The new temple (part 9)

The sacrificial system established for the new temple described by Ezekiel in chapters 40-48 of his book had many variations from the ones that were established in the Mosaic Law (note on Ezekiel 45:18-46:24). A key difference in the systems was the role of the prince in providing the offerings that were to be sacrificed to God. It says in Ezekiel 45:17, “And it shall be the prince’s part to give burnt offerings, and meat offerings, and drink offerings, in the feasts, and in the new moons, and in the Sabbaths in all solemnities of the house of Israel: he shall prepare the sin offering, and the peace offerings, to make reconciliation for the house of Israel.” The Hebrew word translated prepare, kuwn (koon) can also be translated as provide (3559). The idea being that the prince was expected to take from his own resources whatever was necessary for the sacrifices to be made.

Reconciliation for the house of Israel was also known as atonement. The day of atonement was associated with the priest’s entrance into the holy place in the temple where the ark of the covenant was kept. In the ceremony, It says in Leviticus 16:7-10, two goats were to be presented before the LORD “and Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the LORD’s lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.” In this scenario, atonement was made through the release of the scapegoat. In other words, the live goat was ransomed or pardoned from death.

The suggestion in Ezekiel 45:17 that the prince’s offerings would make reconciliation for the house of Israel implies that atonement for sin was not accomplished through the death of Jesus on the cross. What may be true about reconciliation is that a person cannot be redeemed by the death of Jesus Christ after the period of God’s grace comes to a conclusion. Once the reign of Christ begins, and the law is reinstated, it appears that atonement will have to be accomplished through the sacrifices of the prince. Perhaps the best way to look at the new sacrificial system is as one in which the sacrifice for sin is meant to encourage a person to change his behavior. The effects of shame and humiliation could be the real reason why God instituted a sacrificial system of punishment, rather than capital punishment, in the first place.

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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)

The new temple (part 1)

Ezekiel was taken to the site of a new temple after Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians. The purpose of the visit was for Ezekiel to see and record the floor plan for a restored place of worship for God’s people. It was evident that God wanted his people to know exactly what the temple would look like because a man whose appearance was described as “like the appearance of brass” (Ezekiel 40:3) took great pains to measure every detail of the structure. Ezekiel was told to set his heart upon all that he was shown. In other words, he was told to pay close attention and not to miss any of the specifications that were pointed out to him.

The first aspect of the new temple Ezekiel was shown was the eastern entrance to a courtyard that consisted of a gate, steps, a porch, and chambers or alcoves in which guards could rest. No doubt, the eastern gate would have been where the general public entered the temple. Along with the dimensions of the chambers, Ezekiel was told “between the little chambers were five cubits” (Ezekiel 40:7) or spaces approximately nine feet wide. There is no indication why the chambers were spaced out in such a way, but it is possible the spaces in between the chambers were designed for storage or a place to hold prisoners.

One of the things known about the new temple Ezekiel was shown is that it was never built. After the Israelites returned from captivity, the temple built by Zerubbabel was built by a different specification and so was the temple built by Herod, which was the one standing at the time of Jesus’ birth. There is no reference in Ezekiel’s vision as to when the temple he saw was to be built, but it could be that it will be in use during the millennial reign of Christ. An indicator of this is the type of measure Ezekiel used in his measurements, a long or royal cubit, approximately 20.4 inches in length.

The curious nature of the new temple’s design may be due to its representation of spiritual concepts that have yet to be introduced into God’s kingdom. For instance, the integration of Jews and Gentiles into a single worship system as well as the mixture of resurrected and unresurrected persons into kingdom activities. The only way to tell the real significance of Ezekiel’s new temple may be in the timing of his vision. It says in Ezekiel 40:1, “In the five and twentieth year of our captivity, in the beginning of the year, in the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after that the city was smitten, in the selfsame day the hand of the LORD was upon me, and brought me thither.”

All the dates in the book of Ezekiel are reckoned from the 597 exile. The Hebrew New Year festival known as Rosh Hashanah would have been taking place at the time of Ezekiel’s vision, had the people not been in captivity. More than likely, the vision was a reminder that God’s worship system remained in tact and was still active in spite of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple that was built there. Perhaps, the introduction of the new temple at that time; April 28, 573 B.C. was a sign that God’s calendar of events was being set in motion and would conclude at the appointed time, the start of millennial reign of Christ.

Resurrection

God used a dramatic illustration of dead bones being brought back to life to show Ezekiel the miraculous nature of the resurrection the LORD planned for his people. Ezekiel started the recount of his vision by saying, “The hand of the LORD was upon me and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones.” Ezekiel did not give us the name of the valley, but it can be assumed that it was an actual location where bones existed, most likely the valley of the son of Hinnom which was renamed the valley of slaughter in Jeremiah 7:32. Hinnom was the site of child sacrifice during the days of kings Ahaz and Manasseh. Jeremiah proclaimed that this place of human sacrifice would become their cemetery when the people  of Judah were slaughtered by the Babylonian invaders (notes on Jeremiah 7:31-32).

Jeremiah declared, “At that time, saith the LORD, they shall bring out the bones of the kings of Judah, and the bones of the princes, and the bones of the priests, and the bones of the prophets, and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, out of their graves: and they shall spread them before the sun, and the moon, and all the host of heaven, whom they have loved, and whom they have served, and after whom they have walked, and whom they have sought, and whom they have worshipped: they shall not be gathered, nor be buried; they shall be for dung upon the face of the earth” (Jeremiah 8:1-2). Although it is uncertain whether or not these were the bodies brought back to life in Ezekiel’s vision, it seems to be a fitting illustration of the rebirth that takes place when a sinner is saved by grace.

Ezekiel’s description of the resurrection of the bones included the restoration of life through the spirit of God. He said, “And I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army” (Ezekiel 37:8-10). The Hebrew word translated both wind and breath in this passage is ruwach (roo´ – akh). “It is clear that the wind is regarded in scripture as a fitting emblem of the mighty penetrating power of the invisible God. Moreover, the breath is suppose to symbolize not only the deep feelings that are generated within man, such as sorrow and anger: but also kindred feelings in the Divine nature” (7307).

The apostle John taught that in the resurrection, Jesus will bring everyone back to life. He said, “Marvel not of this: for the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-29). The Greek term resurrection, anastasis literally means “to cause to stand up on one’s feet again” (386). The resurrection is associated with the millennial reign of Christ, which will take place sometime in the future. Ezekiel was told, “Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel, and ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves” (Ezekiel 37:12-13).

Enemies

The enemies of the Israelites were primarily neighbors that lived in close proximity to the Promised Land. Initially, when the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they were instructed to drive out the inhabitants of the land that had no right to possess territory God had given to Abraham and his descendants. Due to disobedience and a lack of faith, the area where the Israelites dwelt was cohabitated by other relatives of Abraham, specifically, Lot’s sons Ammon and Moab and the descendants of Jacob’s brother Esau. Over time, wars between Israel and the surrounding nations became an ongoing pattern. Eventually, the Israelites stopped trying to separate themselves from the people that hated them.

Ezekiel received four prophetic messages concerning enemies of Israel that God intended to deal with in his judgment of the land. His first message was directed at Ammon to whom God said, “Because thou sadist, Aha, against my sanctuary, when it was profaned; and against the land of Israel, when it was desolate; and against the house of Judah, when they went into captivity…Behold therefore, I will stretch out mine hand upon thee, and will deliver thee for a spoil to the heathen; and I will cut thee off from the people, and I will cause thee to perish out of the countries: I will destroy thee; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 25:3,7). The term “aha” can express surprise or grief, but in this instance, it most likely was meant as an expression of delight that the Israelites had gotten what they deserved.

Among Israel’s enemies was a group of people known as the Philistines. The Philistines occupied territory on the western coast of Israel and were notorious for allowing other conquering nations to access Jerusalem and Judah through their strongholds in the mountains. In particular, when the Assyrians came against Jerusalem, they came through the Philistine cities of Ashdod and Gath, straight toward the capital of Judah (Sennacherib’s Campaign Against Judah, 701 B.C.). In his prophecy against Philistia, Ezekiel foretold, “Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because the Philistines have dealt by revenge, and have taken vengeance with a despiteful heart, to destroy it for the old hatred;  therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will stretch out mine hand upon the Philistines, and I will cut off the Cherethims, and destroy the remnant of the sea coast” (Ezekiel 25:15-16).

As Judah’s destruction approached, it was evident that God intended to wipe out not only the areas of the nation that were occupied by his people, but also all the territory that had originally been given them as an inheritance. In the prophet Micah’s counsel of despair, the people were told the situation was hopeless. He said, “The good man is perished out of the earth: and there is none upright among man…Trust ye not a friend, put ye not confidence in a guide: keep the doors of thy mouth from her that lieth in thy bosom. For son dishonoureth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother, the daughter in law against her mother in law: a man’s enemies are the men of his own house” (Micah 7:2, 5-6).

Repentance (Step 5)

The last step in the process off repentance  is the establishment of a new normal. Many people may want to be normal, but have no idea what that looks like. The mistake often made today is thinking characters seen on TV are normal. Normal is not something that is constructed in our minds, but the usual state or condition we find ourselves in. Normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees. Even though body temperature can fluctuate, it is usually 98.6.

Normal for a child of God is a state of dependence on the one who created us. Believers are acting normal when they pray and ask God for help. Our first priority should be to talk to our heavenly father about what is going on in our lives. When we experience tragedy, we feel and usually know with certainty that it is not normal and we should do something to correct our situation. Repentance is not always necessary, but it is a pathway back to God when fellowship has been broken. Lamentations chapter 5 contains a prayer for mercy. It says in verses 1 – 2, “Remember, O LORD, what is come upon us: consider, and behold our reproach. Our inheritance is turned to strangers, our houses to aliens.”

Before God’s people went into exile, he dealt with them on a national level and the king was his counterpart. Once the nation of Judah was destroyed, each person had to account for his own sin and seek forgiveness on an individual basis. Although the book of Lamentations is written as if the nation of Judah still existed, the use of pronouns such as our and us were meant to convey the feelings and desires of the collective individuals that made up the remnant of God’s people rather than the nation that had ceased to exist (Lamentations 5:16).

In the future, God’s kingdom will be restored, but in a different form. As with each individual that has gone through the process of repentance, God’s people will collectively see the return of Christ and the establishment of a new world order. A petition in Lamentations 5:21, “Turn thou us unto thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned, renew our days as of old” indicated that conversion, and therefore repentance, would be required of all those who would seek a restored relationship with God and entrance into his kingdom.

Uncircumcised heart

Jeremiah’s assessment of the situation in Judah revealed that the people were not following God’s commandments because they didn’t really know the LORD, they didn’t have a relationship with him (Jeremiah 9:3). Beginning with Abraham, God had made it clear that faith was the only way to enter into a relationship with him. Abraham believed in the LORD and God counted it to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6).

God’s people thought the most important things in life were for them to be wise, powerful, and rich (Jeremiah 9:23). They wanted material success rather than a godly life. They didn’t realize that having a relationship with God was the only way for them to be truly happy. God had to explain to them that his way of life was the opposite of what they were trying to achieve. He said:

Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

One of the ways Jeremiah described being committed to the LORD was to have a circumcised heart. He told the people of Judah to “circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart” (Jeremiah 4:4). Taking away the foreskin was symbolic of being stripped or to go naked (6188). In reference to the heart, it meant you would bare your soul or confess all your sins to God.

The LORD warned his people of a day when the entire world would be punished for sin. Previously, the Israelites expected God to pardon all their sins and establish an eternal kingdom for them in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 7:13). Because of their unfaithfulness, God would only pardon those of his chosen people who repented of their sins and received salvation through Jesus Christ. He said, “Behold the day cometh, saith the LORD, that I will punish all them which are circumcised with the uncircumcised. For all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart” (Jeremiah 9:25-26).