V. Prophecies of Israel in the Millennial Kingdom (Ezekiel 40:1–48:35)

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.

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.

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.

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