When is a building not a building and a detailed plan of a building not a desire to have it built? Answer: When God gave Ezekiel a detailed plan for a temple in chapters 40-48. Yeah, I don’t much like riddles either and obviously I’m not good at them but Ezekiel’s temple feels like a riddle. Some people believe that Ezekiel was given the plans for a temple that the Jews will build just before Jesus returns and that it will be the place from which he’ll reign during the Millennium. I’d previously explained why I didn’t believe that was the case.
My reasoning was that later revelation, in this case the book of Revelation, shows that Ezekiel’s vision was not supposed to be a physical building but something else. In chapter 21 of the book of Revelation, John is shown “the bride of the Lamb” yet all he describes is a city. Not one single person is mentioned therefore the “city” must represent the bride, or the Church. I then showed that the city John described is very similar to the temple that Ezekiel described. What I’d missed when I first worked on all this is that God explained it all himself:
As for you, son of man, describe to the house of Israel the temple, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and they shall measure the plan. And if they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the design of the temple, its arrangement, its exits and its entrances, that is, its whole design; and make known to them as well all its statutes and its whole design and all its laws, and write it down in their sight, so that they may observe all its laws and all its statutes and carry them out. – Ezek. 43:10-11
His reasons are: 1) that Israel may be ashamed of their apostasy and 2) that they may turn and observe all its laws and statutes. God does not say to Ezekiel, “that they may build this building according to the plan I have shown you” as he had with Moses (Exo. 25:40).
The purpose God gave Ezekiel is consistent with Ezekiel’s entire ministry. His prophecies are largely aimed at Israel’s unfaithfulness and the promise that God would restore to himself a people who will be righteous.
In his vision of the temple, Ezekiel was shown a depiction of God’s faithful people. The difference between the Church and national Israel is that the Church is the assembly of the regenerate (Ezek. 37, Eph. 2:1-10). The Church, unlike national Israel, are given new hearts with the law inscribed on them (Jer. 31:31, 33; Heb. 8:10). Israel continually broke God’s covenant with their uncircumcised hearts (Ezek. 44:7) but the promise of the New Covenant is that all it’s members will have circumcised hearts (Deut. 30:6, Col. 2:11).
This is why God said that his purpose in showing them the temple was that they may be ashamed and that they might obey. Israel repeatedly turned away and when God himself came to them, they crucified him and yelled, “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15). The Church will never do that, can never do that since it is built on the announcement that Jesus is Lord (Rom. 10:9, 1 Cor. 12:3) so any church that did would no longer be a church.
God turned to the Gentiles to make the Jews jealous (Rom. 11:11) and that is what God told Ezekiel this vision of the temple would do. A building built by the Jews wouldn’t make the Jews ashamed or jealous, it would make them proud. Their shame, according to Ezekiel 43, comes from their disobedience. God made a new people who would out shine the Jews. But at the same time, the Church is not really a “new people” since Romans 11:25-26 shows that the Gentiles are brought into the real Israel and that in that way, by the elect Jews and Gentiles being brought together, all Israel, the Israel of God (Gal. 6:16), will be saved. So God did what he’d wanted and what he’d promised: he made a people for himself who would love him.
So the shocker is that Ezekiel’s temple isn’t a temple yet it is prophetic. The word “prophetic” is problematic in itself and so I need to take a moment to deal with that. When we hear the word “prophetic” we usually think of a prediction of the future. In the Bible, that is part of prophecy but not the heart of it. God most often sent his prophets to his people to call them to himself, not just to tell them the future. Ezekiel’s prophecy is like that. Yes, it does contain visions of the future but it is mostly telling Israel how rotten they’ve been. That’s what you should think of when you hear the word “prophetic” using in conjunction with the Bible.
Back to the main point: Ezekiel’s temple is not a building but it is prophetic in its condemnation of Israel’s faithlessness and in how it looks forward to God gathering a faithful people to himself. What I’d previously said about John’s vision of the new Jerusalem and Ezekiel’s vision of the temple was:
The similarities seem to indicate that when John was shown “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb,” (Rev 21:9) he saw the same thing as what Ezekiel saw in his vision, that is, the Church.