“And the man said unto me, Son of man, behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears, and set thine heart upon all that I shall shew thee; for to the intent that I might shew them unto thee art thou brought hither: declare all that thou seest to the house of Israel.” — Ezekiel 40:4
While visiting St. Louis, Missouri, as tourists, my wife and I went to see the Gateway Arch. At 630 feet tall — the height of a sixty-three story building — that sweeping curve of stainless steel is an imposing sight. When I learned how the arch was constructed, I was even more amazed. The base of the structure is two “legs” comprised of 142 equilateral triangles that curve upward until they meet in the middle. Think of what precision was required in the measurements and calculations! And consider how well-executed the construction had to be in order for the two sides to come perfectly together at the top of the arch! The feat was accomplished so expertly that when the two sides met, virtually no adjustment was needed. In addition, the whole construction project was done without any loss of life or even serious injury.
The view from inside the arch is breathtaking: one can see about thirty miles in all directions. We were also fascinated by what you see when you look up from directly below the center of the arch. From that vantage point, the base is so wide that neither leg is in your peripheral vision. You can only see the top of the arch, so it looks like a long cement building floating in the sky!
As remarkable as the St. Louis arch is, it pales by comparison to the handiwork of God. Imagine Ezekiel’s awe when he saw a vision of a future Temple in restored Israel, designed and constructed by God Himself ! The description recorded in today’s text contains measurements and details of a massive structure in the Temple complex. It appeared to Ezekiel “as the frame of a city” because it was surrounded by massive walls, courts, towers, and gates, just as an ancient city would have been.
In our focus verse, Ezekiel’s divine guide told the prophet to set his heart upon all he was shown. He was to pay close attention and carefully note every detail so he could declare the vision to his fellow exiles. The vision indicated that a time of restoration was coming — a time when faithful people would worship God in a magnificent place of worship in the land of Israel, and the blessings of God would flow freely.
What is the lesson for us in this amazing description? Like Ezekiel, we must set our hearts on all that God reveals to us. The Holy Spirit reaches out to each of us to reveal God’s holiness, our sinfulness, and our need for His forgiveness. As we respond and receive salvation, and then continue to carefully acknowledge and obey God, we will be prepared to worship in the glorious Temple that Ezekiel saw.
Scholars view chapters 40-48 of Ezekiel in various ways.
• Some see them as a literal prophecy that the exiles of Ezekiel’s era would one day be restored to their land and would rebuild the Temple.
• Others interpret these chapters as an allegorical description of the Christian Church and a reassurance that God will provide a different priesthood and worship system for His people than what they have previously known.
• Some see chapters 40-48 through an apocalyptic perspective, and believe that the images are primarily mythic in nature, and were connected to pagan ideas prevalent in the world of Ezekiel’s day.
• Many see these chapters from a dispensationalist viewpoint: that this Temple is real, and will be built in the coming Millennial age. Ezekiel’s Temple will memorialize God’s work for Israel and the rich types and shadow examples that looked ahead to the perfect work of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. This is the view taken by our church.
Chapter 40 continues the theme of Israel’s future restoration that began in chapter 33. Chapters 40-42 focus on Ezekiel’s vision of a rebuilt Temple. To Ezekiel, the Temple was a symbol of Israel’s national identity, in that it represented access to God and salvation. Ezekiel had lived most of his life in exile, deprived of this access. His vision of restored Temple worship in Israel’s post-exile future framed Israel’s future redemption and restoration in a way that he could comprehend, and confirmed God’s faithfulness to Israel.
In Ezekiel’s vision, a divinely appointed guide led the prophet through the Temple complex. (While the word temple in Scripture sometimes refers to a roofed building that was the Lord’s house, it more commonly refers to the whole area enclosed by walls, inside which God’s people gathered to worship.) Precise measurements were taken, and Ezekiel was told to record what he saw and declare it to the people of Israel.
Like many of Ezekiel’s prophetic revelations and visions, this one is dated: it took place about 573 B.C., fourteen years after the fall of Jerusalem to the armies of Nebuchadnezzar. If “beginning of the year” in verse 1 refers to the religious calendar, then the Passover was near. If it refers to the beginning of the civil calendar, then it coincided with the Feast of Tabernacles. Either way, the vision occurred during a pilgrimage season when the captives were unable to gather at Jerusalem to worship at the Temple as the Law mandated. As a member of the priesthood, Ezekiel would have been acutely aware of this, and Jerusalem and the Temple would have been in his daily thoughts.
Ezekiel’s vantage point from the “very high mountain” gave him something like an aerial or a “plan view” as the man measured the Temple. The cubit is a unit of measure historically regarded as equal to the distance from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger and therefore does not have a precise length. Throughout history, each culture has had different lengths of cubits, and usually a short or common cubit and a long royal or sacred cubit. The cubit used in our text was most certainly a sacred cubit and according to one Hebrew source, this would have made the “reed” the man used about ten and a half feet long (slightly higher than regulation basketball hoop height).1 In verse 5, the man began by measuring the perimeter wall around the Temple, and the height of it was one reed, and the width of it was one reed. Square chambers constructed along the wall on the north, south, and east sides were one reed square. This wall surrounded the entire Temple area.
Large gates for entrance and exit are described in detail, beginning at verse 6. These gates were located on three sides of the structure, and had guard chambers along each side. A worshipper would be required to pass through gates, climb stairs, and cross large courtyards in order to approach the actual Temple. There was no gate on the western side, the side closest to the Temple itself, so access to the Lord’s immediate Presence was restricted.
According to verses 22 and 26, seven steps led upward from the outer courtyard to the inner court. This indicates that the inner court and the Temple itself were elevated, perhaps on some type of platform above the ground surrounding it. This second level had three gates on its inside border, corresponding to the three outer gates on the south, east, and north walls of the Temple complex. These six entryway structures or porticos were identical in size and layout. If a person were to enter the outer southern gate, he would go up seven steps into that portico, walk the length of it (about 87 feet) past three guard stations on each side, and into the main courtyard. He would then walk about 175 feet to the inner southern gate, up eight steps, and into the inner southern gate portico. Entry from the east and north sides was similar. The only purely decorative element described were palm trees on some of the walls.
A comparison of the measurements given for this future Temple to the ones that existed during the eras of Solomon, Ezra, and Herod indicates that Ezekiel was viewing a Temple that has not yet existed.
IV. The consolation of Israel
B. Prophecies of the millennial kingdom
1. The restoration of the Temple
a. Introduction (40:1-4)
b. The measurement of the Temple
(1) The courts of the Temple
(a) The outer courts (40:5-27)
 The wall (40:5)
 The gates (40:6-27)
[a] The east gate (40:6-16)
[b] The chambers of the outer court (40:17-19)
[c] The north gate (40:20-23)
[d] The south gate (40:24-27)
Some day we will worship in the Temple revealed to Ezekiel if we serve God faithfully in this life. What a glorious hope that is!
1. Jewish Publication Society, JPS Hebrew English Tanakh (Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society, 2000), pg. 1247.