To my knowledge, Ralph Alexander’s commentary in the revised EBC series (bound with Michael Brown’s new commentary on Jeremiah) is currently the standard dispensational commentary on Ezekiel. I’m going to quote from and comment on his arguments for the dispensational interpretation of the temple.
Geographical changes will be necessary prior to the fulfillment of chs. 45,47-48; therefore, one should not look to past or present fulfillments of these chapters but to the future, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Jeremiah ~ Ezekiel (Zondervan, rev. ed., 210), 7:868.
This assumes that because it can’t be literally fulfilled under past or present conditions, fulfillment awaits a future time when topographical changes will take place.
i) Of course, that’s not something which Alexander is getting from the text of Ezekiel. The text itself says nothing about God changing the topography of Jerusalem.
ii) Moreover, we could just as well (or better) draw the converse conclusion: since, by his own admission, it can’t be literally fulfilled as is, it was never meant to be taken literally.
The apocalyptic genre incorporates symbols and figures that are normally interpreted by a divine interpreter. Otherwise the text should be understood normally as the actual events of the vision that they were observed (868).
But “actual” events within a visionary narrative aren’t ipso facto identical with actual events outside the visionary narrative. What Alexander himself calls a "dream vision format" (651).
Likewise, visionary revelation is inherently abnormal. It induces an altered state of consciousness to reveal things which aren’t normally accessible or normally presentable.
To interpret these chapters in any other manner contradicts the divine interpretive guide in the vision. This guide warns Ezekiel that he is to write down all them minute details concerning the plan for the temple and its regulations so that these details might be considered carefully and followed in every aspect (40:4; 43:10-11; 44:5; cf. Ezk 25:9; 1Ch 28:19). Thus, a figurative symbolic approach does not adequately treat the issues of Ezekiel 40-48 (869).
i) Other issues aside, Alexander is illicitly converting imperatives into indicatives. But even if we think God is commanding the Jews to build a temple according to these specifications, you can’t infer indicatives from imperatives-for sinners frequently disobey divine commands. The OT is replete with broken laws.
Even if (arguendo) God ordered the Jews to build this temple, a command is not a prediction. What if the Jews failed to comply? After all, weren’t the Jews covenant-breakers? That’s why they were exiled in the first place. And they later rejected their Messiah.
ii) In context, the command isn’t addressed to endtime Jews. Rather, it’s addressed to Ezekiel’s contemporaries. Ezekiel is told in the vision that when he snaps out of his trance (or awakens from his dream), he’s supposed to write down what he heard and saw in the vision and relay that information to his fellow captives.
iii) The exilic Jews are to meditate on the significance of the visionary depiction. That’s perfectly consistent with a symbolic vision.
For instance, in Ezk 36, Ezekiel uses the imagery of ceremonial cleaning as a metaphor for spiritual cleansing. Then there’s the figurative imagery in Ezk 37.
Alexander himself speaks of “picture-lessons” (876). But picture-lessons can just as well be picturesque metaphors.
iv) Alexander admits that “Floor plans are revealed. Any superstructure must be conjectured” (879). But how can Jews follow the details in every aspect when key details are missing? That’s not a realistic blueprint.
A sudden reversion to some historical period, immediately following the captivity or during the time of Herod’s temple, seems out of place, as does an idealistic or symbolic temple (869).
Seems “out of place” in hindsight, but not from the perspective of the Babylonian captives.
It is first necessary to understand the prophetic perspective of the OT prophets. We must see the prophetic message from their viewpoint initially, not from our contemporary perspective in the light of the NT (869).
Let’s see if Alexander is faithful to that principle.
The OT prophets tended not to make distinctions within the period of discipline and judgment; rather, they portrayed near and far aspects of this time in the same passage. The discipline would begin with the Babylonian captivity and continue till the end of time. Some distinctions were observed, but chronological relations were seldom delineated.
Likewise, the prophets did not make distinctions between the millennium and the eternal state when describing the period of messianic blessing. Further distinctions are primarily the result of progressive revelation disclosed in the NT, especially Revelation, though some distinctions are implied in the OT prophets (e.g. Da 9-12).
Ezekiel, like his contemporizes, intermixes these various elements in his prophecies of judgment and the future kingdom. Undoubtedly this contributes to the difficulty in distinguishing the millennium and the eternal state in these chapters…One must look to the NT for any further clues for delineation whenever such are given (870).
i) Notice that Alexander is using the NT as an interpretive tool to interpolate distinctions that he can’t find in the text of Ezk 40-48. He’s assuming–indeed, stipulating–the presence of chronological ellipses in Ezekiel’s vision. But the vision itself doesn’t have those breaks or dislocations.
That’s not a face-value, plain-sense reading of the text. And if he can use the NT as an interpretive tool, why can’t amillennial interpreters like Gregory Beale, Iain Duguid, and O. P. Robertson?
ii) He’s assuming at the outset that there is a distinction between the millennium and the eternal state, then superimposing that extraneous framework onto the text. But that’s retrojective. That’s not beginning with the OT text.
Both writers receive apocalyptic visions on a high mountain with an interpreting messenger present and holding a measuring rod to measure various structures (Eze 40:2-5; Rev 21:2,10,15). Both visions portray waters flowing forth toward the east, with trees alongside and leaves for healing (Eze 47:1-7,12; Rev 22:1-2). The names of Israel’s twelve tribes are written on the city’s twelve gates in both visions (Eze 48:31-34; Rev 21:12), and three gates each are found on the east, south, north, and western sides of the city respectively (Eze 48:30-34; Rev 21:13).
In addition, however, there are equally clear dissimilarities between the two passages…It seems, therefore, that Ezekiel 40-48 may be primarily describing the millennial temple… (871).
If the two visions are so closely parallel, yet different in some details, isn’t an obvious explanation for their complex interrelationship the fact that we’re dealing with variations on a common underlying metaphor? A type/token relation?
Ezekiel and John are combining and recombining archetypal motifs involving sacred space (e.g. the temple, Eden, Jerusalem). John is creatively adapting Ezekiel. Because symbolism isn’t literally descriptive, it can be reimagined in various ways.