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Note: This blog post is part of a series titled "Building the Kingdom." To view all parts, click the link below.
Ezekiel 44:15-17 speaks of the Melchizedek priests, code named “the sons of Zadok.” These priests of righteousness have access to the Holy Place, whereas the priests who had gone astray were consigned to the outer court to minister to the house itself. We read in Ezekiel 44:17, 18,
17 It shall be that when they enter at the gates of the inner court [i.e., the Holy Place], they shall be clothed with linen garments; and wool shall not be on them while they are ministering in the gates of the inner court and in the house. 18 Linen turbans shall be on their heads and linen undergarments shall be on their loins; they shall not gird themselves with anything which makes them sweat.
This is a prophetic application of the law in Exodus 28:39-43, where the sons of Aaron were to be dressed in linen when they “minister in the holy place” (Exodus 28:43). The law here distinguished between a priest and a Levite. Levites were consigned to the outer court to help with the sacrifices, while the priests (sons of Aaron) were allowed into the Holy Place of the sanctuary itself. (Of course, only the high priest was allowed into the Most Holy Place.)
The Levites in the outer court were not required to dress in linen. No doubt most of them were dressed in woolen clothing, as this was the main fabric of the day. But the priests had to be dressed in linen when they ministered to God.
Ezekiel’s prophecy explains the law on a new level, foreshadowing a new distinction that was to be made under the New Covenant. Whereas the law distinguishes between regular Levites and Levitical priests descended from Aaron, the prophet draws a distinction between idolatrous priests and the sons of Zadok. His prophecy explains the meaning of the rejection of the dynasty of Eli and the calling of a new dynasty from Zadok, which had actually taken place in the early days of Solomon’s reign.
This foreshadowed a greater change of priesthood that was yet to come, showing the rejection of the tribe of Levi itself and the calling of the Melchizedek Order.
Ezekiel says that some priests who qualified for priesthood by their genealogy were disqualified by their character and for going astray after the manner of Eli and his sons. The prophet’s application of the law is extraordinary and unique in prophecy. Men were not given the authority to institute such a change of priesthood, nor did men have the power to disqualify the children of Aaron from ministering as priests. But God has the authority to make such a change.
Ezekiel prophesied that “the sons of Zadok” alone were to minister to God in the sanctuary. The book of Hebrews later clarified this to mean that a change of priesthood from Levi to Melchizedek had been decreed by God Himself. This was proven by the fact that the new High Priest was from the tribe of Judah, “a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests” (Hebrews 7:14). Hence, the Melchizedek Order was no longer to be in the hands of genealogical descendants of Aaron and Levi.
The Woolen and Linen Garments
Both the law and the prophet Ezekiel speak in terms of fabric called linen, but we know from Revelation 19:8 that such fabric was a mere type and shadow of the character and acts of the believers, which God truly required of His priests. So “the sons of Zadok” were required to dress in linen during the centuries leading to the coming of Christ, but the Melchizedek Order is now required to dress in “the righteous acts of the saints.”
The prophet interprets this in Ezekiel 44:17, saying that these priests are not to minister to God while dressed in “wool.” Ezekiel 44:18, saying that these priests “shall not gird themselves with anything which makes them sweat.” This requirement traces back to God’s curse upon Adam in Genesis 3:17-19,
17 … Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; 19 By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Sweat is a token of the curse for Adam’s sin. The priests of God, then, are ultimately required to overcome Adam’s sin in order to minister to God in His sanctuary. We know that this is done by becoming sons of God through faith in Christ. Whereas corrupt and unbelieving descendants of Aaron might minister in an earthly sanctuary—as did Eli’s corrupt sons—no one will be allowed to minister to God in the sanctuary in heaven apart from faith in Christ that is matched by “righteous acts” that prove one’s faith.
Ezekiel 44:19 continues,
19 When they go out into the outer court to the people, they shall put off their garments in which they have been ministering and lay them in the holy chambers; then they shall put on other garments so that they will not transmit holiness to the people with their garments.
The temple of Solomon was built with “side chambers” that were three stories high (1 Kings 6:6). These were used to store the garments of the priests and as “holy chambers” where they could change clothing when necessary. So when they were called to enter the sanctuary, they changed from their woolens to their linens, and when they finished their ministry, they changed out of their linens back to their “other garments,” normally made of wool.
The purpose of changing clothing was to prevent an unclean or common person from touching a priest dressed in linens. It was unlawful for such a person to touch that which was holy. The wording appears to imply that the holiness of the priest might “transmit holiness to the people,” as if a common person could suddenly become a priest by touching a priest dressed in linen or by touching his offering. But that is not the case.
Holiness cannot be transmitted any more than health can be transmitted to a sick man. Conversely, the sick may transmit disease to those who are healthy. These are the legal questions raised in Haggai 2:12, 13. The answer is that a holy priest ought not to touch an unclean person, because his holiness cannot be transmitted, but the uncleanness can be transmitted to the priest.
This law applies when a priest wears linens to minister to God. When he changes into his woolen garments, he may be touched by common people without incurring uncleanness, unless, of course, he is touched by a leper or by one who has touched a dead body.
Jesus—the Pattern Son
Now all of this prophesied of greater things in the Melchizedek Order, their garments, their better sacrifices, and the heavenly Jerusalem with its spiritual temple. It is most clearly seen after Jesus was raised from the dead. Jesus was then no longer limited to woolen clothing—that is, a body of flesh and blood—for He then had access to linen clothing—that is, a spiritual body, by which He could minister to God in heaven.
When He wanted to appear to His disciples on earth, it was necessary (by law) for Him to change clothing from linens to woolens. Dressed in woolens, He took upon Himself an earthly body that could be touched, and He could also eat fish (Luke 24:42, 43).
In other words, He did not appear to them as a spirit but as a flesh man. In fact, the disciples were startled by His sudden intrusion, thinking that they were seeing a spirit (Luke 24:37). He found it necessary to prove to them that He was not a spirit—at least not at that moment. Then when He disappeared, He simply changed clothing from wool to linen, at which time He became a spirit once again.
Why was this distinction important? Because it was unlawful for Him to be touched by the disciples as long as He was as spirit (dressed in linen). I may add that Jesus could have appeared as a spirit, but certain restrictions would then apply. This was done (and recorded in Luke) to show us that Jesus’ inheritance as high priest—and our inheritance as His sons—is to have access to linen garments as well as woolen.
Having both garments available gives Him access to both realms over which He has authority. In Matthew 28:18 Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” Such authority is not to be transmitted to common people but only to those who have access to their spiritual garments by which they may minister to God in heaven.
Commoners—including believers who did not qualify as overcomers—are citizens of the Kingdom. The inheritors are the rulers, those who qualify as “priests of God and of Christ” (Revelation 20:6). When they minister to the people in the earthly realm (“outer court”), they must be dressed in their woolens, so that they identify with the sheep of His pasture. The sheep as a whole are dressed in wool and are unable to “go to heaven” to minister to God directly.
All of this shows that the “territory” of the Kingdom is both heaven and earth (Genesis 1:1), and that most people are currently limited to the earthly realm, ministering to “the house,” but unable to minister to God in the sanctuary in heaven. The Bible, however, shows us the path to our true inheritance, which is the glorified body that has been begotten by our Heavenly Father and birthed by our earthly mother, so to speak. In the end, inheritors have authority in both realms and thus have access to both woolens and linens—two kinds of body, one “natural” in its form and the other being a spirit.
All will ultimately become inheritors, but not all at once. It is “each in his own order” (1 Corinthians 15: 23). The first “order” (literally, a squadron) is the group of overcomers who are given their inheritance at the second coming of Christ, the fulfillment of the feast of Tabernacles, and the first resurrection (Revelation 20:5, 6).
The second squadron is given its reward at the general resurrection a thousand years later, described in John 5:28, 29.
The third squadron will have to wait until the Creation Jubilee after the age of judgment, when all creation is set free into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:19-21).
Those who understand the word of God and who have New Covenant faith in the promises of God (Romans 4:21, 22) are those whom God will use as His priests. They will minister to God in their linens and to men in their woolens in the ages to come. Their ministry will be most effective, because they will have their full inheritance and will minister to others according to the full authority of the sons of God.
The King is Jesus, under whose feet all creation must be subject (1 Corinthians 15:27, 28). The citizens are those who follow the King. The laws of the Kingdom prophesy the incorruptible and sinless nature of Christ and reveal the character of those in whose hearts the law is written.
The law also reveals which believers are obedient and which ones remain “lawless” (anomia), as Jesus explained in Matthew 7:21, 22, 23). Also important is the distinction between Old Covenant believers and New Covenant believers. Those who have faith in their own vows to God, thinking that they are saved by their own will are Old Covenant believers.
Those who have faith that God is able to fulfill His promises are New Covenant believers to whom righteousness is imputed (Romans 4:21, 22). Likewise, John 1:13 affirms that the sons of God are begotten by God, “not of blood (i.e., bloodline), nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
At the second coming of Christ, the regular citizens of the Kingdom will receive a land inheritance, much like the Israelites were given estates in Canaan. Yet this inheritance will be limited to the earthly realm, as such people are yet dressed in woolens. The overcomers will be given access to linen (spiritual) garments and will have access to heaven as well. These will be able to go to heaven or come to earth at will, for their inheritance is in both heaven and earth.
The Goal of Earth History
At the end of time, the Creation Jubilee, all of creation will be set free by the law of Jubilee, which is the law of grace. The Jubilee cancels all debt, and we know that all sin is reckoned as a debt. After an age of judgment, the sin-debts of all men will be cancelled, so that the law might be fulfilled in Leviticus 25:10, 13,
10 You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, and each of you shall return to his own property and each of you shall return to his family… 13 On this year of jubilee, each of you shall return to his own property.
The law, which expresses the mind and nature of God, does not permit everlasting punishment. No sin in a finite world can merit infinite punishment, because the judgment always fits the crime (Exodus 21:24, 25). The Hebrew word often translated “everlasting” or “eternal” in the Old Testament is olam, which is from the root word alam, “to hide.” Olam means “hidden, unknown, indefinite.” It does not mean “infinite.”
In the New Testament, the Greek equivalent to olam is aionian, “pertaining to an age.” An age is an indefinite period of time and matches the Hebrew concept of olam perfectly. While these words in some contexts may mean a never-ending time period, most of the time the words are used to convey an indefinite period of time that comes to an end.
So the animal sacrifices were to be given to the priests “forever” (olam, Leviticus 7:36, 37) but ended when Jesus was presented as the true Sacrifice. Phinehas and his descendants were given the high priesthood as “a covenant of a perpetual [olam] priesthood” (Numbers 25:13), which lasted only until the time of Zadok. Jonah was in the belly of the whale “forever” (olam, Jonah 2:6), which was only three days and three nights.
The fact that olam does not mean “forever” or “everlasting” means that the law of Jubilee remains effective. The Jubilee cancels all remaining debt after a man has labored as a slave to sin in the preceding years. There is no debt so great that it cannot be released in the year of Jubilee.
For this reason, we can say with confidence that God’s judgments will come to an end. For the overcomers, the Jubilee will apply at the second coming of Christ. For the citizens of the Kingdom, the Jubilee will apply at the great White Throne judgment when all the dead are raised, for then the believers will be given immortal “life” (John 5:28, 29).
Referring to the (former) unbelievers at the great White Throne, “every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance” to Christ (Isaiah 45:23). Paul says in Philippians 2:10, 11,
10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess [exomologeo, “profess”] that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:3 that “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Hence, if at the great White Throne judgment every knee bows and every tongue confesses or professes that Jesus Christ is Lord, it means that they have finally come to the truth and have become Spirit-filled believers.
They will still have to grow to maturity in the “lake of fire,” which is the discipline of God’s “fiery law” (Deuteronomy 33:2 KJV); but this is the great baptism of fire that we all undergo as Spirit-filled believers. As new believers, they will still have to grow to spiritual maturity before they can receive their full inheritance as sons of God. But the Jubilee trumpet will be blown, and all of creation will ultimately receive its hope of redemption.
Note: This blog post is part of a series titled "Building the Kingdom." To view all parts, click the link below.