THE DESCRIPTION OF THE TEMPLE (Ezek. 41) is followed by a description of rooms reserved for priests (Ezek. 42). But I shall press yesterday’s discussion a little farther and briefly discuss two more of the ways these chapters have been interpreted.
(3) Many older commentators argued that chapters 40–48 are straightforward symbols of what is fulfilled in the Christian church. There is some truth to this view. It is given impetus when one observes, for instance, that John’s vision of the holy city in Revelation is drawn in substantial part from the language of Ezekiel. But the same passages in Revelation spell the weakness of this interpretation. When John uses the language of Ezekiel (or of Daniel or some other Old Testament writer), he regularly transmutes it, or picks up its words and phrases without putting it to exactly the same use. Although John’s description of the holy city leans heavily on Ezekiel, John’s city has no temple, for the Lord God and the Lamb are its temple (Rev. 21:1–22:5). In that sense, Revelation is not a direct and immediate fulfillment of a string of symbols.
(4) It is better, but messier, to take these chapters as belonging to the borderlands of apocalyptic literature and typology. The symbolism includes numerical features; its future-orientation springs not from mere verbal prediction or simplistic symbolism, but from structures of patterns and events that point forward. We have already glimpsed this sort of thing in chapters 38–39, depicting the final battle, when God sovereignly moves to destroy all his foes. Read this way, chapters 40–48 envisage the messianic future, but in the symbolic categories of Ezekiel’s present. The temple is a kind of enactment or incarnation of the presence and blessing of God in the age for which pious Israelites yearned. On this view, the theological themes and pastoral comforts of these chapters include: (a) God’s presence remains continuously as the fount of all blessing. (b) God’s people are perfectly restored, the perfection of his plan and of their experience bound up with the perfection of symmetry in the building. (c) Because God is perfectly present, fullness of life and fruitfulness flow from God’s presence to all the barren places of the earth. This is a transformed universe. (d) The worship of God is central, and undertaken exactly as God demands. (e) Justice and righteousness are the order of the day, seen in the perfect allotment of land and responsibilities.
If this is largely right, the ultimate hope lies at the very end of history—but that end has already invaded history itself, in these last days. The consummation is not yet, but the kingdom has dawned.