1 Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east. And it was shut. 2 And the Lord said to me, “This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it, for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it. Therefore it shall remain shut. 3 Only the prince may sit in it to eat bread before the Lord. He shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gate, and shall go out by the same way.”
4 Then he brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple, and I looked, and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple of the Lord. And I fell on my face. 5 And the Lord said to me, “Son of man, mark well, see with your eyes, and hear with your ears all that I shall tell you concerning all the statutes of the temple of the Lord and all its laws. And mark well the entrance to the temple and all the exits from the sanctuary. 6 And say to the rebellious house,to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: O house of Israel, enough of all your abominations, 7 in admitting foreigners, uncircumcised in heart and flesh, to be in my sanctuary, profaning my temple, when you offer to me my food, the fat and the blood. You have broken my covenant, in addition to all your abominations. 8 And you have not kept charge of my holy things, but you have set others to keep my charge for you in my sanctuary.
9 “Thus says the Lord God: No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and flesh, of all the foreigners who are among the people of Israel, shall enter my sanctuary. 10 But the Levites who went far from me, going astray from me after their idols when Israel went astray, shall bear their punishment. 11 They shall be ministers in my sanctuary, having oversight at the gates of the temple and ministering in the temple. They shall slaughter the burnt offering and the sacrifice for the people, and they shall stand before the people, to minister to them. 12 Because they ministered to them before their idols and became a stumbling block of iniquity to the house of Israel, therefore I have sworn concerning them, declares the Lord God, and they shall bear their punishment. 13 They shall not come near to me, to serve me as priest, nor come near any of my holy things and the things that are most holy, but they shall bear their shame and the abominations that they have committed. 14 Yet I will appoint them to keep charge of the temple, to do all its service and all that is to be done in it. – Ezekiel 44:1-14 ESV
Ezekiel had been given the privilege of witnessing the glory of the Lord enter the temple and fill the Holy of Holies. The return of God’s divine presence to the temple was a sign that He will one day return His people to the land of promise and restore their relationship with Him. Ezekiel had seen the glory of the Lord depart and now he had seen it return. But as Ezekiel’s divine guide led him back to the eastern gate of the Millennial Temple, he notices that the gate has been closed. This was the very gate through which the glory of the Lord had entered the Holy of Holies (Ezekiel 43:1-5). The sight of a closed and locked gate must have left Ezekiel a bit confused. It conveyed the idea of inaccessibility to God’s presence. Perhaps noticing the perplexity on Ezekiel’s face, his guide provided an explanation.
“This gate must remain closed; it will never again be opened. No one will ever open it and pass through, for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered here. Therefore, it must always remain shut.” – Ezekiel 44:2 NLT
This closure will be meant to commemorate the eastern gate as the place where God’s presence reentered the temple. It will set apart (make holy) this particular gate because of its unique role in God’s return to His house and His people. Only one individual will be allowed access to this gate and the guide describes him as “the prince.”
“Only the prince himself may sit inside this gateway to feast in the Lord’s presence. But he may come and go only through the entry room of the gateway.”– Ezekiel 44:3 NLT
Many have assumed this to be a reference to Jesus, the Messiah because He is repeatedly referred to throughout the book of Ezekiel as “the prince.”
“And I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them.And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among my people. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Ezekiel 34:24 NLT
As the Son of David, Jesus is the rightful heir to the throne of Israel, and during the Millennial Kingdom, He will rule over the world from His throne in Jerusalem.
“My servant David will be their king, and they will have only one shepherd. They will obey my regulations and be careful to keep my decrees. They will live in the land I gave my servant Jacob, the land where their ancestors lived. They and their children and their grandchildren after them will live there forever, generation after generation. And my servant David will be their prince forever.” – Ezekiel 37:24-25 NLT
The Hebrew word that is translated as “prince” is nāśî’ (נָשִׂיא). Like most Hebrew words, it can have a variety of meanings, including “chief, prince, captain, leader.” Ezekiel uses it repeatedly and not always in reference to the Messiah. And while it would be easy to assume that the “prince” who is given access to the closed eastern gate is a reference to Jesus, the rest of Ezekiel’s book would refute that notion.
In the very next chapter, Ezekiel describes this same prince making a blood sacrifice as atonement for his sins.
“On the day of Passover the prince will provide a young bull as a sin offering for himself and the people of Israel.”– Ezekiel 45:22 NLT
This could not be a reference to Jesus. Secondly, in chapter 46, Ezekiel reveals that this very same prince will father children, which would seem to make it an unlikely reference to the Messiah.
“…the prince may never take anyone’s property by force. If he gives property to his sons, it must be from his own land, for I do not want any of my people unjustly evicted from their property.” – Ezekiel 46:18 NLT
Finally, this prince will serve as an intermediary for the people but will not be a priest.
“The east gateway of the inner courtyard will be closed during the six workdays each week, but it will be open on Sabbath days and the days of new moon celebrations.The prince will enter the entry room of the gateway from the outside. Then he will stand by the gatepost while the priest offers his burnt offering and peace offering. He will bow down in worship inside the gateway passage and then go back out the way he came.” – Ezekiel 46:1-2 NLT
Yet, the book of Hebrews describes Jesus as our high priest forever (Hebrews 6:20), and, as the greater high priest, He is not required to offer sacrifices for Himself or for the people because He offered Himself as the perfect, sinless sacrifice.
He is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has been set apart from sinners and has been given the highest place of honor in heaven.Unlike those other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices every day. They did this for their own sins first and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus did this once for all when he offered himself as the sacrifice for the people’s sins.– Hebrews 7:26-27 NLT
So, who is this prince? It is likely an individual who is given authority over the temple itself. He will be appointed by God to serve as chief or governor of the temple complex. And in his role, he will be given access to the eastern gate each Sabbath day so that he might oversee the presentation of offerings to God. But only he will be able to enter and exit the eastern gate. The rest of the people will enter through the northern gate and exit through the southern gate (Ezekiel 46:8-10).
Having seen the closed eastern gate, Ezekiel is taken to the northern gate where he enters and is able to see the glory of the Lord hovering over the temple yet again. And as before, Ezekiel falls on his face in awe and reverent fear.
As Ezekiel lies prostrate on the ground, the voice of the Lord provides him with a solemn warning to deliver to the people of Israel.
“…give these rebels, the people of Israel, this message from the Sovereign Lord: O people of Israel, enough of your detestable sins! You have brought uncircumcised foreigners into my sanctuary—people who have no heart for God. In this way, you defiled my Temple even as you offered me my food, the fat and blood of sacrifices. In addition to all your other detestable sins, you have broken my covenant. Instead of safeguarding my sacred rituals, you have hired foreigners to take charge of my sanctuary.” – Ezekiel 44:6-8 NLT
Throughout his vision, Ezekiel has seen no other human beings. His only companion has been his guide. So, this message must be intended for his fellow exiles in Babylon. God has given Ezekiel a glimpse of a future day when He will return His people to the land and restore the nation of Israel to its former glory. In fact, its glory will far exceed anything the people of Israel ever experienced under David or Solomon because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, will be their King. And they will worship God in a magnificent Temple that will put Solomon’s grand structure to shame.
But God makes it clear that He expects His people to repent of their sins – even now. The people of Judah were guilty of desecrating His former temple and that is why it had been reduced to a pile of rubble by the Babylonians. They had ignored God’s commands, broken His covenant, and abused the very house where His presence dwelt. So, God commanded Ezekiel to give his fellow exiles this sobering message of warning.
In God’s Millennial Temple, holiness will rule supreme. There will be no place for the uncircumcised and impure. Even the Levites, whom God had consecrated as priests and caretakers of the temple, would lose their divine privileges because of their role in Israel’s denigration of His house. They had forfeited their right to serve in His Millennial Temple because they had failed to maintain the holiness of Solomon’s temple.
“But they encouraged my people to worship idols, causing Israel to fall into deep sin. So I have taken a solemn oath that they must bear the consequences for their sins, says the Sovereign Lord.” – Ezekiel 44:12 NLT
Many of their descendants will be disqualified from service because of the sins of their fathers. They will still be able to serve as caretakers of the temple grounds and gates, but they will be restricted from any involvement in the sacrificial system.
“They may not approach me to minister as priests. They may not touch any of my holy things or the holy offerings, for they must bear the shame of all the detestable sins they have committed. They are to serve as the Temple caretakers, taking charge of the maintenance work and performing general duties.” – Ezekiel 44:13-14 NLT
But as the remainder of chapter 44 will show, there will be a remnant among the Levites who are able to serve as priests. God will allow the descendants of Zadok to fulfill their priestly duties in the Millennial Temple because they had remained faithful when everyone else had turned their backs on God.
God wanted His rebellious people to know that things were going to be drastically different in the future Kingdom of His Son. Holiness will be non-optional and required of all who serve in His house. His presence will be permanent and His requirement of righteousness will be non-negotiable. From the priest to the prince, everyone will be required to be holy as He is holy.
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.