Ezekiel’s Temple: Literal or Metaphorical or Both?

I often get asked what I think about the vision that Ezekiel had of a temple (commonly called  “Ezekiel’s Temple”), which is recorded in chapters 40 to 48 of the book bearing his name. Here are my thoughts on the subject to this point. —Natan

Ezekiel 43:10–27,Understanding the Mystery of Ezekiel’s Temple. Ezekiel’s vision of a temple is enigmatic. Few passages in the entire Bible are more difficult to understand than chapters 40 to 48 of the Book of Ezekiel where the prophet describes in detail a temple—a habitation for YHVH himself—that he saw in a vision. Ezekiel’s temple is similar to the Tabernacle of Moses and Solomon’s Temple, but different and grander. 

Is this temple to be actually built during the Messianic Era or Millennium (which is the most common interpretation of this prophetic passage)? Or is this temple not a literal temple that will be built, but only figurative and spiritual in nature containing some hidden spiritual message? Bible commentators are uncertain. The Christian commentator Matthew Henry brushes off the vision with a scant commentary giving the following reasoning why: “Here is a vision … which is justly looked upon to be one of the most difficult portions in all the book of God. When we despair to be satisfied as to any difficulty we meet with, let us bless God that our salvation does not depend upon it, but that things necessary are plain enough; and let us wait till God shall reveal even this unto us.” Not content to leave this issue on Matthew Henry’s spiritual back burner, this author has assembled a series of insightful quotes from scholars who have studied Ezekiel’s Temple in depth and have some thought-provoking ideas as to its spiritual significance that may well spur the reader to examine this subject more thoroughly for himself.

Next, we present some excerpts from some Jewish and Christian commentaries on the subject of Ezekiel’s temple.

The Soncino Pentateuch sees this vision describing a temple that will be built in the New Jerusalem after the return of the exiled Israelites, which occurs when Messiah comes to establish his kingdom on earth. “This new temple was … to symbolize and embody in concrete form the teachings of Holiness and Purity preached by the Prophet in the preceding 39 chapters of his book.… The real hope of the future for Ezekiel lies in perfect and willing obedience to the Law” (p. 350).

The ArtScroll Chumash notes that at the beginning of the Book of Ezekiel the prophet is shown the glory of YHVH departing the Temple in Jerusalem because of all the abominations done therein (Ezek 9 and 10). That Temple became but an empty shell destined for soon destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. “But [Elohim] removes his Presence from places, not from his people. Throughout Ezekiel’s sad task of warning the nation of the consequences of its waywardness, [Elohim] told him that Israel would remain his people, that he would share their exile, and that he would bring them home again. In the concluding chapters of the book, Ezekiel saw the vision, the architecture, the dimensions, the laws of the Third Temple. Finally, he saw the vision of the Shechinah’s [YHVH’s glorious Presence] return—the same Shechinah whose departure he had tearfully witnessed twenty years earlier” (pp. 1158–1159).

The essence of the nine chapters devoted to describing this temple is found in 48:35 where the name of the city is given: YHVH Is There/YHVH Shama (vnÑ vuvh), according to the ArtScroll Tanch Series Ezekiel Commentary. The focus of the New Jerusalem is that it is the resting place of the Divine Presence. “[Elohim] wills that there be a New Jerusalem only because he wills that there be a place of welcome for the Divine Presence.… This Temple is to become the throne and footstool for the Divine Presence (43:7) and, in contrast to the two previous Temples which became defiled—and subsequently destroyed—through Israel’s sins, this one is to stand inviolate. [Elohim] is to dwell in it, never to depart (43:7)” (p. 605).

Adam Clarke in his commentary sees a direct correlation between the layout of Ezekiel’s temple and the message of the cross. “The tabernacle and temple were types of the incarnation of [Yeshua the Messiah]: ‘Destroy this temple, and after three days I will raise it up;—but this he spoke of the temple of his body’ (John 2:19,21). And in that Temple ‘dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.’ Into this immaculate humanity did the glory of the Supreme [Elohim] enter; and thus, ‘[Elohim] was in [Messiah] reconciling the world to himself.’ And this [Yeshua] is Immanuel, [El] with us” (Clarke’s Commentary, vol. 4, p. 540).

E.W. Bullinger in his noted Companion Bible says of Ezekiel’s Temple or Sanctuary, that it is the palace or habitation of the Messiah in connection with “the city of the great King” (Ps 48:2; Matt 5:35) (Appendix 88, p. 126).

“These closing chapters [Ezek 40 through 48] describe the new temple and a new order of worship for Israel. Most important they conclude with the name of the city, [YHVH] Is There. This is the key for understanding this whole vision of Ezekiel, which is paralleled by Revelation 21:1–22:15. As John has an angel guide to show him around his New Jerusalem, so Ezekiel has an angel to explain to him his temple vision. Though scholars vary in their interpretation, the temple is best interpreted symbolically, representing the ­worshiping community of the Messiah, during the church age, the Millennium, and climaxing in the world to come” (Spirit Filled Life Bible, notes on Ezek 40:1).

So what is the bottom line here? Will Ezekiel’s Temple literally be built or is it merely metaphorical symbology or both? There are valid points to be made on all sides the issue. My answer is that I don’t know who is right or wrong.


9 thoughts on “Ezekiel’s Temple: Literal or Metaphorical or Both?

  1. Off the cuff here…not researching but just throwing a thought out there….The tabernacle was designed after a heavenly tabernacle, so…there is one in heaven. There will be a new Heaven and earth and they will descend down, correct? Could the vision be of THAT tabernacle/temple? Agree I have no idea either, but just considered this as a possible thought…..

    • Ezekiel’s temple will be real. The New Jerusalem will connect to it somehow, probably through its Holy of Holies. Heaven above will truly be God’s throne and the earth His footstool. Isaiah 66:1. It will be both the House of God and the Gate of Heaven foretold by Genesis 28:17. Been studying this for well over a year and that is where the scriptures have lead me.

      • Some of us have been studying the Scriptures for well over 50 years and we have learned that extreme dogmatism about some non-salvational things in the Bible that are hard to understand, or that can be interpreted in more than one way can eventually lead to one’s face being covered with egg, so to speak. Be cautious. The older I get, the more I realize that there are a lot of things that I don’t know. Blessings.

      • I’ve scratched my head often over this. One of the clinchers for me is that there will be sin offerings there. This conflicts with the most basic doctrines of the N.T. about sin offerings and the atonement of Christ as discussed primarily in the book of Hebrews as well as Paul’s epistles. I see no theological basis for believing god would condone animal sacrifices again, even for the jews. Rending the veil was a dramatic declaration that a new era had begun. The purpose of the sacrifices was to foreshadow Christ, the real sin offering, and that purpose has ended.

      • As I have stated many times before, if there are animal sacrifices in the Millennium, they will be illustrative memorials to the physical people living on earth at that time to remind in a most graphic way of the consequences of their sin and their need for a Savior. They will simply be pointing backwards to the cross as those sacrifices in the OT pointed forward to the cross. This is a very simply concept for my mind to grasp.

  2. Could Messiah also be referencing the “destroy this temple and after 3 days I will raise it up” to after the 2,000 years of the gentiles, the 3rd temple will be built?

  3. Ezekiel’s Temple is a meeting place for the elect from the four winds. The Temple should be built in the Judean desert, 30 km south of Jerusalem, on the southern slope of the mountain, on the watershed of the Nahal Hever and Nahal Arugot, in accordance with the prophecy of Ezekiel. At the same place are the ruins of an ancient altar built by Abraham, Jehovah jireh. Today we have a drawing of this Temple. Why aren’t we building it? Inexplicably.

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