Elon, North Carolina
We have been studying the Book of Ezekiel for about a year. We began studying this book last July. Today, we come to the end of the book. Some have called it the climax to the book. It is a vision. Ezekiel begins and ends his book with a vision, Ezekiel’s Temple Vision.
Ezekiel was a man of visions. He had visions of heaven and visions of the future. He had visions of judgment and visions of blessing. There have been four visions in the book. This is Ezekiel’s last vision. It is nine chapters long. We are only going to hit the highlights of this vision.
This vision is powerful. Ezekiel sees God’s glory in this vision and it knocks him over. He falls on his face TWICE in this vision (43:3; 44:4). What this vision says is shocking. Most Christians today do not believe what Ezekiel saw in this vision. They just try to explain it away. They spiritualize it.
We are going to look at what worship looks like in the Millennium (the thousand years on earth after Jesus returns). The temple that Ezekiel sees will be a center of worship. All nations in the world will worship in this temple. Isaiah says, All nations will stream to it. 3 Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:2-3 NIV).
Guess what? It will not look anything like worship today. It will be Jewish. It will not be open on Sunday. It will only be open on Saturday. You say, “That is strange” but, if you don’t believe me, read Ezekiel 46.
Thus says the Lord God: The gate of the inner court that faces east shall be shut on the six working days, but on the Sabbath day it shall be opened, and on the day of the new moon it shall be opened… The people of the land shall bow down at the entrance of that gate before the Lord on the Sabbaths and on the new moons. (46:1, 3 ESV)
What we are going to see in these chapters is that God changes the way He does things. What God did in the time of King David with Israel is completely different from what he is doing in the church today. What He is doing in the church today is completely different from what He will be doing in the Millennium. The worship you see in these chapters looks radically different form the kind of worship that goes on in churches today.
Review of Ezekiel’s Four Visions
Before we look at this vision, let’s quickly do a little review. What are the four visions that Ezekiel saw?
Ezekiel’s FIRST VISION is a vision of HEAVEN. It is found in Ezekiel 1. Ezekiel went outside, looked up and saw the heavens opened. He saw a spectacular vision of the glory of God. It was a vision of God and the angels which surround His throne. He also saw God’s throne and it had wheels on it. It was a mobile throne. It moved. It was a strange looking throne. The wheels of the throne had eyes on them.
He also saw a man sitting on the throne. It was a blue throne and the man was on fire from his waist down. He also saw cherubim. He saw four living creatures, four supernatural beings. These were strange looking beings with four faces and four wings and eyes all over their bodies. They came out of a cloud.
Ezekiel’s SECOND VISION is a vision of SIN and JUDGMENT. It is found in Ezekiel 8-11. Ezekiel was in Babylon but was taken hundreds of miles away from Babylon in a vision to Jerusalem and given a tour of the sin of the nation, especially the sin of the leaders. He saw four temple abominations. People were worshiping the sun, weeping for Tammuz and committing all kinds of abominations right in the Temple with pictures engraved on the walls of the Temple.
He was also given a vision of judgment in those chapters. He also had a vision of six deadly men, who were angels, who killed all the idolaters. They showed no mercy or pity. They killed the young and the old, men and women.
While they were doing that, another angel protected another group of people from judgment. They were given a mark on their forehead by an angelic scribe. Ezekiel also sees the Shekinah glory leaving the temple. It had been in the Temple for over four hundred years and he saw it leave the Temple and then leave the city (10:18-22; 11:22-24).
Ezekiel’s THIRD VISION is a vision of RESURRECTION and REVIVAL. It is found in Ezekiel 37. It is the famous dry bones vision. Ezekiel saw a valley full of bones scattered all over a valley and they were not connected. They represented the nation. It was dead politically and scattered all over the nations. Ezekiel prophesies to the bones and to the wind and the bones come to life and stand up.
Ezekiel’s FOURTH VISION is a vision of RESTORATION and WORSHIP. It is found in the last nine chapters of Ezekiel (40-48). It is a vision of restoration. The city is restored. The land is restored. The temple is restored. The Twelve Tribes are in the land and they all get an inheritance in the Promise Land. This vision tells us what that inheritance is.
That is shocking. Their inheritance does not look anything like the land division under Joshua. Some tribes like Judah were bigger in the previous land division among the tribes. It will look much different in the Millennium.
Then the man brought me to the gate facing east, 2 and I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with his glory. 3 The vision I saw was like the vision I had seen when he came to destroy the city and like the visions I had seen by the Kebar River, and I fell facedown. 4 The glory of the Lord ENTERED the temple through the gate facing east. 5 Then the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court, and the glory of the Lord FILLED the temple (43:1-5 ESV).
God enters the Temple from the Eastern Gate. The whole temple will face towards the east (43:1) and we are told something interesting. That gate will be sealed shut. No one will use that gate because God went through it. And the Lord said to me, “This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it, for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it. Therefore it shall remain shut. (44:2 ESV)
The Shekinah Glory left Solomon’s Temple at the Babylonian Captivity but it is coming back to dwell in the new temple. In fact, notice how the book of Ezekiel ends. The last verse in the book says, “And the name of the city from that time on will be: the Lord is there” (48:35 ESV). He will reside with His people. He will be in the temple and He will be in the city. Yahweh Shaw-mah. This temple will not exist until Jesus returns. It will be built by the Messiah himself.
Life on earth during the Millennium will be very different than it is today. Jesus will be on the earth again and He will be ruling the planet. Satan will be bound. He will not be around tempting people. The eternal state will look a lot like the Millennium. There will be many similarities between the kingdom and the eternal state.
God will dwelling with his people (Revelation 21:3; Ezekiel 43:7, 9). There is a bright light of God’s glory shining (Revelation 21:11; Ezekiel 43:1-3). A river of water will proceed from the throne (Revelation 22:1-2; Ezekiel 47:1). Twelve gates will be around the city (Revelation 21:12; Ezekiel 48:30-34). Trees will be on both sides of this river which bear fruit once a month (Revelation 22:2). The leaves of these trees will have healing properties. They are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2; Ezekiel 47:12).
Many read this passage and think it is describing Ezekiel. John is taken to a high mountain to see his vision. Ezekiel was taken to a high mountain to see his vision. John was given an angelic escort of the city and so was Ezekiel. A measuring reed was used to measure both cities (Revelation 21:15)
They look like on the surface like the exact same vision but they are NOT. Some of the things in the Millennium will carry over to the eternal state but they are different. How do we know? There will be sin in the Millennium. That is why they have to have sin offerings. John said that there was no temple in the vision he saw (Revelation 21:22). The whole city was a temple. That is strange. Ezekiel saw a temple.
The Jews had just lost their temple. The Babylonians completely destroyed it. That happened fourteen years earlier. This vision takes place in the twenty-fifth year of the exile (40:1). Ezekiel is saying that even though the Jews don’t have a temple right now. One day, they will have one in the Promise Land.
Has This Prophecy Ever Been Fulfilled?
The Jews did rebuild their temple. It was rebuilt in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. Herod made some improvements to it. It is called the Second Temple. There was only one problem. The Second Temple did not have the Shekinah glory in it. It looked incredible. It was built by Herod the Great. He was a great builder. He built all kinds of things but no matter how spectacular it looked, it did not have God in it.
Ezekiel is predicting that one day the Jews will have a temple and God will be in it. This temple has never been built. No temple has ever been built which looked like this. This temple had a river which came out of it. A river flows from this temple (47:1, 12). It is a supernatural river that brings life to the dead (47:9) and will even bring life to the Dead Sea. Rivers usually don’t start in temples. There is symbolism behind it but it is a real river. This millennial river is mentioned by some of the other prophets as well (Joel 3:18; Zechariah 14:8). Joel, Zachariah and Ezekiel all predicted this river.
This temple has never been built and never could be built on Mount Zion today. The dimensions for the temple compound simply would not fit on present day Mt. Zion. It is too big to be built on the current site. There would need to be some geographic or topographical changes to the city, which the Bible says will happen in the Millennium (Zechariah 14).
Most Christians do not understand this temple. They don’t get it, so they spiritualize it. They allegorize it. They argue that this is not talking about a physical building but a spiritual building. The church in the NT is called the temple of God. We are the temple of God. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. That sounds good but it has one problem. It makes absolute nonsense of the Book of Ezekiel.
Is This a Literal Temple?
This temple is not the church. God’s Shekinah glory is not in the church today. There are three reasons why Ezekiel’s Temple must be a literal temple.
First, the context of the book demands a literal interpretation
Ezekiel’s other prophecies were literal. He predicted that Jerusalem would fall. It did. He predicted that the Temple would be destroyed. It was. He predicted in the future another Jewish temple would be built. If the first temple was literal, the rebuilt temple was literal was well.
The first part of the book was all judgment. Ezekiel had a negative message. He said, “judgment is coming” over and over again. At the end of the book his message changes. He has a message of hope. He sees the vision and angel instructs him to “declare everything he sees to the house of Israel”(40:4 ESV). He is told to describe it to them (43:10). Why would he need to do this if it was not a literal temple?
Second, the incredible detail demands a literal interpretation
This vision gives us the blueprints to the temple, the inspired blueprints and they are very detailed with very precise measurements of the gates and doors and rooms and space between the rooms and the thickness of the walls.
This section contains more detailed measurements than God gave to the First Temple (I Kings 6-7). The Bible spends more time talking about this temple than it does about Zerubbabel, Herod and Solomon’s Temple put together.
There would be no need for all this detail if the whole building were symbolic. It is so detailed, it even tells what kind of underwear the priests were supposed to wear (44:18) and how the priests were to cut their hair (44:20).
Third, parallel passages in the OT support a literal interpretation
Ezekiel was not the only OT prophet who predicted that there would be a future temple in the Millennium. Isaiah predicted it (Isaiah 2:3; 56:6-7; 60:7, 13). Jeremiah predicted it (Jeremiah 33:14-22) and so did Zechariah (Zechariah 14:16-21) and Haggai (Haggai 2;7, 9).
“For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, 18 and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings, and to make sacrifices forever.” (Jeremiah 33:17-18 ESV)
20 “Thus says the Lord: If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, 21 then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with the Levitical priests my ministers. 22 As the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the offspring of David my servant, and the Levitical priests who minister to me.” (Jeremiah 33:20-22 ESV).
If there are future Levitical priests, offering sacrifices, there must be a temple. This has to refer to a literal temple. It has never been built yet. Ezekiel’s other prophecies have been fulfilled. This one must be fulfilled in the future. If that is the case, then we have a problem. Ezekiel mentions grain offering, burnt offering and sin offerings (42:13).
These chapters raise a difficult theological problem. If there is going to be a literal temple in the future with literal priests and a literal priesthood. There will be literal sacrifices and offerings. The Book of Hebrews says that the Old Covenant was abolished. We are under the New Covenant.
The Old Covenant is done away with. That is absolutely true but what Ezekiel describes is not a reintroduction of the Old Covenant. He is describing something new. This is not a return to the Mosaic system. How do we know? There all kinds of differences between this temple and temples under the Old Covenant.
Ezekiel’s Temple like Solomon’s Temple had an Outer Court, and Inner Court. It has a Holy Place and a Most Holy Place (Holy of Holies) but notice what it does not have. It did not have the Ark of the Covenant. It did not have in it, the bud of Aaron or the pot of manna or the Ten Commandments. It does not have a lampstand (menorah).
There is no mercy seat in this temple. There is no high priest. It has priests but they are not ordinary Levitical priests. They are Zadokian priests. Only a select group of Levites were in charge of the sacrifices. They have to be descendants, not only of Levi and Aaron, but also of Zadok. The Tabernacle and Temple did not have any steps in it (Exodus 20:26). Ezekiel’s Temple does (40:22, 49) but there will also be animal sacrifices in this temple.
17 It shall be the prince’s duty to furnish the burnt offerings, grain offerings, and drink offerings, at the feasts, the new moons, and the Sabbaths, all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel: he shall provide the sin offerings, grain offerings, burnt offerings, and peace offerings, to make atonement on behalf of the house of Israel. (45:17 ESV)
The Purpose of Animal Sacrifices
In Solomon’s Temple, there were sacrifices in the evening and the morning. In the Millennial Temple, there will only be sacrifices in the morning (46:13-15). What is the purpose of animal sacrifices?
Many teach that animal sacrifices will be like communion. I used to believe that will function merely as a memorial. Communion is a memorial of the death of Christ for the church and animal sacrifices will be a memorial for Israel in the kingdom.
There is only one problem. Ezekiel says that the sacrifices are as AN ATONEMENT for sin (45:15, 17, 20), NOT a memorial. These rituals will not be memorials. They will serve as an atonement. Why would this be necessary? We do not know for sure but one reason is that the Millennium will be a theocracy. God will be ruling on the earth visibly. God’s presence will be in the Temple in a way that He is not present in churches today. He does not have a physical presence that is visible.
Animal sacrifices will be needed for ceremonial purification for sinners living in natural bodies in the Millennium, because God will be dwelling on earth in a theocracy in a way that He is not doing today.
If we are believers, we will all have glorified bodies during this time. We will be sinless and will be ruling and reigning with Christ but there will be other people on the earth who will not have glorified bodies. That is the reason for animal sacrifices.