True Principles & Uncertain Details About Prophecy – Part 6
This article discusses the true principles and the uncertain details about the millennial temple.
So far in this series of articles, we have gone through the Truth to be Received Clauses #17-#30 and the related Doctrines to be Rejected. We have emphasized the principles that we all agree are essential and distinguished them from the uncertain details that we must not impose on others.
As far as the interpretation of prophecy is concerned there are still a few outstanding topics to be discussed:
a. Doctrine to be Rejected #33 about the English being the ten tribes of Israel
b. The Millennial Temple
c. The Continuous Historic and other approaches to prophetic interpretation
The first of these was covered by Brothers Peter Bilello and Peter Hemingray in their Tidings series on the Doctrines to be Rejected.1 I will address the second topic in this article and the third topic in next month’s magazine, God willing.
THE MILLENNIAL TEMPLE
A few brothers and sisters teach and preach Bro. Henry Sulley’s interpretation of Ezekiel’s temple (Ezek 40-48) in first principle classes, in Sunday School classes, and in public lectures.2 They believe his view is a fundamental part of the truth; it is essentially equivalent to their understanding of the Kingdom of God. To them, those who do not agree with this view do not truly understand the gospel.
In their opinion, those who do not accept Bro. Sulley’s interpretation should not be in fellowship. In contrast, many who agree with Bro. Sulley’s view acknowledge that it is not a first principle. For example, Bro. Roberts distinguished the uncertain details from the true principle concerning the millennial temple:
“THE GENERAL TRUTH—That Christ will build the temple of the future age as a house of prayer for all people.
“UNCERTAIN DETAIL—What will be the size of it? What will be the shape of it? There are no grounds for absolute certainty. There are strong grounds for the view presented by brother Sulley in his temple book: but we should not be justified in making the reception of this view a condition of fellowship. It is sufficient that the general truth is received. Any view that may be entertained as to details is not inconsistent with the general truth.”
The general principle that Christ will build a house of prayer for all people is based on the words of Isaiah:
Jesus quotes this passage when he casts out the money changers from the temple (Matt 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46).
This principle is also related to the promises to David:
James emphasized this point at the Jerusalem Conference:
On the other hand, it is essential that we do not impose uncertain details on our fellow believers. No matter how confident we may be personally on the interpretation of Ezekiel 40-48, we should not treat it as a test of fellowship.
Even though Bro. Sulley’s interpretation is the traditional Christadelphian view, that is not sufficient to justify making it a first principle doctrine. In fact, to some brothers and sisters it is disturbing that this interpretation is treated with the veneration many give it. Here are some issues that might cause one to have second thoughts about it.3
PROBLEMS WITH EZEKIEL’S TEMPLE BEING THE MILLENNIAL TEMPLE
No Gentiles. Ezekiel explicitly rules out Gentiles worshipping in the temple he describes:
This command contrasts with the temple being a house of prayer “for all nations.” It also contrasts with well-known passages like Isaiah 2:
The Sacrifices of Animals. Christ offered himself once for all time, having perfected forever those who are sanctified. No further sacrifices are needed (especially of animals):
To avoid this problem, it is often suggested that the sacrifices associated with Ezekiel’s temple are not efficacious for the forgiveness of sins. But the text itself says otherwise:
The word “reconciliation” is rendered “atonement” by many English translations (e.g., RV, NRVS, ESV, NIV, NASB, NET). Beyond this explicit statement, the terminology of sacrifices (i.e., sin offerings, burnt offering, and peace offerings) is used throughout Ezekiel 40-48; if these aren’t for the forgiveness of Israel’s sins, then the language is misleading.
The Priests. The saints are to reign with Christ as kings and priests during the millennium:
“Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.” (Rev 20:6; cf. Rev 1:6; 5:10).
The laws Ezekiel gives concerning priests are inconsistent with what we know to be true about the saints in the Kingdom Age.
Priests not being allowed to drink wine contrasts with Jesus’ statement about the Kingdom Age:
Priests taking wives contrasts with Jesus’ statement about the Kingdom Age:
Priests leaving widows behind implies they die, which contrasts with the saints being immortal in the Kingdom Age:
Given these inconsistencies, there would need to be two orders of priests in the Kingdom Age, with Christ and the saints being one and those described by Ezekiel being a second. Is there any other evidence for this or is it just an expedient way to maintain the millennial interpretation?
Another possibility. If Ezekiel isn’t describing the Millennial Temple, then what is he describing? One possibility is that he is giving the pattern for the temple that should have been built during the restoration of the nation following the Babylonian captivity.4
If Ezekiel isn’t describing the Millennial Temple, then what is he describing?
If this were the case, it would clarify the issues raised above. It would also explain Ezekiel’s emphasis that these chapters were addressed to the house of Israel, in particular so they would acknowledge their sins:
THE TEMPLE OF CHRIST AND THE SAINTS
No matter what the Millennial Temple might look like physically, it is clear that it will reflect a deeper spiritual lesson concerning Yahweh’s dwelling place in the earth. For example, Isaiah tells us where God intends to dwell:
So, Yahweh looks to make his abode in those people who are poor and of a contrite spirit. Of course, this starts with our Lord Jesus Christ and extends through him to the saints:
Paul describes the spiritual temple of Christ and the saints.
John explains that New Jerusalem, the household of Christ and the saints, in whom God dwells, is the true temple of God in the earth, the glory of God and the Lamb providing light:
John goes on to use an encouraging image taken from Ezekiel 47:
Austin Leander, TX
1 “Doctrines to Be Rejected (36) #33 British Israelites,” Tidings, November, 2018, pp. 485-486 (https:// tidings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/2018_11_Nov.pdf).
2 Henry Sulley, The Temple of Ezekiel’s Prophecy, originally published in 1887.
3 Besides the issues raised below, there are also problems with Bro. Sulley’s understanding of the architectural design of Ezekiel’s temple. See, for example, Bro. Harry Whittaker, “A Fresh Look at Ezekiel’s Temple” on the Christadelphian Agora website (http://www.christadelphianbooks.org/haw/ ezek_temple/index.html ).
4 See Harry Whittaker’s articles cited in Endnote #3, and Bro. Duncan Heaster’s article, “The Exiles Who Returned” on the Carelinks Ministries website (https://carelinks.net/doc/biblelives-en/108).
5 One reviewer of this article commented, “Ezekiel is told to show the house to the house of Israel, its sum or pattern (Ezek 43:10-11). That was, in itself, a message that was to lead them to repentance and make them ashamed of their sins. I have long wondered if the prophecy was to be about a real, physical temple, or perhaps always as an illustration for leading them to repent. There are several of these in Ezekiel’s prophecy, including play-acting messages to help them to understand that Jerusalem was about to be destroyed.”