Friday, December 12, 2008

Millennial Temple Worship – Part 1

There is a great division among Bible teachers over the interpretation of Ezekiel chapters 40-48. As Dr. Feinberg points out, "Here amillennialists and premillennilists are poles apart. Moreover, neither camp is homogeneous in interpretation; there are many varieties of opinion within each school of thought." (Charles Feinberg, The Prophecy of Ezekiel, p. 233).

This division is primarily based on a presupposition of what is possible and what is not possible. Is it possible to have a future temple if God is through with the Old Covenant? Is it possible for God to institute sacrifice in a future period? These questions are at the heart of the interpretative war over this section of Scripture and Ezekiel’s temple.

For many Christians even the concept of a future Second Coming of the Messiah is out of the question! For these Christians the millennium is spiritualized and the promises made to Israel have been given to the Church. This set of articles will examine the Millennial Temple of Ezekiel and the worship described for that day. This article will examine the different interpretative ways that have been proposed for Ezekiel chapters 40-48, and expose the problem of pre-conceived doctrine that distorts the Word of God, changing what is plain into something subjective; what is literal into that which is spiritual.

The Interpretative Problem
Dr. Dyer summarizes the problem when he writes, "Three interpretations of chapters 40-43 are held by Bible students: (1) Ezekiel predicted a rebuilding of Solomon’s temple after the Babylonian Captivity. (2) Ezekiel was prophesying about the church in a figurative sense; he did not have a literal temple in mind. (3) A still-future literal temple will be built during the millennial kingdom." (Charles Dyer in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Walvoord & Zuck gen. ed., p. 1303).

The problem addressed here has to do with the interpretative method. The possibility of a future sacrificial system is not allowed for some, so they create an interpretative method that removes the perceived problem. "The figurative or ‘spiritualizing’ interpretative approach does not seem to solve any of the problems of Ezekiel 40-48; rather it tends to create new ones. When the interpreter abandons a normal grammatical-historical hermeneutic because the passage does not seem to make sense and opts for an interpretative procedure by which he can allegorize, symbolize, or ‘spiritualize,’ the interpretations become subjective. Different aspects of a passage mean whatever the interpreter desires." (Ralph Alexander, Ezekiel in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 943).

The Scripture Outlined
Ezekiel was a priest, himself a son of a priest (son of Buzi; 1:3), who was taken captive with Jehoiachin in 597 B.C. As such Ezekiel is said to have been both a priest and a prophet. Though the priestly work was not allowed during their Babylonian captivity, the priests managed to continue their teaching aspect of the office. It is then no mistake that Ezekiel teaches both individual and corporate responsibility for sin before God (Chapters 18 & 23). It was after all the failure of the priests, their past defilement and disobedience that led to their exile in Babylon. Ezekiel reiterates that an individual’s behavior is connected to how one approaches God in worship. Insincere worship leads to immoral behavior and judgment, whereas proper worship leads to moral behavior and blessing.

It is from Ezekiel 34 and Psalms 23 that the good shepherd of John 10 comes from. As such Ezekiel tells the nation that the Messiah Himself will return and teach from a new temple. God gives Ezekiel the vision of bayith Yisra’el ("house of Israel"), measuring every detail of the house. The house is an equivalent term for the temple in this context. Ezekiel details in these chapters the Millennial Temple (chaps. 40-43), millennial worship (chaps. 44-46), and the millennial land division (chapters. 47-48). (Merril Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament, p. 1581). These final chapters are not stand-alone; the whole of the book is presented chronologically. In fact, the temple is prominent in this book. Notice what the great Hebrew scholar Dr. Alexander says:

In order to determine the general time-frame of these chapters, they will be examined in light of the development and flow of Ezekiel’s argument in the entire book. He has shown the presence of God’s glory in the historical Jerusalem temple and its departure from the temple because of Israel’s sin of breaking the Mosaic covenant. The Fall of Jerusalem and the Captivity in Babylon were the consequence (chs. 4-24). After declaring how the nations would also be judged (25:1-33:20), Ezekiel encouraged the Jewish captives through six night messages of hope (33:21-39:29). In these he informed them that the Messiah would restore them to their Promised Land in the future and become a true shepherd to them. They would be cleansed and all their covenants would be fulfilled. Even in the end times, after the land prospers and Israel dwells securely in it, some will try to take the Promised Land away from Israel and profane the Lord’s name; but the Lord will not permit it (chs. 38-39). It would seem logical, therefore, that Ezekiel would conclude the logical and chronological development of his prophecy by describing the messianic kingdom and the return of God’s glory to govern his people (chs. 40-48)…" (Ralph Alexander, Ezekiel in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, pp. 943-944)

As can be seen by this overview, I have used commentators that have taken a literal-grammatical historical approach. A literal Millennial Temple unfortunately is not accepted within the non-futurist camp.

Critical Objections
Gleason Archer’s excellent book A Survey of the Old Testament Introduction reports the following summary:

As recently as the eighth edition of Driver’s ILOT, the genuineness of Ezekiel had been accepted as completely authentic by the majority of rationalist critics. But in 1924 Gustav Hoelscher advanced the thesis that only a small fraction of the book was by the historical sixth-century Ezekiel (i.e., only 143 verses out of 1273) and the rest came from some later author living in Jerusalem and contemporaneous with Nehemiah (440-430 B.C.). In 1930 Professor C.C. Torrey published a discussion of his view that no part of Ezekiel came from the sixth century, or even from the two centuries succeeding. He dated the earliest stratum of the book of Ezekiel at 230 B.C. and deduced that it was written in Jerusalem rather than Babylonia. Not long afterward it was reedited by a redactor who gave it the appearance of having been written in Babylonia by one of the Captivity. It should be mentioned that Torrey did not believe in the historicity of the Chaldean destruction of Judah or the removal of the Jewish population to Babylonia in any sort of national captivity. (Gleason Archer, A Survey of the Old Testament Introduction, pp. 410-412)

Among the many arguments why the critical scholars reject Ezekiel authorship is in fact the perceived problem of the fulfillment of Ezekiel 40-48. Archer explains, "These chapters contain a long and detailed series of predictions of what the future Palestine is to be like, with its city and temple. To an open-minded reader, it is safe to say the predictions of these nine chapters give the appearance of being as literally intended as those contained in the earlier part of the book (e.g., the judgments upon Tyre and Sidon in 26-28, which found literal fulfillment in subsequent history). The question is whether the plans set forth in chapters 40-48 are ever to be realized. If no temple is ever going to be erected in accordance with these specifications, and if there is to be no such holy city as the prophet describes, and if there is to be no such apportionment of the land among the twelve tribes as he indicates, we are faced with a portion of Scripture containing false prophecy." (Gleason Archer, p. 415).

What Dr. Archer is saying is that the only way to avoid such a conclusion, according to some interpreters, is to take all these provisions as intended to be figurative. They say these chapters should be understood as referring to the New Testament church, the spiritual Jerusalem! And so they interpret it that way.

Unger identifies the following three points of view concerning Ezekiel’s millennial temple: "(1) Ezekiel’s prophecy was merely to preserve the memory of Solomon’s Temple and to portray what should have been put into effect upon the return from Babylon. (2) It sets forth the kingdom of God in its final form (C.F. Keil). (3) It is a symbolic description of the Christian church in its earthly glory and blessing (Luther, Calvin, Cappellus, Cocceius, and the majority of modern scholars)." (Merrill Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament, p. 1581).

Numerous problems exist for the interpreter. For example, how would the regulations for blood sacrifice which appear in these chapters fit into the post-Calvary economy of salvation? The criticism is actually levied on the literalist but, as W. Kelly puts it, "Now the prophets, from Isaiah to Malachi, bring to light for the glorious day an earthly temple with sacrifices, priesthood, and rites appropriate to it. No doubt it is not Christianity; but who with such an array of inspired witnesses against him [cf. Is 2:2-3; 56:7; 60:7; Hag. 2:6-7; Zech. 6:12, 15], will dare to say that such a state of things will not be according to the truth, and for the glory of God in that day" (Unger, p. 1582). The temple vision is specific to Israel and concerns the regenerated seed of Abraham by natural birth to which God made certain covenants and promises.

John writes in Revelation 21:22, "But I saw no temple in it [the new heavens and earth], for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple." So, how can there be a millennial temple? The answer is simple, chapter 21 of Revelation begins the "new heaven and new earth" and not the millennial kingdom. The millennial kingdom is Jewish in nature, whereas in the new heaven and earth there will be no temple - all things will be new. Prophecy will have been completely fulfilled.

Types of Temples in Scripture
The Scriptures do speak of temples being other than a literal structure. In fact, the first reference is that of the tabernacle which is called "the temple of the Lord" (1 Sam. 1:9). Then there is the temple which replaced the tabernacle, Solomon’s Temple that was destroyed on the 9th of Av. Next there was Zerubbabel’s Temple, which was rebuilt and expanded by Herod and hence called Herod’s Temple which was also destroyed on the 9th of Av, and finally, pagan temples. In addition, there is the non building usage of the temple; (1) Jesus Christ as a temple (John 2:19-22); (2) Believer bodies are called a temple of God (1 Cor. 6:19); (3) the Church as a temple (1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21-22; Heb. 3:6); and (4) Heaven is called a temple (Rev. 16:17). The temple is the dwelling place of God whether it is in a tent, a house, or a believer.

As can be seen from these references the word refers to the place where God dwells. While the tabernacle had a symbolic meaning in the Mosaic covenant it is more typological than symbolical. "These meanings are recognized in later revelation. Isaiah 7:14, as interpreted by Matthew 1:23, revealed that the name Messiah would be Immanuel, ‘God with us.’ The essential purpose of the tabernacle, therefore, would be realized in the person and work of Jesus. The apostle John captured this truth as he described Jesus’ life with the word skenoo, ‘to tabernacle’ or ‘to pitch a tent’ – ‘And the Word became flesh, and dwelt (tabernacled) among us: (1:14).’" (Mal Couch, gen.ed., Dictionary of Premillennial Theology, p. 402). The word Temple may also be translated sanctuary, a term inclusive of God’s dwelling in all its forms.

The premillennial Dispensationalist also sees two additional literal temples in Scripture, the Tribulation Temple (2 Thes. 2:4; Rev. 11:1-2), and the Millennial Temple (Ezek. 40-48; Hag. 2:6-9). These temples are literal and serve the purpose of sacrifice and worship during these periods.

The Use of Symbolism
Ezekiel uses more symbolism than any other Old Testament prophet. "His figures of speech are not dependent on heathen sources but have their foundation in the sanctuary of Israel and in the concepts of his predecessors, educated as he was under Levitical training." (Wycliffe Bible Dictionary, p. 581). In fact the whole of the book is said to be for the most part in chronological order and are usually replete with chronological and historical data (Eugene Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, p. 482). This historical data cannot and should not be taken allegorically.

Ramm points out that with any symbol there are two elements:

First is the idea which is mental and conceptual, and second the image which represents it. In a given culture these ideas and images are kept close together through the familiarity of constant usage (Bernard Ramm, p. 233). He points out the following guidelines:

"1. Those symbols interpreted by the Scriptures are the foundation for all further studies in symbolism. When the Scripture interprets a symbol then we are on sure ground.... 2. If the symbol is not interpreted we suggest the following: (i) Investigate the context thoroughly. It might be that in what is said before or after, the idea corresponding to the symbol is revealed. (ii) By means of a concordance check other passages which use the same symbol and see if such cross references will give the clue. (iii) Sometimes the nature of the symbol is a clue to its meaning (although the temptation to read the meaning of our culture into these symbols must be resisted). ....(iv) Sometimes comparative studies of Semitic culture reveal the meaning of the symbol....3. Be aware of double imagery in symbols. There is nothing in the symbolism of the Bible which demands that each symbol have one and only one meaning." (Ramm, p. 234).

With this as a guide it is clear that the temple of Ezekiel is clearly a literal temple because elsewhere in Scripture when the temple is measured, the temple is literal. There is no mysterious symbol that needs to be interpreted. There is not another way to interpret the exact dimensions of the wall, the details of the construction in any other way but literal! When the Lord defines exactly what the measurement is, "the cubit is one cubit and a hand-breadth" (Ezek. 43:13), so exact is the physical measuring standard, one has to take it literal. When the Lord tells Ezekiel to write it down so that Israel might keep its "whole design and all its ordinances" for them to "perform them" (43:11), then, this must be literal.

Paul Lee Tan in his book The Interpretation of Prophecy details the following for interpreting symbols, "Many interpreters err in seeing an inordinate amount of symbolism in Bible prophecy. For this reason, the interpreter should be conversant with the various situations under which symbols do not and cannot possibly exist. These situations are as follows: (1). When the ‘symbol’ involves things possible. – The prophetic Scriptures contain many descriptions of the future which are possible or plausible. In such instances, the interpreter should not assign these to the realm of symbolism...(2). When details superfluous to the ‘symbol’ are given. – When a ‘symbol’ is found, the interpreter must test his discovery by asking whether it contains details unnecessary and incidental to the intended symbolism. If so, its symbolism should be denied and its non-symbolical character affirmed. The prophecy of the 144,000 in Revelation 7 contains so many incidental details, such as the genealogies, tribal names, and subdivided memberships of that group, that it cannot possibly be a symbol... (3) When the symbol separates from itself. – When handling symbols, the interpreter must accept no symbol that is found separated or apart from itself. Every symbol must behave as a composite unit and not be seen in action separated or apart from itself." (Paul Lee Tan, The Interpretation of Prophecy (Dallas:Bible Communication, Inc., 1994), p.p. 159-161).

With these common sense guidelines, Dr. Tan says, "Perhaps the best illustration of the rule of the "no superfluous details" is found in Ezekiel’s prophecy of the Millennial Temple (Ezek. 40-48). Non-literal interpreters maintain that this prophecy is a symbol of the Christian Church. However, this major prophecy in the Book of Ezekiel contains descriptions, specifications, and measurements of the millennial temple which are so exhaustive that one may actually make a sketch of it, just as one might of Solomon’s historic temple"( Paul Tan, p. 161).

Ezekiel’s Literal Temple
There are several observations that establish Ezekiel’s temple as literal in space and millennial in time.

Ezekiel’s literal temple is literally anticipated.

The Lord God tells Ezekiel to write down the dimensions so that Israel may observe the prescribed ordinances (43:10). The physical measurements are provided for the altar and its placement is described (43:13-16). The Lord God anticipates the ordinances for the consecrating of the alter to be performed in some future day "when it is made" (43:18). Literal sacrifices will be performed in accordance with the Lord’s command (43:18-27). It appears the temple is primarily for the purpose of the Jews (44:6-9).

Ezekiel’s temple and Israel’s physical blessing prophecy are to be literally completed.
The Lord God describes Jewish temple worship that is uniquely future. The method of service was not practiced by the returning exiles, or in the time of Christ. Yet Ezekiel describes (a) restored Israel (39:27); (b) a holy temple; (c) the Lord’s glory will return to the sanctuary forever (43:7); (d) the temple is the place of His throne and the soles of His feet (43:7); (e) the land divided for each tribe (45:1; 47:13-48:35); (f) a holy city (Jerusalem) (45:6; 48:35); (g) a section of the city for the prince (David) (45:7; 48:21); (h) Israel’s princes will no longer oppress Israel (45:8); (i) honest dealings in offerings restored (45:9-15); (j) the prince shall himself prepare the offerings on appointed days for the house of Israel (45:17); (k) living water flowing out of the temple toward the east (47:1-9); trees which line the river of life will continuously produce fruit (47:12). These point to a future period of time called the Millennium.

Dr. Couch points out, "The difference between dispensational theology and reformed theology is largely reflected in their approaches to interpreting eschatological literature. Dispensational theology consistently applies a literal hermeneutic to the eschatological and non-eschatological books of the Bible. Reformed theology frequently employs the allegorical or spiritualizing method of biblical interpretation when it comes to interpreting prophetic passages of the Bible. For example, with an allegorical interpretation, Israel does not have to mean the nation Israel. It could mean the church.... The Reformed view rejects the idea of there being a physical temple building in Ezekiel 40-48. Instead, they maintain that it refers to the universal church. Allegorizing the text in this way dismisses the common, ordinary meaning of words as they were understood in their historical context" (Mal Couch, gen. ed., An Introduction to Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics, p. 300).

It has been said by the non-literalist that Ezekiel’s Millennial Temple of Ezek. 40-48 is symbolic and should not be interpreted literally. Even quoting Rev. 21:22, in claiming that the future will contain no temple. It has been presented that Revelation 21 starts the "new heavens and new earth" section of Scripture. The millennial [kingdom] temple is detailed by Ezekiel because there really will be a future temple in the Davidic kingdom. One can even go out and build in great detail this millennial temple. The physical dimensions are in such detail that it describes a literal structure. No one should take it any other way except as literal. Ezekiel was a priest before the captivity, and God used him to describe the detailed Jewish worship in the Davidic millennial kingdom. The requirement for a memorial sacrifice is realistic in Scripture and so must be taken as a literal sacrifice. In Scripture, the physical building called the temple is always the temple! Ezekiel details the priestly service of the millennial temple which can be taken only as literal since some of the priestly services violates the Levetical law. In the next article that temple and its service will be examined in detail.