Why Will Sacrifices Be Offered in the Millennium?

Manfred E. Kober, Th.D.

1. The Prominence of the Millennial Temple

Ezekiel’s temple vision in chapters 40-46 forsees a gigantic millennial temple in the Holy Land. The temple and its ceremonies will be vastly different than Solomon’s temple. It should be pointed out that there will be no Ark of the Covenant, Tablets of the Law, Cherubim, nor Mercy Seat. There will be no Veil, no Golden Candlestick, nor Table of Shewbread. Absent will be the evening sacrifice, Pentecost, Trumpets, as well as the Day of Atonement.

The fact that there is no such thing as an earthly temple, an altar for animal sacrifices in the dispensation of the Church (Jn. 4:21; Hebrews 7-10), does not mean that they will not be present in the future.

There is a clear distinction made throughout the Scriptures between Israel and the Church. And just because God will have finished His work of sanctification in the Church by the time of the Rapture, is no warrant for assuming that He will have finished His work of instruction, testing, and sanctification of Israel. In fact, one of the main purposes of the thousand-year earthly kingdom of Christ will be to vindicated His chosen people Israel before the eyes of all nations (Isaiah 60, 61) (John Whitcomb, The Diligent Workman Journal, “The Millennial Temple,” Volume 2, Issue 1, [May 1994], 7).

2. The Purpose of Millennial Sacrifices

Those Bible scholars who support a literal understanding of Ezekiel 40-48 agree on the future existence of an actual temple and animal sacrifices. But they disagree on the purpose of these millennial sacrifices. Several major views should be noted.

Prophecies of animal sacrifices in the millennial temple are not just recorded by Ezekiel but by Isaiah (56:6, 7; 60:7), Jeremiah (33:18) and Zechariah (14:16-21).

A. The sacrifices serve as a memorial.

Most commentators who espouse a literal interpretation of millennial sacrifices understand that they serve as a reminder of the sacrificial, substitutionary death of Christ on the cross. As the Lord’s Supper reminds the believer today of the Savior’s death, so the animal sacrifices will uniquely and graphically memorialize Christ’s horrific death on the cross.

B. The sacrifices provide an atonement.

While the New Testament unequivocally declares that it is impossible of bulls and goats to take away sin (Heb. 10:4, cf. v. 11), Leviticus 1:4 is clear that the animal sacrifices would never make an atonement: “Then he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.”

The Hebrew word for atonement (kapher) means more than simply a covering. ________ discusses the various views of the Hebrew word “atone.” The word is understood to mean (1) “to cover or conceal” (2) “ransom” or “propitiation” (3) “to waste, wipe away or purge.”

Dr. Charles Ryrie demonstrates that the term kapher means more than just to cover or simply wipe away the contamination of sin: “It seems better to combine meanings and include both ideas of propitiation and purging,” (“Why Sacrifices in the Millennium?” The Emmaus Journal, Vol. 11 [2002], 299).

In the same insightful article, Ryrie cites Thomas Crawford who states what is generally overlooked in the discussion of Levitical sacrifices:

It seems very evident that the Mosaic sacrifices have a certain real efficacy ascribed to them in the Old Testament. . . .Nor is there a word said to indicate that this efficacy depended either on the inward dispositions of the worshipers, or on any prefigurative reference, whether understood or not, which their offerings may have had to the great sacrifice of the cross. So far as we can learn from the terms of the Mosaic statutes, the sacrifices seem to have been of unfailing benefit in all cases in which they were punctually and exactly offered. Their efficacy, such as it was, belonged to the ex opere operato (Ibid., 304, from Thomas J. Crawford, The Doctrine of Holy Scripture Respecting the Atonement [1871; reprint ed., Grand Rapids, Baker, 1954], 249.)

C. The three-fold purpose of the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament:

(1) The sacrifices provided theocratic forgiveness:

According to Leviticus 1:4 the animal sacrifices made an atonement; according to Hebrews 10:4 they did not. The apparent discrepancy can be resolved if it is remembered that the Israelites had a two-fold relationship to Yahweh. God was their King as well as their Savior. The sacrifices for both believing and unbelieving Jews payed their legal obligations and penalties (much like our payment for parking tickets does). But the sacrifices could never remove their sins before a holy God, their Savior. Only faith could effect their salvation (Gen. 15:6).

Ryrie incisively explains his position:

In a theocracy every sin had a God-ward facet as well as a governmental one. Provision had to be made to right the wrong committed against the government under which Israel lived. But a governmental offense would also be a sin against the head of the theocracy, the living and true God. Thus sin was both a governmental and a spiritual offense because of the nature of a theocracy. So the atonement made by the Levitical sacrifices would restore the sinner to his privileges and position in the theocracy, including his theocratic relation to God. This would be true whether or not the Israelite was a believer whose sins were also eternally forgiven. All, believers and unbelievers, needed what I call “theocratic forgiveness” when they sinned (Ibid., 304-5).

(2) The animal sacrifices foreshadowed a deliverance.

While it is impossible to discern how much knowledge Old Testament individuals had about Christ and His sacrificial death, several things are certain. Some Old Testament individuals had greater knowledge about salvation and the Savior than others. David knew that sacrifices would never remove sins, but God could. Isaiah knew that a human individual, the Servant of Jehovah, would die for the sins of the people.

Generally, Old Testament days were “times of ignorance” (Acts 17:30; John 1:19; Matt. 11:3). The prophets and people knew something about a coming deliverance and Deliverer; but concerning the identity of the person they were bewildered and uncertain.

(3) Animal sacrifices showed obedience.

Glad obedience by Old Testament saints in bringing animal sacrifices was an indication of fruit-bearing much like believers today display their love for the Lord by willingly obeying His demands.

Ryrie summarizes succinctly the three purposes of the Levitical ritual:

To Provide for Theocratic Forgiveness
To Point to the Savior
To Show Fruit, i.e. Manifest Obedience (Ibid., 308-9)

3. The purpose of Millennial Sacrifices

It is obvious that animal sacrifices will be offered in the millennial. Those who spiritualize Ezekiel 40-48 also would have to spiritualize a number of other passages. In the millennial kingdom, animal sacrifices will serve the same three purposes as under the Levitical system: the sacrifices (1) provided theocratic forgiveness; (2) pointed to a better sacrifice for sins, a human Savior and (3) presented the believer a means to show fruit.

A. Provision of Theocratic Forgiveness

In the millennium Jesus will rule as king over the world in a theocracy. The functioning of His government involves annual sacrifices. As in the Old Testament, a violation of His laws will involve sacrifices. The Levitical priests will present offerings to the Lord (Mal. 3:3). According to Isaiah, the Gentiles as well will participate in millennial blessings and offerings (Isa. 56:7).

B. Pointing to the Savior

In the Old Testament, the Old Testament pointed, however faintly or clearly, to a coming Savior. In the millennium, the sacrifices will point to the Savior as reigning on the Throne of David in Jerusalem. Their sacrifices will remind believers of the Savior’s past deliverance. Furthermore, the sacrifices will remind unbelievers of the One Who died in their stead will hopefully prompt them to avail themselves of the salvation He offers to them.

It appears that even at the end of the 1,000 years there will be unbelievers who have been outwardly obedient but inwardly rebellious (Rev. 20:8-9). Just as the world is not being progressively Christianized today, as espoused by the postmillennialists, even so with the presence of the Prince of Peace, it will still not lead to universal salvation.

C. To Prove Genuine Belief

The Lord’s sacrifice offered by believers are in part good fruit founded by genuine salvation. Just as under the Mosaic system sacrifices by believers offered proof of their love and obedience, so in the kingdom believers will demonstrate their love for the Savior by their service and by obeying God’s covenant (Isa. 56:11).

Charles Ryrie, with customary conciseness, summarizes the three-fold purpose of Old Testament sacrifices:

The millennial sacrifices concern (1) payment, (2) proclamation, and (3) proof. They will render payment for sins committed against the government to effect theocratic forgiveness. They will proclaim the once-for-all death of Christ on the cross—a proclamation that will be frequent and clear, for the people will have available the presence of the Savior and the entire Bible to read. And they will offer proof of changed lives by those who will bring them out of love and a pure heart. These are all worthy purposes and in no way backward steps in the progressive revelation of the glory of God (Ibid., 310).

© Manfred E Kober

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