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Volume 17, Issue 5: Stauron

Reading the Lines, III

Gary Hagen

The dispensationalist hermeneutic normally favors a literalist exegesis. However, a consistently literal approach quickly grows in on itself and becomes lame. It is always best to let the New Testament be our guide to interpretation of the Old Testament scriptures. Yet even before surveying New Testament commentary on this we can easily see wide variation evident within Old Testament prophetic visions and dreams themselves. Consider Pharaoh's dreams. Joseph declares the Pharaoh's dreams to be one. Yet they were vastly different metaphors—cows and grain—and neither one appeared in the dream as seven literal years. Again in the book of Daniel we see first Nebuchadnezzar's dream of a large statue, and later Daniel's own vision of a ram and a goat. Both revealed the future successions of the kingdoms of men after the Babylonian empire (Media and Persia, Greece, etc.) using disparate imagery. Once again, widely different descriptions reveal the same truth. But in neither was the imagery literally anything to do with kingdoms. As a result we easily see in just these two examples that not everything in biblical prophecy lends itself to a literal exposition.

Many have spiritualized Ezekiel's temple vision to be a picture of heaven or even of the church—and not without some merit (e.g., 2 Cor. 6:16; 1 Cor 3:16, 6:19; 1 Pet 2:5, 4:17; Eph 2:21; 1 Tim 3:15; Heb 3:6). But perhaps the most definitive verse on all this is one less often cited.
In Acts 15:16, James attests that the rise of the Christian church—which now includes the Gentile converts with the Jewish remnant—was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies about the rebuilding of the ruins of the "tabernacle of David." Oddly enough, he spoke those words during a time in which the Jewish temple at Jerusalem was not only already rebuilt, but had reached an historical apex of architectural glory (Josephus: Ant. xv.11; Jn. 2:20; Matt 24:2). Some say that the "tabernacle of David" was merely speaking of a Davidic house, a royal reign. But the words which James is quoting from Amos 9:11 sound every bit like a construction project ("rebuild it as in the days of old," "has fallen down," "repair its damages," "raise up its ruins"). And the Holy Spirit tells us through this scripture that the architectural language, and that of the other prophecies like it, was speaking about the church.
Others object that the detailed description of Ezekiel's temple must indicate a literal physical structure. But this would mean that the detailed physical structure and measurements given of the New Jerusalem must also indicate a literal physical city. And yet John declares in Rev. 22:9-21 that this city is symbolic of the church—the bride of Christ.
In addition, Jesus repeatedly taught that all Scripture pointed to him, and that scripture was fulfilled in him. We see in Matthew 12:6 that Jesus declares himself to be greater than the temple. Indeed, in John 2:19-22, Jesus declares his body to be the temple. This was not simply a convenient play on words. John repeats this declaration in Revelation 21:22 where he again informs us that the new heaven and the new earth have no temple, "for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple."
Jesus showed that his body was not only the last sacrifice, but the final temple as well. We see this in John 4:21 when he declares to the woman at the well that the time was now here when none would worship either at the Samaritan temple in Mt. Gerezim, nor in the temple at Jerusalem. Rather they would worship in spirit and truth. He then speaks with Old Testament temple imagery (found in Ezekiel, Joel, and Zechariah) declaring himself to be that new temple. The prophets declared that living water would flow out of God's temple.
Ezekiel 47:1-12 describes a river that flows from the temple, giving life and producing fruit laden trees on its banks. John's revelation provides a very similar description (22:1-5) of water flowing from the throne of the Lamb. On this the visions of John and Ezekiel are one. Given this, we can also understand Christ's earlier description of Himself as the source of life-giving water (Jn. 4:10-14). And in John 7:39, Jesus revealed that this water is the Holy Spirit. Peter speaks in Acts 2:16 of the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost as that which was prophesied by the prophet Joel. In Joel 3:18 we find "a fountain shall flow from the house of the Lord and water the Valley of Acacias." This is the same valley where the river of Ezekiel flows (also cf. Zech. 14:8).
In Isaiah's prophecy about Christ as the "branch from the root of Jesse," he speaks of a time without the curse of sin: the wolf dwelling with the lamb, the leopard lying down with the kid, the lion eating straw like an ox. He also declares that there will not be any sacrifice in that day, for they shall not hurt nor destroy in all His holy mountain (Is. 11:9). And there will be no need for a recovery of the former sacrificial tools of Levitical learning—for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Jesus, as the waters cover the sea.

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