Chapters 40–46 inclusive of the Book of Ezekiel contains the account of a vision given to that prophet, in which was shown him the pattern of a temple and its various appointments, the arrangements, gates, courts, and chambers, their dimensions and other details being stated with minuteness. The space given to the description of this temple would indicate that it is a matter of considerable importance in the eyes of God. So it will be well worth our while to seek an understanding of the vision, and to inquire as to the purpose for which it was given; and the more so because, as regards the interpretation of the vision and its purpose in God’s plan, there has been much barren conjecture and much contrariety of opinion amongst those who seek to expound the Scriptures.
These visions present difficulties of interpretation, as is generally recognized; but whatever they may or may not mean, they certainly afford no support for the doctrine of a political future for the earthly Israel. Insofar as this prophecy was to have its fulfillment in the realm of the natural, it was fulfilled after the return from Babylon. But, as with the pattern of the temple showed to Moses on Mount Sinai, so likewise here it seems we must take the visions seen by Ezekiel on that Very high mountain (40:2) to be the patterns of things heavenly and Spiritual. It is simply impossible to naturalize (or carnalize) all the details of those visions.
Moreover, in chapter 43:9–11, it is distinctly stated that all these promises given through Ezekiel (which were proposed first to the natural Israel) were conditional; and we know that these people (this nation) did not fulfill the conditions here laid down any more than they fulfilled those of the old covenant. Hence these later promises (along with all the others) have been forfeited irretrievably; and they find their yea and their amen in Christ, being all unto the glory of God by us — the true Israel (2 Corinthians 1:20). That is to say, God will have glory through the fulfillment of those promises in and through His new covenant people.
Is it the Plan of a Temple for the Millennium?
One solution to the problem we are studying (a solution much favored in certain quarters) is that Ezekiel’s vision relates to Millennial times; that Israel will then be reconstituted as a nation on earth, and as such will reoccupy the land of Palestine; and that then the temple shown to Ezekiel will be erected on Mount Moriah, and the system of worship described in these chapters will be instituted and carried on. This view is characteristic of that peculiar system of interpreting the Scriptures which we are examining in the present volume; for, according to the principles thereof, all difficulties in the prophetic Word, and all problems of like nature are solved by the simple expedient of postponing their fulfillment to the millennial age.
Thus the Millennium becomes the convenient and promiscuous dumping place of all portions of Scripture which offer any difficulty; and the unhappy consequence is that many prophecies which were fulfilled at the first coming of Christ, or are being fulfilled in this age of the gospel, and many Scriptures, such as the Sermon on the Mount, which apply directly to the saints of this dispensation, are wrenched out of their proper place and are relegated to a distant future, much to the loss of the people of God and to the dislocation of the Scripture as a whole.
The “postponement” system doubtless owes the popularity it enjoys to the circumstance that its method is both safe and easy. It is safe because, when a fulfillment of prophecy is relegated to the Millennium, it cannot be conclusively refuted until the time comes. All date-setting schemes owe their measure of popularity to the same fact. It is easy because it relieves the Bible student of the trouble of searching for the meaning and application of difficult passages.
But, coming to the special case in hand, which is illustrative of many others, we are bold to say, and undertake herein to show, that there are insurmountable objections to the view that Ezekiel’s temple is for millennial times.
To begin with, there is no proof that, even if Israel does indeed occupy the land of Canaan again as an earthly nation, they will restore the ancient system of temple worship, either according to the plan shown to and described by Ezekiel or according to any other plan. On the contrary, we maintain that the Scriptures plainly forbid that supposition. For it was by God’s own hand that the ancient system of worship was abolished and obliterated; and the obliteration thereof was for reasons so closely connected with the redeeming work of the Lord Jesus Christ, that to reestablish it again would be to do dishonor to that work and its results.
Furthermore, the sacrifices of animals were a strictly temporary appointment, belonging to an economy that made nothing perfect. Moreover, we have shown in a previous chapter that the entire system — temple, altar, priesthood, and all — was but a shadow of that which was to come, a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect as pertaining to the conscience; that they were to stand only until the time of reformation; that God had no pleasure in them; and that they were completely and forever abolished by the one sacrifice for sins offered by the Lord Jesus Christ once for all (Hebrews 7:18–19; 9:6–10; 10:1–9).
For it was not by the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Roman armies in AD 70, that the Jewish system of worship was overthrown, but by the Sacrifice of the Lamb of God on Calvary; and it follows that, so long as the merits and efficacy of that Sacrifice endure, there will be no room in God’s universe for any other. It is most needful for us to recognize and to hold fast to the truth that the old covenant and everything pertaining to it — sanctuary, altar, priesthood, feasts, Sabbaths, and especially animal sacrifices — have been completely and forever done away. Surely the words in which this truth is declared are plain, and the reason for it is clearly manifest. For the Spirit says expressly. He taketh away the first — the sacrifices of the law — that He may establish the second — the true spiritual worship of the heavenly sanctuary, based upon the one Sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:8–12, 18–22). And the words taketh away, and establish, signify something eternally accomplished.
But let us turn to the prophecy of Ezekiel with the object of learning what the record itself has to tell us of the purpose for which the vision was given. First, we would point out that, in the sixth year of Jehoiachin’s captivity, that is to say, while Solomon’s temple was yet standing, Ezekiel had a wonderful vision in which he saw the glory of the Lord departing from the house (8:1; 10:18). The vision of the new temple was 19 years later; for Ezekiel is careful to record that it was the fourteenth year after that the city was smitten (40:1–2). To this, we will return.
At present we wish only to point out that the most conspicuous features of the temple shown in this vision are the various appointments for the slaughter of animals, and for offering the same upon the altar, sprinkling their blood, etc. Thus we find a description of the tables, eight in number, for slaying the burnt offerings and other sacrifices, and upon which they laid the instruments wherewith they slew the burnt offering and the sacrifice (40:38–43). Therefore, in the clear light of the Epistle to the Hebrews and of all Scripture pertaining to the Sacrifice of Christ, it is impossible to place this temple in any dispensation subsequent to Calvary.
But an attempt has been made to avoid this objection and to make possible the locating of Ezekiel’s temple in the Millennium, by saying that the sacrifice of animals in that era will be only for a “reminder” or a “memorial” of the former days. But this is a very weak effort of the imagination. For what warrant have we for supposing that God would require any memorial of those sacrifices in which, even in the time when they were needed, He had had no pleasure? And how preposterous is the idea that He would require the slaughter of innumerable creatures merely to revive the memory of those other defective sacrifices which could never take away sins! Surely they who advance this idea have forgotten the Scripture, which they all apply to the Millennium, and which says, They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain (Isaiah 11:9).
But the passage itself completely refutes this idea; for it plainly declares that the sacrifices there specified were not at all for a remembrance or a memorial, but were for the very different purposes of sin offerings, trespass offerings, peace offerings, etc.; also for cleansing the house, making reconciliation both for the princes of Israel and for the people, and the like. All the five offerings of the Levitical system are mentioned by name (40:39, 42:13; 43:27; 45:17; 46:20); and provision is made for sprinkling the blood of the sin offering upon the corners of the altar, upon the posts of the house and court in order to cleanse them (43:20; 45:18–19). In the word, the sacrifices are the Levitical sacrifices, and they are expressly declared to be for the identical purposes thereof. Hence it is impossible to locate this temple, as an actual structure (apart from the spiritual signification thereof), in any other era than that of the law.
The Purpose of the Vision
What then was the immediate purpose of this vision? We think this question admits of a simple answer in the light of the passage itself and that of other Scriptures. Ezekiel prophesied during the captivity. That captivity was to be of seventy years duration, as predicted by Jeremiah. At its end, the captives were to return and rebuild the city and the temple. This new temple was to serve as the sanctuary of God until Christ should come. God’s plan had always been to give to His people the exact pattern of the sanctuary they were to build for His Name. To Moses He had shown the pattern of the tabernacle, giving him at the same time the strictest injunctions to make every detail in exact accordance with that pattern. Likewise to David God had revealed the pattern of the temple which was to be built at Jerusalem, with all its appointments, vessels of service, etc. All this, said David, the Lord made me understand in writing by His hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern (1 Chronicle 28:11–19).
And now again a house was about to be built for the Name of the Lord in Jerusalem. Therefore, having in mind His invariable method in such case, we should expect to find at this period a revelation from heaven of the pattern to be followed in the building of that house. And just here we do find the revelation from God of the complete pattern and appointments of a temple, with directions to the prophet to show the same to the house of Israel.
Furthermore, we find that even as Moses was admonished to make all things like unto the pattern shown him in the mount, so Ezekiel was taken to a very high mountain where this pattern was shown him; and he was bidden to set his heart upon all that should be shown him, and to declare all he should see to the house of Israel (40:3–4; 44:5).
Again, as regards the ministers of the sanctuary, it is strictly commanded that the priests are to be Levites of the sons of Zadok (45:15); which proves that the whole system was for an era when the priesthood of Aaron was not as yet abolished. Furthermore, special instructions are given in this vision regarding the prince. Now it was only after the return from Babylon that Israel was subject to a prince, as Zerubbabel in the days of Ezra, and the Asmonaean princes at a later day.
Finally, this vision contains instructions for the reallotment of the land, corresponding to the instructions given Moses and Joshua at the first occupation thereof. This provision embraces the whole twelve tribes of Israel. For it should be noted that in the land of their captivity, Israel and Judah were commingled; and from that time onward the distinction between the ten tribes and the two no longer exists. Thus Ezekiel was sent to the children of Israel, to the house of Israel, and as in several passages to all the house of Israel (11:15; 20:40, etc.).
Likewise, Daniel confessed for all Israel and prayed for his people Israel (9:11, 20); and those who returned with Ezra were all Israel (Ezra 2:70; 8:25; 9:1 etc.). And this continued to New Testament times, when Peter makes his proclamation at Pentecost to all the house of Israel (Acts 2:36); Paul
speaks to Herod Agrippa of our twelve tribes (Acts 26:7); and James writes to the twelve tribes scattered abroad (James 1:1). This effectually disposes of all speculations regarding “the lost ten tribes”, and particularly of the delusion of Anglo-Israelism.
Was the Pattern Shown Ezekiel Followed?
So far as we are aware there is no evidence now available as to the plan of the temple built in the days of Ezra. Herod the Great had so transformed it in the days of Christ, though without interrupting the regular services and sacrifices, as to destroy all trace of the original design. That question, however, which we cannot now answer, does not affect the question of the purpose for which the pattern was revealed to Ezekiel.
It should be noted that everything in connection with the return of the people of Israel out of Babylon was purely voluntary. Only those returned to Jerusalem whose spirit God had raised to go up to build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:5). They were not taken out of Babylon as out of Egypt in a body and by strength of hand. But we know that they brought with them the holy vessels, and we know that they had, and could have followed, the pattern shown in the mount to Ezekiel.
For God had commanded the prophet to show it to them, and He gave him also this charge: Thou son of man, show the house to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the pattern. And if they be ashamed of all they have done, show them the form of the house, and the fashion thereof, and the goings out thereof and the comings in thereof and all the forms thereof, and all the ordinances thereof and all the forms thereof, and all the laws thereof; and write it in their sight, that they may keep the whole form thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and do them (43:10–11).
The blessings promised to Israel through Ezekiel were like those promised through Moses, conditional upon their faithfulness and obedience; and, since they were not obedient, the blessings were forfeited. So we are left in uncertainty as to what, if anything, resulted from this revelation to Ezekiel. But as regards the purpose for which it was given, we think there is no uncertainty at all.
Of course this vision, like all visions and prophecies of God, has a spiritual fulfillment in Christ; and this is very apparent, we think, from Chapter 47. That chapter contains the vision of the life-giving waters, which the prophet saw issuing out from the temple, a shallow stream at first, but increasing to a mighty river — waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed over (verse 5).
As with respect to Zechariah’s prophecy concerning the living waters (Zechariah 14:8), referred to in a former chapter, so with respect to this vision of Ezekiel, we confidently submit that the fulfillment thereof is in the living waters of the gospel; which began, on the day of Pentecost, to flow out from the Temple at Jerusalem. Our Lord uses the expression rivers of living water, in John 7:38; and the meaning of the expression is given in the next verse. But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive. This explanation controls the passage we are considering. This will be apparent from what follows.
Where Did the Spirit Descend At Pentecost?
For the purpose of a better understanding of the foregoing prophetic vision of Ezekiel, and because, moreover, the events of the day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2, are of the greatest significance. It is a matter of much interest to ascertain just where, in the city of Jerusalem, the disciples were assembled at the moment when the Holy Spirit came upon them.
Some may wonder that there should be any question as to that, seeing it seems to be generally agreed that the gathering place of the disciples was the upper room. Indeed it is often positively asserted, as if it were a recorded fact, that the upper room was “the birthplace of the Church”. But the truth is that the record affords no warrant at all for the idea that the disciples were gathered in an upper room when the Holy Spirit came upon them, or that the upper room mentioned in Acts 1:13 was ever their assembling place during the ten days of their tarrying in Jerusalem, in obedience to the Lord’s command, while waiting for the Promise of the Father.
All that is said concerning the upper room is, that the apostles, after witnessing the Lord’s ascension from Mount Olivet, returned to Jerusalem and went to an upper room, where Peter, James, John and the other of the eleven apostles were lodging (Acts 1:13). What appears from the record, and all that appears, is that those Galileans, during their stay in Jerusalem, had their lodgings in an upper room. There is no suggestion at all that the sleeping quarters of those eleven men were also the meeting place of the one hundred and twenty disciples of Christ who were in Jerusalem at that time. Still, less reason is there for supposing that the morning of the great Feast day would have found them gathered in such a place.
The Temple the Place
There was, in fact, but one place in the city of Jerusalem where devout Jews, of whatever sect, would have congregated on that morning; and there was but one place where the events recorded in Acts 2 could possibly have transpired. That place is the Temple. But it is not upon inference alone that we base our conclusion; for, after a careful examination of the inspired records, we venture to say that they contain positive proof that it was in the Temple that the Holy Spirit came suddenly upon the company of the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that from the Temple the proclamation of God’s Good News began to go forth to all the world. And we shall seek to show that it was the outflow of the Gospel — all the words of this life (Acts 5:20) — that was prefigured by the vision of living waters issuing from the Temple.
Surely it is befitting that so it should have been. For it is in accordance with all that has been revealed to us of the dispensational dealings of God, and of the connection between the Old Covenant and the New, that the first manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s personal Presence should have been in the Temple; that the beginning of the building of the spiritual House should have been on the site of the material House. Indeed the same reasons which required that the preaching of forgiveness in the Name of the Risen Christ should begin at Jerusalem (Luke 24:47), would seem to require also that it should begin at the Temple. Into this aspect of the matter we propose to look a little later; but first we would ascertain whether the inspired record gives any definite indications as to the place where the wonderful events of Pentecost occurred.
Continually in the Temple
The first Scripture that bears on the matter is the concluding portion of Luke’s Gospel whereof the book of Acts is a continuation, written by the same hand. Luke records the Lord’s commandment to His disciples to tarry in the city of Jerusalem until they should be endued with power from on high (Luke 24:49). The brief record of this verse does not state whether or not the Lord designated any particular place in Jerusalem where they were to await the promised enduement; but the further record given in Luke 24:52–53 of what they did in obedience to the Lord’s commands, supplies this information. For we read that they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the Temple praising and blessing God (Luke 24:52–53).
This passage definitely declares that the Temple was the place where they assembled for the purpose of waiting upon God in worship and prayer, and it declares furthermore that they were there continually. Hence we need nothing further to tell us just where they were assembled whenever we read of their being gathered during that period, in one place. We have the emphasis of the word continually, which leaves no room for the supposition that during the ten days following, they were assembled as a company in any place other than the Temple. This passage alone seems to make it clear that the Lord had told them to wait in the Temple for the promised enduement.
When, moreover, we bear in mind the fact (which appears both from the Scriptures and from other contemporary records) that the Temple, with its vast corridors or “porches”, was the regular gathering place of all the various parties and sects of Jews, however antagonistic the one to the other, it will be easy to realize that the Temple is just the place — both because of its hallowed associations, and also because of its many convenient meeting places — where the disciples would naturally congregate. Edersheim says that the vast Temple area was capable of containing a concourse of 210,000 people; and he mentions also that the colonnades in Solomon’s Porch formed many gathering places for the various sects, schools and congregations of the people. In commenting on John 7 this trustworthy authority says that: The gathering places in Solomon’s Porch had benches in them; and from the liberty of speaking and teaching in Israel, Jesus might here address the people in the very face of His enemies.
It was, moreover, and this is an important item of evidence, in Solomon’s Porch that the concourse of Jews gathered which Peter addressed in Acts 3 (see verse 11). Hence there can be little doubt that one of the assembling places to which Edersheim refers was the house where the disciples were sitting when the Holy Spirit came upon them. When Luke takes up, in the book of Acts, the thread of the narrative he dropped at the end of his Gospel, he says (speaking of the apostles) that: These all continued (literally were continuing) with one accord in prayer and supplication with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren (Acts 1:14).
We have here in substance a repetition of what is recorded in the last verse of Luke’s Gospel, namely that, during the ten days following the Lord’s ascension, His disciples were continually together waiting upon God (they continued with one accord in prayer and supplication). The record in Acts omits mention of the place where they so continued; but that information was not needed, see- ing it had already been definitely stated in Luke 24:52–53. But the evangelist adds the interesting fact that the women, and Mary the mother of the Lord, and His brethren, were with them. All this, be it remembered, was done by the Lord’s express instructions. They were of course praying for the promised enduement from on high (Luke 11:13). The next verse (Acts 1:15), states that: In those days (of waiting upon God in the Temple) Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples and said (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty), …
And then follows the account of the choosing of Matthias as an apostle and witness of Christ’s resurrection in the place of Judas. This doubtless occurred in their accustomed gathering place in the Temple, since they were continually there during those days of waiting for enduement from on high. In passing we would note how unlikely it is that the disciples, to the number of one hundred and twenty, should (or could) be using as their place of gathering the upper room which served the apostles for sleeping quarters.
The Day of Pentecost
Thus the day of Pentecost came; and the occurrence of the great Feast day would furnish an additional reason why they should be found assembled in the Temple. The services — the offering of the morning sacrifice and incense, with the accompanying prayers (in which they would undoubtedly have taken part) — began at sunrise. This service being concluded, they would naturally be sitting in their customary place; and then it was that suddenly out of heaven came that sound as of a rushing, mighty wind. The words they were all with one accord in one place (compare 1:14) indicate that they were in their customary gathering place in the Temple. Similar words found at the end of chapter 2 lend emphasis to this; for we find there the statement that, after about three thousand souls had been added to them, they still continued with one accord in the Temple (verse 46). This shows that what they had been doing as a small company they continued to do, still with one accord, as an exceedingly large and growing company. It shows further that the place where they were gathered when the Holy Spirit came upon them must have been of such ample dimensions as to admit of three thousand more being added to them; and it need hardly be said that the Temple was the only building in Jerusalem open to the public, where this would have been possible.
By having before our eyes the several statements of Scripture that bear upon the matter we are examining it will be seen, we think, that there is no room for doubt about it. These are the statements: Luke 24:52–53: And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the Temple, praising and blessing God. Acts 1:14 says, All these were continuing with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren.
This must needs have been in the Temple, since it is impossible that they should have been continually in the Temple and at the same time should have been continuing with one accord in another place.
Acts 2:1: And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
Acts 2:46: And they, continuing daily with one accord in the Temple.
These passages reiterate that the disciples continued, during all the period in question, in one place; and the first and last passages quoted state that the place was the Temple. From the last passage it plainly appears that, after Pentecost, they still made it a practice to meet daily in the Temple, the wording being such as to show that this was not a new custom from that date, but was the continuing of what had been their custom since the Lord’s ascension into heaven.
The Service of the Feast of Pentecost
Additional light upon our subject is afforded by Acts 2:1, when heed is given to the literal meaning of that verse. As rendered in our Authorized Version it reads And when the day of Pentecost was fully come. The word translated by the three English words was fully come (which rendering manifestly does not give the true sense, since a day cannot be more fully come after it has actually come), means literally was being accomplished. In the Bagster Interlinear Translation the reading is: And during the accomplishing of the day of Pentecost, they were all with one accord in the same place. What is seemingly implied is that they were, as we should expect, in the Temple, for the purpose of taking part in the appointed services of the great feast day. During an intermission in those ceremonies they would naturally be sitting together in their customary meeting place within the temple area. What seems to be impressed upon us by this verse is that, during the accomplishing of the various ceremonies of the day of Pentecost, the disciples were not dispersed and mingled with the great crowds of worshipers, but kept together, and were with one accord in one place — not scattered about. It can hardly be doubted, therefore, that at the moment the Spirit descended upon them they were all in one and the same place somewhere within the large area of the Temple, presumably in Solomon’s Porch.
Concerning the verse we are now considering (Acts 2:1), Dr G Campbell Morgan, in a letter to the author, said: Personally, I believe that the statement that the day of Pentecost was being fulfilled means far more than that they were observing its ritual. I am convinced that the meaning of Luke here is that all that was signified by that feast was finding its historic fulfillment. With the aid of this comment we can see a great wealth of meaning in these few words of Scripture.
The coming of the Holy Spirit took place some little time before nine in the morning (see verse 15), just long enough for it to be noised abroad (2:6), and for an enormous crowd to congregate. There would be ample time for this between the morning services and nine o’clock. On reading attentively the record in Acts 2:1–14 it will be seen that the events there narrated happened all in one and the same locality; for there is no change of location. Wherever the disciples were when they began to speak in other (Greek: heteros — different) tongues or languages, and where the astonished multitude assembled and listened to the first Gospel address ever preached with the Holy Ghost come down from heaven, that was the very same place where the Holy Spirit came upon them.
Concerning the words of verse 6, Now when this was noised abroad, Dr Morgan, in the letter already quoted, says that this is not to be taken as meaning that a rumor of the marvelous event was spread abroad; for the verb rendered noised broad in the A. V. … is never used in the sense of a rumor. I believe the sound as of a mighty wind was heard by the entire city. That being so, your interpretation as to the place falls in with tremendous naturalness to me. The devout Jews would, at the hearing of some supernatural sound, rush to the Temple.
In this connection the force of the words of Acts 2:2 should be specially noted: And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind (or Breath) and it filled all the house where they were sitting. It is important to note that in those days, and for a considerable period thereafter, the disciples were in favor with all the people (Acts 2:48); and hence they were permitted to enjoy, in common with all Jewish sects and parties, the privileges of assembling for the usual purposes, and as a distinct company or sect, in the Temple. It should also be specially noted that no pious Jews would be anywhere but in the Temple on that day (see Acts 20:16).
We conclude, therefore, that the material House of God served as the womb for the spiritual House, and that from it the Church was to come forth, and soon did come forth. For a little while the two were identified, as the true spiritual Israel of God was, for a while, identified with Israel after the flesh — the spiritual seed of Abraham with his natural seed. And this is in keeping with the revealed ways of God. The letter from Dr Morgan, from which several quotations have been given above, was written in reply to one from the author, in which he submitted this interpretation of Acts 2, and asked Dr Morgan’s opinion thereon. Dr Morgan stated in reply that the interpretation was new to him; and he went on to say: I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that you are absolutely correct. Here is an illustration of how those of us who desire and attempt to be the most careful in our study, are in danger of taking things too much for granted. I certainly have proceeded on the assumption that the one place of Acts 2 was the upper room of Acts 1. It is as plain as a thing can be that I have been wrong; and I am very grateful to have it thus pointed out.
The Source of the Living Waters
It is evident that the matter into which we have been inquiring has a direct relation to certain prophecies, such as Ezekiel 47, referred to above, where the prophet describes his vision of the healing and life giving waters issuing from out of the Temple. It was explained to the prophet, as we have already noted that the waters which he saw were to go down into the desert (which suggests barren Israel), and to go into the sea (which symbolizes the nations), whose waters should be healed; and the description continues: And it shall come to pass that everything that liveth which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live; and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither; for they shall be healed. And everything shall live whither the river cometh (Ezekiel 47:9).
It is easy to see in this passage the familiar scriptural figures of the Gospel, and its life giving and healing ministry. So we note with interest that the Temple — the House of God — was to be the source of the stream of living waters. Therefore, we cannot fail to see in this prophetic vision a spiritual foretelling of the issuing forth of the Gospel for all mankind from God’s appointed center, which broadly was Israel, and more definitely Jerusalem, and still more definitely the Temple. Other portions of Ezekiel’s prophecy have clearly a spiritual fulfillment in this dispensation of the Holy Spirit, as we have sought to show.
In this connection we would call attention also to the prophecy of Joel. Inasmuch as the Apostle Peter quoted from the second chapter of Joel, as having its fulfillment in the coming of the Holy Spirit, and in those miraculous events whereby His presence was manifested, it is significant that, in chapter 3, of Joel’s prophecy, there is the promise that all of the rivers of Judah will flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the House of the Lord (3:18).
We believe that those who are spiritual will be able to see in this verse and its context much that is applicable to this present dispensation, though it may be that the complete fulfillment of this passage, and also of that quoted by Peter from Chapter 2, awaits the coming again of the Lord from heaven. “Go Speak in the Temple All the Words of this Life”
Further, we have the very significant record of Acts 5:17–25, which tells us that when the Apostles were released by the angel of the Lord from the prison into which the religious leaders had put them, the angel bade them, Go, stand and speak in the Temple, to the people all the words of this life (verse 20). This makes clear, for reasons which we should seek to discern, that it was in the purpose of God that the gospel stream — the words of this life — should begin their flow in the Temple. In this we can see the continuity of God’s dealings and the orderly working out of His great plan. Everything pertaining to the old dispensation centered in the Temple. Therefore, it was fitting that the new dispensation should start at that place, and move out thence into the world which it was to overspread.
The phrase words of this life is very significant; and it is moreover, an aid to the right understanding of the passage; for it serves to elucidate the meaning of the expression living waters in the prophecies. And, finally, the Scripture tells us that, notwithstanding the strong opposition of the authorities, the disciples ceased not daily, in the temple and in every house, to teach and preach Jesus Christ (Acts 5:40–42).
Living Waters Flowing From the House of God
For some time after Pentecost the church continued at Jerusalem, and seems to have been tolerated, in accordance with the advice of Gamaliel (Acts 5:33–40) until the time of the stoning of Stephen, after which period the gospel stream spread throughout Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1), the church at Jerusalem, the spiritual house of God, being thus far its source. A little later we find another church of God at Antioch; for it is written that Barnabas sought Saul at Tarsus, and brought him unto Antioch, and that for a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people (Acts 11:25–26).
Here again in the church in Antioch we find the Holy Spirit in full charge; and after a year of teaching inside the House, we see the living waters flowing out, and producing the results intended in the purposes of God. For we read at Acts 13:1,2, concerning the church that was at Antioch, that as they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And thus, from the House of God, and in the power of the Spirit of God, the stream of the Gospel flowed out in a new direction, and extended farther than it had yet gone.
Still later on the gospel was carried into Europe and it came to Thessalonica — not in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance (1 Thessalonians 1:5). The result was the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father, and in the Lord Jesus Christ (1:1). And this is declared to be an example or pattern for other churches, for the express reason, as the apostle writes to them that, From you sounded out the Word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad (1:8).
A Great Difference
Our study brings into view a great difference between the Temple — God’s dwelling place in the old dispensation, and the Church — His dwelling place in the new. In the case of the Temple, sacrifices were brought to it, blood flowed in it, and incense (worship) ascended from it. But no healing waters flowed from it. Hence what Ezekiel saw, and what was revealed also to Joel and to Zechariah, living waters going out from Jerusalem (Joel 3:18; Zechariah 14:8), was something quite new, and to which the Temple and its ritual presented no analogy.
Therefore, one of the chief lessons to be learned from the Scriptures we have been considering is that the Spiritual House of this era should be specially marked by being the source of a freely flowing stream of living waters, carrying life and health into all the regions round about. And where this mark is lacking, even when the form of the House is quite correct, the explanation will doubtless be found in the conditions inside the House.