Those who keep a lookout for last-day events are aware of a coming change in the Divine administration of the world. Jesus Christ, the risen Messiah, who was crucified on Calvary’s cross for the sins of the world, will return to rule and reign over a renewed earth. Laying aside His priestly garments & leaving the Holy Place, He will come forth to execute judgment and justice in the earth. Then the saints will arise from the dust, and the kingdom of heaven will be fully established. “Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 8: 11).
All of the prophets speak of this coming time. And yet those who study prophecy are often too apt to confuse the imagery of the prophets with that of the closing chapters of Revelation, which speak of a “new heaven and new earth.” But the “new heaven and earth” of Revelation 21: 3 is not the same as that mentioned in Isaiah 65: 17. A simple comparison of the two descriptions will confirm this fact. Most important to note is the institution of “priests and Levites” under the new administration (Isaiah 66: 21). From this we gather that the new heaven and earth of Isaiah precedes that of John.
Corroboration is found in Isaiah 30: 26, where the prophet, speaking of Millennial times, writes: “Moreover, the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the Lord bindeth up the breach of His people, and healeth the stroke of their wound.” The context tells us this shall be fulfilled after “the great slaughter, when the towers fall” (30: 25), when “the Lord cometh from far, burning with His anger… to sift the nations” (30: 27-28).
This issues in the “new heaven and new earth” described by Isaiah. But in John’s new heaven and earth, “the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof” (Rev. 21: 23). Thus, there are two administrations, which must be distinguished and separated before we can hope to harmonize the Old Testament prophecies with the New.
The Jerusalem of the Old Testament prophets is an earthly metropolis, whereas that of the Apocalypse is a city which comes down out of heaven (Rev. 21: 3). The Jerusalem of the prophets has yet to be rebuilt (Isaiah 60: 10), whereas John’s city comes down completely built and furnished. The earthly city will be the Millennial center of Divine worship, while the “Jerusalem which is above” (Gal. 4: 26) remains in heaven until “all things are made new.”
Keeping this distinction in mind will allow us to properly interpret the majestic imagery of Ezekiel 40-48, where the prophet describes the “holy oblation,” in the midst of which is placed the Divine sanctuary. The statutes and ordinances of the sanctuary are profoundly Millennial in nature, and have to do mainly with the restored nation of Israel.
We believe that the church of the present dispensation is the “church of the first-born” (Heb. 12: 23) which will be resurrected when the Lord returns to gather His saints. The rapture will probably occur after the tribulation, but before the vials of wrath are poured out upon the wicked. The church will include both saved Jews and Gentiles (Rev. 7: 4-10); the 144,000 constituting the “first-fruits” of the Jewish national conversion.
However, a much larger number of Jews will be saved after the church is “caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4: 17). It is these which will constitute the “church of the second born.” During the Millennium, these saved Israelites will not be in their resurrection bodies, but will be “regenerated” and bear children in the land of their fathers (Ezekiel 36: 10-11). They will be saved according to John 3: 3, but won’t be resurrected until the general judgment, when they’ll fill up the assembly of saints born of the “Jerusalem which is above.” Then the whole number of God’s elect being complete, the city will descend to earth, and all things will be fulfilled.
Ezekiel 36 brings out this national salvation more clearly. V. 19 speaks of the dispersion of the Jews among all nations, but v. 23 looks forward to their restoration, which is a future event.
Then the prophet writes (verse 24-28): “For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I shall be your God.”
Notice the prophet says nothing about the resurrection of the covenant nation during the Millennium. In saying “I will sprinkle clean water upon you,” he is manifestly referring to the work of regeneration: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3: 5). In all events, repentance is the condition of national restoration: “I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offense, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early” (Hosea 5: 15).
Hence the Lord will not return from heaven until the Jewish nation repents and accepts Jesus Christ as the Messiah (Matt. 23: 39; Acts 3: 19-21). After He has poured upon them the spirit of grace and of supplications (Zech. 12: 10), Christ will return to fight against the nations that come against Jerusalem (Zech. 12: 9, 14: 3). Howbeit, this national repentance will come after the rapture. For when the Lord returns He is described as being followed by the armies of heaven (Rev. 19: 14). These “armies of heaven” can be none other than the saints, which will have been previously raptured (cf. Jude 14).
Then, after the Divine indignation is poured out upon all nations (Zeph. 3: 8), the remnant of Israel will return to Mount Zion will joy and singing (Isaiah 51: 11). The prophet writes: “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall beat off from the channel of the river unto the stream of Egypt, and ye shall be gathered one by one, O ye children of Israel. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem” (Isaiah 27: 12-13).
Therefore, it is obvious that the Divine worship and sacrifices described in the latter chapters of Ezekiel are national in nature, and will apply to regenerated Israelites and those “left out of all the nations” (Zech. 14: 16) that will come to Jerusalem to worship the Lord. This gives us some insight into the Zadokian priesthood mentioned in Ezekiel 43: 19 & 44: 15. The sons of Zadok will alone be made priests because they kept the charge of the Lord’s sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray. However, the Levites that went astray will be excluded from the priesthood. Notwithstanding, they will be allowed to minister in the sanctuary and have charge at the gates of the house (Ezek. 44: 11-13).
What accounts for this distinction? After studying the Scriptures carefully, I find the following. During Absalom’s rebellion against King David, Zadok & Abiathar were both told to return to the city with the ark and keep watch over David’s interests while the usurper bore rule (2 Sam. 15: 24-29).
While Zadok and Abiathar both remained faithful during this rebellion, Abiathar later fell away and supported Adonijah when the latter rebelled during David’s last days (1 Kings 1: 7). However, Zadok remained faithful (1 Kings 1: 8). After Solomon was anointed king in David’s stead, Abiathar was pardoned by Solomon, however he was thrust out from the priesthood, thus fulfilling the word of the Lord spoken against Eli in Shiloh (1 Kings 2: 26-27).
Since Absalom and Adonijah are both types of Antichrist, it is possible that the “sons of Zadok” mentioned by Ezekiel may those who remain faithful during the Great Tribulation (perhaps the 144,000), whereas the “Levites that went astray” may include Israelites who are saved at the twelfth hour. At any rate, this a hypothesis which I am seriously looking into. Although I am far from satisfied with the results of my studies, I believe that an important clue may be found in 2 Samuel 15: 23-30, where David, after crossing the brook Kidron, ascends the Mount of Olives, weeping as he goes. Now, read Christ’s Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13), and see if you can find the solution!