Is Ezekiel 40-48 Prophecy Concerning Temple Literal, Figurative or both?
Support for both literal and figurative interpretations offered
By Kathy L. McFarland
January 5, 2012
The progressive revelation of Ezekiel 40-48 must be taken as a literal event that will be fulfilled eschatologically in the future;” also, there are “idealized elements” within this Scripture that suggests much more than just the building of the physical Temple. The symbol of the Temple must surely reveal the Lord Jesus Christ and His ruling relationship with His followers, or the literal fulfillment of the Temple makes no sense. But, care must be taken to not confuse the Old Earth eschatological events revealed in Ezekiel 40-48 with the New Heaven and New Earth eschatological events recorded in Revelation 21:1-3.
Support for my view that it is not the First Temple that Ezekiel speaks:
Ezekiel 40:1-2 shows the vision was made during Israel’s exile. If its purpose was to unite them with a common memory of the past, it failed; there were varied reactions among the Israelites concerning the construction of the Second Temple.
(a) The argument that Ezekiel received the vision but kept it to himself until after the exile defies Ezekiel 11:25 and unreasonable to think he would share the bad news of the First Temple destruction, but not the good news of the promise of a restored Temple.
(b) Ezekiel 43:8-11 shows Ezekiel’s vision was delivered to shame unrepentant Israel
(c) Ezekiel 2:3-4 shows that the message would have been given to a rebellious people that could not be the original people receiving Ezekiel’s message because those who returned to Judah to rebuild the Temple had an attitude of repentance. (Ezra 1:5; Haggai 1:12; Zechariah 1:6; cf. 2 Chronicles 6:38)
(d) 1 Kings 5:1-8:66 and 2 Chronicles 2:1-7:22 preserve the description of the First Temple and there would have been no need for Ezekiel to memorialize it
(e) The First Temple (Solomon’s Temple) was vastly different in construction with differences in structure, style, ceremony, and the flowing river (Ezekiel 47:1-12) than the vision of Ezekiel portrayed according to Jeremiah in Kings and Ezra in Chronicles.
(f) Ezekiel’s instructions for the Temple construction for steps leading to the Altar of Burnt Offering (Ezekiel 43:17) which violate ceremonial legislation in Exodus 20:26, deviating from Mosaic Law.
(g) Notable absences in Ezekiel’s description include the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies, the table for the shew-bread or lampstead in the outer room, anointing oil within both the Temple and the court; thus, Ezekiel could not have been speaking as the First Temple for memorial, since the First Temple was constructed according to Mosaic Law (2 Kings 6:12; 8:56-58; 2 Chronicles 2:4; 6:16; 8:12-13).
Support for my view that it is not the Second Temple that Ezekiel speaks:
1. This view suggests that Ezekiel provides plans for the rebuilding of the Second Temple after exile. While this appears logical, it disagrees with literal interpretation of the Word of God.
(a) High Priest and builder Zerubbabel did not use the plans of Ezekiel to construct the Second Temple, and kept strict adherence to the Mosaic Law in its building (Ezra 3:2-4; Nehemiah 8:1-18; 10:28-39).
(b) There was no reference to Ezekiel by the post-exilic prophets Ezra, Haggai, Zechariah, and Nehemiah who oversaw the construction of the Second Temple.
(c) Ezekiel’s prophecy would have been used to the advantage of the post-exilic prophets to prevent the delay of the construction of the Temple and its services; since they were critical of the delay, but did not invoke Ezekiel’s prophecy, it seems logical to conclude that it was not assumed a description of the Second Temple.
(d) There are significant differences in the topography, dimensions, details, and priestly performance between the Second Temple and Ezekiel’s Temple
(e) Post-exilic Israel was not divided among the tribes that would be required in Ezekiel’s prophecy
(f) The Second Temple was absent of the Shekinah Glory of God because God’s judgment was upon Israel (Ezekiel 10:18; 11:22-23); yet, Ezekiel said it would return in Ezekiel’s Temple as a sign of divine restoration of Israel (Ezekiel 43:1-7; 44:1-4; 48:35; cf. Ezekiel 37:25-28)
Support for my view that Ezekiel’s Temple is not part of the New Heaven and New Earth recorded in Revelation 21:1-3:
2. Comparison of Ezekiel’s Millennial Temple and Revelation’s Heavenly Temple for symbolic interpretation as the same Temple.
(a) Impressive correspondences in symbolic interpretation
1. Literal fulfillment and completion of restoration both take place on earth; that lost in the Garden of Eden is restored by the Temple in the Millennial Kingdom.
2. Both characterized by divine presence and universal holiness
(b) Profound differences in symbolic interpretation
1. Ezekiel’s Temple is an earthly structure with earthly service. It is constructed with ordinary materials of common wood and stones (Ezekiel 40:16, 22, 26, 34, 37, 42; 41:16-22, 25-26). It’s priests dress in linen and wool (Ezekiel 44:17), sweat(Ezekiel 44:18), need to trim their hair (Ezekiel 44:20), marry (Ezekiel 44:22), need to be cleansed (Ezekiel 44:25-27) and eat grain and meat (Ezekiel 44:29, 31). 
However, John’s description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation speaks of a celestial city made of gold, pearls, and rare gemstones (Revelation 21:16-21) and the priests wear only white robes, are never hungry or thirsty, and they never sleep (Revelation 7:14-16). 
2. Ezekiel’s city has a well-defined Temple structure while the New Jerusalem Temple is without a structure, filled instead by the” Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb” (Revelation 22:21).
3. Ezekiel’s Temple reinstitutes offerings in a sacrificial system (Ezekiel 44:15-27) while Christ offers Himself in the heavenly Temple (Hebrews 9:11, 21-26).
4. The details of measurements for both the architecture and geography with elaborate instructions of priestly actions defy symbolical interpretation.
5. If symbolism is used to create a hope within the exiled Israelites, the exaggeration of symbolism that does not reflect the actual measurements of the Second Temple is elusive and intangible. Real measurements to the Second Temple would offer that comfort; thus, symbolism cannot logically be thought to garner this reflection.
6. Spiritual confusion, not enlightened contemplation, would result from Ezekiel’s description of the Temple if it were based solely on symbols, diverging from ritual standards and Jewish law.
7. There are no common textual clues that are often used to reflect symbolic ideas (Ezekiel 2:8-3:3; 4:1-3; 4:4-8; 4:9-15; 5:1-4; 12:1-7; 12:17-18; 24:15-17) and parables (Ezekiel 15-17, 23-24,34, 37) in the Book of Ezekiel; thus there is no reason a symbolic interpretation should assumed for the interpretation of Ezekiel 40-48.
8. The diversity of interpretation between Ezekiel and Revelation reveal an unlikely connection which is impossible to be shared when symbolic interpretation attempts to link them.
9. Ezekiel desired the people to understand the critical need for repentance and restoration, rather than symbolize his words that would lead to their doom in Ezekiel 20:49. Therefore, Ezekiel 40-48 keeps that literal structure without textual clues to begin symbolic interpretation.
Support for my position the construction of a New Temple will be built in the future through restoration by God in expressing His promise to Israel:
The Presence of God is the uniting theme that complements Ezekiel 1:1 with God in Babylon and Ezekiel 40:2 with God in Israel, while reflecting His departure in chapters 9-11. Ezekiel 40-48 restores the Presence of God to Israel.
1. The Book of Ezekiel is divided into three sections of distinct prophesy
(a) Ezekiel 4:1-24:27 – Prophecies of the destruction of the First Temple
(b) Ezekiel 33:1-39:29 – Prophecies of return and restoration of Israel
(c) Ezekiel 40:1-48:35 – Prophecies of rebuilding of a new Temple
b. For God’s promise to Israel to be fulfilled eschatological and literal interpretation must be in force.
c. Literal construction is spoken about distinctly in Ezekiel 40-48. 
d. Ezekiel 40-48 and other Old Testament prophetic passages agree.
New Testament Revelation Helps Us to Understand Old Testament Prophecy
First, all prophecy must be focused upon Christ and the completion of God’s promises to His people on this earth.
Second, we must ensure that Old Testament and New Testament prophecy are examined independent to each other, then compared and contrasted, to ensure that timing is expressed fully.
Third, we must recognize that Old Testament prophesy restores the Jews and reflects Christ while New Testament Prophesy brings to an end the things of the Old Earth, and establishes a New Heaven and New Earth with Christ as ruler, and with his followers very, very, very grateful, happy, and at peace.
Fourth, we must acknowledge that just because the prophesy of Israel reflects certain events that happen before the final fulfillment of prophecy recorded in Revelation, this does not exclude the Israel from receiving Christ in the End Times.
Fifth, we must understand that it is not going to be a “hocus pocus” unfolding of eschatological wonders; the Word of God is clear that there are many different things, happening to many different places and people at different times and ways especially during the millennial period; the conclusion, of the New Heaven and Earth, with all of God’s people coming together surrounded by His Glory and Love, happen later.
Peter speaks of the New Heaven and New earth in which righteousness dwells in 2 Peter 3:13, and John speaks of his vision of these new places in Revelation 21:1. Peter also speaks of the heavens passing away with a roar and the elements destroyed with heat, resulting in the burning up of the earth in 2 Peter 3:10.
While some argue that the New Heaven and New Earth will not be a new creation, but rather a radical renovation based upon the creation word “ex nihilo,” I personally believe that there is supporting evidence throughout Scripture that the New Heavens and New Earth will replace the old as recorded in Revelations 21:1-2. Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22 confirm that Israel is included in the promised New Heavens and New Earth.
Revelations 3:12-13 states “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name. 13 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” This confirms that there will indeed be a literal temple with Christ present.
The Offering of Sacrifices at the Future Temple
The material sacrifices, in my opinion, recorded in Ezekiel 40-48 will happen; it is a requirement of God for a people that he instituted sacrificed offerings for in the beginning. In the Ezekiel’s Temple in Jerusalem before the New Heaven and the New Earth, there will be sin offerings made during the Millennial Kingdom. (Rev. 20:1-10) You cannot take a devout people of God, who have been denied the ability to sacrifice offerings to God because of their disobedience, and restore them fully without being able to carry out that which has always been their relationship with God when they are obedient and close to Him. I believe that when the New Heavens and the New Earth comes, after the Millennial period, those restored Jews will recognize Christ and embrace Him at least as much as the most faithful Christians today, as the full realization of His ultimate sacrifice for them comes to their mind and the shame of their hardened hearts and misplaced belief are known. As Dr. Yates has acknowledges, it would be a “strange salvation-historical regression” for sacrifice to move backward; but it is, in my opinion, that it must be accomplished in the millennial period before we all move forward together and occupy the New Heaven and the New Earth.
The New Jerusalem does not need a Temple because the presence of God will fill everything (Rev 21:22); but Ezekiel’s Temple requires a literal building. This confuses End Times prophesy, and makes Christians conflicted against each other, and allows the introduction of false teaching.
When Jesus’ resurrection brings the symbolic destruction of the temple (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34), it is difficult to reconcile the need for Jews to have a restored sacrifice system before they ascend spiritually to recognize the sacrificial gift of Christ. When this need is not understood, Christians expect that full realization immediately, while God has specifically allowed time and place for that realization to unfold.
The New Testament reflects the full unfolding of prophesy, focused upon Christ, the millennial period, and finally, the destruction of this earth, with the New Heaven and the New Earth’s replacement. As these things unfold, during the millennium, Old Testament Scripture, specifically Ezekiel’s prophesy, give us an idea what will be happening to the Jews during this time. The New Testament gives us the rest of the story, the overview of all that is going to unfold; when it is combined with the Old Testament, we recognize that there are both literal events that must happen to Israel, and figurative events of the glorious things to come. We must measure our understanding with both literal and figurative interpretations of the Word of God and His prophecy, if we are to fully understand the things He gives us to know.
Price, Randall. "Ezekiel's Prophecy of the Temple." worldofthebible.com 2011, no. November 7 (2005).
Van Kampen, Robert. The Sign: Bible Prophecy Concerning the End Times. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1992.
Yates, Gary E., "Future Temple and Future Kingdom" http://garyeyates.blogspot.com/2009/12/future-temple-and-future-kingdom.html (accessed November 7 2011).
________, "The New Temple in the Ot Prophets: Literal or Figurative" http://garyeyates.blogspot.com/2009/09/new-temple-in-ot-prophets-literal-or.html (accessed November 7 2011).
________, "The Temple in the New Testament" http://garyeyates.blogspot.com/2009/12/temple-in-new-testament.html (accessed November 7 2011).
Randall Price, "Ezekiel's Prophecy of the Temple," worldofthebible.com 2011, no. November 7 (2005): 12.
 Gary E. Yates, "The Temple in the New Testament" http://garyeyates.blogspot.com/2009/12/temple-in-new-testament.html (accessed November 7 2011).
 Price: 2.
 Ibid., 3.
 Ibid., 3-4.
 Ibid., 4.
 Ibid., 4-5.
 Ibid., 5.
 Ibid., 6.
 Ibid., 7.
 Ibid., 8.
 Ibid., 9-11.
 Robert Van Kampen, The Sign: Bible Prophecy Concerning the End Times (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1992), 407.
 Gary E. Yates, "The New Temple in the Ot Prophets: Literal or Figurative" http://garyeyates.blogspot.com/2009/09/new-temple-in-ot-prophets-literal-or.html (accessed November 7 2011).
 Gary E. Yates, "Future Temple and Future Kingdom" http://garyeyates.blogspot.com/2009/12/future-temple-and-future-kingdom.html (accessed November 7 2011).
 Yates, "The Temple in the New Testament".