Dispensationalism

04 - Christ's Millennial Reign: Old Covenant Sacrifices Reinstituted?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
This teaching of Dispensationalism effectively denies Christ's total abrogation of the Old Covenant at the cross.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

This teaching of Dispensationalism effectively denies Christ's total abrogation of the Old Covenant at the cross.

We are frequently asked questions that we can summarize thus: The vast majority of Dispensationalists (and some non-Dispensational Premillennialists) teach that during the millennial reign of Christ on earth there will be a re-introduction of the Old Testament sacrificial system as part of a renewed system of temple worship. How can this be reconciled with the fact that Christ has fulfilled the Old Testament types and symbols?

Let me explain why such a re-institution cannot be the case, according to Scripture.

The Dispensationalist Claim

In the book of Ezekiel, beginning in chapter 40, we find a prophecy in which Ezekiel is given a detailed vision of a temple. There are various interpretations of this prophecy, and it is not my purpose in this article to go into all of those possible interpretations. Hundreds of books have been written on that subject. The focus of the question we are presently addressing is on Ezekiel 43, beginning at verse 18:

And He said to me, "Son of man, thus says the Lord God: 'These are the ordinances for the altar on the day when it is made, for sacrificing burnt offerings on it, and for sprinkling blood on it. You shall give a young bull for a sin offering to the priests, the Levites, who are of the seed of Zadok, who approach Me to minister to Me,' says the Lord God. You shall take some of its blood and put it on the four horns of the altar, on the four corners of the ledge, and on the rim around it; thus you shall cleanse it and make atonement for it. Then you shall also take the bull of the sin offering, and burn it in the appointed place of the temple, outside the sanctuary.

'On the second day you shall offer a kid of the goats without blemish for a sin offering; and they shall cleanse the altar, as they cleansed it with the bull. When you have finished cleansing it, you shall offer a young bull without blemish, and a ram from the flock without blemish. When you offer them before the Lord, the priests shall throw salt on them, and they will offer them up as a burnt offering to the Lord.

'Every day for seven days you shall prepare a goat for a sin offering; they shall also prepare a young bull and a ram from the flock, both without blemish. Seven days they shall make atonement for the altar and purify it, and so consecrate it. When these days are over it shall be, on the eighth day and thereafter, that the priests shall offer your burnt offerings and your peace offerings on the altar; and I will accept you,' says the Lord God." (Ezekiel 43:18-27)

Some who teach a return to the Old Testament sacrificial system also cite other passages in support, including Isaiah 56:6-8, Jeremiah 33:15-18, and Zechariah 14:16.

Based on these passages, they claim that future animal sacrifices in a millennial temple will serve "as object lessons for the sinner, that sin was and is a horrible offense against God, and that the result of sin is death." [1] These sacrifices will be, as Dispensationalists often put it, a "memorial".

An Absurdity

However, it is absurd to say that such an object lesson or memorial will be needed. As we shall see, Scripture declares such a thing to be "useless". Premillennialists of all persuasions believe that Jesus Christ Himself, the full and final Sacrifice for sins, will be present on earth in Jerusalem, reigning during the millennium, His wounds on display to the entire world. It would be an insult to Christ to reinstitute the bloody type in the presence of the once-for-all Fulfillment.

Furthermore, Ezekiel 43 speaks of these sacrifices not as memorials, but in the same terms by which they were spoken of in the Pentateuch, as offerings for sin (verses 19, 21, 22, 25), the means of purifying the altar (26), and the basis of acceptance (27). This is very clearly Old Covenant, pre-Cross language.

Even the ordinance of the New Covenant, the Lord's Supper, is for the purpose of proclaiming "the Lord's death till He comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26, Acts 1:11). When Christ is once more visibly present, no such bloodless memorial - much less the bloody sacrifice of bulls and goats - will be needed.

The New Testament Interprets the Old

Dear Christian friend, regardless of your position on eschatology, you must always remember one thing as you look at Old Testament prophecy: The New Testament is God the Holy Spirit's commentary on the Old Testament. In the books of Acts, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and especially in the book of Hebrews, we find this central fact bannered before us: All of the Old Testament ceremonial system was done away, forever, by the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

No Turning Back

There will be no return to the Levitical priesthood, ever:

Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this One also have something to offer. For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, "See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain." But now He has obtained a more excellent [literally, an utterly surpassing] ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. (Hebrews 8:1-6)

There will be no turning back from the New Covenant to the Old, ever. Colossians 2:14 tells us that God has nailed the requirements of the Old Covenant to the cross of Christ; literally, He has put that covenant to death. Ephesians 2:15 tells us that Christ "has abolished [Greek katargesas, made null and void] in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances."

Hebrews 8:13 tells us that by establishing the New Covenant in His blood, Christ has made the Old Covenant "obsolete" [Greek pepalaioken, useless because it is antiquated and outmoded]. The writer explains why this is true:

Previously saying, "Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them" (which are offered according to the law), then He said, "Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God." He takes away [Greek anairei, abrogates] the first [the Old Covenant] that He may establish [staysay, put in its fixed place and keep intact] the second [the New Covenant in His blood]. By that will we have been sanctified [literally, we stand permanently separated unto God] through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:8-10).

It was the settled will of God the Father from before the foundation of the world to abrogate the Old Covenant of types, symbols, and shadows by permanently instituting the New Covenant in His Son. And so we must view the prophetic vision of the temple in Ezekiel with these facts clearly in mind.

What does that mean for the question we are considering? Simply this: Any interpretation of Old Testament prophecy, or of the book of Revelation, that posits a reintroduction of the Old Testament sacrificial system, is a plain denial of New Testament teaching. Scripture could not be more clear. Any such interpretation of Ezekiel is a plain denial of the all-sufficiency of the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who hold this tenet of Dispensationalism should seriously consider the warning of the writer to the Hebrews: The one who seeks to return to the Old Covenant in any manner has "trampled the Son of God underfoot" and "insulted the Spirit of grace" (Hebrews 10:29).

This side of prophetic fulfillment, Christians will vary in our views of the significance of the temple of Ezekiel chapters 40 and following. But it is absolutely clear that Scripture rules out any interpretation of that prophecy which effectively denies, as Dispensationalism's does, the plain reality of the full and final abrogation of all things having to do with the Old Covenant at the Cross.

References:

  1. One of many places where this view is expressed online is http://www.gotquestions.org/millennial-sacrifices.html, as viewed on 6/2/2012.

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