You can have all the religion you like, but without God it is only an empty shell. You can have a fine building, all ready for use (40-41), and you can make ample provision for its workers (the priests, 42). If that’s it, though, well, that’s it.
Buildings can’t ultimately achieve anything. It all depends on who is in them. If God is there in His glorious grace, and if people are there, seeking and trusting in that grace, then suddenly the charade of religion is shown for what it is, as people instead come to taste the reality of a God who saves and dwells with His people.
So this is what Ezekiel starts to see: the glory returns. God, who left His temple to its Babylonian judgment, is coming back to this new temple-community (43). With roaring voice, and a glory which shines out across the land, He comes, and all Ezekiel can do is worship (vv.1-3). The voice speaks, and it is the voice of Ezekiel’s companion, the shining one who has been showing him the temple, surely the Second Person of the Trinity Himself. Here, He declares, He will live forever (v.7). But who can endure the Day of His Coming? Only those made pure. The prophet is promised that He will dwell among a purified people, and so Ezekiel is told to take the message to his countrymen, that they are to be pure for their Lord (vv.9-12).
Purity comes from where, though? It comes from sacrifice, sacrifice to cover the guilt of all our sins and to bring cleansing. For that you need an altar (vv.13-18), an offering (v.19-25), and someone to offer sacrifice on our behalf (v.27, 44.1-31). In fact much of ch.44 reads like a repeat of the instructions to the priests in Leviticus. Afterall, God’s purposes have never changed, because God never changes.
How God achieves His plans can change, though. We look back on these chapters, and we know now that the altar is the Cross, the sacrifice is a man, and the offerer, the One who offered Himself. Jesus came to purify a people for His very own, eager to do what is good (Titus 2.14). That is where glory shines. And glory still shines, and indeed, shines ever more brightly, amongst a people who have been gathered around that cross, to bask in its forgiveness and to live its life together. Afterall, that message of grace will one day conquer the world. And heaven? Heaven is a celebration of grace, forever, and in Christ for all (ch.45). This is our glory.