By the time described in Revelation 15 the Jews will have had three different Temples here upon the earth and one tabernacle. These buildings were each allowed by God to show forth some facet of the true tabernacle . Here in this chapter we are afforded a tantalizing glimpse of the structure itself. Additionally we are given an interesting title: The Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony. I believe this name actually sums up and explains the threefold purpose of the buildings the Jews had been given.
As well the three Temples that will have occurred we have a fascinating description given of a Temple in Ezekiel. There are many different opinions as to what that Temple is but I aim to show that it is actually a fouth physical temple which will occur during the millennial kingdom. For the sake of completeness this essay will also briefly mention a final temple which I believe will replace both the fourth physical temple and the true tabernacle that is presently in heaven.
The giving of the Ten Commandments is one of the more epic and famous moments of the Old Testament. Many probably view it as a high point in the Jewish relationship with God. Interestingly the Jewish people of the viewed it very differently. The closeness of God terrified them and their response was to say that they didn't want to speak with God any more but wanted Moses to act as a mediator.
Given this background the first mention of the tabernacle in Ex 25:8-9 is all the more startling: "Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them." A God too terrifying to be spoken too was about to take up residence in the middle of the camp. Further He was not going to be a sleeping partner but an active part of the Israelite community. In fact although the wilderness years are seen as a time of waste it actually was a time when God was actively and visibly involved with His people on a daily basis.
The first temple is introduced in a very different manner. David sits there one day in his rest and notices that God lives in a tent whilst he has a house of cedar: he decides to do something about it. God then appears in a vision to Nathan and points out that He has lived in a tent since the Exodus and hasn't asked anyone to change that. He then progresses to say that Solomon will build the temple. However we find that the promises made regarding the new temple are actually rather less impressive than those for the tabernacle. In the latter God dwelt unconditionally, in the former there was a list of caveats attached. In fact the language is very much of God permitting a temple, much as He permitted a king. Notwithstanding we know that God graciously moved in and filled the first temple with glory.
Much as the first temple was a marked contrast to the tabernacle the second temple was a marked contrast to the first. This temple was definitely commanded by God and he chided the Israelites for not working upon it. The structure was also very meager in comparison to the first. Most significant however was that at the dedication of the temple there was no apparent movement of God to fill the temple. He promised to be with them and take pleasure in it but as far as I can tell God was no longer dwelling with man.
God did make some other predictions about the second temple. Specifically he states that the temple will be filled with riches and that it will receive a higher honor that Solomon's temple did. The former of these occurred when Herod turned the temple into a magnificent and opulent structure. The latter of course refers to the fact that the Lord himself in human flesh worked and worshipped in the second temple. However the Lord also prophesied that the second temple would be completely destroyed which it was and now is. This leaves us today with no true Jewish temple.
The third temple is one we know fairly little about. In fact many that do not believe in a literal tribulation will deny its' existence. It is first hinted at in Dan 9:27 where we are told the sacrifice and oblation will cease. This implies it has restarted which probably happened as part of the covenant referred to at the beginning of the verse. The next significant mention is in Mat 24:15 which suggests there will be a holy place during the time of tribulation. The third and most blatant reference is in Rev 11:1-2 where John is given a rod and told to go measure the temple of God. Significantly it also says the court and holy city surrounding are going to be trodden under foot for 42 months.
We know that the temples here upon earth are a shadow or type of things in heaven. In Rev 11:19 this moves from being a doctrine beheld by faith to a reality visible by eye. I personally see no way to confuse this with the third temple; the third temple is clearly physical and located in Jerusalem which is being overrun by Gentiles. The temple referred to at the end of Rev 11 is set in heaven and the accompanying lightnings, voices, thunderings, earthquake and hail does not suggest a structure likely to be overrun by a human army.
The temple referred to in Rev 15:5 is, I believe, the same as the one towards the end of Chapter 11. Again it is specifically noted as residing in heaven and it is currently being administered by angels not human priests. The name given to it shows the completeness of the entity which is being shadowed. The tabernacle speaks of where God is dwelling, the temple speaks of the holiness and the testimony speaks of the witness of the presence and work of God. The earthly buildings never managed to show all of these at once. As the grandeur of them increased the closeness of the dwelling reduced. Here in the heavenly temple all are complete.
Looking at Ezekiel's vision we now need to see if it fits either one of the three physical temples or the heavenly one. The first two temples can be discounted in that they were past by the time Ezekiel wrote and this vision is clearly yet future. I believe the third temple can also be ruled out in that the measurements of Ezekiel's temple are huge. In fact the size of the temple in Ezekiel is larger than the known extent of Jerusalem. This leads some to conjecture that Ezekiel's temple will not exist at all and that it is purely an idealization. However in the context of Ezekiel 40 where Israel had just been told that Jerusalem and the temple had been smitten by Gentiles then if the next three chapters were really just make believe then it was a fairly cruel hoax. To go to the extent of measuring room after room and detailing the accommodation in the most infinite detail if the building were not going to exist does not make any form of sense.
It is therefore suggested that Ezekiel's vision may have been of the heavenly temple. Again though this equation cannot be made without assuming Ezekiel was deliberately misled. In Eze 40:2 we are specifically told that Ezekiel was taken to the land of Israel and set upon a very high mountain. Ezekiel clearly believed he had been taken to the land from which he had been exiled and that it was there that this magnificent structure was to be built. Further the description in Eze 45 clearly shows that Jews will own the land surrounding the temple. Are we really to believe that some of the key portions of heaven are staked out to the Jew independent of the Christian church? The other problem with equating Ezekiel's temple with the heavenly one is that Ezekiel's temple has animal sacrifices that are administered by Levites.
Yet others have equated the vision of Ezekiel with the New Jerusalem of the final state. This could easily provide the space required for the size of the temple specified. However the concept suffers from the rest of the same problems that the suggestion of it being the heavenly temple does namely the blood sacrifice and the Jewish dominance. However there is a much bigger problem with this suggestion. Ezekiel's vision clearly contained a temple; we know that the New Jerusalem of the eternal state does not contain a temple building because the Father and Son are the temple in the eternal state. As this final temple they will clearly be dwelling with us, everything will be holy and we will know all things so will not need further testimony.
With regard to Ezekiel's temple I believe what we have here is a detailed view of a temple that will exist during the millennial kingdom between the return of the Lord at the end of the tribulation and the final rebellion at the end of the thousand year period. We know the return at the end of the tribulation is accompanied by significant structural upheaval in Palestine which could easily allow for the sizes specified in the vision. The millennial kingdom will see the re-establishment of the throne of David which would explain the Jewish dominance. The animal sacrifice would serve as a testimony to the past work of Christ.
In this essay we have seen three physical temples that will have been visible before the temple in heaven is opened. We have seen how the first two temples and the tabernacle together pointed to the temple which is in heaven which is a complete revelation of the dichotomy of a Holy God dwelling amidst His people. We have considered that eventually these structures will all be superseded by God dwelling unrestricted amongst His people. We also discussed Ezekiel's temple and suggested that it is a millennial structure that will be a testimony during the final thousand years.
As we also discussed we are presently in a time when there is no physical temple. We are in the church age where we are that temple may we treat the temple and have a passion for that temple that exceeds that of the Jews whose temple had to be replaced three times.