Friday, December 4, 2009

Future Temple and Future Kingdom

In a previous post, I argued that the most natural reading of Ezekiel 40-48 is that this passage prophesies a future literal temple. Blomberg states, “The biggest obstacle to rejecting a literal “third” temple is the exquisitely and seemingly superfluous detail of Ezek 40-48 if all this is fulfilled fully in the new-Jerusalem community of the redeemed in the new heavens and earth.” The OT prophets as a whole have a consistent view of the eschatological future, in which they anticipate that: 1) Israel would return from its exile and dispersion; 2) an ideal Davidic king would rise to power; 3) Jerusalem and its temple would be rebuilt as a center of worship; and 4) the nations would come to Jerusalem in submission to Israel’s God. Revelation 20 affirms an intermediate kingdom between the second coming of Revelation 19 and the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21-22, but this passage and the NT as a whole offers very little description of this future kingdom. The OT prophets are our best source of information for the detailed specifics concerning this kingdom, and Ezekiel’s future temple is one of those significant details.

The NT in places confirms the Israel-focused, earthly kingdom promised by the OT prophets. Paul asserts that there will be a future restoration of national/ethnic Israel in connection with the second coming (Rom 11:25-27) and bases this promise on the unchanging nature of the Lord’s covenant promises to Israel (cf. Rom 9:3-5; 11:28-29). Paul believes that the eschatological promises of the prophets remain intact and retain their eschatological meaning. Jesus envisions Jerusalem being trampled until the times of the Gentiles reach their conclusion (Luke 21:24) and promises his disciples that they will share in the future eschatological banquet and join with the twelve tribes of Israel in administering his kingdom rule (Luke 22:30). When the disciples ask Jesus prior to his ascension if he is about to restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6-7), Jesus does not deny a future kingdom for Israel but simply states that it is not for the disciples to know the timing of the restoration. The roots for “time” (chronos) and “restoration” (apokathistemi; aposkatastasis) reappear in Acts 3:20-21 when Peter makes reference to “the times of refreshing” and “the restoring of all things.” Peter looks forward to Israel’s restoration but informs his hearers that this time of eschatological blessing will only come when Israel recognizes Jesus as its Messiah.

Robert Saucy appears to provide a good rule of thumb regarding how to read the kingdom promises found in the OT prophets: “The lack of detail about the Old Testament prophecies in the New Testament does not necessarily mean they are invalid or superseded. To the contrary, the situation of the early church suggests that we should consider the prophecies valid unless there is explicit teaching to the contrary.” Jesus and the NT writers are still looking forward to the fulfillment of the kingdom promises found in the OT and anticipate a kingdom that is essentially the same as what is found in the OT prophets. The future temple is an important component of those prophecies.

One of the problems with the idea of a future sacrifice is that the prophets speak of there also being sacrifices offered there (Ezek 40:38-43; 42:13-14). These offerings actually “make atonement” for sin, and the Davidic prince (the Messiah?) even offers a sin offering for himself and the people (Ezek 45:22). Chisholm reminds us that Ezekiel’s vision of the future temple has been contextualized for the prophet’s sixth-century audience:

He describes the reconciliation of God and his people in terms that would be meaningful to this audience. They would naturally conceive of such reconciliation as involving the rebuilding of the temple, the reinstitution of the sacrificial system, the renewal of the Davidic dynasty, and the return and reunification of the twelve exiled tribes. Since the fulfillment of the vision transcends these culturally conditioned boundaries, we should probably view it as idealized to some extent and look for an essential, rather than an exact fulfillment of many of its features.

Thus, one can see a future temple in Jerusalem in the millennial kingdom without there necessarily being animal sacrifices as in the OT era. The people of Ezekiel’s day could not imagine proper worship of God without sacrifices, but a return to animal sacrifice in the millennial kingdom would represent a strange salvation-historical regression in light of the perfection and finality of Christ’s sacrifice for sin (cf. Heb 9:11-15, 23-28; 10:5-14). I. Howard Marshall comments: “The material sacrifices . . . are understood as temporary pointers to the death of Jesus. They provide categories for understanding it, but in doing so they render themselves obsolete.”

Ultimately, Ezekiel 40-48 and the vision of the new temple anticipates much more than simply a new and improved version of a physical structure like that of Solomon’s temple. The opening and closing of Ezekiel’s vision in 40:2 and 48:35 indicate that God’s presence will cover all of Jerusalem and not just the holy of holies in the temple. Similarly, Jeremiah 3:16-18 states that there will be no ark of the covenant in the future Jerusalem and that all of the city will become Yahweh’s throne. The city itself becomes the temple, and the presence of extends beyond any type of sacred building. Isaiah promises that the cloud and smoke of Yahweh’s presence will cover “all of Mount Zion” (Isa 4:5-6). In a very real sense, the Old Testament promise the presence of God for all peoples on earth in a way that far transcends anything associated with the temple as an architectural structure. As Beale observes, the promise that the temple will become a “house of prayer” for the nations (Isa 56:7) presents a “universal purpose” that “will make the localized temple obsolete.” In the “new heavens and new earth” of Isaiah 65-66, only the entire creation will be able to fully house God’s saving presence as he openly dwells among the righteous (66:2, 12-14, 20-23; cf. 57:15). More than a new temple, Isaiah is anticipating a new Eden where God’s presence extends throughout the earth (Isa 51:3-8). The presence of Yahweh will be so direct and pervasive that there will no longer be a need for the sun and moon to provide light (Isa 60:19-20). Ultimately, Revelation 21:22 promises that a temple will not be needed in the New Jerusalem because of God’s direct presence with his people. The temple, both past and future, points to the restoration of perfect fellowship with God that was lost because of Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden. One final blog on this topic will explore how the concept of temple is developed in the NT.


  1. Thanks Dr. Yates. I always find not only learning, but encouragement from your work. I look forward to your next blog.. Rick

  2. Dr. Yates, what do you make of the city's cubed measurement, foundations, etc, in connection with Ezekiel. To me, it would seem as if Ezekiel's Temple is prior and perhaps during the millennial era? This has always intrigued me and I'm glad that you have addressed some of these things; however, I would love a cup of coffee and discussion, but it may lead to two pots.

    Perhaps one day I can get up to LBTS, instead of LUO. God bless, Matthew

  3. I would agree, Matthew. We should probably see a distinction between Ezekiel's temple and the New Jerusalem. However, I think what John is portraying in Revelation 21-22 is the ultimate promise of what Ezekiel is envisioning--perfect enjoyment of the presence of God. Moyise (The Old Testament in the New, 120-21) notes the following parallels between the larger contexts of Rev 19-22 and Ezek 37-48: 1) the revival of the dry bones and the reunited kingdom (Ezek 37:10, 21) and the first resurrection and the reigning of the saints (Rev 20:4-5); 2) the Gog and Magog battle (Ezek 38; Rev 20:8); 3) the gorging of the birds (Ezek 39:4; Rev 19:21); 4) Ezekiel and John being taken to a high mountain (Ezek 40:2; Rev 21:10); 5) the measuring of temple and city (Ezek 40:5; Rev 21:15); 5) the filling of temple and city with the glory of God (Ezek 43:2; Rev 21:23); and the river of life flowing from the city (Ezek 47:12; Rev 22:2). Moyise concludes, “Thus, John’s use of Ezekiel consists of both striking similarities and remarkable differences.” I'm reminded in all of this of the importance of seeing both literal and figurative fulfillments (that often go beyond what the original prophecy says)of OT prophecies. Matthew, thanks very much for reading and see also my latest blog on the temple and the NT.

  4. Dr. Yates,
    Thanks for responding and I’m glad you are writing about this topic (you know why in my last paragraph). May I address some things to help me unpack some things and hopefully sharpen some iron?
    You wrote: Revelation 20 affirms an intermediate kingdom between the second coming of Revelation 19 and the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21-22, but this passage and the NT as a whole offers very little description of this future kingdom.”
    I can understand this, but I think the NT and the early church were expecting an imminent return and had no need to describe such things, agree?
    Also, I have a hard time with the contextualization aspect of Ezekiel (i.e. Chisholm), it may be a viable exegetical look, but I think it could be mistaken as eisegesis; instead, perhaps we should just be enamored or dumbstruck, as to why there would be a need. Sometimes, “we” try and shove meaning where there just isn’t any.
    I know Paul mentions that feast days are a shadow of things to come (Col. 2:17). Perhaps this is what he is referring to (i.e. sacrificial offerings ~ however, do they have to be meat atoning, or could they be freewill offerings of ‘first-fruits’? just a thought). I have always wondered about a few things, which to me illuminate the view of the millennial kingdom and Christ’s reign: (1) there are literal people who grow old and a child is counted as a hundred years old (Isaiah 65:20); (2) the Lord rules with a rod of iron: why would He rule His people whom are without sin and righteous by His blood, with a rod of iron, (3) (as you noted~”the nations would come to Jerusalem in submission to Israel’s God.”) the need for sacrifice, which the nations bring Him, and lastly (4) the devil deceives whom (post millennial).
    I must add, I was a ‘leaning’ Arminian, but now am definitely reformed in theology; however, believe in a literal millennial kingdom and rapture (like MacArthur), I find this to be a rare bread. I just wish Paul was more elaborate when he wrote the Thessalonians Christians: 2 Thess. 2:5, “Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?”

    Sorry so long, but thanks for your time and consideration.
    His servant and yours,

  5. This is an interesting follow-up to the previous blog. I read through the post to Matthew, but I still am a bit curious as to how we are to understand the temple as being set up in the millennial kingdom though continuing into the final two chapters of Revelation. I thought the last two chapters are a clearer picture of what Peter said in 2 Peter 3:13.


    No animal offerings millenial kingdom!