After following Ezekiel for 20 years since chapter one, we come to the climatic vision in chapters 40-48. In this final dream-like sequence, Ezekiel is escorted on a three-dimensional visionary tour of a temple with a river that flow out to heal all the nations.
Visions are kind of like The Matrix, or the holodeck in Star Trek. Ezekiel is lifted onto a very high mountain where he looks down on a virtual city (40:1-2). Like all prophecy, the point is not in the details themselves, but in the overall image that is being created. The details are meant to heighten the grandeur of the geometric, symmetrical dimensions of the temple’s design.
There is no explicit command to build this massive temple—in contrast to the tabernacle, which God repeatedly instructed Israel to build according to the pattern shown to Moses. With Ezekiel’s temple, there is no hint of any human construction at all. It is simply presented to him in a virtual reality-like manner. The further in you go, the narrower the entrance becomes. Although many have tried to draw it, it’s perfect, three-dimensional cube structure is literally impossible to create. In fact, there are so many Leviticus-sounding details mixed into its Eden-like spiritual geography that no human being could possibly build it. Ezekiel’s virtual reality tour is a vision—not an architectural blueprint.
Nevertheless, some people are convinced that Ezekiel’s temple will one day be built in Jerusalem—only to open its doors to the Antichrist. This is not something we should encourage. To reinstitute animal sacrifices would deny the sufficiency of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice for sin (Heb 10:12-14, 18). To reinstate a priesthood would diminish Christ’s priestly intercession from heaven and disparage the priesthood of all believers. Such disregard for the complete and final work of Christ is precisely what the writer of the book of Hebrews warned against.
The guided tour moves along at a quick pace and ends at the place it began (Ezek 40-42). After the tour is over, Ezekiel is led to the best vantage point to watch the splendid arrival of the King: at “the gate facing east” (43:1). The King’s grand entrance sounded like Niagara Falls and suddenly the entire “earth shone with his glory” as “the glory of the Lord filled the temple” (43:3-5). The king has come home. “This is the place of my throne,” says the King, “where I will dwell in the midst of the people forever” (43:6-7). In this vision, priests carry out their religious duties “ministering before the Lord” and “teaching” the people (40:46; 44:15-23). The princes (there’s more than one) carry out their civic duties “executing justice and righteousness” for all (45:7-9).
God then brings Ezekiel back to the door of the temple and water begins to trickle out from below the threshold of the temple (47:1-5). At first it was only ankle deep, then knee deep, and then waist deep. It kept gushing out until it formed a river that could not be passed through without a life preserver! Only Jesus can save and immerse someone in these “rivers of living water” (John 7:38-39).
Wherever the river goes, everything flourishes (Ezek 47:6-11). All kinds of fish and all kinds of trees from all over the world are thriving “because the water for them flows from the sanctuary” (47:12). John saw the river, too, and confirmed that it was “for the healing of the nations” (Rev 22:1-2).
Ezekiel’s vision ends with the land of Israel divided equally among the people and arranged around the sanctuary (Ezek 48). What does this signify? All God’s people, no matter how long or how hard they serve the Lord, will receive the same reward: eternal life in the Age to Come on a new earth. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt 5:5). The thief on the cross received the same reward as Paul, Ezekiel, you, and me.
Old Testament prophecies of future scenes are always presented in its local setting, using language the original audience understood. Prophecy used localized situations to foreshadow a future globalized reality. Paul was able to broaden Ezekiel’s dry bones vision and John was able broaden Ezekiel’s Gog prophecy and the 3D temple-cube vision because they enjoyed a certain vantage point: the King had already risen and is preparing a city. “And the name of the city from that time on shall be, The Lord Is There” (Ezek 48:35).