GOD’S GLORY RETURNS Ezekiel 40–48
“The vision I saw was like the vision I had seen when He came to destroy the city and like the visions I had seen by the Kebar River, and I fell facedown. The glory of the Lord entered the temple” (Ezek. 43:3–4).The last chapters of Ezekiel describe the worship of a restored Israel, and a return of the glory of God. Here, Ezekiel looked ahead and assured the exiles, God’s glory will return.
This is one of the most difficult of all Old Testament prophecies. For those who spiritualize biblical prophecy, the problem lies in the multitude of details provided concerning the construction of the new temple. It’s not just a question of what each detail might mean. The careful verbal blueprint reminds us of the instructions Moses was given for constructing the tabernacle—and those were intended to be literally carried out. The main detailed specifications offer no problem for the literalist. Yet for the person who views Ezekiel’s description here as a prediction of what will actually happen in the future, there are other difficulties. For instance, where do the scenes described here fit in Scripture’s overall vision of Israel’s future? And particularly, how does it relate to Revelation 21–22’s similar description of the eternal state. And, what about the sacrifices to be offered on the future altar? Doesn’t the New Testament teach that Christ’s one sacrifice of Himself did away forever with the need for animal offerings? (cf. Heb. 7:18; 9:12, 25–28) Such questions can, of course, be answered. The sacrifices of the Mosaic era were intended to simply portray redemption. Apparently the sacrifices of Ezekiel’s temple also serve as reminders of Christ’s work. Since several of the feasts of the Old Testament era are not mentioned in Ezekiel, it seems that he describes a whole new system of worship, to be conducted in the very presence of the Messiah. Though many delight to speculate on such issues when reading these chapters, our purpose is different. Rather than try to fit Ezekiel’s final vision of the future into any prophetic scheme, we want to see what that vision suggests to us for our lives today. And there is something here for us to apply.
Ezekiel gave details of a new temple to be constructed in Jerusalem (40:1–42:20). God’s glory will fill that structure (43:1–12), and commemorative sacrifices will be offered on its altar (vv. 13–27). Priests and Levites will again serve God (44:1–31) in sacred precincts (45:1–12). Israel will celebrate God’s festivals (46:1–24) as a river flowing from the sanctuary waters the land (47:1–12), which once again has been allotted to Israel’s tribes (v. 13–48:35).
Understanding the Text
“He took me to the land of Israel” Ezek. 40:1–5.
In the year 573B.C Ezekiel saw the last vision reported in his book. In it he was transported to Israel, and told to communicate everything he saw to the house of Israel. The very first thing that the prophet saw was a glorious temple. He was guided through it, and given every relevant dimension of what he saw. One day these words may serve as a verbal blueprint to be followed by God’s people. Many believe so. But to us today the immediate fixation on the temple reminds us that God is to have priority in our lives. As Ezekiel went on, his wondering gaze would shift to the king’s palace, the city, the changed geography of Jerusalem, and ultimately to the land itself, once more divided among the 12 tribes of Israel. But the most wonderful sight of all, the most compelling, the thing that demanded his initial attention, was the temple. You and I may be blessed in many ways, and the sights we see around us may be glorious. But there is nothing more beautiful, nothing more worthy of our attention, than God Himself. If God is the center of our lives, as the temple is the focal point of future Israel, everything else will fall into place. “I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east” Ezek. 43:1–12. This is the most significant element in Ezekiel’s vision. In chapters 8–11 we have a report of Ezekiel’s vision of the departure of God’s glory. Now the prophet described a return. Once again the living, vital presence of the Lord Almighty would reside among His Old Testament people. What is the significance of God’s instruction to the prophet to “describe the temple . . . that they may be ashamed of their sins”? Simply that the description of future splendor will so powerfully demonstrate what Israel will become, that the very contrast would drive God’s people toward holiness. We find a similar thought in the New Testament. In 1 John 3 the apostle looked foward to Christ’s coming, and announced that though we do not now know what we will be, we know that when Jesus returns we will be like Him. And, John said, “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (v. 3). To know what God intends for us, to realize what we are becoming, is a powerful motivation for holy living. This same theme is seen later in Ezekiel 45:9–12, a passage addressed to Israel’s current “princes” (leaders). Ezekiel had just described the land to be set aside for the city of Jerusalem and its ruler, bordering on the temple itself. The rulers of the people would be the closest of all to the Lord. Thus God said through the prophet, “Give up your violence and oppression and do what is just and right.” With a clear vision of what the future holds for us, the grip of selfish gain is relaxed, and we begin to act in harmony with who we truly are and will become in the Lord. “I am to be the only inheritance the priests have” Ezek. 44:1–26. The duties of priests and Levites mimic their responsibilities in the Mosaic era. But after outlining their duties, the Lord added the verse above. In past and future, Israel’s priests were not given tribal land. They had no earthly inheritance. They were to belong to the Lord, and the Lord Himself was to be their inheritance. What a blessing to be freed from the tyranny of possessions. How wonderful to focus only on God, to desire only to please Him, to know that while the material things we own are ours on loan, we do not possess them—and they do not possess us! “You are to divide it equally among them” Ezek. 47:13–48:35. The prophecy of Ezekiel ends with God’s people back in their land. There is an equal place set aside for each tribal group. In the time of Joshua the territories allotted the tribes were unequal. Some clans were larger than others, and had need for more space. But now, at history’s end, all such distinctions will be lost. None is greater, none smaller. And each has an equal place in the glorious kingdom of God. There are many distinctions that people make between themselves and others now. Distinctions of wealth, of education, of position or prestige. We even make such distinctions in our churches, mentally ranking our fellow believers as up or down the spiritual ladder. That is a mistake. A mistake that will never be repeated in eternity. There too God’s grace will be divided equally, for each of us will gladly stake a claim to fame on one thing, and one alone. We are sinners. Saved by grace.
Worship the Lord(Ezek. 43–44)
As Ezekiel wandered in his vision through the future temple, he was amazed at its size and beauty. The careful detail in which he recorded every measurement tells us that. But there is one verse that tells us more—about the temple, about Ezekiel, and about ourselves. The verse, Ezekiel 44:4, describes the prophet coming to the front of the temple and there he said, “I looked and saw the glory of the Lord filling the temple of the Lord, and I fell facedown.” What do we learn about the temple? In his vision, Exekiel had been impressed by the temple. He had looked in wonder at the portico of the outer court. He’d wandered through the rooms set aside for the priests. But when he came around front, and caught a glimpse of the glory of the Lord, Ezekiel fell facedown, and worshiped. You and I may be impressed by the beauty of our churches. We may look in wonder at the crowds gathered there. We may be impressed by the qualifications of our ministers. But all such things are external; just the facade. What we need to do is figuratively come around to the front. We need to forget what we see looking at our faith from the back and side, and peer in the front door. When we do, everything else seems to disappear, for there, in the heart of the sanctuary, we too are able to see the glory of the Lord. Many things about our churches are important. But the only thing that is truly essential is that when we come to worship we see and respond to God. What do we learn about Ezekiel? That he was a searcher. He was impressed by the structure he examined. But he was not satisfied. Only when he was brought around to the front and saw the glory of the Lord did he fall down and worship. Ezekiel wanted God Himself, and finding Him worshiped. What do we learn about ourselves? Like Ezekiel we can’t be satisfied with the temple, however impressive it may be. Our destiny like Ezekiel’s, the end of our quest, is realized when we see the Lord, and worship Him.
In church and in personal devotions, seek to meet and worship God.