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WHAT IS THE MEANING OF EZEKIEL'S VAST, LAST VISION OF THE TEMPLE, THE STREAM AND THE ALTAR ?
HOW IS IT A PICTURE OF EVANGELISM, RECALCITRANCE, SPIRITUAL POWER, THE SACRIFICE OF CHRIST AS THE TRUE KING OF THE JEWS AND HIS COMING POWER ?
Let us be brief, since the purpose is merely to supply the key to this intricate vision. Ezekiel's first vision has already occupied us, with its relation to the gospel, the New Covenant and the Son of David, the Prince to come in power, whose previous sufferings are seen in place.
THE VISIONARY VISION
(see also Repent or Perish Ch. 7, Part III)
In this last vision, from Ezekiel 47 on, with various interludes, there is a picture of the temple which is not intended as physical, in that it is vast, as E.J. Young pointed out, too big for the geographical environment. It is a sort of amplification such as vision CAN given, in order to enlarge the understanding. As to the CITY which is about it, its name, suitably symbolical, though with tremendous impact, is this: THE LORD IS THERE (Ezekiel 48:35). THAT ends the vision! How better to end it!
THE TERMINAL TIME ON THIS EARTH OF THE NEW COVENANT AND THE MESSIAH
We are in the terminal, the ultimate, the New Covenant era traced in Ezekiel in our last Question and Answer (cf. Ezekiel 11:17-21, 16:60, 37:23-26, Isaiah 62:1-2, 65:10-13,Jeremiah 31:31). Thus we find the PRINCE (cf. Ezekiel 17:22-24) who is featured in the most amazing way, to be ALLOWED and indeed AUTHORISED to perform SACRIFICIAL ACTS, whereas it was precisely this folly, albeit only in its infancy in incense offering, that cost Uzziah his health, and made him a leper! (II Chronicles 26:16-20). The divisions and appropriations involved a decisive division of functions (the Gentiles might call it a division of powers), and the symbolism that God gave had meanings not to be subjected to officious tampering or lordly assumptions.
ONLY the Messiah - who would be He whose goings are from everlasting (Micah 5:1-3), and who would be struck with a rod upon the cheek, though HE is the judge of Israel, as indeed of all: ONLY HE could combine both offices. This is just as Zechariah portrayed (Zechariah 6:12-13): for it is HE who shall bear the glory, glory too much for mere man. Similarly Isaiah 22:24 shows HIM with all the paraphernalia of glory hung on Him, so that WITH IT He might be cut off (cf. Daniel 9:26, Isaiah 53:1-6). It is the Lord of Hosts who was explicitly sent after GLORY (Zechariah 2:8), even He whose throne is eternal and sovereign (Psalm 45:1-6, Isaiah 48:16)*1.
Accordingly we find HIM, the PRINCE in Ezekiel 44:1-3, 46:1-28-12, both preparing His sacrifices and deeply and intimately involved in the internal operations of the Temple. This at once lifts us to the New Covenant, of which Jeremiah said much in 31:31ff., but also in 3:16. There he proclaims:
"Then it will
come to pass, when you are multiplied and increased in the land in those
days," says the Lord, "that they will say no more,
'The ark of the covenant of the Lord.' It shall not come to mind, nor shall they remember it, nor shall they visit it, nor shall it be made any more."
At that time,
"all nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem; they shall walk no more after the stubbornness of their evil heart."
Hence we find this ostensible violation of temple ritual, which is in fact an intended jolt to make the reader aware that this is intended for the time when "THE LORD IS THERE" is the very NATURE and hence NAME of the city! For we who are His are CITIZENS of the Kingdom of HEAVEN (Philippians 3:20). Actually (Jeremiah 3:16), the very sacred ark so precious in the Holy of Holies will not even COME TO MIND at that time, nor be made nor be visited! We are dealing, then, in vision format, or formula, or feature, or perspective or imagery when in fact, the message is MEANING, MEAT and MARVEL. Exactly the same thing applies to the 14th Chapter of Zechariah, where in the very view of the Messiah and His sufferings (12:10, 13:6), we have references to feast days and the like: these are a bold stroke. They are container units to depict NEW THINGS under the form of old.
A TIME FOR BOLDNESS, A PLACE FOR PRAISE
Indeed, boldness is one of the features of a great teacher, a fearless sally into things to come, to thrust stimulus and understanding into the intelligence, knowing the apt pupil will well be able to follow in terms of principles adequately conveyed elsewhere, or readily to be found. Thus the OLD COVENANT Prince feature is merely a key to the fact that this is a VISION, and for the NEW COVENANT, though in spectacular and detailed fashion formulated in the very forms of the old! Accordingly, the language of a city can well be applied for the MEANING of a Kingdom which has no walls (Isaiah 60:18). Walls? Yes! They are "SALVATION"! and the GATES? "PRAISE"!
Are YOU, if Christian, surrounded by the towering walls of salvation, so clear and visible to your spiritual eye that your soul is enthralled (I John 5:13, Ephesians 6:17) ? Is your everyday entry, coming and going, PRAISE to the Lord who is good, a friend and a Saviour indeed, Lord with relish, and God with strength? Be assured, when as Nehemiah taught, THE JOY OF THE LORD IS YOUR STRENGTH (8:10), then praise of His salvation does indeed surround you like a protection, for it is a bloom of the presence of the Lord, our Rock. The JOY is not the rock; but the presence of the ROCK breeds joy, and the joy is strong, like anti-missile emplacements, ready for any assault.
It is that joy which is so well displayed in Zephaniah 3:17, where the whole air is filled with it, as when Spring perfumes surround you in the season.. THAT is the day when "the Lord has taken away your judgments", when the nations have been gathered (Zephaniah 2:8) and the earth will meet the ardour of the Lord, so that a "meek and humble people" who trust in the name of the Lord will be found, even those who "speak no lies". Then the "remnant of Israel" will "dono unrighteousness". Very definitely we are in the ultimate times of the New Covenant, yes when the Prince who suffered is the Prince who rules (cf. Luke 24:25-26). In a little, we shall see it perfected, when He comes.
INTRICACIES AND INTIMACIES
Above, we have already noted the closeness of the Prince to all these developments symbolised in the 'Temple'. The intense stress on detailed architecture seen in these chapters of Ezekiel 40-46, likewise has meaning. Not only does it relate to that intimacy with sacrifice and proceedings which marks the Messiah, who indeed, as Daniel and Zechariah and Isaiah so stressed, is to BE the sacrifice, offering Himself willingly; but it concerns the close focus on the beauty of holiness, pattern, program, plan, team-work IN the beauty of the Lord, who AS OUR TEMPLE, is to be enquired of, sought in counselling, found in peace (cf. Psalm 27:4-5, Hosea 6:1-3). As Hosea has it (NKJV):
"Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord.
His going forth is established as the morning;
He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth."
Quite as fascinating is the matter of the closed gate (Ezekiel 46:12). AFTER HE GOES OUT THE GATE SHALL BE SHUT! The EAST gate is to be opened for Him, but after He goes out it is shut! That happened. It is even more explicit in Ezekiel 44:2 (as J.H. Hunting pointed out in his The Set Time is Come, p. 6), posing next to the picture of that very gate as shown in his book. There we read of the East Gate of the City: "This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the Lord God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut. As for the prince, because he is the prince, he may sit in it to eat bread before the Lord." It is then that Ezekiel beholds the glory of the Lord filling the house of the Lord.
As Hunting likewise points out, in "Jerusalem! Jerusalem!", pp.36ff., the Eastern or Golden Gate has a "commanding view of the Mount of Olives", while inside 'it faces the Temple area upon which now stands the Dome of the Rock. It has been sealed up and looks across the Kidron valley to Gethsemane". Almost every word of description of this Gate reads like a rehearsal of the Passion of Christ at Easter in some Church; but it is geographical, solid reminder and in Ezekiel inspired figure to cover the case.
THIS GATE IS SHUT, says Ezekiel 44:2, "because the LORD God of Israel has entered it", a fact well enough dramatised in the Palm Sunday episode of His entry there, when HE was moved to point out, that if such PRAISE as, "BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD" (cf. Psalm 118:19-26)*2, with praise to the Son of David were to stop, the very stones would cry out. It was stopped in Jerusalem in large and official measure... and the STONES did cry out, stone being removed from stone by the Romans, a fate Christ depicted in advance, as did Daniel in terms of the utter devastation to come following the cutting off of the Messiah (Daniel 9:24-27).
Alas, until the stony heart of unbelief which afflicts so many, Jew and Gentile, is changed, and until the time comes when the eyes of much of Israel are to be opened (Romans 11:25ff.), the world must wait for the coming of the Prince in His glory, and the Jews for their ultimate deliverance, which however, will be of a REMNANT, who will be Christian believers (Zephaniah 3:12-19). Let us hear some of this:
"In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear; Zion, let not your hands be weak.
The LORD your God in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you in His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.
"I will gather those who sorrow over the appointed assembly.
Who are among you,
To whom its reproach is a burden.
"Behold at that time I will deal with all who afflict you.
I shall save the lame,
And gather those who were driven out... At that time, I will bring you back..."
THIS is the "meek and humble people,
And they shall trust in the name of the Lord.
"The remnant of Israel shall do no unrighteousness...
Nor shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth."
The LAND is restored to Israel, in SOME measure, and the CITY is theirs as Christ predicted (Luke 21:44) in full measure, though they are surrounded with dangers and perils and with much trauma they continue, till they return to the Lord whom they pierced, just as so many Gentiles pierce Him in their hearts, facing the obvious and continuing in unbelief.
This then is the meaning of the Temple in the Vision of Ezekiel, and the eternal inheritance to be given to the SONS or CHILDREN who serve is the eternal life given to the children of God who serve, for who that is Christ's does not serve, and who that is Christ's is not intimate with the things of the Lord in the beauty of holiness in His temple, which is built of living stones (I Peter 2), so that His praise should echo throughout! PRIESTS now come even from the Gentiles (Isaiah 66;19-20).
This inheritance is even more arresting: for it is when it is given by the PRINCE to his SONS that it has this NON-CANCELLABLE QUALITY. SERVANTS, they get a gift of inheritance till the Jubilee year, says Ezekiel; but sons? It is THEIR VERY OWN (Ezekiel 46:16-17, Ephesians 1:11). So is the Son of David, the Prince, the King of Glory of Psalm 45, 72, 89, revealed and exposed through this Vision of Ezekiel. But this is not all.
THE RIVER OF LIFE FROM THE TEMPLE ITSELF
This vision is multi-faceted, noble and intense. It fulfils in future beauty the initial intensity of Chapters 1-10, where judgment was so closely related. Now glory is not only in the holiness of the Lord, but spread abroad, glory for judgment, beauty for ashes (Isaiah 61:1-3).
Now we turn to Ezekiel 47, this topographical, effluvial, this riverside, piscine, this fishing extravaganza, as fluent as a butterfly, as deep as the sea, as down-to-earth as wading, as meaningful as radium, with spiritual energy speeding from its words, as if each particle were radio-active.
The river of water, as Christ so readily applied it, is of course the Spirit (cf. Isaiah 12), which flows FROM the Lord (John 15:26). HE proceeds from the Father and is sent by the SON. Hence it is from the temple of glory that the stream issues (v.1); but alike, it flows from under the right side of the temple, south of the altar, hence encompassing its goings the sacrificial system, the work of the Lord (Isaiah 53, Daniel 9, Zechariah 12-14, Psalm 2,40). Its stream is first found to touch, then to move upon one, then to rise to make significant impact at the legs, the waist, then to require that one move with it. Not lava from a destructive volcanic explosion, does it come, rising and fatally overcoming; but water from the place of holiness and the site of sacrifice, does it speed, in its healing work.
Then this blessed water is found to become an engulfing reality in the power of which one moves, for it is NOT BY MIGHT NOR BY POWER BUT BY MY SPIRIT, says the LORD (Zechariah 4:6), and we are dealing with what in the Temple, is the STONE on which shall be engraved the sins of the penitent, so that the iniquity of the land shall be removed in one day (Zechariah 3:9).
Thus is the river depicted in Ezekiel 47:1-5: it is a river in which "ONE MUST SWIM". Its power and fulness is such that it is not an influence; it becomes one's environment, ennobling, enabling, showing direction and carrying one, for Him from whom it comes.
The PERSONAL EQUATION being settled, that one forsakes all that one has if one is to be a disciple of the Lord (Luke 14:27ff.), then we find the FUNCTIONAL WORK. First the water flows to the sea, moving throughout the territory of the earth on its way. It is not captured, but free; but as it moves freely, so it is the dynamic and wonderful agency which enlightens, enlivens. To revert directly to the figure: there are vitalised beings ("every living thing, that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live" - v.9); but there are obstreperous, soggy and self-occupied marshy places (v.11), where despite the wonders of the waters, life is not found.
Indeed, "its swamps and its marshes will not be healed; they will be given over to salt" (v. 11). Otherwise, its waters bring healing (v.8), even to all peoples who RECEIVE what it brings, straight from the altar, which typifies Jesus Christ and Him crucified, yes, rather risen.
That is the FIRST function, to heal, to bring vitality, life more abundantly. The SECOND function, or work of the river is to be instrumental for the fishermen, from its depths and with its currents bringing up the fish who, being people in reality in this work of healing, are moved by the Spirit, who convicts them (John 16:8-13) of sin, righteousness and judgment. AS TO THE FISH - that is the people, they will be "exceedingly many" (v.10), and of the same kinds as in the Mediterranean, that is, of a cosmopolitan character (Psalm 117:1-2, 72:17, 82:8, 86:9, 2:10-12, Jeremiah 16:19, Isaiah 49:6). There are no limits of nationality or type, provided they come.
The trees that grow on the banks of the river (v.12) are like those of Psalm 1, and resemble the plants of Jeremiah 17:5-8, planted flourishing and exuberant, abundant with life by the sides of the river (Isaiah 61:3). THESE trees of Isaiah, the PLANTING OF THE LORD, or more precisely these plants of Jeremiah: they do NOT CEASE FROM BEARING FRUIT! Abide in Me, said Christ, and I in you, and the same will bear much fruit! (John 15). As in Psalm 1, moreover, the leaves of these trees of Ezekiel 47, they do not wither, just as their fruit does not fail.
In fact, they bear every month "BECAUSE" the water flows from the sanctuary, that is from the Christ whom the Temple in such numerous ways typified, and who indeed, as in Isaiah 22, took all the paraphernalia of His Father's house, and bearing it, fell from His nail, where He was "hung". As to that: it was in accord with this divesting grace of poverty of spirit, whereby He bought us who believe, with His own death. As for these fruits, moreover, we read that their trees have leaves that act like medicine, as does a merry heart, as do the lives and graces of those who loving the Lord, love one another, and as does, above all, the presence of the Lord through and in His people, act.
Such is the last, vast vision of Ezekiel, in some of its more striking features, for which we have supplied key, a key which is notably a skeleton key which alike opens many another room in the word of God.
A Personal Note
The blessing ? It is the knowledge that there is a path for blessing, service, serenity and entire dedication to God. It is more than ideal, may be expressed in visions, but involves practical action and intense, intimate knowledge of God Himself, for the temple had its patterns and the Christ of whom the prophets spoke so volubly, has His person whom one can know, should know, and indeed, without the knowledge of Him, one is left in marshy places.
A prince and priest, He avoids the sometimes austerely unrealistic feeling of some officials, being both spiritual and personal to the most extreme degree. His power comes from the altar which is fulfilled in Calvary; His cooling and refreshing from the same source, for there the transaction is accomplished which has changed the whole world, and which will be the dividing line in eternity. HE HAS DONE IT, and from Him come the waters which heal; and from Him, far from Him, are the marshy places, the soggy spirits which insist on death as if it were the supreme and sublime prerogative of the human race.
In one sense (only), such a view is right: you CAN reject the Lord, and insist that as a godlet you shall have your own understanding and thus you can, devoid of and divorced from truth, because from God, live out in a wilful death the destruction of your soul.
On the other hand, the one who DOES know the Lord, not some cant or some formula of men or people or priests: this person is swept on with such a tide of wonder and a torrent of splendour, right from under the altar, that to live is Christ, and in Him is wonder unspeakable, eternal that heals, helps and carries, until the universe becomes merely one of His paintings. It is the PAINTER HIMSELF who is the best picture of all; and as to Him, He is more than a picture, for we ourselves are His paintings. It is well to be in His hands, like trees growing beside the waters in the picture we have just been considering: growing in grace and in steadfastness, beside the healing waters of eternal health.
But where is this bridge to eternity ? THAT is the implicit feature of the whole vision. GOD HAS ALREADY provided that, so that the waters from under the altar provide what cannot pass away, for the altar shows and signifies the passing away for a time in the flesh, of Him whose place is eternity; so that eternity is bridged, for it is by Him it is brought here, and we may be brought there. The bridge ? It preceded the vision, and the vision is built on it.
In our next Chapter, we shall look at the question of time, and the progress of time in the light of eternity, from which after all, it takes its source, and for the King of which, it was constructed.
*1 See on this topic of the magnificence of the Messiah, the Deity of Christ : a) SMR pp. 532-560, b) Ch.9 below, The Unsurpassable Pinnacle that is Christ, c) Barbs, Arrows and Balms Items 13, at a Note which is Obligato, pp. 69ff., 17 and c) SMR Index, under Messiah and d) Appendix IV below, The Magnificence of the Messiah.
*2 It is worth following Psalm 118 here.
|i) the gates
of righteousness are those which must be entered (CF. Acts 4:11-12,
|ii) that then
there is praise to the Lord.
|iii) that the
GATE of righteousness is focussed as the NECESSARY gate for the righteous
to enter, it is indispensable if they are to BE the righteous (John 10:1-9).
|iv) that this
answer and provision is associated with praise, and with the Lord BECOMING
the salvation of the seeker.
|v) that it is
paralleled pointedly with the STONE rejected by the builders (Isaiah 52-53,
49:7) being seen in its true light. Indeed, when THIS GATE is entered,
it is understood now that the stone rejected by the builders is the very
headstone of the corner (Acts 2:36).
|vi) THIS itself
is something wonderful (I Corinthians 1, Isaiah 9:6, 29:13ff.), dramatic,
marvellous, and such a time is "the day which the Lord has made".
this entire scope of action is a base for asking the Lord to "SAVE NOW",
and that is precisely what every Jew and Gentile will have to see, crying
in effect, as did the disciples, "BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF
THE LORD! WE HAVE BLESSED YOU FROM THE HOUSE OF THE LORD. GOD IS THE LORD."
Thus, Blessed are your eyes, Simon Peter, for flesh and blood has not shown
this to you, said Christ, when Peter cried: "YOU
ARE THE CHRIST, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD!"