“The lack of resolution in the discussion of whether some Old Testament prophecies (like the temple) are literally or non-literally fulfilled is partly cleared up by proper reflection on the notion of already and not yet ‘eschatology.’ The fulfillment of the final resurrection of saints is a good parallel to the nature of the end-time fulfillment of the temple.
Daniel 12:2, for example, prophesies a resurrection of believers. John 5:25 says, ‘an hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear shall live’. The Daniel prophecy begins fulfilment in the first century, but only on a spiritual level. People are raised spiritually but not yet physically. Only a few verses later, however, Jesus refers to the consummate fulfilment physically of the same Daniel prophecy: ‘an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds, to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment’ (John 5:28–29). Both fulfilments are literal. The ‘spiritual’ resurrection is just as ‘literal’ as the physical, since Daniel prophesied the Resurrection of bodies with resurrected spirits The prophecy is not fulfilled all at once, since first the spiritual resurrection occurs, followed later by the physical. Therefore, it is not the nature of fulfillment that has changed, but its timing. That is, the fulfillment of the spiritual and physical resurrections are not spiritualized nor allegorized but merely staggered.
There is another way in which the Old Testament prophecy of the resurrection was fulfilled in a twofold manner: Jesus’ own resurrection was the beginning fulfillment (‘the first fruits’) and the subsequent physical resurrection of all saints at the end of history is the final fulfillment (1 Cor. 15:22–23). In light of both John 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, the predicted resurrection is actually fulfilled in three stages: (1) Christ’s physical resurrection; (2) believers’ spiritual resurrection; (3) believers’ physical resurrection. Just as prophets like Daniel surely did not fully understand the staggered nature of the resurrection, neither did they understand the developmental fulfillment of the temple.
The fulfilment of the temple (and perhaps other kinds of fulfilment) follows a similar staggered realization. That is, Christ rises to become the cornerstone of the temple, and believers are first ‘spiritually’ part of the temple through spiritual resurrection, but later an actual physical part of the temple too at the time of the final physical resurrection (e.g., Rev. 3:12; 21:1–3), when the entire cosmos becomes the temple. The basis for comparing the resurrection with the temple lies in the New Testament’s view of Jesus’ resurrection body as the rebuilding of the new temple, so that in him the temple has also begun physically. Therefore, the beginning form of the temple is not merely spiritual but also physical: it is composed of the spirits of saints with the physically resurrected Christ as its cornerstone.
We have seen that some prophecies of an end-temple foresee a non-architectural structure, while others are indefinite, merely referring to the establishment of a future temple. These more indefinite prophecies could have been viewed by their original authors and readers to refer to a structure on the order of the prior Solomonic and second temples. Yet these contexts speak of the eschatological temple as being more glorious or greater than the prior ones (e.g., Is. 62:9; Ezek. 40–48; Zech. 6:12–13; 14:16; Hag. 2:1–9).
It is theoretically possible that part of the inaugurated stage of these prophecies involves an actual larger building complex than ever before. If so, that complex, like its Old Testament predecessors, would be symbolic of the cosmos and of the task to extend the essence of the temple and spread God’s glory throughout the earth. This was the original purpose of the original Garden temple and of Israel’s subsequent temples. Unlike its predecessors, Christ and his people associated with this temple would finally accomplish the task and extend the boundaries of God’s holy of holies presence throughout the earth, the culmination of which is pictured in Revelation 21.
Presumably, on such a reading, the beginning architectural form of the end-time temple would fade away once its symbolic task has been accomplished. Whatever precisely happens to it, the whole earth would finally be considered the consummate, eternal temple in which God’s glory is present everywhere.
A better view, however, of these more indeterminate temple prophecies is that they are to be interpreted by the more explicit prophecies predicting an immaterial non-architectural structure. Some prophecies understand that the temple was to extend over all of Jerusalem (Is. 4:5–6; Jer. 3:16–17) or even over all of the land of Israel (Ezek. 37:26–28; similarly, Lev. 26:10–13). …Ezekiel 40-48 is not best interpreted as a prophecy of the building of an architectural temple. We have reached comparable conclusions with respect to Eden as a non-architectural temple (Gen. 2; Ezek. 28:18), as well as the informal, small-scale sanctuaries of the patriarchs and the larger-scale one at Mount Sinai.
Even in these cases, while not explicitly prophetic, we have argued that they contained a pattern in themselves of a temple expansion that was to pervade the world in fulfilment of the mandate of Genesis 1:28. We have seen that mandate was interwoven into many of the more explicitly prophetic texts about the temple,so that they also imply a sanctuary of universal dimensions.
-G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, 2004, 381-383