Wednesday, October 09, 2019

From temple and Transfiguration to Pentecost

A. For secular readers, Ezk 40-48 is a classic example of a failed hope. This was Ezekiel's utopian ancipation for what awaited the post-exilic community. But it never happened. Before getting more specific, I have a few preliminary observations:

B. Strictly speaking, it's not a prophecy. It is descriptive rather than predictive. A verbalized record of what Ezekiel saw in a vision. It has no calendar for when that will happen. It doesn't locate the outcome in the post-exilic restoration. That said, it certainly fosters an expectation regarding the future. 

C. Revelatory dreams and visions may either be literal or allegorical. For instance, the dreams in the Joseph Cycle (Gen 37-50) are allegorical. Likewise, the visions of Zechariah are often allegorical. So even if the outcome doesn't literally correspond to the description, that doesn't falsify it. The comparison may operate at an analogical level–like the revelatory dreams in the Joseph Cycle. A critic might object that this is special pleading, but analogical fulfillment can be clearly recognizable. 

D. In his magisterial monograph on theophanies, Vern Poythress has a taxonomy of theophanies, including fire theophanies, thunderstorm theophanies, cloud theophanies, and glory theophanies. 

i) Although that classification scheme is useful up to a point, the categories involve borderline distinctions that often blend. For instance, a thunderstorm is a composite phenomenon of cloud, wind, lightning, and thunder. And one question is whether all or some of these elements are represented in the theophanic counterpart to a natural thunderstorm. Poythress says the theophany in Ezk 1 is a composite theophany:

God appears to Ezekiel in Ezekiel 1 in an elaborate and detailed theophany, which combines features of cloud theophany, fire theophany, court theophany (the living creatures), chariot theophany (the wheels), and man theophany (the man-like figure in vv. 26–28). This theophany is the most elaborate within the whole Old Testament.

ii) Another element of thunderstorm theophanies is their source: they come from the sky. That's something which clouds and electrical storms share in common. 

iii) I don't think cloud theophanies and glory theophanies are distinct categories. In Scripture, the Shekinah has the appearance of a luminous cloud or plasma. 

iv) Likewise, lightning was probably equated with firelight. For one thing, lightning strikes cause fires. When Elijah summons "fire" from the sky, that's probably preternatural lightning. 

In some passages, moreover, lightning and firelight are used interchangeably. In that respect, a fire theophany and thunderstorm theophany overlap. In addition, the Shekinah may well have looked like a fiery cloud. 

E. With that in mind: 

4 I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, 5 and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures...13 The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of it (Ezk 1:4,13).

5 The sound of the wings of the cherubim could be heard as far away as the outer court, like the voice of God Almighty when he speaks (Ezk 10:5).

Seen from a distance, it resembles an electrical storm. Lightning and firelight are synonymous. The cherubic wings probably rumbled like thunder.

F. Now let's compare these two passages:

Then the man brought me to the gate facing east, 2 and I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with his glory. 3 The vision I saw was like the vision I had seen when he came to destroy the city and like the visions I had seen by the Kebar River, and I fell facedown. 4 The glory of the Lord entered the temple through the gate facing east. 5 Then the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple (Ezk 43:1-5).

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4).

What if Ezekiel's vision of the new temple, Spirit-rapture, and the return of the Shekinah, to consecrate the visionary temple–finds fulfillment at Pentecost, when a Spirit-theophany with elements of stormy wind and firelight inaugurates and consecrates the new covenant community? Its realization would be analogical rather than literal. But the analogical parallels are striking. 

G. Let's consider another "failed" prophecy:

27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. 28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Mt 16:27-28).

Compare that to the Synoptic parallel in Luke:

Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God (Lk 9:27). 

Without bothering to speculate on the origin of the verbal varians, it's notable that seeing "the Son of Man coming in his kingdom" in Matthew is equivalent to the more generic  seeing "the kingdom of God" in Luke. Some commentators think this prediction finds fulfillment at the Transfiguration, which follows directly on the heels of the prediction in the Synoptic accounts:  

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus...5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Mt 17:1-3,5).

28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning…32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory…34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud (Lk 9:28-29,32,34). 

1. The Transfiguration involves two luminaries: Jesus is incandescent and the Shekinah is incandescent. 

2. Why do Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus? All three have two things in common:

i) They experience fiery theophanies

ii) Theophanies which take place on mountains: Mt Sinai, Mr. Carmel, Mt. Horeb, and whatever eminence was the site of the Transfiguration. 

3. This also raises the question of whether Lk 9:27 finds additional fulfillment at Pentecost. 

i) Does Jesus come in the person of the Spirit? One function of the Spirit is to take his place during the inter-adventural age. Although ontologically distinct, they are, in that respect, functionally interchangeable. 

ii) By the same token, the luminous Spirit, manifested in the Shekinah at Pentecost, evokes the luminous Christ, manifested at the Transfiguration. 


  1. Steve - as long as we are on Ezk 40-48, do you have discussion about the premill view that in the future the temple sacrifices will return is some form?
    Forgive me if Im changing subject on this thread. Ive just been puzzled by future temple sacrifices lately.

  2. Surely Ezekiel 40-48 is prophecy.

    It follows, Ezekiel 35-36 (God pronounces Judgment on arab squatters in the land of Israel). Ezekiel 38-39 (God executes on the Islamic world).

    After the battle of Gog and Magog we have the building of the third temple.

    1. It's not a command to build a new temple. It's not a verbal assertion about the future. It's not a propositional claim about things to come. In that sense, it's not a prophecy.

      Now, I do think it has a futuristic thrust (future to Ezekiel), but as it stands, Ezk 40-48 are simply a verbalized description of something the prophet was shown in vision. By itself, it has no timeframe–past, present, or future. At best, that's something a reader must provide from outside the vision.

  3. There are a lot of allusions in the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation that seem to indicate that the fulfillment of the glory of God returning to the temple was fulfilled in Christ Himself.

    "glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" John 1:14 (fulfillment of 43:1-5)

    The glory of God that left the temple in Ezekiel has returned in Christ.

    John 2:19-22 - the temple of His body is the true temple. (with 1:14)

    John 4:23-24 seems to be laying down worship principles that concede that there will no more temple in Jerusalem.

    The water and the healing of the nations mentioned in Ezekiel 40-48 is the Holy Spirit - John 7:37-39 - and as the gospel goes out to the nations in the church age - the fulfillment is experienced, then the full experience of the full healing is in the eternal state. (Revelation chapters 21-22)

    chapters 40-48 is "visions of God" - see chapter 1:1; 8:3; 11:24: 40:2, 43:3.

    It is very hard to accept that their needs to be a rebuilt Jewish temple with temple animal sacrifices for 1000 years which Ezekiel 40-48 says are "for atonement", in light of the book of Hebrews and the emphasis on "the once for all final sacrifice of Christ" - His atonement on the cross, etc.

    Also, Hebrews seems to say that the land promises to Israel are also already fulfilled in Christ and that the land of Canaan / promised land is a type of heaven (Hebrews chapter 4, 11:10; 11:16; 12:22-24; 13:14; see also Galatians 4:26 and 3:16, and Revelation 21:1-3), so the ultimate fulfillment of those OT texts are in the eternal state, not a future millennium.

    The weight of all that together makes me skeptical of a literal future Millennium with a rebuilt temple, animal sacrifices, etc.

    1. Matthew 24:15 and 2 Thessalonians 2:2-4 refer to a third temple.

      You seem to have ignored Romans 9,10 & 11 where Paul talks about the future destiny of Israel.

    2. "Also, Hebrews seems to say that the land promises to Israel are also already fulfilled in Christ and that the land of Canaan / promised land is a type of heaven"

      No Ken. You are confusing the two covenants. One that deals with sacrifices. The other that deals with land.

      There are multiple times in the Old Testament that say that the land covenant between God and Israel cannot be broken.

      The last conversation between Jesus and the disciples in Acts 1, involves the disciples asking Jesus when is he going to restore the kingdom to Israel? Importantly Jesus does not deny it. Just that it does not concern the disciples.

    3. There's nothing in Mt 24:15 to indicate that it refers to a third temple. At the time of Christ's prediction, the Second Temple was still standing.

  4. Also, there is no NT principle that tells us to put all those details of Ezekiel 40-48 into the text of Revelation 20:1-6.

    Also, the final battle of "Gog and Magog" are after the Millennium (Rev. 20:7-10), not before, which the Pre-Tribers / Pre-Millennialists have made too many speculations about Russia / USSR / Islam by trying to take Geo-political events of today and read them into Ezekiel 38-39.

    Also, Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22 "new heavens and new earth" and surrounding context seems to take a lot of prophetic events (no more war, the wolf and the lion laying down together, etc.)- the NT takes that as being fulfilled in the eternal state (2 Peter 3; Revelation 21-22), not some Israel-centered animal sacrifices emphasized literal temple Millennium kind of thing.

    1. Even a cursory reading of Ezekiel 38 & 39 and Revelation 20:8 makes it obvious that these are two different events.

      Ezekiel 38 & 39 gives great detail about where it happens and who is involved. And how the invaders of Israel will perish.

      Revelation 20:8 is a supernatural event.

  5. . . . the wolf and the lion laying down together, etc.

    Sorry, I meant "the wolf and the lamb lying down together, etc. - Isaiah 11:6-16 and Isaiah 65:25 and related texts.

  6. For secular readers, Ezk 40-48 is a classic example of a failed hope. This was Ezekiel's utopian ancipation for what awaited the post-exilic community. But it never happened.

    Seems like Herod's 40 year expansion project of the temple, with the approval of the Pharisees and leaders of Israel (scribes, Sadducees, priests, etc.) was an attempt to restore the "glory" of Solomon's temple to the 2nd temple, but the coming of Jesus, the NT teaching, and everything subsequent (the coming of the Holy Spirit and details you brought out in Acts 2, etc.; and the destruction of the temple in 70 AD) rebuked all of that.

    1. Chronologically it does not fit.

      Ezekiel 35-36 God pronounces on Arab world

      Ezekiel 37 God restores Israel

      Ezekiel 38-39 God executes Judgment on Islamic world

      Ezekiel 40-48 building of third temple.

      2 Thessalonians 2:2-4 refers to its desecration.

    2. There's nothing in the text of Ezekiel to indicate that it refers to the Islamic world and a third temple. The Second Temple hadn't even been built yet at the time of writing.

      There's nothing in the text of 1 Thes 2:2-4 to indicate that it refers to third temple. At the time of writing, the Second Temple was still standing.

    3. You're assuming that the visions and oracles in Ezk 35-48 are arranged in chronological order. Possibly. But like other prophetic books, it's an anthology of visions and oracles experienced or delivered at different times. It's not like these books were dictated in sequence. Rather, a scribe like Baruch collected the posthumous visions and oracles and edited them into a single volume.