,29,32,35; 7:36. The reason palm trees were painted on the inside of God’s temple was to represent paradise, or rather perfection. It was an image use to evoke the idea of Eden, where God dwelled with man. Here in the temple we see this imagery again, where God once again dwells with man; however, here the temple rituals are needed to bridge the gap of imperfection between God and man. The last time that palm trees and angels were seen together was in Genesis 3:24, where an angel guarded the way to the tree of life in Eden. Now an image of angels and a tree is seen in a place where man can once again enter into God’s presence, as opposed to before where they were kicked out of His presence. Ironically there is a description of a tree of life in this temple in Ezekiel 47:12, which bears great similarity to the tree of life mentioned in Revelation 22:2, which is in a section of Revelation that involves the description of a new temple that bears striking similarity to the temple in Ezekiel. So why is there a temple mentioned in the New Testament in Revelation? What need would we have of this now that the sacrifice of Christ once and for all covers our sins? In addition to this, many other questions arise about these chapters in Ezekiel, such as why did Ezekiel, a priest, not go into the Holy place described in the temple? Or why is the sacrifice aspect of this temple so vague?

The second temple was built after this time in history in the book of Ezra, when the Jews were freed from Babylon and allowed to return home to Jerusalem. It was built modeling the mosaic model in Ezra 3:2-4, but not Ezekiel’s temple. Ezekiel’s temple in its entirety has never been built. The range of explanations of this future temple varies from the Jews building it under the old covenant understanding of God, to Christians building it as a remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice. But this temple that Ezekiel is describing is the kingdom of God. It is a detailed description of how Christ will do what the Old Testament temple rituals required (notice the character of the prince throughout these chapters). We are the temple of the Holy Spirit now that Christ has died and has been resurrected. His work is fulfilled through us. The temple in Ezekiel 40-41 is the same as the temple described in Revelation 21-22, where it is likewise shown to be following a major theme of the kingdom of God in Revelation (as opposed to Babylon which is the kingdom of the world/darkness). The temple rituals and sacrifices were fulfilled by Christ, who is our permanent high priest, and the once and for all sacrifice to bridge the gap between God and man. What was once done in the temple is now done through Christ and carried out through us.

So what’s the point of all of this? Ezekiel’s vision of the temple was given to the rebellious and unrepentant people of God in exile. Throughout the book of Jeremiah Gods people were warned of destruction and exile. Here in Ezekiel they find themselves in exile and are still unrepentant. God’s vision of the temple is given to detail the fact that the Lord will redeem His people. They are a hardhearted and stubborn people that follow their own desires. It is much deeper than their inability to follow the letter of the law: they refused to follow God in their hearts. Nonetheless God is pursuing His people and showing Himself to be faithful even though His people are stubborn. This is a promise of the coming redemption that would come through Jesus. Their inability to follow the law would be fulfilled by Jesus, who is the fulfillment of the law and the ultimate redemption of Israel. The temple procedure would be taken care of by Christ, who is the fulfillment of the law, and man will once again be able to meet with God and interact with Him like in Eden. God has relentlessly pursued His people, and now we have the ability to commune with God because sin has been taken care of once and for all.

Anything that any man of God does for God is ultimately done through His relationship with Him. The degree to which the Lord works through us is the degree to which we know Him and commune with Him. The point of the law was to solve the problem of how sinful people can commune with and know a Holy God. But the law was just a shadow of the things to come: Christ is the fulfillment of the law, and the ultimate redemption of Israel and of those who choose Him. He is the ultimate answer to how sinful people can commune with a Holy God, not through works, but through Christ. It is through knowing Christ that we do works for Christ, because He works through us. The more we know Him the more we will want to serve Him and submit to Him. The Holy Spirit will work through all of those who let Him to show the world that Christ is and to build up the church.

So one challenge I put out there for you is to know Christ. Know Him deeply. Ask Him for this, and to work through you. He’s done all of this for us so that we can know Him and so that He can know us, and so that through us we would bring the kingdom of God. This is not hindered by anything but us. We have this great history of redemption, so let’s not waste it.

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  • mjoinsd

    Hi, I just read the ending of Ezekiel in my 90-day program through the Bible. Throughout my life, I’ve heard these last 9 chapters to be the prophecy of the last Temple – the one not yet built. And I can see it as that, except I noticed something I am having trouble reconciling during this read through. Throughout the chapters, Ezekiel is telling us about the burned offerings and sacrifices. How can this be happening when Christ was the perfect and final sacrifice? Is this to say that there will once again be animal sacrifices? In fact, notice the references specifically to the sin offerings – if this is the final Temple, the Millennial Temple, from which Christ will rule, does this not presuppose that we have already been snatched up in the twinkling of an eye (some refer to as rapture)? After all, there is only one more coming of the Messiah, not two. If Christ has already died for our sins, and God no longer delights in animal sacrifices, how do we rectify the command for animal sacrifices sometime future to today?

    Or could this simply be words of imagery, not to be taken literally? Not all of the bible is literal, much is figurative in nature – word pictures – think of the parables of Jesus. There is no evidence that any of those situations actually occurred, but Jesus used allegory to help us visualize the Kingdom of Heaven. Prefaced with “The kingdom of Heaven is like …” Thus an analogy perhaps.

    • Wayne Bunting

      Yeah you’re right. Some of the Bible is literal and some of it is not. Revelation, for example is for the most part a book that uses imagery to describe certain things. We know this because it actually follows a common way of writing during that time called an apocalypse, which is a writing that uses imagery to describe things, or events, or a message. It would have been readily understood by the people who read it then. Likewise, other parts of the Bible employs metaphors, poems, narratives, laments, direct statements, political writings, regularly written letters, quotes from extra canonical material, quotes from then commonly known non-Christian writers, and quotes from writings that God’s people wrote that we no longer have. The point of all of this is that you can get lost in all of the interpretive stuff and completely miss the point of why the writers of the Bible employed all of those things in the first place. Many smart and educated people are the perfect example of missing the forest for the trees with regards to the Bible. But the thing that matters is what is being said in each book of the Bible; What is the point. The message that each book contains is the divinely inspired message that all of these wonderful literary examples are meant to communicate. One cannot read the Bible without the Holy Spirit and expect to interpret it properly. For example, there are many atheist Bible scholars out there that are very knowledgeable of the Bible and certainly do communicate many of the truths that are in it. But they are absolutely unable to see the message of each writing because unless the Lord lives in them they are dead to that message. It is only knowledge to them and not wisdom. And wisdom is knowing what the right and Godly direction is.

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