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Why did Ezekiel describe a temple?

March 8, 2012

Ezekiel’s vision of the temple included copious details. His description was given before the second temple was built, but there was no attempt by the Jews who returned from the exile to follow his design. It was a much larger and more impressive structure than either the second temple, or the previous one built by Solomon. In comparison, the one actually built was not ideal, and would not be the temple which was to be filled with God’s glory, as promised for Ezekiel’s temple. [Ezekiel 43:5; 44:4]

Stephen said to the Jews, when Herod’s temple was standing, “Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” [Acts 7:48] Paul said the same to the men of Athens. [Acts 17:24]

A temple is where people offer sacrifices to God. Some wonder why Ezekiel described an altar, and sacrifices, if his temple has to do with the Christian church, as those things have passed away; but in Hebrews we read, “We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.” [Hebrews 13:10]

In the New Testament, the saints are described as a temple. [Ephesians 2:20-22] They offer spiritual sacrifices. The sacrifices offered in Ezekiel’s temple must be types and figures of these spiritual offerings. Peter said, “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” [1 Peter 2:5]

Some claim that in the millennium, animal sacrifices will be resumed, but that contradicts scriptures such as Isaiah 65:25, “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD.” How can animal sacrifices be offered, if nothing may be hurt there?

Jesus identified himself with the temple of God, and the Spirit was given to him beyond measure. [John 3:34] He said God’s temple is to be a house of prayer. [Luke 19:46, citing Isaiah 56:7] He said, “destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” [John 2:19] Since Jesus was raised up from the grave, the temple of God was revived, and ascended to heaven.

According to Paul, every believer is a temple of God. [1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19] The church, consisting of those who are “in Christ,” is depicted as a temple, [Ephesians 2:20-22] and the saints “sit together in heavenly places.” [Ephesians 2:5-6]

Living holy lives, acceptable unto God, is “our reasonable service,” Paul said. [Romans 12:1] He encouraged believers to be “fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer.” [Romans 12:11-12] He wrote: “the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God… therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.” [Romans 14:17-19]

Peter said the saints are “a royal priesthood,” who “shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” [1 Peter 2:9]

John said the saints who overcome will be made pillars in the temple. [Revelation 3:12] In his vision of the New Jerusalem, John saw no temple, but said “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.” [Revelation 21:22]

When Jesus was raised from the grave, and ascended to heaven, Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills.” [Isaiah 2:2] Jesus represents “the mountain of the Lord’s house.”

The dimensions of the temple provided by Ezekiel reveal that its courts are spacious, and that everything in the temple conforms to a plan; its dimensions need to be taken in a spiritual sense. A spiritual temple is not measured in units consisting of literal cubits. Ezekiel specified that the cubits in his prophecy differed from regular cubits. The measuring reed employed was “six cubits long by the cubit and a hand breadth.” [Ezekiel 40:5] The dimensions of the altar are also specified in these unusual units. [Ezekiel 43:13] Similarly the heavenly Jerusalem is described in terms of “angelic cubits.” [Revelation 21:17] Who knows what an “angelic cubit” might be? It signifies a spiritual standard of measurement. Of one thing we can be certain; it is not a literal, earthly cubit, as spiritual things are not designed with dimensions given in earthly units.

The location of Ezekiel’s temple also has a spiritual significance; it is removed from the existing Jerusalem. Ezekiel connected the temple with the promised land, and with “the mountains of Israel.” It is, in fact, one of the “mountains of Israel,” as it is a revelation that included several promises, and those mountains represent God’s promises. By its central location, on a high mountain, Ezekiel’s temple appears as the most prominent feature of the land. Within its boundaries, territory is assigned to the priests and Levites, and to the city.

Ezekiel’s description includes the wall, porches, gates, courts, the altar, and the temple itself. The wall signifies a boundary that separates the church from the outside world. This implies the temple must be designed for the present age, as in the age to come, why would there be any need for a wall? In the day when the earth is “full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea,” why have a wall?

Since there is a wall, it could not be a “millennial temple,” as some have claimed; in some millennial theories, the hordes of Gog and Magog are said to come against “a land of unwalled villages.” That would not apply to the existing Jewish state, where there is a very prominent wall, and neither could it apply in a millennium, if Ezekiel’s temple was present, with its impressively thick wall; how could it be a future millennial temple, when it has a prominent wall?

Ezekiel’s prophecy of the temple depicts the church as a spiritual temple located in the promised land. The land is associated with Christ, as for the priests who minister there, possessing God is in lieu of possessing land. “I am their inheritance: and ye shall give them no possession in Israel: I am their possession.” [Ezekiel 44:28]

The spiritual temple, located in the promised land, is not an earthly, literal one. The land where it is located represents the “better country” in Hebrews 11:16, “But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” It is the “place” Jesus said he would prepare for his saints:

John 14:1-3
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.
In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

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