Ezekiel’s Temple

The issue came up in Sunday school last week whether the temple in Ezekiel’s vision in chapters 40-48 is a literal, physical building or a visionary representation of something else. The amount of physical detail given to the temple seems to indicate that it is intended to be a real, physical construction.

I believe the best way to read it is to recognize that Ezekiel is seeing a physical representation of another reality, not a physical building. In chapter 47 Ezekiel describes a river flowing from the temple. The further the river flows, the deeper the water gets. This is not something that we would expect to see in an actual temple build in Jerusalem. There are wells on the temple mount but they are deep underground so it is improbable that a river would well up from under the temple.

There are indications that the river is meant to picture something else. Not only does the water desalinate the ocean and the swamps and marshes, it multiplies animal life wherever it goes. The banks of this river team with trees that never drop their leaves and produce fruit monthly. Real trees don’t do that. The river is described in concrete terms just as the temple is yet the river is figurative so it seems consistent with the vision to understand the temple as figurative as well.

Since scripture helps us understand scripture, if the New Testament treats this vision as figurative then it is figurative.  While there isn’t an exact citation of this vision in the New Testament, there are some tremendous similarities between Ezekiel’s temple and the city that John saw in Revelation 21. Consider: 1The Ezekiel/Revelation chart modified from The Road to Emmaus

Ezekiel’s Temple John’s City
Set on a high mountain (40:1-2; cf., 8:3) Carried up to a high mountain (21:10)
One with a measuring rod (40:3) Angel with a measuring rod (21:15; cf., 11:1)
The temple is measured (40:5-42:20) The city is measured (21:16-17)
The temple is a square (48:30-35; cf., 41:4) The city is a cube (21:16)
There shall be sacrifices; worship is central (43:13-27; cf., 46:1-21) The nations shall bring their glory and honor; worship is central (22:26)
No abomination in the temple (44:4-14) Nothing unclean in the city (21:27; cf., 21:8)
Priests will minister before the Lord (44:15-31) Priests unto God (21:18-20; cf., 20:6)
Twelve gates for the sons of Israel (48:30-34) Twelve gates for the sons of Israel (21:12-13)
Water flows from the temple (47:1-5) Water flows from the throne of God (22:1;cf., 21:6)
Trees bear fruit and provide healing (47:6-12) Tree of Life bears fruit and provides healing (21:2)
God will have a place for his people (47:13-48:29) The people’s place is the Lord (22:5; cf., 21:3-4, 7)
The Lord will be there (48:35; cf., 43:1-12; 45:1-25) The Lord will illumine them (21:22-23;22:3-5)
There is no city described. The city has no temple (21:22)

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.

Ezekiel’s imagery of God’s people as a temple with priests and sacrifices is consistent with the New Testament description of the Church. The Church is a temple (1Co 3:16-17, 6:19; Eph 2:19-22, 1Pt 2:5). We’re told to offer our lives as a living sacrifice to God. (Rom 12:1) Paul’s life of service is a drink offering poured out on the church’s faith. (Phil 2:17) His work gathering in the gentiles is an offering. (Rom 15:16, 2Ti 4:6) Our tithes and worship are sacrifices. (Phil 4:18, Heb 13:15) Likewise, Paul was acting as a priest in relationship to the gospel (Rom 15:16) and we are a priesthood (1Pt 2:5, 9; Rev 1:6, 5:10, 20:6).

Ezekiel’s vision of a temple represents something real through figurative language. I believe the reason Ezekiel spends so much time walking through and measuring the temple is impress us with the majesty of what the temple will be, not to lay out blueprints for it. That kind of writing is the best way he had to demonstrate the grandeur of what God will do when he restores his people. It is like the vision of the dry bones coming to life (37) and the stony heart of his people being replaced with a fleshly one (36:26-27) and washing them with clean water (36:24-25). If we understand Ezekiel’s temple in the context of this section of his writing, it is speaking of the restoration and purification of his people and that is exactly how we see the New Testament speak of the Church.

1 The Ezekiel/Revelation chart modified from The Road to Emmaus
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  • I found this post very interesting, because whether by coincidence or not (I don’t believe there are any coincidences with God), the closing chapters of Ezekiel and the Revelation follow the same chronological sequence of events, provided that the “millennial” kingdom is taken literally:

    Ch. 34-36: Judgment of the seven Gentile nations, restoration of Israel to God, followed by blessing for Israel in the land.

    Revelation 19: 11-21: Judgment of the nations (the seven-headed beast and the false prophet).

    Ch. 36-37: Resurrection of the dead (dry bones living again etc), followed by a prolonged period of peace and prosperity for Israel in the land.

    Rev.20:1-6: Resurrection of those who died in Christ, Satan bound and millennium of peace.

    Ch. 38-39: After prolonged period of peace, a final rebellion when Gog and Magog come against the saints. The final judgment of Gog.

    Rev.20:7-15: After millennium of peace, final rebellion (Gog-Magog). Judgment of Gog. Final “Great White Throne” judgment.

    Ch. 40-48 Detailed dimensions of a new temple, which is called a city in Eze.48: 35:

    “It was round about eighteen thousand measures: and the name of the city from that day shall be, The LORD is there.” (Eze 48:35).

    It has the tree of life flowing on either side of the river of life:

    Eze.47: 12:
    “And all trees for food shall go up by the torrent, on its bank on this side, and on that side. Its leaf shall not fade, nor its fruit fail. It will bear by its months, because its waters come out from the sanctuary. And its fruit shall be for food, and its leaf for healing.”

    Rev 22:2:
    “In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”

    Ezekiel only mentions a Gog-Magog attack following a prolonged period of total peace, safety and prosperity for Israel in the land, he does not mention the Gog-Magog attack on the saints preceding this period of peace.

    And it is only after we read about a thousand years of peace in Revelation chapter 20, that we read of a new heavens, new earth and new Jerusalem – which John sees descending from God out of heaven (Rev.21: 1-10).

    The Hebrew words for “seven” and “sabbath” (“shabat”) are from the same route-word:

    “shaba”, which means “to be complete” (Strong’s H7650).

    The “seventh” (day/year, etc) completes the cycle, and the Bible opens with a cycle of seven and is completed with a book saturated with sevens and cycles of seven.

    The seventh chapter of Genesis is the judgment chapter (the flood). The 8th chapter is a new beginning (the ark resting on Mount Ararat. etc).

    Matthew’s gospel actually has 8 very clear divisions, not only 5. (I’ll email the divisions to you to keep this post shorter). The seventh division of Matthew talks about the betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion of Christ (bearing God’s judgment for the sins of the world). The 8th division talks about a new beginning – His resurrection on the 8th day.

    The judgment of Jericho came at the completion of cycles of seven: the seventh day, the seventh time the Israelites marched around the city, at the sounding of the seventh trumpet.

    In the Revelation, the seventh seal, seventh trumpet and seventh bowl of wrath all speak about “noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake” (symbols of God speaking directly to mankind – Exodus 19:16-19, Rev.4:5), and “hail” (a symbol of judgment) is also spoken of in the seventh trumpet and seventh bowl of wrath.

    I believe it would be inconsistent with the Revelation of God (Genesis to Revelation) if the final “Great White Throne” judgment did not come at the completion of a cycle of seven (thousand years).

    Andre from South Africa.

  • I think the statement, “Since scripture helps us understand scripture, if the New Testament treats this vision as figurative then it is figurative” is way over-simplify of what the author of this article to believe. I doubt, there are chapters in the New Testament, especially chapters 24 and 25, are very explicit and concrete that the author doesn’t bother to think.
    This article is more of representation of personal thought and feeling.

  • Furthermore, new NT used some of the OT language doesn’t mean that all OT must be interpret figuratively. If I apply the language figuratively to the work of Jesus Christ, then, I wonder what would happen to the salvation stated in the New Testament: would it be “ideally believe could be save”? But no assurance?

  • I wonder why interpret the part of Scripture figuratively when you think so, but not part of Scripture, including Paul’s description on salvation. I imagination, it could have to be interpret figuratively.

  • Thank you for your comments Samuel. I’ll offer a few answers.

    You didn’t like my comment “Since scripture helps us understand scripture, if the New Testament treats this vision as figurative then it is figurative.” Fair enough. But notice that I said if the NT treats something as figurative. The NT would seem to me to be the regulative, normative standard on which to interpret scripture.

    You said, “I doubt, there are chapters in the New Testament, especially chapters 24 and 25, are very explicit and concrete that the author doesn’t bother to think.” I’m not sure what you mean here. But if the NT is explicit, then I would read the OT in the manner the NT is being explicit about.

    You said, “This article is more of representation of personal thought and feeling.” Well, this is a blog! :)

    “NT used some of the OT language doesn’t mean that all OT must be interpret figuratively.” I never said we should take the entire OT figuratively. This post only deals with the temple described in Ezekiel’s vision.

    “I wonder why interpret the part of Scripture figuratively when you think so, but not part of Scripture, including Paul’s description on salvation. I imagination, it could have to be interpret figuratively.” It seems you’ve significantly missed the point of this post. Paul’s description of salvation a) isn’t in the OT and b) is to be taken literally because of the genre of literature he writes in.

    Furthermore, I did not say to interpret Scripture figuratively whenever you feel like it. That goes back to my first statement, the one you didn’t like. Maybe you should re-read this post more slowly.

  • None of the temples described in the Old Testament were symbolic either in their preconstruction or actual building. There is absolutely no reason to assume that Ezekiel’s temple is figurative unless you NEED it to be to fit a presupposed theological mindset ( Amillenialism ).This temple will be built because it has already been prophesied, and God doesn’t plan something and then not carry it through to completion. Prophesy is history written in advance. An Amillenial bias will certainly not keep this temple from being built.

  • First off, I’m not amill. Second, you start with the assumption “none of the temples in the OT were symbolic” and then state that therefore Ezekiel’s temple must not be symbolic. That is the logical fallacy of question begging. Third, a dispensational premill bias won’t make this temple be built.

    Finally, there is nothing saying that this temple won’t be built. It is being built as the gospel gathers Jesus sheep who are living stones. Larry, we have to let the New Testament interpret the Old Testament and all of redemptive history. God wrote them all.

  • Thanks for the article on Ezekiels Temple,,a most difficult scripture.. I have only two observations.
    1) when the literal sense of scripture makes sense, seek no other sense.
    2) when we have a difficulty understanding scripture
    because of its difficulty for us. I think of the history of Abraham when he was about 100 years old and God told him that his seed should be as the sand of the sea, Abraham could perhaps have interpreted Gods word as figurative. However we know that the scripture was fulfilled literally. I believe there is a lesson for us here in all scripture difficulties, these things are a trial of our faith in really believing what God says in his word, namely that even though these things are difficult for us, yet because God says He will do it, then we rest our faith there.

  • […] 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 […]

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