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.

Ezekiel's TempleBut 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.”

ProphetsThe 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.

Series Navigation<< There Will Be a Future Temple, Part 1

4 COMMENTS

  1. Josh,

    Thanks for these two solid posts! This is what I love about you. You bring in fresh arguments and new angles to examine and argue for your position. Great stuff! And much to think about.

    I won’t respond to all the arguments you made in this post and the last one. There’s much to chew on. However, I didn’t want to give two clarifying points to what I was saying in my previous posts.

    First, we both agree on how the “atoning” (cough, cough) sacrifices were fulfilled. I don’t think I was very clear on my point though. I wasn’t trying to invest OT sacrifices with atoning value apart from Christ. I was only trying to show that the literal view doesn’t take every word literally in Ezekiel’s temple. The literal view must read Ezek 40-48 in light of progressive revelation and then read a “not so literal” meaning back into Ezek 40-48–even though Ezekiel said “for atonement” and even though he would have thought “for atonement” and even though his audience would have thought “for atonement,” we NOW know (via the NT) that these animal sacrifices would NOT be “for atonement” in the way Ezekiel would have understood it.

    Does this make sense?

    What I’m trying to do here is clear some space for discussion. I want to show that everything must read Ezekiel prophecy in light of the NT to some extent. And again, if we do this with the sacrifices, then why not do it with the structural nature of the temple? Because I think that the idea of a real, literal, STRUCTURAL temple is almost as problematic as the idea of real, literal, ATONING sacrifices. Problematic theologically and textually–the NT often weens believers off the _____ of worshiping at a literal, structural temple.

    Second, I actually don’t like to say that the temple prophecy wasn’t literally fulfilled (and here I’m thinking primarily of your fine arguments from Haggai and Zechariah). I like to say that it is fulfilled non-structurally. The church is a real temple (place where God’s presence dwells). The New Jerusalem will be a real temple. Eden was a real temple. They just weren’t structural temples (Beale makes the same point in his book on the temple).

    So for instance, you said: “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.”

    Jesus does build a temple (Matt 16; John 2; Eph 1-2). He uses that very language. He just doesn’t build a structural one. I agree, the original hearers of Hag/Zech/Ezek would have expected a structural temple. These are the only categories they had. And God’s “bigger and better” temple-carrot dangled in front of them doesn’t undercut their motivation. It is a temple–church, New Jerusalem–just not a structural one.

    Of course, there are all sorts of hermeneutic assumptions at work here, which we don’t have time to dig into. However, I would like to point out that there is not a single Israelite in the OT who would have ever conceived of Gentiles coming into the covenant without having to be circumcised. Nor would it have been expected that Gentiles wouldn’t have to keep the Law. How is one a child of Abraham? Well, faith is necessary, but so is circumcision–it’s an eternal sign (Gen 17). Who would have thought that God’s fulfillment of this would be through heart circumcision (Rom 2) rather than surgery? There are many things fulfilled in the NT in a way that was very unexpected from the original readers!

    Thanks again, Josh! Love this discussion.

    • Thanks so much for the clarification! It has been good to interact on this topic. That definitely helps me understand better what you are saying. As we already said, I do think there is a lot of common ground. I think a good area for further study would involve how God communicates His promises to the original readers, their expectations and then the final fulfillments. It’s good to know that we agree “the original hearers of Hag/Zech/Ezek would have expected a structural temple.” It’s just where we go from there. Just to be clear, I do also agree with you that Gentile inclusion into the covenant without being circumcised/etc. is totally unexpected from an OT standpoint. From my view, that’s why Paul calls it a mystery… Thanks again and talk soon!

    • I’d like to point out a few things as well:

      1. One can take the sacrifices as literal and not have to take a non-literal approach. I would refer you to Jerry Hullinger’s work on the issue.

      2. A look at atonement needs to be done – exactly what is it in the OT. Is it covering, cleansing, propitiation, expiation, a combination of all or some. How does that fit with issues of sin as well as issues of defilements that are not necessarily connected to an ethical issue (i.e. see below).

      3. A real look at Leviticus and sacrifices show aspects of atoning inanimate objects like the Holy of Holies and the altar, plus atoning for sin as well as things not directly connected to any ethical failure like child birth and mold in the house (See Lev 8:15; 12:7-8; 14:18-21, 53; 15:15; 30; 16:6, 10, 16-20 for atonement that is connected to the altar, childbirth, skin disease, mold, sins of the priests family, sins of the people and cleansing the holy place because of defilements). Interestingly enough, Ezekiel takes up the same type of concepts when dealing with sacrifices and atonement. 3 out of the 5 uses deal with the holy temple area being cleansed (see Ezek 43:20, 26; 45:20) and the remaining two that deal with the sin of the people), I think more needs to be worked through on this and not just ignored. In a literal temple view that is connected primarily to a dispensational approach, one has glorified saints, normal (not yet glorified) believers as well as unbelievers in the midst of a holy God dwelling. Sin, while minimized and Satan chained, is still in existence. It is still an issue.

      4. The nature of OT sacrifices in the book of Hebrews compared to Christ’s sacrifice. This is usually the so called trump card that is thrown down to show literal sacrifices are at odds with Christ’s sacrifice. Sometimes even used by supersessionist writers to show the heresy of dispensationalism. Kinda sad in my opinion. But back to the thought. The writer (Auctor) shows in 9:9 that animal sacrifices cannot perfect the conscience. Yet in 9:13 they did have some effect – an outward cleansing. Only Christ’s sacrifice in 9:14 could cleanse inwardly and only Christ’s sacrifice could cleanse/perfect the conscience. So, to say that OT sacrifices were merely illustrations is not accurate from either an OT standpoint that said they atoned or cleansed/covered in some way or an NT standpoint that said they cleanse outwardly. The two sacrifices are on two different planes or fields. One is temporary and outward, yet still effectual. The other is a once for all that cleanses on a whole other level – inward and permanent. How would that fit into a literal temple? Christ’s sacrifice (and now we could get into issues of the nature of atonement – limited/unlimited but that is for another matter) only perfects or cleanses the conscience of believers or else you get universalism. So what about those living in the Millennium who are unbelievers but called to the Temple to worship God as in Isa 2:1-4; 19:21; 60:4-9 and Zech 14:16-19 to name a few? Could these sacrifices be used as a temporary covering that is different in nature to the permanent cleansing inwardly of Christ’s sacrifice? Again, there is so much more to discuss here than space or time allows.

      5. One area that I think is largely missing here is the purpose of the Temple in the future. Not many address this and I think there is some amazing things that go beyond Beale’s favorite topic of dwelling. Yes, divine dwelling is definitely a part of the biblical theology of the temple motif. But there are several others as well. I think much can be said about the place of ruling and the temple – Davidic covenant themes and God ruling. Something that can also be connected to the antichrist sitting on the throne in the temple in 2 Thess. Much much more can be said on this topic.

      6. Interpretation doesn’t necessitate a reinterpretation of the OT through the lens of the NT. That is where every other interpretive issue of the temple goes – a reinterpretation or as Beale likes to stay a “sharpening” that is different that what the original author had in mind but is still “organically” connected. In other words, its a fancy way of saying the his hermeneutic is a NT Priority that reinterprets the original. Here is something that is interesting. Those who reject a literal temple allow for other temple types – tabernacle-Solomon’s temple-2nd temple-Christ-individual Christian-and the universal Church- and the New heavens and earth as legitimate temple motifs. Yet when it comes to a future temple that is expressed in the OT and reaffirmed in the NT, that is tossed out based on theological positions rather than what the text affirms in my opinion.

      Those are my initial thoughts. So much more can be said and a lot that probably needs to be clarified. Hope that helps give a perspective on a literal temple. Are there problems – of course, but there are problems for all the other views as well – even the New heavens and New earth view that Beale and T. Alexander hold.

  2. I’d
    like to point out a few things as well:

    1. One can take the sacrifices as literal and not have to take a non-literal
    approach. I would refer you to Jerry Hullinger’s work on the issue.

    2. A look at atonement needs to be done – exactly what is it in the OT. Is it
    covering, cleansing, propitiation, expiation, a combination of all or some. How
    does that fit with issues of sin as well as issues of defilements that are not
    necessarily connected to an ethical issue (i.e. see below).

    3. A real look at Leviticus and sacrifices show aspects of atoning inanimate
    objects like the Holy of Holies and the altar, plus atoning for sin as well as
    things not directly connected to any ethical failure like child birth and mold
    in the house (See Lev 8:15; 12:7-8; 14:18-21, 53; 15:15; 30; 16:6, 10, 16-20
    for atonement that is connected to the altar, childbirth, skin disease, mold,
    sins of the priests family, sins of the people and cleansing the holy place
    because of defilements). Interestingly enough, Ezekiel takes up the same type
    of concepts when dealing with sacrifices and atonement. 3 out of the 5 uses
    deal with the holy temple area being cleansed (see Ezek 43:20, 26; 45:20) and
    the remaining two that deal with the sin of the people), I think more needs to
    be worked through on this and not just ignored. In a literal temple view that
    is connected primarily to a dispensational approach, one has glorified saints,
    normal (not yet glorified) believers as well as unbelievers in the midst of a
    holy God dwelling. Sin, while minimized and Satan chained, is still in
    existence. It is still an issue.

    4. The nature of OT sacrifices in the book of Hebrews compared to Christ’s
    sacrifice. This is usually the so called trump card that is thrown down to show
    literal sacrifices are at odds with Christ’s sacrifice. Sometimes even used by
    supersessionist writers to show the heresy of dispensationalism. Kinda sad in
    my opinion. But back to the thought. The writer (Auctor) shows in 9:9 that
    animal sacrifices cannot perfect the conscience. Yet in 9:13 they did have some
    effect – an outward cleansing. Only Christ’s sacrifice in 9:14 could cleanse
    inwardly and only Christ’s sacrifice could cleanse/perfect the conscience. So,
    to say that OT sacrifices were merely illustrations is not accurate from either
    an OT standpoint that said they atoned or cleansed/covered in some way or an NT
    standpoint that said they cleanse outwardly. The two sacrifices are on two
    different planes or fields. One is temporary and outward, yet still effectual.
    The other is a once for all that cleanses on a whole other level – inward and
    permanent. How would that fit into a literal temple? Christ’s sacrifice (and
    now we could get into issues of the nature of atonement – limited/unlimited but
    that is for another matter) only perfects or cleanses the conscience of
    believers or else you get universalism. So what about those living in the
    Millennium who are unbelievers but called to the Temple to worship God as in
    Isa 2:1-4; 19:21; 60:4-9 and Zech 14:16-19 to name a few? Could these sacrifices
    be used as a temporary covering that is different in nature to the permanent
    cleansing inwardly of Christ’s sacrifice? Again, there is so much more to
    discuss here than space or time allows.

    5. One area that I think is largely missing here is the purpose of the Temple
    in the future. Not many address this and I think there is some amazing things
    that go beyond Beale’s favorite topic of dwelling. Yes, divine dwelling is
    definitely a part of the biblical theology of the temple motif. But there are several
    others as well. I think much can be said about the place of ruling and
    the temple – Davidic covenant themes and God ruling. Something that can
    also be connected to the antichrist sitting on the throne in the temple in 2
    Thess. Much much more can be said on this topic.

    6. Interpretation doesn’t necessitate a reinterpretation of the OT through the lens of the NT. That is where every other interpretive issue of the temple goes – a reinterpretation or as Beale likes to stay a “sharpening” that is different than what the original author had in mind but is still “organically” connected. In other words, its a fancy way of saying the his hermeneutic is a NT Priority that reinterprets the original. Here is something that is interesting. Those who reject a literal temple allow for other temple types – tabernacle-Solomon’s temple-2nd temple-Christ-individual Christian-and the universal Church- and the New heavens and earth as legitimate temple motifs. Yet when it comes to a future temple that is expressed in the OT and reaffirmed in the NT, that is tossed out based on theological positions rather than what the text affirms in my opinion.

    Those are my initial thoughts. So much more can be said and a lot that probably
    needs to be clarified. Hope that helps give a perspective on a literal temple. Are there problems – of course, but there are problems for all the other views as well – even the New heavens and New earth view that Beale and T. Alexander hold.