A Look at the Millennial Temple
Although some scholars question the reality of a literal, future Temple, the prophet Ezekiel described it in great detail. He provided its dimensions (Ezek. 40—43) and spoke of a future priesthood (chap. 44), future worship (chap. 45), and future manner of worship (chap. 46). Three times he declared that God will establish His sanctuary in the midst of Israel forever (37:26–28).
What will worship be like in the Millennial Temple? It will be similar to Old Testament Levitical worship, yet different. This Temple will be filled with God’s glory (43:1–5), as in the day of Solomon’s Temple. Only priests from the sons of Zadok will minister there, oversee worship, and serve at the Lord’s table (44:15–16).
Both Jewish people and Gentiles will be required to sacrifice animals at the Temple (Isa. 56:7; 66:20–23; Jer. 33:18; Ezek. 45:13–17; Mal. 3:3–4). The Lord will appoint a prince to receive the gifts and oversee the sacrifices used “to make atonement” for the house of Israel (Ezek. 45:15, 17, 20).
Presented will be burnt, sin, trespass (40:39), grain (45:24), and peace offerings (46:2). The prince will offer sacrifices at “the feasts, the New Moons, the Sabbaths, and at all the appointed seasons of the house of Israel” (45:17; 46:1). Only morning sacrifices will be offered daily (46:13).
The feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread will be kept to commemorate Israel’s deliverance from Egypt (45:21–24). All nations will appear in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles; those failing to obey will be denied rain or receive a plague, as in Egypt’s case (Zech. 14:16–18). The “year of liberty” (Jubilee, cf. Lev. 25) will be observed at its proper time (Ezek. 46:17). However, the feasts of Pentecost, Trumpets, and Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) will not be kept in the Millennium.
The question most people ask when reading Ezekiel 43—46 is, “If Jesus’ sacrifice is the only efficacious, once-for-all sacrifice to expiate sin (Heb. 9:12), why will animal sacrifices that could never take away sin (10:4) be offered when Christ reigns?” We know the Millennial sacrifices will not remove sin, just as the Levitical ones could not.
Some scholars believe the offerings during the Millennium will be memorials, similar to keeping the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of Christ’s death. They reason that, because Millennial saints will live in an ideal setting where the awfulness of sin is glossed over, the blood sacrifices will visibly remind people that only Christ’s blood can take away sin. Two problems mar this interpretation: (1) Nothing in the text indicates the sacrifices are memorial in nature, and (2) the prophet Ezekiel said the sacrifices are to make atonement.
Consequently, the offerings must be much more than memorials. The word atonement (Hebrew, kippur; Ezek. 45:15, 17, 20) means to “cover” or “propitiate.” Under the Levitical system, God required sacrifices to atone for sin and to cleanse buildings, the altar (43:20–27), the Levites (44:25–27), and the sanctuary (45:18). Blood sacrifices covered the worshiper’s sins (Lev. 17:11) and propitiated, or satisfied, God under the Mosaic Law.
Animal sacrifices at the future Temple will not be efficacious, but they will be needed to cover the worshipers’ ceremonial uncleanness. Why?Because God will be dwelling on Earth in the midst of sinful people who live in their natural bodies. The sacrifices will ensure that impure people will not defile God’s holy Temple when coming to worship Him.
Sacrifices in the Millennium will not be a substitute for God’s plan of salvation or change the way a person is redeemed. Salvation will be through faith in Christ and His shed blood on the cross. Nor will these sacrifices diminish Christ’s work on the cross (Heb. 10:10). It was Christ’s death, not the Levitical system, that made it possible for sins to be removed permanently.