“Temple” is a big deal in the Bible. Some scholars believe in the temple inauguration theory of creation (described by John H. Walton in The Lost World of Genesis One). That is, Genesis 1 might not be so much about the creation of the physical world but rather God taking up residence in his creation (temple).
When the patriarchs died, they left behind rock altars where they set off sacred space (temples). The tabernacle was a portable temple wherein God’s glory dwelt (Exodus 40). The temple of Solomon was so glorious that when it was dedicated, the priests could not perform their duties because God’s glory so filled the temple (1 Kings 8:11). The second temple lacked the glory of the first, but it was still nothing short of amazing (Ezra 3:12).
The temple was always more than a building. It was the reality of the presence of God. That is why when Jesus came and the church began, it could be referred to theologically as the “third temple.” When the new heaven and new earth is revealed, there will be no need for a physical temple, because the Lord is the temple (Revelation 21:22).
In the lesson for August 28, God’s glory departed from the people (left the temple) due to their sin. Now God’s enemies (those who enticed Israel to sin) are defeated (Gog and Magog in Ezekiel 38-39). Therefore, the temple can be cleansed and restored (chapters 41-42). God’s glory can return to the temple, and the people can enjoy the new Promised Land (chapters 43-48).
The man probably is this strange figure we know as the “angel of the Lord.” He appeared first in this ongoing temple vision in Ezekiel 40:3. Now he spiritually transports (cf. 3:14; 8:3; 11:1, 24; 37:1) Ezekiel to the gate facing east of the rebuilt temple. Ezekiel saw the glory of the God of Israel coming toward the gate.
Linguistically glory means the shining brilliance and weighty presence of God. Theologically glory can refer to the return of the exiles from captivity (this passage) to Jesus’ incarnation (John 1:14), to the church (Colossians 1:27), and to the return of Christ to earth (Revelation 21:23). The voice of the glorious One is described as rushing waters (a symbol of power, Revelation 1:15). The whole land lights up when God’s glory invades. Ezekiel likened what he saw this time with what he had seen originally (chapters 10–11). God’s glory filled the temple.
In this paragraph, God promised twice to live among his people forever. In the Bible, forever can mean time unending or it can mean a long time. Depending on one’s interpretation of what is being described here (the return from exile, the coming of Christ and the church, or the second coming) will determine the meaning of forever in this passage. We know one thing for sure: God is speaking in this vision (not the angel standing next to Ezekiel). God claimed his territory. His throne is there. His feet are there.
Since God is in the temple, nothing unclean can be there. There can be no defiling (polluting) of God’s holy name. The kings of Israel, who so often led the people into idolatry, can no longer prostitute the land with idols. They cannot place an idol in the holy place like some kings did (2 Kings 21:1-6). They could no longer give themselves to detestable practices. These things cause God to destroy the people in [his] anger.
God’s perfection, evident in the temple, causes the people to see their unholiness. His mere presence in the temple compelled the people to be ashamed of their sins. His “otherliness” caused the people to sense their sinfulness. Everything about the temple portrayed holiness—from the design, to its arrangement, its exits, and entrances.
Part of what made the temple portray the holiness and glory of God were the regulations and laws. In other words, the law of the temple embodied the character, judgment, and love of God. These qualities live in perfect harmony in his presence. Just as Moses designed the tabernacle “according to the pattern shown to him on the mountain,” so the renewed temple will bear witness to God’s holiness. “Second temple” Judaism would give way to the “third temple” Christianity.