At the sides of the inner gates tables were set up for slaughtering the sacrifices. Four tables were on one side of the gate and four on the other - eight tables in all. The sacrifices prepared on these tables would then be offered on the altar in the inner court.
Chapters 33-39 focus on Israel's future new life when she is gathered back to her land and restored to fellowship with God at Jesus' return. Among other things, a new temple will be built as a sign of God's presence among His people (chs. 40-43), and a new service of worship will be re-established (chs. 44 46), after which a new division of the land will be made for Jewish nation (chs. 47-48).
To new covenant believers, the idea of re-establishing temple worship seems like a step backward after Christ's atoning sacrifice at the cross. There are three interpretations of Ezekiel's temple: (1) that it refers to the rebuilding of Solomon's temple when the exiles returned from Babylon; (2) it is an allegory of the Church, not to be taken literally; (3) it is a literal future temple to be built in Jerusalem when Jesus returns for the millennial reign. The first view must be rejected because the returnees from the Babylonian exile did not follow Ezekiel's specifications when they rebuilt the temple under Ezra's leadership. The second view must also be rejected because it violates the normal meaning of Ezekiel's words. So, the third is the remaining possibility. In fact, the Jews had always longed and prayed for the rebuilding of the Third Temple (patterned after Ezekiel chs 40-43) ever since the Second Temple (Herod's temple) was destroyed in AD 70 by the Romans. Currently, plans are already being made by the Temple Mount Faithful to construct the Third Temple near or at the Temple Mount, where the Dome of Rock and Al Aqsa mosque currently stand.
Why is there a need for a physical temple during the millenium? Isn't the Church the Temple of the Holy Spirit? Three possible reasons:
- Visible Symbol of God's Presence: It was to be the visible symbol of God's presence among His people Israel. At Israel's judgment God's glory departed from Solomon's temple in Jerusalem (Ezek 8-11). At her restoration the God's glory will reenter the Millennium temple in Jerusalem (43:1-5). So, during the Millennium, people would literally see God's glory in the Holy Land of Israel abiding in the Third Temple.
- Visible Reminder of Israel's Special Relationship: The new temple will become the visible reminder of Israel's special relationship to God confirmed through the New Covenant, which is a fulfillment of the promises made in the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant tabernacle given to Moses was but a shadow of the New Covenant temple given to Ezekiel as God's new center of worship in the millenium. Israel, not the Church, will be the centre of God's Kingdom. The Church is just a branch, but Israel is the True Vine. And there will be other branches attached to the God's True Vine during the Millennium as nations come under Christ's rule at Jerusalem.
- Centre for Universal Worship of God: This new temple will be the visible reminder to the nations during the Millennium reign that the God of the Universe is also the God of Israel. Nations will then come to Jerusalem to celebrate and worship the true God. Isaiah and Jeremiah prophesied that a day will come when Jerusalem will be called the "house of prayer for the nations" and become the centre for universal Levitical worship:
- Jeremiah 3:17-18 "At that time they will call Jerusalem The Throne of the Lord, and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honor the name of the Lord. No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts. In those days the house of Judah will join the house of Israel, and together they will come from a northern land to the land I gave your forefathers as an inheritance."
- Isaiah 56:6-7 "And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve him, to love the name of the Lord, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant — these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations."
While I don't intend to solve all the theological issues associated with these prophecies, it may be interesting for us to recall what Jesus said to his disciples when he instituted the Lord's Supper in Luke 22:15-18:
And he said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."
Jesus implies that when the Kingdom of God comes, he will eat the Passover meal again with the disciples. For the Jews at least, the Temple worship and its sacrifices will remain symbols of Christ's sacrifices at the Cross. The Lord's Supper is a temporary "sacrificial" symbol until He comes again. When he comes, the Lord's Supper will be superseded by a more glorious symbolism in the temple sacrifices and festivals at Jerusalem.
I don't have all the answers, but that is what Scripture says will happen when Christ returns. While we we may not fully comprehend God's purpose for the Third Temple and the restoration of Levitical sacrifices and festivals in the Millennium, we can be sure that His purpose will soon come to pass, even as preparations are being made to rebuild the Third Temple in Jerusalem.
Father, thank You that You are faithful to Abraham and his descendants and You will fulfill Your promises made in the Old Covenant. May You help us who are branches grafted into the true vine Israel be ever humble and grateful to be part and beneficiary of Your divine plan. Amen.