It is the post that had to be written. I thought to myself that I would blog about the future temple, but leave the idea of the future sacrifices unanswered. After all, I don’t have all the answers. But this just won’t leave me alone. I read Covenant Theologians, A-Millennialists, and even some PreMillennialists who say that it goes against the new testament scriptures for there to even be a temple where sacrifices would be offered. Some even go so far as to say it is heresy to believe that these future sacrifices would be allowed by God to be offered after Christ returns. Their reason is that they feel this takes away from the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross. This post is not so much a declaration as to what will happen, but a reasonable defense of what I believe will happen. Like I wrote, I don’t have all the answers.
First off, if the work of Christ on the cross did away with the sacrificial system, why did the new testament church worship at the temple and offer sacrifices there in the book of Acts? Covenant Theologians will offer many scriptures in the book of Hebrews as proof, but what do they think about the scriptures in Acts? I have explanations for every piece of evidence that they offer based on the scriptures in Hebrews and I have blogged about this. Now let’s look at the temple worship that continues throughout Acts.
Instead of abandoning the supposedly obsolete temple, the new testament church worshiped at the temple, Acts 2:46. The apostles led as examples in going to the temple at the hour of prayer, Acts 3:1. Instead of forming another group, they preached at the temple according to the command of God, Acts 5:19-21. A great number of priests which performed sacrifices became obedient to the faith, Acts 6:7. Instead of the new testament church, or new covenant Israel, trying to get believers to abandon temple worship, they were preaching repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus through temple worship. It’s like their silent statement was, “we are not going away, in fact we expect the nation of Israel to repent and join us at Solomon’s porch”, see Acts 3:19-21, 5:12-16. All the while the sacrificial system continued, Acts 12:4. The command of James and the example of Paul in Acts 21:17-26 should lead us to some obvious conclusions. First, the lie that was being told about Paul should be considered just that, a lie. Paul never taught that Christian Israelites should no longer observe the Mosaic law. Second, if the sacrificial system had been done away with, this would have been the perfect opportunity to proclaim this to the church. Instead, James commands, yes commands, that Paul observe the rites of the sacrificial system in order to demonstrate to the believing Israelites that he never taught Israelites to abandon the law of Moses. Third, Paul agrees with James and submits himself to this command without so much as a word of disagreement. Paul proceeds to go to the temple, offer sacrifices, and observe the Mosaic law. Luke lays out the material in such a way that it never enters the plot that this would be something out of place for believers to worship at the temple and offer sacrifices there.
I have already written a post about the book of Hebrews from a premillennial perspective. Here I would like to mention that the passages in Hebrews simply demonstrate that the sacrifices point to Christ as our sacrifice. The book of Hebrews was written as the temple worship continued. So there is nothing wrong with having these sacrifices continue that the believing Israelites may be pointed to Christ. Perhaps this was why a great number of the priests became obedient to the faith. The book of Hebrews never prohibits believers from going to the temple, it only puts the sacrifices in their proper perspective, letting believers know that they could never forgive sins.
Hopefully you see that the teeth of the arguments that proclaim that the sacrificial system was abolished at the crucifixion have been rendered somewhat harmless. So if the sacrificial system is reinstated as in the days of the early church, we should remember the admonitions in the book of Hebrews, but not outright condemn these future sacrifices as having no value. If there are clear passages that predict a future temple with a future sacrificial system, the possibility should be open for examination. That is what we shall do now.
The first scriptural piece of evidence comes from Psalm 118. This psalm is obviously messianic, see Matthew 21:9, 42, 23:39. It is my contention that Psalm 110-118 is one passage, constituting something like a Grand Messianic Opus. For our study, Psalm 118 on its own will suffice. The messianic figure, after a period of rejection and distress, verse 5, destroys the enemies that gather against him, verses 10-13. Now entering into the gates triumphantly, verse 19, the line is sung that this stone which the builders had previously rejected is now become the chief cornerstone, verse 22. The people of God sing, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.” This is the long prophesied event which Christ foretold in Matthew 23:39. In this same vein of prophecy, there are blessings proceeding from the house of the LORD which would be the temple, verse 26. Now a command is issued for a festal sacrifice to be bound with cords upon the horns of the altar, verse 27. The Hebrew word translated sacrifice can mean feast, but here the language clearly means the sacrifice offered at the feast. Here are my conclusions on the passage. The Messiah Jesus destroys His enemies at the battle of Armageddon. Following this, the repentant nation of Israel welcomes the Messiah singing praises to His name through the gates which lead into the temple. The stone which the builders rejected will be made the chief cornerstone. At this time the nation of Israel as a whole sings, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD.” Then a sacrifice commemorating an Israelite festival will be offered upon the altar at the temple. I can see no other way around it.
Jeremiah 33:14-22 contains one of the chief passages concerning the future of the Davidic Covenant. Intertwined with this is the future of the Levitical system including the sacrifices. Jeremiah 30-33 constitutes Jeremiah’s covenant revelation expounding on the new covenant, Jeremiah 30-31, the everlasting covenant, Jeremiah 32, and the Davidic Covenant, Jeremiah 33. These three oracles must be taken together. Jeremiah 33:14-22 tells of the Messiah Jesus and His eternal reign over the nation of Israel. Yet on equal footing with this perpetual fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant through Christ is the continuation of the Levitical priesthood who will offer sacrifices to the LORD forever. If the Davidic Covenant portion of this passage is to be fulfilled in the future when Christ reigns on the earth, then the Levitical system must also be in place. No reinterpretation of this passage will suffice. The Davidic Messiah reigns over his people (Jeremiah 33), which dwell in the promised land (Jeremiah 32), and have their sins forgiven as a nation (Jeremiah 30-31). During this reign (which we can term messianic and millennial) the Levitical sacrifices will continue. That’s the passage at face value.
Malachi 3:1-4 should be read with Malachi 4, both passages being eschatological. The reason these passages are both still eschatological is because Christ himself shed light on a future Elijah, even though John the Baptist fulfilled this in some capacity, Matthew 17:11. Notice how Christ states that Elijah’s future coming will restore all things. Jesus must have been referring to the promises in these two Malachi passages. A study of these two passages will reveal that Elijah’s ministry will be to prepare a people before the coming of the LORD in fiery judgment. This people that is prepared by Elijah will be spared the judgment and the curse. But notice how the sons of Levi are specifically described as being refined in order that they might bring offerings before the LORD. I believe we can cross reference the 144,000 in the book of Revelation to represent this refined people prepared by an Elijah-like figure. The tribe of Levi is represented here, Revelation 7:7, and described in such a way as to be qualified to fulfill the role of the Levitical promises mentioned in Malachi 3-4 and Jeremiah 33, see Revelation 14:4. Obviously, a Moses-type figure and an Elijah-type figure will have prepared this remnant before this time allowing the prophecies to be fulfilled, see Revelation 11:3-6. A future restoration of the Levitical system is a biblically sound expectation to have.
Having laid this foundation, it is now time for a brief discussion of Ezekiel 40-48. I began with other passages to show that Ezekiel 40-48 need not stand alone in this discussion. The entire book of Ezekiel pictures the departure of the Shekinah glory from Solomon’s Temple, Ezekiel 10:4, 18-19, 11:22-23, but also a future return of the Shekinah glory to a temple described in literal terms, Ezekiel 43:1-5. Even as the Shekinah glory departed, there was the promise that Israel would one day be made new by God’s special work, Ezekiel 11:19-20, which was reminiscent of God’s intentions early in Israel’s history, see Deuteronomy 30:1-10. Ezekiel 39 shows God making Israel new in coordination with the battle of Armageddon at the end of the age, and then directly after this is the vision of the temple.
The purification of the altar described in Ezekiel 43:18-27 needs to be explored. This is something decidedly different than the two previous examples in scripture of an altar being dedicated. In Leviticus 8-9, the focus is clearly on the dedication of Aaron and his sons for the priesthood, but we know that the altar was being consecrated as well, see Exodus 29:35-37. The consecration lasted for seven days with a new beginning on the eighth, Leviticus 8:33, 9:1. The dedication of Solomon’s altar lasted for 7 days, having the day of atonement incorporated into that dedication, II Chronicles 5:3, 7:8-10, and having the feast of tabernacles as another observance after the dedication. In both of these instances, it is my view that the altar was being made holy in the sense of being set apart for service. The entire theme of Ezekiel shows that the seven day purification [outlined in Ezekiel 43:18-27] is in light of the abominations which have been allowed by the nation of Israel into the house of God, sort of like a future Hanukkah. The abominations of Ezekiel 11:18 are surely those of chapter 8, yet 11:18 is a future prophecy when the nation of Israel receives its new heart. So here we are in Ezekiel 43 reading in detail this future cleansing of the temple, which is being cleansed from abominations, Ezekiel 43:8-11, 44:5-8. Allow me to paint a picture of a future temple built by the nation of Israel, yet it will be defiled because Israel as a nation is still sinful. The LORD comes in judgment, turns Israel back to Himself, the Shekinah glory returns, then the temple needs to be cleansed. It is a seven day purification with the eighth day as a new beginning. That’s the picture I see in Ezekiel 43 in fitting with the theme of the book as a whole.
The prince which is prominently mentioned thoughout this passage needs to be studied as well. The title “prince” is quite appropriate here given the context of Ezekiel’s vision. Israel was in captivity. The Davidic dynasty had come to an end, Jeremiah 22:24, 30, but the promise that the Davidic messiah would one day rule, Haggai 2:23, held out a future hope for anyone born of David’s line, Ezekiel 34:23-24, 37:24-25. So the title of king would not be fitting for some boy or man living in captivity in Babylon, or returned from captivity to Jerusalem in advance of their ascension of the throne. The title of prince fits nicely. This prince would have priestly duties, Ezekiel 45:17. He would be the priest after the order of Melchizedek (both king and priest) which is another messianic title, see Psalm 110. Zechariah would later prophesy that the man whose name is The Branch (another messianic title, see Isaiah 11:1) would build the temple and be a priest while He rules upon His throne, Zechariah 6:12-13. There should be no question that the prince in these references is the Messiah. We see prophecies that the Messiah will lead His people in worship, 46:2, govern the children of Israel, 45:7-9, and make frequent appearances at this literal temple, 44:1-3, 46:8, 12. This is why it gave such hope to the children of Israel when Zerubbabel, the grandson of King Jeconiah, returned from Babylon to help rebuild Jerusalem and the temple, Ezra 3:2.
When you don’t start at the beginning in the book of Genesis – with creation – with the garden of Eden, you will find it difficult to understand why God would want to take the time to restore the earth. The healing waters of Ezekiel 47 will seem pointless to you if you do not believe that God created the earth to be inhabited and has a plan for the Messiah to come here and rule His people, Isaiah 45:17-18. Passages which speak of a new heaven and new earth fit quite well with the healing waters which flow out from the temple, see Psalm 46:4-7, 102:25-28, Isaiah 51:5-6, 65:17-25, 66:20-24 (notice the mention of the Levites), and finally, Revelation 21:1-2, 22:1-2, (notice the healing for the nations). There is a continuity in God’s progressive covenant plan throughout the scriptures and into the future. The nation of Israel is contiguous with the new testament church, or new covenant assembly. The new testament church, which is believers today, is contiguous with God’s future plan for the nation of Israel.
What so many object to is the inclusion within Ezekiel 40-48 of animal sacrifices. Because of a failure to understand God’s progressive covenant plan for the future, a complete dismissal of the facts is what so many do. Christ will come, but that will not be the end of all that is. It will be the end of the age, but the beginning of the messianic age, Luke 18:30, 20:35, Ephesians 1:21, and Hebrews 2:5, 6:5. Death will not be defeated until Christ reigns after His coming for some period of time here on earth, I Corinthians 15:22-28. Israel will repent and be saved, but the messianic reign will be about the conversion of the Gentile nations to the Messiah, see Isaiah 62:1-3 to understand what is meant by Paul’s declaration that the acceptance of Israel will mean life from the dead (for Gentile nations), Romans 11:13-15.
What will be the purpose of these animal sacrifices? Let me ask this, what was the purpose of the animal sacrifices during the days of Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Zerubbabel, and the apostle Paul? Was it not to point to Christ? Could future sacrifices also point to Christ? Yes they could. Sometimes rituals can point both backward to a past event and forward to a future event. The passover pointed backward to deliverance for the nation of Israel and forward to the perfect sacrifice of the Messiah, Exodus 13:14-15, I Corinthians 5:7. The LORD’s supper points backward to the cross and forward to the coming of Christ and His kingdom in power and glory, Matthew 26:26-29, I Corinthians 11:26. Future sacrifices could point back to Christ and the cross as memorials, or back to the deliverance of Israel from all her enemies and forward to a final deliverance from the last enemy, death, note that the day of atonement has no visible new testament correlation. Animal sacrifices prescribed in the law never forgave sins, Hebrews 10:4, and future animal sacrifices in Ezekiel’s temple will never forgive sins either; only the blood of Jesus Christ can forgive sins, I Peter 1:18-20.
Here is my expectation for the future. An Israelite temple will be built in Jerusalem. This temple will function in the name of the God of Israel, but in name only since the nation of Israel by and large is still in unbelief. The sacrifices offered there will not be pleasing to the LORD, not because an animal sacrifice is displeasing to God, but because Israel’s heart is not right with God, see Psalm 50 for insight into the heart of the matter. A world leader, titled the man of sin in II Thessalonians 2, will commit what is known by Daniel and Christ as the abomination of desolation in this temple, Daniel 9:27, Matthew 24:15. It will be a declaration that he (man of sin) believes himself to be God. Many will believe this man of sin, also termed the antichrist, and will worship him. This will desecrate the temple and provoke the LORD to jealousy since it is associated with the name of the God of Israel. This will be much like Christ’s jealousy for the temple in John 2:13-17, Matthew 21:12-13, 23:16-22, even though the priesthood was corrupt, the nation had rejected Him as a whole, and He was about to offer the ultimate sacrifice far exceeding any sacrifice that the temple had ever offered. God will lead the nation of Israel to true repentance, see Joel 1:13-16, 2:12-17, which will prompt God’s jealousy on their behalf, Joel 2:18. The LORD will come suddenly to His temple, Malachi 3:1, and be enraged against the nations, Isaiah 34:2, for the cause of Zion, Isaiah 34:8. These abominations that occurred while the nation of Israel was in unbelief and while the man of sin was being worshiped by the world will be cleansed from this temple in a seven day purification leading into the messianic reign, see Psalm 72. After the shaking of all nations, the latter glory of the temple will be greater than the former glory, Haggai 2:6-9.
This temple will become a house of sacrifice, not because sacrifices need to be offered for our sins, but because God’s redemptive plan for planet earth will not be complete at the second coming. There will be a thousand year reign of Christ, then a little season (who knows how long), then a final judgment. During the thousand years, the temple will function as a house of sacrifice, a house of law, a house of tribute, a house of learning, and a house of prayer for all nations. My conclusions are not from dispensational extrapolation, but rather from seeing the continuity between the working of God through the nation of Israel, the ministry of Christ to the nation of Israel, the formation of the church within the nation of Israel, and the repentance of Israel because of the ministry of the church.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman