Last time we argued that the finality of Christ’s sacrifice doesn’t rule out future sacrifices pointing to His. Then we argued that when Scripture uses images and symbols it explains them so that the text can still be taken at face value.
Ezekiel explains the images he uses
So how does this bear on our reading of Ezekiel 40-48? When Ezekiel uses symbolic imagery, he also explains what the symbols represent. The vision of the flaming chariot throne in chapter 1 is explained to represent a vision of the glory of Yahweh. The riddle about an eagle and a cedar in chapter 17 is explained in detail. The two harlots in Ezekiel 23 are explained to be Samariah and Jerusalem. The valley of dry bones in chapter 37 is explained to represent the nation of Israel, etc.
But when we get to Ezekiel 40-48, no such interpretation or explanation is given. Ezekiel spends nine chapters describing the temple, the priests, and the sacrificial system in great detail. And yet as far as I can see there is no hint in the text itself that it is not to be understood at face value. So how could the original readers come to any conclusion other than that God was promising to one day dwell with His people in a restored and renewed temple?
And if the original readers could only have understood God to be promising that one day He would rebuild the temple, is God’s faithfulness on the line to keep His promise? Ultimately, that is why I think this issue is worth discussing. Debating the intricacies of how or when future events will happen has little value for us to speculate on. But discussing and more accurately understanding what God has promised and how He will keep those promises gives us greater assurance in His faithfulness.
Haggai and Zechariah encourage the people with a future temple
In Haggai 2:6-7 God says,
“”For thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. ‘I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord of hosts.”
The people in Haggai’s day were discouraged because the temple that they were building didn’t seem significant. But God reassured them that the very temple they were building would one day be filled with glory. The very rocks that they laid down in restoring that temple are still in the temple mount today. And one day they will be incorporated into God’s future temple. How encouraging this would have been to them to know that their work had actual significance. But if there isn’t going to be a future temple, how does this encouragement from God have any bearing on their work? God’s logic here was: “Keep working on this temple for one day your work will be incorporated into God’s glorious future temple.”
Likewise, God says in Zechariah 6:12-13,
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the Lord. “Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the Lord, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.”‘
Just like in Haggai, here we see God giving the people encouragement that God’s plan would be brought to fulfillment. He will bring in His kingdom. That kingdom will be marked by perfect peace and justice as evidenced by the fact that the Messiah will be a priest-king. He will be perfectly righteous in His perfect sovereignty. And He is the one who will build God’s temple. I don’t see how the original hearers of Zechariah could have separated the face-value promise of the coming of the king priest from what He was coming to do, to build God’s glorious temple. And the text then assures the readers that when this prophecy comes true, they will know that Yahweh sent the Messiah as a vindication of His promise (6:15).
So the very logic that Haggai and Zechariah use to encourage the people depend upon taking the promise of the future temple at face value. I argue that the people in their day could only have understood these texts as a promise of a future temple and so we should take the promises in the same way.
New Jerusalem fulfills the concept of temple
I fully agree with Preston that the final fulfillment of the concept of temple is in the New Jerusalem. This is when God in His fullness, like never before, will dwell with His people. This is the final hope to which the temple ultimately points. In fact, Revelation 21 presents this final phase in God’s plan as new and absolutely unique: “Behold the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them.” And “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” But I believe John is contrasting the uniqueness of this final temple-less phase with what came before. Put another way, John shows us the physical temple in 11:1-2 that he specifically emphasizes is done away with in chapter 21, and so the most natural reading keeps it present in Christ’s reign in 20:1-6.
It is true that there are a lot of issues more important than whether or not there will be a physical temple in God’s future kingdom! But it is still good for us to wrestle so that we can more clearly understand God’s unchanging Word.