Christ our Temple, River, and City

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 48.35
“And the name of the city from that time on will be: the Lord is there.”

Reflection: Christ our Temple, River, and City
By John Tillman

Ezekiel spends a huge amount of his text describing the terrors, the corruption, and injustice of the city of Jerusalem and its Temple. Then, in his final chapters, he gives us a vision of a new temple, a river, and a city to come.

This temple and city Ezekiel describes bear little resemblance to the temple he knew or the temples to come in the future. In just one example, in chapter 47, Ezekiel describes a river that flows from the restored Temple. The river grows deeper and wider, until it can no longer be crossed. When this river meets the Salt Sea, the Dead Sea, it makes it alive again, bringing back to life not only the aquatic life, but the entire ecological system.

If Ezekiel’s visions sound familiar, it may be because, in Revelation, John’s visions of God’s city and the river flowing from it are remarkably similar.

Just because God’s city and temple have only been seen by visionaries and prophets, doesn’t mean they aren’t real or accessible to us today. John and Ezekiel may not intend to show us a physical temple or city that we will ever see on earth, but rather something else entirely.

Perhaps the temple of Ezekiel has never been seen on Earth because it is not a temple built by human hands. Perhaps the temple Ezekiel sees is the same one Christ told the Pharisees could be destroyed and rebuilt in three days.

Christ himself is our temple.
He is the gate, the doorway, through which we enter to worship. He is our priest, he is the offerer of the only sacrifice capable of covering our sin and our only mediator before God.

Christ is our river
, flowing as the Holy Spirit into our lives, into our cities, into our dead, dry, and poisoned environments. His river-like spirit brings life to what is dead and healing to what is sickened by the waste products of our sins’ industrious and destructive revolution.

Christ is our city.
He is our refuge and rest—our strong tower and protected place—our park of peace in the midst of a frantic and fracturing world.

We say, “amen” to these visions.

May we regularly enter the peace of this city, be nourished by this river, and be made righteous in this temple.
May the temple, the city, and the river of these visions come.
May we dwell in the city called, “The Lord is there.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. — Psalm 86.4

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 48  (Listen – 6:15)
Psalm 104 (Listen – 3:37)

Read More about Last Priest Standing
We can rest in the security of knowing that our eternal priest, Jesus the Christ, is forever working for the salvation of those who seek him and he is alive to intercede before God on our behalf.

Read More about Hope Among the Traumatized
This river of living water from the Temple changes the entire environment, bringing life even to the Dead Sea.

Hope Among the Traumatized

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 47.8-9
8 He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. 9 Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live.

Reflection: Hope Among the Traumatized
By John Tillman

Ezekiel is unique as an exiled, suffering prophet without power or political influence. When Ezekiel speaks of his home it is with longing and sadness, as a place that he knows he will never see again except in his visions.

Ezekiel is processing his own trauma and ministering to the traumatized. Many prophets bore warnings of future catastrophe. Ezekiel ministered to those for whom, catastrophe was past and present. He often spoke of the future but much of his ministry was making sense of the past. 

Ezekiel’s audience was traumatized by the consequences of their own actions. He spoke to people suffering under judgment, those who had been unfaithful. He lived among and served rebels who lost a war and oppressors who became oppressed. 

With all of Ezekiel’s baggage, (traumatized, suffering, living among the corrupt, dominated by an evil empire) we might expect to find him embittered, angry, and insufferably judgmental. Wouldn’t we be? Yet, Ezekiel is, more often than not, a prophet of hope. 

Ezekiel did teach hard truths and deliver sharp and biting critiques. He pulled no prophetic punches, yet he still, with kid-gloves, delivers God’s messages of hope, love, and restoration.

Ezekiel has unique prophetic experiences. Ezekiel is often transported physically across distances to witness events that happen in Jerusalem and in the transcendent future. Ezekiel, in his visions, sees both the surface reality and the deeper spiritual activity. Rather than a separate spiritual plane, Ezekiel experienced an integrated physical and spiritual world.

Ezekiel gives us one of the strangest, most otherworldly images of God. Ezekiel describes a God so other, holy, powerful, and perfect that we can hardly imagine that he should care for us or that we are somehow expected to be images of him.

In one of Ezekiel’s final visions, water trickles from the Temple into the land, becoming a river. This river of living water from the Temple changes the entire environment, bringing life even to the Dead Sea. Jesus identified himself as this spring, this source, of living water. (John 7.37-39

We are, each of us, a temple of the Holy Spirit and the living water Jesus and Ezekiel described should flow from us. Traumatized rebels live all around us in a Dead Sea of failures and sins. From our lives may there flow trickles of hope, which combine into a river that brings to life the Dead Sea and brings healing to the nations.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Be still, then, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth. — Psalm 46.11

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 47  (Listen – 4:08)
Psalm 103 (Listen – 2:07)

Read more about A Temple for Exiles
God is measuring out a temple of living stones which rest upon the chief cornerstone of Christ.

Read more about Model of an Exile
Ezekiel didn’t preach attempting to prevent the judgment of God—he already lived under it. Ezekiel is an exile. We have this in common with him.

Leaders Against Oppression

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 45.8-9
8 …and my princes will no longer oppress my people but will allow the people of Israel to possess the land according to their tribes. 
9 “ ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: You have gone far enough, princes of Israel! Give up your violence and oppression and do what is just and right. Stop dispossessing my people, declares the Sovereign LORD. 

Reflection: Leaders Against Oppression
By John Tillman

Continuing his vision of the new city of God and its temple, Ezekiel describes an equitable division of the land among the tribes. Then he gives a special warning to the “princes” that they must not abuse their position or power.

So what are princes to do?

“Do justice, walk humbly, and love mercy” are easy to assent to but harder to live up to. Specific things Ezekiel mentions are giving up violence and oppression and to stop seizing people’s property unjustly. 

Property, wealth, and debt are frequently addressed in scripture and frequently the implication is that debts should be forgiven and wealth should not be hoarded or go unused. God expects those with wealth to put it to use doing good, not pile it up for themselves for a life of ease.

The word translated “princes” could refer to kings or royal family members but is more often a general term for any leader. These “princes” were typically wealthy or powerful individuals, religious leaders, and governmental officials. The word more literally means “one lifted up” or “exalted one” and its root word can also be used to refer to a rising vapor or cloud (Psalm 135.7; Proverbs 25.14; Jeremiah 10.13; 51.16). 

This root word creates an analogy that can be instructive to and a warning for leaders. Princes, or leaders, are like vapor, mist, or clouds. They are not raised up by their own power. Their time is short and their power is intended to be transitory, impermanent, and light. They are intended to bring refreshing dew in the morning, shade in the heat of the day, and rain in the afternoon. They should be sources of blessing and regeneration for the land and the people, not like dry, harsh, greedy winds, taking from the land every scrap of moisture that can be absorbed.

God says his princes will “no longer oppress.” May that day come soon. In whatever way we are lifted up, may we remember God’s charge to his leaders.

While we wait for this idyllic future city of God, may we work to ensure that the powerful are warned not to be abusive. May we live in such a way that others will not be dispossessed. May we grasp power fearfully and with humility, understanding that God’s first concern with power is that it must not be abused.  

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer

Bless the Lord, you angels of his, you mighty ones who do his bidding, and hearken to the voice of his word.
Bless the Lord, all you his hosts, you ministers of his who do his will.
Bless the Lord, all you works of his, in all places of his dominion, bless the Lord, O my soul.
— Psalm 103.20-22

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 45  (Listen – 5:32)
Psalm 99-101 (Listen – 2:48)

Read more about Lament the Fall of Leaders (Even Bad Ones)
Your life will always be in danger when you aren’t telling the powerful what they want to hear.

Read more about Seeking God’s Servant
God’s servant is different than would be expected of a king or worldly leader.

A Temple for Exiles

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 40.4
4 The man said to me, “Son of man, look carefully and listen closely and pay attention to everything I am going to show you, for that is why you have been brought here. Tell the people of Israel everything you see.” 

Reflection: A Temple for Exiles
By John Tillman

It would be difficult to find an event shocking enough to us that would compare to how the Israelites felt about the razing of Jerusalem’s temple. Perhaps the fire in the cathedral of Notre Dame would come close. Perhaps the collapse of the twin towers on 911 would approach it. 

There is more, however, to the fall of the temple than it being a place of worship or an extraordinary costly loss. What made it most shocking was that the people thought it was invulnerable. They thought it was such a holy place that God would not allow it to fall.

The irony is that the very people who were banking on God protecting the temple because it was holy were the ones making the temple an unholy place. The worship there was annoying to God in its myopic hypocrisy and selfishness. (Isaiah 1.13-15)

Fourteen years after the destruction of the Temple and twenty-five years into his exile, Ezekiel is given a vision of the temple and the city restored.

The city is described in minute detail, being measured out by a figure whose appearance is “like bronze.” Bronze is often used as a metaphor for strength and spiritual beings are often depicted as having bodies “like bronze.” Christ appearing to John on Patmos, the angel who visits Daniel, and Ezekiel’s measuring man all have features or portions of their bodies described in this way. (Ezekiel 1.5-8; 40.3; Daniel 7.19; 10.6; Revelation 1.15; 2.18)

This temple’s measurements do not match the one Ezra would build nor do they match Herod’s renovation that Jesus would visit, cleanse, and teach in. This temple is for the exiles.

Watching this new, improved temple being measured must have been an incredibly moving experience for Ezekiel. It must have brought joy and hope to those who followed Ezekiel’s teaching.

This temple, not made by human hands, also may have been inspiring to the followers of Jesus who envisioned the New Testament church as God’s new temple and believers as priests. The church is a temple for exiles. (Matthew 21.12-16)

God is measuring out a temple of living stones which rest upon the chief cornerstone of Christ. (Psalm 118.22)

May we, in priestly humility, draw close to worship him even amidst our exile.
May zeal for this living temple, exceed our zeal for earthly kingdoms. (John 2.14-17; Psalm 69.9)
May we, living stones, cry out praise to him.
May we be a house of prayer for all nations.
May we be a temple for exiles.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
The same stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. — Psalm 118.22

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 40  (Listen – 8:21)
Psalm 91 (Listen – 1:39)

Read more about Treasuring Our Temples
It is difficult to overstate how confident Judah was that God treasured the Temple and, for the sake of his name, would never allow it to be defiled or harmed.

Read more about Comfortable Prophecies
O God, help us not be misled by false prophets offering comfort instead of truth.

Repurposed Weapons

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 39.9-10
9 Then those who live in the towns of Israel will go out and use the weapons for fuel and burn them up—the small and large shields, the bows and arrows, the war clubs and spears. For seven years they will use them for fuel. 10 They will not need to gather wood from the fields or cut it from the forests, because they will use the weapons for fuel. 

Reflection: Repurposed Weapons

By John Tillman

Ezekiel describes a future war against God’s people that is ended through supernatural means and has an unlikely outcome.

John, in Revelation (Revelation 20.7-11), makes direct reference to this earlier prophecy from Ezekiel, revealing that it is Satan that deceives Gog and Magog, leading them in warfare to their destruction. (Revelation 20.9)

This apocalyptic prophecy is full of poetic symbolism without a simple, decipherable, literal interpretation. An interesting detail is that the weapons left behind by the fallen enemy army will be used as fuel by God’s people for seven years. 

We don’t often cook over fires anymore and modern weapons would not leave much wood behind but that does not mean this vision is unfulfilled. This image is part of a repeated theme in prophecy that humanity’s tools of warfare and destruction will be remade into implements of peace and cultivation. 

What is intended for evil will be used for good. Wooden weaponry will be fuel for cooking fires. Swords will be beaten into plows. God takes weapons that are intended to end life and turns them into tools that bring life. Look at what he did with the cross. 

The Romans and religious leaders thought the cross would end Jesus’ life. The Roman Empire thought that if crucifying Jesus wasn’t enough, they’d crucify thousands of his followers. But the cross couldn’t end the life of the church any more than it could end the life of Jesus. 

The wooden weapon of the cross became a symbol that fuels hope. Every empire that has opposed it has fallen. Hundreds of Empires since have thought that violence by blade, fire, or bullet could stop the church and the gospel. Yet, every empire that opposes it will fall.  The kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our God. (Revelation 11.15)

Our world, and Satan who rules it, wants us, like Gog and Magog, to be their weapons. “Used in their wars. Used for their gain.” (Rich Mullins, “Higher Education and the Book of Love”) Tragically, we are often deceived and march to war with them, but in Christ we, who have been weaponized, can be remade, recycled, and repurposed. 

May we no longer be swords and shields but basins and towels. (John 13.5
No longer murderers but nourishers.
No longer aggressors but comforters.
No longer destroyers but cultivators.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Hear, O my people, and I will admonish you: O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not worship a foreign god.
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and said, “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.” — Psalm 81.8-10

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 39  (Listen – 4:51)
Psalm 90 (Listen – 2:03)

Read more about God of all Nations
To serious students of scripture, it seems ludicrous that we must repeat that God is not American, not White, and not partial to any race. But repeat it, we must.

Read more about Of Pride and The Sword
Despite how Egypt, or any nation, postures itself, those who live by the sword will fall by it. Those who profit by violence will face justice.

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