Today’s reading: Ezekiel 40-42.
The exiles in Babylon needed encouragement. They had been prisoners there for 25 years. The Babylonians had destroyed their beloved city of Jerusalem and its temple 14 years earlier. Their heart’s desire was to return home, but that seemed like a dream now. A whole new generation of Jews was growing up who had never seen Jerusalem. In this setting the prophet Ezekiel is given another vision of the temple. This time it isn’t the old temple that God’s spirit abandoned and destroyed, but a more majestic future temple. In the vision, Ezekiel follows a man with a measuring line who walks through the giant temple and records every detail.
Then he measured the temple; it was a hundred cubits long, and the temple courtyard and the building with its walls were also a hundred cubits long. The width of the temple courtyard on the east, including the front of the temple, was a hundred cubits. Then he measured the length of the building facing the courtyard at the rear of the temple, including its galleries on each side; it was a hundred cubits. The outer sanctuary, the inner sanctuary and the portico facing the court, as well as the thresholds and the narrow windows and galleries around the three of them–everything beyond and including the threshold was covered with wood. Ezekiel 41:13-16
Some believe that the temple of Ezekiel’s vision is not real but only symbolic. However, the detail of the description, like an architectural plan, argues against this idea. Also, God tells Ezekiel to show the Jewish exiles the plans “so that they may be faithful to its design.”
The most dramatic feature of the future temple is its size – about a mile square including the building and its courtyards with surrounding walls. The old city of Jerusalem was not quite as big in its entirety, and certainly not flat enough to hold the visionary temple. For this reason scholars assume that the new temple will be built in the millennium after Jesus returns and a geological cataclysm reshapes the geography of the Middle East. (see Zechariah 14:4-10).
The most surprising activity of the temple, for Christians who look to Jesus as the final sacrifice who died once for all, is the resumption of sacrificial offerings in this future millennial temple. Levite priests descended from Zadok will administer the temple offerings. Some experts say the offerings are a memorial, looking back to Jesus’ atoning death as our communion service of bread and wine looks back to his death on the cross. Others believe the offerings are necessary to maintain the holiness of the temple.
Ezekiel’s grand temple was in the future but it gave hope to a struggling remnant that they would be restored to their promised land. Christians can look to that future millennial temple and praise God for his faithfulness to his word. His promise-keeping with Israel strengthens our faith that he will keep his promises to believers who are saved by the new covenant of grace.
Temple drawing by Charles Chipiez.