Letters to the Editor: A Temple Filled With Unsearchable Riches – Part 5
THE HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL NATIONS
I have enjoyed reading The Tidings for many years and appreciate the spiritual tone of the magazine, the current volume being no exception. However, I feel that in regard to the contents of Bro. George Booker’s article dealing with The Temple of Ezekiel’s Prophecy, and Bro. Sulley’s presentation of it should be balanced out. The last nine chapters of Ezekiel are a substantial and tangible part of the Bible.
I appreciate that for many years the matter has been one of differing opinions on the nature, size, and shape of the Temple outlined therein. The subject is not an essential doctrine to be believed, which should not affect fellowship, and I believe that when we appear before the Judgment Seat, we will not be judged on our opinion on the matter, but rather why we held that opinion, and what we did with that belief.
While Bro. Roberts clearly expressed that, in his opinion, it was not an essential doctrine to be believed, he wrote the following in “Thirteen Lectures on The Apocalypse”:
“God himself is the Temple of the people who compose it. But we should make a mistake in supposing that because this symbolic city has no temple, therefore the Temple exhibited to Ezekiel as the central pivot of the glorious government machinery of the future age will not have a literal existence. There is a place for every truth. What is true of the symbolic New Jerusalem is no guide to the truths concerning the literal arrangements of the kingdom of God. This we must seek at other sources, which are very abundant and very clear.”
Bro. John Carter, in The Letter to the Hebrews (Page 167), writes:
“The Holy City is called “Jerusalem which is above.” That does not mean that it is in heaven. It is Jerusalem, the exalted, upon earth. At the same time the figurative meaning, based upon and never dissociated from the literal, must not be lost sight of. But the Lamb and his bride are inseparably associated with Mount Zion topographically, that being their capital city.”
He continues (on page 172),
“God treats His house as one in all ages. He asked them, Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and He spake although the house had been completely overthrown and that was a new building. The temple overthrown was one with that rebuilt. And for nigh 2000 years there has been no temple of the Lord; but the Branch shall build the temple of the Lord, and the temple will be the same house in God’s view. Of that He says “The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former.” (Hag.2:9).
In the Book of Hebrews 13:9, Paul is speaking to his countrymen, “For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace, not with meats which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.” Grace here stands for the way of life in Christ; “meats” for the observance of the ritual of the law, which was unprofitable. The unprofitableness is next illustrated, “We have an altar whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.” (Heb 13:10).
The writer and readers were Hebrew. And it is from this standpoint that we must approach the questions. Who are we? What is the altar? And what is the tabernacle? The “we” in this case is “we Hebrews.” It is evident that by the altar, he means sacrifice.
Bro. Carter also wrote, “The Tabernacle is that described in the Law of Moses, UPON WHICH ALL THE REASONING IN THE EPISTLE HAS BEEN BASED. The Temple of later days is not considered, the whole argument being founded upon the original commandments given to Moses, concerning both structure and service.” (Page 177).
No doubt there is a secondary application to believers of all ages, but we should bear in mind the apostle’s original purpose of writing.
“For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burnt without the camp.” (Heb.13:11.) The allusion is to the Day of Atonement, described in Leviticus 16.
Isaiah 56:7 (NKJV) tells us, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” This house, like the Tabernacle and the Temple of Solomon, is of a Divine pattern (Ezek 40-48).
Christ himself confirmed, “Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer?” (Mark 11:17). The Lord here quotes from Zechariah 14:16, the “nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.”
Isaiah 2:2-3 says, “Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” These words are confirmed in Micah 4:1-2.
The Law of Moses was a national law that covered all aspects of life.
So, we ask “What is the law that will go forth from Jerusalem?” While it will probably not be the Law of Moses, as such, can we really imagine that there be no law of Christ (God) in the Kingdom?
The Law of Moses was a national law that covered all aspects of life. It is hard to assume that the law of God in the Kingdom will only be verbal and rely on man’s memory, especially considering it is related to a worldwide Kingdom, lasting a thousand years.
God is a God of order. Would not Christ the King establish His laws to be taught and administered by the Saints, under the righteous rule of Christ and the blessedness of the Kingdom Age? The earth’s population is expected to be huge, and for them, such a law seems appropriate. Could the “Sermon on the Mount” be indicative? Could it be the policy speech of the King relating to His future Kingdom?
As far as Bro. Henry Sulley’s plan is concerned, in “A Handbook on The Temple of Ezekiel’s Prophecy,” Bro. Roberts writes,
“All who know Bro. Sulley in his professional capacity, know that it is impossible for a poor job to get out of his hands. His exposition is:
- Based on complete reverence of Divine wording.
- Scrupulously given place to every jot and tittle.
- Hebrew is not “squeezed.”
- Size is in harmony with its requirements.
While his interpretation is stated to be highly “idiosyncratic” (meaning peculiar or individual), he was a qualified architect and reference to other architects’ opinions must be treated with care. They would either be atheists or “Christians” and would hardly endorse a work that demands the return of Christ to establish God’s Kingdom on earth.
The fact is, we have a highly respected brother who spent months, probably years, on his painstaking work to expound the visions given to Ezekiel. It is reported that he was assisted by Bro. J.W. Thirtle of Hanly, in the translation of the technical expressions in the Hebrew text. Even if his views are disagreed with, on Scriptural grounds, of course, should his efforts not be respected and appreciated? To judge them as just personal opinion and unscriptural, to me, is not wise. The treatise presented by the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 8 surely must have a bearing.”
The re-introduction of animal sacrifices is challenging, I agree, and matters raised by Bro. Booker is compelling. However, how do we rationalize Jeremiah 33:17-18?
For thus saith the LORD; David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel; Neither shall the priests the Levites want a man before me to offer burnt offerings, and to kindle meat offerings, and to do sacrifice continually.
Verse 20 confirms this covenant is likened to His covenant of Day and night, which cannot be broken.
Isaiah 56:6-7 confirms that “The sons of strangers that join themselves to the LORD.” “Their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar.”
Psalm 51:18, 19 says, “Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem. Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.”
Isaiah 60:7 says, “All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together unto thee, the rams of Nebaioth shall minister unto thee: they shall come up with acceptance on mine altar, and I will glorify the house of my glory.”
Will these sacrifices serve as a memorial to the mortal population in the Kingdom Age of the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ?
Yes, it will be a matter of looking backward, but do we not do so do week by week, when we memorialize the Lord’s sacrifice made over 2000 years ago?
Our baptism is, likewise, symbolic of the Lord’s sacrifice, as so beautifully described in Romans 6:3-4.
Book 2 on Psalms, distributed by the Christadelphian Scripture Study Service, records,
“David appears to reach forward into the Kingdom, when sacrifices and offerings will be restored upon Mt. Zion (Ezek 43:12-27) so that the mortal people can be taught that their “old man” must be put to death like the animals, and their bodies presented as living sacrifices, if they would attain to the glorified state of the immortalized saints. With the risen and glorified Christ then reigning as King over the whole earth, the way of the cross as the way to life might otherwise be obscured. Our need to be crucified with Christ would be lost without vital example of sacrifice to reinforce the essential need to put off the “old man” with its deceitful lusts (Eph 4:22) and show forth Christ’s death to sin by the way we live.”
Please do not take these comments as a criticism of the article in question but rather to provide a balance in the love of Christ. To me, and I doubt that I am on my own, the Temple outlined by Bro. Sulley is a beacon of hope, and one day we, in God’s mercy, may dwell in the house of the LORD forever. I do believe these comments are in keeping with your excellent article under the theme: “Tear Down or Build.”
Victor Harbor Ecclesia, SA
First of all, I want to thank Bro. Garry for his letter. I welcome all comments and criticisms.
In his letter Bro. Garry includes quotes from some well-known Christadelphians whom I respect. However, their statements express opinions without proof texts.
I have always respected Bro. John Thomas, partly for his expositions but even more so for his willingness to change his mind when he made a mistake. Some of his “Rules for Bible Study” are listed below:
- Investigate what you believe.
- Keep an open mind, and do not be afraid of the results.
- Do not rely on any human authority for the last word.
In essence, “Do your homework (i.e., Bible study), and don’t jump to a conclusion without examining the meanings of key words and the context of the passage under consideration.”
I do not doubt Bro. Henry Sulley’s professional qualifications as an architect. But a careful study of Ezekiel 40-48 suggests that Bro. Sulley gave more attention to his personal view of a millennial temple than he did to the relevant chapters of the text. Ezekiel describes a much more conventional temple with conventional dimensions—a temple that could have been built in the days of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Zerubbabel the prince.
Bro. Sulley did not lay down a Scriptural “foundation” before starting to “build” his own vision of a millennial temple. It appears to me that he had already made up his mind as to the design of his Temple without carefully investigating Ezekiel 40-48. In doing so, he wound up building his interpretation of God’s house, not on solid rock but rather on “sand.”
According to Ezekiel, this specific temple would be built along the line of Solomon’s Temple, where frequent animal sacrifices were normal and expected and necessary — but with no reference at all to Christ and his coming Kingdom.
I leave it to readers to consider the evidence in my previous articles. One cannot reconcile (a) Bro. Sulley’s huge Millennial Temple set in the coming Kingdom with (b) the prophet Ezekiel’s description of a temple that is served by mortal “priests” who sweat and die, and are presided over by a prince—not the Messiah, but a mortal prince—who marries and has children, one of which will replace him when he dies.
If these two “temples” are the same, then it is also very difficult to understand how Ezekiel fails to mention a coming King/Messiah who will preside over a temple such as Bro. Sulley describes.
At this point, we might ask ourselves a simple but potentially uncomfortable question: Have we become so enthralled with the idea of a huge “Millennial Temple,” larger than any other building in human history, that we would cast aside the undeniably more glorious spiritual “temple” of living “stones” being built all around us? I speak of the “temple” in which the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, would serve as the chief cornerstone (1 Pet 2:6).
I’ll rephrase—and this might sting: Which should we revere and worship? Jesus Christ, the perfect once-and-for-all sacrifice for our sins, who has become God’s special “temple” (Isa 28:16; 1 Pet 2:6; Eph 2:20-22)—dispensing the “unsearchable riches” of love, mercy, grace, peace, and eternal life (Eph 3:8)? Or a towering mass of wood and stone, gold and precious jewels, testifying only to the ingenuity of its architect, but failing to accomplish anything for our salvation?
Isaiah 56:7 is often referenced when considering Bro. Sulley’s book: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” Many seem to infer from this verse that:
All nations will be required to visit Jerusalem regularly; and therefore,
The largest building ever imagined must be erected in Jerusalem to accommodate the vast millions who must travel there.
However, there is a different conclusion:
any group of believers can be described as the “house of God”
In the Bible, the word “house” (Heb. bayith or beth, and Greek oikos) may mean much more than a simple house. The lexicons tell us that, both in Old and New Testaments, “house” may refer to any building (including, of course. a temple), but also to an ordinary house and to a family (because they live in a house), and also to any group of people with common interests, such as a clan or a tribe, or a church or ecclesia. This leads us to a crucial point; any group of believers—whether small or large or even the whole number of believers who are scattered across the earth—can be described as the “house of God” (Gen 28:17; Heb 3:2,5; 10:21; 1 Cor 1:16; Eph 2:19; Phil 4:22; 1 Tim 3:15; 2 Tim 1:16).
Returning to Isaiah 56:7 and the idea of “a house of prayer for all nations,” the text suggests that:
In the Kingdom Age, the knowledge and glory of the LORD will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Num 14:21; Isa 11:9; Hab 2:14); and
Wherever believers are, across the vastness of this world, their prayers will unfailingly reach the Lord God and His Son, and receive appropriate answers, for the believers are “the house of God.”
And so, wherever believers are assembled, their prayers will be as efficacious as those of anyone who stands at a “temple” in Jerusalem.
Some might say: “But all believers, and believers-to-be, will need to go up to Jerusalem—in person!—to be instructed and to see sacrifices offered at the Grand Temple in Jerusalem.”
The answer to this should be: “Have you heard of radio and television, or the internet and Zoom meetings? Or, have you forgotten that the immortal saints will be able to travel anywhere they please, in a moment or a twinkling of the eye?” We live in an era of human history when we can actually appreciate almost-instantaneous communication worldwide—right now! How much more powerful and transformative will the Kingdom be for mankind compared to what we have now?
I will finish with one more thought: Like many of you, I have often meditated on what the Kingdom of God will be like. For me, what makes such meditation real is thinking about being in the presence of my Lord Jesus Christ—in a more tangible way than is possible now. John’s first letter comes to mind: “That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, and our hands have touched, [is] the Word of Life.” (1 John 1:1).
Will we, like John and Christ’s other disciples, actually see, hear and touch Jesus then? The prospect of such intimate fellowship makes the Kingdom real to me, real and inexpressibly beautiful—and unbelievably personal when we gaze at the marks and the wounds testifying to what he has done for us all.
I can imagine the ultimate “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:7-9; Matt 22:2-8; Luke 12:36), a worldwide breaking of bread in the most exalted communion, while everyone celebrates the glorious wonders of God’s re-created world.
To me those pictures represent our salvation and the Kingdom of God, which I hope for with all my heart.
But upon all this, let us superimpose Bro. Sulley’s ideas: herds of bellowing cattle, bleating sheep, and goats being slaughtered. Their blood stains the ground and the robes of the priests. The fire constantly burns on the altar. The sights and sounds, and smells are overwhelming. Meanwhile, here at the same time, is the Son of God, Jesus Christ. His new robes are spotless, and he himself is the one true and perfect sacrifice.
Will people really need more demonstrations of countless animals being slaughtered, when they can actually see, right before their eyes, the man who—having fulfilled the Law (Matt 5:17)—has made any such further sacrifices meaningless?
Is that what the Kingdom of God will really be like? Maybe it is. Maybe it will be just like that. And if so, then the fault will be mine for not understanding or appreciating it as I should. But something inside me keeps whispering: “This just doesn’t seem right.” And so I must seek to understand better what I believe.
What do you think?
Austin Leander Ecclesia, TX