Ezekiel’s Temple Vision – The Non-literal or Spiritual View



The Book of Ezekiel

Chapters 40 through 48

NASB

Vision of the Man with a Measuring Rod

40 In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was taken, on that same day the hand of the Lord was upon me and He brought me there. 2 In the visions of God He brought me into the land of Israel and set me on a very high mountain, and on it to the south there was a structure like a city. 3 So He brought me there; and behold, there was a man whose appearance was like the appearance of bronze, with a line of flax and a measuring rod in his hand; and he was standing in the gateway. 4 The man said to me, “Son of man, see with your eyes, hear with your ears, and give attention to all that I am going to show you; for you have been brought here in order to show it to you. Declare to the house of Israel all that you see. . .”


 

Introduction

This post isn’t meant to cause dissension. It’s the result of questions I’ve had during discussions with bloggers I respect. They and other devout Christians believe in the literal fulfillment of Ezekiel’s vision during a literal Millennium. But, is the literal approach the best way to understand this vision? I’ve studied the literal approach to Ezekiel’s Temple in the respected Bible teachers Charles C. Ryrie and John F. Walvoord but have come to believe that a spiritual or symbolical approach is needed. I’m not baiting anyone and will welcome your comments without arguing with you. There are a few links within this post leading to articles and a book that present the literal view. Also, please note that this discussion isn’t about ongoing efforts in Jerusalem to build a Third Temple, by The Temple Institute, or how that might fit into future prophetic fulfilment.

A non-literal approach to this Old Testament prophecy and others doesn’t mean that I deny the future redemption of the Jewish people. May that never be! Please be assured that I believe the Bible clearly teaches that someday, maybe quite soon, the Jewish people will love and worship the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, and that their newfound faith will indeed be “life from the dead.” 

For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?  Romans 11:15

So then, returning to Ezekiel’s Temple – what is it? Is it a physical structure in which actual animal sacrifices will be offered someday? Here are several fairly brief treatments of this subject from a non-literal viewpoint.

File:Visionary Ezekiel Temple.jpg

The Visionary Ezekiel Temple plan drawn by the 19th century French architect and Bible scholar Charles Chipiez.


Halley’s Bible Handbook, 1965

“God was to ‘dwell in this temple forever’ (43:7). This language can scarcely be predicated of a literal material Temple. It must be a figurative representation of something; for Jesus, in John 4:21-24, abrogated Temple worship; and in Heaven there will be no Temple (Revelation 21:22).”

John 4:21-24  

21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Revelation 21:22

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.


Eschatology Q & A — What About Ezekiel’s Vision of the Temple (Ezekiel 40-48)?

Kim Riddlebarger

“. . . Revelation 21 presents Ezekiel’s vision in its consummated fulfillment.  In other words, John is given a vision of the same temple, but now from the vantage point of Christ’s death and resurrection and the dawn of the new creation – something which would have made no sense whatsoever to Ezekiel or his hearers.  As Beale points out (pp. 346-345)*, the new heavens and earth are now the holy of holies, as well as the new Jerusalem, and the new Eden.  On the last day, all creation becomes the temple of God.  The temple has been expanded (extended) from a building, to a city, to all of creation.

“This means that Ezekiel’s vision is a prophecy not of an earthly temple (although the prophet uses earthly language his readers could understand), but of an eschatological temple, depicted in its consummated form and unspeakable glory by John in Revelation 21-22.”

*G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (New Studies in Biblical Theology)

Jesus, the True Temple

Kim Riddlebarger

“When Jesus declared of himself, ‘I tell you, something greater than the temple is here,’ (Matthew 12:6) and when he told a Samaritan woman that he can give her ‘living water’ (John 4:10-14), we are given a major clue that the authors of the New Testament have reinterpreted the pre-messianic understanding of God’s temple in the light of the coming of Jesus, Israel’s Messiah.”


Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible

Ezekiel 40

“. . . Now if we were to expect to find in the vision directions for the reenactment of the temple-ritual, this would be quite unaccountable. But if we view these selected rites in relation to the temple-building, and give to that building its true symbolic character, all is found to be just and harmonious. The vision is intended to depict the perpetual worship of the God of heaven in the Kingdom of Christ. To the mind of an Israelite the proper figure to represent this would be the temple and its services, with people, priest, and prince, each doing their fitting part. The most appropriate services to exhibit this worship would be those of continual recurrence, in which day by day, week by week, month by month, prayer and praise ascended to the throne of heaven; namely, the Morning Sacrifice, the Sabbath and the New moon festival. Here we have the Israelite symbol of perpetual public adoration.

“This will also account for the absence of all mention of the high priest and his office. In the old dispensation the chief function of the high priest was the performance of the great Act, which typified the atonement worked by the sacrifice and death of Christ for the sins of the world. This atonement was effected once for all upon the Cross, and in the new dispensation Christ appears in the midst of His people as their Prince and Head, leading and presenting their prayers and praises day by day to His Father in heaven . . .”


Does Ezekiel describe a literal temple?

Doug Cox

Doug has gone home to be with the Lord, but his WordPress blog is still available.

“What was the reason for Ezekiel’s attention to detail? Perhaps it was intended to show, not that a literal temple was in view, but that everything in the spiritual temple is to be ‘measured,’ and compared against the standard of God’s word. Ezekiel gave the dimensions of the various parts of the temple in order to show that the temple of God, the church, is designed, and prepared, according to God’s purpose; it is well suited for its purpose, in every age. Nothing in it is out of proportion. Everything has its proper place. This spiritual meaning can be appreciated only if one’s mind has been freed from the chains and shackles of literalism. How could Whitcomb*, along with other dispensationalists, who view the temple of Ezekiel’s prophecy as a literal one, have missed noticing how frequently Ezekiel mentioned the word ‘measured,’ and words related to it? That the temple of God, which is the church, and everything in it will be ‘measured,’ is the key concept in Ezekiel’s prophecy. By a very simple interpretation, it means the saints, and their beliefs, and their works, will be compared against God’s word, which is the standard represented by the ‘reed,’ and the ‘line,’ and by which we will all stand or fall. To be opposed to God’s word is to be found ‘naked.’ That is, unclothed with the spiritual clothing that is provided for us by Christ.”

*John C. Whitcomb, The Millennial Temple of Ezekiel 40-48 (An Exercise in Literal Interpretation)

Why did Ezekiel describe a temple?

Doug Cox

“A temple is where people offer sacrifices to God. Some wonder why Ezekiel described an altar, and sacrifices, if his temple has to do with the Christian church, as those things have passed away; but in Hebrews we read, ‘We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.’ [Hebrews 13:10]

“In the New Testament, the saints are described as a temple. [Ephesians 2:20-22] They offer spiritual sacrifices. The sacrifices offered in Ezekiel’s temple must be types and figures of these spiritual offerings. Peter said, ‘Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.’ [1 Peter 2:5]

“Some claim that in the millennium, animal sacrifices will be resumed, but that contradicts scriptures such as Isaiah 65:25, ‘The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD.’ How can animal sacrifices be offered, if nothing may be hurt there?

“Peter said the saints are ‘a royal priesthood,’ who ‘shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.’ [1 Peter 2:9]

“John said the saints who overcome will be made pillars in the temple. [Revelation 3:12] In his vision of the New Jerusalem, John saw no temple, but said ‘the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.’ [Revelation 21:22]. . .

“The spiritual temple, located in the promised land, is not an earthly, literal one. The land where it is located represents the ‘better country’ in Hebrews 11:16, ‘But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.’ It is the ‘place’ Jesus said he would prepare for his saints:

John 14:1-3

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.


Top 5 Commentaries on the Book of Ezekiel, Keith Mathison, Ligonier Ministries

Helpful Definitions

Theopedia

Amillennialism

Amillennialism teaches that the thousand year reign of Christ mentioned in Revelation 20:1-6 is symbolic of the current church age, rather than a literal future 1000 year reign. It contends that the period described in Revelation 20 was inaugurated (i.e. began) at Christ’s resurrection and will continue until His Second Coming. Amillennialism holds that while Christ’s reign during the millennium is spiritual in nature, at the end of the church age Christ will return in final judgment and establish a permanent physical reign. Also taught by amillennialism is that the binding of Satan in Revelation 20:1-3 has already occurred, and means that “he might not deceive the nations any longer” (Revelation 20:3) by preventing the spread of the gospel.

Anthony Hoekema, Amillennialism

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The Analogy of Faith and Biblical Theology

The analogy of faith is a Reformation principle for the interpretation of Scripture, which can be expressed as “Scripture interprets Scripture”. The fundamental principle of biblical theology is that of progressive revelation, which states that God reveals Himself in increasing measure throughout history, and that His revelation climaxes in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.

As a result of these principles, we expect the New Testament to interpret to the Old, all the while showing us God, in Christ, more clearly.


Gateways of Ezekiel's Visionary Temple, as described in the Book of Ezekiel, chapters 40-42, drawn as literally as possible by he dutch architect Bartelmeüs Reinders (1893-1979)

Gateways of Ezekiel’s Visionary Temple, as described in the Book of Ezekiel, chapters 40-42, drawn as literally as possible by he dutch architect Bartelmeüs Reinders (1893-1979)


 

31 thoughts on “Ezekiel’s Temple Vision – The Non-literal or Spiritual View

  1. Thanks, Maria. Very interesting. You obviously put a lot of effort into this. Eschatology’s not my forte so I’m somewhat neutral regarding the different views, but, like you, I believe firmly that the Lord is not done with Israel.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Tom, I”m with you. Certainly thought-provoking and discussion-worthy. However, I’ve not put a lot of time or study into end-times or what God has in store for us in eternity. (I’m satisfied to trust Him with whatever happens.) I do believe, however, that study of God’s Word, in any book or chapter, is crucial.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This is still the literal view (reading) as it is speaking of the eternal Temple. I tend to read all of the Scriptures literally and where it is symbolic, it is literally read as symbolic. Scripture always gives the meaning of the symbolic even though one may have to search for its interpretation. The Living Word is that we gain insight more and more as we let Scriptures answer for Scriptures and do as our Lord told us about watching the times we live in. History is His story. The Word of God spells it out for us though we don’t see it clearly now.

    God bless you, Maria! \o/
    (When we talked I thought you were talking about the end times 3rd Temple. We can see this Temple is not at all that one)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I need to clarify that literal means the flow of reading passages as they are intended to read. Literalstic reading makes Jesus an actual door where literally He is the way to eternal life, that no one enters the Kingdom except through Him. This was explained to me years ago by an English teacher who is also a Bible student and teacher. But the definitions are rather indistinct in online dictionaries.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Sherry, I’m grateful you offered your insights about how to approach Scripture! Your comment made me think of what was said about the sons of Issachar:

      1 Chronicles 12:32 Of the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do, their chiefs were two hundred; and all their kinsmen were at their command.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you for sharing this view, Maria. I think Christians should be willing to hear out all eschatological views and that we shouldn’t quarrel with those whom we disagree with. If we have differences here, they should be discussed peacefully or not at all. There is nothing wrong with disagreement. To argue about non-essentials is as bad (probably worse) as those who think that evolution should be the only “theory” taught in our schools. Now, if we could all just agree on the essentials. 🙂 Christians should be wiling to hear out all views on non-essentials. We will know soon enough which way God intends to work out His second coming.
    Thank you for sharing this view. It is interesting to me that you used Halley’s Handbook as one of your sources. It is a source that I usually always check myself. Also, though I tend to lean against the eschatological views of R.C. Sproul, I greatly admire the solid foundation upon which his theology rested. I highly respect him just as you have noted that this post “It’s the result of questions I’ve had during discussions with bloggers I respect.”
    I don’t think Christians should shy away from differences in “end times” views. Dr. Sproul got along famously with many like-minded Christian leaders who disagreed with him in this area and it was always a treat to see them feel free to kid each other about their differences. His example is a good one to follow.
    God’s blessings…

    Liked by 3 people

    • Chris, I just found your two comments in the spam folder. Retrieved them! That’s kind of scary!

      You offered lots of wisdom about how we should deal with this issue and other nonessentials on which we disagree. Plus you wrote something that we have to keep in mind, “We will know soon enough which way God intends to work out His second coming.” This is a blessed truth.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Maria, I agree we should not debate as such. We who look for truth are looking because we do not know for sure which among all the voices is the actual true voice. We know that God’s word is true and that it requires much study. It was never meant to be easy believism. So, concerning this temple issue, as I see it these are the overall considerations all of which require a stand as to what it is the Bible is teaching. This question you pose is affected by other truths and where we land on each is going to determine our journey. They are:
    1. What did Jesus mean by the age to come? Was it a church age? Was it the Millennium? Was it Eternity? Are there other ages to come? I believe that there are other ages beyond the millennium taught as part of eternity.
    2. If one determines that the age to come is the millennium with eternity to follow, as practically all of us have — not enough room to explain all positions here, then we must determine pre, a; post.
    The “a” is what you have presented, with possibly some post mixed in. I believe in progressive revelation as you present here; where scripture interprets scripture perhaps in a sense we all do? But how do we reconcile the lamb laying with the lion in any of the millennial settings? Consider If “a” is right then today is the millennium? If post is right I doubt that the millennium will ever come, just kidding. But if this is God’s rule? — even Jesus prayer for the unity of the body on these matters looks to be fast losing traction rather than gaining.
    As I see it only a yet future earthly reign of Messiah totally devoid of any and all human involvement in that reign can even come close to what the Bible describes. Yet we are to reign with Him and reign over His creation. I take that to mean this present creation which apparently most do; otherwise they wouldn’t be trying to make this the Millennium. We as His body Jew and Gentile who are no more Jew and Gentile but revealed sons of God at that time, and immortal reigning over that which is mortal man. There will be no more question who is in charge. Now in a perfect setting such as this, with a true theocratic rule, for some reason God wants imperfect mortal men present. I believe it to be in order to fulfill his progressive covenants and promises that were started with Abraham; That were continued with Israel; and to which we saved Gentiles were added when we lost our Gentile identity in Christ. Everyone who then is ruled by the immortal must be mortal subject to death as seems to be depicted in Old Testament verses where the child dies at one hundred years etc. why then would God want to reintroduce a temple and sacrifice? I don’t know and maybe He won’t, but Zachariah 14 certainly implies that He probably will.
    But we can also ask why did God not destroy the Temple at the time of Christ’s death? He rent the curtain in the Temple, certainly He could have easily destroyed the Temple then. He did not; sacrifice continued. If the A-millennial position is correct sacrifice should have ended. I believe that we won’t know this side of His return at the seventh Trumpet. I am satisfied to leave it at that. I don’t have to know everything. I want to, but I don’t have to.
    I’m going to reblog your post, hopefully that’s ok?

    Liked by 1 person

      • Maria, I really don’t want to rebut what you’ve posted here. You are putting forth a possible solution to the conundrum presented and this one may be correct. I will only put forth what I said here for further consideration, but only if you are agreeable. Sometimes I wish God would just flat out tell us what it is He intends for us to know, but perhaps how we deal with our differences is in some way very important to Him as well?

        Liked by 2 people

        • Jerry, I’m agreeable to this. Iron does sharpen iron!

          How we deal with each other is important to the Lord and helps us to learn and grow and reach maturity together.

          Ephesians 4
          11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Maria.
    I left a comment here, I thought. I don’t remember all that I wrote so would you mind checking your spam folder for it? I’ll have another go if there is nothing there but it was put the way I wanted it. I even did it from my Reader which always seems to work.
    Thank you. :}

    Liked by 1 person

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