Monday, October 18, 2010

The Promised Temple

Over the course of Ezekiel's prophetic writings, we have been shown the full gamut of Israel's ugliness and sin.  In chapter 8, we heard of Israel's worship of other gods and Israel's complete lack of trust in Yahweh.  Chapter 16 described Israel as an unfaithful whore, actively pursuing everyone except the God who rescued her.  It is all of this sin and unfaithfulness which causes the glory of the Lord to depart from the Temple in chapter 10.  God is driven out of his own home by the filth of his people's idolatry.  As a result, in chapter 1, Ezekiel sees God not in the Temple in Jerusalem but in his chariot-throne on the banks of the Chebar Canal in Babylon.  Much of Ezekiel's writings portray Israel as a sinful and forsaken people.

But in the later chapters of the book, we are reminded that even Israel immense sins are not beyond God's healing power.  In chapter 36, God proclaimed that he would restore those in captivity to their homeland and make them clean for the sake of his own reputation.  In Ezekiel 37, God gives Ezekiel a vision of an army of dry bones coming to life, a promise of the life that God is about to breathe into this dead people.

Chapter 43 is the climax of these prophecies of restoration.  In the opening verses of this chapter, we hear that God is returning to his Temple.  Ezekiel sees the same vision of God that he saw on the banks of the Chebar except now the Spirit of the Lord is approaching the Temple from the east, away from Babylon and back to Jerusalem.  The Temple will once again be God's throne and God's footstool.   His permanent dwelling will once again be with his people.

But the final chapters of Ezekiel are not only about Yahweh's return to the Temple.  It is about the restoration of the Temple itself and all that restoration symbolizes.  When Ezekiel sees this vision of the Temple and God's return to it, there is no Temple.  It has been destroyed in the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem.  Chapter 43 comes in the midst of several chapters which meticulously describe every aspect of this new Temple, much like the meticulous description of the old Temple in earlier parts of the Old Testament.  However, whereas those earlier descriptions served as instruction, this description is one of promise.  There are no commands to build this Temple that is envisioned.  Indeed, there is no opportunity to build since those receiving the vision are still in exile.  Instead, Ezekiel is simply told to convey the vision to the people of Israel, in all of its detail oriented glory, so that "they may be ashamed of their sins."  Strangely, the designs of this building plan are also God's design for his people's repentance.  This building will stand as a physical reminder of God's faithfulness which can only remind Israel of all of its own unfaithfulness.

Of course, the New Testament writers will repeatedly use the Temple as a metaphor for the Church.  Whereas in the past God's Spirit had dwelt in a building, the Church believed that Spirit which also empowered Jesus now dwells in Jesus' followers making the Church God's new temple.  Ezekiel's vision is especially apt for our understanding of ourselves as the Temple since it is a blueprint for a promised building that can not yet be completed.  Likewise, the Church is to be a kind of blueprint for the new creation, God's final restoration of all things.  Undoubtedly, contemplating this final vision of God's restoration will remind us of all the ways that we fall short.  Nevertheless, we are also called to be a physical reminder of God's faithfulness and the promise of restoration which God intends to fulfill.

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