Who reads instruction manuals anymore? Though they’re tucked inside the box with the new scooter or computer, we figure out how to use our toy upgrade without them. The replacement item is familiar, after all, and a lot like the one we already have. But a brand new hover board or MacBook? We might need YouTube for tips.
God’s new-and-improved, super-sized temple has a set of basic tips, too. As usual, I’m looking for hidden treasure in this passage, the truth about God and his love. Today’s chapters do not disappoint.
Yesterday, chapters 40-41 painted a picture of the new temple of God—Jesus, the Messiah—who would come as the better temple than the one in Jerusalem. This news would have been especially welcome for the Jewish exiles in Babylon as they remembered Passover and home and the temple they left burning behind. In every way, Jesus-as-temple would outdo the temple that pointed to him, much the same way a dollhouse at age 5 points to the dream house at 25, (for the story of Jesus the better temple, see https://iwantmore.blog/2020/11/20/november-20/).
Today, chapters 42-43 flesh out this idea, expanding the metaphor of Jesus as the “better temple” to include the church, the body of Christ, Jesus’ temple on earth. The information in these chapters feels random. But when I put on my glasses, the twin lenses of Jesus as the temple and his church as its manifestation, what I read here becomes more clear.
Evidence of the church as Jesus’ body can be found in lots of places in the New Testament. “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body…Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many…Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles…” 1 Co 12:12-14, 27-28.
And while the word “church” isn’t used in our English translations of the Old Testament, it is used in O. T. passages of the Greek translation of the Bible, called the Septuagint. In it, the word “church” is often used interchangeably for the words “assembly,” “congregation,” and “gather together” of the Old Testament. (http://pickle-publishing.com/papers/church-in-old-testament.htm).
The idea of the church in the New Testament wasn’t something new. God had been calling it into existence ever since he promised Adam and Eve that one day, the Messiah would come crush Satan’s head with his heel, Ge 3:15. Ever since God promised Abraham that he would have as many descendants as stars in the sky and all nations would be blessed through them, Ge 26:4. And ever since Moses told Pharoah to let God’s people go so they could worship him, Ex 8:1.
God’s plan from the beginning was to call a group of people to himself and to be their God. This is what the church is, and it has always been God’s plan to draw all men and women to himself from every nation through Jesus, Re 5:9. Here in chapters 42-43, God tells the exiles what he has in mind for them to become, and it isn’t new information. It’s been their refusal to embrace God’s plan all along that’s landed them in Babylon, but God’s not given up on them.
The fact that God reaffirms his plan after their takeover and captivity with this “new temple” metaphor would have felt like a locker room pep talk at halftime. “You’ve fumbled. Forget it. We get one shot at life to do whatever we’re going to do. Embrace what I’m offering. Make your mark. Whatever legacy you’re going to leave, now’s your time. Leave one that’ll last.”
And here’s the news about what his plan includes: The temple, Christ’s church, would have ministers who were holy and helpful.
Ezekiel describes the priests rooms for eating holy offerings, for storing holy offerings in the holy places set aside for them, and for wearing holy clothing. Did you catch the theme here? The word “holy” is used five times in only two verses, so it’s an important idea when we think about priests, 42:13-15. They were to be pure and clean, righteous and set apart, devoted to God and to serving the people.
Along with the holiness expected of the priests, provision for them was expected, too. The people were expected to give offerings for the priests to live on–grain and oil, wine and meat. The work these men did was such that they received their living from it.
The priests of Ezekiel’s day were the people who did the work of the temple, the ministers and staff of churches today. The expectation of their personal holiness and of their provision by God’s people still holds. A person in church leadership who slips or the congregation who doesn’t well-supply equally tarnish God’s name. Both deny the purity and abundant life God intends for his people.
The temple, Christ’s church, would be huge and holy.
The angel went outside the temple building with Ezekiel and measured the entire temple, including its outer court and wall. A rod was used to measure, and the measurement taken was 500 cubits. Since a cubit was 17.5 inches, 500 of them was about 729 feet or 243 yards, which meant that the temple would cover more than two football fields square, or about 70 acres.
A temple building bigger than the size of 2 football fields? The largest stadium in the world is Rungrado May Day Stadium in North Korea and covers 51 acres, (www.worldatlas.com/articles/50-largest-stadiums-in-the-world.html) Massive as it is by modern day standards, it’s still not nearly as large as the new temple described in Ezekiel, (http://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/ezekiel-42/).
The point seems clear: the temple is enormous. Could it be that its size is meant to be a metaphor for the reach of the church around the world? Surely it would’ve been unimaginable in Ezekiel’s time that a building might be so large; it’s even a stretch to imagine it in our own time. But as the church worldwide, it seems clear: Jesus’ body, broken and shared, rises up from Hong Kong to Kalamazoo, from Anchorage to India.
And holiness is the “law of the temple.” What else is clear about the temple is that the same holiness that’s expected of the priests is also expected of the temple, “All the surrounding area on top of the mountain will be most holy. Such is the law of the temple,” 43:12.
Holiness is to mark the life of the church, not just its leadership. It was the quality of Jesus’ life and it’s to mark the body of Christ, God’s people, too. It’s how we bear witness to the power of his Spirit in us. Collectively, we are the body of Christ, but we are also said individually to be temples of his Holy Spirit. God said he will bring honor to his name through our holiness before the watching world, “Then the nations will know that I am the Lord…when I show myself holy through you before their eyes,” Ez 36:23, 1 Co 6:19.
The temple, Christ’s church, would be filled with God’s glory.
Just before the overthrow of Jerusalem by the invading Babylonians, Ezekiel was given a peek behind the scenes and saw God removing himself from the temple and leaving town. But here, Ezekiel sees God’s glory returning to his temple. (For the story of God leaving town, see https://iwantmore.blog/2020/11/04/november-4/).
God comes from the east, the same direction he’d ridden off in, and his voice “was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with his glory.” Ezekiel says God looked as he had in his other visions, and he falls facedown before him. God’s glory enters the temple through the east gate, and God speaks to him from inside, “Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place for the soles of my feet. This is where I will live among the Israelites forever,” 43:1-7.
The temple is the place of his throne and the place for his feet? It’s both the place of worshipping his glory and the place for serving him and for his serving through us. The church is like the Red Cross–it’s God’s feet on the ground.
God moved out before Jerusalem fell because his people had filled his temple so full of idolatry, there wasn’t any room left. It wasn’t his choice; it was their’s. But here he was telling them that one day he will move back in. Jesus is Immanuel, “God with us,” and when he was born, God’s feet touched down. And his feet touch the ground in those of his church, too, all the “little Christ’s” all over the planet who praise and serve in his name.
The temple, Christ’s church, would be cleaned, taught, and forgiven for life.
God tells Ezekiel to describe the temple to his people, so “they may be ashamed of their sins.” He says for them to “consider the plan” of the temple, and if they’re repentant, for Ezekiel to teach them the “design of the temple…its whole design and all its regulations and laws,” so they will be faithful to it, 43:9-11.
Faithful to a floor plan? While the text does mention details of exits and entrances, I don’t think God has in mind instructions about the width of doorways and the heights of parapets. I think God is saying to meditate on the temple in terms of what it does for them, how it gives them relationship with the Father, how its service draws them close to him through ongoing repentance and forgiveness and increased obedience. If meditating on a temple building could do this much good for them, imagine what meditating on Jesus, the true temple, could do.
The temple, Christ’s church, would be accepted by God because of Jesus’ sacrifice.
The altar is the center of the sacrificial system and is what all the activity of the temple revolved around. The angel measures the altar of this mammoth temple, which is oversized and to scale, and gives Ezekiel the details of its design. Why all the specifics–of ledges and gutters and horns and hearth–if this altar is for a future temple and will never be used for animal sacrifice?
Because this altar is a symbol for the altar that will be used–the cross of Jesus. The new temple that was Jesus included the symbol of his sacrifice. While the description here is of an altar that was familiar to the exiles and not an actual cross, there is one interesting changeup that hints at something more: this altar has steps leading up to it that face east, while the altar in Jerusalem did not. Using steps to go up to the altar was forbidden because a priest’s private parts could be exposed, Ex 20:26.
Were these steps indicating a different kind of priest, one who would already be exposed and naked before the world, who didn’t have the luxury of privacy? I don’t know. The fact that they faced east might be significant, too, since this was the direction God moved out of the temple and back in. God gives Ezekiel instructions about it’s week long purification rite, too, reminding us of Jesus’ utter purity as the perfect sacrifice and our need for his cleansing blood.
God said that when the offerings are made, “Then I will accept you,” Ez 43:27. We know that Jesus’ offering on the cross tore the curtain and ushers us into God’s presence. His offering was accepted on our behalf, so that we are accepted now, too.
These aren’t just pie-in-the-sky promises for the hereafter. They’re words for everyday between now and then. God’s presence with us daily is the connection Jesus gives. How long will it last? God promises that if his people put away their idols, he’ll live among them forever, Ez 43:9.
All of this so far is good information; it feeds my mind. I’m glad to learn about Jesus’ temple on earth–the holiness of the priests and people, the enormous girth of the church, how we need instruction in God’s word, and how we need a continual stream of cleansing repentance and forgiveness. But for some reason, it’s all in my head. It’s not grabbing my heart.
And then I read the next four verses of chapter 44, and I find just what I’m looking for.
The front door of the temple faced east, toward the sunrise. This is the door God had used to come inside the temple building, coming first through its east gate. God told Ezekiel, “‘This gate is to remain shut. It must not be opened; no one may enter through it. It is to remain shut because the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered through it,'” 44:2.
I’m guessing a shut gate means no other god can come in and fill up the temple because God is there. But I don’t know. Maybe this gate is just holy because God has passed through it and cannot then be used by anyone else. (If this gate represents Jesus, it would surely remain open. So I’m guessing it doesn’t refer to him here.)
Whatever the reason, what God says next is intriguing,”‘The prince himself is the only one who may sit inside the gateway to eat in the presence of the Lord. He is to enter by way of the portico of the gateway and go out the same way,” 44:3. Who is the prince? And why does he get to meet for snacks with God, coming in and out through the colonnaded entrance, called the gateway, before God’s gate?
If eating means “enjoying” and “being filled with,” then the prince is having an intimate visit in God’s presence, feeding on God the way sheep feed on pasture, which God has said is what we do, Jn 6:57. This is admittedly shadowy and unclear, and maybe I want to read into it what I want to believe is true. But then I realize, wait, this isn’t just what I hope is true.
This is what I’ve experienced, too. This is what life with God is like: an intimacy of relationship, where we’re fed by him in particular ways that only he knows we need. The king of God’s people was sometime called a prince, but his entrance was always by the north gate. Maybe by “prince,” the individual believer is meant, a son or daughter of the King because of the Son of the King.
But I love how intimate a scene this is after the enormousness of the temple and all of the words about what the church of Jesus is on the earth. It’s kind of overwhelming to think about, and I felt a little lost in it all.
But God has intimate visits in the temple with the prince? Here’s something I can get excited about. This is what all the striving for holiness and repenting and believing God’s words for me is all about. This is what Jesus bled and died to give me. This is why God made Adam and Eve–for walks in the garden. For heart-to-hearts on the porch. For enjoying a swim. For intimate visits with snacks. Gotta love a personal God like that.
Maybe having a place for just this kind of chat is why the east gate was closed? So there would be nobody else going in and out. So God could show me the private portico he set aside just for me. The one he set aside just for you, too.
The angel brought Ezekiel to the front of the temple next, “I looked and saw the glory of the Lord filling the temple of the Lord, and I fell facedown,” 44:4. God’s glory fills the temple of Jesus and it fills us, too, by his Spirit. Getting a glimpse of it puts us on our faces. Worship is all about being overwhelmed by the extravagant goodness of Almighty God, who did everything the world needs. And who takes the time to chat over tea and biscuits.
Magnificent and intimate.
This is God.
(For a true story about glimpsing God’s glory, see http://onetruelove.blog/2020/05/30/open-mike/).
“Dont grumble against each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged.
The Judge is standing at the door!” Js 5:9
James says to live as if Jesus’ return is imminent. If he’s right at the door, about to walk in, don’t let him catch you getting wrapped up in petty complaining.
We have glory ahead of us together! Let’s live as if it’s true, bearing with one another’s failings, overlooking slights and mistakes, forgiving and loving one another.
Let the Judge catch us loving instead.
If you’re suffering as you love, persevere as those in the past have done. “We consider blessed those who have persevered,” not stricken and missing out. James says look how God rewarded Job. “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy,” v 11.
We should be, too.
Verses 1-4 set up the ideal:
God’s word says I’m blessed when I’m blameless, when I live God’s way, when I keep his word, when I seek him with all my heart.
But verses 5-8 lays out the real:
The psalmist wishes he was steadfast in obeying, but when he looks at all of God’s commands, he sees he falls short. What does he do?
He praises, anyway.
He praises “as I learn your righteous laws,” v 7.
He praises as he perseveres.
This is the upright heart, v7, the one that lives in the “anyways,”
praising and persevering because the upright life doesn’t depend on what I do,
it depends on what Jesus has done.
With that kind of good news, what is there left to do but praise?
My take away is meeting God in the gateway for ginger beer and crackers, for those moments I get to belly up or celebrate. He handles me (Ezekiel). He reminds me to extend this same kindness to those I’m tempted to grumble against (James). And he reminds me that it’s praise that enables me to persevere, regardless of others and regardless of me and my performance (Psalms), because Jesus has already performed perfectly for me,
“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners,
so that you will not grow weary and lease heart.”
Surely I can share the ginger beer and crackers he gives me.