Ezekiel 40–48. The Temple of the Future.

Key Notes: Similarites and differences from known Israelite temples. The Eastern Gate. Five views of the prophecy. Heads up.

It was now 14 years since the destruction of Jerusalem. National Israel was dead, its bones dried up. It was clean cut off--no government, no territory, no city, broken families, thousands killed or missing, no temple. But God had not abandoned His people. He gave Ezekiel a vision of the future. The nation will be restored. The Temple, the place of God's throne (43:7) will be rebuilt. Living water will flow from it. The promise of the Temple rebuilt would be a source of hope to them. It is a puzzle to us because of Christ's atonement makes such a temple unnecessary.

Ezek.40–42 gives the dimensions of the temple in exquisite detail.  Ezekiel himself measured and recorded what he was shown. The temple court is 750–825ft. square. Considerable attention is given to the east gate.

Ezek.43 The glory of God returns to the temple:"'Son of Man, this is the place of My throne, and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the people of Israel for ever.” 43:6

Ezek.44 The rules for the sanctuary are given, with twelve rules for the priests of the order of Levi / Zadok. 44:9–16

Only the Levites will enter the sanctuary. No uncircumcised foreigners are permitted.
The priests will wear their holy linen garments in service, laying them aside when they minister to the people.
They are to trim their head hair only.
No wine may be drunk while in service.
The priest is to marry a virgin.
Teaching the people and settling disputes is their judicial function.
They will keep the laws and statutes and sabbaths.
Ritual purity will be maintained; they shall not defile themselves with the dead.
They will have no land inheritance.
They are to receive the dedicated offerings and eat the appropriate sacrificial offerings.

Ezek.45:1–9 Holy land set aside for the priests is about 50 miles square. Land for the Prince is much larger, extending on either side of the Temple, from the Mediterranean to the Jordan.
45:10–46:24 describes rules for offerings and sacrifices, and land inheritance of the Prince. There are a series of sacrifices to be made by the Prince. 46:11–18.
47:1–12.Living water will flow from under the threshold of the Temple.
47:13–48:35 describes the boundaries of the tribes, extending from Syria to the River of Egypt, omitting territory on the east of Jordan.
48:35 The name of the city will be “The Lord is There.”

•The vision was given from a high mountain overlooking Jerusalem. No such mountain exists there now, but this may be a prophecy of a change in the geography. Jerusalem is a citadel 2500 feet above sea level. Another mountain nearby at perhaps 5000 feet would appear awesome.
"The mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains...and all the nations shall flow to it and many people shall come and say "Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob...." (Isa. 2:2–3)

•The eastern gate is the principal entrance architecturally and spiritually and interesting from an archaeological viewpoint. Its elaborate passageway helps us understand what it meant to "sit in the gates." The glory of God enters there (43:1). The gate is then shut (44:1) and will remain shut except when the Prince is there. The Prince will enter on Sabbath and take his stand by the gate. (46:1). Other people enter by either north or south gate and exit by the opposite gate. 46:9–10

There is a closed double arch on the east wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem that is called the Beautiful Gate. Tradition says it has never been opened.

"It is of sixth-century Byzantine construction, the only one designed more for ornament than for defense; it has been closed for centuries. Some think its closure is a fulfillment of the prophecy that the eastern gate will be closed until the return of the "Prince" (at the Second Coming) as glimpsed in Ezk.44:2.
(Int.Stand.Bible Enclyo. G.W. Bromiley, Edit; Eerdmans,1982, Vol.II pg. 409.)

The Eastern Gate concept was incorporated into a folk-hymn
"I will meet you in the morning,
just inside the Eastern Gate;
then be ready, faithful pilgrim,
lest with you it be too late."
(Country, Western Gospel Hymnal; Stamps-Baxter Music,1975,p.118).

•The gates of the city (not described) are named for the twelve tribes of Israel (Ezek.48:31), as they are in Rev.21:12.

•The river which gives life to the Dead Sea and healing is reminiscent of the river flowing from Eden in Genesis and from the New Jerusalem  in Revelation.   

Revelation brings us full circle from Eden.
“A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers". Gen. 2:10
"…a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord and water the valley of Shittim" (?lower Jordan valley). Joel 3:18
"On that day living waters will flow from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea." Zech. 14:8
"…the river of the water of life, flowing from the throne of God through the middle of the street of the city; on either side of the river the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit {each month], and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations." Rev. 22:1–2

•We note that the temple is paneled in wood (41:16), not gold-covered as Solomon's temple was. The laver, candelabra, table of show bread, altar of incense, and ark of the covenant are not mentioned. There is no veil between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. There is no High Priest. There is no description of the Day of Atonement, but Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles are to be celebrated.

There are detailed instructions about what sacrifices are to be offered, how the priest is to dress, whom he may marry, etc. It has the makings not of a museum of ancient customs, which would have to be an replica of Moses' law and Solomon's temple, but of a memorial setting and practice. It is not the temple restored by the Exiles, nor is it Herod’s Temple at the time of Christ. The Prince is also mysterious. He is not the Christ, since he will offer sacrifices. 46:1–8

•The grounds dedicated to the Temple, the priests and the prince are estimated to cover 3000–4000 sq.mi. in a country of 10,000–11,000 sq.mi. The lands devoted to the tribes do not conform to the geography of the land except for the Jordan River.

•The interpretation of this mixture of the ideal and the real image of the future of Israel is compounded by the disappearance of the Temple as a physical and spiritual entity in NT. If we recall the “telescoping of prophecy”, we realize that a text may contain elements that will be fulfilled at different times. So water flowing does not necessarily coincide with a temple at the same time.

There are  several working interpretations:
1. Literal prophecy for the exiles.  "Write it down in their sight so that they may observe and perform all its laws and all its ordinances." (Ezek.43:11). Malachi reinforces Ezekiel by his indictment of the poor practice of the post-exilic priests. (Mal.2). But the massive dimensions of the temple, the artificial boundaries of the tribes, and the mystical elements like flowing water make this a difficult interpretation to carry out.

Admonitions to the exiles are scattered in the text.
          Righteous behavior of the priests. 44:12–14
          Justice from the princes. 45:8,9
          Justice from the merchants. 45:10–12

2. Symbolic Church fulfillment. It is typical of reformed theology to say that the prophecies to Israel are fulfilled in the Church but that does not do justice to the message for the exiles and the exquisite detail of the temple dimensions. Further, Christ cannot be the prince of this prophecy because he also is obliged to offer animal sacrifices.

3. Dispensational division. Israel will do all this in the Last Days. But what about the NT and the fulfillment of sacrifice system in Christ?

4. Apocalyptic, symbolic. The text may intend to teach us general truths:

the perfection of God's plan;
the centrality of worship in the New Age;
the presence of God in the midst of His people;
the blessing that flows from God's presence;
the orderly duties and privileges of God's people as a priestly order.

5. A radical contemporary view is that some aspects of the prophecy may be fulfilled in the near future.  The priestly line of living men has been identified by Y chromosome analysis. (Nature. Vol.385, p.32,1997). A model of the Ezekiel temple has been made and a cornerstone prepared. The site where the original ark of the covenant rested has been established. (Bibl.Arch.Rev. Jan.-Feb.1996). Attempts are being made to develop the breed of red heifers (Num. 19) necessary for the purification of the priest. (The New Yorker. June 20, 1998.)

We do not know which interpretation to select. We must wait and see. Jesus said we must keep our heads up and stay alert. Lk.21:28

PS. Blueprints of the temple and maps of the tribes may be found in “The Temple of Ezekiel.” Lambert Dolphin. Internet.