Sacrifices in the Kingdom
The Millennial Temple’s main objective will be to provide a place of worship for Israel and the Gentile nations that will be similar to, yet distinct from, that under the old Levitical system.
Jews and Gentiles alike who have mortal bodies will be required to bring animal sacrifices (Isa. 56:7; 66:20–23; Jer. 33:18; Ezek. 45:13–17; Mal. 3:3–4). The prince (see “A New Temple for a New Era”) will receive the gifts and oversee the sacrifices used “to make atonement” for the house of Israel (Ezek. 45:15, 17, 20). There will be burnt, sin, trespass (40:39), grain (45:24), and peace offerings (46:2). The prince will offer the sacrifices at “the feasts, the New Moons, the Sabbaths, and at all the appointed seasons of the house of Israel” (45:17). Only morning sacrifices will be offered daily (46:13).
The feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread will be kept to memorialize Israel’s deliverance from Egypt (45:21–24). All nations will be required to appear in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles; those that do not will be denied rain or, as in Egypt’s case, receive a plague (Zech. 14:16–18). The “year of liberty” (Jubilee, cf. Lev. 25) will be commemorated at its proper time (Ezek. 46:17). The feasts of Pentecost and Trumpets and the Day of Atonement will not be kept in the Millennium.
When reading Ezekiel 43—46, people often ask, “If Jesus’ sacrifice is 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 during the Millennium?” We know these sacrifices cannot remove sin any more than the Levitical sacrifices could.
Some scholars believe the Millennial offerings will be memorials, similar to keeping the Lord’s Supper today in remembrance of Christ’s death. They reason that sacrifices are needed because Millennial saints will live in an ideal setting where Christ’s righteousness will fill the earth and people will need a reminder of the awfulness of sin.
Therefore, the shedding of blood will visibly remind them that only Christ’s blood can take away sin. This interpretation has two problems: (1) Nothing in the text indicates the sacrifices are memorials, and (2) the prophet says the sacrifices are to make atonement.
Consequently, these offerings must be much more than memorials. The word for “atonement” (Ezek. 45:15, 17, 20) is the Hebrew word kippur, meaning to “cover” or “propitiate.” Under the Levitical system, sacrifices were required to atone for sin and to cleanse the buildings, the altar (43:20–27), the Levites (44:25–27), and the sanctuary (45:18). The blood sacrifice covered the worshiper’s sins (Lev. 17:11) and functioned as propitiation to God.
Animal sacrifices offered in the Millennial Temple will be needed to cover the worshipers’ ceremonial uncleanness. Why? Because God will be dwelling on Earth in the midst of sinners living in their natural, unresurrected bodies. Without blood sacrifices, these impure worshipers would defile God’s holy Temple when they come to worship Him.
Bible Professor Jerry Hullinger came to the same conclusion:
Hebrews states that animal sacrifices were efficacious in the sphere of ceremonial cleansing. They were not efficacious, however, in the realm of conscience and therefore in the matter of spiritual salvation. Because of this, Christ’s offering is superior in that it accomplished something the Levitical offerings never could, namely, soteriological benefits.
Only Christ’s sacrifice was of the kind that could form the basis for eternal and spiritual salvation. But this in no way refutes the…efficacy in the Old Testament sacrifices….Eternal or spiritual salvation was not the issue. Therefore, the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament and the sacrifice of Christ in the New Testament were effective at their own respective and totally different levels.
Ezekiel 40—48 indicates that during the millennium God’s glory will return to the temple where sacrificial ritual will take place and in which offerings will make atonement. For Ezekiel the concept of atonement is the same as it was in the Book of Leviticus, namely, an act that wipes away and purges uncleanness.
This purgation will be required because the divine presence will once again be dwelling in the land. As argued earlier, impurity is contagious to both persons and sancta. Further, impurity is inimical to Yahweh, who refuses to dwell among a people if uncleanness remains untreated. Because of God’s promise to dwell on earth during the millennium (as stated in the New Covenant), it is necessary that He protect His presence through sacrifice.
This function of sacrifices, according to the Book of Hebrews, is efficacious. However, this was never the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice, for it dealt with the internal cleansing of the conscience. Therefore the two are harmonious. It should be further added that this sacrificial system will be a temporary one in that the millennium (with its partial population of unglorified humanity) will last only one thousand years. During the eternal state all inhabitants of the New Jerusalem will be glorified and will therefore not be a source of contagious impurities to defile the holiness of Yahweh.1
Sacrifices in the Millennium will not be a substitute for God’s plan of salvation or change the way a person is redeemed. Salvation has always been, and will always 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 permanently removed.
- Jerry Hullinger, “The Problem of Animal Sacrifices in Ezekiel 40—48,” Bibliotheca Sacra 152, no. 607 (1995): 288–289.