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Many have wondered about the temple and the sacrifices which are mentioned in the book of Ezekiel, chapters 40–48. What did those things actually refer to, in the vision which the prophet Ezekiel saw?
Commentators have presented many different theories concerning that matter. And indeed, it is difficult to understand what time and circumstances the last chapters of that book really might have pointed to. They talk about a large temple, including a detailed description of it and the area around it. More: Those chapters talk about priestly duties of the old-covenantal kind, including animal sacrifices. Further: The way those chapters are commonly translated, makes it seem that such things are to be done in the future.
The problem, of course, is this: How could Ezekiel’s temple and the things connected to it, fit within the frame of the New Covenant which does not have any such sacrifices?
Again, commentators have come up with many different kinds of interpretations of the meaning of Ezekiel 40 to 48. Some writers have seen in those chapters a “gospel temple, erected by Jesus and the apostles” – whatever such a “gospel-temple” might be. Some others have claimed that they refer to “the Christian church in its earthly glory and blessing”. (Often, writers or preachers of that kind might claim their own church [a] to be “the Temple of God”.)
Then, others have claimed that Ezekiel 40–48 “symbolically describes the kingdom of God in its final form”. [b] Some, when looking for an explanation for those chapters, have suggested that they might be a description of an “idealised copy” of the temple which was destroyed in year 586 BCE. Perhaps they have assumed that the huge temple which the prophet saw in a vision, was something the Jews who returned from the captivity in Babylon should have built but failed to do, so that only a smaller temple was built.
And so commentators go on, and present many different kinds of ideas and claims regarding Ezekiel’s temple with its sacrifices, and the meaning of those nine chapters in general.
Then, some might suggest that what is described in those nine chapters, perhaps refers to the heavenly land [c] and the heavenly city and temple which are mentioned in several bible-passages. For, it is clear that the temple in Jerusalem, and the portable sanctuary before that, were only types of something heavenly – not exact copies, but symbolic representations of things in Heaven.
a The articles nga060.htm and naa010.htm have some notes on the word and concept “church”. The article naa040.htm contains a study on the matter of “worship”.
b The article noa010.htm considers what, when and where the Kingdom of God, perhaps better called the Reign of God, really is.
c Just as the earthly Jerusalem was a type of a City of God in Heaven, even the earthly Promised Land served as a symbol of a Promised Land in Heaven. Hebrews 11:16 and many other scriptures point to that heavenly land. The articles nba040.htm and nxa100.htm have some notes on this.
It appears that each side of the temple area was circa 1800 metres long, and that the city was circa 65 kilometres in circumference. Here are two of the relevant passages:
Ezekiel 42:20 He measured it by the four sides: it had a wall round about, five hundred reeds long, and five hundred broad, to make a separation between the sanctuary and the profane place. (AKJV)
Ezekiel 48:35 It was round about eighteen thousand measures: and the name of the city from that day shall be, The Lord is there. (AKJV)
The temple area: Ezekiel 42:20 states that each side of the temple was five hundred “reeds” long. Ezekiel 40:5 shows that the measuring reed in question was six cubits long, and that those cubits were a hand-breadth longer than normal. – A normal cubit is the length of a man’s forearm, circa 0.5 metres. And so, that “long cubit” would be circa 0.6 metres, and that measuring reed 3.6 metres.
Again, the length of each side of the temple area which Ezekiel saw in that vision, was 500 “reeds”. According to what was noted above, that equals to circa 1800 metres. That would be an area many times larger than the parcel where the temple in Jerusalem was located. Most of the Jerusalem of Old Testament times would have had to be torn down, in order to give place for such a large temple site.
And then, the city around that temple: Its circumference was 18000 × 6 “long cubits” (which were 0.6 metres long). That is 108000 “long cubits”, equalling to around 65 kilometres. This means that if that city was round in its form, it would have been more than 20 kilometres in diameter. A note: Some interpret the Hebrew text as referring to much larger measurements. Anyway, it is clear that the city which Ezekiel saw in his vision, was much larger than the Jerusalem of Old Testament times.
Ezekiel 40: The city was described as being “on a very high mountain” (verse 2), “in the land of Israel”. There was also a river there (chapter 47).
A side-note: Hebrews 12 shows that the New Covenant’s “mountain” (city) is a heavenly one. (The article nba040.htm has more on this.) And then: A city belongs to a land. Hebrews 11:13–16 talks about the heavenly land and city which the faithful people of old looked forward to. (Verse 16, HCSB, “But they now aspire to a better land—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”)
Then, we have the book of Revelation which records a vision the apostle John saw: A city with a river which has “water of life” (Revelation 22:1). John saw even visions regarding a heavenly temple. Even though the measurements of the temple which John saw in his visions (Revelation 21) seem to differ from those in Ezekiel’s vision, one must not draw all too hasty conclusions out of that. For, even “experts” have come to widely different conclusions in regard to what the ancient Hebrew and Greek words and measurements might have meant.
So, is the city which is described in Ezekiel 40–48, the same as the one which is mentioned in Revelation 22 and Hebrews 11? Perhaps, perhaps not. We do not have any certain answer to that question.
Several passages in chapters 40 to 48 appear to talk about mortal priests and slaughtering of animals and burning parts of them. How could those sacrificial things fit within the frame of the New Covenant which does not have any such sacrifices? For, after all, when Jesus made his Sacrifice by giving his life in place of others, that put an end to all sacrificing. The Old Covenant and its offerings (sacrifices) were mere symbols which pointed to Jesus and his Sacrifice and the New Covenant which was to come. – Let us consider something the apostle Paul wrote to the Jewish saints. He used complicated language with symbols and allusions to the Old Testament, so please read the following scripture-quote slowly and with thought.
Hebrews 9:28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation. Hebrews 10:1 For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. 2 For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. 5 Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me. 6 In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. 7 Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come—In the volume of the book it is written of Me—To do Your will, O God.’” 8 Previously saying, “Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the law), 9 then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.” He takes away the first that He may establish the second. 10 By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. 14 For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. (NKJV, highlighting added)
Many other bible-passages refer to this.
So, were it so that the sanctuary described in Ezekiel 40–48 would be something that is to be built at some still future time, then we would have a logical problem. For, several passages in those nine chapters talk about Levite priests (descendants of Zadok, see Ezekiel 40:46, 43:19, 44:15, 48:11) making burnt offerings and so on – but again, the New Covenant does not have any sacrifices (offerings), except for that which Jesus made when he gave his life in place of others.
Was it something that the Jews who returned from Babylon, should have built, but failed, so that they built only a much smaller temple? Some have suggested that, but that theory is quite far-fetched, because only some fifty thousand Jews (or Jewish men) returned, see Ezra 2:64–65. They were so few that it does not seem likely that God would have expected them to produce a city and a temple of the huge size that is described in chapters 40 to 48. It does not seem likely that they would have had the strength for a so great project, not even if they would have gotten the help which is mentioned in Ezra 6. In other words: It appears that the book of Ezra and Ezekiel 40–48 do not talk about the same temple.
Or, could it for some reason be so that after Jesus’ return there will again be a temple with priests who make animal sacrifices? Obviously not.
Or, are the last chapters in the book of Ezekiel a hoax, a spurious addition? – It is true that prophet Ezekiel and his book are not quoted or even mentioned in the other books of the Bible, but that does not have to mean that Ezekiel’s book, or parts of it, would be spurious.
Or, was the mention of the temple and the sacrifices in the prophet’s visions, Ezekiel 40–48, a symbolic description of things in the heavenly realm? (Often, things seen in visions are symbols, and not literal presentations of something.) It could be so, and is perhaps even likely, but again, we do not have any certain answer to that question.
One thing is clear: There remains no sacrificing to be done. When Jesus made his Sacrifice by giving his life in place of others, that put an end to sacrifices (offerings). At that time, even the Old Covenant came to its end. It was a temporary arrangement which was to last “until the Offspring would come to whom the promise had been made”, Galatians 3:19 – that is, until Jesus came. The article nca080.htm has more on this.
A note: Some people might have problems with the fact that the Old Covenant was a temporary arrangement. This is because many translators have put into certain Old Testament passages wordings which make it seem that the Old Covenant was to be “everlasting”. The article nca130.htm sorts out that matter.
See also the “recommended reading” section, below.
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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → nsa090.htm
The origin and meaning of the word “church”. → nga060.htm
Matthew 16:18, “I will build my assembly, and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it”. What and where was the ekklêsia or assembly which Jesus said he would form? Was it an earthly religious organisation as some claim, or something else? → naa010.htm
Worshipping God. What does the Bible say about worship, in connection with the New Covenant? → naa040.htm
What is the Kingdom of God? Where is it located? Does it exist already, or is it only going to be established in the future? Or, is it merely something “in the hearts of men”? → noa010.htm
What does the Bible say about Heaven? Were the saints to go there? What about others? What does it look like, in Heaven? → nba040.htm
Hebrews 4:9, the sabbatismos or rest which the saints were to enter – a clarification of its actual nature. → nxa100.htm
On Galatians 3:17–19 and what the apostle Paul meant by “added law”. → nca080.htm
Some notes on bible-translations which make it seem that the Old Covenant was to be “everlasting”. On the word olam in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. → nca130.htm
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