Integration

The prophet Zachariah’s final night vision depicted the world after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It began with the entrance of four chariots into the Holy Land, of which Zechariah asked the question, “What are these, my lord?” It says in Zechariah 6:5, “And the angel answered and said unto me, These are the four spirits of the heavens, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth.” The angel’s reference to the Lord of all the earth indicated that Jesus’ conquest over Satan had already taken place. We know now that it was the Lord’s death on the cross that defeated his adversary Satan. Because Jesus died for the sins of all humanity, he was able to claim the entire world for his kingdom. The angel said to Zechariah, “Behold these that go toward the north country have quieted my spirit in the north country” (Zechariah 6:8).

The north country represented all of Israel’s enemies because that was “the direction from which most of Israel’s foes invaded their nation” (note on Zechariah 6:8). What the angel was telling Zechariah was that the threat of conquest had been eliminated. We know now that the nation of Israel became extinct in the first century after Jesus’s death, but was reestablished on May 14, 1948. Since that time, God has supernaturally protected the nation of Israel from destruction. What is yet to be accomplished is spoken of in Zechariah 6:12-13 where it says, “Behold the man whose name is The BRANCH;  and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD: even he shall build the temple of the LORD; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne: and he shall be a priest upon his throne; and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”

The picture of “The BRANCH” sitting on a throne in the temple of the LORD is a depiction of the millennial reign of Christ. What was shown in Zechariah’s prophecy was that there would be an integration of the roles of king and priest. The Messiah was expected to be a king, but what the people didn’t realize in Zechariah’s time was that the Messiah would also replace the high priest and would be the spiritual leader as well as the political leader of the world. The Messiah’s ability to integrate what we sometimes refer to as the sacred and secular aspects of life is due to his twofold blessing of peace (Zechariah 6:13). Jesus was given authority over all that is sacred in the world because he was born the Son of God. Jesus also inherited the world and was given authority over Satan and every kingdom on earth because he lived a perfect life and died for the sins of everyone, including those that reject him as their savior.

Zechariah showed the people that their hearts were still hardened toward God. The LORD told him, “Speak unto all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did ye at all fast unto me, even to me?” (Zechariah 7:5). While God’s people were in exile, they went through the motions of worship, but their hearts were not right with him. God wanted to see a different kind of behavior from his people, some evidence of change in their lives, but there was none. God reminded them of their obligation to “execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother” (Zechariah 7:9). Then he said, “but they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 7:11-12).

God explained to his people that it was their own rejection of him that made it necessary for him to implement a revised plan of salvation. Although God intended to restore Jerusalem, there would be a period of time when Israel would not be the center of his attention. In order to incorporate everyone into his plan of salvation, God intended to spread the good news of his free gift of salvation through a different method. What we refer to today as the gospel, the story of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, was entrusted to both Jews and Gentiles. Just before his ascension into heaven, Jesus told his disciples:

All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. (Matthew 28:18-20)

 

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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 3)

Within Ezekiel’s description of the new temple and its walls was the mention of a building that appeared to be empty. Ezekiel said, “Now the building that was before the  separate place at the end toward the west was seventy cubits broad; and the wall of the building was five cubits thick round about, and the length thereof ninety cubits” (Ezekiel 41:12). Ezekiel’s measurement of the cubit was about 21 inches. Translated into inches, the dimensions of the building were 1470 inches (122.5 ft) wide by 1890 inches (157.5 ft) long, and the walls were 105 inches (8.75 ft) thick. In total, there would have been about 19,000 sq ft of space in the building, about as much space as 10 average-sized houses today.

The west building was located behind the main temple structure, in between the temple and the western wall. This building was situated in such a way that it would have blocked the entrance to the west gate unless the gate actually led into the building and would have to be passed through in order to reach the temple. I can only speculate as to the purpose of the west building because Ezekiel didn’t record any details about its furnishings or relationship to temple activities. It is possible the empty building was intended to be a conference room of sorts where the leaders of God’s kingdom could meet and discuss their plans for the day, week, or month ahead.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the west building to understand was its location directly in front of the west gate. It doesn’t make sense to have a building blocking the western entrance. Perhaps the west building wasn’t actually intended to be a building, but an enclosure similar to a backyard. With that in mind, it could be that it was used as a place to meet and greet or have private fellowship with a select portion of the population. My guess is that it was intended to be a private fellowship hall for those that were invited guests of the prince mentioned in Ezekiel chapter 44.

During the last supper, Jesus said to his disciples, “And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom” (Luke 22:29-30). The Greek word Jesus used for kingdom, basileia (bas – il – i´ ah) is properly translated as royalty. What Jesus was saying was that when he became king, his disciples would be treated as royalty. In other words, they would have special privileges and access to him that others did not.

The new temple (part 2)

Focusing on the floor plan of the temple described by Ezekiel in chapters 40-48 of his book, it is evident that the gates of the structure provided controlled access to three areas of the temple of God. First, there was the outer court, then the inner court, and finally, the temple itself. The temple complex was surrounded by a square shaped outer wall approximately 1/2 mile in length on each side. A total of seven gates limited access to the temple or house where God dwelt. Beginning with the east gate, Ezekiel portrayed the three gates that provided access to the inner court as being large enough to process as many as 1250 people at a time. The gates were similar to tunnels or long corridors in which stations were set up to perhaps check baggage or the identification of those who wished to pass through. Once inside, the inner court consisted of approximately 360,000 sq ft of standing space for people that wanted to participate in worship services.

Enclosed within the inner court was the temple structure which had to be accessed by three additional gates, one on the east, one on the north, and one on the south. This second set of gates was identical to the ones located in the outer court, except there were tables located along the sides of the gates where animals were killed before they were taken to the altar to be sacrificed. The temple court measured 100 cubits square or 175 ft by 175 ft, approximately 30,000 sq ft. The altar that was used for burnt offerings stood in the center of this court. One final gate or doorway had to be passed through to enter the temple. The size of the entryway was extremely small compared to the other gates. Ezekiel recorded “and he brought me to the porch of the house, and measured each post of the porch, five cubits on this side, and five cubits on that side: and the breadth of the gate was three cubits on this side, and three cubits on that side” (Ezekiel 40:48). Three cubits would have been enough room for only about three men to enter the gate simultaneously.

Jesus taught about entering into the kingdom of heaven through a straight or narrow gate in his Sermon on the Mount. He said, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). Jesus may have used the temple gates as an illustration of wide and narrow gates because he wanted his followers to understand that worshipping God was not enough to save them from going to hell. Jesus said of himself “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved” (John 10:9). The Greek word Jesus used for door, thura means a portal or entrance and is also translated as gate (2374).

 

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.

Regeneration

Ezekiel’s prophecy to Israel contained “new covenant” terminology similar to that which was foretold by the prophet Jeremiah before the nation of Judah was destroyed. Jeremiah said specifically, “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31). The basis or foundation of the new covenant was forgiveness of sins. God said through Jeremiah, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). Ezekiel used the term sanctify to identify the process whereby God’s people would be set apart to do his work on earth (Ezekiel 36:23). Ezekiel described four stages of restoration (Ezekiel 36:24-30) that would lead to God’s people being sanctified and specifically detailed a point of regeneration that was necessary for them to be saved. He said:

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh, and I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. (Jeremiah 36:26-27).

Jesus referred to regeneration as being “born again” (John 3:7) and said, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). The idea that a person could be born a second time confused the religious leader, Nicodemus. He asked Jesus, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9). Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to understand heavenly things in order to enter into God’s kingdom and revealed that the only way he could do that was by believing in him (John 3:15-16).

A key to understanding the concept of regeneration was the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Before Jesus’ birth, God used Israel’s return from captivity and restoration of the Promised Land as an illustration of what was yet to be done by his Messiah. Ezekiel recorded, ” Thus saith the Lord GOD; In the day that I shall have cleansed you from all your iniquities, I will cause you to dwell in the cities, and the wastes shall be builded. And the desolate land shall be tilled, whereas it lay desolate in the sight of all that passed by. And they shall say, This land that was desolate is become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are become fenced, and are inhabited. Then the heathen that are left round about you shall know that I the LORD build the ruined places and plant that that was desolate: I the LORD have spoken it, and I will do it” (Ezekiel 36:33-36).

Forgiveness

God identified himself to Jeremiah as “the God of all flesh” (Jeremiah 32:27) and asked him the question, “Is there any thing too hard for me?” What God was implying was that because he had created mankind, he had the power to do whatever was necessary to save his people, if he wanted to. In his role of creator, God sought to accomplish a specific outcome related to his promise to Abraham to make of him a great nation (Genesis 12:2). In its most basic sense, nation refers to a group of people with something in common (1471). In Abraham’s case, the nation God wanted to make of him was a group of faith filled believers that would worship only the LORD. Of this nation, God told Jeremiah, “Thus saith the LORD the maker thereof, the LORD that formed it, to establish it;  the LORD is his name; Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not (Jeremiah 33:2-3).

God’s plan of salvation for his people was revealed before they went into captivity because it was necessary for them to believe their captivity was a part of God’s plan, not an end to God’s involvement in their lives. One of the things that God decided to do was to demonstrate his power through the return of his people to the Promised Land. He told Jeremiah, “Behold, I will bring it health and cure and I will cure them, and will reveal unto them the abundance of peace and truth. And I will cause the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel to return and will build them, as at the first and I will cleanse them from all their iniquity whereby they have sinned against me, and I will pardon all their iniquities whereby they have sinned” (Jeremiah 33:6-8).

The Hebrew terms translated health and cure suggested that after their captivity was completed, the lives of God’s people would return to normal. The only way that could happen was for God to not only cleanse, but to pardon all of his chosen people from their sins. The Hebrew word translated pardon, calach means to forgive. Forgiveness “is the Divine restoration of an offender into favor, whether through his own repentance or the intercession of another” (5545). In the case of all the Israelites that went into captivity, they were forgiven because of the intervention of another, Jesus Christ. Jeremiah was told, “In those days, and at that time will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land. In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name where with she shall be called, The LORD our righteousness” (Jeremiah 33:15-16).

God’s restoration of the nation of Judah would ultimately make it possible for Jesus to be born. Were it not for God’s preservation of the royal bloodline, the Messiah could not fulfill both the old and the new covenants that promised an eternal kingdom to God’s people (Jeremiah 33:17). The assurance of forgiveness was a key provision in God’s plan. If it were up to the people to repent and request forgiveness, none of God’s people might have been saved. Because of his divine capabilities, Jesus was able to intercede on behalf of the Israelites, even before he was born on earth. Jesus’ kingdom was established the moment God promised Abraham he would make of him a great nation (Genesis 12:12), but it wasn’t until Abraham believed in the LORD, that his sins were forgiven and he became the first member of that nation.