17 Then he brought me into the outer court. And behold, there were chambers and a pavement, all around the court. Thirty chambers faced the pavement. 18 And the pavement ran along the side of the gates, corresponding to the length of the gates. This was the lower pavement. 19 Then he measured the distance from the inner front of the lower gate to the outer front of the inner court, a hundred cubits on the east side and on the north side.
20 As for the gate that faced toward the north, belonging to the outer court, he measured its length and its breadth. 21 Its side rooms, three on either side, and its jambs and its vestibule were of the same size as those of the first gate. Its length was fifty cubits, and its breadth twenty-five cubits. 22 And its windows, its vestibule, and its palm trees were of the same size as those of the gate that faced toward the east. And by seven steps people would go up to it, and find its vestibule before them. 23 And opposite the gate on the north, as on the east, was a gate to the inner court. And he measured from gate to gate, a hundred cubits.
24 And he led me toward the south, and behold, there was a gate on the south. And he measured its jambs and its vestibule; they had the same size as the others. 25 Both it and its vestibule had windows all around, like the windows of the others. Its length was fifty cubits, and its breadth twenty-five cubits. 26 And there were seven steps leading up to it, and its vestibule was before them, and it had palm trees on its jambs, one on either side. 27 And there was a gate on the south of the inner court. And he measured from gate to gate toward the south, a hundred cubits.
28 Then he brought me to the inner court through the south gate, and he measured the south gate. It was of the same size as the others. 29 Its side rooms, its jambs, and its vestibule were of the same size as the others, and both it and its vestibule had windows all around. Its length was fifty cubits, and its breadth twenty-five cubits. 30 And there were vestibules all around, twenty-five cubits long and five cubits broad. 31 Its vestibule faced the outer court, and palm trees were on its jambs, and its stairway had eight steps.
32 Then he brought me to the inner court on the east side, and he measured the gate. It was of the same size as the others. 33 Its side rooms, its jambs, and its vestibule were of the same size as the others, and both it and its vestibule had windows all around. Its length was fifty cubits, and its breadth twenty-five cubits. 34 Its vestibule faced the outer court, and it had palm trees on its jambs, on either side, and its stairway had eight steps.
35 Then he brought me to the north gate, and he measured it. It had the same size as the others. 36 Its side rooms, its jambs, and its vestibule were of the same size as the others, and it had windows all around. Its length was fifty cubits, and its breadth twenty-five cubits. 37 Its vestibule faced the outer court, and it had palm trees on its jambs, on either side, and its stairway had eight steps.
38 There was a chamber with its door in the vestibule of the gate, where the burnt offering was to be washed. 39 And in the vestibule of the gate were two tables on either side, on which the burnt offering and the sin offering and the guilt offering were to be slaughtered. 40 And off to the side, on the outside as one goes up to the entrance of the north gate, were two tables; and off to the other side of the vestibule of the gate were two tables. 41 Four tables were on either side of the gate, eight tables, on which to slaughter. 42 And there were four tables of hewn stone for the burnt offering, a cubit and a half long, and a cubit and a half broad, and one cubit high, on which the instruments were to be laid with which the burnt offerings and the sacrifices were slaughtered. 43 And hooks, a handbreadth long, were fastened all around within. And on the tables the flesh of the offering was to be laid. – Ezekiel 40:17-43 ESV
The temple complex in Ezekiel’s vision revealed an outer wall with three gates or entrances; one to the north, another to the east, and a final one to the south. The wall surrounding the temple was over ten feet wide and ten feet tall. The eastern gate, which faced the Kidron Valley across from the Mount of Olives, had a set of steps leading up to its gate. This was the main entry point to the temple complex and led to an outer court. On the perimeter of the wall’s interior were a series of rooms that lined its northern. eastern, and southern sides. No explanation is given for the purpose of these rooms.
The distance between the outer eastern gate and the inner eastern gate that led to the inner court was 166 feet. This expanse formed the outer court. In Solomon’s temple, this would have been called The Court of the Women. But in his vision, Ezekiel is provided with no designation for this expansive space.
Upon entering the outer court, the three entrances to the inner court came into view. These three inner gate complexes were similar in size and design to the outer gates and provided access to the temple itself. There is a repeated pattern or design intended to regulate entrance into God’s presence. And upon passing through one of these three gates, one would find themself inside the inner court and the place of sacrifice. A room was dedicated to the washing of the animals planned for sacrifice. The priests would purify each animal before offering it up to God as a burnt offering. On the outside of this room were eight stone tables, where the sacrificial animals were slaughtered for the burnt offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings. Four additional stone tables held the priests’ butchering implements and were where the prepared meat was placed before being offered as a sacrifice.
Ezekiel was also shown two rooms, one was “for the priests who supervise the Temple maintenance” (Ezekiel 40:45 NLT) and the other was for the priests in charge of the altar” (Ezekiel 40:46 NLT). And Ezekiel was informed that these priests are “the descendants of Zadok—for they alone of all the Levites may approach the Lord to minister to him” (Ezekiel 40:46 NLT). In other words, this future temple will be administered according to God’s original command. He had ordained that the tribe of Levi would serve as keepers of the tabernacle and later, the temple.
…the Lord your God chose the tribe of Levi out of all your tribes to minister in the Lord’s name forever. – Deuteronomy 18:5 NLT
From among the Levites would come the priests who were tasked with offering the sacrifices on behalf of the people. Zadok was a descendant of Levi and had served during the reign of King David. It will be the priestly descendants of Zadok who serve in this future millennial temple. This is another sign that God will restore everything to the way He had intended it to be from the beginning.
But there is one question that comes to mind when considering the presence of the temple, priests, and blood sacrifices in the millennial kingdom. Why would God reinstitute this ritual when the book of Hebrews states that Jesus offered His life as a final, once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of mankind?
So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. – Hebrews 9:11-12 NLT
The original sacrificial system was intended to purify the ungodly, including the priests themselves, making them worthy of coming into God’s presence and capable of receiving His forgiveness.
For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.
That is why the Tabernacle and everything in it, which were copies of things in heaven, had to be purified by the blood of animals. But the real things in heaven had to be purified with far better sacrifices than the blood of animals. – Hebrews 9:22-23 NLT
Jesus provided a better sacrifice, a new-and-improved way of being made right with God. He offered His own life, shedding His own blood, in order that sinful men and women might receive new life and a restored relationship with God.
Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. – Hebrews 9:28 NLT
So, why is Ezekiel given a vision of what appears to be a renewed sacrificial system in the millennial temple? The author of Hebrews provides insight into this seeming contradiction. He states that the Old Testament priests served “in a system of worship that is only a copy, a shadow of the real one in heaven” (Hebrews 8:5 NLT). In other words, their priestly duties, including the blood sacrifices they offered as atonement for the sins of the people, were a foreshadowing of Jesus’ ultimate and final sacrifice. They pointed forward to something far greater. It seems that in the Millennial temple, these sacrifices will look back, commemorating the atoning work of Jesus. Rather than redemptive in nature, they will be commemorative. Much like the New Testament Church celebrates the death of Christ through the ordinance of the Lord’s Table.
The author of Hebrews goes on to state that the blood sacrifices “actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:3-4 NLT). But in the future, those very same sacrifices will be used to remind people of their Savior.
Again, the author of Hebrews provides helpful insight into this future scene that Ezekiel was privileged to see.
“This is the new covenant I will make
with my people on that day, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.”
Then he says,
“I will never again remember
their sins and lawless deeds.”
And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices. – Hebrews 10:16-18 NLT
There will no longer be any need to offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins because Christ has paid the full and final price for those sins. Yet, there will be ample reason for people to offer sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving for the gracious gift of eternal life they have received.
As the author of Hebrews makes clear, “it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 NLT). But in Ezekiel’s vision, he is shown that the blood of bulls and goats can do what it was always intended to do: Point to the blood of Christ that made possible mankind’s full and complete redemption and restoration to God. As the apostle, John reminds us, “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 2:17 ESV).
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.