In terms of eschatology, the three prevailing viewpoints are premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism. Each of them has its strong points and its weak points, and as Christians we’re allowed to disagree amicably on this nonessential issue. Personally I’m a premillennialist, as I explain in my article on the end times, and the most compelling piece of evidence that I’ve found to support this view is Ezekiel’s temple.
It’s a literal temple
Admittedly, some of the details of Ezekiel’s temple are hard to believe, and that has led some Bible scholars to conclude that it must be a figurative temple. For example, perhaps it’s a symbol of God returning to dwell among His people, or perhaps it’s describing the New Testament Church.
Seriously? I cannot understand how anyone could read through the precise measurements laid out in Ezekiel 40-42 and conclude that this was referring to anything other than a physical structure.
Furthermore, Ezekiel 45 describes festivals and ritual sacrifices that are reminiscent of the literal ones prescribed by the Mosaic Covenant. If you’re going to allegorize the ones in Ezekiel’s vision, then you have to go back and allegorize the ones in the Pentateuch as well just to be consistent.
Finally, Ezekiel 48:1-29 describes the division of the land all around Ezekiel’s temple, and it’s divided according to the twelve tribes of Israel. I don’t know how anyone could read the actual names of the tribes and think that’s anything other than ethnic Israel. The New Testament Church is NOT the same thing as Israel.
It’s a future temple
Some Bible commentaries state that Ezekiel was recalling from memory the plans for Solomon’s temple or that God was giving instructions for Zerubbabel to rebuild the temple after the 70 years of Babylonian captivity.
However, those two previous temples were under the Mosaic Covenant, and notice that the ceremonial requirements for Ezekiel’s temple are much different than those prescribed by the Mosaic Covenant:
- Ezekiel 46:4 says that the Sabbath offering must include six male lambs and a ram, while Numbers 28:9 says that the Sabbath offering must include two lambs.
- Ezekiel 45:21-25 describes the festivals of Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths). Conspicuously absent are the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), the Feast of Trumpets, and the Day of Atonement. Of the three that are not mentioned, Pentecost was extra special since it was one of three times a year when all men in Israel were required to assemble in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:16). The prophet Ezekiel was a priest (Ezekiel 1:3), so he definitely would have known that.
- Ezekiel 45:23 says that seven bulls and seven rams must be sacrificed during each day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, while Numbers 28:19 says that two bulls, one ram, and seven male lambs must be sacrificed each day.
- Ezekiel 45:18-20 describes a new biannual ritual for cleansing the temple. No such ritual existed under the Mosaic Covenant.
Some might argue that God was simply extending the Mosaic Covenant, but the differences here extensive enough to require the creation of an entirely new set of ordinances.
Only God can build it
Ezekiel 47:1-12 describes some supernatural features of the temple:
- A mighty river flows out from under the temple. While the city of Jerusalem has always had springs of water beneath it, nothing of the magnitude of this river has ever existed there. Also, the description of how it begins as a trickle yet within two miles grows so deep that Ezekiel cannot cross it is unlike any natural river.
- The river flows east and empties into the Dead Sea, turning the deadly saltwater into pure freshwater. The reduced salinity will allow fish to flourish like never before.
- Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will grow year round. People will eat their fruit and use their leaves for medicine.
Since the temple itself would be impossible for humans to build, it’s no wonder that God never gives Ezekiel a command to build it. Instead, He only tells Ezekiel to describe his vision to the Israelites so “that they may be ashamed of their sins.” (Ezekiel 43:10)
Also, while we can certainly glean some spiritual truths from this passage, about how the river symbolizes the Gospel message as it spread forth from Jerusalem and brought life to the dead pagan nations, that in no way precludes a literal fulfillment as well.
It’s not the eternal state
The description of Ezekiel’s temple can’t be referring to something that will exist during the New Heaven and the New Earth (Revelation 21:1-2), because Revelation 21:22 says that there won’t be a temple in the city of New Jerusalem.
Also, the city described in Ezekiel 48:30-35 cannot be New Jerusalem because the measurements are all wrong. Ezekiel’s city is about 1.5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, while New Jerusalem is shaped like a cube with 1,400 miles along each side (Revelation 21:16).
It seems best to place Ezekiel’s temple during the Millennial Kingdom⸺the literal 1,000-year reign of Jesus Christ as a visible king on Earth. Therefore, a premillennial view is the best way to interpret Scripture.