1, 2. (a) What did we learn about Ezekiel’s temple vision in the preceding chapter? (b) What two questions will we consider in this chapter?
EZEKIEL did not see in vision the great spiritual temple that the apostle Paul discussed centuries later. We learned this in the preceding chapter. We also learned that the vision was designed to teach God’s people the importance of divine standards for pure worship. Only by following those standards could the people enjoy a renewed relationship with Jehovah. We may thus see why Jehovah twice emphasized this key thought in a single verse: “This is the law of the temple.”—Read Ezekiel 43:12.
2 Now we need to consider two further questions. First: What specific lessons about Jehovah’s standards for pure worship might the Jews of Ezekiel’s day have drawn from this temple vision? The answer to that question will help us to address our second question: What does the vision mean for us in these troubled last days?
What Lessons Did the Vision Teach in Ancient Times?
3. How might the vision’s setting on a high mountain have moved people to godly shame?
3 To answer the first question, let us focus on a few striking features of this temple vision. The high mountain. The people would likely have associated the setting of Ezekiel’s vision with Isaiah’s heartwarming restoration prophecy. (Isa. 2:2) But what did seeing Jehovah’s house on such a lofty mountain teach them? It taught them that pure worship should be exalted, lifted up, held high above all else. Of course, pure worship is naturally exalted, for it is an arrangement from the One who is “exalted far above all other gods.” (Ps. 97:9) But the people had not been doing their part. For centuries, they had repeatedly allowed pure worship to become debased, abandoned, polluted. Seeing God’s sacred house exalted, lifted up to a well-deserved position of glory and prominence, surely moved righthearted ones to feel ashamed.
4, 5. What lesson might Ezekiel’s audience have learned from the lofty gates of the temple?
4 The lofty gates. Early in the vision, Ezekiel watched his angelic guide measuring the gates. Those structures were about 100 feet (30 m) in height! (Ezek. 40:14) There were guard chambers within those entryways. What might all of this have suggested to those who studied this plan? Jehovah told Ezekiel: “Pay close attention to the entryway of the temple.” Why? Because the people had been bringing individuals who were “uncircumcised in heart and flesh” right into God’s sacred house of worship. The result? “They profane my temple,” Jehovah said.—Ezek. 44:5, 7.
5 Those who were “uncircumcised in . . . flesh” had failed to obey a clear command from God that went back to the days of Abraham. (Gen. 17:9, 10; Lev. 12:1-3) But those who were “uncircumcised in heart” had a worse problem. They were stubbornly rebellious, unresponsive to Jehovah’s direction and guidance. Such people should not have been allowed to enter Jehovah’s sacred house of worship! Jehovah hates hypocrisy, and his people had allowed hypocrisy to flourish in his house. The gates and guard chambers in the visionary temple clearly taught the lesson: No more of such abuses! The lofty standards for entry into God’s house must be upheld. Only then would Jehovah bless the people’s worship.
6, 7. (a) How does Jehovah use the wall around the temple complex to convey a message to his people? (b) How had Jehovah’s people formerly treated his house? (See footnote.)
6 The perimeter wall. Another striking feature of this visionary temple was the wall around the entire temple area. Ezekiel says that the wall on each side was 500 reeds, or 5,100 feet (1,555 m), nearly a mile (1.6 km)! (Ezek. 42:15-20) Yet, the temple buildings and courtyards formed a square that was only 500 cubits, or 850 feet (259 m), to a side. So there was a wide area surrounding the temple, and it was enclosed by that outer wall.a For what purpose?
7 Jehovah said: “Now let them put their spiritual prostitution and the carcasses of their kings far away from me, and I will dwell among them forever.” (Ezek. 43:9) “The carcasses of their kings” likely referred to idolatry. So Jehovah used that wide perimeter in Ezekiel’s visionary temple to say, in effect: “Keep all such filth far away. Do not even let it near.” If they thus kept their worship pure, Jehovah would bless them with his presence.
8, 9. What might people have learned from Jehovah’s strong counsel to responsible men?
8 Strong counsel to responsible men. Jehovah also gave strong but loving counsel to the men who bore great responsibility among the people. He forcefully corrected the Levites who strayed far from him when the people lapsed into idolatry, whereas he commended the sons of Zadok, “who took care of the responsibilities of [his] sanctuary when the Israelites strayed.” He dealt justly and mercifully with each group, according to their actions. (Ezek. 44:10, 12-16) Similarly, the chieftains of Israel received powerful correction.—Ezek. 45:9.
9 Jehovah thus clearly revealed that men in positions of authority and oversight had to answer to him for the way they handled their responsibilities. They were not above counsel, correction, and discipline. On the contrary, they were to take the lead in upholding Jehovah’s standards!
10, 11. What evidence suggests that some of the returning exiles learned the lessons conveyed in Ezekiel’s vision?
10 Did the returning exiles apply the lessons of Ezekiel’s vision? Of course, we cannot know exactly what faithful men and women back then were thinking about this remarkable vision. However, God’s Word does tell us a great deal about what the returning exiles did and how they came to view the pure worship of Jehovah. Did they apply the principles conveyed in Ezekiel’s vision? To some extent, they did—especially in comparison with their rebellious ancestors prior to the exile in Babylon.
11 Such faithful men as the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, the priest and copyist Ezra, and the governor Nehemiah all worked hard to teach the people principles like those conveyed in Ezekiel’s temple vision. (Ezra 5:1, 2) They taught the people that pure worship must be exalted and must take precedence over material concerns and selfish pursuits. (Hag. 1:3, 4) They insisted that the standards for participating in pure worship be respected. For instance, Ezra and Nehemiah forcefully counseled the people to put away their foreign wives, who were weakening the people spiritually. (Read Ezra 10:10, 11; Neh. 13:23-27, 30) What about idolatry? It seems that after the exile, the nation finally developed a hatred for that sin, which had ensnared them so often during their history. And what about the priests and chieftains, or princes? As Ezekiel’s vision indicated, they were among those who received counsel and correction from Jehovah. (Neh. 13:22, 28) Many humbly complied with that counsel.—Ezra 10:7-9, 12-14; Neh. 9:1-3, 38.
12. In what ways did Jehovah bless the exiles after their return?
12 In response, Jehovah did bless his people. The land enjoyed a measure of spiritual prosperity, health, and order that it had not seen in a long time. (Ezra 6:19-22; Neh. 8:9-12; 12:27-30, 43) And why? Because the people finally began to follow Jehovah’s righteous standards for pure worship. The lessons of the visionary temple found their way into many responsive hearts. In summary, then, we could say that Ezekiel’s vision of the temple benefited the exiles in two vital ways. (1) It taught them practical lessons about the standards for pure worship and about how they should uphold those standards. (2) It provided prophetic reassurance. It foretold that pure worship would be restored, and it further foretold how Jehovah would bless his people as long as they practiced pure worship. However, we today want to know: Does this vision have a fulfillment now?
What Ezekiel’s Vision Teaches Us Today
13, 14. (a) How do we know that Ezekiel’s temple vision has a fulfillment in our time? (b) In what two ways does the vision benefit us today? (See also box 13A, “Different Temples, Different Lessons.”)
13 Can we be sure that Ezekiel’s temple vision applies to us today? Yes! Recall the similarity between Ezekiel’s vision of God’s sacred house on “a very high mountain” and Isaiah’s prophecy that “the mountain of the house of Jehovah” would be “firmly established above the top of the mountains.” Isaiah specifically tells us that his prophecy would see fulfillment during “the final part of the days,” or “the last days.” (Ezek. 40:2; Isa. 2:2-4; ftn.; see also Micah 4:1-4.) These prophecies apply to the time in the last days ever since 1919 when pure worship is lifted up, restored, as if placed on a lofty mountain.b
14 Most decidedly, then, Ezekiel’s vision does apply to pure worship today. Much as it benefited the Jewish exiles in ancient times, this vision benefits us today in two ways. (1) It provides practical lessons about how we can uphold Jehovah’s standards for pure worship. (2) It gives prophetic reassurances of the restoration of pure worship and of Jehovah’s blessings.
Standards for Pure Worship Today
15. What should we keep in mind as we draw lessons from Ezekiel’s visionary temple?
15 Let us now consider some specific features of Ezekiel’s vision. Imagine that we are joining Ezekiel on his tour of that impressive visionary temple. Keep in mind that we are not seeing the great spiritual temple; rather, we are simply drawing lessons that apply to our worship today. What are some lessons that we might learn?
16. What can we learn from all the measuring in Ezekiel’s vision? (See opening picture.)
16 Why all the measurements? As Ezekiel watches, the angelic man with a copper appearance takes detailed measurements of the temple, including the walls, the gates, the guard chambers, the courtyards, and the altar. The sheer volume of detail can be overwhelming to the reader. (Ezek. 40:1–42:20; 43:13, 14) Think, though, of the vital points we can gain from such detail. Jehovah thereby powerfully stresses the importance of his standards. It is he who sets them, not mere humans. Those who claim that it does not matter how God is worshipped are sadly mistaken. Furthermore, by measuring out the temple in detail, Jehovah provides assurance that the restoration of pure worship is an absolute certainty. The exact fulfillment of God’s promise is as sure as those precise measurements. Ezekiel thus confirms that the restoration of pure worship in the last days is a sure thing!
17. What might the temple’s perimeter wall remind us of today?
17 The perimeter wall. As we have discussed, Ezekiel saw a wall around the entire visionary temple area. That feature was a strong reminder that God’s people were to keep all religious uncleanness far away from pure worship, never contaminating God’s house. (Read Ezekiel 43:7-9.) How we need the same counsel today! After God’s people were released from the long centuries of spiritual captivity in Babylon the Great, Christ appointed his faithful and discreet slave in 1919. Especially since then, God’s people have worked hard to get rid of false doctrines and practices mixed with idolatry and paganism. We are careful to keep spiritual uncleanness far away from pure worship. Further, we do not even conduct secular business in our Kingdom Halls, keeping such mundane matters separate from our worship.—Mark 11:15, 16.
18, 19. (a) What can we learn from the tall gates of the visionary temple? (b) How should we respond to those who seek to lower Jehovah’s high standards? Give an example.
18 The lofty gates. When we contemplate those towering gates that Ezekiel saw, what lessons can we learn? That aspect of the visionary temple no doubt taught the Jewish exiles that Jehovah has very high moral standards. If that was true in ancient times, what about today? We worship in Jehovah’s great spiritual temple. Is not upright conduct free from hypocrisy even more important now? (Rom. 12:9; 1 Pet. 1:14, 15) During the last days, Jehovah has progressively guided his people to follow closely his standards of moral conduct.c For example, unrepentant wrongdoers are removed from the congregation. (1 Cor. 5:11-13) What is more, the guard chambers in the entryways of those gates may remind us that today, when it comes to worshipping Jehovah, no one is admitted who does not have divine approval. For instance, a person who is leading a double life might enter a Kingdom Hall, but he cannot gain Jehovah’s approval until he makes things right with God. (Jas. 4:8) What a marvelous protection for pure worship in these debased, immoral times!
19 The Bible foretold that this world would become debased before the end. “Wicked men and impostors,” we read, “will advance from bad to worse, misleading and being misled.” (2 Tim. 3:13) More and more people today are being misled into thinking that Jehovah’s high standards are overly strict, out-of-date, or just wrong. Will you be misled? For example, if someone tries to convince you that God’s standards regarding homosexual conduct are mistaken, will you agree with him? Or will you agree with Jehovah God, whose Word clearly states that those who carry out such acts are “working what is obscene”? God warns us against approving of immoral conduct. (Rom. 1:24-27, 32) When confronted with such issues, we do well to picture Ezekiel’s visionary temple with those lofty gates and remember: Jehovah does not lower his righteous standards, regardless of pressures from this wicked world. Do we agree with our heavenly Father and stand up for what is right?
We offer up “a sacrifice of praise” when we share in pure worship
20. Those of the “great crowd” find what encouraging reminders in Ezekiel’s vision?
20 The courtyards. When Ezekiel saw the temple’s broad outer courtyard, he must have been thrilled to think of how many happy worshippers of Jehovah could gather there. Today, Christians worship in a far more sacred place. Those who make up the “great crowd” of worshippers in the outer courtyard of Jehovah’s spiritual temple find encouraging reminders in Ezekiel’s vision. (Rev. 7:9, 10, 14, 15) Ezekiel saw that the courtyards were lined with dining rooms where worshippers could share in the communion sacrifices they had brought. (Ezek. 40:17) In a sense, they could enjoy a meal with Jehovah God—a sign of peaceful friendship! Today, we do not offer up sacrifices as the Jews did under the Mosaic Law. Rather, we offer up “a sacrifice of praise” when we share in pure worship, such as through our comments and expressions of faith at our meetings or in the field ministry. (Heb. 13:15) We are also nourished by the spiritual food that Jehovah provides. No wonder we feel as did the sons of Korah who sang to Jehovah: “A day in your courtyards is better than a thousand anywhere else!”—Ps. 84:10.
21. What might anointed Christians learn from the priesthood in Ezekiel’s vision?
21 The priesthood. Ezekiel saw that the inner courtyard was accessible to the priests and Levites by means of gates like those that allowed the nonpriestly tribes to enter the outer courtyard. That was an effective way to remind the men of that priestly class that they too had to meet Jehovah’s standards for pure worship. And today? There is no hereditary priesthood among God’s servants now, but anointed Christians are told: “You are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood.’” (1 Pet. 2:9) The priests of ancient Israel worshipped in a separate courtyard. Today, anointed Christians are not separated from their fellow worshippers in any physical sense, but they do enjoy a special relationship with Jehovah as his adopted children. (Gal. 4:4-6) At the same time, anointed ones can find useful reminders in Ezekiel’s vision. They note, for instance, that the priests were subject to counsel and discipline. All Christians do well to remember that we are part of “one flock” that serves under “one shepherd.”—Read John 10:16.
22, 23. (a) What lesson might Christian elders today draw from the chieftain described in Ezekiel’s vision? (b) What may occur in the future?
22 The chieftain. In Ezekiel’s vision, the chieftain is a fairly prominent figure. He is not of the priestly tribe, and in the temple setting, he would have submitted to the lead of the priests. However, he clearly acts as an overseer among the people and assists them in providing sacrifices. (Ezek. 44:2, 3; 45:16, 17; 46:2) So he is an example for Christian men today who carry a measure of responsibility in the congregation. After all, Christian elders, including traveling overseers, need to remain submissive to the anointed faithful slave. (Heb. 13:17) Elders work hard to help God’s people offer their sacrifices of praise at Christian meetings and in the ministry. (Eph. 4:11, 12) And elders may also take note of the way Jehovah rebuked Israel’s chieftains for abusing their power. (Ezek. 45:9) Likewise, elders do not expect to be above counsel and correction. On the contrary, they cherish any opportunity to be refined by Jehovah so that they can be more effective as shepherds and overseers.—Read 1 Peter 5:1-3.
23 Jehovah will continue to provide capable, loving overseers in the Paradise earth to come. Many elders today are, in effect, receiving training in how to be helpful, capable shepherds in Paradise. (Ps. 45:16) Is it not exciting to contemplate how such men will prove to be a blessing in the new world? Our understanding of Ezekiel’s vision, like that of other restoration prophecies, may become clearer in Jehovah’s due time. Perhaps some aspects will see a thrilling application in the future, a fulfillment we could barely fathom at present. Time will tell.
Jehovah’s Blessings on Pure Worship
24, 25. How did Ezekiel’s vision portray Jehovah’s blessings on his people as they adhered to pure worship?
24 In conclusion, let us recall the one great event that takes place in Ezekiel’s vision. Jehovah comes to that visionary temple, and he promises his people that he will remain there for as long as they adhere faithfully to his standards for pure worship. (Ezek. 43:4-9) What effect would Jehovah’s presence have on his people and on their land?
25 The vision describes divine blessings by using two reassuring prophetic pictures: (1) A river flows from the temple sanctuary, bringing life and fertility to the land; and (2) the land is divided up in an orderly, precise way, with the temple and its grounds clearly in a central position. How may we understand those passages today? After all, we live in a time when Jehovah has entered, refined, and approved a far more sacred system of worship, the great spiritual temple. (Mal. 3:1-4) We will discuss those two prophetic pictures in Chapters 19 to 21 of this publication.
a Jehovah was thus offering a contrast with the way his people had formerly treated his sacred house: “By putting their threshold next to my threshold and their doorpost beside my doorpost, with only a wall between me and them, they defiled my holy name by the detestable things they did.” (Ezek. 43:8) In ancient Jerusalem, there was only a wall separating Jehovah’s temple from secular housing. As the people strayed from Jehovah’s righteous standards, they brought their uncleanness, their idolatry, right up against Jehovah’s house. That situation was intolerable!
b Ezekiel’s temple vision also ties in with other restoration prophecies that have seen fulfillment during the last days. Note, for example, the similarities between Ezekiel 43:1-9 and Malachi 3:1-5; Ezekiel 47:1-12 and Joel 3:18.
c The spiritual temple first came into existence in 29 C.E. when Jesus was baptized and began his work as High Priest. However, pure worship was widely neglected on earth for centuries after the death of Jesus’ apostles. It is particularly since 1919 that true worship has been exalted.