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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Will There Really Be A Millennial Temple? [Part 2]

The concluding chapters of the prophetic book of Ezekiel are among the most hotly debated in all of Scripture. Neither the figurative nor the literal approach to these chapters is adequate to explain every detail, unravel every mystery. However, it is not necessary for us to know all the answers in order to understand the passage properly. Despite the potential for controversy, Scripture does supply us with enough information to answer the main questions associated with the passage, which are as follows: 

1.    Is the temple and its worship literal, or figurative?
2.    Do these things take place at a time now past or at some point in the future?
3.    If the time is future, does it involve the millennial kingdom of Christ on earth, or the heavenly state
4.    In any case, what is the purpose of the sacrifices described? 

In a previous post, we tried to offer answers to the first two questions.

Let’s consider the remaining two:

Millennium or Eternity?

Having established Ezekiel’s temple as both literal and future, we are then faced with the question of precisely when this temple comes into existence.

Admittedly, this is at first a difficult issue to resolve, for there are many similarities between the millennial kingdom and the eternal state, and the prophets of old did not always make a clear distinction between them. Ezekiel’s writings by themselves are therefore insufficient to address the question — but when his description of the temple is compared to the last chapters of the book of Revelation, it appears that Ezekiel’s vision concerned a millennial, not eternal, state.

The reasons for this are again architectural, topographical and theological:

·         Architecturally, the dimensions of Ezekiel’s temple differ from those of the eternal city.

·         Topographically, the sea is described as bordering Israel, but in eternity there is no longer any sea.

·         Theologically, Ezekiel describes a physical Jerusalem temple in great detail, but according to John, in the eternal state no such place exists: in the new Jerusalem the only temple is the triune God Himself.

What About the Sacrifices?

One may well ask, if Ezekiel’s temple is indeed literal, future, and millennial in nature, what purpose the temple sacrifices serve. Since Christ has already provided a once-for-all atoning sacrifice for sin, is it not blasphemy to suggest that in His earthly kingdom any blood sacrifices would be necessary? Does the presence of sacrifices therefore not point so a symbolic or historical interpretation of the passage?

The answer to both questions is no. There is no reason to believe that a future sacrificial system could not be perfectly within the will of God for His people:

·         Firstly, the emphasis in Ezekiel’s temple is on holiness. By faithfully following the Lord’s commandments regarding worship and sacrifice, the nation of Israel will demonstrate to the world the transforming power of God in their once-stubborn and idolatrous hearts, and their unique relationship to Him.

·         Secondly, the sacrifices offered are symbolic, not efficacious. This was also true even of the Mosaic sacrifices — the only difference here is that the millennium looks back at Christ’s death as a historical reality, whereas the Israelites of the Old Testament economy looked forward to a Messianic promise of cleansing and atonement in the shadowy future.

If at first the suggestion that the blood sacrifices in Ezekiel’s temple serve a purely commemorative purpose seems bizarre, one may well consider the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. At this present time the church, composed of Jew and Gentile united in Christ, is in focus. Though the reality — the suffering and death of Christ — has already taken place, the church today still partakes of bread and wine in remembrance of His past work. This institution was set up by the Lord Jesus Himself.

However, in the millennial kingdom restored Israel, not the church, is the focus. In keeping with the Mosaic covenant unique to Israel, animal sacrifices will remind the believing Jews of Christ’s finished work.

Note, however, that in the millennium there is no Day of Atonement, and numerous other distinctions serve to remind us that Christ’s death forever altered God’s dealings with mankind.

Also, Ezekiel’s temple and its unique sacrificial system come into play after Israel has recognized Jesus as the Messiah they pierced. There can be no danger that these Jews will forget His death on their behalf.

In light of these evidences, then, there seems no reason to believe that Ezekiel’s temple is any less than it seems to be from the text itself — a literal building constructed by a truly repentant and restored nation of Israel, and in which they will worship the Lord by offering and sacrifice.

RJA

Republished by permission of the author

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