Beale: The Temple and the Church's Mission

Check below for a chance to win a copy of Beale’s The Temple and the Church’s Mission.

Many Christians today are expecting a future Jewish temple to be built in Jerusalem. This is based on a particular understanding of a number of Biblical texts including Ezekiel 40-48, in which Ezekiel was given a vision of a temple that doesn’t match the first or second temples. A natural conclusion is that this temple has yet to be built.

However, other Christians see things differently. G. K. Beale presents a different understanding of Ezekiel’s temple in his book The Temple and the Church’s Mission, p335-364

In this book Beale argues that the Jewish temple points back to the Garden of Eden and forward to the consummated New Creation in Revelation 21-22. Beale sees a progression from the structural temples, to Jesus as the true temple (John 2:12-22), and the church as the current dwelling place of God (1 Cor 3:16) through our union with Christ. But the question of Ezekiel’s temple arises: how does it fit Beale’s progression? If the church is God’s dwelling place, wouldn’t a physical temple be a ‘step back’ in God’s plan?

So What’s Going on With Ezekiel’s Temple?

Beale firstly identifies four main options on understanding Ezekiel’s temple vision:

  1. Prophetic of a literal physical temple to be built in Israel.
  2. Figurative of an ideal heavenly temple that was never intended to be built or established on the earth.
  3. Figurative of an ideal temple.
  4. A real heavenly temple that would descend and be established on earth in non-structural form in the latter days.

Most Christians will be familiar with the first view, and many may even be unaware of the other three. Beale then takes the remainder of the chapter to argue for the final view (or a combination of 3 & 4). This is very foreign to most Christians, and I don’t have the space to give an overview of his entire argument for Ezekiel’s temple actually being non-structural (ie. not a literal building, but certainly a literal reality). What I found quite interesting and will detail in the remainder of this post is Beale’s identification of Ezekiel’s temple with the the temple-city in Revelation 21-22.

Is the Temple-City in Revelation 21-22 the Fulfillment of Ezekiel’s Vision?

Beale notes the many fascinating allusions in Revelation 21-22 that John makes with Ezekiel’s temple vision. Here are some of the allusions that Beale provides.

  • God’s tabernacling presence (Rev 21:3; Ezek 43:7. See also 37:27 and Lev 26:11-12)
  • Prophetic commission formula (Rev 21:10; Ezek 40:1-2, 43:5)
  • God’s glory (Rev 21:11; Ezek 43:2ff)
  • Twelve city gates at four points of the compass (Rev 21:12-13; Ezek 48:31-34, 42:15-19)
  • Measuring parts of the temple-city (Rev 21:15; Ezek 40:3-5)
  • Four-cornered shape, measured by ‘length and width’ (Rev 21:16; Ezek 45:1-5)
  • Illuminating glory of God (Rev 21:23; Ezek 43:2, 5)
  • Living waters flowing from the temple (Rev 22:1-2; Ezek 47:1-9)
  • A tree with ‘fruit’ and ‘leaves for healing’ on either side of a river (Rev 22:b; Ezek 47:12)

This is quite significant. What do these allusions mean? Was John intending for us to see Revelation 21-22 as a (surprising) fulfillment of Ezekiel’s vision? Or does he have another intention in clearly referencing Ezekiel’s vision?

Beale sees Ezekiel’s temple vision as an ideal eschatological (future) temple; the church as the beginning (inaugurated) of this vision being fulfilled, hence all the references to building the temple (1 Cor 3 and Rev 3:12); and Revelation as providing the complete fulfillment. God is finally dwelling amongst His people in a greater way imaginable to Ezekiel and the recipients of his original vision. Ezekiel’s vision is escalated, not contradictory.

Conclusion

So what difference does all this make?

  • If Beale is correct, then Ezekiel’s temple vision is another part of God’s ongoing promise of dwelling amongst His people as like in Eden. The vision is completely fulfilled in the new creation in a way beyond our comprehension.
  • If the traditional view is correct, then the Bible is predicting a literal structural temple to be rebuilt in Israel before (or possibly after) the second coming of Christ. This impacts interpretation of other ‘temple’ texts also, for example, 2 Thessalonians.

Both interpretations are quite radically different! Beale’s is an interesting view, which all serious Bible students must grapple with at some point. Whether or not you agree with this stance on Ezekiel’s temple, this book is excellent and deserves your attention. Beale’s study is deeply profound and all can benefit from much that he has to say here. This is why I’m hosting a giveaway of the book! Check below for how to enter.

If you would like to read my review, see here.

Giveaway

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[[Many thanks to IVP Academic for providing a free giveaway copy of this book!]]