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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Will There Really Be A Millennial Temple? [Part 1]

The concluding chapters of the prophetic book of Ezekiel are among the most hotly debated in all of Scripture. Many differing and conflicting interpretations have been proposed by scholars, each according to his own school of eschatological thought. Are these chapters, which describe a great temple, speaking figuratively or literally? Do they refer to a time now past, or to a future state?

The opportunities for controversy are manifold, and a mere consideration of the chapters themselves, in isolation, is insufficient to provide all the answers. For instance, this temple description occurs at the end of a book heavy with symbolism, yet contains precise details and measurements suggesting a more literal approach. There are mysteries in chapters 40-48, as well — who is the ‘prince’ or leader involved in the temple worship?

Neither the figurative nor the literal approach to these chapters is adequate to explain every detail, unravel every mystery. However, it is not necessary for us to know all the answers in order to understand the passage properly. Despite the potential for controversy, Scripture does supply us with enough information to answer the main questions associated with the passage, which are as follows: 

1.    Is the temple and its worship literal, or figurative?
2.    Do these things take place at a time now past or at some point in the future?
3.    If the time is future, does it involve the millennial kingdom of Christ on earth, or the heavenly state?
4.    In any case, what is the purpose of the sacrifices described? 

Let’s consider these issues and attempt to provide some sound and scriptural answers.

Literal or Figurative?

Though this temple appears in a highly symbolic book, there is much reason to believe that it is an actual, physical reality, and not a merely spiritual phenomenon.

·         Firstly, this temple building is described in precise detail, rather than loose symbolic terms. The exact measurements of the wall, the court and the sanctuary, as well as all the other elements of the construction, are provided for the reader. What would be the point of such an exercise, if the place does not actually exist?

·         Furthermore, the description is intensely visual. Such painstaking, point-by-point consideration invites comparison, not to purely symbolic visions such as the four beasts seen by Daniel or the scarlet woman of John’s apocalypse, but to the pattern provided to Moses for the original Tabernacle — an unarguably literal building.

·         Most importantly, Ezekiel is told to describe the temple he has seen to the people of Israel, and if they are ashamed and repent, to show them the exact plans and measurements. Why? “So that they may observe all its laws and all its statutes and carry them out”.

If the temple is only figurative, this is a nonsensical statement. But if it is literal, all difficulty is removed.

It would seem that the main reason some scholars assume Ezekiel’s temple to be symbolic is that the literal view seems to present theological problems, making it more convenient to spiritualize the building and all it contains. But spiritualizing cannot answer the logical and textual objections listed above. Nor can it provide a clear interpretation of all the supposed symbols involved in the dimensions and features of the temple, only subjective speculation.

On this basis a literal interpretation is preferable even though it may not supply all the answers.

Historical or Future?

For reasons of architecture, topology and theology, it would appear that Ezekiel’s vision of the temple concerned the future, not any past or contemporary edifice:

·         Architecturally, the dimensions provided in chapters 40-48 do not correspond to any of the pre- or post-exilic temples — Solomon’s, Zerubbabel’s, nor even Herod’s. Furthermore, the overall design is markedly different from those of the historical temples.

·         Topologically, Ezekiel’s temple features a river flowing eastward from the threshold of the temple out to the Jordan Valley, whereas no river flowed from, through, or even past the temples of Biblical times. Also, the surrounding geography described by Ezekiel is different from that of Israel today or at any point in the past. Great changes have taken place, consistent with the topological alterations associated with the Lord’s second coming.

·         Theologically, the mode of worship and priestly service followed in Ezekiel’s temple, though it parallels that of the Mosaic economy in numerous details, has never been carried out by Israel at any time in the past. The situation described in the land is an idyllic theocracy never before experienced by the nation.

Most significantly, this temple contains the glory of God. Jewish rabbis agree that the glory of God departed from Solomon’s temple just before it was destroyed, and that neither Zerubbabel’s temple nor Herod’s expansion ever contained such glory before the destruction of 70 A.D.

Therefore, if the glory of God will return as Ezekiel prophesied, it must be to some other, future temple.
To be continued in Part 2
RJA

Republished by permission of the author

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