By Pastor James Gray
Ezekiel 43 – 46
The prophet Ezekiel is the Millennial prophet. It was to him that God revealed the details concerning life and worship during the 1000-year reign of Christ. In this prophecy concerning the Millennium and its Temple, we see a restoration of the Levitical system, including the sacrificial system.
This presents a problem to the Bible student. The problem is clearly defined by J. Dwight Pentecost when he states that it is:
…the necessity of reconciling the teaching of the Old Testament that bloody sacrifices will be offered in the Millennium with the New Testament doctrine of the abolition of the sacrifices of the Old Testament order because of the sacrifice of Christ. (Things to come, p. 517.)
To help come to grips with such passages as Ezekiel 43:18-27 and 46:1-18, let us note the following points.
NORMAL LITERAL INTERPRETATION
The basis of literal interpretation is to “explain the original sense of the speaker or writer according to the normal customary and proper usages of the words and language” of the author (Paul Tan, The Interpretation of Prophecy, p. 29). There can be little doubt that the normal meaning of Ezekiel is of literal sacrifices. To reduce them to symbolic language must be done only if there is good reason in the context to do so. There seems to be no evidence to do so in these passages.
CONFIRMATION OF OTHER SCRIPTURES
Ezekiel is not the only prophet to see animal sacrifices in the Millennium. The sacrificial system is also seen in Isaiah 56:6-7, 60:7, Zechariah 14:16-21, and Jeremiah 33:15-18.
In the New Testament, both Christ and Paul see the reinstitution of Jewish ritualism in the end times. In the Olivet Discourse, Christ tells the disciples to pray that these events do not happen on the “Sabbath” (Mt. 24:30). He warns of the Abomination of Desolation to take place in the holy place of the Temple (24:15), which, according to Daniel 9:27 will cause the sacrifices to stop. Paul, likewise, sees the Temple in connection with the “Man of Sin” (2 Thess. 2:4). If the Temple is literal, so must be the sacrifices.
Scripture taken in its normal, customary and proper usage of language, teaches that end-time events center around Jerusalem, the Temple, and the sacrificial system.
THE PURPOSE OF THESE SACRIFICES
This point strikes at the heart of the issue of Millennial sacrifices. Those who reject the idea of literal sacrifices, do so on the grounds that Old Testament sacrifices were efficacious. Oswald Allis attacks the literalness of these future sacrifices on this very ground. He writes:
…they were not memorial but efficacious in the days of Moses and of David; and in the Millennium they must be equally efficacious if the Dispensational system of interpretation is a true one. And this they cannot be unless the teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews is completely disregarded (Prophecy and the Church, p. 246).
It is error, however, to teach that Old Testament sacrifices were efficacious (took away sin). The Epistle to the Hebrews does not teach that animal sacrifices were efficacious. In fact, it declares “IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR THE BLOOD OF BULLS AND GOATS TO TAKE AWAYS SINS” (Heb.10:4). Animal sacrifices in any dispensation (past or future) NEVER can take away sin. Paul Tan reminds us that “If animal sacrifices were really efficacious during the Old Testament days, there would have been no necessity for the Cross of Christ” (p. 295).
What then was the purpose of the Old Testament sacrifices? It was an exercise of faith pointing to the Cross. These sacrifices only served to cover sin until the Cross of Christ that once-for-all perfected all the saints. Their value was that they pointed to the Cross of Christ and its work.
According to Romans 3:25, until Christ was made our propitiation, God passed over our sins in His forbearance. The Greek word for “remission” (KJV) is “paresin” and it is used only here in the New Testament. It means a passing of debt or sin that was affected by the bringing of one’s sacrifice in faith, but the sin was not actually paid for until the Cross. Griffith-Thomas reminds us that the sacrificial system itself showed us this. He writes:
The incompleteness of the Divine attitude to sin is also seen in the Old Testament ritual, which clearly taught that the problem of righteousness could not be solved except in God’s own time and way. In those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year, for it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins” (Heb. 10:3-4). Under the old covenant, sinners were forgiven, but their sins were not absolutely taken away. But when Christ came, there was a complete removal of everything that hindered the Divine forgiveness” (Romans, p. 116).
What then will be the future purpose of animal sacrifices? If the Old Testament sacrifices were incomplete, and the sacrifice of Christ, the True Lamb of God was complete, why renew the system? There are two answers to that question.
First, the most simple and logical is that they serve the same purpose as they always did – pointing to the work of Christ on the Cross. In the Old Testament, they pointed forward to that work. In the future, they will point backward to the Cross. Burlington Wale put it this way:
…the bread and wine of the Lord’s super are, to the believer, physical and material symbols and memorials of a redemption already accomplished on his behalf. And this will be the case of the reinstituted sacrifices at Jerusalem. They will be commemorative as the sacrifices of the old were anticipative. And why should they not be? Was there any virtue in the legal sacrifices which prefigured the sacrifices of Christ? None whatever. Their only value and meaning was derived from the fact that they pointed to Him. And such will be the value and meaning of those future sacrifices which God declared shall yet be offered in that future Temple (The Closing Days of Christendom, p. 485).
Second, they will be renewed because they are connected with the Theocracy of the Millennial Kingdom. Note well, that the Millennial sacrifices are NOT connected with the Mosaic covenant and order; rather, Jeremiah (33:15-18) connects it with the Davidic covenant. The Davidic covenant is the foundation of the Theocracy. The Mosaic covenant and sacrifices were temporary, thus, came to an end with the Law. But the Davidic covenant is eternal. Thus, when it is renewed so will the sacrifices. The Davidic covenant is the authority behind the future renewal of the sacrificial system in the Millennium.
It is vital that the student of the Word understands that Israel will be restored as the people of God. Their fall was only temporary (Rom. 11:15-26). The Church, the Body of Christ, will not and does not fulfill the theocratic promises given to that nation. When the Church is raptured (1 Thess. 4:13-18), and the “fullness of the Gentiles” is completed (Rom. 11:25), then Jesus Christ returns to set up the Theocracy. Israel will be the head nation and will realize the fulfillment of the Abrahamic, Davidic, and new Covenant in their completeness. Then the literal fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy will become a reality – including these sacrifices.