Ten Lines of Evidence for Interpreting Ezekiel 40-48 as Depicting a Literal Temple

Image: Tom Vanderwell

Here is a piece which originally belonged in some correspondence I had with a covenant theologian.  I have added a few things, but I think it makes a decent stand-alone article. 

Some amillennialists think that the original hearers of Ezekiel couldn’t comprehend a future glorious kingdom where Israel is regenerate, and Messiah reigns in justice and righteousness from Jerusalem.  That they couldn’t see a time where priests serve God in a new temple.

I think they could in fact do this from attending to the following passages: Num. 25:10-13; Deut. 30:6f., or Psa. 2, 89, 105, 106, Isa. 2, 11, 26-27, 35, 43, 44, 45, 51, 62; Jer. 23, 30, 31, 33, or Hos. 2:16f. or Mic. 4, or Zeph. 3, or indeed from Ezek. 34, 36-37.

It seems that Ezekiel’s near contemporary Zechariah (6:12-13, 8:1-3; 14:16f.), and Malachi (3:2-3) believed these things too. Zechariah, for example, predicts a future temple built after Jerusalem has been changed topographically where the King is worshiped at the temple (Zech. 14).

No premillennialist, or Dispensationalist (or Biblical Covenantalist) would say that Ezekiel’s audience could know the time when the temple would be built.  They could only know that it would be built.  They could know this because Ezekiel’s temple could only be constructed…

a). once Israel were no longer under the Mosaic covenant – because the service etc. of Ezekiel’s temple does not agree with Moses

b). after topographical changes occurred which would make the huge project possible

c). once the glory of the Lord was ready to return to bless Israel and dwell with them forever.  That didn’t happen in Nehemiah’s day, and it hasn’t happened yet, so logically it must either be the future (or else these chapters form one of the greatest circumlocutions in all of literature!)

Again, Ezekiel didn’t know that the Messianic Kingdom would last a thousand years. He didn’t have John’s Revelation (some who have the Book of Revelation still don’t know that Christ will reign a thousand years!). We don’t have to demonstrate anything that wasn’t revealed after Ezekiel’s time to realize that his original audience knew he was referring to a future temple.

But here are ten evidences that Ezekiel meant us to understand him as referring to a literal temple building complex that will be erected in future Israel.

————————————————————————————-

1. Ezekiel calls it a temple over and over.  E.g. In Ezekiel 40:5, 45 – where the priestly function is mentioned; in 41:6-10 – where its chambers are described in pedantic detail; in 42:8 – where the length of the chambers depends on their position relative to the sanctuary; in 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.”  How can any reader take these details seriously and find their fulfillment in the NT church?

Moving forward in the passage, in Ezekiel 43:21 a bull is to be offered as a sin-offering outside the house; in 45:20 – an atonement is made for the simple on the seventh day of the month; in 46:24 – sacrifices are boiled at designated places; and in 48:21 – the huge allotment for the sanctuary is measured (it is very different to New Jerusalem in Rev. 21!).

2. There are laws to perform in the temple (Ezek. 43:11-12).  Quite how one can perform these commands in the church is a mystery beyond the mystery of the church itself.

3. Ezekiel stipulates two divisions of priests, only one of whom (Zadokites) can approach the Lord (44:15).  These Zadokites are given land separate from other Levites (48:11).

4. Ezekiel refers to New Moons and sacrifices (46:1, 6).  New Jerusalem has no need of moonlight (Rev. 21:23).

5. The tribes of Israel are given specific allotments of land all around the temple (Ezek. 48)

6.  The two temples at the beginning and the end of the Book of Ezekiel form a structural arc.  The first temple is literal.  Nothing is said about the more detailed temple at the end of Ezekiel being a mere symbol.  In fact, in Ezekiel 8:3ff. “the visions of God” recorded what really did occur (cf. 40:2), not what would symbolically happen.

7. In Ezekiel 10 the Shekinah leaves the actual temple in Jerusalem by the East Gate.  In chapter 43 it returns via the East Gate and remains.

8. A sanctuary is mentioned in the new covenant chapters (Ezekiel 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 something about 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.  The symbolic interpretation ignores these details when seeking to explain the meaning of the vision.  If an interpretation passes over what God has told us to pay close attention to, that interpretation must be suspect.

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).  Zechariah 6:12-13; 14:8-9, 16f., describes temple conditions in Israel which have never yet existed, but which match Ezekiel 36-48.

Please look up the references above and see if I have distorted what the verses say.  I have simply allowed the Bible to speak.  If someone doesn’t believe these evidences and instead wants to interpret a portion of the Bible that is longer than First Corinthians as a “word-picture” or “type”, then let them explain their interpretation from the text.  I think that is a reasonable position.

 

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10 comments

  1. Hi Paul,

    The Monday night bible study at our church has been working through Ezekiel for going on two years now (we are nearing the end of chapter 46 so almost through). I’ve touched on many of these same evidences for taking the passage as-written.

    Another ‘evidence’ that the passage must not be spiritualized/allegorized is found in the enormous variation in interpretation found among those who take it otherwise. At key portions from chapter 40 onward, I’ve made it a point to read some of those interpretations to the class–which people have found both humorous and disconcerting.

    If we let the spiritualizing interpreters lead the way, they skewer their own approach because it becomes evident that we can’t know which of their interpretations is the right one–and they see all manner of different supposed significance in various details.

    What it boils down to is this: if we don’t take Ezekiel 40-48 in its plain-sense meaning, then we can’t know what it means.

    1. Well, first thing: I wish i was in that Bible Study!

      Secondly, in its original guise this piece was included in some correspondence in which I compared interpretations of three CT’s. You are quite right. They cannot agree on their positions. Despite all the high-sounding talk about genre and types and such, they don’t know what to do with these prophecies.

    2. That aspect, to me, is quite telling. If you are going to tell us the passage doesn’t mean what it appears to mean, then you must be able to tell us what it does mean. And since they cannot come close to agreeing on what that is . . . well . . . who can be blamed for rejecting their line of reasoning?

      Paul: if you are ever completely bored or can’t sleep at night, you can always listen to one of our studies. Although they are quite informal (but often fun), we make them available online for the benefit of some of our congregation who can’t always make it on Monday night.

      1. [Emoticon of embarrassed face]

        I’m closing in on completing chapter 5. I’ve got all the background study completed, all the referenced notes and resources entered, and am in the process of arranging and finalizing the content–which is actually the easier part of what is involved.

        But, as I’ve mentioned before, it is still going much slower than I would prefer. Partly due to numerous other distractions, but also my own failure to keep as consistently focused as I would like (a fruitful area for prayer, no doubt).

        Maybe I’m subconsciously stalling in hopes of the imminent appearance of our Lord so I can side-step the enormous amount of work that remains to do it justice? 🙂

  2. Thanks for the link Tony. I too understand about the amount of determination it takes to keep going when there is so much ahead of you. But your Daniel Commentary will be significant and I want to admonish you to get stuck in! You’re getting to the meat and potatoes in chs.7-12

  3. Banner of Truth magazine once featured a favorable article on Covenant Theologian Thomas V. Moore’s commentary on Zechariah. Moore wrote that:

    “…Zechariah, accommodating his language to the understanding of his times – uses Jewish conceptions to express New Testament truths, e.g., the conversion of the Gentiles (8: 20-23) is signified by the coming of the nations to Jerusalem, and the joy of the Church in her final perfection (14:16) is figuratively represented by the keeping of the tabernacles.”

    Ironically, he later admits:

    “The closing chapters of Zechariah, containing references to events not yet accomplished, are notoriously difficult.”

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