“And behold.” This section of Ezekiel is very difficult for a number of reasons. One is that Ezekiel uses a number of technical architectural words whose exact meanings have been lost so exactly how to translate them is disputed. Also, due to the subject matter, some more common words are used in ways that are accepted but are not often used. Another reason is that this chapter has apparently been subject to a number of copyists' errors and scholars disagree on how to reestablish the correct meaning. Still another is that Ezekiel is giving an overview as he sees it, and so some details that we would like to have to build a mental picture of the Temple compound, or try to build a model of it, are simply not given.
“there was a wall all around the outside.” Ezekiel sees the outer wall around the Temple compound, but the angel does not measure it until he has shown Ezekiel all around the inside of the compound. We learn from Ezekiel 42:15-20 and 45:2 that the wall on each side of the Temple is 500 cubits (about 285 yards or 260 meters; just under 3 football fields), and the Temple compound is a square with 500 cubits on each side.
“of the house of God.” The angel took Ezekiel north of the Millennial City of Jerusalem to the Millennial Temple, which was higher up on Mount Zion (on the top of Mount Zion) than the city of Jerusalem, which was on the south slope of Mount Zion (Ezek. 40:2). The Hebrew text, using jargon commonly used in the Old Testament, simply calls the Temple, “the house,” but that could easily be misunderstood by the modern reader. Many English Bibles simply change “house” to “Temple,” but that loses some of the meaning, and also obscures verses such as Acts 2:2, where the Temple of God is called “the house.” The REV has “house of God” for clarity, putting “of God” in italics to show it was added. In this context, the “house” is the entire Temple compound, not just the sanctuary itself. This Temple has a strong wall enclosing the entire Temple compound.
The extremely detailed description of the Temple in Ezekiel tells us that it is a literal building—there will be a physical Temple in Christ’s Millennial Kingdom. Furthermore, there are statements in other prophetic books of the Bible that indicate the Millennial Temple is a literal Temple. For example, Zechariah says that the Messiah will build the Temple of the Lord and be a priest and king (Zech. 6:12-15). Haggai says that when the “desired of the nations comes,” i.e., the Messiah comes, then the glory of the Temple will be more glorious than the glory of Solomon’s Temple (Hag. 2:6-9). The context of Haggai makes it clear he was speaking about a physical temple, not a metaphorical one. Joel 3:18 says there will be a “house of Yahweh” when Christ rules the earth, and that water will flow from it, and that agrees with what Ezekiel and Zechariah say about the Millennial Temple (Ezek. 47:1-12; Zech. 14:8-9). Isaiah 56:5, speaking of the future kingdom of Christ on earth, says that eunuchs who did what pleased God will have a memorial “within my Temple and its walls.” Furthermore, the Millennial Temple will be “a house of prayer for all nations” (Isa. 56:7), which makes sense if the temple is literal, but nowhere in the Bible is a group of believers referred to as a “house of prayer.” Micah 4:2 also testifies to there being a Temple of God in the Kingdom of Christ, “Many nations will come and say, ‘Come and let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh and to the house of the God of Jacob.’” These believers were going to worship at a physical temple; this is not a metaphorical statement. Other verses that speak of a temple being in Israel in the future include Isaiah 60:7.
There has been a long debate among scholars as to whether or not there is a Millennial Temple, and if Ezekiel describes it, or whether the temple described in Ezekiel is just a figure of speech, a metaphor for the Church or for something else. However, the evidence leads to the conclusion that Ezekiel is describing a Millennial Temple. The description is so detailed, taking seven chapters (Ezek. 40-46) that there is no reasonable way that the Temple could be the Christian Church. In the New Testament, the Bible simply states that the Church is the Temple of God, but that is not what Ezekiel does. Almost every part of the Temple is described, and not as the Church, but as a building. If this Temple in Ezekiel is a metaphor for the Church, then who are the doors? Who are the walls? Why are the walls and doors even measured? What could that mean in terms of being people? Furthermore, in the New Testament, believers are said to be priests, but in the Millennial Temple there are priests, but also Levites and other people (Ezek. 44). That makes sense if the Millennial Temple is an actual Temple, but how can the New Testament say the people of the Church are priests, but then imply in Ezekiel that not all of them are? Which believers would get to be priests, which would be Levites, and which would be the people of Israel and “foreigners?” Furthermore, the priests in Ezekiel have priestly duties and wear special clothing, which makes sense if the Temple and priests are literal, but how are we to understand special clothing and special duties applying to the Church? Furthermore, Ezekiel describes sacrifices, such as the burnt offering and sin offering, but if they are not literal what are they? What “sacrifice” that Christians make could be represented by killing animals? The extensive and detailed description of the Temple in Ezekiel is a description appropriate for a physical temple, not a metaphor.
Also, in the Bible, physical things and spiritual realities are measured, but metaphors are not. Things that are measured in cubits include Noah’s ark (Gen. 6); Moses’ Tabernacle (Exod. 25-27); city structures in the Promised Land (Num. 35:5); people (1 Sam. 17:4; 1 Chron. 11:23); Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 6); cherubim (1 Kings 6:24); houses (1 Kings 7:2); execution stakes (Esther 5:14); idols (Dan. 3:1); and Ezekiel’s Temple (Ezek. 40). In contrast, the Christian Church is called a temple, but it is never measured or described in detail. The metaphor of “pillars” is used, but “pillar” was a common term for someone who provided support in an organization, and that expression is still used today. But no one in the Church is called a “door,” “table,” “stairs,” etc. The fact that Ezekiel’s Temple is measured in cubits testifies to it being a real structure and not a metaphor.
Also, and very importantly, if the last chapters of Ezekiel are not literal but are some kind of nine-chapter metaphor, then Ezekiel has nine chapters that metaphorically describe the Church with lots of details that do not clarify things but only raise questions, and the Bible has no chapters that tell us what Christ’s Millennial Kingdom will be like. If we say that the closing nine chapters of Ezekiel are not literal, then God has provided us nine chapters that tell us what will not happen in Christ’s 1,000-year reign, but no chapters that tell us what will happen in Christ’s 1,000-year reign. That seems incredibly unlikely. The description of Ezekiel’s Temple and the City of Jerusalem and the land of Israel leave us with some questions, but they do fit into a cogent picture of Christ as king and High Priest in the Millennial Kingdom, and they do fit with the other places in the Bible that speak of the New Jerusalem and the future Temple.
[For more on the Temple and sacrifices, see commentary on Ezek. 42:13. For more on Christ’s Millennial Kingdom, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth”].
“each cubit being a cubit and a handbreadth.” So the “cubit” that the angel measured with was the long cubit or “royal cubit” of about 21 inches (53.3 cm).
“the thickness of the wall, one reed, and the height, one reed.” So the wall around the Temple was about 10.5 feet thick and 10.5 feet high. The height of this wall is the only height given in the description of the Temple,