Q: Why will people offer animal sacrifices in the Millennial Temple?
People often ask, “If Jesus’ sacrifice was the only efficacious, once-for-all sacrifice to expiate sin (Heb. 9:12), why should animal sacrifices, which could never take away sin (10:4), be offered in the Millennial Temple during the Millennium?”
It is true the sacrifices in the Millennial Temple will not expiate sin, just as the Mosaic offerings could not take away sin (v. 4). Many conservative commentators believe these offerings will be memorials, similar to communion that Christians take in remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. They believe the offerings will serve as visible reminders of Christ’s efficacious work.
Although true, it seems these sacrifices also will have an additional function. Scripture says they will be offered “to make atonement for the house of Israel” (Ezek. 45:17; cf. vv. 15, 20). This sacrificial system will not constitute a return to the Old Testament Mosaic Covenant or Law but will be a new system set up by the Lord with a dispensational distinctive applicable to the Millennial Kingdom.
The Hebrew word for atonement means “covering.” The blood sacrifices that made atonement never removed sin; they simply covered it, staving off God’s divine anger and punishment by providing a ransom. Christ’s death on the cross—not the Levitical sacrificial system—made it possible for people’s sins to be taken away.
The animal sacrifices during the Millennium will primarily remove ceremonial uncleanness and prevent human defilement of the Millennial Temple. This system will be needed because God’s glorious presence will again dwell on Earth in the midst of sinners.
This purging act propitiates God, enabling Him to dwell among
The atonement-cleansing was necessary in Leviticus because the Shekinah Glory dwelt in the Tabernacle (Ex. 40:34). God resided in the midst of sinful, unclean people. Similarly, Ezekiel predicted the return of God’s glory to the Millennial Temple. Thus people worshiping at the Temple will need to atone for their uncleanness, so it won’t cause defilement.
The future animal sacrifices will not deal with eternal salvation but, rather, with finite cleansing of impurities from everyone who survived the Great Tribulation (they will have mortal bodies) and the children born to them during Christ’s thousand-year reign. Those born will still have to trust Christ by faith to become saved.
For a more in-depth study of this issue, see Jerry M. Hullinger’s “The Problem of Animal Sacrifices in Ezekiel 40—48,” Bibliotheca Sacra 152, no. 607 (1995), pages two through six.