Thursday, July 31, 2014

"Ezekiel's temple … What? When? Why? …"

Day #216:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - August 1st

Scripture Reading:  Ezekiel 43 - 48 …

The descriptions of the "glory of the Lord" and the temple which Ezekiel gives are extremely difficult and, perhaps, impossible to totally understand, yet, God spoke these words through Ezekiel for a reason and it is important for us to pray for wisdom as we listen to what God says through Ezekiel and apply the truth revealed to our own time and our own lives.  Since God tells us that "all Scripture is God-breathed and useful" (II Timothy 3:16), we cannot simply ignore a portion of Scripture or explain it away.  One of the guidelines for interpreting difficult passages of Scripture is that when two or more passages speak about the same thing, the clearer one should be used to understand the one that is not as clear.  When it comes to Ezekiel's temple, however, there are few references to a rebuilt temple that fit the description he gives.  So what do we know?  What can we learn from these chapters as we seek to understand them in the context of what God has revealed in the rest of the Bible?

The first question may be, "What is this temple?" or "What is this temple supposed to represent?"  We can gain some insight by going back to Ezekiel 8-11.  Remember that Ezekiel was in captivity in Babylon, and the Spirit of God lifts him up between heaven and earth (8:3), giving him a bird's-eye view of Jerusalem and the temple before it was destroyed by the Babylonians.  What Ezekiel sees was disgusting!  He sees idolatry and men with their backs to the temple and their faces toward the east bowing down to the sun.  Ezekiel is told to "go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it" (9:4).

Then Ezekiel witnesses the glory of the LORD and the cherubim (angels) in worship and "the glory of the LORD rose from above the cherubim and moved to the threshold of the temple.  The cloud filled the temple, and the court was full of the radiance of the glory of the LORD" (10:4).  But then "the glory of the LORD departed from over the threshold of the temple …" (10:18).  It is impossible to fully comprehend this sight, but the message is clear, God was removing His presence from the temple and from Israel and their leaders because of their sin of idolatry … BUT …

… in the same breath God promises that He will bring a remnant back to the land and says, "I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. … They will be My people, and I will be their God" (11:19-20).  In chapters 38-39 we saw God speaking of a future time when He would "display" His "glory among the nations" (39:21).  Could it be then, that God will do so through the rebuilding of a temple such as that which Ezekiel describes?  The temple was, indeed, rebuilt when the captives returned from Babylon, but the circumstances and the description do not seem to match the perfection described by Ezekiel in these chapters.

While some believe this description was promised only if Judah returned to the Lord and were obedient to Him, the fact is that God knew Judah would not do so and He knew the rebuilt temple would also be destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.  That Ezekiel is describing a rebuilt temple and a people and a "prince" who serve the LORD, their God, seems clear, but what period of time is he describing?  We also know from God's Word that it cannot be the new heavens and the new earth, for we read in Revelation 21, as John sees a vision of the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, his description includes the following:  "I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple" (Revelation 21:22).

So when will the temple Ezekiel describes be present in Jerusalem?  The only other possibility appears to be a temple that will be built just prior to Jesus' return and which will stand in Jerusalem during the Millennium.  However, there are also some problems with this interpretation.  In chapter 43 Ezekiel sees the glory of God return to the temple and fill the sanctuary (43:1-5).  Then God says, "This is where I will live among the Israelites forever.  the house of Israel will never again defile my holy name …" (43:7).  There is no time in history when this has happened and no indication that it will in the future.  So when will this take place?  The answer may be found in 43:10:  "Son of man, describe the temple to the people of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their sins."  Perhaps God gave this glorious description to once again show the people of Israel their need for a Savior and for a better sacrifice than they could offer … to point them to the coming Messiah, the Christ … to Jesus.

If the Law was given to lead the people to see their sin and their need for a Savior, then perhaps this vision of the temple was intended to do the same.  While it seems possible from other passages that there will be a temple during the Millennium, as Jesus reigns from Jerusalem, the idea of offering sacrifices for sin contradicts the fact that Jesus offered the perfect sacrifice for sin once and for all on the cross.  Ezekiel speaks of the "prince" providing "sin offerings, grain offerings, burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to make atonement for the house of Israel" (45:17), but God says that Jesus already accomplished all that was necessary to make atonement for all who believe, Jew and Gentile alike.  Further, Ezekiel says that the Passover is to be celebrated and "on that day the prince is to provide a bull as a sin offering FOR HIMSELF and for all the people of the land" (45:21-22).

While it is true that what the prophets and apostles describe during the Millennium will be a unique time unlike any other as Jesus reigns in Jerusalem, it is hard to understand how Ezekiel's description of the temple fits with the rest of what we know from Scripture regarding the sacrifice of Christ and its "once-for-all" quality as the perfect sacrifice for sin.  It never has to be repeated.  Still, what Ezekiel describes is a future inheritance specific to the tribes of Israel, including a temple and a division of the land among the tribes of Israel.  One of two things must be true:  Either this will happen at some future time, which seems questionable given the above facts, OR God was calling the remnant of Israel to long for things to be different than they were and to seek Him with all their hearts, knowing that there would be a time in the future when God would make His dwelling with men and all who believed in Him would be part of His eternal kingdom!

As we pray for wisdom to read and understand all that God has revealed, we can know that God will do all He says He will do and that through faith in Jesus Christ, we who believe will be part of His future kingdom on the earth, where all things will be perfect, as God originally designed, and where we will serve Him with joy forever!  Praise the LORD for His glorious promises!!

"O Lord, my God, the Almighty One, the God of Israel, Your glory is beyond our comprehension.  You have revealed to us all that we need to know in order to draw near to You in faith, believing Your promises and resting in Your power to do what You say You will do.  I acknowledge that Your ways and Your thoughts are higher than mine, and I ask only that You will help me to accept Your Word as truth and to long for Jesus' return, when I will be made like Him and everything will be made clear … for I shall see Him face-to-face and be made like Him, to serve You, my God, forever, in Jesus' name, Amen"

1 comment:

  1. I loved the study of Ezekiel I did a few years ago. The greatest thing to me about this passage was God's presence returning. Thanks for this post. I saw Ezekiel and got excited!! :-)