Princes, Priests, and Levites
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“Mark well, and behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears all that I say unto thee concerning all the ordinances of the house of Jehovah, and all the laws thereof; and mark well the entrance of the house, with every egress of the sanctuary” (Ezekiel 44:5).
Ezekiel chapter 44 is part of the Temple vision that was granted to the prophet. Chapters 40 to the end of the book contain many details that are pictures of how the Millennial Kingdom under the rule of the glorified Messiah will operate.
The previous chapter ends with the proclamation that the altar had been purified and was now available to accept the burnt offerings and peace offerings of the people. This represents that the sacrifice of Christ and the Church is complete and accepted for atonement on behalf of the world.1 The angel who had brought Ezekiel to see these wondrous things of the vision now conducts him to the next stage of revelation.
We can break up chapter 44 loosely into three sections as follows:
Section 1 — verses 1-3
Section 2 — verses 4-9
Section 3 — verses 10-14
Section 4 — verses 15-30
Verse 1 — “Then he brought me back by the way of the outer gate of the sanctuary, which looketh toward the east; and it was shut” (Ezekiel 44:1, ASV). The Gospel Age sacrifices are complete and the high calling has ended. The east gate had been the “door” to the calling to follow Jesus in his life of consecration unto death. The gate being shut signifies that this opportunity is finished. The victorious church has entered in by this east gate to the heavenly reward of priesthood and kingship.
“[Ezekiel] first sees the Temple and then beholds the glory of the Lord entering the Temple through the eastern gate, and that gate closed after the Lord. This represents the closing of the door at the end of this age, as our Lord portrayed it in the parable of the ten virgins. The door will be shut, the glory of the Lord will have entered into the Temple. … Subsequent to this shutting of the door … the prophet is shown the issuing of the water from under the threshold. The lesson, therefore, is clear and explicit … that not until the glory of the Lord shall have entered his Temple, not until the Church shall be glorified, not until that door shall be forever shut, will the water of life issue forth” (R3623).
The waters of life coming from the east gate, as Br. Russell observed above, verifies that the church went through the east gate and now resides in the spiritual realms delivering the blessings of atonement to the world, as depicted in the picture in Ezekiel 47.
Verse 2 — “And Jehovah said unto me, This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, neither shall any man enter in by it; for Jehovah, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it; therefore it shall be shut.” This is an emphatic declaration by God Himself that the door to the prize of the high calling is then closed and will not open again. This is sobering to all running for that prize now. There is a limited time, both individually and dispensationally. We do well to examine ourselves and see that we use our time wisely.
Verse 3 — “As for the prince, he shall sit therein as prince to eat bread before Jehovah; he shall enter by the way of the porch of the gate, and shall go out by the way of the same.”
Who is “the prince”? The invisible Kingdom of the spiritual realm will be represented on earth by the faithful worshippers of the past, the Ancient Worthies who served God before the ransom sacrifice of Jesus was given. These could not enter the “narrow way” because it had not been brought to light until the ministry of Jesus. What reward could they hope for? Human life on earth, resurrected as perfect humans as a special reward for their faithfulness, in many cases unto death. The rest of humanity must attain perfection gradually while walking on the “highway of holiness.” But these Ancient Worthies will have a “better resurrection.” (Hebrews 11:35).
The designation “prince” in Ezekiel echoes the usage in Psalm 45. After referring to Jesus in verses 1 through 9 and the church in verse 10 through 15, verse 16 says, “Instead of thy fathers shall be thy children, whom thou mayest make princes in all the earth.”
The Ancient Worthies were the “fathers” of Israel throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. These “fathers” need redemption along with the rest of mankind. They will be the first resurrected “children” of the Kingdom. They will be constitute “princes,” royal representatives of the Kings of the Kingdom of Heaven.2
The “porch” is the closest point to the “gate.” This shows the close association between the Ancient Worthies and the ruling “Christ” within the sanctuary. The prince will sit in the porch and eat “bread.” Jesus told us in John 4:34, “My meat [bread] is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.” Eating bread is a metaphor for this blessed class doing the will of God in the earthly Kingdom.
Verse 4 — “Then he brought me by the way of the north gate before the house; and I looked, and, behold, the glory of Jehovah filled the house of Jehovah: and I fell upon my face.” The direction of north here refers to Jehovah’s seat of kingly power. There is something similar in Isaiah 14:13,14 where the rebellion of Lucifer is described. “Thou saidst in thy heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; and I will sit upon the mount of congregation, in the uttermost parts of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” This is symbolic language, of course, but the association of north with God’s throne is clear.3
So Ezekiel in vision was brought by the north gate and, unsurprisingly, saw the glory of God filling the temple. He was so overcome by this vision that he fell upon his face. This is a common reaction on the part of righteous men when confronted by the glory of God or judgment of God. Abraham reacted this way when talking with God (Genesis 17:3). Moses responded in this way when he realized that rebellion against God was brewing (Numbers 16:4). Joshua fell upon his face when he realized he was speaking to an angel of Jehovah (Joshua 5:14).
Verse 5 — “Jehovah said unto me, Son of man, mark well, and behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears all that I say unto thee concerning all the ordinances of the house of Jehovah, and all the laws thereof; and mark well the entrance of the house, with every egress of the sanctuary.”
Ezekiel was given this awesome vision of the temple. Because it is a symbolic picture of the Heavenly Kingdom in many of its details, he was told to pay particular attention to the regulations of this temple along with the entry and exits to it. This reminds us of a similar command to Moses when he received the vision of the Tabernacle and was told in Exodus 25:40, “Look that thou make them after their pattern, which was shewed thee in the mount.”
There is a character lesson here to the New Creation that we study with diligent care the details of the Divine Plan. We are told this plainly in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study [give diligence, ASV] to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
Verse 6 — “Thou shalt say to the rebellious, even to the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: O ye house of Israel, let it suffice you of all your abominations.”
The entire nation of Israel had its rebellious people but the priesthood was particularly blameworthy because they had the prime religious responsibility. The priesthood in Ezekiel’s time, just before the destruction of the city by Nebuchadnezzar, was particularly corrupt, along with the political rulers. They did not attend their sacred duty of teaching the people and leading them in the pure worship of Jehovah. The time came for God’s judgment. This is true also for the antitypical priesthood of the Gospel Age. A portion of the Gospel age church has been measurably unfaithful. This prophecy enumerates this and the consequences of it.
Verse 7 — “In that ye have brought in foreigners, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, to be in my sanctuary, to profane it, even my house, when ye offer my bread, the fat and the blood, and they have broken my covenant, to add unto all your abominations.”
Even the first century church saw a beginning of this sad development. The apostle Paul foresaw this and warned the elders at the church in Ephesus about it. “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:28-30).
Paul wrote about this again in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-7. “Let no man beguile you in any wise: for it will not be, except the falling away come first, and the man of sin4 he that opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God or that is worshipped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know that which restraineth, to the end that he may be revealed in his own season. For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work:”
This came about because of lax standards of morals and truth especially after the apostles left the scene. If the elders of the churches had stood firm for doctrines of truth and insured that no compromises of principle were permitted, no outside evil influence would come in. But as weaker elders came into office, the corruptive influences of the world wormed their way into the church. In time, unconsecrated “wolves” came into position of power. These are the “foreigners” who came into the sanctuary class of the Gospel Age.
Verse 8 — “Ye have not kept the charge of my holy things; but ye have set keepers of my charge in my sanctuary for yourselves.” This is a sad charge laid at the feet of some members of the holy, Gospel Age priesthood. They had neglected their sacred responsibility to “keep” the flock of God.
Verse 9 — “Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary, of any foreigners that are among the children of Israel.” In the type, Jehovah here distinguishes between the consecrated priesthood and non- Israelite foreigners. In the antitype the contrast is the same. Those of the consecrated, spirit-begotten followers of Jesus enter into the joys of the master. The false, unconsecrated, un-spirit-begotten tares of the Gospel Age do not.
Perhaps Jesus refers to this class in Matthew 7:21-23. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” This “foreigner” class will not come into the heavenly sanctuary. They are rejected as false Christians.
Verse 10 — “But the Levites that went far from me, when Israel went astray, that went astray from me after their idols, they shall bear their iniquity.” We now focus on the sins of the “Levite” class. In the type, the Levites were not priests, but rather assistants to the priests. In the antitype this is also true. The difference is that every one of the spirit-begotten has a full opportunity to become a member of the “move than overcomer” class. However, the antitypical Levites, also designated the “great company” class that fails to carry out the terms of their vow of consecration to the will of the heavenly Father.
In this case we have a picture of some portion of the great company class that is guilty of extreme negligence in their Christian duties. Their sin is idolatry, the sin of putting something else in place of the worship of God. It is linked to Israel going astray. We already saw that typical Israel went astray in a most abominable way. Likewise antitypical Israel, the church of the Gospel age, went astray into error and the eventual creation of the man of sin. It seems that the great company class, in their neglect to keep holy things holy, have a responsibility for this deviation from the truth. Consequently, they will bear the judgment of God against them. “They shall bear their iniquity.”
The use of this expression is interesting. We see it in several forms in the book of Leviticus. For instance, in the Day of Atonement instructions in chapter 16 we see the scapegoat, generally accepted to be a type of the great company, have the sins of Israel laid upon it. Verses 20 to 22 read, “When he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat: And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.”
There are strong parallels here with our study of Ezekiel. We saw in Ezekiel 43 that the completion of the sacrifices reconciled the altar and made it available to receive the offerings of the people. Verse 20 notes specifically that the reconciling of the holy place and tabernacle is ended before the live goat is dealt with. The Levites are said to “bear their iniquity.” The live goat is said to “bear … all their iniquities.” More pointedly, Leviticus 18:23 says: “But the Levites shall do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they shall bear their iniquity:”
Verse 11 — “Yet they shall be ministers in my sanctuary, having oversight at the gates of the house, and ministering in the house: they shall slay the burnt offering and the sacrifice for the people, and they shall stand before them to minister unto them.”
This verse brings a somewhat unexpected thought. We would have expected a heavier judgment because of the sin of idolatry and the partial responsibility for leading the church astray. But instead the destiny of this class is to minister in God’s sanctuary as assistants in the Kingdom work. We should not discount that there is heavy judgment here. The next verse reminds us of God’s displeasure and judgment.
Verse 12 — “Because they ministered unto them before their idols, and became a stum- blingblock of iniquity unto the house of Israel; therefore have I lifted up my hand against them, saith the Lord Jehovah, and they shall bear their iniquity.” God’s hand is against them!
Ezekiel does not describe precisely how these antitypical Levites bear their iniquity. However, we do find that elsewhere in scripture along with another view of their work. In Revelation 7:14,15 says, “These are they that come out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God; and they serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall spread his tabernacle over them.”
Thus the great company go through a great tribulation which purifies them. Then, purified through the disciplines of the Lord, they “serve him day and night in the temple” — or, as Ezekiel writes, “they shall be ministers in my sanctuary.”
Verse 13 — “They shall not come near unto me, to execute the office of priest unto me, nor to come near to any of my holy things, unto the things that are most holy; but they shall bear their shame, and their abominations which they have committed.” Here is the great judgment! The great company have lost their crowns. What a tragedy! What a loss! They are excluded forever from the office and function of a priest. It is a shameful loss of the most wonderful and precious gift that has ever been or could ever be offered from the hand of God.
Verse 14 — “Yet will I make them keepers of the charge of the house, for all the service thereof, and for all that shall be done therein.” The great company of antitypical Levites is still saved. Their non-spiritual works are burned up, but they are saved through fire (1 Corinthians 3:15). They are given the grace of working with the church in uplifting mankind. What a generous and understanding God!
Verse 15 — “But the priests the Levites, the sons of Zadok, that kept the charge of my sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from me, they shall come near to me to minister unto me; and they shall stand before me to offer unto me the fat and the blood, saith the Lord Jehovah:”
Now we come to the faithful Levites, the antitypical priests developed during the Gospel Age. They are called “the sons of Zadok.” The name “Zadok” means righteous or just. The use of this name to identify the faithful, overcoming church brings us back to the reign of David and Solomon.
Zadok was present when King David brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 15:11,14). He was faithfully loyal to David when his son Absalom rebelled against his father (2 Samuel 15). After the rebellion was over, Zadok was instrumental in securing David’s favorable reception in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 19:11-14). Finally, David appointed Zadok to anoint Solomon as king (1 Kings 1). During the reign of Solomon, the king appointed him as the High Priest.5
All of this recommends “the priest, the Levites, the sons of Zadok” as the overcoming church who are faithful and loyal to the antitypical Solomon, Jesus Christ in his glorious reign.
We are told that they “kept the charge” and because of that steadfastness will be permitted to come into full, intimate fellowship with God and offer the “fat,” the results of their zealous service, and the “blood,” the experience of rendering their lives unto death as they vowed to do. They are well qualified to serve in the office of priests and kings in the work to reconcile mankind to their Creator.
Verse 16 — “They shall enter into my sanctuary, and they shall come near to my table, to minister unto me, and they shall keep my charge.” Again, God emphasizes the reward of faithful service in the precious fellowship with God. They will have the precious privilege of managing the carrying out of Jehovah’s will for all creation.
Verse 17 — “It shall be that, when they enter in at the gates of the inner court, they shall be clothed with linen garments; and no wool shall come upon them, while they minister in the gates of the inner court, and within.”
Entering in at the gates of the inner court is synonymous with coming onto the divine plane of immortal glory. No longer will they need to cover themselves with the righteousness of Jesus. Now they will be clothed in their own righteousness! They have personal purity pictured by the white linen garments (Revelation 19:8).
“No wool will come upon them.” Wool is very good at heat retention and will cause sweat. In the next verse we are told that they will put nothing on that causes sweat. Perhaps this is a picture that the church has entered fully, completely and finally into God’s rest.
There is a saying in the world, “Don’t sweat it.” It is a metaphor for worry and the need to work to resolve an issue. There will be no such situation for the church in glory. They are fully qualified by virtue of their sin-offering experiences to handle any problem that comes before them with calmness and love.
One other possible lesson here in the prohibition of wool could be that the era of animal sacrifice is over. No animal product was to be used as the sacrifices unto death of these underpriests have now moved on to the outworking of those sin-offering experiences in the mediation work of the Kingdom.
Verse 18 — “They shall have linen tires [“bonnets,” KJV] upon their heads, and shall have linen breeches upon their loins; they shall not gird themselves with anything that causeth sweat.” The linen bonnets upon their heads show that they are the underpriests and that Jesus Christ is still their head. As linen represents righteousness, they righteously acknowledge the headship of Christ and ultimately God! “I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:13).
Linen breeches are part of the garments of priests, but in this case it is no longer to give a sacrifice, but rather to receive it from the people. As mentioned for the previous verse, this ministry is not a “sweaty” one, but rather one in the glorious and ultimate rest of God.
Verse 19 — “When they go forth into the outer court, even into the outer court to the people, they shall put off their garments wherein they minister, and lay them in the holy chambers; and they shall put on other garments, that they sanctify not the people with their garments.”
This change of garments provides an interesting possibility. As the ministering garments represented the Kingdom glory of these priests, the changing of the garments suggests another aspect of their ministry. This change is said to occur when they go into the outer court of the people. In other words, when they meet the people they have different garments. This suggests the possibility that the church in glory may have the opportunity to materialize a physical body with which to communicate to the people. But what would the need be of that, inasmuch as the Ancient Worthies will be on the scene to fully meet the governing requirements of the earthly, visible part of the Kingdom?
Note the part of this verse that says, “they sanctify not the people with their garments.”
This seems to say that the garment change is not for the Kingdom use of sanctifying the people. In fact, Leeser’s translation reads, “They shall not mingle among the people with their garments.” So if this garment change is not to sanctify the people, then what is the purpose? We jump forward to verse 25 for this answer.
Verse 25 — “They shall go in to no dead person to defile themselves; but for father, or for mother, or for son, or for daughter, for brother, or for sister that hath had no husband, they may defile themselves.”
The typical priests were not to defile themselves by contact with the dead (Leviticus 21:1,21). But here, the rule is expressed, but with exceptions. The exceptions are for close family. In the antitype, the dead are the world on the highway of holiness striving and moving toward life, i.e. the human race before achieving perfection.
So considering verses 19 and 25 together, we suggest that members of the overcoming church may be permitted contact with the close members of their families whom they left behind for heavenly life. There is a logic and justice to this because every other family of the earth will be regathered together as individuals. But for the families of the church, they will not have that intimate regathering. And so a special dispensation seems to be given here that we who have gone to our heavenly reward will be able to have some level of regathering with our families, if for no other reason than to assure them personally of our love of them even though we no longer are human.
This being a very personal arrangement, it is not a part of the sanctification process of the world that is done through the Kingdom governmental arrangements.
Verse 20 — “Neither shall they shave their heads, nor suffer their locks to grow long; they shall only cut off the hair of their heads.” As the Nazarites of old were not permitted to cut their hair as a show of faithfulness to their vows, so these priests in glory are shown to be eternally faithful to their vows. They would not shave their heads — another symbol of submission to the will of God. Not letting their locks grow too long suggests the moderation with which they conduct themselves in their ministry.
Verse 21 — “Neither shall any of the priests drink wine, when they enter into the inner court.” This antitypical priesthood will always be in full control of their faculties and manage their priesthood with soberness.
Verse 22 — “Neither shall they take for their wives a widow, nor her that is put away; but they shall take virgins of the seed of the house of Israel, or a widow that is the widow of a priest.”
Women and wives are frequently a symbol of divine promises or covenants. We suggest that virgins represent unfulfilled promises or covenants, and widows show incomplete covenants. So this royal priesthood will bring to fruition all of the promises of God to bless the earth! They will be the blessing seed of the Abrahamic covenant that will bless all families of the earth to a restored relationship with their Creator.
Verse 23 — “And they shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean.”
This is one of the most succinct descriptions in the Bible of the purpose of the church toward mankind. They will teach them righteousness and ultimately write this eternal law on the hearts of all of the willing, thus staging them for everlasting life. The personal lesson to us now is that we must learn this first before we can teach it to others!
Verse 24 — “In a controversy they shall stand to judge; according to mine ordinances shall they judge it: and they shall keep my laws and my statutes in all my appointed feasts; and they shall hallow my sabbaths.”
The church in glory will be the judges of the earth. They will teach and enforce the righteous laws of the Kingdom. Ancient Israel enjoyed the three yearly feasts of worship and rejoicing in their God. So in the Kingdom, there may well be national feasts that will offer times to thank God for all of the blessings received and endear every person one to another in the love of God. We have at least one feast that is prophesied to be celebrated in that Kingdom. Zechariah 14:16,17:
“It shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations that came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, Jehovah of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles. And it shall be, that whoso of all the families of the earth goeth not up unto Jerusalem to worship the King, Jehovah of hosts, upon them there shall be no rain.”
Verse 25 — “They shall go in to no dead person to defile themselves; but for father, or for mother, or for son, or for daughter, for brother, or for sister that hath had no husband, they may defile themselves.” This was discussed in connection with verse 19.
Verse 26 — “After he is cleansed, they shall reckon unto him seven days.” For the church in glory there is never to be any real defilement from which they must be cleansed. Perhaps this represents that any intimate contact with the human family of the glorified church member will be perfect in its results, as suggested by the number seven.
Verse 27 — “In the day that he goeth into the sanctuary, into the inner court, to minister in the sanctuary, he shall offer his sin-offering, saith the Lord Jehovah.” The ministration of Christ and the Church will be perfect and fruitful because of their sin-offering experiences. The offering of the sin-offering depicts their use of their experiences with sin in the flesh during the gospel age. They understand the proclivities of the fallen flesh and are superbly equipped to help mankind through any kind of experience they had. Their ministration will be full of mercy and compassion because of the empathy that their sacrificial lives of Earth taught them.
Verse 28 — “They shall have an inheritance: I am their inheritance; and ye shall give them no possession in Israel; I am their possession.” The heavenly inheritance on the plane of the divine nature is the inheritance of the church. They will fellowship with God in a way that no other creature in all creation can do. The inheritance of man is the earth and physical creation. But God himself is the inheritance of the little flock.
Verse 29 — “They shall eat the meal-offering, and the sin-offering, and the trespass-offering; and every devoted thing in Israel shall be theirs.” The church will accept the offering of the human family as they walk up the highway of holiness (Isaiah 35:8). The human family are truly their children, and as diligent parents the church will be devoted to their care and nurturing of them in the knowledge of God and the need to become perfect in character.
Verse 30 — “The first of all the first fruits of every thing, and every oblation of everything, of all your oblations, shall be for the priest: ye shall also give unto the priests the first of your dough, to cause a blessing to rest on thy house.” The church in glory is a first fruits in itself (Romans 8:23). But the human race itself is a fruitage. Every human being who attains life everlasting will desire their own fruitage of character and works to be given to the priest as an offering to their God. The result will be an eternal blessing upon them.
Verse 31 — “The priests shall not eat of anything that dieth of itself, or is torn, whether it be bird or beast.” This last verse perhaps refers to those that enter the second death. Because all human have free moral agency, their decision to resist the kindly attractions of the Kingdom becomes a decision to die. So such an one “dieth of itself.” For such there is no acceptance available from the priests. The final rejection and judgment is all that remains.
(1) See Beauties of the Truth, February, 2012, “The Sacrificial Ritual of Ezekiel 43,” and February 2013, “The Ordinances of the Altar,” for a fuller treatment of Ezekiel chapter 43.
(2) Interesting that David is designated a prince in Ezekiel 34:24. “And I, Jehovah, will be their God, and my servant David prince among them; I, Jehovah, have spoken it.” He certainly is one of the Ancient Worthies. See also Ezekiel 37:25.
(3) A similar text showing north as a source of God’s power is in Job 26:7, “He stretcheth out the north over empty space, and hangeth the earth upon nothing.”
(4) Man of lawlessness per the better manuscripts and translations (RSV, NIV, NASB, ESV, New World, Kingdom Interlinear, Rotherham).