How does the OPC interpret the Ezekiel 40-47 passage describing the new city and the new temple?
Thanks for the question. The OPC doesn't make proclamations in respect to certain portions of Scripture. Yet all ministers are required to answer yes to the following vow: "Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures?" (Form of Government XXIII-8-(2))
The Confession of Faith (XXXIV-2 & 3) and the Larger Catechism (Q & A 87) explicitly teach that there will be one bodily resurrection of the dead - both of the righteous and the wicked - contrary to the premillennial view of one resurrection of the righteous (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) and another of the wicked (Revelation 20:11-15) divided by a thousand or more years. So the literal fulfillment has not come, nor is there any possibility of those chapters being literally fulfilled in the present New Testament era. Proof of this statement can be found in Hebrews 7:26-10:39. In fact, the central message of Hebrews is that the old, ceremonial worship of the Old Testament has given place to a new tabernacle in heaven where Christ entered after His death and resurrection. (See Hebrews 8:1-6.) So there can never be a return to animal sacrifices.
So, as there is no reference to the fulfillment of these chapters in the rest of the Old Testament, and the book of Hebrews shows that they cannot be fulfilled after the resurrection of our Lord, how then should we understand them? In the first place, what many prophetic teachers fail to observe about Old Testament prophecies is that when a prophecy is made to be fulfilled in a future age, it is always given in terms of the age in which it is given, but it is fulfilled in terms of a future age.
A prime example of this is found in Acts 15: 13-18. The prophecy which announced the rebuilding or the "tabernacle of David which has fallen down" is quoted from Amos 9:11-12. Yet how is it fulfilled according to Acts 15:15 and following? By the inclusion of Gentiles into the New Testament church through faith in Christ alone without the necessity of circumcision or the keeping of the Mosaic law. And both passages quoted are written under inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16)! There are numerous instances of such prophecies, especially in the book of Isaiah.
Now let me comment on the chapters in question. The final section of Ezekiel really begins with chapter 37 with the vision of the Valley of Dry Bones. This is another prophecy that was never literally fulfilled in the Old Testament. Why is it there? Verse 11 gives the reason: At the time of the Babylonian Exile, the remainder of Israel were thinking, "Our bones are dried up and our hope is perished. We are completely cut off." God was saying that this was not so. And it wasn't a physical resurrection that the prophet was conveying to Israel, but a spiritual one because no such physical record of resurrection is a matter of record.
Further on in the chapter another encouragement was given them by the two sticks in Ezekiel's hand named "Judah" and "Joseph" representing the division between Judah and the northern tribes of Israel after the death of Solomon. As the two sticks seemed to become one in the prophet's hand, so Israel and Judah will be reunited in God's hand. By the time of this prophecy Israel had long been in captivity to the Assyrians, and a literal re-uniting of the two never took place. True, some had returned to Jerusalem in Josiah's time, but the northern tribes never came back to heal the breach. Yet a greater breach was healed after Pentecost - the ingathering of the Gentiles.
Note these other notices in the chapters having to do with the rebuilt temple: (1) The prince, the people, and the worshipers were all perfectly righteous. Yet righteous perfection in literal Israel never appears to the end of New Testament history. (2) The dimensions of the temple and its surrounding common grounds do not fit the geographical configuration of Palestine. It has been said that the equal division of land to all the twelve tribes listed in chapter 48, in addition to the common grounds around the temple, would extend way out into the Mediterranean Sea. I've never personally tried to check this out, though I don't doubt that there is something of a problem there since the original division of Canaan was not an equal division, but the numerically larger tribes received larger portions of land. And none of them was rectangular in shape. (3) Chapter 47 tells us that a stream of water came from under the southern side of the most holy place. And as it flowed, it multiplied in depth and quantity - first ankle deep, then knee deep, then waist deep, and finally too deep to cross. This is obviously symbolic to represent that, under the ministry of the Holy Spirit, commencing with Pentecost, the gospel would go world-wide! And God's saving grace multiplies as it extends.
I'm not making light of Scripture. It's all a beautiful symbolic picture of the of the heavenly Kingdom with the coming of the New Heavens and the New Earth (Isaiah 65:17-25; 66:22-23; 2 Peter 3:10-13). In fact the book of Revelation is primarily Apocalyptic (unveiling of future glory by means of dramatic symbols). Add to that the Old Testament passages such as Daniel chapters 7-12. And, while all the chapters of Ezekiel don't seem to be equally exotic, Chapters 37 through 48 fit that category, including 38 and 39 " the Battle of Armageddon, which prophecy is fulfilled in Revelation 20:7-11!
I hope this answers your question. I cannot affirm that all ministers in the OPC agree with what I've written. But our doctrinal standards certainly do. I could give you more scriptural support. But this is longer than I expected when I commenced. Please feel free to return with further questions for clarification.
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