“Set Your Heart Upon” God’s Temple!
“Son of man, . . . set your heart upon all that I am showing you . . . Tell everything that you are seeing to the house of Israel.”—EZEKIEL 40:4.
1. In what condition did God’s chosen people find themselves in 593 B.C.E.?
THE year was 593 B.C.E., the 14th year of Israel’s exile. To the Jews living in Babylon, their beloved homeland must have seemed far away indeed. When most of them had last seen Jerusalem, it was in flames, its mighty wall smashed, its proud buildings in ruins. The temple of Jehovah—once the city’s crowning glory, the one center for pure worship in all the earth—had been reduced to rubble. Now the bulk of Israel’s exile lay yet ahead. It would be 56 years before the promised deliverance.—Jeremiah 29:10.
2. Why would memories of God’s temple in Jerusalem have saddened Ezekiel?
2 It must have saddened the faithful prophet Ezekiel to think of God’s temple lying in ruins hundreds of miles away, a desolate haunt of wild animals. (Jeremiah 9:11) His own father, Buzi, had served as a priest there. (Ezekiel 1:3) Ezekiel would have enjoyed the same privilege, but he had been taken into exile with the nobility of Jerusalem in 617 B.C.E., when still young. Now about 50 years old, Ezekiel likely knew that he would never see Jerusalem again nor have any part in the rebuilding of her temple. Imagine, then, how much it must have meant to Ezekiel to receive a vision of a glorious temple!
3. (a) What was the purpose of Ezekiel’s vision of the temple? (b) What are the four main components of the vision?
3 This extensive vision, filling nine chapters of Ezekiel’s book, provided exiled Judeans with a faith-strengthening promise. Pure worship would be restored! In the centuries since then, even down to our day, this vision has been a source of encouragement to lovers of Jehovah. How so? Let us examine what Ezekiel’s prophetic vision meant to the exiled Israelites. It has four main components: the temple, the priesthood, the chieftain, and the land.
The Temple Restored
4. Where is Ezekiel taken at the outset of his vision, what does he see there, and who gives him a guided tour?
4 First, Ezekiel is brought to “a very high mountain.” On the mountain to the south is a huge temple, like a walled city. An angel, whose “appearance was like the appearance of copper,” takes the prophet on a thorough tour of the premises. (Ezekiel 40:2, 3) As the vision proceeds, Ezekiel beholds the angel meticulously taking measurements of the temple’s three matching pairs of gates with their guard chambers, an outer courtyard, an inner courtyard, dining rooms, an altar, and the temple sanctuary with its Holy and Most Holy compartments.
5. (a) What assurance does Jehovah give Ezekiel? (b) What were “the carcasses of their kings” that had to be removed from the temple, and why was this important?
5 Then, Jehovah himself appears in the vision. He enters the temple and assures Ezekiel that He will reside there. But He calls for a cleansing of His house, saying: “Now let them remove their fornication and the carcasses of their kings far from me, and I shall certainly reside in the midst of them to time indefinite.” (Ezekiel 43:2-4, 7, 9) These “carcasses of their kings” evidently referred to idols. Jerusalem’s rebellious rulers and people had polluted God’s temple with idols and, in effect, had made kings of them. (Compare Amos 5:26.) Far from being living gods or kings, these were dead, dirty things in Jehovah’s eyes. They must be removed.—Leviticus 26:30; Jeremiah 16:18.
6. What did the measuring of the temple signify?
6 What was the point of this part of the vision? It assured the exiles of the complete restoration of pure worship at God’s temple. Further, the measuring of the temple provided a divine guarantee that the vision was absolutely sure of fulfillment. (Compare Jeremiah 31:39, 40; Zechariah 2:2-8.) All idolatry would be cleansed away. Jehovah would once again bless his house.
The Priesthood and the Chieftain
7. What information is given regarding the Levites and the priests?
7 The priesthood was also to undergo a cleansing, or refining, process. The Levites were to be rebuked for succumbing to idolatry, while the priestly sons of Zadok were to be commended and rewarded for remaining clean.a Still, both groups would have positions of service in God’s restored house—depending, no doubt, on their faithfulness as individuals. Further, Jehovah decreed: “And my people they should instruct in the difference between a holy thing and a profane thing; and the difference between what is unclean and what is clean they should cause them to know.” (Ezekiel 44:10-16, 23) So the priesthood was to be restored, and the faithful endurance of the priests would be rewarded.
8. (a) Who were the chieftains of ancient Israel? (b) In what ways was the chieftain of Ezekiel’s vision active in pure worship?
8 The vision also refers to one called the chieftain. Ever since the days of Moses, the nation had had chieftains. The Hebrew word for chieftain, na·siʼʹ, could refer to a head of a paternal house, a tribe, or even a nation. In Ezekiel’s vision, Israel’s rulers as a class are rebuked for oppressing the people and are exhorted to be fair and just. Although not of the priestly class, the chieftain is active in a prominent way in pure worship. He enters and exits the outer courtyard with the nonpriestly tribes, sits in the porch of the East Gate, and provides some of the sacrifices for the people to offer. (Ezekiel 44:2, 3; 45:8-12, 17) The vision thus assured Ezekiel’s people that the restored nation would be blessed with exemplary leaders, men who would support the priesthood in organizing God’s people and be fine examples in spiritual matters.
9. (a) How was the land to be divided, but who would not receive an inheritance? (b) What was the holy contribution, and what did it contain?
9 Finally, Ezekiel’s vision included an overview of the land of Israel. It was to be divided with an allotment for each tribe. The chieftain too would have an inheritance. The priests, however, would not, for Jehovah said, “I am their inheritance.” (Ezekiel 44:10, 28; Numbers 18:20) The vision showed that the chieftain’s allotment of land would be located on either side of a special area called the holy contribution. This was a square piece of land divided into three strips—the top for the repentant Levites, the middle for the priests, and the bottom for the city and its productive land. Jehovah’s temple would be located in the priests’ strip of land, in the center of the square contribution.—Ezekiel 45:1-7.
10. What did the prophecy about the dividing of the land mean to faithful Judeans in exile?
10 How all of this must have lifted the hearts of those exiles! Each family was assured of having an inheritance in the land. (Compare Micah 4:4.) Pure worship would occupy an exalted, central place there. And notice in Ezekiel’s vision that the chieftain, like the priests, would live on land contributed by the people. (Ezekiel 45:16) So in the restored land, the people were to contribute to the work of those whom Jehovah appointed to take the lead, supporting them by cooperating with their direction. In all, this land was a picture of organization, cooperation, and security.
11, 12. (a) How does Jehovah prophetically assure his people that he would bless their restored homeland? (b) What was pictured by the trees along the banks of the river?
11 Would Jehovah bless their land? The prophecy answers this question with a heartwarming picture. A stream flows from the temple, widening as it goes, becoming a torrent by the time it enters the Dead Sea. There it revives lifeless waters, and a fishing industry flourishes on a stretch of the shoreline. Along the riverbanks are many trees that bear fruit year-round, giving nourishment and healing.—Ezekiel 47:1-12.
12 To the exiles, this promise echoed and confirmed earlier restoration prophecies that they held very dear. More than once, Jehovah’s inspired prophets had described a restored, repopulated Israel in paradisaic terms. Dead regions coming to life had been a recurring prophetic theme. (Isaiah 35:1, 6, 7; 51:3; Ezekiel 36:35; 37:1-14) So the people could expect that Jehovah’s life-giving blessings would flow forth like a river from the restored temple. Consequently, a spiritually dead nation would revive. The restored people would be blessed with outstanding spiritual men—men as righteous and firm as the trees along those visionary riverbanks, men who would take the lead in rebuilding a ruined land. Isaiah too had written of “big trees of righteousness” who would “rebuild the long-standing devastated places.”—Isaiah 61:3, 4.
When Is the Vision Fulfilled?
13. (a) In what sense did Jehovah bless his restored people with “big trees of righteousness”? (b) How was the prophecy about the Dead Sea fulfilled?
13 Were the returning exiles disappointed? Far from it! A restored remnant returned to their beloved homeland in 537 B.C.E. In time, under the guidance of these “big trees of righteousness”—such as the scribe Ezra, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, and the High Priest Joshua—the long-devastated places were rebuilt. Chieftains, for example Nehemiah and Zerubbabel, ruled in the land fairly and justly. Jehovah’s temple was restored, and his provisions for life—the blessings of living by his covenant—again flowed forth. (Deuteronomy 30:19; Isaiah 48:17-20) One blessing was knowledge. The priesthood was restored to duty, and the priests instructed the people in the Law. (Malachi 2:7) As a result, the people revived spiritually and again became fruitful servants of Jehovah, as pictured by the Dead Sea being healed and generating a productive fishing industry.
14. Why was there to be a fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy surpassing what happened following the Jews’ return from exile in Babylon?
14 Were these events the only fulfillment of Ezekiel’s vision? No; something far greater is indicated. Consider: The temple that Ezekiel saw could not really be built as described. True, the Jews took that vision seriously and even applied some details literally.b However, the visionary temple as a whole was too large even to fit on Mount Moriah, the site of the former temple. In addition, Ezekiel’s temple was not in the city but some distance away on a separate tract of land, whereas the second temple was built where its predecessor had stood, in the city of Jerusalem. (Ezra 1:1, 2) Further, no literal river ever emerged from Jerusalem’s temple. So ancient Israel saw only a token fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy. This implies that there must be a greater, spiritual fulfillment of this vision.
15. (a) When did Jehovah’s spiritual temple go into operation? (b) What indicates that Ezekiel’s vision was not fulfilled during Christ’s lifetime on earth?
15 Clearly, we must look for the main fulfillment of Ezekiel’s vision in Jehovah’s great spiritual temple, which the apostle Paul discusses at length in the book of Hebrews. That temple went into operation when Jesus Christ was anointed as its High Priest in 29 C.E. But was Ezekiel’s vision fulfilled in Jesus’ day? Evidently not. Jesus, as the High Priest, fulfilled the prophetic import of the Atonement Day by means of his baptism, his sacrificial death, and his entry into the Most Holy, heaven itself. (Hebrews 9:24) Interestingly, though, Ezekiel’s vision does not contain a single mention of either the high priest or the Atonement Day. So it seems unlikely that this vision was pointing toward the first century C.E. In what time period, then, does it apply?
16. The setting of Ezekiel’s vision reminds us of what other prophecy, and how does this help us to discern the time of the main fulfillment of Ezekiel’s vision?
16 For an answer, let us go back to the vision itself. Ezekiel wrote: “In the visions of God he brought me to the land of Israel and gradually set me down upon a very high mountain, on which there was something like the structure of a city to the south.” (Ezekiel 40:2) The setting for this vision, the “very high mountain,” reminds us of Micah 4:1: “It must occur in the final part of the days that the mountain of the house of Jehovah will become firmly established above the top of the mountains, and it will certainly be lifted up above the hills; and to it peoples must stream.” When does this prophecy come into fulfillment? Micah 4:5 shows that this commences while the nations still worship false gods. In fact, it has been in our own time, “the final part of the days,” that pure worship has been lifted up, restored to its proper place in the lives of God’s servants.
17. How does the prophecy at Malachi 3:1-5 help us to determine when the temple of Ezekiel’s vision was cleansed?
17 What made this restoration possible? Remember, in the most significant event of Ezekiel’s vision, Jehovah comes to the temple and insists that his house be cleansed of idolatry. When was God’s spiritual temple cleansed? At Malachi 3:1-5, Jehovah foretells a time when he will “come to His temple” accompanied by his “messenger of the covenant,” Jesus Christ. The purpose? “He will be like the fire of a refiner and like the lye of laundrymen.” This refining commenced during the time of the first world war. The result? Jehovah has resided in his house and blessed the spiritual land of his people from 1919 onward. (Isaiah 66:8) We may conclude, then, that Ezekiel’s temple prophecy sees an important fulfillment during the last days.
18. When will the temple vision have its final fulfillment?
18 Like other restoration prophecies, Ezekiel’s vision has a further fulfillment, a final one, in Paradise. Only at that time will righthearted mankind receive the full benefits of God’s temple arrangement. Christ will then administer the value of his ransom sacrifice, in company with his heavenly priesthood of 144,000. All obedient human subjects of Christ’s rule will be lifted to perfection. (Revelation 20:5, 6) However, Paradise cannot be the primary time of fulfillment for Ezekiel’s vision. Why not?
The Vision Focuses on Our Own Day
19, 20. Why must the main fulfillment of the vision occur today and not in Paradise?
19 Ezekiel saw a temple that needed to be cleansed of idolatry and spiritual fornication. (Ezekiel 43:7-9) This surely could not apply to the worship of Jehovah in Paradise. Furthermore, the priests of the vision picture the anointed priestly class while still on earth, not after their heavenly resurrection or during the Millennium. Why? Note that the priests are pictured as serving in the inner courtyard. Articles in previous issues of The Watchtower have shown that this courtyard pictures the unique spiritual standing of Christ’s underpriests while they are still on the earth.c Observe also that the vision stresses the imperfection of the priests. They are told to offer sacrifices for their own sins. They are warned of the danger of becoming unclean—spiritually and morally. So they do not picture the resurrected anointed ones, of whom the apostle Paul wrote: “The trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised up incorruptible.” (1 Corinthians 15:52; Ezekiel 44:21, 22, 25, 27) The priests in the vision mingle with and serve the people directly. This will not be so in Paradise, when the priestly class will be in heaven. The vision provides, therefore, a fine picture of the way the anointed work closely with the “great crowd” on earth today.—Revelation 7:9; Ezekiel 42:14.
20 Thus Ezekiel’s vision of the temple portends the wholesome effects of a spiritual cleansing undergoing fulfillment today. But what does that mean to you? This is not merely some abstract theological puzzle. This vision has a great deal to do with your own day-to-day worship of the only true God, Jehovah. In our next article, we will see how.
a This may have touched Ezekiel personally, for it is said that he himself was of the priestly family of Zadok.
b For instance, the ancient Mishnah suggests that in the restored temple, the altar, the temple’s two-leaved doors, and the cooking areas were built to conform to Ezekiel’s vision.
Do You Remember?
◻ What was the initial fulfillment of Ezekiel’s vision of the temple and its priesthood?
◻ How did Ezekiel’s vision of the allotment of the land find an early fulfillment?
◻ In the restoration of ancient Israel, who acted as faithful chieftains and who acted as “big trees of righteousness”?
◻ Why must Ezekiel’s temple vision find its main fulfillment during the last days?