The Visions and Oracles of the Prophet Ezekiel (31)
Biblical Research Monthly, January 1947 thru September 1950 — by Dr. David L. Cooper
- Some Preliminary Observations
- The Call and Commission of Ezekiel
- The Beginnings of Ezekiel's Ministry
- The Final Collapse of Judah Under the Babylonian Siege
- Jehovah's Withdrawal from the City and it's Downfall
- The Flight and Capture of the King Symbolically Represented and Warning Against a Wrong Attitude Concerning Prophecy
- Prophecy and Idolatry
- Israel, the Burnt Vine and the Unfaithful Wife
- The Riddle of the Two Great Eagles and the Messianic Reign of Christ
- God's Reply to the Proverb, “The Fathers have Eaten Sour Grapes, and the Children's Teeth are Set on Edge”
- The Young Lions and the Rods of Judah
- Israel's Past and Future Experiences
- The Sword of Jehovah
- Sinful Jerusalem and Her Punishment
- The Lewdness of Oholah and Oholibah
- The Boiling Caldron
- Oracles Concerning Ammon, Moab, Edom, and Philistia
- The Oracle Concerning Tyre
- The Oracles Concerning Egypt
- The Watchman on the Wall (Chapter 33)
- The Untrue Shepherds of Israel
- The Flock of Jehovah and its Shepherd
- The Judgment upon Edom
- The Curse Removed from the Land of Israel
- Israel's Restoration to the Land of the Fathers and Her Conversion
- The Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones
- The Scattered Nation of Israel Reunited under King Messiah
- The Overthrow of the Russian Forces that Invade Palestine (Chapter 38)
- The Overthrow of the Antichrist's Forces Invade Palestine (Chapter 39)
- The Millennial Jerusalem
- The Millennial Temple
- The Prince and the Glorified Millennial Temple
- The Land of Israel in the Millennium
The Millennial Temple
In last month's study we learned something about the changes that will take place in the land of Israel yet in the future. The reason for this position is that the predictions concerning such mighty changes as are recorded in the Scriptures have never been fulfilled. Since the Word of God is to be taken literally if at all possible, and since these mighty changes have never taken place, we are to conclude that they will yet, in due course of time, be literally fulfilled exactly as foretold.
We saw that the land of Israel will be divided into twelve equal parts, seven of these being north of the high mountain, which is termed “the oblation,” and five of them south of it. This oblation, or mountain, is described — in terms of English measurements — as being fifty miles from north to south and fifty from east to west. Its summit will be divided into three sections, the dividing lines running from east to west. Thus the northern section will be a plot of land fifty miles from east to west and twenty miles from north to south. In the center of this plot, covering one square mile, will be the great Temple of Jehovah. The second section of this high mountain plateau will be of the same dimensions as the northern one, but will lie immediately south of it. There will remain only the southern section, which will be fifty miles from east to west and ten miles from north to south. The city of Jerusalem with its suburbs will be located in the center of this southernmost part. It will cover one hundred square miles.
By a careful study of the Book of Hebrews we learn that the Tabernacle was a replica, miniature model, of eternal realities, the Temple of God which is in heaven and of which we hear various prophets and psalmists speaking — as well as John, in the Book of Revelation.
The holy place in the Tabernacle, as well as the most holy place, typified the two sections of this eternal Sanctuary in the heavens of the heavens. The most holy place typified the place where God is, and which is called in our modern phraseology, the very presence of God. Connected with the most holy place was the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched, and not man (Hebrews 8:2.) The holy place of this eternal temple is the place where angels worship and where the saved, the redeemed from the earth, congregate and likewise worship. As to whether or not they remain all the time in this first tabernacle is a question that is not settled in the Scriptures.
Moses was given a vision of the eternal temple in heaven when he was on Mt. Sinai with God. He was warned to build the Tabernacle exactly as was shown him in the Mount, because it was to be a duplicate or replica of those eternal verities and realities in the heavens. The instructions concerning the building of this Tabernacle and of its furniture are found in Exodus, chapters 25-40.
The Tabernacle, when it was set up, was filled with the glory of the Lord and the symbol of His presence, the Shekinah of glory, which rested upon the mercy seat. Israel, in the person of the regular priest, went into this holy place to worship — before the second veil. Only on the Day of Atonement did the high priest pass through the first tabernacle as he went into the most holy place and there made the atonement for Israel. Thus the earthly Tabernacle was the center of all the worship which was authorized by the Lord for Israel during the giving of the law at Mount Sinai until King Solomon erected the Temple, which became the permanent structure in which God resided in the person of the Shekinah of glory.
King David, the founder of the dynasty which bears his name, was a man of war, who subdued his rebellious subjects and established a regime of peace and prosperity. He likewise conquered his foes that dwelt round about the land of Israel. Before his death he purposed to build a house, a temple, to the Lord. But since he was a man of blood, the Lord would not permit his erecting this sacred, holy structure. Nevertheless, he gathered and collected various materials for the erection of this national shrine. All of this he bequeathed to his son Solomon, who came to the throne upon David's death, and who actually built the Temple. He began it in the fourth year of his reign and completed it in seven. Details concerning the building of this sacred shrine and of its dedication are found in I Kings, chapters 6-8, and the parallel passages in the Book of II Chronicles. In round numbers, it stood for four hundred years and was finally destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, when he overran the little state of Judah, destroyed all the elements of Jewish civilization, and took the flower of the people into Babylonian captivity, where they remained for seventy years — just as the prophet Jeremiah had foretold.
Obviously it is clear that the temple which Ezekiel saw was not Solomon's, for the prophet had his vision after the destruction of Solomon's Temple.
According to promise, when the seventy years of Babylonian captivity had run their course, God raised up Zerubbabel, a prince of the house of David, who led back the exiles desiring to return to the land of their fathers. Under Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest, and a little later under Ezra the Scribe, and still later under Nehemiah, practically fifty thousand exiles returned to the land to start life anew under the most unfavorable circumstances. In the second year of their return an earnest attempt was made to begin the reconstruction of the Temple, but on account of interference from the foreign element of the population that had been imported into the land by the Assyrian king, this work was stopped and was not resumed until fifteen years later, when the old prophet Haggai and the young prophet Zechariah, moved by the Spirit of God, stirred up a spirit of loyalty and devotion to God. Then Zerubbabel and Joshua led the nation in the rebuilding of the Temple, which Temple was very much smaller than was that of Solomon. It was so very far inferior to the former Temple that those Jews who had seen the Temple of Solomon wept because of the insignificance of that which was being built by the returned exiles. This structure was called “the second temple.” There is no evidence that the Shekinah of glory, that departed from Solomon's Temple, ever returned to it. In fact, Jewish tradition and legend affirm that it never did return. This Temple remained intact from the time of its erection to the days of Herod the Great who tore it down, piecemeal, and erected it upon a much more magnificent scale. This is the structure that was standing during our Lord's ministry. Finally, in A.D. 70, it was destroyed when Titus took Jerusalem, destroyed the Jewish Commonwealth and sent the survivors into captivity.
It is quite evident that the temple which Ezekiel described so very minutely could not be this one which Zerubbabel erected, and which Herod the Great enlarged and beautified.
There is a class of interpreters and commentators who experience difficulty in attempting to interpret this temple described by Ezekiel in chapters 40-44 as being a literal structure. To them there arise many grave and insurmountable difficulties. For instance, there are those who call attention to the fact that this central mountain will be fifty miles from east to west; and east of this mountain, as well as west of it, there will be a portion of land that will belong to the prince of that day and time.
To this group of commentators it is impossible for this mountain to be located between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Moreover, the terrain of this part of the country is mountainous, especially the central part. Jerusalem is over 2,700 feet in altitude, whereas the Plain of Sharon is a little above sea level. The Jordan Valley is 1,390 feet below sea level. To these expositors such facts render the literal interpretation of this prophecy as being untenable. But they forget that certain predictions foretell the change of the entire topography of the land of Israel during the great millennial reign of our Lord. For instance, Balaam, in his third prophecy (Num. 24:1-9), was granted a vision of the land of Israel under King Messiah. Thus he spoke of it as a level valley and as the garden of Jehovah with its pristine vegetation. Moreover, there are predictions that God will establish the mountain of Jehovah upon the hills and that it shall be exalted above all surrounding mountains. From this line of prophecy we see that there will be great topographical changes that will take place in the land of Israel. In view of these prophecies no one should have any difficulty, from the topographical standpoint, in interpreting Ezekiel's prophecy as one of the literal city of Jerusalem and the temple.
Another reason leads this same group of commentators to refuse the literal interpretation of this passage. They see that, in predictions concerning the future, the temple is spoken of as being in Zion; that is, in Jerusalem. But in Ezekiel's prophecy the temple enclosure will be very large, covering one square mile. This will be in the northern section of this mountain of Jehovah. To be accurate, it will be exactly thirty miles north of the north wall of the city of Jerusalem, which will, as we have already seen, be in the southern section of this mountain. Since this temple, then, is not located within the walls of the city as it is here described, these commentators reject the literal interpretation of the same. They are therefore led to understand Ezekiel's prophecy as symbolic.
At first this objection seems to be quite formidable. But upon further investigation the discrepancy vanishes. While there is a city to be located in the southern section of this mountaintop, the entire mountain is called “the mountain of Jehovah.” The whole area may be thought of as Jerusalem, since it will be holy and devoted entirely to the Lord. The whole thing will be called “the mountain of Jehovah,” or “the hill of the Lord.” The mountain of Jehovah's house was, in historic times, within the walls of Jerusalem. Thus it becomes quite easy for us to think of the entire top of this mountain as being Jerusalem, or Mount Zion. From this viewpoint, then, the temple will be in this great future city of Jerusalem.
Those thus rejecting the literal interpretation for the reasons discussed above, and for several others, conclude that this is a prophecy that must be understood symbolically. What therefore is symbolized, according to them, by this mountain or oblation and the temple described? Instantly they arrive at the conclusion that it can be none other than the spiritual kingdom of God, which came into existence on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of our Lord. This spiritual kingdom is known in the New Testament as the church of the Living God, or the kingdom of God.
If we follow the golden rule of interpretation, [When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.] which has proved to be practically an infallible guide in our interpretation of the Scriptures, we cannot adopt this symbolic meaning.
One is never justified in departing from the literal meaning of a passage unless there is positive warrant in the context itself, or unless authority is shown from a parallel passage. In this case such negative evidence is lacking. We are therefore bound to reject the symbolic meaning that is attached to this prophecy.
According to prophecy the Jews will rebuild their temple in the end of this age. Read Isaiah 66:1-6. Our Lord assumed that it will be standing during the Tribulation (Matthew 24:15 ff). Paul likewise assumed its existence at this future time (II Thessalonians 2:1-4). The Apostle John also spoke of it as standing in the middle of the Tribulation (Revelation 11:1-14).
Can this be the temple which Ezekiel saw and described? No; for the temple which the Jews will build will be destroyed in the Tribulation (Psalm 74:1-11). But the temple foretold by Ezekiel is seen standing after the great topographical changes have been made that occur when our Lord returns at the close of the Tribulation.
Zechariah, the prophet of the post-Exilic Period, foretold the great and glorious millennial temple which our Lord will build when He returns to earth. The occasion of his prediction, which throws light upon its message, was this: Certain men had returned from Babylon with gold and silver to be deposited as trophies or offerings in the Temple, Zerubbabel's Temple. Zechariah took this silver and gold, made a crown, and set it upon the head of Joshua at which time he held a public ceremony. Joshua the high priest stood there in the garments of holiness with this crown or crowns upon his head. Then the prophet pointed to him and uttered this marvelous prediction:
Thus speaketh Jehovah of hosts, saying, Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: and he shall grow up out of his place; and he shall build the temple of Jehovah; 13 even he shall build the temple of Jehovah; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne; and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” (Zechariah 6:12,13)
Though the prophet pointed to Joshua and called upon his audience to look and behold “the man whose name is the Branch” — a purely messianic designation — it is clear that he did not mean that Joshua was the Messiah. A study of the various “Branch” passages shows that the Messiah is meant by such a designation. Moreover, Joshua was either in middle life or in old age and was high priest of the nation when this prediction was made. In uttering this prophecy, Zechariah declared that the man “whose name is the Branch ... shall grow up out of his place.” His coming is in the future, declared the prophet. Thus it was obvious to his auditors that the prediction pertained to the coming of the Branch, the Messiah, yet in the future. The prophecy, moreover, declared that the Messiah would be born in the place as indicated by another prophet, namely, in Bethlehem of Judea (Micah 5:2).
The Messiah, when He returns in glory and power, will build the temple of Jehovah. He will build it, not with His literal hands, but with His creative power and activity. He will then “bear the glory” of it; that is, all praise, honor, and glory connected with its construction, or rather, its creation, will be attributed to Him. Moreover, He will sit and rule upon His throne — being both Priest and King, after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110). In view of this and other predictions concerning the erection by Jehovah of the future temple, it is quite evident that there will be a literal temple built, as Ezekiel affirms, on the summit of this great mountain of Jehovah. It will be the house of prayer for all the nations. To it all nations will go in a constant stream throughout the great Millennial Age, will worship Jehovah of hosts, and will listen to the Messiah, the God of Jacob, as He expounds the law of Jehovah that will govern the nations during the Millennium and the Word of the Lord, the gospel message of redemption.
It is impossible to call attention to the description, plans, and specifications for this glorious house of Jehovah. In fact it is not necessary. Those however who wish to pursue a more minute study of the structure of this building should consult a good Bible encyclopedia.
It is enough for us to note the fact that this shrine is the replica of the eternal Tabernacle in the heavens, the abode of the Almighty and the place of worship of His creatures.
To attempt to see a typical significance for every part of either the Tabernacle in the wilderness or of the temple in Jerusalem is to go beyond the bounds of all reason and to read into the Word of God our own ideas. I shall, recognizing this principle, call attention only to an outstanding point that is brought out by the prophet.
In Ezekiel 43:1-5 appears a prediction concerning Jehovah's entering in at the east gate of the temple. He is spoken of as “the glory of the God of Israel” and at the same time reference is made to His voice which “was like the sound of many waters.” By His coming “the earth shined with his glory.” Thus His glory will fill this house of Jehovah, the house of prayer for all nations. This prediction will be fulfilled when the Lord has returned to the earth and has conquered all His foes. He will perform the topographical and geographical changes that are foretold in the Scriptures and will build, that is, create, this house of Jehovah.
Since He enters this great temple by the east gate, it shall be shut so that no one can go through it — simply because the Lord himself enters through it (Ezekiel 44:1-3).*
Isaiah's Vision of the Millennial Temple
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. 3 And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy is Jehovah of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. 4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for, mine eyes have seen the King Jehovah of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:1-5)
This temple is clearly one that is in existence when the entire earth is full of the glory of God. It will only be thus filled with His glory after the Lord Jesus Christ returns to earth and fills this most imposing and most important of all structures that ever graces this earth.
From the facts that may be gathered from the contexts of all the passages referring to this temple in the future, it is clear that they all refer to the literal temple that will be built by our Lord, and that will stand during His reign of righteousness for one thousand years.
* Some expositors of the Word, ignoring the facts of the context, have applied this passage to the Golden Gate in the present east wall of the city of Jerusalem, which was walled up by the Turks because of a legend or tradition concerning a conqueror's entering the city through it. Such exegesis is unscientific for it ignores every principle of interpretation.