The new temple (part 10)

The new temple described by Ezekiel in chapters 40-48 of his book was clearly meant to be established on earth, but there were some aspects of the temple that appeared to be linked to eternal life. For instance, the prince who was identified as a leader of the congregation was recognized as the LORD’s servant, David and Ezekiel said, “And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children’s children for ever: and my servant David shall be their prince for ever (Ezekiel 37:25).

It has been suggested that the reference to “my servant David” (Ezekiel 34:23 and note) was not an indication that king David himself would be the prince, but that it would be a ruler like David, probably someone from his line of descendants. It seems unlikely that after the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ there would be a reinstatement of David’s birth line. It can only be assumed that the prince Ezekiel was referring to would actually be the resurrected king David or merely a human form of Jesus. What is certain about the prince is that he will have “sons” (Ezekiel 46:16) that receive an inheritance from him.

John’s gospel opens with a detailed description of how Jesus, the son of God, became human. John said, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). John also prescribed a method whereby all humans could become sons of God. He said of Jesus, “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:10-13).

The process the apostle John referred to in John 1:13 was later referred to by Jesus as being born again (John 3:7). Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). It seems reasonable to assume that the prince associated with the new temple will be a human form of Jesus because after all, Jesus was a man that walked on the earth and his flesh was not destroyed when he was crucified. There is no other explanation in the Bible as to what happened to the human part of Jesus or why he became a man in the first place, other than, so that he could reign as a man over the kingdom of God on earth during the millennium.

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The new temple (part 4)

Certain areas of the new temple structure described by Ezekiel in chapters 40-48 were cut off from the public. In particular, what was known as the “separate place” (Ezekiel 41:12) could only be accessed from inside the temple court. It is unclear exactly what the separate place represented, but it is likely it was a designated spiritual zone that only holy persons could enter into. Ezekiel was told, “The north chambers and the south chambers, which are before the separate place, they be holy chambers, where the priests that approach unto the LORD shall eat the most holy things: there shall they lay the most holy things, and the meat offering, and the sin offering, and the trespass offering; for the place is holy” (Ezekiel 42:13).

It could be said that the place Ezekiel described as the new temple was an intersection between physical and spiritual realms. The temple existed within a physical space on earth and was visible to the human eye, but may have had dimensions in the spiritual realm that were disconnected or walled off from human perception. Ezekiel’s statement “for the place is holy” (Ezekiel 42:13) could be interpreted, this spot is separated or set apart from the rest of the structure. What he may have meant was that the holy place was connected to or considered a part of heaven. An indication that the separate place had unique spiritual characteristics that could not be translated into the physical realm was the clothing worn by the priests. Ezekiel was told, “When the priests enter therein, then shall they not go out of the holy place into the utter court, but there they shall lay their garments wherein they minister: for they are holy; and shall put on other garments, and shall approach to those things which are for the people” (Ezekiel 42:14).

Each of the four outer walls that surrounded the temple structure measured five hundred reeds or approximately one mile in length. Ezekiel said, “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” (Ezekiel 42:20). There are several ways the profane place can be looked at, one of which is as a place where death occurs. A difference between profane and holy is that holy things are considered to be eternal or as the Bible sometimes refers to them, ever lasting. God is an eternal being and can only be related to from an eternal perspective. When the Israelites defiled God’s temple, one of the things they did was treat it as if it was just a building, a structure in which things were stored and anyone could live. When the new temple comes into existence, it will be seen as the eternal dwelling place of God, a place where only those that have received eternal life may enter in (Ezekiel 37:25)

False information

The people of Judah were dependent on false prophets and corrupt priests to guide them in their spiritual activities. One of the reasons God’s people were unrepentant was they thought their sacrifices were enough to guarantee God’s blessing on their nation. There was no real awareness among the people of Judah that they were in trouble. Jeremiah described their problem as a “perpetual backsliding” (Jeremiah 8:5). Jeremiah’s use of the term perpetual backsliding indicated there was a permanent separation between God and his people. Another way of describing their condition would be to say the people had abandoned their faith. They no longer believed in God.

It was difficult for Jeremiah to get through to the people because their consciences were unaffected by what they were doing. Jeremiah declared, “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore shall they fall among them  that fall: in the time of their visitation” (Jeremiah 8:12). A time of visitation was an appointed time when an officer or custodian would have to give an account for his area of responsibility. The nation of Judah was responsible to God for their worship activities. They were not free to worship in any other way than what had been prescribed to them by the Mosaic Law. God’s ultimate goal for his people was for them to receive salvation and eternal life. Because of their disobedience, God’s plan could not be carried out.

God was grieved over the situation in Judah. He didn’t want to punish his children, but he couldn’t overlook the fact that they had disassociated themselves from him and were going to die without their sins being atoned for. Jeremiah depicted God’s attitude toward his children as one of care and concern for their well-being. He said, “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved. For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment hath taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?

Born again

John 1:1 states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This verse established the fact that Jesus was both distinct from God the father, and was God in the fullest sense of who God is. Therefore, when Jesus spoke during his ministry on earth, he was not speaking for God, but as God.

In Isaiah 55:11, it was made clear that God would speak for himself at some point in the future, instead of through a prophet. He said, “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth; it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” In the same way that God spoke the physical world into existence, so he intended to speak a spiritual world into existence through the teaching of Jesus Christ.

The difference between God’s original work of creation and his work of salvation through Jesus was the eternal durability of the human heart. Whereas the heart of man was originally able to be broken and filled with sin, Jesus made it possible for man’s heart to be regenerated, to be born again (Titus 3:5). Isaiah declared of God, “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isaiah 57:15).

The Hebrew word translated revive in Isaiah 57:15 is chayah (khaw – yaw´). This word means “to bring to life” or “to cause to live” (2421). In this instance, God was referring to causing someone to live again in both a physical and spiritual sense. When Jesus told the man Nicodemus he must be born again, Nicodemus asked, “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:4-5).

The key to understanding Jesus’ response to Nicodemus’ question is the word and. Jesus said that a man must be born of water and of the Spirit. Water spoke of the natural birth, coming out of a mother’s womb, and the Spirit referred to the spiritual birth that took place when a person believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Only God could see the result, but Jesus assured Nicodemus that if he believed, Nicodemus would receive eternal life (John 3:16).

Believing

Believing is more than an acknowledgement that something is true. When we believe something, we act on it. Our behavior makes what we believe evident to others. Originally, the kings of Israel were meant to be role models. Their personal relationship with God was a living testimony to the truth of God’s promises. The prophets of Israel were mouthpieces of God, designed to keep Israel’s kings in check, but false prophets undermined the people’s trust and caused Israel to veer off course. By the time Isaiah came on the scene, the role of a prophet was merely to communicate God’s will and pronounce judgment.

Israel’s Messiah was a prophet as well as their king. It was important for these two roles to be combined so that the people could see the alignment between words and actions. In essence, what Jesus did was speak the word of God and simultaneously act it out. His words and behavior were completely consistent. Although we don’t think of Jesus as a believer, he was a true believer in every sense of the word. What Jesus demonstrated was perfect obedience to the will of God at the cost of his own life.

Isaiah described Israel’s Messiah as a servant, one who was called by God, subject to the will and command of his master (5650). In his description of the Messiah’s calling, Isaiah proclaimed, “The LORD hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name, and he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me; and said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified” (Isaiah 49:1-3). As an instrument of death, the Messiah was destined to convict the world of its sin. Not only would he cause Israel to repent, but the Messiah would also make it possible for the Gentiles to be saved (Isaiah 49:6).

As God’s chosen people, the Israelites had an advantage over the rest of the world. Through their birthright, they were guaranteed salvation. The main purpose of God’s work was to bring the Israelites to the point of believing. Isaiah provided a clear picture of the Messiah’s obedience in order to convince God’s people that their Savior had come. Approximately 700 years before Jesus was born, Isaiah proclaimed, “The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed” (Isaiah 50:5-7).

At the core of Israel’s believing was the issue of death and eternal life. Jesus willingly went to the cross because he believed God would raise him from the dead (Matthew 17:23). Repeatedly, God delivered Israel from her enemies in the Promised Land, but salvation was ultimately about defeating death itself. Isaiah exclaimed, “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished” (Isaiah 51:6).

Isaiah likened death to being a prisoner and living in darkness (Isaiah 42:7, 49:9). In contrast, Isaiah portrayed life after death as waking up from sleep. He stated, “Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city…shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem” (Isaiah 52:1-2). The Messiah’s resurrection from the dead was more than just a restoration of life. The transformation that occurred during Jesus’ resurrection was a supernatural changing from one life form to another. He was no longer a mortal being, but the immortal Son of God.

God’s message of salvation was in many ways news that was too good to be true. Regarding the Messiah, Isaiah asked, “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1). The Hebrew word translated believed, aman is the same word used in Genesis 15:6 where it says of Abraham, “he believed in the LORD.” “The meaning here is that Abram was full of trust and confidence in God…It was not primarily in God’s words that he believed, but in God himself…In other words, Abram came to experience a personal relationship to God rather than in impersonal relationship with his promises” (539). Isaiah referred to believing as having a personal relationship to the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Isaiah predicted the rejection of Israel’s Messiah and made it clear that Jesus would suffer because of Israel’s unbelief. Isaiah declared:

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid  on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before his shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:3-7)

In exchange for giving up his life, the Messiah would be rewarded by God with the spoils of his victory. Isaiah foretold of Jesus, “Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). Although the nation of Israel as a whole rejected its Messiah, there were some who believed in Jesus. Isaiah described those who would believe and receive salvation as a wife of youth, and said, “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy redeemer” (Isaiah 54:6-7).

Similarities between the Messiah and his followers were noted by Isaiah in his use of the same Hebrew word to designate the servant and servants of the LORD. True believers would be expected to submit themselves to the will of God as the Messiah did. To those who responded in faith, God promised, “No weapon formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn” (Isaiah 54:17). Essentially, the believer was guaranteed entrance into heaven where he would be united with other believers and receive eternal blessings from God (Isaiah 54:11-17).

Isaiah’s great invitation of salvation had two characteristics that made it difficult to resist. First, salvation was free of cost. Isaiah stated, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat, yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1). Second, salvation was obtained by merely paying attention to what God said. Isaiah declared, “Hear, and your soul shall live” (Isaiah 55:3). The type of hearing Isaiah referred to involved not only the ears, but also the heart (8085). God wanted his people to listen to him using spiritual discernment.

According to Isaiah, the key to believing was an understanding of the ways of God. As much as God had done to develop a relationship with the people of Israel, his effort was fruitless because they couldn’t comprehend his loving nature. Isaiah declared, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). In order to close the gap, God would himself become the messenger and for the first time since the garden of Eden, he would speak face to face with his children. John the apostle stated it this way. “And the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

The power of the grave

In the book of Hosea, God used the analogy of a marriage to depict his relationship with the nation of Israel so that his people would understand he wanted a personal relationship with them. The prophet Hosea was chosen to model that relationship and was told to marry an adultress because Israel had been unfaithful to God and did not deserve his mercy. The only way Hosea could model God’s love effectively was to forgive his wife and redeem her from a life of prostitution.

The story of Hosea’s wife was meant to portray God’s redemption of his people, but it also showed his people that God’s love was not dependent on their behavior. In spite of their wickedness, God intended to fulfill his promise to king David that he would establish David’s throne for ever (1 Chronicles 17:12). In order to do that, God had to not only forgive his people, but provide a way for them to live eternally. Through Hosea, the LORD declared, “I will ransom them from the power of the grave: I will redeem them from death” (Hosea 13:14).

As when Hosea bought his wife Gomer for fifteen pieces of silver and a homer and a half of barley (Hosea 3:3), God planned to ransom his people. The Hebrew word translated ransom, padah indicates that some intervening or substitutionary action effects a release from an undesirable condition…When God is the subject of padah, the word emphasizes His complete, sovereign freedom to liberate human beings” (6299). Rather than taking away his children’s freedom to choose sin, God intended to take away Satan’s ability to punish them for it.

The power of the grave was the power of Satan to separate someone from the love of God. Sin was the key that enabled Satan to lock a person in the prison called hell, or the grave. Satan was given the key to hell when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:5-6), but God told them he would one day take that power away (Genesis 3:15). The message God communicated through Hosea was that the day of their redemption was about to arrive.

Although Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection was still hundreds of years away when Hosea spoke to Israel, the events were relatively close compared to the thousands of years that had transpired since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden. As if Hosea had a clear picture of the process of salvation, he stated, “O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously” (Hosea 14:1-2).

Imagine

Psalm 48 is a vision of a future or end state of the capital of God’s kingdom. The psalmist refers to this city as the “city of God” (Psalm 48:1). Another way of looking at it would be as God’s hometown, the city where he actually lives. It may be hard to imagine God living on earth, but the Messianic name of God, Immanuel, means “with us (is) God” (6005) or God with us.

The amazing thing about Psalm 48 is that it appears to have been written after Israel was taken into captivity. The purpose of the psalm was probably twofold. First, it was a statement of faith that Jerusalem would survive Assyrian attack. Second, the psalm provided hope to those who dared to imagine that God’s presence on earth would one day be a reality.

The ability to imagine themselves as the final victors over every kingdom on earth gave the Israelites strength to endure their most difficult challenge, exile from their homeland. With hopeful expectation, the psalmist stated, “Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion” (Psalm 48:2). In other words, he wanted us to imagine the city of Good as a bright light that brings joy to the faces of everyone that sees it.

In addition to portraying the city of God as a place of hope, the psalmist also described mount Zion as an impenetrable fortress. The city’s elevation, proximity to the desert, and access to a water supply made it a perfect place of refuge, but the presence of God’s temple made it an intimidating citadel that seemed beyond capture. The psalmist declared, “For lo, the kings were assembled, they passed by together. They saw it, and so they marveled; they were troubled and hasted away” (Psalm 48:4-5).

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the city of God is its eternal existence. God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants was that he would give them the land of Canaan for ever (Genesis 13:15). When Jesus establishes his kingdom on earth, it says in Luke 1:33, “He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” According to this promise, the psalmist stated, “As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God: God will establish it for ever” (Psalm 48:8).

Trying to imagine a city without end would be impossible if it weren’t for the concept we have of heaven. Even though we can’t see it, we know heaven exists and that it is God’s home right now. Somehow, in the future, heaven and earth will intersect in such a way that eternal life will be natural for human beings. The key to this intersection is Jesus and his triumph over death. As if to explain the need for death to occur before there could be eternal life, the psalmist stated, “For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death” (Psalm 48:14).