The Temple Of God
When I grew up I remember a term that was used about our family. We were called “DP’s.” I remembered the term and what it meant. It meant “displaced persons” and referred to the fact that we were refugees from another country. I hadn’t remembered where and how it was used and when I asked my mother about it, she recalled that it was not a positive term. She experienced it at her job and the comments were made because some of the other workers were upset that the “DP’s” were taking all the jobs.
In fact, DP is a good description of what they were. They had been displaced from their home. Because of their displacement, they had experienced loss of place, loss of relationships, loss of income and property. They had come to a new home and because they had no hope of ever going back to their former home they began to establish themselves in their new home. How difficult it must have been to go through all that hardship and then be looked down upon on top of it.
A lot of people have experienced similar displacement and hardship. For example, aboriginal people in Canada, Sudanese refugees in the Darfur region and Palestinians in the Middle East. It was also the situation of the Jewish people in exile in Babylon. They were “DP’s” and had experienced loss of place, loss of relationships and loss of prosperity.
All of these devastating things had happened to them because of their sin and in Ezekiel 40:1, he indicates that it is 25 years since they have been in exile and 14 years since Jerusalem fell. Their devastation has lasted almost a generation. That is a long time and by now many would have been wondering if there was any hope for them as a nation.
In this place of being DP’s, of loss and hopelessness, God once again came to the people and had a word for them. Ezekiel 40:1 says, “the hand of the Lord was upon me…” Then God spoke to Ezekiel and told him, in verse 4, to look, to hear, to pay attention and to tell the people. God had a message for His people. What kind of a message was it? How would it help them as DP’s? It was intended as a word of hope for exiles who had lost place, relationships and prosperity.
Many of the images in this passage appear again in Revelation and so we recognize that there is a connection between the displacement of the people of Israel from Jerusalem and our displacement as God’s people from our heavenly home. Therefore, I believe that these chapters of Ezekiel are a word of hope for Israel but also a word of hope for us.
I. The Glory Entered The Temple 43:4
It has been kind of interesting since we have completed our addition, how many people have come to take a walking tour of the church. We have had numerous people from other churches coming to check out, especially our kitchen. One fellow even came with a measuring tape and I took him to the kitchen and he made a whole bunch of measurements. From Ezekiel 40:5 to 42:20, there is a description in which a heavenly messenger takes Ezekiel on a walking tour of the temple. At this time there was no temple, it had been destroyed by the Babylonians and so the tour was in a vision. The messenger has a measuring tape along and goes throughout the temple describing the measurements of the gates and the courts and the rooms and the holy place and the dimensions of the entire temple as Ezekiel watches.
Upon the completion of the walking tour, we read in 43:1 that the man brought Ezekiel back to the gate facing east. There he saw something happen that was wonderful. It was better than the Jets coming back to Winnipeg. It was better than the Bombers winning the Grey Cup. It was better than seeing your boyfriend down on his knee with a ring in his hand. It was better than seeing a long lost friend returning. It was a picture of the glory of God coming from the east and filling the temple once again.
This was not the first time that the glory of God had entered the temple. After Moses set up the tent of meeting, we read in Exodus 40:34 that the glory of God filled the temple. Because God was there, it was to be the place where God would meet with His people. It was a symbol of God present with His people. After Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem, we also read in I Kings 8:11 that “the glory of the Lord filled the temple.” The promise at that time was that no matter what would happen to the people of Israel, they could always turn their face towards Jerusalem and towards the temple where God was and they could seek God. In Ezekiel 10, the writer had watched in profound sadness, as the glory of the Lord left the temple through the east gate. That day the hope of the presence of God and the hope of relationship with God died. The exiles were cast out to be on their own without a place where they could come and meet with God. Now, that vision was reversed. The glory of God once again came to live in this new temple.
What a tremendous message of hope for these people displaced from their homes and separated from their God. They were “DP’s” displaced from their most significant relationship and now God was promising that it would be restored, that God had not given up on His people and had not abandoned them.
As we read on in Ezekiel 43, we find that they were to be encouraged to give up their sins and be faithful to God because of the message of hope that the promise of God’s return would mean.
How was this promise of God fulfilled? Although a temple was built again after 70 years of exile, there is no record that the glory of God filled that temple as He had the tent of meeting and Solomon’s temple. The next occurrence of God’s glory filling a temple took place on the day of Pentecost. On that day, God came and filled the temple which is the church. What the presence of God in the temple of the Old Testament was to the people in Ezekiel’s day, the Holy Spirit is to God’s people the church today. God did indeed come in the fullness which is described in Ezekiel 40-43. As people who have understood that God is present with His people, we have actually gotten used to the idea and do not understand the power of it. God has come and is present with His people, the church. That is why there is power for witnessing, power to live in unity, power to love one another and power to build the kingdom of God in a hostile world.
However, His coming is not yet complete. There is another picture of God’s presence filling the temple in Revelation 21:22 where it says that “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” That is the complete fulfillment of the promise in Ezekiel. The word of hope given to the people of Ezekiel’s day is a word of hope that also is meant for us. God has come as He promised and He is coming again.
II. I Will Accept You 43:27
Remember when you were little and you did something wrong. If your parents found out about what you had done, there was a time until you were punished when you may have felt a broken relationship between you and your parents. Guilt for wrongdoing builds walls between people.
The people of God in exile were guilty of terrible sins. We have read the long list of all that they had done. Most of Ezekiel and much of the writing of the other prophets is a loud testimony to the sin and the guilt of the people. Because they were in exile, they felt the rejection of God for all that they had done wrong. They had failed to live holy lives, they had failed to seek God’s forgiveness and they had failed to repent and follow God. Their exile was punishment for their wrongdoing. The destruction of the temple removed any possibility of being made right with God. Have you ever felt guilty before God? Have you ever felt that God could not possibly accept you because of what you had done? Perhaps the message that God is coming back again is not good news because you know that God is a holy God and you do not feel comfortable in His holy presence.
The second part of the prophecy is a description of the laws of the temple and the work done by the priests. It indicates the way in which the temple was to be sanctified and all the sacrifices which were to be offered. The description is reminiscent of the sacrifices of the Old Testament. Many of the descriptions sound like what the people would have been familiar with because it was what had been practiced, or at least was supposed to have been practiced previously. The description of the temple regulations and the description which talks about how sacrifices will once again happen in the temple are a word of encouragement that there will once again be a way for the people to atone for their sins and to be made right with God. Please look at Ezekiel 43:27. In this verse which follows a description of how to make the sin offerings and how to make atonement for sin, God says to the people, “Then I will accept you, declares the Sovereign Lord.”
God’s presence is a holy presence. Even the construction of the temple indicates that. Each gate from the outer gate to the holy of holies is narrower indicating limited access to the holy presence of God. The law in these sections, for example that no uncircumcised foreigner may come into the temple, reinforces that holiness. Access is limited by the holiness of God. In order to enter that presence, people need to have their sins forgiven. This passage promises that God will provide a way for them to do that.
What a wonderful word of hope for people who didn’t know how or if it would be possible for them to be right with God again. God promised that He would make a way for them to find acceptance with Him. The message which Ezekiel had for the exiled, guilt ridden, sinful people in exile was, God will provide a way that will allow your sins to be forgiven and that will result in being accepted by God.
As they learned about this hope, it was intended to invite them to a life of obedience to God. Have you ever noticed that a messy place often gets more messy. If an area has a lot of litter on it, people don’t mind adding more. They think, “it’s messy anyway.” The same kind of thinking may have been in the minds of the people in exile. We are so messed up and there is no way back, so why even try to live for God. When God lets them know that there is a way to be accepted by Him, then there is reason to live clean lives and look forward to a relationship with God.
Once again we ask, “How was this promise fulfilled?”
When the temple was set up by Ezra, sacrifices were once again offered and they were very careful to walk in holiness, When Jesus came, however, he offered a much better way to be accepted by God. Hebrews makes a comparison between the Old Testament sacrifices and the once for all sacrifice which Jesus offered. In Hebrews 10:1 it says, “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming. In this way the message of Ezekiel points forward to what Jesus did. Hebrews 10:4 says that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Then in 10:9,10 it gives us this wonderful message when it points to the work of Jesus and promises “He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
Hallelujah! God is so good that he has taken the initiative to provide a way for us to be acceptable to Him. He promised this to the exiles in Babylon and He has fulfilled that promise in Christ and that fulfillment extends to us today. When we know that our sins are forgiven, like the exiles in Babylon, we are invited to live a life of obedience to God.
III. The River Of Blessing Flows 47:1-12
I suggested earlier that being a DP involved loss of relationships and loss of prosperity. Carla’s mom grew up on an estate in Russia where they had servants and much property and great wealth. She also was displaced from that and had to learn to live a rather frugal life. The Israelites had also lost prosperity, but, God’s promise in this section also speaks of the restoration of blessing.
As he continues to describe the temple and its functions, we come to a rather interesting description that is not like anything that was a part of the tent of meeting or Solomon’s temple. It seems that there is water coming out of the altar on the south side and flowing towards the east. As Ezekiel and the man with him follow the course of the stream, the man measures 1000 cubits. They go for a walk through the water and it is about ankle deep. He measures off another 1000 cubits and it is knee deep. About 1.5 km from the temple, it is waist deep and by the time they have gone about 2 km, it is too deep to walk across. Now this is a truly miraculous river. Normally as you go further along a river, it gets deeper, but that is only because there are tributaries that add to the flow. There is no mention of tributaries here. There is only one source of water and that is from the temple, that is, the presence of God. As the water gets further from the presence of God, it gets deeper without any other source! What is evident is that this is a miracle of God’s blessing.
The blessing of this river is further described. It flows into the Dead Sea, which is the lowest and deadest lake on the planet. On the surface, where fresh water, like that from the Jordan River flows into it, it is saltier than the ocean. As you go deeper into the lake, the concentration increases. If a fish swims into the Dead Sea from one of these streams, it dies immediately because of the salt. Nothing lives in the Dead Sea. But, when this river flows into it, it comes alive. Where there were no fish there is now a fishing industry because it is a life giving stream that will take the deadest places and make them come to life again. The shores of the Dead Sea are places where mineral salts have crystallized and nothing grows, but when the river from God’s presence flows into it, the shores is surrounded by trees which never die and bear fruit every month and the leaves are for the healing of the nations. The reason for the unusual life of these trees is “because the water from the sanctuary flows to them.”
This is a picture of the restoration of blessing. Remember, these people are in exile and have lost their place, their relationships and their prosperity. God promises blessings to them that are beyond what they have ever seen. God promises a restoration of all that they have lost and so much more.
What is really cool is that this image is picked up by John in Revelation 22. There the river also flows from the throne of God. It also has trees that bear fruit every month and the leaves are for the healing of the nations. You know what that means? Where God is, there blessings abound - today and even more in a time that is yet to come.
The song “The River” speaks about looking to God for the blessings only He can give. Are we willing to receive the blessings that come from God’s presence?
IV.The Lord Is There 48:35
The final picture which is presented in Ezekiel 47 & 48, the conclusion of the book, speaks of the division of the land. Once again, you can see how encouraging this would have been to a people who had lost their land and their hope. The language is reminiscent of the division of the land which happened when the people entered into the promised land after the exodus out of Egypt in Numbers 34:1-12 & I Kings 8:65. One of the things which we notice about this division of land, however, is that it does not take much account of the geography of the land. It seems that, as one writer says, “Ezekiel is concerned that the land be divided equally. This attention to justice causes him to ignore historical geography and to transform the topography of the land. His scheme is symbolic and never intended to be literally implemented.”
The pinnacle of promise and blessing comes in the very last verse of the book. The name of this restored city is not Jerusalem. In fact it is interesting that the name Jerusalem is never mentioned in these chapters at all. For all the hope and attention bound up in Jerusalem previously, this is puzzling. Instead, the name of the city is, “The Lord is there.” Once again there is a tremendous message for a forlorn people in this name. It is a promise that the God who seems to have abandoned his people and who is absent from them will not only come, not only accept them, not only bless them, but will personally be with them.
This is the final promise of God’s plan, of salvation history. When God came to Abraham and promised to make him a people, when he came to Moses and established a covenant and when He sent Jesus to bring salvation, it was all so that He could personally come and live with the people he had created.
The idea of God present with His people is also mentioned in Revelation 21:3,4 which says, “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” One writer says, “John, the exile in Patmos, who saw Ezekiel’s words fulfilled in the coming of Christ as Emmanuel, God with us, also looked forward to the day when a great voice would be heard from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling of God is with men…” “The glory of heaven is the ultimate fulfillment of it all. It is to that great culmination that all Ezekiel’s readers should be led.”
The prophecy of Ezekiel, intended to bless and encourage the exiled Jews is a promise that extends to us. We are looking forward to this complete restoration with hope and joy.
What a tremendous encouragement. If we can understand the deep sense of loss and hopelessness that the exiles had, we can begin to grasp the wonder of hope that this message would bring. God had not abandoned them. He would come to them! He would cleanse them of their sin and accept them. He would bless them abundantly and He would live with them. This word was not only intended as a word of encouragement, however. It was also intended as a word of challenge to holy living. If God still cares about His people, then they are invited to walk with Him. In Ezekiel 43:11 He said to the people, “Write these things down before them so that they may be faithful to its design and follow all its regulations.”
The same is true for us! I John 3:2,3.says, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.”
“Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself.” Ezekiel’s message is a message of hope to us and reminds us of the even clearer message of hope found in Revelation. God has already redeemed us and promises that we will be with Him forever. Since we have such hope, we ought to live in holiness.
I heard an illustration this week that was very helpful to me. We were invited to imagine a dot in front of us and to extend a line from that dot out the window, across the yard and into eternity. If the dot represents our present life and the line eternity, we were encouraged to live in the dot according to the reality of the much greater and more significant length of the line.
May we be encouraged by that hope. May we allow that hope to move us to pure and holy living.