Question: "Who is the prince in Ezekiel 46?"
Answer: In Ezekiel 40–48, Ezekiel describes an enormous new temple (chapters 40–42). The glory of God returns (chapter 43), sacrifices are resumed (chapters 44–46), and the land is restored to the people of Israel (chapters 47–48). The hearts of the people will have been changed (Ezekiel 36:26–27), and even Gentiles have a place in the restored kingdom (Ezekiel 47:22). The land will be ruled by a prince, who is mentioned several times in chapter 46 (verses 2, 4, 8, 10, and 12).
The prince in Ezekiel 46 worships the Lord “in the threshold of the gateway” of the inner temple court that faces east (verse 2). Every Sabbath day, he brings a burnt offering comprised of “six male lambs and a ram, all without defect” (verse 4). The prince is to enter and exit the temple courts “through the portico of the gateway” (verse 6). He joins the people who gather at the temple for the appointed feasts (verse 10). When the prince brings a freewill offering, “the gate facing east is to be opened for him” (verse 12).
The prince in Ezekiel 46 is not the Messiah. Rather, he seems to be the overseer of Jerusalem, serving under the Messiah’s authority. We know that this prince is not the Lord Jesus because he must make a sin offering for himself as well as the people: “On that day the prince is to provide a bull as a sin offering for himself and for all the people of the land” (Ezekiel 45:22, emphasis added). Whoever the prince is, he is a man with a sinful nature.
According to premillennial, dispensational theology, this section of Ezekiel describes the worship of the Lord that will take place during the future 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth during the millennium (see Revelation 20). Christ will be reigning in Jerusalem. There will be a temple, the massive size of which is detailed by Ezekiel. The prince mentioned in Ezekiel 46, it appears, is the leader of the nation of Israel during this time. He is the representative of the nation of Israel and will bring offerings to the Lord and provide an example of devout worship.
As with any passage that deals with eschatology, this section of Ezekiel is open to some debate. We believe that the offerings Ezekiel speaks of are similar to the church’s taking of communion. They are a memorial pointing back to what Jesus did to secure our salvation. At the time foreseen by Ezekiel, Jesus will be physically present, reigning supreme as the Lord of all. The sacrifices offered by the prince will remind everyone that this supreme Lord once died in our place. Consider 1 Peter 3:18: “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.”
The identity of the prince in Ezekiel 46 is a mystery. Some assume that he will be from the line of David. Whoever he is, he will play an important role in the festivals and worship of the Lord in the millennium. Even in the presence of Jesus reigning on earth, we will need to be reminded of His death and sacrifice for us.