Dr. Riddlebarger, a Westminster CA Prof., put up a great post responding to these two questions last week:
“These are great questions because discussions of the temple come up frequently, especially in light of the dispensational expectation of a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem during the tribulation and then during millennial age. While I don’t have the space to cover all of the details that Meg mentions, hopefully, I can give you a sense of how these things should be interpreted.
As Beale points out, there are four main interpretations of Ezekiel’s prophecy and how it is fulfilled (or not) in the New Testament. Dispensationalists believe that this vision is a prophecy of an earthly temple to be built within Israel during the millennial age (cf. Pentecost, Things to Come, 393; Walvoord, Major Bible Prophecies, 169). Dispensationalists base this interpretation upon their literal hermeneutic, which they say demands that a prophecy such as this one be interpreted literally, unless there is good reason to believe the prophecy should be interpreted figuratively.
Unlike dispensationalists, advocates of the other main interpretations all agree that the context demands a figurative interpretation. I agree. Some see this an ideal temple never intended to be built upon the earth (in my estimation, the weakest interpretation), others see this as a vision of the ideal temple (OK, as far as it goes), while still others see this as a picture of a real heavenly temple, which will be established on the earth in a non-structural way in the latter days (Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 335).
In other words, I believe Ezekiel is giving us a picture of the new earth in the prophetic terms with which his readers were familiar (Hoekema, The Bible and Future, 205). This is a picture of the new earth as the dwelling of God. Ezekiel prophesies it in earthly terms (complete with all the temple utensils), while John describes its fulfilled version (in eschatological terms).
Based upon a number of factors, I think it is clear that the prophecy is points to a non-structural end-times temple.
First, the prophecy cannot be interpreted literally and still make any sense. When God places the prophet on a very high mountain (40:1-2) he sees something like a city (obviously Jerusalem). Yet, there is no such high mountain near Jerusalem from which the prophet could have had such a vantage point. But this literal high mountain is required by the dispensational view. Where is it? Given the nature of Ezekiel’s prophecy, this language should alert us to the fact that what follows is given the symbolic geography of the prophet.
This is confirmed in Revelation 21:10, where John is carried away “in the Spirit” to a high mountain from which he sees the Holy City coming down out of heaven. Obviously, the visions are related to each other as type-antitype (earthly language, eschatological fulfillment). What Ezekiel promised, John sees as a reality, and yet the reality seen by John far exceeds anything in Ezekiel’s vision. As Beale points out, there are a significant number of other instances in this prophecy which make the literal interpretation very unlikely, if not impossible (pp. 337-340).
Second, there are a number of features within the prophecy which refer to something much greater than a localized temple in Jerusalem during the millennium. In verse 40:2, it is clear that Ezekiel sees a structure “like a city” (the temple), while in the final verse of the prophecy (48:35) he says that the cities’ name is “the Lord is there.” Here we have the expansion of the localized temple into an area the size of the entire city of Jerusalem. This expansion of God’s temple is a consistent theme throughout Ezekiel (Beale, pp. 340-345) There are allusions to Eden throughout the prophecy (47:1-12). The city is depicted as a perfect square and the reference to the river is obviously symbolic, since it is deep enough that it can only be crossed by swimming (47:5).
Finally, it is obvious that Revelation 21 presents Ezekiel’s vision in its consummated fulfillment. In other words, John is given a vision of the same temple, but now from the vantage point of Christ’s death and resurrection and the dawn of the new creation–something which would have made no sense whatsoever to Ezekiel or his hearers. As Beale points out (pp. 346-345), the new heavens and earth are now the holy of holies, as well as the new Jerusalem, and the new Eden. On the last day, all creation becomes the temple of God. The temple has been expanded (extended) from a building, to a city, to all of creation.
This means that Ezekiel’s vision is a prophecy not of an earthly temple (although the prophet uses earthly language his readers could understand), but of an eschatological temple, depicted in its consummated form and unspeakable glory by John in Revelation 21-22.”