Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
While Ezekiel is describing the new Temple (most scholars think he is writing of the not-yet-built-today third Temple) he continually makes references to “the prince.” During this read-through, I kept stopping and wondering what he means by “the prince.” It’s strange because he never references a king, always the prince. Who is this prince and where is the king in all of this?
Before getting into what the Holy Spirit finally explained to me. Let’s take a look at some of these passages so you get a better idea of what I’m talking about. According to Ezekiel 46:1-3, the prince holds a position higher than everyone else:
This is what the Sovereign Lord says: the gate of the inner court facing east is to be shut on the six working days, but on the Sabbath day and on the day of the New Moon it is to be opened. The prince is to enter form the outside through the portico of the gateway and stand by the gatepost. The priests are to sacrifice his burnt offering and his fellowship offerings. He is to worship at the threshold of the gateway and then go out, but the gate will not be shut until evening. On the Sabbaths and New Moons the people of the land are to worship in the presence of the Lord at the entrance to that gateway.
So the prince, in his higher position, gets special access compared to the average people. Ezekiel also establishes that the prince is second only to God,
Then the man brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, the one facing east, and it was shut. The Lord said to me, “This gate is to remain shut. It must not be opened; no one may enter through it. It is to remain shut because the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered through it. The prince himself is the only one who may sit inside the gateway to eat in the presence of the Lord. He is to enter by way of the portico of the gateway and go out the same way” (Ezekiel 44:1-3).
The prince also has a special offering that he offers for the whole community,
This is the special gift you are to offer: a sixth of an ephah from each homer of wheat and a sixth of an ephah from each homer of barley. The prescribed portion of oil, measured by the bath, is a tenth of a bath from each cor (which consists of ten baths or one homer, for ten baths are equivalent to a homer). Also one sheep is to be taken from every flock of two hundred from the well-watered pastures of Israel. These will be used for the grain offerings, burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to make atonement for the people, declares the Sovereign Lord. All the people of the land will participate in this special gift for the use of the prince in Israel (Ezekiel 45:13-16).
If you’re really curious about sacrifices and offerings to God, check out the early chapters of Leviticus. There you’ll find that generally only leaders and priests can sacrifice for the whole community. Therefore, through this we can understand that whoever the prince may be, he holds quite a bit of power over the people. Along with his great power, comes great responsibility. For we read,
It will be the duty of the prince to provide the burnt offerings, grain offerings and drink offerings at the festivals, the New Moons and the Sabbaths- at all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel. He will provide the sin offerings, grain offerings, burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to make atonement for the house of Israel (Ezekiel 45:17).
So along with having the offering for the people, the prince is also charged with having to provide all of the supplies for the varied offerings and sacrifices at special times. This is not without its perks though, for the prince also has his own special plots of land in Israel allotted to him:
What remains on both sides of the area formed by the sacred portion and the city property will belong to the prince. It will extend eastward from the 25,000 cubits of the sacred portion to the eastern border, and westward from the 25,000 cubits to the western border. Both these areas running the length of the tribal portions will belong to the prince, and the sacred portion with the temple sanctuary will be in the center of them (Ezekiel 48:17).
Talk about prime real estate! The prince will own the land on both sides of the Temple, including the east side, whose gate we read is to be considered quite holy. Whoever this prince is, he’s got a lot of power, high standing in the Lord, and some sweet real estate (though balanced with a lot of responsibility).
At first I considered that the prince might be some future vision of Jesus- I mean it makes sense, given the descriptions above. However, the Holy Spirit reminded me that there may be multiple princes. Check this out,
The prince will have the land bordering each side of the area formed by the sacred district and the property of the city. It will extend westward from the west side and eastward from the east side, running lengthwise from the western to the eastern border parallel to one of the tribal portions. This land will be his possession in Israel. And my princes will no longer oppress my people but will allow the house of Israel to possess the land according to their tribes (Ezekiel 45:7-8).
Multiple princes? Well there goes the Jesus theory. Well then, who the heck could this dude (or, I guess, dudes) be? It was while I was wondering about the identity of the prince, the Holy Spirit reminded me about North Korea. Kim Jong-Il wasn’t the president of his country. Rather, he held the title of “supreme leader” (as does his son Kim Jong-Un), a step down from president. The official president of North Korea is actually Kim Jong-Il’s father, Kim Il-Sung. …But wait, Kim Il-Sung is dead. In North Korea, the people are encouraged to worship their leaders as essentially gods; therefore it’s ok that Kim Il-Sung is already dead because he’s a god, so his leadership need not be taken away. Oddly enough, this (idolatrous) doctrine lines up with our view on Christ. For the Bible tells us that Jesus is the King of Kings. We can see this in his great return in Revelation 19:11-16,
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
Jesus holds a place higher than any earthly kings or lords. He is above them in all things kind of like how Kim Il-Sung is still over his ancestors. However, there is a distinct difference. Kim Il-Sung was just a man; and now he’s dead. Jesus, on the other hand, is very much alive, for he triumphed over death through his resurrection. After his crucifixion, Jesus was laid in a tomb. Three days later though, after the Sabbath, some of his female followers went to better prepare the body (as he had been taken down in haste due to it also being Passover at the time). When they came though, there was no Jesus, but rather an angel with a special message waiting for them. After scaring the guards and frightening the women, we read as the angel explains,
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you” (Matthew 28:5-7).
Our faith is not based on what some angel said though; check out what happened next,
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feed and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me” (Matthew 28:8-10).
Jesus traveled around after he was raised and did many miracles. It’s pretty well documented in the Gospels, so I won’t quote any more here; you can check it out yourself. Not only did Jesus rise from the dead, but he ascended into heaven alive. Upon finishing his final speech to his disciples, we read, “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight” (Acts 1:9). This means that Jesus, though in heaven, is still alive and well. Because of this, Paul had confidence in writing,
Here is a trustworthy saying:
If we died with him,
We will also live with him;
If we endure,
We will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
He will also disown us;
If we are faithless,
He will remain faithful,
For he cannot disown himself (2 Timothy 2:11-13).
Notice that Paul always uses the present tense with Jesus. Jesus still “is” even though Paul “was.” Therefore, since he’s still alive, this means that there can be no king for Israel in the 3rd Temple period (whenever that may be). Because Jesus is King in heaven, any earthly ruler can only obtain the title of prince.
Alright, so why is any of this important? Through his position, we must understand that Jesus governs over all things. Heck, he was even with God at the creation, so he’s one of the architects of life, the universe, and everything. We know this because it’s written, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). As we already read from Revelation, the Word is the King of Kings who is Jesus. He was with God at the beginning (and also was God at the same time- the Trinity is a discussion for another day). Aside from being there at the beginning and having his hand in creation, Christ also was given dominion over all through his sacrifice on a cross in our stead. Paul notes this in Philippians 2:8-11,
And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled himself
And became obedient to death- even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
And gave him the name that is above every name,
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
In heaven and on earth and under the earth,
And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
To the glory of God the Father.
In his position as the name over all names, Jesus takes his throne in heaven above all things. Though, even before his death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus commanded quite a bit of power in heaven. When his disciples tried to prevent his arrest, Christ rebuked them, noting, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53) Due to his status as both God and man, and also as the Sovereign over all, Jesus is not some sort of ethereal “God” figure, but rather he is our King and is directly over our day to day affairs. Therefore, think not of some sort of wispy, vapory, cloudy God, but rather remember that Jesus is our King, a real person, watching over all of his subjects. We should, then, take heart when we read Solomon’s advice in Ecclesiastes 8:2-4,
Obey the king’s command, I say, because you took an oath before God. Do not be in a hurry to leave the king’s presence. Do not stand up for a bad cause, for he will do whatever he pleases. Since a king’s word is supreme, who can say to him, “What are you doing?”
When you come to Christ for forgiveness and accept his salvation, you are pledging your life in service to your new King.
Luckily, we have a good King. As a member of Christ’s kingdom, you can have confidence in approaching him on anything, since it is within his dominion (as he is the King over creation). Hebrews 4:14-16 reminds us of this stance in Jesus while reminding us of his multiple roles in our lives,
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are- yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Jesus serves as both our access way to the throne of God and the King who reigns on it; for salvation was given through Christ’s death and his sovereignty was declared upon his sacrifice for us. Along with this confidence that our Savior is our Lord, we also have been given the King’s keys. Jesus told Peter in Matthew 16:19, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” However, this was not a promise exclusive to Peter, but given to all of Christ’s followers in Matthew 18:18, “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” As a believer you actually have quite a bit of dominion over this world, as the King has given you access to his keys. I know some people get freaked out with all of this lordship talk. Nobody likes having someone over them because they fear being lead in directions they don’t want to go or told to do things they don’t want to do (or to stop doing things they like doing). However, believers need not fear, for Christ the King is our friend. He said himself,
I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:15).
Let’s not lie; being a friend to the King of everything is a pretty awesome place to be.
Consider, then, your place in the kingdom of Christ. By acknowledging Christ’s sovereignty in our lives, we will be allowed to reign with him; for it is written, “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3:21). However, by denying Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you face eternal punishment; as it is written, “But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:33). Therefore, I implore you; bow down to the only remaining King. And step into his throne room through prayer, and receive from him that which you ask- be it salvation and forgiveness as a former non-believer, or whatever you may need as a servant to the great high King.
“Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.”
-Peter (1 Peter 2:17)