After the vision of the enormous temple which ends Ezekiel one is left with some questions. How could such an immense structure fit in Jerusalem as we know it? Why would any cultic priesthood be necessary once Jesus had come and died for our sins? And, doesn’t the Book of Hebrews negate the whole idea of priests and sacrifices?
I am going to leave aside the last two questions until I examine some objections in Part Four. But this post will answer the first problem. But before I do that I want to fill in the picture a little more by looking at some more prophetic references.
In Daniel’s prayer of confession in Daniel 9 we see him specifically make supplications for “Your city Jerusalem” (9:16) and “Your sanctuary” (9:17). Gabriel’s answer addresses Jerusalem (9:24, 25) and the temple, which is doomed to destruction (9:26). I am not concerned with the identity of the sanctuary in verse 26 (other than to say that, in my opinion, it is not Herod’s temple). My interest is in whether Gabriel has any positive answer regarding God’s temple. I believe he does.
In the list of six eschatological details which must be fulfilled after the seventy weeks (490 years) prophecy in verse 24, the sixth concerns the anointing of “the Most Holy” (this particular Hebrew term always designates a devoted thing or place in its other OT uses, never a person, as even some amillennial scholars are forced to admit). Unless one spiritualizes the other five items and makes the sixth mean something different than its previous uses in the OT, this passage refers to a future temple which will stand when transgression is finished; when everlasting righteousness has been brought in, and all vision and prophecy has been sealed up. Since none of these things happened at the first coming of Christ anyway (even prophets were functioning many years after Calvary), and since the anointing of the “Most Holy [Place]” is the last on the list, it makes more sense to put the fulfillment of this verse after the second coming. This fits hand in glove with the provisions of the Priestly Covenant, with Jeremiah 33, and with the predictions in the last part of Ezekiel.
In Joel 3:17-21 we find ingredients which remind us of the kinds of eschatological blessings God promised to Israel. Jerusalem will be “holy” (3:17), there will be blessings in production and general fecundity (3:18). And, lo and behold, “A fountain shall flow from the house of the LORD (which means a temple, just as we saw happening in Ezek. 47:6ff.).
This picture is further enhanced by the prophet Zechariah after the Exile. For instance, in chapter 1:16-17 the message of the comforting of Zion and of the Lord’s own return to his house were hardly fulfilled from 500 B.C. through A.D. 70. The Lord did not return to the Zerubabbel/Herod temple at all! Yet in 2:10 we read,
Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst…
In the sixth chapter we have a prophecy of the Branch who, as is stated with great emphasis, will build the temple. (6:12-13a). This man will also “bear the glory” and, as a priest-king (combining both offices in Himself), “will sit on His throne.” (6:13b).
This Messianic prophecy has Christ sitting as King. He is a temple-builder! Is this heaven and a spiritual throne and temple? Only if you are an amillennialist bent on ignoring the Priestly Covenant and its promises. Chapter 8:3 again has God returning to Jerusalem, which shall be called “the City of Truth”. This is hardly an accurate description of Jerusalem in the first century A.D.
In Zechariah 13:2-3, after a New Covenant prediction of cleansing for Israel, there is an intriguing passage about a young man who attempts to act the prophet and who gets thrust through by his own parents for doing so. I take this to apply to the time after Christ has come back in power, when certainly there will be no need of prophets. I relate it to Gabriel’s fifth prediction in Daniel 9:4 about the sealing up of “the vision and prophecy.” Then in chapter 14 we find the LORD coming with His saints (14:5c), ruling as “King over all the earth” (14:9), and then a passage which has the nations coming up to Jerusalem to “worship the King” who is explicitly called “the LORD of hosts” (14:16-17). The “LORD’s house” and “sacrifices” are mentioned clearly in 14:20-21. The eschatological context includes radical topographical changes which will completely alter Jerusalem – thereby very possibly making room for Ezekiel’s massive temple to be built (14:4-5).
Finally the last prophet in the OT, Malachi, has God directly speaking of “My covenant with Levi” which He wants to “continue” (Mal. 2:4). In the next chapter, in a context reminding one of the second coming (cf. Rev. 21:11f.), we read about God purifying “the sons of Levi” (3:3) that they “may offer to the LORD an offering in righteousness,” (and you need to have a temple to offer such sacrifices). So the very last Old Testament prophet still appears to think that there is a future function for priests in a temple. Did this occur in Jesus’ day? When have Levites been purified? The only question then is whether one is going to remember the covenant terms in Num. 25, Jer. 33, etc, and stick with them, or whether one is going to turn it magically into “Jesus and the Church” using typological and symbolic alchemy.
As for me, more than enough evidence has been presented to put forward a solid case for an incontrovertible and everlasting Priestly Covenant. Next time I will consider some objections to what I have written.