The revelations given to Emanuel Swedenborg in the 18th century solve many mysteries of the Bible and Christianity, foremost of which his writings reveal how and why scripture is Divinely inspired (see What books are Divinely Inspired?
). I thought I would provide here the spiritual meaning of Ezekiel's vision of the third temple (see Ezek. 40-48), as described in the writings of Swedenborg. It is commonly called the "third" temple, the first having been built by King Solomon which was destroyed by Babylon in the 6th century B.C., and the following second temple having been destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. The temple as seen in the vision of Ezekiel has never been built. Detailed measurements have been provided in the vision so that physical reconstructions can easily be made. Here is a video showing a 3D view of the temple, going verse by verse through the 40th chapter:
This follow up covers chapter 41:
This follow up covers chapters 42-43:
Here is another 3D video, less detailed. However they get closer to the truth in that they realize the temple is in the form of a human body:
There are two main views of Ezekiel's vision of the temple. The first is the literalist view, which states that at some future date the temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem. The second view is that it is spiritually symbolic. So which is correct? Most who see all the detailed measurements, might conclude it is describing a literal temple. But there are several problems with a literalist view.
PROBLEM #1: THE DIVISION AMONG THE 12 TRIBES OF ISRAEL
Ezekiel's vision specifically describes how the land of Israel should be divided between the 12 tribes of Israel:
The problem here, is that among the Jews the 10 northern tribes went into exile in the 8th century B.C. and never returned, whose identity has been lost among the Gentiles. The present day Jews are for the most part descendants of the tribe of Judah, as well as some of the other tribes. But the specific tribal identities have for the most part been lost.
PROBLEM #2: A RESTORATION OF THE LEVITICAL PRIESTHOOD
This problem is related to the first: if literal, the vision requires the restoration of the Levitical priesthood:
And he said to me, “This chamber that faces south is for the priests who have charge of the temple, and the chamber that faces north is for the priests who have charge of the altar. These are the sons of Zadok, who alone among the sons of Levi may come near to the LORD to minister to him.” (Ezek. 40:45-46)
Not only has the tribe of Levi been lost, but there are no means to identify the sons of Zadok, descendants of a priest during the time of King David.
PROBLEM #3: A RESTORATION OF ANIMAL SACRIFICES
As there is a restoration of a Levitical priesthood, the vision describes a restoration of animal sacrifices. These Jewish rituals were abrogated at the coming of Jesus, who became the final sin offering by making his human form one with the Divine. So why is there a restoration of animal sacrifices? Even in the Old Testament, it is stated that the commandments given to the Jews concerning animal sacrifices were not in reality commandments, but rather given to them by way of permission. For in those days, in that culture, the religious ritual of animal sacrifices was embedded in the culture of the Jews and the pagan nations around them. The Jews would not accept any revelation except one that included it. This is the internal hidden meaning of why Moses broke the original 10 commandments and rewrote a second set by his own hand. Animal sacrifices were then permitted, but described in such a way so as to be symbolic of the cleansing of sin by means of spiritual truth. The blood of animals has no effect on one's salvation.
There are some literalists, who state this prophecy will be fulfilled during the millenium when Jesus returns to rule the earth from Jerusalem. Why again would animal sacrifices be restored? A literal kingdom ruling the world from Jerusalem is something some Jews still expect as well. Both do not realize that God's true kingdom is heavenly and spiritual, which resides inside one's heart for those who live by his will.
PROBLEM #4: WHO IS THE MYSTERIOUS PRINCE?
Ezekiel's vision describes a mysterious prince, who is also given a specific portion in the land of Israel. Who is this? The prince has sons (see Ezek. 46:16). If treated literally, only descendants of King David were allowed to rule Israel. And that knowledge, again, has been lost among the Jews.
PROBLEM #5: THE RIVER OF THE TEMPLE
Here is an even bigger problem for literalists: the vision describes a river that flows out of the temple, towards the east, into the Dead Sea. And then it says this:
And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing. (Ezek. 47:12)
What tree gives fruit every month? And has leaves for healing? And leaves that do not wither? If we are really looking at a literal temple, this passage becomes highly problematic.
THE SPIRITUAL SYMBOLISM OF EZEKIEL'S TEMPLE
For rational Biblical critics, who only look at the sense of the letter, the vision of Ezekiel's temple is probably regarded as a failure, a product of wishful thinking on the part of Ezekiel who lived during the destruction of Solomon's temple. Scripture, which reveals eternal spiritual truths, is written in this way at this time because it was a form the Jews at the time were willing to accept and receive. There are Jews today who still don't understand the meaning of this vision and hope to rebuild the temple. But for those who understand the spiritual sense of scripture, everything in this vision is symbolic, including the measurements. This is explained in detail in the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, and the explanation can even be extended to the detailed measurements of the temple:
"Things which are interior in the spiritual world are described, in the Word, by things that are higher, and those which are exterior by things that are lower; for man in the world does not apprehend interior and exterior things in any other manner, because he is in space and time; and the things of space and time have entered into the ideas of his thought, and have given color to most of them. From this also it is manifest that terms relating to measure, which are limitations of space, as heights, lengths, and breadths, are in the spiritual sense those which determine the states of affections for good and affections for truth." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 4484.2)
Those who have studied numerology seek the symbolism of different numbers, and these are spelled out in detail in the writings of Swedenborg. Each number meaning can also be modified by its context or predicate, and whether it is talking about height, width or breadth. Some have noted a similarity between Ezekiel's vision of the temple and the measurements of the New Jerusalem at the end of the book of Revelation, which is likewise given symbolic measurements:
"That measure signifies the state of a thing as to truth, and also the state of a thing as to good, is plain from passages in the Word that give the measurements of the new Jerusalem, and also of the new temple. By the new or the holy Jerusalem is signified the new church of the Lord, in like manner by the temple; wherefore by their measurements are signified states as to truth and as to good — as in John: The angel had a golden reed to measure the holy Jerusalem, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof . . . and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. . . . And he measured the wall thereof, a hundred forty and four cubits, which is the measure of a man, that is, of an angel (Apoc. xxi. 15-17). That the measurements here signify states as to good and truth, is very manifest, for the holy Jerusalem is the new church of the Lord, and the gates and the wall are the protecting truths of faith; twelve thousand mean all truths and goods in the complex; likewise a hundred forty and four (n. 7973), for this number signifies the same with the number twelve, because it arises from twelve multiplied into twelve; that twelve means all truths and goods in the complex, has been already shown..." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 9603.2)
Swedenborg continues, and specifically mentions the measurements given in Ezekiel's temple:
"Also in Ezekiel, where a man who had a measuring reed measured the houses of the new city, and also the temple, as to the outer walls, the inner walls, the gates, the foundations, the thresholds, the windows, the steps (xl.-xlii.). Unless these measurements signified the states of the subject in respect to truth and good, such things would never have been mentioned." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 9603.3)
EVERY SINGLE MEASUREMENT of Ezekiel's temple has a spiritual significance, down to the very number:
"He who does not know that numbers in the Word involve things, cannot conceive otherwise than that where the tabernacle, the temple of Solomon, and afterward a new house and a new temple and a new earth are described in Ezekiel, the measurements and the numbers signify nothing of reality, and therefore nothing of sanctity; when yet in the Word there is no syllable that is vain. Let him who has intelligence consider the measurements and numbers in Ezekiel (xl.-xlviii.) and the measurements and numbers in the Apocalypse (xxi.), where also it is said that the angel measured the wall of the new Jerusalem a hundred forty and four cubits, and that the measure of a man, that is, of an angel (verse 17); also in another passage: He who hath understanding, let him count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man, and his number is six hundred and sixty and six (Apoc. xiii. 18); besides in many passages elsewhere. That all numbers in the Word signify things, may be seen above (n. 482, 487, 575, 647, 648, 755, 813, 1963, 1988, 2075, 2252, 3252, 4264, 4495, 4670, 5265, 5291, 5335, 5708, 6175, 7973), as also where it has been shown what is signified by some numbers in particular."
It would take quite a bit to go through every single measurement of the temple. For some clues, see Spiritual Meaning of Numbers, or Numerology
. Some of this ancient knowledge survives to this day with the superstition regarding "unlucky" number 13 - see Spiritual Numerology - Unlucky Number Thirteen (13)
. If one really wants to dive into it, I can recommend Heavenly Arcana
, a massive multi-volume work of Swedenborg, which comes complete with an index to every topic:
The work is also part of another massive publication, The Divine Revelation of the New Jerusalem: Expanded Edition
, for those of you who want all the published theological works of Swedenborg together in one hyperlinked work (see The complete works of Emanuel Swedenborg
. However, I raised several interesting problems with the vision of Ezekiel's temple, what are the answers? For the true answers, one must think more spiritually, but here they are:
ANSWER #1: WHO ARE THE 12 TRIBES OF ISRAEL?
Just as there are 12 tribes of Israel in the Old Testament, so there are 12 apostles of Jesus, and 24 (12 x 2) elders on thrones in the book of Revelation. The true 12 tribes of Israel, simply put, are all those who belong to God's spiritual kingdom of heaven. However, its not one homogenous groups, there are what one may say 12 basic personality types, who are in different levels of understanding and spiritual development. For example, the 12 tribes were divided into the kingdom of Judah in the south, and the 10 tribes of Israel toward the north. The spiritual meaning behind this: those of Judah represent those who are primarily in love and service from doing by the will, whereas those of Israel are those who act from the truth that they know. Those who act from love first, from which they know the truth, are in a higher spiritual state that those who first study the truth, then act from what they know. Knowing the truth is the first step, acting according to it is the second step. But at a certain spiritual state priority changes: one acts and from that they know. There are different levels of development, and ultimately all states can be described by the 12 tribes of Israel or the 12 apostles.
ANSWER #2: WHO ARE THE SONS OF ZADOK OF THE LEVITICAL PRIESTHOOD?
One must first understand that the 12 tribes of Israel spiritually signify all those who belong to God's spiritual kingdom to answer this one. The tribe of Levi was given the priesthood, as Levi and the priesthood symbolizes love and charity, for it is only through love and service that one can spiritually worship God:
"The priesthood was given to this tribe because it represented and thence signified love and charity. Love and charity are the spiritual affection of good and truth; since affection is predicated of love in its continuity, for affection is the continuation of love. This, too, is what the priesthood and its ministry signify in the Word, for this affection is the essential of the church, for where it is there the church is, and where it is not there the church is not; for the affection of good and truth is the very spiritual life of man, and when man is affected by good and truth he is in good and truth in respect to his life, and his thought itself is nothing but affection in a different form, for whatever a man thinks he derives from affection; no one can think without affection. This is why the tribe of Levi was appointed to the priesthood. The like is said of the Levites in Ezekiel, where a new land, a new city, and a new temple are treated of (xl. 46; xliii. 19; xliv. 15; xlviii. 11, 12)." (Apocalypse Explained, n. 444.3)
So don't expect a restoration of the Jewish priesthood. Not happening. If it does, it will not be good for the Jews in Israel. Thus there is a warning in Ezekiel's vision that none of the Levitical priests can serve in the temple, but only the sons of Zadok. It is said that the Levites in general are not allowed to serve since they had misled the Jews in serving idols, so any attempt to do this would be a falsified worship. Zadok was the priest who served during the time of King David, who himself in scripture represents the Lord as King, or Divine Truth. Zadok, as priest, represents his Divine Love.
ANSWER #3: WHAT DO THE ANIMAL SACRIFICES SIGNIFY?
There will be no restoration of animal sacrifices, If it happens, it will be degraded and profane sort of worship. Each of the animals that were sacrifices signified something different spiritually, and they primarily represent the worship of the Divine Human of the Lord, either as to love or as to truth:
"As rams signified the Divine spiritual of the Lord's Divine Human, as also the spiritual things with man, therefore where the new temple and New Jerusalem, that is, the Lord's spiritual kingdom, is spoken of, it is said in Ezekiel, when they had made an end of cleansing the altar there, they were to offer a bullock for a sin-offering, and a ram for a burnt-offering, and were to offer the goat of the sin offering every day for seven days, and a bullock and a ram (xliii. 23-25). And that on this day the prince should prepare the bullock of the sin-offering for all the people, and on the seven days of the feast seven bullocks, and seven rams, with the bread-offering, for a burnt-offering (xlv. 22-24); and on the day of the sabbath he should prepare six lambs and a ram (xlvi. 4, 6).
"That by the new temple and the New Jerusalem in the universal sense the Lord's kingdom is signified, may be seen above (n. 402, 940); in particular the New Church (n. 2117). That there are not burnt-offerings and sacrifices there, may be known to every one. Hence it is manifest that by them are signified the celestial things of love, and the spiritual things of faith; for these are of the Lord's kingdom; and thus such things are here signified by bullocks, rams, and lambs. That bullocks and rams signify spiritual things is evident from the several particulars in the internal sense; in general from this, that by the new temple and the New Jerusalem the Lord's spiritual kingdom is specially signified, but by Zion the celestial kingdom." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 2830.4-5)
As for the particular symbolism of each animal, yes, Swedenborg goes through verse after verse even to the detail of each specific animal. For in ancient times, different animals represented different aspects of the human psyche. They didn't have any complicated psychological terminology, but instead used animals for their terminology. This symbolic representation was extended to the rituals of the animal sacrifices among the Jews.
ANSWER #4: WHO IS THE MYSTERIOUS PRINCE?
Whereas the priesthood was representative of Divine love, and service through doing, kings and princes represent Divine truths. A "prince" represents a primary truth, a "son" derivative truths after that. The prince here, a descendant of David, represents the primary truth of Christianity: that the Lord made his human Divine. Thus only the prince is allowed to approach and eat bread, the bread signifying the body of the Lord which was made Divine. The reason why this is a primary truth, is that Jehovah took on a human body and subdued all of hell by resisting temptation in the human body, until the body itself was made Divine. The Lord continues to act in this manner when everyone resists sin through repentance and becomes spiritually regenerated.
ANSWER #5: WHAT IS THE RIVER OF THE TEMPLE?
A similar river appears in the New Jerusalem at the end of the book of Revelation. This is the dead give away that this vision cannot be treated literally. Water cleanses, and rivers of water represent spiritual truths that cleanses oneself from sin - for it is only from knowing the truth that one has been taught, and that one accepts, by which evil can be combatted. For if one justifies evil through falsehood, it cannot be resisted. It is truth, and acting upon it, is what gives one true spiritual power, and power is most evident when one resists sin to cleanse oneself.
WHAT OF THE REST OF THE TEMPLE?
The plan of Ezekiel's temple is very detailed. I think it was put in because scripture never recorded all the measurements of King Solomon's temple. We do have the measurements of the tabernacle of Moses, and Swedenborg covers that in detail as well. Here is a plan of Ezekiel's temple:
There is the outer court, the inner court, the nave, and the inner room. These different areas, from outer to inner, represent different phases of spiritual development. The "gates" that one must pass through represent introductory truths: for without knowledge of the truth, one cannot take the first step in one's spiritual progression. At the inner court, one reaches the altar, and this is where the animals were sacrificed. So what does the altar represent? Here, one must sacrifice one's lower animal selfish desires, in favor of spiritual life (the blood). One's spiritual life must become separated from one's lower nature: this is the spiritual reason why the blood was drained from the animal before it was sacrificed and burned. Thus it is written, I desire mercy, not sacrifice
I will take no bullock from your house,
Nor he goats from your folds.
For every animal of the forest is Mine,
And the beasts upon a thousand mountains.
I know all the fowls of the mountains,
And the wild beasts of the field are with Me.
If I were hungry, I would not say it to you,
For the world is Mine, and the fulness thereof.
Will I eat the flesh of strong bulls,
And drink the blood of goats?
Sacrifice unto God confession,
And pay your vows to the Most High,
And call upon Me in the day of adversity:
I will rescue you, and you shall honour Me. (Ps. 50:9-15)