For modern readers, the details with which Ezekiel describes the temple of the restoration period may seem obscure, especially since we do not believe that the prophet actually intended for the temple to be built according to these specifications. However, no word in Scripture was carelessly chosen, and the details of Ezekiel's vision of the glorious post-exilic temple help us understand his message and how it anticipates the work of Christ.
Ezekiel envisioned a temple surrounded by a walled court with three gates—one each on the north, south, and east. This inner court is surrounded by a walled outer court with three gates—one each on the north, south, and east (Ezek. 40). When the Lord returns to the temple in Ezekiel's vision, He enters the courts through the east gates on the outer and inner court walls and then into the temple through its entrance, which also faces east (43:1–5).
With this background, we can better appreciate the significance of today's passage and its description of worship in this new temple during the era of restoration. Note that the east gate of the inner court remains closed all day every day except the Sabbath and the day of the festival of the new moon (46:1). The north and south gates remain open on a daily basis so that worshippers can present daily offerings, but the east gate is closed. On the days that the east gate on the inner court is open all day, only the prince—the king and leader of Israel—can enter by it (vv. 2–8). Also, this east gate can be opened at any time the prince wants to make a freewill offering, but it only stays open for the duration of the offering (v. 12). Since only the prince can enter by the same east gate of the inner court that God entered in Ezekiel 43, the true prince of the restoration is identified with Yahweh in a special way.
Although the prince enters the inner court of the temple complex by the east gate, he enters the outer court with the people by the north gate or the south gate (vv. 9–10). The point is that the prince of the restoration identifies himself with his people in leading them into God's presence. Moreover, the prince offers sacrifices (vv. 4–7). The king in ancient Israel occasionally offered sacrifices (1 Chron. 16:1–3), but the priests alone offered the regular offerings. Ezekiel's prince has an even greater role in the community's regular worship.
Jesus fulfills Ezekiel's vision of the prince. He is identified with both Yahweh and His people, being truly God and truly man (John 1:1–18). And He offered the only sacrifice needed for us to come regularly before God—the once-for-all sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:11–28).
Some people believe that during the millennial period, there will be a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem and that sacrifices will be offered as memorials of the work of Christ. We must respectfully disagree. There will be no need for such memorials because we will see Christ face to face, and we will be reminded of His great sacrifice on our behalf in a manner that surpasses any sacrifice of bulls, goats, or sheep. Then we shall love Him perfectly because we will see Him fully revealed.