Biblical Covenantalism tracks the covenants through Scripture for the sake of putting together a composite picture of God’s plan. The covenants are the backbone of Scripture. If we pay careful attention to these covenants as they arise, we will not be able to bypass the everlasting “covenant of peace” which God made with Phinehas and his descendents in Numbers 25. The fact that a covenant of this kind is casually passed over with barely a mention and not traced out in Scripture is telling. I think what it tells is that we tend to want to read our endings to the story into passages like this. Coming to the covenants like this tends to muffle their testimony with a pious overlay of ‘the finished work of Christ.’
The Witness of Ezekiel
Ezekiel, like Jeremiah, was a priest (1:3), but evidently not in the line of Phinehas. In chapters 10 and 11 we find the vision of God’s glory departing the (literal) Temple in Jerusalem. Then after many chapters filled with denunciations and the occasional promise of blessing, we arrive at chapter 34. Ezekiel 34 – 39 are tied together by the repetition of the refrain “mountains of Israel.” The prophet had employed this phrase before, though sporadically (in chapters 6, 19 & 33), but now it becomes a kind of mantra, appearing eleven times in these chapters.
Examination of the uses of this refrain does not come within the scope of the present study, but I might notice the following:
1. Each usage is connected with a prophetic oracle, whereas in the first part of the book it centers on contemporary events.
2. In chapters 36, 37, and even 38 the reference is to deliverance and kingdom blessing.
3. In chapter 39 the refrain is used to locate the scene of future judgment of Israel’s enemies prior to the kingdom age.
In this prophetic climactic context we read about God raising up David (34:23-24; 37:24-25) in an Edenic environment (34:25-27; 36:35). This recalls the promises in the Davidic Covenant which we saw in Jeremiah 33. But the Priestly Covenant is also alluded to by Ezekiel in these contexts.
First, it ought to be clear that we are driven into the future by the New Covenant language of 36:26-28. Add to this the picture of restoration in 36:34-35 and one is presented with a decision: either turn the whole context into some sort of overdone typological mirage, or take it as read and place it in the eschaton. This end times scene is furthered with the famous prophecies of the dry bones and the two sticks in chapter 37. Right at the tail end we come across this statement:
Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people. The nations also will know that I, the LORD, sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore. (37:26-28).
This sets the scene for what is coming in chapters 40 to 48 and the detailed blueprint for a future temple or sanctuary in Israel’s New Covenant age.
The Millennial Temple and the Priestly Covenant
I take the liberty of speaking of the great temple in Ezekiel 40 and following (which is logically equated with the new sanctuary in chapter 37), as “the millennial temple.”
I referred to the “covenant of salt” with the Levites in Numbers 18:19. That covenant had to do with the right of the priests to eat off the daily offerings. This covenant was within the Levitical prescriptions of the Mosaic institutions, but was everlasting and so would be expected to transcend the curtailment of the Mosaic Covenant. Hence, it is also seen under Israel’s New Covenant conditions. (There is another covenant of salt in 2 Chronicles 13:5 which relates to David and his lineage. As such it is within the terms of the Davidic Covenant, if not synonymous with it). As salt does not perish the idea as related to covenant is probably of indestructibility (G. Wenham) and remaining inviolate (A. Noordtzij), although it may invoke a curse against the violator (F.C. Fensham). Unsurprisingly then, in Ezekiel’s future temple administration the priests are given the offerings as food, just as the covenant of salt would demand (Ezek. 44:29-31).
Just consider these ten lines of evidence (extracted from a previous post) for the actuality of a future ‘Millennial’ Temple:
1. Ezekiel calls it a temple over and over,
E.g. 40:5, 45 – where the priestly function is mentioned; 41:6-10 – where its chambers are described in pedantic detail; 42:8 – where the length of the chambers depends on their position relative to the sanctuary; 43:11 – where God declares: “make known to them the design of the house, its structure, its exits, its entrances, all its designs, all its statutes, and all its laws. And write it in their sight, so that they may observe its whole design and all its statutes, and do them.”
Then, in regards priestly functions within the structure: in 43:21 a bull is to be offered as a sin-offering outside the house; 45:20 – an atonement is made for the simple on the seventh day of the month; 46:24 – sacrifices are boiled at designated places; 48:21 – the huge allotment for the sanctuary is measured (it is very different to New Jerusalem in Rev.21!).
2. It has laws to perform (43:11-12).
3. It stipulates two divisions of priests, only one of whom (Zadokites) can approach the Lord (44:15), and who are given land separate from other Levites (48:11).
4. It refers to New Moons and sacrifices (46:1, 6).
5. The tribes of Israel are given specific allotments of land all around the temple (ch. 48)
6. The two temples at the beginning and the end of the Book of Ezekiel form a structural arc. The first one is literal. Nothing is said about the more detailed one being a mere symbol. In fact, in 8:3ff. “the visions of God” recorded what really did occur (cf. 40:2).
7. In ch. 10 the Shekinah leaves the actual temple in Jerusalem by the East Gate. In ch. 43 it returns via the East Gate and remains.
8. A sanctuary is mentioned in the new covenant chapters (Ezek. 36 & 37).
For example, after Israel has been cleansed, God declares: I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. (Ezek. 37:26. Cf. 43:7). This indicates the timing of the fulfillment of the temple prophecy. This agrees with the timing indicated in the last verse of Ezekiel: “the name of the city from that day shall be, ‘The LORD is there” (Ezek. 48:35)
9. At least three times Ezekiel is commanded to pay close attention to specifics: 40:4; 43:10-11; 44:5.
10. A future temple is necessary in light of God’s everlasting covenant with the Zadokites’ ancestor Phinehas (Num. 25:10-13; Psa. 106:30-31. Cf. Jer. 33:14f., Mal. 3:1-4).
The symbolic interpretation ignores these details when seeking to explain the meaning of the vision. It also ignores the ‘Edenic’ character of the temple environment. For example, Chapter 36:35 says,
So they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden… (see also vv.29-30).
Regarding the depiction of the temple in 37:26 Williamson observes, “While there is no explicit mention of nature here, the concept of God’s sanctuary in their midst reminds the alert reader of the idyllic portrayal of harmony portrayed in Eden.” – Paul R. Williamson, Sealed with an Oath, 66-67.
This matches the New Covenant reference to kingdom fecundity in 34:25-27,
I will make a covenant of peace with them, and cause wild beasts to cease from the land; and they will dwell safely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. I will make them and the places all around My hill a blessing; and I will cause showers to come down in their season; there shall be showers of blessing. Then the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield her increase. They shall be safe in the land; and they shall know that I am the LORD… I shall raise up for them a garden of renown, and they shall no longer be consumed with hunger in the land…
Certainly, the waters which flow out from the Temple have mercurial powers to change the land and restore it (Ezek. 47:6-12). It is in this habitat that the new Levitical order lives and officiates (48:10-14).
One cannot confine all these statements within the old (Mosaic) covenant and wish them away. As everyone knows who studies Ezekiel’s temple, there are some marked differences between Mosaic stipulations and requirements and those found at the end of Ezekiel. They are not the same. In addition to the division of priests into first order Zadokites and second order Levites, there is no High Priest. Moreover, there is no celebration of Pentecost or the Day of Atonement.
This all points to future circumstances in which the Levites play a major part. This is precisely what one would be led to expect after reading the oath God made to Phinehas.
More to come…