Our reading today begins with another vision. Ezekiel has a vision of a Temple. This is after Solomon’s Temple is already destroyed. What Ezekiel is seeing is the new Temple – the true Temple. This is a symbolic vision of Christ, and by extension, His church. It is YHWH’s presence among His people (see 37:26-28). This is the true and holy Temple, as opposed to the profaned Temple of the physical people (chapters 8-11). This is the permanent presence of God with His spiritual people, as opposed to the conditional presence of God with His physical people. In these four chapters, we have a “remaking” of the dwelling place of God described in Exodus 36-40. That was the dwelling place of God following the physical Exodus, this is the dwelling place of God following the spiritual Exodus.
Like in chapter 8, Ezekiel is brought in a vision to Judah (see 8:3) after the physical Jerusalem – and physical Temple – were destroyed (40:1-2). He is set on a “very high mountain” with a city on it (v. 2 – see Rev 21:10). The mountain is the mountain of God, and the “structure like a city” (Temple) is the church. Ezekiel sees an angelic figure (v. 3 – see 8:2) with a measuring reed in his hand. And this being begins to measure the Temple (v. 5 – see Rev 11:1). He measures the wall (vv. 5-6). Its width, height, and depth are the same. It is a cube – three dimensions all the same. This is like the Holy of Holies as well as the New Jerusalem (symbolic of the church). The description Ezekiel gives in verses 7-16 do not match the rebuilt Temple after the captivity, nor Herod’s Temple. Note that this Temple, like Solomon’s, has palm trees carved into it (v. 16). This is to bring to mind the Garden of Eden – God’s first dwelling place with man.
Throughout the descriptions of the gates (vv.5-27), notice all the threes and sevens. These are symbolic of completeness or perfection. Also note the palm trees throughout. Once he gets to the inner court, we find stairways that have not seven, but eight steps (v. 31, 34, 37). As he gets closer to the center of the Temple, the elevation is raised more and more to indicate getting closer to the presence of God. The seven, as we saw, is about perfection. The eight steps represent the New Creation. God created everything in six days, and rested on the seventh. The “eight day” represents the new creation in Christ.1 God has not stopped working.
In verses 38-43, Ezekiel sees multiple rooms and an area larger than in the physical Temple dedicated to the offering. In verse 39, the three types of offerings (burnt, sin, and guilt) are all prepared together in one place. After describing the priests’ chambers (vv. 44-46), the angel tells Ezekiel that only sons of Zadok may be priests (v. 46). Why? Because the sons of Zadok were the priests during David’s reign (see 2 Sam 8:17). The “sons of Zadok” are symbolically the priests of the greater son of David (see 1 Pet 2:9). In verses 48-49, we see Ezekiel come to the inner part of the Temple, raised further still (10 steps up) from the inner courtyard.
Chapter 41 continues the measurements. Why all these measurements and seemingly endless details? Ezekiel is seeing something greater than the Temple that was in Jerusalem (see Matt 12:6). Solomon’s physical Temple was about 50 yards wide and 60 yards long. Ezekiel’s Temple is about 290 yards square. Solomon’s Temple had no living quarters in the Temple proper. Ezekiel’s Temple has many, many living quarters for the priests. Solomon’s Temple had one gate to the inner court. Ezekiel’s has three (there’s that three again!). What Ezekiel is seeing is the spiritual Temple, which has expanded to include those excluded from the physical Temple, and where the priests of God live in the very presence of God.
In 41:2, we see that the doorways narrow as one gets closer to the presence of God (see Matt 7:14), which is in the Holy of Holies (v. 4). In verse 22 we see the table of showbread. In Solomon’s temple, it was covered in gold (see Ex 25:24). Everything nearer to the presence of God in Solomon’s Temple was made of gold. Here, the table is wood. This is a much more humble presence of God in Ezekiel’s Temple. Note that in this chapter, Cherubim are added to the decoration along with more palm trees. The representation of the heavenly beings represent heaven. Eden was where heaven first met earth.
In chapter 42, the angel moves back to the outer court of the Temple (42:1). We see that the garments worn in the Temple are holy and cannot be worn outside (v. 14). We also see that the outer wall is meant to separate that which is holy from that which is not (v. 20 – see Rev 21:27). This is a picture of the church over against the world. We are holy, and what is outside us (the Temple) is not. We are holy, even as God is holy.
Now that the Temple has been described, Ezekiel sees God inhabit it. Ezekiel saw the glory of God leave the physical Temple and go east (see 10:18-19, 11:23). Here, the glory of God comes back from the east (43:2). Ezekiel sees the glory of God as he had at the start (v. 3). And the glory of God fills the Temple (v. 4). This is Christ’s presence in His church. It is where Christ reigns (the place of His throne) and where Christ walks (the place of the soles of His feet) (v. 7). This is not like His presence dwelt in Solomon’s Temple (v. 8). In verse 9, God calls for Ezekiel to preach repentance to the physical people. If they repent, Ezekiel is to tell them of the new Temple (v. 11). Because repentance is the prerequisite for being made holy (vv. 11-12).
The chapter ends with a description of the altar in the new Temple. The altar is where the priests (Christians) offer their sacrifices unto God. The altar (our means of offering) is purified by blood (43:20). This is done for seven days (v. 25). This represents the fullness or perfection of the work of Christ. It is only after His atoning work – from the eighth day onward (the new creation in Christ) – that we can offer acceptable scarifies to God (v. 27 – see Rom 12:1).
1 This is why Christ was raised on Sunday and we worship on Sundays. It is the eighth day, not the first – the day of the new creation.