1 In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was struck down, on that very day, the hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me to the city. 2 In visions of God he brought me to the land of Israel, and set me down on a very high mountain, on which was a structure like a city to the south. 3 When he brought me there, behold, there was a man whose appearance was like bronze, with a linen cord and a measuring reed in his hand. And he was standing in the gateway. 4 And the man said to me, “Son of man, look with your eyes, and hear with your ears, and set your heart upon all that I shall show you, for you were brought here in order that I might show it to you. Declare all that you see to the house of Israel.”
5 And behold, there was a wall all around the outside of the temple area, and the length of the measuring reed in the man’s hand was six long cubits, each being a cubit and a handbreadth in length. So he measured the thickness of the wall, one reed; and the height, one reed. 6 Then he went into the gateway facing east, going up its steps, and measured the threshold of the gate, one reed deep. 7 And the side rooms, one reed long and one reed broad; and the space between the side rooms, five cubits; and the threshold of the gate by the vestibule of the gate at the inner end, one reed. 8 Then he measured the vestibule of the gateway, on the inside, one reed. 9 Then he measured the vestibule of the gateway, eight cubits; and its jambs, two cubits; and the vestibule of the gate was at the inner end. 10 And there were three side rooms on either side of the east gate. The three were of the same size, and the jambs on either side were of the same size. 11 Then he measured the width of the opening of the gateway, ten cubits; and the length of the gateway, thirteen cubits. 12 There was a barrier before the side rooms, one cubit on either side. And the side rooms were six cubits on either side. 13 Then he measured the gate from the ceiling of the one side room to the ceiling of the other, a breadth of twenty-five cubits; the openings faced each other. 14 He measured also the vestibule, sixty cubits. And around the vestibule of the gateway was the court. 15 From the front of the gate at the entrance to the front of the inner vestibule of the gate was fifty cubits. 16 And the gateway had windows all around, narrowing inwards toward the side rooms and toward their jambs, and likewise the vestibule had windows all around inside, and on the jambs were palm trees. – Ezekiel 40:1-16 ESV
Over the next nine chapters, Ezekiel is going to describe a vision given to him by God. The length of this vision rivals the one that the apostle John experienced and recorded in the book of Revelation. Ezekiel’s vision came not long after God’s declaration of His future plans to restore Israel to the land of Canaan and renew His covenant relationship with them. Part of that plan was to rebuild the temple and reintroduce the sacrificial system.
“…I will put my Temple among them forever. I will make my home among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And when my Temple is among them forever, the nations will know that I am the Lord, who makes Israel holy.”– Ezekiel 37:26-28 NLT
Ezekiel was given a vision of that future temple in all its glory and majesty, and it would be nothing like the temple that the Babylonians had destroyed. According to Ezekiel’s dating, he was given this vision 12 years after having received news of the fall of Jerusalem and the original temple’s destruction.
In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month, on the fifth day of the month, a fugitive from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has been struck down.”– Ezekiel 33:21 ESV
Now, more than a decade later, he records, “In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was struck down, on that very day, the hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me to the city” (Ezekiel 40:1 ESV).
But rather than finding the temple in a state of disrepair and decay, he sees “a structure like a city to the south” (Ezekiel 40:2 ESV). Before his eyes lay a massive complex of buildings and walls that appears more like a city than a temple. In his vision, Ezekiel receives a guided tour of the temple complex by a divine guide. And this is not the first time Ezekiel has met this individual. Back in chapter 8, he records a previous encounter with what appears to be the same “man whose appearance was like bronze, with a linen cord and a measuring reed in his hand” (Ezekiel 40:3 ESV).
Then I looked, and behold, a form that had the appearance of a man. Below what appeared to be his waist was fire, and above his waist was something like the appearance of brightness, like gleaming metal.He put out the form of a hand and took me by a lock of my head, and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the gateway of the inner court… – Ezekiel 8:2-3 ESV
But in Ezekiel’s prior vision, what he saw taking place in the temple was disturbing and disconcerting.
“Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel are committing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see still greater abominations.” – Ezekiel 8:6 ESV
In that vision, Ezekiel was given a glimpse into the temple in Jerusalem where the priests and leaders of Judah were committing idolatry and apostasy. They had denigrated the name of God by worshiping false gods in the very temple that had been dedicated to Him alone.
But that vision had taken plan two decades earlier and now the temple was a pile of rubble. Nebuchadnezzar’s forces had completely destroyed the once-glorious house built by King Solomon for the glory of God. Yet, God provided Ezekiel with a telescopic view into the distant future so that He could see a rebuilt and more magnificent temple that far exceeded Solomon’s temple in glory and grandeur. And the whole purpose for this second visit to the temple in Jerusalem was so that Ezekiel might tell his fellow exiles what he saw.
“Son of man, watch and listen. Pay close attention to everything I show you. You have been brought here so I can show you many things. Then you will return to the people of Israel and tell them everything you have seen.”– Ezekiel 40:4 NLT
In interpreting the meaning behind this vision, it is important to consider the audience to whom it was given. Ezekiel is specifically told to give this message to “the people of Israel.” Some have concluded that this vision is purely spiritual in nature and is not to be taken literally. They posit that everything Ezekiel saw was predicting the coming of the church after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Therefore, the images are figurative and not literal. But this view does not explain the great details found in the vision regarding the temple’s size and structure. It is impossible to spiritualize all that Ezekiel sees.
Another view is that this vision was fulfilled when the Israelites returned to the promised land under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. But the temple they rebuilt had no resemblance to what is described in Ezekiel’s vision. And the later expansions to the temple under King Herod would still lack any similarities to what Ezekiel saw in his vision.
The most logical explanation is that Ezekiel was given a view of a literal, eschatological temple that will exist during the millennial reign of Christ. God had already promised Ezekiel that the day was coming when He would put His temple among them forever. Therefore, it cannot be a temporary structure built with human hands. It must be of a supernatural design and built to last throughout eternity.
“Why did Ezekiel take so much space to describe the millennial temple? Here are two reasons: (1) The sanctuary was the visible symbol of God’s presence among His people. The prelude to Israel’s judgment began when God’s glory departed from Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem (Ezek. 8-11). The climax to her restoration as a nation will come when God’s glory reenters the new temple in Jerusalem (43:1-5). (2) The new temple will become the visible reminder of Israel’s relationship to God through His New Covenant. Since God gave detailed instructions for building the tabernacle to accompany His inauguration of the Mosaic Covenant (cf. Ez. 25-40), it is not unusual that He would also supply detailed plans for His new center of worship to accompany the implementation of the New Covenant. This temple will be the focal point for the visible manifestation of Israel’s new relationship with her God.” – Charles H. Dyer, Ezekiel
What Ezekiel receives is a literal blueprint for the millennial temple complex. When Noah received God’s blueprint instructions for the ark, God expected him to build it. But that is not the case here. Ezekiel was not expected to use these detailed measurements to construct this future temple. That would be the work of God. But God wanted Ezekiel to be able to describe in minute detail what he saw in the vision. It would have been next to impossible for Ezekiel to put into words what he saw. And it would have been difficult for his audience to grasp the glory of this eschatological temple without the measurements to provide some idea of its scope and size. And God left nothing out.
From the height of the surrounding wall to the threshold of each gate, God provided Ezekiel with precise measurements for each part of the temple complex. Guard rooms, alcoves, courtyards, and gateways were all included in the guided tour. And the amount of emphasis on gates and guard rooms suggests that the future temple will have restricted access. God will prevent anyone who is unclean or unworthy from entering His holy temple. It will once again be a place of righteousness where God’s presence dwells and God’s people can gather to offer their sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.