II Thessalonians 2 and the Man of Lawlessness


(This is an overhauled version of a study I posted in 2011 when I mistakenly thought that Nero was the man of lawlessness, a.k.a. “man of sin.” I now believe that the man of lawlessness was a Zealot leader, and at the end of this study I present my top two candidates for who this man was. A PDF version of this study is also provided below.)

Scripture text for this study: II Thessalonians 2:1-12

Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.

Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

Outline

A. Background and Introduction
B. Verses 1-2
C. Verses 3-4
D. Verses 5-7
     1. The Mystery of Lawlessness
     2. The Restrainer
E. Verse 8
F. Verses 9-12
G. Top Two Candidates for the Man of Lawlessness
     1. Eleazar ben Simon
     2. John Levi of Gischala
H. Summary and Conclusion

Background and Introduction

Looking at Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he wrote to a church that was experiencing persecution (II Thess. 1:4-7). Paul spoke of their “persecutions and tribulations,” but also their patience, faith, and endurance (verse 4). He spoke of their suffering and troubles (verses 5-6), but also promised that those who troubled them would be repaid with tribulation (verse 6) and that they would receive rest “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God” (verses 7-8).

If this prophecy is still not fulfilled, as many believe and teach today, then none of those believers lived to experience that relief. Also those who troubled them have not yet been repaid with tribulation, according to this idea.

The persecution experienced by the Thessalonians was evidently coming from the Jews. It also appeared to be directed by religious leaders in Jerusalem, where the man of lawlessness would later make his headquarters:

For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they might be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last” (I Thess. 2:14-16; see also Acts 17:1-13).

It’s believed that II Thessalonians was written around AD 52. Great judgment came upon the Jews 14 years later during the Jewish-Roman War (AD 66-73). When we recall the words of Jesus, it’s no surprise that Paul expected his first century readers to personally experience relief from their afflictions. Jesus had likewise promised to come in His kingdom, in judgment, with His angels, and in His Father’s glory while some of His 12 disciples were still alive (Matthew 16:27-28). Paul viewed the coming judgment upon apostate Israel as a good development for the spread of the gospel among the nations.

The “man of lawlessness” and the “mystery of lawlessness” were direct concerns for the believers living in Thessalonica in Paul’s day. What was already happening in Jerusalem, and what would soon reach a crisis level, affected their lives in a significant way.

VERSES 1-2

Paul wrote to a church that was apparently entertaining concerns that they had missed Christ’s coming, for Paul wrote: “Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come” (II Thess. 2:1-2). We must consider the nature of their expectation about these things. For if their expectation of the Lord’s coming was that it would bring an end to the world, or that it would result in the instant removal of all believers from the planet, it’s hard to imagine how they could be led to believe that these things had already occurred. If the Day of the Lord referred to “a rapture,” and they thought it may have already occurred, why would Paul still be around? As David Lowman, a Presbyterian pastor, has written,

“Now, if on the other hand, the Thessalonians believed the Day of the Lord to be the coming judgment against apostate Israel, then asking about that event would make sense. And if they had friends or relatives in the Judean area it would easily explain their concern that the Day of the Lord had passed.”

David points out that the Greek word for the phrase “gathered together,” episunagoge, used in II Thess. 2:1, appears three times in the New Testament: [1] in Matthew 24:31 (“…and He will send out His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other”; see our study of this passage), [2] here in this passage, [3] and in Hebrews 10:25 (“not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near”).

VERSES 3-4

Paul stated that two events had to occur before the day of the Lord would come: [1] the rebellion, and [2] the revealing of the man of lawlessness.

The Greek word “apostasia” in verse 3 is rendered by most modern translations as “the rebellion” or “the revolt.” According to Strong’s Concordance, it’s a word that can mean either [a] revolt (rebellion) or [b] defection/departure (falling away). Did Paul predict a spiritual falling away? This is a popular idea, but this word can also indicate a social or political rebellion. We know from the Jewish historian Josephus and other sources that in AD 66 AD a large-scale rebellion rose up in Israel through the efforts of the Zealots, leading to Rome declaring war on Israel. This rebellion began about 14 years after Paul wrote this letter, although the seeds of that rebellion were already taking root by the time of Paul’s writings and there had been smaller outbreaks even earlier. So in verse 3, Paul made the argument that Christ’s coming in judgment against Israel would not take place before the great rebellion led by the Zealots had already begun.

What is the significance of the title “man of lawlessness”? Some may be tempted to simply see this man as a reckless leader with no regard for local or international laws. However, the “law” that was held in the highest regard in Paul’s world was the Mosaic Law, the Law of Moses. It’s very likely that Paul was saying that this man would trample on the Law of Moses and freely commit sins under the law. The fact that he would sit in the temple is another clue to the meaning of “lawlessness” because the temple was central to the practice of Mosaic Law. This would also confirm that he was revealed while the law was still being practiced (Hebrews 8:13), i.e. before the temple was destroyed in AD 70.

We can also note the close relationship between “lawlessness” and “rebellion” in these verses. The Zealots were about to lead a massive rebellion against Rome, and Paul’s readers knew this had been their goal for some time. So the man of lawlessness would naturally come from their ranks. Josephus, who chronicled that rebellion in Wars of the Jews, ran out of adjectives to describe how wicked it was and how profoundly the Zealots violated the Law for which they were supposed to be so zealous.

Verse 4 says that the man of lawlessness “opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” The temple known to the Thessalonians, and which was famous throughout the Roman Empire, was burned and destroyed in AD 70, only about 18 years after Paul wrote this letter. At the end of this study, we will look at what took place in the temple during its final years, and what I believe fulfilled this prophecy.

Briefly, though, I would like to address the popular belief that a third temple must soon be rebuilt in Jerusalem, and that a future antichrist figure will then be enthroned in that temple. Is there any way that the Thessalonian believers would have understood Paul’s words this way? They knew from Jesus’ own prophecies that the temple (the one they knew and most likely had visited) would be destroyed in their own generation (Matthew 23:29-24:1, 24:3, 24:34; Luke 19:41-44, Luke 21:5-33, etc.).

There are no clues in the text pointing to a different temple than that one being involved in this prophecy. How strange it would have been for them to think that Herod’s temple would later be replaced in order for a lawless individual to proclaim his divinity in a new temple. Even more strange would be the fact that they wouldn’t need to be concerned about him because he was many centuries away from appearing. Yet Paul clearly wrote to them about the lawless one as if he would directly impact their lives or the lives of those they cared about.

Such a rebuilt temple in the 21st century would also certainly not be “the temple of God.” Those who are trying to initiate this project today are hoping to resume old covenant sacrifices, which would be a rejection of Christ and His work on the cross. It’s a tragedy that many professing Christians in America today are passionate about seeing such a project come to pass in modern Israel and have donated millions of dollars to see it happen, even though it would raise tensions and could cause a major war to break out.

VERSES 5-7

Paul reminded the Thessalonians that he had already discussed with them in person about the man of sin, the coming rebellion, etc. (verse 5). We are not given many details of that earlier conversation. Apparently, Paul had privately discussed with them the identity of the man of lawlessness and the entity that was restraining him, because he says, “And YOU KNOW what is restraining him NOW so that he may be revealed in his time” (verse 6). This again points to a first-century fulfillment, as does Paul’s next statement: “For the mystery of lawlessness is ALREADY at work. Only he who NOW restrains it will do so until he is out of the way” (verse 7).

James Stuart Russell, whose book, “Parousia,” in 1878 has been cited favorably by Charles Spurgeon and (more recently) R.C. Sproul, wrote the following about the immediate relevance of this subject to the Thessalonians (p. 179):

“Is it not obvious that whoever the man of sin may be, he must be someone with whom the apostle [Paul] and his readers had to do? Is he not writing to living men about matters in which they are intensely interested? Why should he delineate the features of this mysterious personage to the Thessalonians if he was one with whom the Thessalonians had nothing to do, from whom they had nothing to fear, and who would not be revealed for ages yet to come? It is clear that he speaks of one whose influence was already beginning to be felt, and whose unchecked and lawless fury would [before] long burst forth

The Mystery of Lawlessness

I would like to suggest that the “mystery of lawlessness” was a reference to the Zealot movement which had been gaining steam since Hezekiah the Zealot rose up in 47 BC, and especially since his son, Judas the Galilean (Acts 5:37), led a failed rebellion in AD 6. (See this post for a detailed overview of that movement and its key leaders.) The goal of this movement was to regain for Israel the full independence which had been won by the Maccabees from 164 – 142 BC, but which was lost after Pompey the Great invaded in 63 BC and Herod the Great began to rule over Judea in 37 BC. Their long-planned rebellion finally exploded into a full-scale war around August AD 66, according to Josephus (Wars 2.17.2), and it resulted in Jerusalem being filled with abominations (Wars 2.17.10).

The Restrainer

I would also like to suggest that the restrainer was, collectively, the Jewish high priests who led the peace movement in Jerusalem. Josephus, in Wars of the Jews, wrote a great deal about how they were a thorn in the side to the Zealots, at times preventing the Zealots from fully doing as they pleased. When the Jewish-Roman War began in AD 66, this peace movement was led by Ananus ben Ananus and Jesus ben Gamaliel. Their long speeches against the Zealots can be seen in Wars 4.3.10 and Wars 4.4.3. Josephus said that Ananus “preferred peace above all things,” was “a shrewd man in speaking and persuading the people,” and “had already gotten the mastery of those who opposed his designs or were for the war” (Wars 4.5.2).

In late AD 67 the Zealots appointed a fake and completely unqualified high priest, Phannias, who essentially became their puppet (Wars 4.3.6-8). At this point, the people of Jerusalem “could no longer bear the insolence of this procedure, but did altogether run zealously, in order to overthrow that tyranny…” (Wars 4.3.9). In the speech of Ananus (Wars 4.3.10), he pledged to lead the people in an all-or-nothing attack against the Zealots, not sparing his own body. Ananus and his followers actually gained the upper hand against the Zealots, forcing them into the inner temple and gaining control of the rest of the city (Wars 4.3.12), but their progress came undone because of the trickery of John Levi of Gischala (Wars 4.3.13-14). More details about what happened can be seen in this post.

Ananus and Jesus were both killed, along with other priests, during the Zealot Temple Siege of February-March AD 68. I believe this was when the restrainer was taken “out of the way.” Their deaths marked a significant turning point for Jerusalem, according to Josephus:

“I should not mistake if I said that the death of Ananus was the beginning of the destruction of the city, and that from this very day may be dated the overthrow of her wall, and the ruin of her affairs, whereon they saw their high priest, and the procurer of their preservation, slain in the midst of their city… to say all in a word, if Ananus had survived they had certainly compounded matters… And the Jews had then put abundance of delays in the way of the Romans, if they had had such a general as he was” (Wars 4.5.2).

After their deaths, the Zealots were unrestrained. They “fell upon the people as upon a flock of profane animals, and cut their throats.” Others endured “terrible torments” before finally meeting their deaths. At least 12,000 died in that massacre (Wars 4.5.3). Josephus described how the Zealots increased their wickedness because the peace-loving high priests were no longer there to hinder them:

“[T]he zealots grew more insolent, not as deserted by their confederates, but as freed from such men as might hinder their designs, and put some stop to their wickedness. Accordingly they made no longer any delay, nor took any deliberation in their enormous practices, but made use of the shortest methods for all their executions, and what they had once resolved upon, they put in practice sooner than anyone could imagine…” (Wars 4.6.1).

VERSE 8

Paul said that once the restrainer was “taken out of the way” (verse 7), “the lawless one [would] be revealed, whom the Lord [would] consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” (verse 8; NKJV). Do the words “will consume…and destroy” mean that the lawless one would be killed? Or, as John Noe suggested in a 2002 article, is it possible that they meant something other than immediate death? This is an important question to consider as we look at a couple of candidates for the man of lawlessness at the end of this article.

The Greek word rendered as “consume” in verse 8 is “analisko.” According to Strong’s Concordance, it means “to use up, i.e. destroy: consume.” It’s used two other times in the New Testament: Luke 9:54 and Galatians 5:15. Vine’s Expository Dictionary offers the following explanation for this word:  

“to use up, spend up, especially in a bad sense, to destroy,” is said of the destruction of persons, (a) literally, Luke 9:54 and the RV marg. of 2 Thessalonians 2:8 (text, “shall slay”); (b) metaphorically, Galatians 5:15 “(that) ye be not consumed (one of another).”

The Greek word rendered as “destroy” above is “katargeo.” According to Strong’s Concordance, it means “to be (render) entirely idle (useless), lit. or fig.:-abolish, cease, cumber, deliver, destroy, do away, become (make) of no (none, without) effect, fail, loose, bring (come) to nought, put away (down), vanish away, make void.” The Vine’s entry for this word can be seen here (redirected from here).

Different Bible versions vary in how they translate these two Greek words that describe what would happen to the lawless one. The following chart is based on the 25 versions listed at Bible Hub:

BIBLE VERSION

TRANSLATION OF “ANALISKO”

TRANSLATION OF “KATARGEO”

1. New International Version Overthrow Destroy
2. New Living Translation Kill Destroy
3. English Standard Version Kill Bring to nothing
4. Berean Study Bible Slay Abolish
5. Berean Literal Bible Consume Annul
6. New American Standard Bible Slay Bring to an end
7. King James Bible Consume Destroy
8. Holman Christian Standard Bible Destroy Bring to nothing
9. International Standard Version Destroy Rendering him powerless
10. NET Bible Destroy Wipe out
11. New Heart English Bible Kill Destroy
12. Aramaic Bible in Plain English Consume Destroy
13. God’s Word Translation Destroy Put an end to
14. New American Standard 1977 Slay Bring to an end
15. Jubilee Bible 2000 Consume Remove
16. King James 2000 Bible Consume Destroy
17. American King James Version Consume Destroy
18. American Standard Version Slay Bring to nought
19. Douay-Rheims Bible Kill Destroy
20. Darby Bible Translation Consume Annul
21. English Revised Version Slay Bring to nought
22. Webster’s Bible Translation Consume Destroy
23. Weymouth New Testament Sweep away Utterly overwhelm
24. World English Bible Kill Destroy
25. Young’s Literal Translation Consume Destroy

Here are the results from these 25 Bible versions:

Analisko

Katargeo

Consume (9x) Destroy (11x)
Kill (5x) Bring to nothing/nought (4x)
Slay (5x) Bring to an end/put an end to (3x)
Destroy (4x) Annul (2x)
Overthrow (4x) Abolish (1x)
Sweep away (1x) Remove (1x)
Rendering him powerless (1x)
Utterly overwhelm (1x)
Wipe out (1x)

VERSES 9-12

Paul said in verses 9-12 that the coming of the lawless one would be accompanied by power, signs, lying wonders, the working of Satan, and unrighteous deception. God would also send delusion to those who “did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

In Antiquities of the Jews and Wars of the Jews, Josephus wrote about a phenomenon taking place in the Jewish world before and during the Jewish-Roman War, especially in Judea and Galilee. During this time, said Josephus, there were “a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants [Zealots] to impose on the people.” Here Josephus described the close working relationship between the Zealots and false prophets. Many of the people, he said, were persuaded “by these deceivers,” who were “such as belied God himself” (Wars 6.5.2-3).

In Antiquities 20.8.6 Josephus wrote the following about numerous false prophets who deceived the Jews during the time of the Procurators Felix (52-58 AD) and Festus (59-62 AD). He mentioned their lying wonders, and showed that they shared the war agenda of the Zealots:

“These works, that were done by the robbers, filled the city with all sorts of impiety. And now these impostors and deceivers persuaded the multitude to follow them into the wilderness, and pretended that they would exhibit manifest wonders and signs, that should be performed by the providence of God… And again the robbers stirred up the people to make war with the Romans, and said they ought not to obey them at all; and when any persons would not comply with them, they set fire to their villages, and plundered them.”

In Wars 2.13.4-6 Josephus wrote more about the various false prophets and deceivers who worked on behalf of the Zealots to persuade the people to revolt. They “deceived and deluded the people under pretense of Divine inspiration” and “prevailed with the multitude to act like madmen.” In Wars 7.11.1 Josephus wrote about one of the Sicarii (a branch of the Zealots) who led many astray with his promises of signs and wonders:

“And now did the madness of the Sicarii, like a disease, reach as far as the cities of Cyrene; for one Jonathan, a vile person, and by trade a weaver, came thither and prevailed with no small number of the poorer sort to give ear to him; he also led them into the desert, upon promising them that he would show them signs and apparitions. And as for the other Jews of Cyrene, he concealed his knavery from them, and put tricks upon them.”

Jonathan also “taught the Sicarii to accuse men falsely” (Wars 7.11.2), which was a work of Satan (Revelation 12:10).

Other sources could also be called upon, such as “The Zealots” by Martin Hengel, but these citations should be enough to show that the rebellion led by the Zealots was indeed accompanied by deception, lying wonders, magic and tricks, false prophets, claims of signs and wonders, and the working of Satan.

Top Two Candidates for the Man of Lawlessness

In this passage, Paul specifically stated that the man of lawlessness was one who:

[1] “opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (verse 4);
[2] “the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” (verse 8).

During the Jewish-Roman War, there were two Zealot leaders who took their place in the temple:

[1] The first one made the temple, including the inner court, his headquarters for about 3.5 years (from the fall of AD 66 until April AD 70). He was killed in Jerusalem in AD 70. That was Eleazar ben Simon.
[2] The second one took over the inner court about five months before the temple was destroyed, precisely when the Roman general, Titus, arrived and began his siege against Jerusalem (from April – August AD 70). He was captured, taken to Rome, and sentenced to life in prison. That was John Levi of Gischala.

Source: Mark Mountjoy, New Testament Open University (June 9, 2015)

The following is a profile of both of these men and their careers as leaders of the Zealot movement.

Eleazar ben Simon

Eleazar ben Simon came from a priestly family (Wars 4.4.1.225) and was the nephew of Simon Bar Giora (Wars 6.4.1). Eleazar was first introduced by Josephus in Wars 2.20.3 as a war hero in the victory over Cestius Gallus in November AD 66. According to Josephus, he “had gotten into his possession the prey they had taken from the Romans, and the money they had taken from Cestius, together with a great part of the public treasures.”

Soon after this victory, the rebels appointed 10 “generals for the war” (Wars 2.20.3-4). Josephus spoke of Eleazar ben Simon as a natural choice for one of those positions due to his bravery and success in the battle against Cestius Gallus. Instead he was kept out of that office because of his terrible temper and the extreme loyalty of his followers, but he managed to become the main leader of the Zealots anyway:

“They did not ordain Eleazar the son of Simon to that office… because they saw he was of a tyrannical temper; and that his followers were, in their behavior, like guards about him. However, the want they were in of Eleazar’s money, and the tricks by him, brought all so about, that the people were circumvented, and submitted themselves to his authority in all public affairs” (Wars 2.20.3).

This was still true almost 1.5 years later, in early AD 68. Josephus said that among the Zealot leaders, he was “the most plausible man, both in considering what was fit to be done, and in the execution of what he had determined upon” (Wars 4.4.1). Eleazar joined forces with John Levi at this time, and, after killing Ananus ben Ananus and other high priests in February-March AD 68 AD, together they seized control of the entire city of Jerusalem (Wars 4.4.1 – 4.6.3).

Eleazar made the temple his headquarters for nearly 3.5 years, from late AD 66 until he was defeated by John Levi’s forces in mid-April AD 70. Josephus said that it was “Eleazar, the son of Simon, who made the first separation of the zealots from the people, and made them retire into the temple” (Wars 5.1.2). Around December AD 67, Eleazar and the other Zealots made the sanctuary of the temple “a shop of tyranny” by casting lots to select a fake high priest named Phannias. He was chosen against his will from a village in the countryside, fitted with “a counterfeit face” and the sacred garments, and “upon every occasion [they] instructed him what he was to do” (Wars 4.3.6-8).

In the spring of AD 69, Eleazar “was desirous of gaining the entire power and dominion to himself” and he “revolted from John [Levi].” He and his followers “seized upon the inner court of the temple” and made use of the sacred things in there (Wars 5.1.2). At this time, he led one of three Zealot factions, with the other factions being led by John Levi and Simon Bar Giora (Wars 5.1.1, 4; Revelation 16:19).

Eleazar ben Simon was tricked and defeated by John Levi’s forces in mid-April AD 70, just as the Roman general Titus began his siege. This happened at the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Eleazar opened the gates to the inner court of the temple

“and admitted such of the people as were desirous to worship God into it. But John made use of this festival as a cloak for his treacherous designs, and armed the most inconsiderable of his own party, the greater part of whom were not purified, with weapons concealed under their garments, and sent them with great zeal into the temple, in order to seize upon it; which armed men, when they were gotten in, threw their garments away, and presently appeared in their armor… These followers of John also did now seize upon this inner temple, and upon all the warlike engines therein, and then ventured to oppose Simon. And thus that sedition, which had been divided into three factions, was now reduced to two” (Wars 5.3.1).

After this treachery, Josephus records that Eleazar ben Simon’s 2,400 men stopped opposing John Levi and joined forces with him, but Eleazar remained as their commander:

“John, who had siezed upon the temple, had six thousand armed men, under twenty commanders; the zealots also that had come to him, and left off their opposition, were two thousand four hundred, and had the same commander that they had formerly, Eleazar, together with Simon the son of Arinus” (Wars 5.6.1.250). 

Eleazar ben Simon is mentioned one last time in Wars of the Jews. Josephus described the state of affairs as of the 8th of Av (late July or early August) in AD 70 when two of the Roman legions completed their banks. Josephus mentioned that Eleazar was still involved in the fighting at this time: “Of the seditious, those that had fought bravely in the former battles did the like now, as besides them did Eleazar, the brother’s son of Simon the tyrant” (Wars 6.4.1).

Eleazar’s death is not mentioned in Wars of the Jews, but there is also no mention of his survival or capture (unlike the other two main Zealot leaders, John Levi and Simon Bar Giora). Various online sources seem to be unanimous that Eleazar died in AD 70 around the time when the temple was burned and destroyed.

John Levi of Gischala

John Levi was from Gischala in Galilee. Josephus wrote extensively about him in his book, “The Life of Flavius Josephus.” John was not a Zealot from the beginning. At one point, when the people of Gischala wanted to revolt against the Romans, John tried to restrain them and he urged them to “keep their allegiance to [the Romans]. However, Gischala was then attacked, set on fire, and demolished by non-Jews from neighboring regions. At that point, John became enraged, “armed all his men,” joined the battle, but also rebuilt Gischala “after a better manner than before, and fortified it with walls for its future security” (Life 10.43-45).

In Wars of the Jews, John was first mentioned in Wars 2.21.1 as “a treacherous person,” a “hypocritical pretender to humanity,” and as one who “spared not the shedding of blood” and “had a peculiar knack of thieving.” According to Josephus, John gathered together a band of four hundred men mostly from Tyre, who were greatly skilled “in martial affairs,” and they “laid waste all Galilee.” These things took place while Josephus was “engaged in the administration of the affairs of Galilee,” beginning around December AD 66, since he had been appointed as a general for the war (Wars 2.20.3-4).

Josephus said that John Levi became wealthy through an oil scheme, and he also wanted to “overthrow Josephus” and “obtain the government of Galilee” for himself. He had a number of “robbers” under his command. He spread a rumor that Josephus was planning to give Galilee to the Romans and engaged in other plots against him (Wars 2.21.2), including a murder attempt that Josephus barely escaped (Wars. 2.21.6).

John escaped to Jerusalem in November AD 67, a year and three months after the Jewish-Roman War began. He and his followers immediately told tall tales about their fight with the Romans at Gischala:

“Now upon John’s entry into Jerusalem, the whole body of the people were in an uproar, and ten thousand of them crowded about every one of the fugitives that were come to them, and inquired of them what miseries had happened abroad, when their breath was so short, and hot, and quick, that of itself it declared the great distress they were in; yet did they talk big under their misfortunes, and pretended to say that they had not fled away from the Romans, but came thither in order to fight them with less hazard; for that it would be an unreasonable and a fruitless thing for them to expose themselves to desperate hazards about Gischala, and such weak cities, whereas they ought to lay up their weapons and their zeal, and reserve it for their metropolis. But when they related to them the taking of Gischala, and their decent departure, as they pretended, from that place, many of the people understood it to be no better than a flight; and especially when the people were told of those that were made captives, they were in great confusion, and guessed those things to be plain indications that they should be taken also. But for John, he was very little concerned for those whom he had left behind him, but went about among all the people, and persuaded them to go to war, by the hopes he gave them. He affirmed that the affairs of the Romans were in a weak condition, and extolled his own power. He also jested upon the ignorance of the unskillful, as if those Romans, although they should take to themselves wings, could never fly over the wall of Jerusalem, who found such great difficulties in taking the villages of Galilee, and had broken their engines of war against their walls.

These harangues of John’s corrupted a great part of the young men, and puffed them up for the war; but as to the more prudent part, and those in years, there was not a man of them but foresaw what was coming, and made lamentation on that account, as if the city was already undone; and in this confusion were the people…” (Wars 4.3.1-2).

Soon after this, Phannias was chosen by lots and installed as a fake high priest and a puppet of the Zealots (Wars 4.3.6-8). Ananus ben Ananus and the other priests shed tears as they watched this mockery take place. Ananus gathered a multitude of the people and gave a speech rebuking them for allowing the Zealots to fill the temple with abominations, plunder houses, shed the blood of innocent people, etc. Ananus said that nothing they could undergo from the Romans would be harder to bear than what the Zealots had already brought upon them. He urged them to rise up together against the Zealots, and said that he was willing to die leading them in that effort (Wars 4.3.10).

Ananus and his followers attacked the Zealots and tried to trap many of them in the temple complex (Wars 4.3.12). John Levi pretended to share their opinion and “at a distance was the adviser in these actions.” He consulted with Ananus and other moderate leaders every day and “cultivated the greatest friendship possible with Ananus, but “he divulged their secrets to the zealots.” His deceit became so great that “Ananus and his party believed his oath” to them, and “sent him as their ambassador into the temple to the zealots, with proposals of accommodation” (Wars 4.3.13).

John betrayed Ananus and falsely claimed that he had invited the Roman general, Vespasian, to conquer Jerusalem (Wars 4.3.14). In response, the Zealot leaders, Eleazar ben Simon and Zacharias ben Phalek, requested help from the Idumeans, who lived south of Judea, and the Idumeans quickly prepared an army of 20,000 directed by four commanders (Wars 4.4.2). The day they arrived (in late February AD 68) they were prevented from entering the city, but the next day they managed to hunt down and kill Ananus and Jesus (Wars 4.5.2).

As part of the unrestrained behavior of the Zealots after the death of Ananus, John Levi began to tyrannize, didn’t want anyone to be his equal, and gradually put together “a party of the most wicked” of all the Zealots and started his own faction (Wars 4.7.1). By the time that there were “three treacherous factions in the city” (Wars 5.1.4), John had the second largest contingent of Zealot fighters (Wars 5.6.1):

[1] Simon Bar Giora: 10,000 men and 50 commanders; 5000 Idumeans and eight commanders
[2] John Levi: 6,000 men and 20 commanders
[3] Eleazar ben Simon: 2,400 men

As we’ve already seen, John’s forces tricked and killed Eleazar ben Simon in mid-April AD 70 (Wars 5.3.1), just as Titus was laying siege to Jerusalem. He then had access to the inner court of the temple and didn’t hesitate to commit sacrilegious acts during the siege (fulfilling Revelation 6:6):

“But as for John, when he could no longer plunder the people, he betook himself to sacrilege, and melted down many of the sacred utensils, which had been given to the temple; as also many of those vessels which were necessary for such as ministered about holy things, the caldrons, the dishes, and the tables; nay, he did not abstain from those pouring vessels that were sent them by Augustus and his wife; for the Roman emperors did ever both honor and adorn this temple; whereas this man, who was a Jew, seized upon what were the donations of foreigners, and said to those that were with him, that it was proper for them to use Divine things, while they were fighting for the Divinity, without fear, and that such whose warfare is for the temple should live of the temple; on which account he emptied the vessels of that sacred wine and oil, which the priests kept to be poured on the burnt-offerings, and which lay in the inner court of the temple, and distributed it among the multitude, who, in their anointing themselves and drinking, used [each of them] above an hin of them” (Wars 5.13.6).

Toward the end of the siege, as Jerusalem was on fire, John joined “the tyrants and that crew of robbers” whose last hope was to hide “in the caves and caverns underground” (Wars 6.7.3; Revelation 6:15-17). Due to great hunger, he surrendered to the Romans, was taken captive, and was “condemned to perpetual imprisonment” (Wars 6.9.4). Among the captives who were carried off to Italy for a triumphal parade, John was considered to be their second leader, after Simon Bar Giora, “the general of the enemy” (Wars 7.5.3, Wars 7.5.6).

Summary and Conclusion

The Thessalonians were told by Paul that before Christ would come, a rebellion would begin and the man of lawlessness would be revealed (verses 1-3). Paul told them that “the mystery of lawlessness” was already at work in their first century world (verse 7). They were also told that something was restraining it (verse 7) and that they knew what it was (verse 6). Paul kept these details to a minimum in his letter because he was reminding them of what he had already told them in person about these things (verse 5). The man of lawlessness would exalt himself above God, sit “as God” in the temple (verse 4), and his coming would be accompanied by power, signs, lying wonders, deception, and the working of Satan (verses 9-12). However, at the Lord’s coming, the man of lawlessness would be consumed and destroyed (verse 8).

The Zealots had been planning a rebellion for about 100 years when Paul wrote his letter, and smaller uprisings had already taken place. Their grand rebellion began in AD 66 and one of their leaders, Eleazar ben Simon, took his place in the temple at that time, even controlling the inner court. Under his watch, many abominations took place, much blood was shed, the sacred temple items were abused, and a fake high priest was installed. When Titus and the Romans arrived in April AD 70, another Zealot leader, John Levi, tricked him and took his place in the inner court of the temple, committing abuses there as well. During and before the rebellion, according to Josephus, the activities of the Zealots and their close partners, the false prophets, were marked by deception, lying wonders, magic and tricks, and the working of Satan. Around August AD 70, John was captured and then given a life sentence in a Roman prison, but Eleazar was killed.

I personally lean toward Eleazar ben Simon being the man of lawlessness because [1] he made the temple his central command post for the entire first half of the Jewish-Roman War (3.5 years) [2] he oversaw so many lawless acts in the temple for an extended period of time, and [3] he was killed at the time of the temple’s destruction. What are your thoughts?

A PDF version of this study can be accessed and downloaded here: II Thessalonians 2 and the Man of Lawlessness.

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“Ezekiel’s Temple and the Outflow of Living Waters” by Philip Mauro (1922)


In the last post, “Making Sense of Ezekiel’s Temple Vision,” we saw Steve Gregg’s overview of Ezekiel 40-48 in which he pointed out that Ezekiel’s vision of a new temple was conditional on obedience, that the new temple was never built to specifications because of disobedience, and that Ezekiel also foresaw the new covenant realities of this present age. This post will present Chapter 12 from Philip Mauro’s 1922 book, “The Hope of Israel.” 

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The following was posted at Messianic Good News in October 2012. Philip Mauro’s entire book, “The Hope of Israel,” including a downloadable PDF, can be found here. In addition to authoring more than 10 books, Mauro (1859-1952) was a lawyer who practiced before the Supreme Court. 

Chapters 40 to 46 inclusive of the Book of Ezekiel contain the record of a vision given to that prophet, in which he was shown the pattern of a temple and its various appointments, the arrangements, gates, courts, and chambers, their dimensions and other details being stated with minuteness. The space given to the description of this temple would indicate that it is a matter of considerable importance in the eyes of God. So it will be well worth our while to seek an understanding of the vision, and to inquire into the purpose for which it is given – even more so because of much barren conjecture and diverging opinion in this regard, amongst those who seek to expound the Scriptures.

These visions present difficulties of interpretation, as is generally recognized. But whatever they may or may not mean, they certainly give no support for the doctrine of a political future for the earthly Israel. Insofar as this prophecy was to have its fulfillment in the realm of the natural, it was fulfilled after the return from Babylon. But, as with the pattern of the temple showed to Moses on Mt. Sinai, so likewise here it seems we must take the visions seen by Ezekiel on that ‘very high mountain’ (40:2) to be the patterns of things heavenly and spiritual.

Moreover, in chapter 43:9-11 it is distinctly stated that all these promises given through Ezekiel were conditional, and we further know that that people did not fulfill the conditions that were laid down any more than they fulfilled those of the old covenant. Hence these later promises (along with all the others) have been forfeited irreversibly, and they find their ‘yea’ and their ‘amen’ in Christ, being all ‘unto the glory of God by us’ – the true Israel (2 Cor. 1:20). That is to say, God will have glory through the fulfillment of those promises in and through His new covenant people.

IS IT THE PLAN OF A TEMPLE FOR THE MILLENNIUM?

One solution of the problem we are studying (to which many strongly adhere) is that Ezekiel’s vision relates to Millennial times, when the temple shown to Ezekiel will be erected on Mt. Moriah, when also the system of worship described in the concluding chapters of Ezekiel will be instituted and carried on. This view is characteristic of that peculiar system of interpreting the Scriptures which rids itself of all difficulties in the prophetic Word by simply and expediently postponing their fulfillment to the Millennial age. Thus the Millennium becomes the convenient and oft used dumping ground of all portions of Scripture that offer any difficulty, and the unhappy consequence is that many prophecies which were fulfilled before or at the first coming of Christ, or are currently being fulfilled in this age of the gospel, and many Scriptures, such as the Sermon on the Mount, which apply directly to the saints of this dispensation, are wrenched out of their proper place, and are relegated to a distant future, much to the loss of the people of God and to the integrity of the Scriptures as a whole.

The ‘postponement’ system doubtless owes the popularity it enjoys to the circumstance that its method is both safe and easy. It is safe because, when a fulfilment of prophecy is relegated to the Millennium, it cannot be conclusively refuted until the time comes. All date-setting schemes owe their measure of popularity to the same fact. It is easy because it relieves the Bible student of the trouble of searching for the contextual or Christological meaning and application of difficult passages.

But, coming to the special case in hand, which is illustrative of many others, we must now boldly assert and undertake to show, that there are insurmountable objections to the view that Ezekiel’s temple is for future Millennial times.

To begin with, if the Jews do indeed occupy the land of Canaan again as an earthly nation, and if they restore the ancient system of temple-worship, either according to the plan shown to and described by Ezekiel, or according to any other plan, we maintain that the Scripture plainly forbids it. For it was by God’s own hand that the ancient system of worship was abolished and obliterated, and the obliteration of it was for reasons so closely connected with the redeeming word of the Lord Jesus Christ, that to re-establish it would be to dishonour that work and its achievements.

Moreover, the sacrifices of animals was a strictly temporary institution, belonging to an economy that ‘made nothing perfect.’ I have shown in a previous chapter that the entire system – temple, altar, priesthood and all – was but a ‘shadow’ of that which was to come, a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect as pertaining to the conscience’, that God had ‘no pleasure’ in them; and that they were completely and forever abolished by the ‘One Sacrifice for sins’ offered by the Lord Jesus Christ ‘once for all’ (Heb. 7:18-19, 9:6-10, 10:1-9). For it was not by the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Roman armies in AD 70, that the Jewish system of worship was overthrown, but by the Sacrifice of the Lamb of God on Calvary, and it follows that, so long as the merits and efficacy of that Sacrifice endure, there will be no room in God’s universe for any other. It is important for us to recognize and to hold fast to the truth that the ‘old covenant’ and everything pertaining to it – sanctuary, altar, priesthood, feasts, sabbaths, and especially animal sacrifices – have been completely and ‘forever’ done away with. Surely the words in which this truth is declared are plain, and the reason for it is clear. For the Spirit says expressly: ‘He takes away the first’ – the sacrifices of the law – ‘that He may establish the second’ – the true spiritual worship of the heavenly sanctuary, based upon the one Sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:8-12,18-22). And the words ‘takes away,’ and ‘establish,’ signify something eternally accomplished.

THE VISION

But let us turn to the prophecy of Ezekiel with the object of learning what the record itself tells us of the purpose for which the vision was given.

First we would point out that, in the sixth year of Jehoiachin’s captivity, that is to say, while Solomon’s temple was yet standing, Ezekiel had a wonderful vision in which he saw the glory of the Lord departing from the house (8:1, 10:18). The vision of the new temple was given 19 years later, for Ezekiel is careful to record that it was ‘the fourteenth year after that the city was smitten’ (40:1-2). To this I will return. At present I wish only to point out that the most conspicuous features of the temple shown in this vision are the various places for the slaughter of animals, and for offering the same upon the altar, sprinkling their blood, etc. Thus we find a description of the tables, eight in number, for slaying the burnt offerings and other sacrifices, and upon which ‘they laid the instruments wherewith they slew the burnt offering and the sacrifice’ (40:38-43). Therefore, in the clear light of the Letter to the Hebrews and of all Scripture pertaining to the Sacrifice of Christ, it is impossible to place this temple in any dispensation subsequent to Calvary.

But an attempt has been made to avoid this objection and to make possible the locating of Ezekiel’s temple in the Millennium, by saying that the sacrifice of animals in that era will be only for a ‘reminder’ or a ‘memorial’ of the former days. But this is a very weak effort of the imagination. For what grounds have we for supposing that God would require any memorial of those sacrifices which, even in the time when they were needed, He had no pleasure? And how preposterous is the idea that He would require the slaughter of innumerable creatures merely to revive the memory of those other defective sacrifices which could never take away sins! Surely they who advance this idea have forgotten the Scriptures which they all apply to the Millennium, and which says, ‘They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain’ (Isa. 11:9).

But the passage itself completely refutes this idea, for it plainly declares that the sacrifices specified there were not at all for a remembrance or a memorial, but were for the very different purposes of sin offerings, trespass offerings, peace offerings, etc. Also for cleansing the house, making reconciliation both for the princes of Israel and for the people, and the like. All five of the offerings of the levitical system are mentioned by name (40:39, 42:13, 43:27, 45:17, 46:20), and provision is made for sprinkling the blood of the sin offering upon the corners of the altar, upon the posts of the house and court in order to cleanse them (43:20, 45:18-19). In a word the sacrifices are the levitical sacrifices, and they are expressly declared to be for their original purposes. Hence it is impossible to locate this temple, as an actual structure (apart from the spiritual signification of it), in any era other than that of the Mosaic Law.

THE PURPOSE OF THE VISION

What then was the immediate purpose of this vision? I think this question has a simple answer in the light of the passage itself and that of other Scriptures.

Ezekiel prophesied during the captivity. That captivity was to be of seventy years duration, as predicted by Jeremiah. At its end the captives were to return and re-build the city and the temple. This new temple was to serve as the sanctuary of God until Christ should come. God’s plan had always been to give to His people the exact pattern of the sanctuary they were to build for His Name. To Moses He had shown the pattern of the tabernacle, giving him at the same time the strictest injunctions to make every detail in exact accordance with that pattern. Likewise to David, God had revealed the pattern of the temple which was to be built at Jerusalem, with all its institutions, vessels of service, etc. ‘All this,’ says David, ‘the Lord made me understand in writing by His hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern’ (1 Chr. 28:11-19).

And once again, after the exile, a house was to be built for the Name of the Lord in Jerusalem. Therefore, having in mind His invariable method in such case, we should expect to find at this period a revelation from heaven of the pattern to be followed in the building of that house. And right here we do find the revelation from God of the completed pattern and institutions of a temple, with directions to the prophet to show the same to the house of Israel.

Furthermore we find that even as Moses was admonished to make all things according to the pattern shown him ‘in the mount,’ so Ezekiel was taken to ‘a very high mountain’ where this pattern was shown to him, and he was told to set his heart upon all that should be revealed to him, and to declare all he should see to the house of Israel (40:3-4; 44:5).

Again, as regards the ministers of the sanctuary, it is strictly commanded that the priests are to be Levites of the sons of Zadok (45:15), which proves that the whole system was for an era when the priesthood of Aaron was not as yet abolished.

Furthermore, special instructions are given in this vision regarding ‘the prince.’ Now it was only after the return from Babylon that Israel was subject to a ‘prince,’ as Zerubbabel in the days of Ezra, and the Hasmonaean princes at a later day.

Finally, this vision contains instructions for the re-allotment of the land, corresponding to the instructions given Moses and Joshua at the first occupation of the land. This provision embraces the whole twelve tribes of Israel. For it should be noted that in the land of their captivity Israel and Judah were mingled together; and from that time onward the distinction between the ten northern tribes and the other two no longer exists. Thus Ezekiel was sent to ‘the children of Israel,’ to ‘the house of Israel,’ and as in several passages to ‘all the house of Israel’ (11:15, 20:40, etc.). Likewise Daniel confessed on behalf of ‘all Israel’ and prayed for his ‘people Israel’ (9:11,20), and those who returned with Ezra were ‘all Israel’ (Ezra 2:70, 8:25; 9:1 etc.). And this continued to New Testament times, when Peter makes his proclamation at Pentecost to ‘all the house of Israel’ (Acts 2:36), Paul speaks to Herod Agrippa of ‘our twelve tribes’ (Acts 26:7), and James writes to ‘the twelve tribes scattered abroad’ (Jam. 1:1). This effectually disposes of all speculation regarding ‘the ten lost tribes,’ and particularly of the grand delusion of Anglo-Israelism.

WAS THE PATTERN SHOWN EZEKIEL FOLLOWED?

So far as I am aware there is no evidence now available as to the plan of the temple built in the days of Ezra. Herod the Great had so transformed it in the days of Christ, though without interrupting the regular services and sacrifices, as to destroy all trace of the original design. That question, however, which we cannot now answer, does not affect the question of the purpose for which the pattern was revealed to Ezekiel.

It should be noted that everything in connection with the return of the people of Israel out of Babylon was purely voluntary. Only those returned to Jerusalem ‘whose spirit God had raised to go up to build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem’ (Ezra 1:5). They were not taken out of Babylon as out of Egypt in a body and by strength of hand. But we know that they brought with them the holy vessels, and we know that they had, and could have followed, the pattern shown in the mount to Ezekiel. For God had commanded the prophet to show it to them, and He gave him also this charge: ‘Thou son of man, show the house to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the pattern. And if they be ashamed of all they have done, show them the form of the house, and the fashion thereof, and the goings out thereof and the comings in thereof and all the forms thereof, and all the ordinances thereof and all the forms thereof, and all the laws thereof, and write it in their sight, that they may keep the whole form thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and do them” (43:10,11).

The blessings promised to Israel through Ezekiel were like those promised through Moses, conditional upon their faithfulness and obedience; and, since they were not obedient, the blessings were forfeited. So we are left in uncertainty as to what, if anything, resulted from this revelation to Ezekiel. But as regards the purpose for which it was given, we think there is no uncertainty at all.

Of course this vision, like all visions and prophecies, has a spiritual fulfillment in Christ, and this is very apparent, we think, from chapter 47. Chapter 47 contains the vision of the life-giving waters, which the prophet saw issuing out from the temple, a shallow stream at first, but increasing to a mighty river – ‘waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed over’ (v. 5).

As with respect to Zechariah’s prophecy concerning the ‘living waters’ (Zech 14:8), referred to in a former chapter, so with respect to this vision of Ezekiel, we confidently submit that its fulfillment is in the living waters of the gospel, which began, on the day of Pentecost, to flow out from the Temple at Jerusalem. Our Lord uses the expression ‘rivers of living water,’ in John 7:38; and the meaning of the expression is given in the next verse: ‘But this spoke He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive.’ This explanation controls the passage we are considering. This will be apparent from what follows.

WHERE DID THE SPIRIT DESCEND AT PENTECOST?

For the purpose of a better understanding of the foregoing prophetic vision of Ezekiel, and because, moreover, the events of the day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2, are of great importance, it is a matter of much interest to ascertain just where, in the city of Jerusalem, the disciples were assembled at the moment when the Holy Spirit came upon them.

Some may wonder that there should be any question as to this, seeing it seems to be generally agreed that the gathering place of the disciples was the ‘upper room’. Indeed it is often positively asserted, as if it were a recorded fact, that the upper room was the ‘birthplace of the Church.’ But the truth is that scripture does not support the idea that the disciples were in an upper room when the Holy Spirit came upon them, or that the upper room mentioned in Acts 1:13 was ever their assembling place during the ten days of their waiting in Jerusalem, in obedience to the Lord’s command, for “the Promise of the Father.”

All that is said concerning the ‘upper room’ is that the apostles, after witnessing the Lord’s ascension from Mount Olivet, returned to Jerusalem and went to an upper room, where Peter, James, John and the other of the eleven apostles were lodging (Acts 1:13). What appears from the record, and all that appears, is that those Galileans, during their stay in Jerusalem, had their lodgings in an ‘upper room.’ There is no suggestion at all that the sleeping quarters of those eleven men was also the meeting place of the one hundred and twenty disciples of Christ who were in Jerusalem at that time. Still less reason is there for supposing that the morning of the great Feast-day, which the Law compelled them to attend, would have found them gathered in such a place.

IN THE TEMPLE

There was, in fact, only one place in the city of Jerusalem where devout Jews, of whatever sect, would have congregated on that morning, and one place where the events recorded in Acts 2 could possibly have transpired. That place is the Temple. But it is not upon inference alone that we base our conclusion, for after a careful examination of the inspired records, we venture to say that they contain positive proof that it was in the Temple itself that the Holy Spirit came ‘suddenly’ upon the company of the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that from that Temple the proclamation of God’s Good News began to go forth to all the world. And I will try to show that it was the outflow of the gospel – ‘all the words of this life’ (Acts 5:20) – that was foreseen by the vision of ‘living waters’ issuing from the Temple.

Surely it is befitting that it should have been so. For it is in accordance with all that has been revealed to us of the dealings of God, and of the connection between the Old Covenant and the New, that the first manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s personal presence should have been in the Temple, that the spiritual House should have its beginnings on the site of the material House. Indeed the same reasons which required that the preaching of forgiveness in the Name of the risen Christ should begin ‘at Jerusalem’ (Luke 24:47), would seem also to require that it should begin at the Temple. I will look into this a little later, but first I want to establish whether the inspired record gives any definite indications as to the place where the wonderful events of Pentecost occurred.

“CONTINUALLY IN THE TEMPLE”

The first Scripture that bears on the matter is the concluding portion of Luke’s Gospel whereof the book of Acts is a continuation, written by the same hand.

Luke records the Lord’s commandment to His disciples to tarry in the city of Jerusalem until they should be endued with power from on high (Luke 24:49). The brief record of this verse does not state whether or not the Lord designated any particular place in Jerusalem where they were to await the promised endowment; but the further record given in verses 52 and 53 of what they did in obedience to the Lord’s commands, supplies this information. For we read that “they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the Temple praising and blessing God” (Luke 24:52,53).

This passage definitely declares that the Temple was the place where they assembled for the purpose of waiting upon God in worship and prayer; and it declares furthermore that they were there continually. Hence we need nothing further to tell us just where they were assembled whenever we read of their being gathered during that period, “in one place.” We have the emphasis of the word “continually,” which leaves no room for the supposition that during the ten days following, they were assembled as a company in any place other than the Temple. This passage alone seems to make it clear that the Lord had told them to wait in the Temple for the promised endowment of the Spirit.

When, moreover, we bear in mind the fact (which appears both from the Scriptures and from other contemporary records) that the Temple, with its vast corridors or “porches,” was the regular gathering place of all the various parties and sects of Jews, however antagonistic the one to the other, it will be easy to realize that the Temple is just the place – both because of its hallowed associations, and also because of its many convenient meeting places – where the disciples would naturally congregate. Edersheim says that the vast Temple area was capable of containing a concourse of 210,000 people; and he mentions also that the colonnades in Solomon’s Porch formed many gathering places for the various sects, schools and congregations of the people. In commenting on John 7 this trustworthy authority says that the gathering places in Solomon’s Porch “had benches in them; and from the liberty of speaking and teaching in Israel, Jesus might here address the people in the very face of His enemies.” It was, moreover, and this is an important item of evidence, in Solomon’s Porch that the concourse of Jews gathered which Peter addressed in Acts 3 (see verse 11). Hence there can be little doubt that one of the assembling places to which Alfred Edersheim refers was the “house” where the disciples were “sitting” when the Holy Spirit came upon them.

When Luke takes up, in the book of Acts, the thread of the narrative he dropped at the end of his Gospel, he says (speaking of the apostles) that “These all continued (lit. were continuing) with one accord in prayer and supplication with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren” (Acts 1:14). We have here in substance a repetition of what is recorded in the last verse of Luke’s Gospel, namely that, during the ten days following the Lord’s ascension, His disciples were “continually” together waiting upon God (they “continued with one accord in prayer and supplication”). The record in Acts omits mention of the place where they so continued, but that information was not needed, seeing it had already been definitely stated in Luke 24:52,53. But the evangelist adds the interesting facts that the women, Mary the mother of the Lord, and His brethren, were with them. All this, be it remembered, was done by the Lord’s express instructions. They were of course praying for the promised Gift from on high (Luke 11:13).

THE DAY OF PENTECOST

Thus the day of Pentecost came; and its being the great Feast-day of the Jews on which the giving of the Law at Sinai is celebrated, provides an additional reason why they should be found assembled in the Temple. The services – the offering of the morning sacrifice and incense, with the accompanying prayers (in which they would undoubtedly have taken part) – began at sunrise. This service being concluded, they would naturally be “sitting” in their customary place; and then it was that “suddenly” out of heaven came that sound “as of a rushing wind.” The words “they were all with one accord in one place” (compare 1:14) indicate that they were in their customary gathering place in the Temple. Similar words found at the end of chapter 2 lend emphasis to this; for we find there the statement that, after about three thousand souls had been “added” to them, they still continued with one accord in the Temple (Verse 46). This shows that what they had been doing as a small company they “continued” to do, still “with one accord,” as an exceedingly large and growing company. It shows further that the place where they were gathered when the Holy Spirit came upon them must have been of such dimensions as to admit of three thousand more being “added” to them; and it need hardly be said that the Temple was the only building in Jerusalem open to the public, where this would have been possible.

By having before our eye the several statements of Scripture that bear upon the matter we are examining it will be seen, we think, that there is no room for doubt about it. These are the statements:

Luke 24:52-53: “And they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the Temple, praising and blessing God.”

Acts 1:14. “All these were continuing with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren.”

Acts 2:1. “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.”

Acts 2:46. “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the Temple.”

These passages reiterate that the disciple continued, during all the period in question, in one place; and the first and last passages quoted state that the place was the Temple.

From the last passage it plainly appears that, after Pentecost, they still made it a practice to meet “daily in the Temple,” the wording being such as to show that this was not a new custom from that date, but was the “continuing” of what had been their custom since the Lord’s ascension into heaven.

THE SERVICE OF THE FEAST OF PENTECOST

Acts 2:1, in its literal meaning, casts more light on our subject. As rendered in the Authorized Version it reads “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come.” The word translated by the three English words “was fully come” (which rendering manifestly does not give the true sense, since a day cannot be more “fully come” after it has actually come), means literally “was being accomplished.” In Bagster’s interlinear translation the reading is: “And during the accomplishing of the day of Pentecost, they were all with one accord in the same place.”

What is seemingly implied is that they were, as we should expect, in the Temple, for the purpose of taking part in the appointed services of the great feast day. During an intermission in those ceremonies they would naturally be “sitting” together in their customary meeting-place within the Temple area. What seems to be impressed upon us by this verse is that, during the accomplishing of the various ceremonies of the day of Pentecost, the disciples were not dispersed and mingled with the great crowds of worshippers, but kept together, and were with one accord in one place. It can hardly be doubted, therefore, that at the moment the Spirit descended upon them they were all together somewhere within the large area of the Temple, presumably in Solomon’s Porch.

Concerning the verse we are now considering (Acts 2:1), Dr. G. Campbell Morgan, in a letter to the author, said: “Personally, I believe that the statement that the day of Pentecost ‘was being fulfilled’ means far more than that they were observing its ritual. I am convinced that the meaning of Luke here is that all that was signified by that Feast was finding its historic fulfilment.”

With the aid of this comment we can see a great wealth of meaning in these few words of Scripture. The coming of the Holy Spirit took place some little time before nine in the morning (see verse 15), just long enough for it to be “noised abroad” (2:6), and for an enormous crowd to congregate. On reading attentively the record of verses 1-14 it will be seen that the events there narrated all happened in one and the same locality. The disciples were in the same place when they began to speak in other languages, and the astonished multitude assembled and listened, than they were when the Holy Spirit came upon them.

Concerning the words of verse 6, “Now when this was noised abroad,” Dr. Morgan, in the letter already quoted, says that this is not to be taken as meaning that a rumour of the marvellous event was spread abroad; for the verb rendered ‘noised broad’ in the Authorised Version is never used in the sense of a rumour. “I believe the sound as of a mighty wind was heard by the entire city. That being so, your interpretation as to the place falls in with tremendous naturalness to me. The devout Jews would, at the hearing of some supernatural sound, rush to the Temple.” In this connection the force of the words of Acts 2:2 should be specially noted: “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind (or Breath) and it filled all the house where they were sitting.”

It is important to note that in those days, and for a considerable period thereafter, the disciples were in “favour with all the people” (Acts 2:48); and hence they were permitted to enjoy, in common with all Jewish sects and parties, the privileges of assembling for the usual purposes, and as a distinct company or sect, in the Temple. It should also be specially noted that no pious Jews would be anywhere but in the Temple on that day (See Acts 20:16).

We conclude, therefore, that the material House of God served as the womb for the spiritual House, and that from it the Church was to come forth, and soon did come forth. For a little while the two were identified, as the true spiritual ‘Israel of God’ was, for awhile, identified with ‘Israel after the flesh’ – the spiritual seed of Abraham with his natural seed. And this is in keeping with the revealed ways of God.

THE SOURCE OF THE LIVING WATERS

It is evident that the matter into which we have been inquiring has a direct relation to certain prophecies, such as Ezekiel 47, referred to above, where the prophet describes his vision of the healing and life-giving waters issuing from out of the Temple. It was shown to the prophet, as we have already noted, that the water was to go down into the desert (which suggests barren Israel), and into the sea (which symbolizes the nations), whose waters should be healed; and the description continues –

“And it shall come to pass that everything that lives which moves, wherever the rivers shall come, shall live; and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither; for they shall be healed. And everything shall live wherever the river comes” (Ezekiel 47:9).

It is easy to see in this passage the familiar scriptural figures of the Gospel, and its life-giving and healing ministry. So we note with interest that the Temple – the House of God – was to be the source of the stream of living waters.

Therefore, we cannot fail to see in this prophetic vision a spiritual foretelling of the issuing forth of the Gospel for all mankind from God’s appointed center, which broadly was Israel, and more definitely Jerusalem, and still more definitely the Temple. Other portions of Ezekiel’s prophecy have clearly a spiritual fulfilment in this dispensation of the Holy Spirit, as we have sought to show.

In this connection we would call attention also to the prophecy of Joel. Inasmuch as the Apostle Peter showed the coming and manifestations of the Holy Spirit at the fulfilment of the verses quoted from the second chapter of Joel, it is significant that there is the promise in Joel 3 that “all of the rivers of Judah will flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the House of the Lord” (3:18). We believe that those who are spiritual will be able to see in this verse and its context much that is applicable to this present dispensation, though it may be that the complete fulfilment of this passage, and also of that quoted by Peter from chapter 2, awaits the coming again of the Lord from heaven. [I disagree with this last statement. – Adam]

LIVING WATERS FLOWING FROM THE HOUSE OF GOD

For some time after Pentecost the church continued at Jerusalem, and seems to have been tolerated, in accordance with the advice of Gamaliel (Acts 5:33-40) until the time of the stoning of Stephen, after which period the gospel stream spread throughout Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1), the church at Jerusalem, the spiritual house of God, being thus far its source. A little later we find another “church” of God at Antioch; for it is written that Barnabas sought Saul at Tarsus, and brought him unto Antioch, and that for “a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people” (Acts 11:25,26). Here again in the church in Antioch we find the Holy Spirit in full charge; and after a year of teaching inside the House, we see the living waters flowing out, and producing the results intended in the purposes of God. For we read at Acts 13:1-2, concerning “the church that was at Antioch,” that “as they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, ‘Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work thereunto I have called them.’” And thus, from the House of God, and in the power of the Spirit of God, the stream of the Gospel flowed out in a new direction, and extended further than it had gone before.

Still later on the gospel was carried into Europe and it came to Thessalonica – not in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance (1 Thess. 1:5). The result was “the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father, and in the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:1). And this is declared to be an ‘example’ or pattern for other churches, for the express reason, as the apostle writes to them that, “From you sounded out the Word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place you faith to God-ward is spread abroad” (1:8).

A GREAT DIFFERENCE

Our study brings into view a great difference between the Temple – God’s dwelling place in the old order, and the Church – His dwelling place in the new. In the case of the Temple, sacrifices were brought to it, blood flowed in it, and incense (worship) ascended from it. But no healing waters flowed from it. Hence what Ezekiel saw, and what was revealed also to Joel and to Zechariah, living waters going out from Jerusalem (Joel 3:18; Zech. 14:8), was something quite new, and to which the former Temple and its ritual presented no analogy.

Making Sense of Ezekiel’s Temple Vision by Steve Gregg


Ezekiel 40-48 has been seen by many as a challenging section of Scripture. Steve Gregg asks some good questions and offers a good analysis in the article below. In the next post I would like to interact with Philip Mauro’s thoughts on this subject in his 1922 book, “The Hope of Israel.”

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This article first appeared in the Practical Hermeneutics column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 35, number 03 (2012). 


The book of Ezekiel closes with a vision of a temple and its associated rituals. In chapter 40, the prophet is transported in vision from his home among the exiles in Babylon to Israel, where a divine messenger holding a measuring rod appears to him. The messenger gives Ezekiel a tour of the temple, measuring the various walls, gates, and courts. At one point, the glory of the Lord, which was seen departing from the temple in an earlier vision (chap. 10), is seen returning to inhabit the temple (43:1–4).

The following chapters describe various sacrificial rituals performed by priests. Special attention is given to the role of one who is referred to as “the prince.” Near the end, a river is seen flowing out of the temple from under the threshold. The book closes with portions of the land assigned to various tribes.

Biblical scholars acknowledge that the temple vision, which occupies the last nine chapters of Ezekiel, presents special challenges in its interpretation. Some have even described it as the most difficult passage in the Old Testament.

As with the descriptions in Exodus of the tabernacle and its furnishings, many readers will find this section of Ezekiel tedious, due to its many arcane details, but this is not the greatest difficulty presented by these chapters. By far, the greater difficulty has to do with identifying the time and manner of the fulfillment of the vision.

Is It Solomon’s Temple? When Ezekiel saw the vision (573 BC), there was no temple standing in Jerusalem. Solomon’s temple, which had previously stood there, had been destroyed thirteen years earlier by Nebuchadnezzar, when he conquered Jerusalem and deported the citizens to Babylon. This means that Ezekiel was not seeing Solomon’s temple, or any temple that was actually standing at the time. What temple, then, was he shown?

Is It Zerubbabel’s Temple? Perhaps the answer that first comes to mind would be that this was the temple that came to be built, under the leadership of Zerubbabel, on the return of the Jews from Babylon to Jerusalem. However, this solution seems to be ruled out by the fact that Zerubbabel’s temple ended up being much smaller, and less elaborate, than the one Ezekiel describes. If Ezekiel was prophesying that the temple built by the returning exiles would fit this description, the prophecy failed to come true. This option does not commend itself to those who accept the inspiration of Scripture. Other interpretations, therefore, have been offered by evangelical scholars.

Is It the Church? Some Christian commentators have understood the content of these chapters as an apocalyptic vision, which is best interpreted spiritually. They point out that the church, in the New Testament, is often referred to as God’s “temple” or habitation. Each Christian is a “living stone” (1 Pet. 2:5), built, along with others, “upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20) into a “temple of God” (1 Cor. 3:16). On this view, the features of temple worship—priests, altars, sacrifices, blood rituals—would be seen as pertaining to spiritual, rather than literal, realities, and applied to our worship of God in the present time. In particular, the description of the river, in chapter 47, would seem to support a nonliteral interpretation. If this is the correct view, we would be required either to see many of the tedious details as being either superfluous or as corresponding to spiritual ideas that would be very difficult to identify with confidence.

Is It the Millennial Temple? Another view of this vision, commonly held among dispensationalists, is that Ezekiel’s temple will be established after the second coming of Christ and will serve as the worship center for all people during the “millennium.” On this view, the one described as “the prince” is often identified as Christ Himself, ruling over the millennial kingdom.

Choosing a Hermeneutical Strategy. In choosing among these options, we are compelled to decide between differing hermeneutical priorities. One of the chief hermeneutical principles recommended by dispensationalist scholars is that of maintaining a consistently literal interpretation. This would mean that “spiritualizing” the text must be seen as a departure from the most faithful handling of Scripture. Therefore, dispensationalists argue for a literal, physical building to be established in fulfillment of Ezekiel’s vision. Since the temple erected after Ezekiel’s time did not fit Ezekiel’s description, they believe that there must be another temple in the future that will do so more admirably.

It would be easier to accept this theory if we did not have the New Testament to guide our thinking. The most obvious problem presented here is that the book of Hebrews (e.g., 10:1–18) speaks of the death of Christ on the cross as a termination of the efficacy of bloody animal sacrifices, such as those Israel offered in the temple. If Ezekiel’s vision applies to a future time, why do we again find the offering of animal sacrifices?

The dispensationalist answer is that the millennial sacrifices will not be intended to atone for sins. The blood of Christ precludes any need for that. Just as the Old Testament sacrificesanticipated the death of Christ as a future event, it is suggested the future millennial sacrifices will commemorate the death of Christ as a past event.

The text of Ezekiel, however, seems to preclude this, since the various offerings in the temple are said to “make atonement for the house of Israel” (45:17).1 Thus, the sacrifices are presented as an atonement for sin, not as a memorial. Christ Himself recommended the use of wine and bread to commemorate His death (1 Cor. 11:24–26). Why would God replace this with animal sacrifices in which God never found any particular pleasure (Ps. 40:6; 51:16; Heb. 10:6)?

Further, Ezekiel says that “the prince” will offer a sin offering “for himself and for all the people” (45:22). If the prince is required to offer sacrifices for his own sins, this would militate against any theory that identifies him with Christ, who never sinned.

Other objections to the idea that Ezekiel’s vision describes a worship economy to be established in the future would include the following:

  • The vision presents a centralized worship in a specified geographical place. In the Old Testament, people were expected to approach the tabernacle, or (later) the temple, for this purpose (Deut. 12:5, 11). Jesus, however, announced to the Samaritan woman that the time of centralized worship was soon to end and to be replaced with spiritual worship, which does not depend on being in any particular place (John 4:21–24; cf. Acts 7:48–50).
  • In Ezekiel’s vision, the Levites and Aaronic priesthood are seen in their former places of service. According to the New Testament, there has been a change of the priesthood (Heb. 7:12). The Jewish priesthood has been replaced by a different priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5) and a non-Aaronic high priest (Jesus). This modification will not be reversed, for Christ is said to be “a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek” (Ps. 110:4; Heb. 7:17, 21).

Literal Interpretation Is Not Always Best. While the difficulties of the dispensational interpretation seem insurmountable, its only strength lies in its hermeneutic of literal interpretation. There is another hermeneutic principle, however, that overrides literalism—namely, the superior revelation given in Christ.

Hebrews 1:1–3 affirms that, while God spoke to Israel through various prophets in the past, the revelation that has come through Christ is more comprehensive because He is no mere prophet, but “the brightness of [God’s] glory and the express image of His person.” The New Testament is not a mere appendix added to the writings of the Old Testament prophets. It is a revelation of the new order in Jesus Christ, in whom all previous revelation finds its fulfillment, and through whom all previous revelation must be understood.

Christ opened the understanding of His disciples so that they “might understand the [Old Testament] scriptures” (Luke 24:45). This being the case, it would be foolish for us to seek a meaning of the prophets contrary to that which Christ and the apostles taught. It is their witness that provides the strongest objections to any literalistic interpretation of Ezekiel 40–48. In Christ’s new order (which, unlike the old order, is permanent), the temple, priesthood, and sacrifices are likewise spiritual (1 Pet. 2:5).

Making Sense of the Vision. How then are we to understand the temple vision? First, one might reasonably refer to the vision as that which “might have been,” had the Jewish exiles in Babylon exhibited a more thorough repentance than they did. There is an indication that the realization of this vision in Israel’s future was contingent on the people being sufficiently ashamed, or repentant, of their past sins: “Son of man, describe the temple to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the pattern. And if they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the design of the temple” (Ezek. 43:10–11).

The response of the Jews to their opportunity to return and to rebuild their temple was notoriously tepid. Only a small remnant opted even to return to Jerusalem, while the rest were content to remain in Babylon. As a result, the temple they built proved to be inferior to the one that Ezekiel described.

Though the Jews did not meet the conditions to have such a temple as Ezekiel’s, the pattern preserved in these chapters stands as a description of an intended order, which, had it materialized, would have testified, as the tabernacle once did, as a type and shadow of “heavenly things” (Heb. 8:5)—the new order in Jesus Christ. This, we may assume, was the long-term purpose served by the vision.

Though some features of the vision were probably intended symbolically from the start (e.g., the seemingly miraculous, ever-deepening river), it is probable that the temple and its rituals would have been literally instituted, as here described, had Israel met God’s conditions.

Whether or not the temple had ever actually been rebuilt, the new revelation in Christ encourages us to see its pattern as having been fulfilled in Jesus Christ Himself, who is the final atoning sacrifice and the eternal high priest of God’s people.

—Steve Gregg

Steve Gregg is the author of Revelation: Four Views: A Parallel Commentary, and host of the radio show The Narrow Path (www.thenarrowpath.com). He lives in Temecula, California.


NOTES

  1. All Bible quotations are from the New King James Version.