Messiah’s Coming Temple, Ezekiel’s Prophetic Vision of the Future Temple By John W. Schmitt and J. Carl Laney (Kregel Publications: 2013) 224 pp., Paperback $12.99

Messiah’s Coming Temple (MCT) is about the future temple which is prophesied in the Bible, particularly in Ezekiel 40-48. Many interpreters of the Bible try to allegorize or “spiritualize” the prophet’s vision of the temple, but Schmitt and Laney take pains to demonstrate the natural reading of the text: a future, physical temple will one day be built in the land of Israel. Interpreters in the dispensational tradition will heartily agree with this thesis, and overall the authors do a good job of “unpacking” the scriptural vision of a future temple.

The book is particularly strong in dealing with architectural features of the new temple (one of the authors – John Schmitt – apparently built the first major model of Ezekiel’s temple). I thus learned much about the dimensions, as well as the “look and feel” of the temple described by Ezekiel. MCT contains some very interesting photos and outstanding sketches of the forthcoming temple compound. There are also good summary chapters about the prophet Ezekiel, the history of past temples and prior efforts at rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem.

That said, I found the book to be weaker when it came to interacting with various theological challenges that are posed against a future (physical) temple. Whilst some objections are discussed, I was surprised that various common viewpoints espoused by NT scholars – particularly those from streams of Covenant/New Covenant Theology- received virtually no attention. By way of example, various commentary writers use a “fulfilment and replacement” motif when it comes to passages like John 2:17-22 (and John 15:1). The idea is that because Jesus fulfils the function of the temple (or of Israel, as the vine), Jesus becomes the new temple in that he is now the meeting place between God and man. To illustrate, DA Carson, in his commentary on John’s gospel writes on John 2:21:

It was important that worship of God in its precincts be pure (2:13-17); it is even more important to recognize that the temple itself pointed forward to a better and final meeting-point between God and human beings (cf. 1:51; 4:21-24). Jesus cleansed the Temple; under this typological reading of the Old Testament, he also replaced it, fulfilling its purposes. [1]

The authors of MCT advance the idea that the body of Christ becomes the meeting place between God and man in this age:

Those who have become believers in Jesus Christ have become God’s Temple. Believers in Christ are God’s representation of what the Temple was designed to communicate to humanity. [2]

Although the promise of God to dwell amongst His people (Ezek 43:7 etc) is mentioned frequently in the book, little attention is given to interaction with non-dispensational writers who would insist that the temple motif is “fulfilled” in Jesus and the Church such that no future, literal temple would be required. (In addition to the passage in John quoted above, this viewpoint would be based on text such as 1 Cor 3:18-19 [3] and 2 Cor 6:16-18).

In my view, the authors also overstate the temple motif at times; in part this may be due to their fascination with the subject. I am simply unconvinced by sentiments like the following:

The Temple is a theme that ties the Bible together from beginning to end – the presence of God among His people forever. [4]

[Surely it would be better to say that the temple is part of the biblical theme of God’s presence being amongst His people].

… the Temple is important because it has the potential to encourage your spiritual life and motivate you in Christian service. On many occasions, discouraged and weary Christian workers have found that a study of the Temple brings a new enthusiasm and excitement about our part in God’s plan for the ages.[5]

Studying the temple is important, because the theme of the temple is part of “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27, 2 Tim 3:16) and because the temple teaches us many spiritual truths. Belief in a (physical) future temple is important in maintaining the perspicuity of Scripture, and upholding the faithfulness of God to fulfil His promises. Nonetheless, the primary encouragement for discouraged Christian workers, and those who need motivation in their spiritual lives, is to look to Christ to sustain and strengthen them. We are told to look to Christ (Heb 12:1-3) and to the witness of faithful followers of Christ (Heb 11 and 13 etc). On a practical level, we need the fellowship of other believers (Heb 10:24-25). Studying the temple may provide some encouragement in some circumstances, but it is certainly not a panacea to the struggles of the Christian life.

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to sentiments like the following (and I write as a Jewish believer in Messiah):

  • While doing our final editing for this book, our hearts were thrilled by a headline we spotted on the second page of the Jerusalem Post. The headline reads, “Justice Minister Favours Temple Mount Worship… Exciting things are happening in Jerusalem! [6]

  • Since the reestablishment of the nation of Israel as a Jewish state in 1948, there has been increased interest in rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. It is indeed thrilling to see Jewish people actively labouring for what may become the fulfilment of prophecy. [7]

  • What a privilege to have been involved in conversation with a Jewish leader who is planning for the reestablishment of the Jerusalem Temple. [8]

While I understand where the authors are coming from, and see that in one way it is “exciting” to see the outworking of God’s plan(s) in history, I am not necessarily thrilled by the idea of a temple being built by the Jewish people in coming years. In this age, God may only be approached through the shed blood of Messiah, and so any temple that is built prior to Israel’s national repentance will not be looked upon favourably by God. By way of analogy, I am not “thrilled” when I think about or see the increasing apostasy amongst professing Christians, in fulfilment of 2 Timothy 4:1-4. On the one hand, I know that these things must come to pass for God’s Holy Word to be vindicated. On the other hand, much suffering falls upon many people when men approach God on their own terms rather than submitting to His righteousness in Messiah, and much damage is done to men who reject the sound doctrine which comes from God via His apostles and prophets.

In this regard, an appropriate addition to this book would be how Christians should respond if an earthly temple is indeed built in Jerusalem, by unrepentant Israel, patterned after Herod’s temple. There is much infatuation nowadays in various Christian circles with Rabbinic Judaism, to the extent that some groups seem to be flirting with a Galatian-type-heresy. One can only imagine the excitement amongst certain Christian (or professing Christian) groups if the opportunity arises to attend, and even participate in, worship at a rebuilt temple. Given all the attention in MCT on the possibility of a temple being rebuilt prior to the coming of the antichrist, it seems that not much attention has been given to developing an appropriate Christian response to such a structure (see, for example, passages like Isaiah 66:1-5).

Another area of the book where I would have appreciated more discussion has to do with the current Jewish viewpoint on the design of the next temple to be built. It is clear that the authors favour the viewpoint that another temple will be built prior to Ezekiel’s temple (which means that there are still two temples to be built in the future). [9] They also document some of the dilemmas faced by Rabbinic Judaism because of the differences between the sacrifices and altar described in Torah, and those described by Ezekiel. [10] MCT mentions that at present, the Jewish people intend to build another temple that is patterned after Herod’s temple. I think that more time should have been given to this issue, and would have appreciated some documented Jewish sources in this regard, in addition to simply reporting conversations with Jewish religious leaders.

On a theological level, many object to a literal understanding of a Millennial Temple because they assume that the finality of the sacrifice of Christ, in dealing with the sins of His people, would thereby be jeopardized. The authors emphasis that Millennial offerings will in no way supersede or diminish the sacrifice of Christ (for example offerings that are made to express gratitude or as memorials of the completed work of Christ, similar to the function served by communion in this age). However, the purpose of future Millennial temple sacrifices is dealt with in far greater depth by other dispensational writers, and in comparison, the treatment in this book to be rather superficial. [11]

More time (and caution) should have been applied to some of the conclusions in chapter 15, entitled “What is Missing from Messiah’s Temple?” For example, when explaining the absence of “the court of the women,” the authors quote Galatians 3:27-28, and write:

The answer is found in Galatians 3:27-28. Paul is emphasizing that in Christ believers become part of a spiritual unity that invalidates superficial, human distinctions. Whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, all believers share in spiritual equality with the same access into the presence of God. [12]

While I would be in full agreement that salvific access to God comes purely by grace through faith, on the basis of the work of Christ (and the absence of the court of women, and the wall of partition, in Ezekiel’s temple may well illustrate this principle), I take issue with referring to gender distinctions as “superficial, human distinctions.” Galatians 3:27-28 just can’t be stretched this far. It is also ironic in a book that emphasises the (typical dispensational) distinction between the church and Israel that the same type of reasoning used by many Covenant Theologians and egalitarians has crept into the authors’ book!

When discussing the absence of the laver, the authors explain that:

Because of the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5), which believers receive through faith in Christ, ceremonial cleansing will be unnecessary when the Messiah returns… The laver will not be needed in the Messiah’s Temple because the blood of Jesus has provided sufficient spiritual cleansing for all God’s people. [13]

I am troubled that so sweeping a theological conclusion has been drawn with relatively little argumentation. My understanding is that many dispensational thinkers would argue that various types of ceremonial cleansing will be necessary in the Millennial Kingdom, even though these have nothing to do with removing the penalty of sin (which the sacrifice of Christ has done once and for all, per the book of Hebrews.) Once again, it seems to me that the authors have not interacted sufficiently with various treatments (particularly by dispensationalists), about the different offerings under “kingdom law”, and the purposes for those offerings.

Talking of glorified saints, the authors make the dubious statement that:

.. we see believers being part of this Temple, not so much as worshippers, but as rulers with Jesus. This is our role in the messianic kingdom: to be ministers to the King of Kings and be involved in His reign. [14]

Assuming that the authors only mean that no sacrifices will be made by glorified saints, I cannot fathom why worship of the King would be precluded, particularly since glorified saints will worship Messiah for all eternity?

Though not a criticism, it may interest readers of this journal that the authors advance a viewpoint tending toward progressive dispensationalism. They write in an appendix that:

The kingdom of God has been inaugurated but is not yet culminated. It is a present, developing reality to be fully realized at the return of Christ – the King. Then the literal throne, dynasty, and kingdom (Luke 1:32-33) will be consummated. Ezekiel’s Temple will be built in Jerusalem and serve as the worship center for this future kingdom age. [15]

To summarise my review: while this book will be useful to students of Scripture, there are too many unguarded and speculative statements in MCT for me to unreservedly recommend this book as a robust treatment of the theology of the future temple(s). The book certainly has merit in defending and illustrating what the Bible says about a future temple being built in the Millennium, and is outstanding on issues relating to the physical structure of that temple. For these reasons I think the book is worth reading. However, for those who would like a robust theological treatment of the purposes of the temple offerings and interaction with criticisms and statements made by, for example, amillennial scholars, this book will likely disappoint. Perhaps what I long to read is a fresh and carefully nuanced book that articulates premillennialism, and defends the doctrine against contemporary attacks.

Reviewed by Michael van Andel, theological student, South Africa

[1] DA Carson, PNTC, The Gospel According to John, p. 182.

[2] MCT, p. 42.

[3] Brief reference to 1 Corinthians 3 is made on p. 16

[4] MCT, p. 42.

[5] MCT, p. 20.

[6] MCT, pp. 20-21.

[7] MCT, p. 58.

[8] MCT, p. 126.

[9] Although the authors hedge their view on this on page 131.

[10] MCT, pp. 144-146.

[11] See for example, Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of the Messiah (Revised Edition), pp. 458-463, and sources cited there.

[12] MCT, p. 184.

[13] MCT, p. 184, in the interests of space I have elided quotes of 1 John 1:9 and John 15:3.

[14] MCT, p. 229.

[15] MCT, p. 206.

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