Sunday, February 24, 2019

Ezekiel's Temple Part 2: Telescopic Prophecy

The Ezekiel Temple poses a challenge to all interpreters. In the last post, I examined the supposedly simple pre-millennial view and pointed out some complications. Here I'd like to propose a potential solution for post-millennial and amillennial interpreters.

The problem for the post-millenialist and amillennialist (and the pre-millennialist who accepts the above arguments) is that the language of the Ezekiel Temple appears very specific in nature and is therefore difficult to conceive of as anything but literal. This makes an allegorical interpretation seem unlikely.

A few other solutions have been proposed. One is to interpret the passage as referring to the second Temple. However, if that is the case, one would have to account for the differences. Herod's Temple didn't measure up to the dimensions of the Ezekiel Temple.

Another proposed solution would be to see this as a potential Temple that could have been built had Israel repented. Again, history seems to work counter to this interpretation. A remnant of Israel did repent, did return to the land, and did rebuild a Temple. Why wasn't it the Ezekiel Temple?

The Prophet's Audience

One advantage of the last two interpretations is that they both situate the fulfillment (or potential fulfillment) of this vision close to Ezekiel's actual audience. Consider the purpose of Ezekiel's prophecy:
"As for you, son of man, describe to the house of Israel the temple, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and they shall measure the plan. And if they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the design of the temple, its arrangement, its exits and its entrances, that is, its whole design; and make known to them as well all its statutes and its whole design and all its laws, and write it down in their sight, so that they may observe all its laws and all its statutes and carry them out." (Ezekiel 43:10-11)
Ezekiel was speaking to his generation, calling them to repentance. It seems that it was Ezekiel's contemporaries who were to fulfill this vision.

Additionally, while there are many differences between Herod's Temple and the Ezekiel Temple, there are some unique similarities as well. Take the priesthood for instance. The term "Sadducee" is actually derived from the name "Zadok." According to Maimonides, the second Temple drew from both the design of Solomon's Temple and the Ezekiel Temple.

It seems a number of things recommend this view. However, there is still the large difficulty of accounting for the differences.

Telescopic Prophecy

My solution is to suggest that what Ezekiel is seeing is not just one distinct event, but rather two events collapsed upon each other. The first, as described above, is the second Temple. The second would be the new creation (as indicated by the vision of a river of life and the trees bearing fruit each month with leaves for healing). In looking forward to the end of days, certain aspects of the near vision might have been enhanced by what was far off.

In particular, this telescopic vision seems to encode a trajectory for a continually expanding Temple*. We see throughout the Tanak that each successive iteration of God's dwelling is built with larger dimensions from the Tabernacle to Solomon's Temple to Herod's Temple. Ezekiel's Temple paints this trajectory as continuing. Thus, the level of detail is neither superfluous nor incorrect, but rather serves the purpose of illustrating the direction in which this whole Temple project was pointing.

This idea of an expanding Temple can be corroborated by Jeremiah 3:16 (where all of Jerusalem is called the throne of the Lord) and Zechariah 14:20-21. In Jeremiah, we are told that all of Jerusalem is to become God's throne, a designation previously confined to the ark of the Covenant. Zechariah tells us that the holiness of the vessels inside the Temple will be extended to all Jerusalem and Judah. The end of all this is to accomplish Isaiah's Temple vision (Isa. 6:1-5) that the whole earth should be filled with God's glory. Since we're in God's heavenly Temple in this vision, it seems to me that the reference to God's glory should bring to mind those passages where God's glory fills the Tabernacle / Temple (Exo. 40:34-35, 2 Chron. 5:11-14; 7:1-3).

Such an interpretation, while perhaps not as straightforward and simple as one might like, I do believe does a better job than the alternatives of accounting for all the data (the purpose of the vision, the specificity, the grandeur / eschatological aspect, and this worldliness (i.e. dealing with such things as uncleanness and sin)).

As before, feel free to share your thoughts below. What do you think of this proposal? Do you find it convincing? Why or why not?

*I owe much to Greg Beale's book "The Temple and the Church's Mission" for introducing me to the idea of an expanding Temple

No comments:

Post a Comment