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Joy-Full Fellowship (Part 5): The Prophets

Following the apex of Israel’s glory with the construction of the Solomonic temple, the biblical drama enters a period of sustained decline with the occasional righteous Davidic king temporarily suspending its ultimate demise. The inhabitants of Jerusalem repeatedly fail to meet the standards of holiness appropriate to dwell with their gracious God who had redeemed them from Egypt for holy and joyful service in his presence.[1] The Lord is patient with them, but in the end they were unable to reverse course and so incurred the judgment of God as discipline with the gracious intention of restoring them: the temple is destroyed and Jerusalem is overthrown. Israel is traumatically sent into exile (Ps. 137).

The prophets take center stage in the lead up to the exile in both Israel in the north and Judah in the south. At the heart of their message is the hope of a future restoration and an impending eschatological temple that will far exceed even the glory of the Solomonic temple. Israel is to cling to this message as she is purged as through fire in exile (Isa. 48:10).

Isaiah: The Fullness of Joy in the New Creation

We have already noted the common theme of the various sanctuaries of God being located on a mountain. In continuation with this, Isaiah foresees the mountain of the Lord, Zion, being established as the highest mountain, which is to say that “God himself will be exalted in majesty as he exercises supreme authority over the whole earth. This expectation brings to fulfillment God’s creation blueprint, for it anticipates the Lord dwelling in a temple-city that will fill the whole earth.”[2]

This is found, for example, in Isaiah 65:17-25. Significant about this passage is that the creation of the new heaven and new earth parallels the creation of Jerusalem (cf. Isa. 24:23). “Jerusalem is deliberately equated here with the new heavens and the new earth”(cf. Rev. 21:1-2).[3] Thus, Isaiah is expectant of a divinely transformed Jerusalem that encompasses the whole earth, but without the previous shortcomings and fractures in holiness. In this renewed city, the refulgence of the presence of God will be so blinding that there will be no need for sun or moon (Isa. 60:15-20) and we, the reconciled and re-created people of God, will experience the glory of the fullness of joy in everlasting fellowship with our triune God.

Ezekiel: The Eschatological Presence of God

Ezekiel likewise contributes much to the theme of God’s joyfully-charged presence on earth with his people. In one of the most remarkable visions of the Old Testament, Ezekiel sees the ineffable chariot-throne of God riding toward Babylon (see 1 Chron. 28:18). The same glory that led Israel in the wilderness, descended on Mount Sinai, and filled the tabernacle and temple is now speeding before Israel to Babylon. Thus, the presence of God (remember the connection between God’s glory and presence) is not limited to a certain locale as was the case with the tabernacle and the temple, nor is it limited nationally to Israel; instead, it is wherever God’s people are. The remarkable thing is that the Lord is going into exile with his people—he has not abandoned them.

Ezekiel prophesies that Jerusalem and the temple will be destroyed and the glory (and so presence) of the Lord will depart from the city in judgment. Yet, Ezekiel shines a bright light of hope as chapters 40-48 record another vision that focuses on God’s return to a restored land and a new, idealized eschatological temple set within a renewed city.[4] The presence of God will return, it has not been permanently lost in the exile and the great hope is that the return of his presence will far exceed anything Israel has experienced in her history so far. Though Jerusalem is to be destroyed, it will be rebuilt and renamed, “The LORD is there” (Ezek. 48:35).

The Return from Exile

Israel eventually returns to the land according to the decree of Cyrus and begins rebuilding the temple. However, this temple does not fully meet the expectations of the prophetic vision of a temple greater than Solomon’s; in fact, it pales in comparison, even bringing some to tears at its completion (Ezra 3:12). In this context Zechariah encourages the people that God will return to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem (Zech. 8). “While the completed structure was unable to match the splendour of the temple constructed by Solomon, its erection was a powerful signal that God was still concerned to fulfill his creation blueprint.”[5]

The message of the Old Testament ends on a note of hope as the prophets speak of a coming eschatological temple, but the mystery remains regarding how the major obstacles that have proven disastrous in the past (especially Israel’s inability to be a holy nation) will be overcome. So in a cloud of mystery awaiting revelation, the prophets anticipate something greater than the temple to enter into their midst.

[1] The concept of appropriateness of expression is taken from Geerhardus Vos, who writes, “The law was given after the redemption from Egypt had been accomplished, and the people had already entered upon the enjoyment of many of the blessings of the berith [covenant]. Particularly their taking possession of the promised land could not have been made dependent on previous observance of the law, for during their journey in the wilderness many of its prescripts could not be observed. It is plain, then, that law-keeping did not figure at that juncture as the meritorious ground of life-inheritance. The latter is based on grace alone… But, while this is so, it might still be objected, that law-observance, if not the ground for receiving, is yet made the ground for retention of the privileges inherited. Here it can not, of course, be defined that a real connection exists. But the Judaizers went wrong in inferring that the connection must be meritorious, that, if Israel keeps the cherished gifts of Jehovah through observance of His law, this must be so, because in strict justice they had earned them. The connection is of a totally different kind. It belongs not to the legal sphere of merit, but to the symbolico-typical sphere of appropriateness of expression” (Biblical Theology, 127).

[2] Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, 52.

[3] Ibid., 54.

[4] See Taylor, “Temple in Ezekiel,” 67-69.

[5] Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, 58.


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