V. Prophecies of Israel in the Millennial Kingdom (Ezekiel 40:1–48:35)
V. Prophecies of Israel in the Millennial Kingdom (40:1–48:35)
A. The New Temple (40:1–43:27)
40:1-2 In the history of the world, many leaders—good and bad—have promised that their rule would bring a new order of things. But there is only one legitimate new order, and it will arrive when Jesus Christ establishes his millennial kingdom at his second coming. When that glorious day arrives, there will be a new order for his chosen people Israel in fulfillment of his covenant promises to them. Nowhere is that more clear than in Ezekiel 40–48, as the prophet describes a new temple, a new order of worship, and a new division of the land of Israel that will take effect in the kingdom age.
Ezekiel dated his final prophecies in the twenty-fifth year of . . . exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month in the fourteenth year after Jerusalem had been captured (40:1), which places them in 573 BC. The message God gave Ezekiel to deliver was in the form of visions in which the Lord took the prophet to Israel (40:2)—but a far different version of it than Ezekiel would have seen in his own day after the Babylonian conquest.
40:3-4 In his vision Ezekiel was taken to a “very high mountain” (40:2) where he saw a brilliant figure, no doubt an angel, whose appearance was like bronze. He was holding a measuring rod and commanding the prophet to write down everything he was about to hear and see for the house of Israel (40:3-4). In these words is a clear statement of the purpose for this entire book, not just the concluding chapters; nevertheless, it’s hard for us to grasp what the message of Ezekiel must have meant to his immediate hearers and readers. They were reminded of God’s perfect holiness and intolerance of sin—and yet also his unfailing love for the people he had set apart for himself.
40:5-16 The future revealed to Ezekiel includes a rebuilt temple where God’s people will worship him in spirit and in truth under the rule of Jesus Christ. Ezekiel soon discovered that in his vision, he was standing at its entrance. This millennial temple will serve in the midst of God’s people as a visible symbol of the new covenant he promised to establish.
The angel guiding Ezekiel measured the wall surrounding the outside of the temple, then the eastern gate with its various dimensions and decorations (40:5-16). This gate was listed first because in God’s plan during the millennial kingdom it is the most important gate (see commentary on 44:1-3).
40:17-47 The angel then took Ezekiel to the temple’s outer court, where he saw thirty chambers (40:17), rooms which might be used for storage or for meeting places when the people celebrate their feasts. Ezekiel was then led from the east gate of the outer court to the north and south gates, with the angel measuring and the prophet recording each detail as they went. The tour continued with the temple’s inner court and its gates and measurements (40:27-37), after which Ezekiel saw eight tables . . . on which the slaughtering was to be done (40:41).
This suggestion that animal sacrifices will be resumed in the millennial kingdom does not imply a reversion to the Levitical sacrificial system. After all, such sacrifices could never ultimately take away sins (see Heb 10:4, 11) and were fulfilled in Christ’s once and for all atoning death on the cross (Heb 10:12-18). These sacrifices, however, will be offered not to cover sins, but as memorials to and reminders of the sacrifice of the Messiah that took away sin forever (see Acts 21:26). They will serve to commemorate what he did, just as the Lord’s Supper does today. Millennial worship (Ezek 44–46) will include these sacrifices, properly understood.
Ezekiel was also shown two rooms in the inner court, one for the singers and one for the priests who will be on duty in their turn (40:44-47).
40:48–41:4 The vision shifted as Ezekiel, still in the inner court, stepped back to view the entire temple as the angel measured the portico or entrance to the temple, a vestibule much like a porch with pillars on each side (40:48). He had to climb a flight of stairs (40:49) to reach the great hall or outer sanctuary, which the angel also measured as he did each part of the temple (41:1-2). But he did not enter the room adjacent to the great hall, which the angel entered and measured (41:3-4). The angel explained why Ezekiel was barred from this smaller room: This is the most holy place (41:4).
41:5-26 Ezekiel was also told that the wall surrounding the temple was 10 1/2 feet thick, and that the temple had three levels of side rooms all around, a total of three stories with thirty rooms each (41:5-6). The reason for these rooms is not stated, but they are probably storage rooms for temple equipment or are used to store the people’s tithes and offering. These side rooms were supported by a raised platform serving as a foundation, which was 10 1/2 feet high, with the outer wall of the rooms themselves measuring at 8 3/4 feet in thickness (41:8-9)—built to last! Ezekiel also saw a large building west of the temple that was left unexplained except for its dimensions (41:12), while the temple itself measured 175 feet long and the same width to the east. The temple’s length to the west was the same (41:13-15).
Ezekiel also saw that the interior of the temple was overlaid with wood on all sides, etched with carved . . . cherubim and palm trees (41:16-18). The carved figures represent the guardians of God’s presence, as Ezekiel had seen in his initial vision; the “palm trees” stand for God’s blessing and fruitfulness.
There was also a wooden altar just outside, which the angel described as the table that stands before the Lord (41:22), indicating that it stands just outside the most holy place. This may be the altar of incense, or the one that holds the bread of the presence—both of which were in the original tabernacle (see Exod 30:1-3; 25:23-30). The angel did not explain the altar’s purpose, and Ezekiel went on to describe the double doors of both the outer sanctuary and most holy place (41:23-26).
42:1-12 Ezekiel’s angelic guide then took him to the outer court of the temple to see a group of chambers or rooms (42:1). These were connected to the inner court with entrances from the outer court. The complex was in three tiers, or three stories, with each one being narrower than the one below it (42:3-5). The first row of rooms Ezek-iel saw, those next to the outer court, were 87 1/2 feet long, while the row of rooms facing the great hall or sanctuary were 175 feet long (42:7-8). There was an identical group of rooms on the south side of the temple (42:10-12).
42:13-14 As Ezekiel viewed these northern and southern chambers and recorded their dimensions, the angel explained their purposes. First, they will serve as holy chambers where the priests who approach the Lord will eat the most holy offerings they have deposited from the sacrifices the people bring (42:13). The law of Moses made provision for the priests to eat a portion of the Israelites’ offerings as part of their means of support, and this will be the case again in the millennial temple. A second purpose for these rooms is to give the priests a place to change out of their holy garments and into their “street clothes” before leaving the holy area of the temple (42:14). This will keep the special garments within the temple.
42:15-20 When the angel finished taking Ezekiel through the entire temple complex, he led the prophet outside to measure the temple’s external dimensions. It was a square, measuring 875 feet long on each side (42:15-19). The wall around it had the same dimensions, which Ezekiel explained was for the purpose of separating the holy from the common (42:20).
This last statement emphasized what Ezekiel’s vision of the temple—and in truth his entire prophecy was all about—preserving the holiness of God. The temple’s design enforced that message with its doors and passages limiting access to the holy areas, culminating in the veil covering the most holy place in Solomon’s temple and the doors to it in the millennial temple. But there was also access to God in the temple, either directly in the outer areas or through his appointed representatives, culminating in the sacrifice and ministry of his great high priest, Jesus Christ. He ministers today in the heavenly sanctuary, and will do so forever as our eternal high priest.
43:1-5 Ezekiel 43 is one of the most exciting chapters in the Bible. Here we see the departed glory of God coming back into his house in an awesome display of majesty. Ezekiel heard God’s voice roaring like the roar of a huge torrent, and the earth shone with his glory when he entered the temple through the eastern gate and the temple was filled with his glory (43:2, 4-5).
43:6-9 God told Ezekiel to tell the people that this new indwelling of his new temple in the millennial kingdom would last forever. There would be no more of the defiling of his holy name by the religious prostitution of the people and their kings who dared to place their thrones and idols in God’s house (43:7-8). Political leaders and systems must never be allowed to make themselves equal to God, nor should God’s people allow politics and political parties to compete with the kingdom of God.
43:10-12 God also told Ezekiel to describe the temple to the house of Israel (43:10) to remind them of the shameful acts they committed that caused the magnificent temple of Solomon in Jerusalem to be destroyed and to motivate them to obedience in the future.
43:13-27 When the millennial temple is built, before the redeemed people of Israel will be able to begin their daily worship of God in it, the altar of burnt offering must be consecrated. The altar’s dimensions were given in great detail (43:13-17), with the expectation that they will be followed precisely when the altar is built in the kingdom age. Its completion will be followed by a seven-day period of consecration (43:18-27). This will involve many burnt offerings and a sin offering to be given to the Levitical priests who are from the offspring of Zadok, who will apply the blood in much the same way as it was applied in the sacrifices under the law of Moses (43:18-20). Once these seven days of consecration are complete, on the eighth day and afterward, the priests will offer . . . burnt offerings and fellowship offerings on the altar (43:27). The millennial worship of Israel will begin in earnest.
B. The New Worship (44:1–46:24)
44:1-3 But there will be one gate leading into the millennial Jerusalem through which Israel’s worshipers will not come. Ezekiel had seen God’s glory come back into the temple through the gate that faced east, which God ordered to be closed and remain closed because his glory and holy presence had entered through it (44:1-2). But the prince himself will be allowed to enter this gate (see also 46:2) to eat a meal before the Lord, possibly the fellowship offerings (44:3).
There is some debate about this prince’s identity. One suggestion is that he is Christ himself, the only one worthy to enter a gate that God sanctified by his holy presence. But elsewhere in Ezekiel this prince is said to offer a sin offering for himself (see 45:22), have children (see 46:16), and possess an allotment of land in Israel (see 46:18)—all of which are inappropriate descriptions of Christ.
In 34:24, God himself said, speaking of the kingdom age, “I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among them.” God repeated this prophecy later by saying, “My servant David will be king over them . . . and [he] will be their prince forever” (37:24-25). Based on these passages, the prince Ezekiel mentions is none other than the resurrected King David, leading God’s people again in a role under the lordship of the Messiah. There is a lot to commend this view, since David was a type of Christ and Jesus was called the Son of David.
44:4-8 Ezekiel assumed his usual position, facedown, when he entered the temple and saw the glory of the Lord as it filled it (44:4).
God’s stern exhortation to Ezekiel’s audience is a reminder that even though the prophet was seeing glorious visions of a restored Israel and a magnificent rebuilt temple in the kingdom age to come, he was ministering to a sinful people who had been devastated by judgment and exile. By the time the word came that Jerusalem was destroyed and the survivors of the slaughter reached Babylon in chains, even the most stubborn and rebellious among the Israelites could hardly deny that this catastrophe was the result of their sins.
God told Ezekiel to pay close attention to his holy laws regarding the temple. Then he could teach them to his fellow exiles and record them for future generations so that they wouldn’t commit the same sins of their ancestors and fall under the same judgment (44:5). He said, I have had enough of all your detestable practices, house of Israel (44:6).
One of the sins practiced in the land was bringing foreigners, uncircumcised in both heart and flesh, into the temple for the wrong reasons (44:7). These were not Gentiles who wanted to sincerely worship the God of Israel but idolaters who corrupted God’s worship and his people. Yet the Israelites gave these people charge of his sanctuary (44:8)!
44:9-14 The Levites weren’t much help either. During the days of Israel’s apostasy, these men who were supposed to be guardians of God’s holiness and who handled his holy things also strayed into idolatry (44:10). As a result of their sin, they will have a diminished role in the millennial age, serving as guards at the temple gates and ministering at the temple in lesser roles (44:11-12). No longer will they be priests or handle any of the holy things or the most holy things as part of their reduced temple assignments (44:13-14).
44:15-23 It was a different story with the Levitical priests descended from Zadok (44:15), the chief priest during Solomon’s reign who had remained faithful to God while the Israelites were turning away from him. These priests will be honored by their appointment to serve God in the priestly role in the millennial temple (44:16). They will follow Mosaic regulations such as wearing linen garments when they minister, changing their clothes before going back among the people, not adopting the common signs of mourning, not drinking wine before they go in to do their priestly duties, and not marrying women who have previously been married (44:17-23). Such regulations were restrictive, but that was the point. Those set apart to serve God were to demonstrate that they were wholly his in every area of their lives.
44:24-31 The priests will also serve as judges in Israel and will be allowed to mourn the death of a close relative, although death will be a rare occurrence in Christ’s kingdom (44:24-27). And as in the days of the Old Testament priests, these servants of God will not have an allotment in the land of Israel, which will be divided again by God (see Ezek 48). God said, I am their inheritance. . . . I am their possession (44:28). One way he will provide for his servants is by the best of all the firstfruits of every kind and contribution of every kind brought to him at the temple (44:30).
45:1-5 Ezekiel 48 deals with the allotment of Israel’s land by tribes. God gave directions on how Jerusalem and the area will be arranged in the kingdom, both as a place for the millennial temple and as places of residence for the priests and Levites close to it. They are to set aside a donation to the Lord, a holy portion of the land (45:1) for the obvious reason that it will contain God’s holy house and servants (45:4-5).
45:6-8 This area is a rectangle, 8 1/3 miles long and 6 2/3 miles wide (45:1), further divided width-wise into two equal sections that are 3 1/3 miles wide (45:3). The first section will contain both the temple and the priests’ houses, with the Levites’ houses being in the second rectangle. The rectangle will become a square when another area is added, which will be the dimensions of Jerusalem itself (45:6), along with an area on each side of the holy donation of land and the city’s property for the prince to occupy (45:7-8).
45:9-12 Ezekiel 45:9 was a jarring return to reality for Ezekiel’s readers after his extended description of the glories of the kingdom age. God turned his attention from the nation’s future, righteous prince to the present, unrighteous princes who were in exile with Ezekiel. His rebuke of their evil that led to Judah’s downfall was stinging: You have gone too far, princes of Israel! These coldhearted leaders had used violence and oppression to fuel their greed, using dishonest business practices to cheat their people (45:9-10). But God warned them to start using honest measures and reminded them what these were (45:11-12). Even in exile, the Israelite community needed leaders, and God wanted Israel’s to know that he was watching and would weigh their actions in his scales.
45:13-25 Here the subject returns to the sacrificial system in the millennial temple when, unlike the unrighteous princes of Ezekiel’s day, the kingdom prince in Israel will honestly weigh out and provide the offerings for all the appointed times of the house of Israel (45:16-17). Ezekiel was referring to the nation’s feasts, from the first feast of the year, Passover followed by the seven days of unleavened bread, to the last of Israel’s annual feasts, the feast of Tabernacles or Booths, which began on the fifteenth day of the seventh month and also lasted seven days (45:21, 25). Clearly, in the millennial age, observances such as Passover will not be held to provide an animal sacrifice to cover the people’s sins for another year; they will be a celebration of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice for sin.
46:1-11 God’s instructions for Israel’s worship in the millennial temple continue with instructions for the weekly Sabbath, monthly New Moon, feast days, and daily sacrifices. Ezekiel was still in his visionary state as he received these commands (see 40:1-2), being shown the new temple by the angelic figure who was leading him. He saw once again that the temple’s eastern gate was to remain closed during the week, but opened on the Sabbath day and on the New Moon so the prince could sacrifice his . . . offerings and bow in worship (46:1-2), bringing what God prescribed (46:4-8). Instructions are also provided to show how the people are to enter and leave the temple when they come to present their sacrifices in worship to the Lord (46:9-11).
46:12-15 The eastern gate is to be opened on one other occasion, when the prince makes a freewill offering (46:12). By definition there is no set time for this offering, so the regulations for keeping the eastern gate closed will be set aside so that this leader can bring an offering expressing his love for God. As soon as his offering is done, the gate will be closed again. The regulations for worship in the millennial temple end with instructions for the daily sacrifice (46:13-15), which is appropriate because it is by its nature the most frequent way in which God’s people will be reminded of their relationship to him and will have the opportunity to express their devotion.
46:16-18 Remarkably, even in the kingdom age the ownership of the new land of Israel will be governed by the ancient law of the Year of Jubilee (see Lev 25:8-13). Any land the prince gives . . . to each of his sons will stay in the family, but any land he gives to a servant will revert to the prince in the jubilee year (46:16-17). Unlike the evil princes of Ezekiel’s day (see 45:8-9), the righteous prince of the millennial age will never take the people’s land by force (46:18).
46:19-24 Ezekiel’s angelic guide showed him a series of kitchens where the priests will cook their own portions of the sacrifices and the portions the worshipers are allowed to eat (46:24). These kitchens will be in distinct parts of the temple complex, keeping the priests separate from the people as they eat their sacrificial portions that have been made holy before the Lord. When the Israelites brought fellowship offerings to God at the temple, they were allowed to eat a part of them with their families and friends in a joyful meal. It will be that way again in the kingdom temple.
C. The New Land (47:1–48:35)
47:1-12 This vision of water flowing east from the threshold of the temple (47:1) began with a trickle and increased dramatically in depth every third of a mile (47:3, 4-5). This river will flow all the way to the Dead Sea, miraculously giving it life. Its water will become fresh, and there will be life everywhere the river goes, even along its banks (47:9, 12).
In Scripture, water is often tied to life and to the work of the Holy Spirit (see John 7:37-39), so the river that will flow from the millennial temple is further evidence that the Spirit of God has returned to his house. It’s another way of testifying to God’s people that he is in the place and that his blessing is flowing from him to the entire land. There’s a kingdom lesson here for us today because the church is supposed to model the kingdom of God. We are supposed to be a living illustration of the flowing, deepening, and growing life that happens when the Holy Spirit manifests his growing presence in a community of believers (see Eph 2:19-22).
The book of Ezekiel is about a nation that was not just in religious decline, but also in governmental and family decline because none of the designated spheres of authority in God’s kingdom program—the temple (think the church in our day), the government, and the family unit—were following God’s statutes and commands. There was plenty of blame to share, but God started in Ezekiel’s day where he always starts when his people descend into chaos. He started with judgment at his house, not at the courthouse downtown or at the White House, so to speak. Until we as God’s people get our kingdom agenda priorities in order, he will not skip our failings to fix what’s wrong with our culture either. “The time has come for judgment to begin with God’s household, and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who disobey the gospel of God?” (1 Pet 4:17).
The reason our culture is drying up is because there’s no spiritual water flowing out of the sanctuary into the world. But we aren’t going to get the water flowing down the streets of our communities, bringing life where there is death, until it begins to flow down the aisles of our churches. If God’s presence doesn’t show up among his people, how will it show up in our neighborhoods, in the nation, and in the world?
47:13-20 The rest of Ezekiel deals with the borders and divisions of Israel’s land in the millennial kingdom. God wanted to remind his people that he had not forgotten the promise he swore to their ancestors—to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—to give them this land . . . as an inheritance (47:14). The borders outlined here are similar to those originally given to Moses (see Num 34:1-12), but Israel never fully occupied them at any time in its history.
The division of the land to the twelve tribes of Israel includes the note that Joseph will receive two shares (47:13), which is a reference to his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. There are different listings of the tribes throughout the Old Testament, depending on the reason for the listings. And that’s the case even here in the millennium age, because the subject is the land allotments. The tribe of Levi did not have a portion of the land given to them since they were set apart to the Lord. He was to be their inheritance.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that the Le-vites didn’t have homes or anything to pass on to their descendants. They were provided for in Israel’s history, and Ezekiel’s vision showed that they would have residences within the temple complex during the kingdom age, too. So there was no need to list them with the tribes. That takes care of one of the tribes that Ephraim and Manasseh replaced. But the other one was Joseph himself. This brings us to twelve allotments in Ezekiel 48, with the other ten of Jacob’s sons being named.
47:21-23 Even the aliens residing among the Israelites in the kingdom, a reference to those Gentiles who believe in and worship the Messiah, will have special privileges (47:22-23). Aliens who wanted to follow the God of Israel were always allowed to live among his people and were treated kindly by them, but these people will also be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel (47:22).
48:1-29 The division of the land will begin from the north and move to the south, with seven tribes receiving their allotments in the northern areas (48:1-7). The central part of the land will include Jerusalem and the area around it, which Ezekiel had already described in detail as the part that the people were to donate to the Lord (48:8). Its dimensions are repeated and specified as being for the use of the consecrated priests, the sons of Zadok and the Levites (48:11, 13). Also worth noting is the land belonging to the prince (48:21-22). The lower part of the land will be divided among the five remaining tribes (48:23-29).
48:30-35 The new Jerusalem will have twelve gates, three on each side of the city (48:30-34), but the most important thing Ezekiel could say about the city under the perfect, righteous rule of its rightful King was the new name it will bear: The Lord Is There (48:35). The holy city had become unholy and doomed to destruction. God’s glory had departed in judgment. But in the glorious future, it will be restored when King Jesus returns to claim his rightful place as King and Lord and establishes his millennial kingdom reign.