How do We Understand the Vision of the Future Temple as Described in the Book of Ezekiel?
According to the great sages of Israel, it is a positive commandment for the people of Israel to rebuild the Holy Temple conforming to the dimensions, characteristics and attributes of the Second Temple. Thus, although there were differences between the First and Second Temples, and vast differences between both of these and the vision of Ezekiel - it is the details of the Second Temple that are binding upon Israel for all time. This is why the majority of the Temple Institute's work and research, both in artistic representation as well as actual Temple restoration, centers on the aspects of the Second Temple.
These details and dimensions are clearly described in the Mishneh of Tractate Middot (literally, "attributes" or "measures") of the Babylonian Talmud. This tractate also includes the dimensions and layout of the Temple Mount, and discusses many matters applicable to both the Holy Temple and the Mount.
In his introduction to this tractate, the great sage Maimonides writes that its purpose is to preserve all the details of the Second Temple. This, he states, is "because when the time comes to rebuild, care should be taken to preserve these details and rebuild the Temple in the exact same manner... because it was built with Divine Inspiration. Thus the verse states, 'All this, said he, is put in writing by the hand of the L-rd who instructed me, all the works of this pattern' (II Chron. 28:19)."
"The structure of Solomon's temple is explained in the book of Kings," Maimonides states further. "When the Second Temple was originally constructed in the time of Ezra, it was built as a combination of the First Temple built by King Solomon, but including certain aspects of the things mentioned by Ezekiel, (in chapters 40-43, which were said with regard to the future Temple), as well. Herod razed the structure built by Ezra, and rebuilt it completely anew. Our sages stated: 'Whoever has never seen the building built by Herod, has never seen a beautiful building in his life'." Moreover, writes Maimonides, although the Temple that will be built in the future is written in the book of Ezekiel, it remains unexplained and unclear."
Many aspects of the Temple described by Ezekiel are difficult to comprehend, since that vision contains elements of prophetic insight which, in our generation, we do not have the spiritual or intellectual capacity to understand. For example, according to the prophecy of Ezekiel, the structure of the Third Temple will necessitate vast topographical changes in the environs of the Jerusalem. This Temple will differ drastically in size from its predecessors. According to Ezekiel's measurements, the new Temple will be so large that it will occupy the entire area of the city of Jerusalem. Ezekiel's prophecy explains that both the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives will be enlarged and expanded in the future.
Despite the uncertainties that we temporarily face in understanding the elements of Ezekiel's prophetic revelation, we can still appreciate the fact that this prophet's teaching was part of a larger, broader tradition that he received from the earlier prophets.
Thus, it should be noted when the Second Temple was erected, its builders incorporated a number of components that were based on Ezekiel's prophecy. Everything that they were able to understand from Ezekiel's words, they included in the structure of the Second Temple.
These details include, for example, the permanent closure of the southern gate (44:2); the chambers of the Women's Court ("the courts of the incense" - 46:21); and the width of the altar (3:1).
All of those details from Ezekiel's prophecy that were not explained in the Second Temple era, remain sealed until that time when "the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of G-d, as the waters that cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9). In the future, we shall be enlightened with a higher level of spiritual awareness and consciousness, and at that time we will have the ability to perceive the deeper meaning of all those portions of Ezekiel's vision that had heretofore been inaccessible. Until that time, it is the Second Temple's attributes that must be upheld when rebuilding the Temple. Most importantly, Israel's Divine obligation to rebuild the Holy Temple remains a constant and unchanging factor in the nation's life, throughout every generation.