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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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The apportionment of the Land of Canaan among the Twelve Tribes, following the setting apart of the land for Jerusalem is detailed here. The Twelve Tribes are named, with their allotments; but they are not named in the usual order. A land allotment is made for the king; the Twelve Tribes are honored by having the twelve gates of Jerusalem named for them, one gate for each tribe.

It is easy to see that very little of this section of Ezekiel can be seen as having very much importance to Christians. The kingdom of God reaches into all nations and kingdoms of the world; and that little acreage called Palestine is a tiny place indeed compared to the world-wide Empire of the Christ. It is true that countless millions do not serve or worship Christ; but countless millions do so in all of the most favored and blessed of earth's nations, a fact that stands in evidence as Cause and Results upon the face of the whole earth. "The kingdoms of this world have become the Kingdom of our God and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever" (Revelation 11:15).

This eternal reign of Christ is not something for some faroff tomorrow. It is going on now. Christ has been reigning ever since Almighty God committed into his hands "All authority in heaven and upon earth"; and it will continue until the last enemy, death itself, has been destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:25).

Oh, but some do not allow Christ to reign over them. True indeed, but that makes no difference whatever. Jesus Christ is over all; and the people who refuse him have chosen for themselves eternal death.

Before leaving this section, we shall observe what some scholars have said about it:

"The water flowing out of the Temple teaches that all blessings material and spiritual emanate from the presence of the Lord and of his people."F5 Did not Paul himself say the same thing? "All spiritual blessings in the heavenly places are in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3).

When the Jews who returned from Babylon finally got around to restoring the Temple, "Cyrus' decree authorizing the building of the Temple specified a height of 60 cubits, which was twice the height of Solomon's Temple."F6 Since God controlled the actions of Cyrus, this indicates that, at first, God did really intend that the magnificent Temple such as Ezekiel saw in his vision should have actually been built. That it was not can be attributed only to the sins and hardening of the Chosen People.

"We cannot interpret these chapters as an allegory, because of the large number of directions and measurements."F7

We have discovered ten different diagrams of Ezekiel's Temple, and no two of them are exactly alike. We have decided to spare the reader any effort of our own to submit another diagram! What possible difference could minor distinctions make in a Temple that was never built?

Yet it must be admitted that, "Nothing that Ezekiel could have written would have stirred up as much interest and excitement as this description of the New Temple to be constructed in Jerusalem would have stirred up among the exiles."F8

"To make these nine chapters a deliberately symbolical description of the worship of the Christian Church is out of the question, because Ezekiel expected this vision to be carried out to the letter; furthermore he envisioned it as taking place (in part miraculously) upon the coming of Messiah."F9

Nevertheless, Canon Cook affirmed that, "The vision must be viewed as symbolical, the symbols employed being the Mosaic ordinances."F10 We believe Cook is correct, because the Temple itself was never intended as anything else except a symbol, as were the priests and their ordinances and the whole order of the Mosaic tabernacle. See our Commentary on Exodus for full elaboration of this. The Temple, from the first, symbolized God's dwelling in the midst of his people; the priests were symbols of Christians; their sacrifices typefled the great atoning sacrifice of the blood of Christ and also, in a lesser sense, their ministrations typified the spiritual services which Christians offer up to God (1 Peter 2:5). We do not believe for a moment that Ezekiel fully understood the symbolical nature of the vision which he saw, no doubt thinking of it as the ultimate reality itself.

"The picture of the river flowing from under the threshold of the Temple is a clear instance of symbolism, expressive of the blessings that flow from God's presence in his sanctuary (his Church)."F11

"These closing chapters present vast difficulties. The Rabbis of the Talmud remarked that only Elijah, who will herald the ultimate redemption, will elucidate the discrepancies with the Pentateuchal laws and the terms which are found only here."F12 Many scholars have cited places in the text which they have designated as "hopelessly corrupt." Cooke noted that, "Much of the detail in Ezek. 40--42 is difficult and obscure."F13

God at this time was drafting a new constitution, a New Covenant, for a New Israel of God, the first step being a return of Israel from Babylon and the reestablishing of them in Canaan; and this New Temple to come at the close of the Exile would never be able to meet the demands of that New Israel of God; and in this description of it, "There is a reaching out to something broader, larger, and more spiritual, even to that Israel of Messianic times, i.e., the Church of God in the Christian ages."F14

Eichrodt marveled that nothing was said here about the foreign nations;F15 but the application of the great symbols of this passage to the New Israel in the times of Messiah makes any mention of "foreign nations" absolutely unnecessary. In the New order, there will be no such thing as Jews and foreign nations. All will be upon exactly the same level. Jews will have no special privileges in the New Israel. We believe that all the foreign nations (Gentiles) are symbolized by the Ten Tribes of lost Israel.

The Millennial view that the distant future will see the actual building of some literal Temple in Jerusalem and the bringing together of the alleged Tribes of Israel together to offer sacrifices in it appears to be the ultimate impossibility. The Tribes of Israel have long been lost as regards their identity, there not being a Jew on earth today who can possibly know what tribe he came from. Furthermore, regarding animal sacrifices, what earthly good could come of such things? Could they be a substitute for the `Blood of Jesus Christ'? "A Temple with such sacrifices now would be a denial of the all-sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ. Under Moses, he who sacrificed animals confessed Christ; whosoever would do so now would most solemnly deny him."F16

Alexander referred to Ezekiel's Temple as "the Millennial Temple";F17 but it is our conviction that the Church of Jesus Christ is the only Millennial Temple known to God. The Church is the Temple which was indeed built, by the Son of God Himself; it is the Temple in which the Spirit of God and his indwelling presence may be found forever.

This literal thing that Ezekiel saw, what good could it possibly serve? Could one Temple in Jerusalem serve the millions of the servants of God? What earthly benefit could be won by animal sacrifices? Would the Jews still cheat the worshippers by overcharging for the sacrifices and then cheating on the Temple exchange like they did when they ran it of old? We are mystified indeed by the loyalty some seem to have in regard to theories of a literal Millennium.

Howie noted that the omission of the west gate in chapter 40 was due to the fact that, "It should be understood that there was no west gate; the Temple faced toward the East, and there was no rear entrance."F18 We have already noted that it is very unlikely that Ezekiel had any adequate conception whatever of the true spiritual import of certain elements in his vision. As Skinner said, "Although Ezekiel himself does not distinguish between symbol and reality, it is nevertheless possible for us to see, in the essential ideas of this vision, a prophecy of that eternal union between God and man which is brought to pass by the work of Christ."F19

The literalists who think they can find the promise of fleshly Jews being glorified in a return to Canaan and the rebuilding of their Temple can find no support whatever for such views in the New Testament. As Keil said, "It is impossible to understand the Holy City of Rev. 11 as the literal Jerusalem, nor the woman clothed with the sun in Rev. 12 as the Jewish race converted to Christ. The Jerusalem of those passages is spiritually the same as Sodom and Egypt."F20

Nevertheless, it must be remembered that a great deal of the imagery used by the Apostle John in the Book of Revelation strongly resembles the terminology here. The Twelve Gates of the eternal City coming down out of heaven from God (Revelation 21:12), having the names of the Twelve Tribes engraved upon them, is an example of this.

"This whole section of Ezekiel forms an ideal picture which was never actually to be realized, but which strikingly embodies the conception of the abiding presence of God with his people, and of their perfect fellowship with him."F21

"The last two chapters of Revelation refer to this section of Ezekiel, as the previous chapter refers to that of Gog and Magog. and therefore these chapters of Ezekiel are to be the more regarded."F22


Footnotes for Ezekiel 48
(Endnotes for chapter 48 are included in chapter 40)

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ezekiel 48". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=eze&chapter=048>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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