The Millennial Temple: Literal or Allegorical? (Part 2 of 4)

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Source: Ariel Ministries

II. Different Views of Ezekiel 40–48

It should be noted that the only reason there are so many different interpretations is because so many assume the Scriptures cannot be taken literally. Once one moves away from a literal hermeneutic to some form of allegorical hermeneutic, the next question becomes: if it does not mean what it says literally, then what does it mean? At this point, the interpreter must resort to subjectivity, and the text means what the interpreter says it means. The following is a list of the various views.

A. MEMORIAL OF THE SOLOMONIC TEMPLE

This view states that this is only a literary memorial of the Solomonic Temple, and therefore it plays nothing more than a sentimental role of remembrance of the First Temple. However, there is very little similarity between the Solomonic Temple and the Ezekiel Temple. In fact, Ezekiel contradicts many details of the system used in the Solomonic Temple.

B. THE BLUEPRINT OF THE SECOND (POST-EXILIC) TEMPLE

According to this view, Ezekiel provided a blueprint for the rebuilding of the Temple after the return from Babylon. However, if that was the case, it was never followed. Even Ezekiel would have known that his measurements would never have fit the Temple Mount of that day.

C. THE HISTORICAL VIEW

This is similar to the previous view, except the claim is that this passage only presents Ezekiel’s personal hope for the kind of temple that would be built after the return from the Babylonian Captivity. If so, Ezekiel’s hope was never realized, rendering these chapters meaningless. What did happen did not follow Ezekiel at all. Furthermore, Ezekiel would have known that the measurements of his Temple would not have fit the Temple Mount of his day.

D. A SYMBOL OF THE HEAVENLY STATE

This view connects Ezekiel with Revelation 21–22 and teaches that this Temple is only a symbolic depiction of what things will be like in heaven. However, the measurements of the Ezekiel Temple, and that of the New Jerusalem in Revelation, are radically different. Revelation 21:22 states that the New Jerusalem will not have a temple in it, yet what Ezekiel describes is declared to be a temple.

E. A SYMBOL OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH

Using extreme allegory, this view states that Ezekiel is giving a depiction of the Christian church, symbolizing its origin, development, influence, and completion. Not only does this view require extreme allegorization of the text of Ezekiel, it must also ignore all the details of the text, including the geographical notations as well as the people involved. Further, it renders all the details of the text meaningless and irrelevant, while ignoring the fact that the angel warns Ezekiel to record all the minute details of the structures that will make up the Millennial Temple compound. This is a view that begins with the presupposition that the church is the New Israel.

F. A SYMBOL OF WORSHIP

This view rejects that these chapters are either prophetic, apocalyptic, or practical. It states that they only symbolize the fact that worship was the center of life in the confusion of world events of that day, and so the temple in the heart of the Ezekiel vision was a symbol that worship was the heart of world culture. This view also requires that the details of the text be ignored and derives a meaning from the passage that is simply not there but must be imposed on the text.

G. A SYMBOL OF A SPIRITUAL ESCHATOLOGICAL KINGDOM

This view recognizes the apocalyptic nature of these chapters but claims that the symbols found in the text are merely idealized pictures of spiritual truths that will be relevant in the coming kingdom. It makes no attempt to define the actual form of worship described by Ezekiel. This view must ignore all the details of the text and interpret the apocalyptic form as only a literary device in a way that goes beyond the normal use of the apocalyptic method. It is clear that the passage does provide the actual form of the type and means of worship in a very literal kingdom (Ez. 43:11).

H. THE LITERAL DESCRIPTION OF THE LITERAL TEMPLE IN THE
MILLENNIUM

This view contains the literal description of the Fourth Temple. Like the book of Revelation, this passage is apocalyptic and therefore contains symbolic imagery, but it is also prophetic in that it describes literal future events. In his commentary on Ezekiel, Lamar Eugene Cooper describes this view as follows:

The prophetic-apocalyptic view of the passage regards the chapters as an essentially literal description of a real future kingdom. This restored kingdom is not the church but Israel. But while describing literal features of a restored kingdom, Ezekiel also conveys spiritual truth. The very objects he describes, such as a literal temple, priesthood, and sacrifices also function as symbols of the character of the kingdom and its King.[1]

As the above list shows, only one view accepts the text as literal and all other views approach it allegorically. However, they are in total disagreement among themselves as to what the allegory means. This shows just how subjective the allegorical method really is, and it proves the advantage of the literal approach since one is then bound by the meaning of the words of the text in context and therefore is much more objective. What follows is a defense of the literal approach.   

[1] Lamar Eugene Cooper Sr., Ezekiel: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary, vol. 17) (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), pp. 352-53.

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www.ariel.org (in English); www.ariel-israel.org.il (in Hebrew). Arnold Fruchtenbaum is the founder and director of Ariel Ministries, a U.S. based ministry that has been providing Bible teaching from a Messianic Jewish perspective for over 40 years. Arnold was born in 1943 in Siberia, Russia, after his Jewish father was falsely accused of being a Nazi spy when he fled Poland from Hitler. With the help of the Israeli underground in 1947, the Fruchtenbaum family escaped from behind the Iron Curtain to Germany, where they were confined to British Displaced Persons' camps. There, Arnold received Orthodox Jewish training from his father, before the family finally immigrated to New York in 1951. Before their release, however, the family was befriended by a Lutheran minister, and it was this contact that eventually led Arnold and his mother to the New York headquarters of the American Board of Missions to the Jews (ABMJ). Five years later, this same meeting brought Arnold, at age 13, to saving knowledge of Jesus the Messiah. Read more about Arnold at https://www.ariel.org/about/dr-fruchtenbaum.