The Judgement Throne (Bema) of Christ


The Judgement Throne (Bema) of Christ

Dr. John Whitcomb

  As born-again Christians, we truly rejoice at the thought of God�s wonderful promise and provision, that �if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness� (1 John 1:9, NKJV).
           But how does this divine provision relate to Christ�s confrontation with His Church, His Body and Bride, at the Judgment Throne? Does this mean that 1 John 1:9 eliminates the threat of losing a reward or a crown on that great day? This is a very confusing issue for many of God�s people today.

The Purpose of the Judgment Seat Confrontation

           One point must be settled immediately – the issue is the gain or loss of rewards, not of salvation! Thank God, �He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ� (Phil. 1:6). �Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ . . . and rejoice in hope of the glory of God� (Rom. 5:1-2). �He who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life� (John 5:24). �And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish . . . No one is able to snatch them out of My Father�s hand. I and My Father are one� (John 10:28-30).
           On the other hand, the provision of awards for faithfulness is intended by our Lord to provide tremendous motivation for His people. As a matter of fact,all human beings have been programmed by God with this perspective! How would a military unit function efficiently if there were no rewards for self-discipline and diligence and courage? And what about governments, and industries, and schools? Would a student do his very best if there were no grades or honors or recognition at the end?

Prizes, Crowns, Rewards

           The Apostle Paul was well aware of the prizes offered to athletes who competed at the Olympics and the Isthmian Games of his day.1

 �Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes forthe prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified� (1 Cor. 9:24-27).2 �Let no one cheat you of your reward,� Paul admonished the church at Colosse (2:18).
           Precious indeed are his final words to Timothy: �I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for methe crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing� (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
           The apostle Peter encouraged pastors to be �examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away� (1 Peter 5:2).
           James, the half-brother of our Lord Jesus, and pastor of the great church at Jerusalem, wrote: �Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him� (James 1:12).
           The apostle John warned his readers: �Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward� (2 John 8). And he recorded these solemn words from the Savior to the persecuted church at Smyrna: �Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life� (Rev. 2:10). And to the faithful church in Philadelphia, our Lord gave this challenge: �Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may takeyour crown� (Rev. 3 :11).
           But someone might ask: Why do I even need a reward or a crown? Isn�t it enough to be assured of heaven with the Lord Jesus forever? Even if most Christians would not actually say this, they often act as if a reward provides no vital motivation for more faithful Christian living and service.
           The answer to such questions seems clear: the crown a believer might receive will be for His honor, for we will �cast [our] crowns before the throne, saying: �You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor . . . �� (Rev. 4:10-11). Presumably, then, we will be ashamed to have nothing to cast down before Him! Even the Lord Jesus was motivated by the anticipation of a reward, for we are told that He, �for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God� (Heb. 12:2).
           John M. Frame has helpfully commented: �I confess that I was surprised by the number of times Scripture uses rewards to motivate obedience. Like many of us, I tend toward the Kantian notion that we should simply do our duty for duty�s sake and never think about reward. But that notion is quite unbiblical. If God takes the trouble (this many times!) to urge our obedience by a promise of reward, we should embrace that promise with thanks, not despise it. That is, we should not only do good works, but we should do them for this reason. This teaching, of course, is not salvation by works or merit. Although the word rewardis used in these passages, there is no suggestion that we have earned the reward in the sense that we have paid God what the reward is worth. Jesus says that even when we have done everything commanded of us (and not one of us has done that), we have done no more than our duty (Luke 17:7-10). Indeed, in that case we are �unworthy� servants. Elsewhere, Scripture represents the reward as something out of all proportion to the service rendered (Matt. 19:29; 20:1-­16; 25:45-47; 25:21-30; Luke 7:36-50; 12:37).�3

The B�ma in Paul, Peter and John

           The apostle Paul used the term b�ma when he wrote to the Corinthian church about our final confrontation with Christ to determine the gain or loss of rewards: �For we must all appear before the judgment seat (b�ma) of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men . . .� (2 Cor. 5 :10-11). The Corinthians were very familiar with this word, for it was inscribed on the front of the large marble judgment throne where judicial issues were evaluated by the supreme judge (such as Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia, before whom Paul stood one day (cf. Acts 18:12, 16, 17).4 Amazingly, it was before the b�ma of Pontius Pilate that our Lord took His stand (cf. Matt 27:19; John 19:13)!
           To the church at Rome, Paul wrote: �we shall all stand before the judgment seat (b�ma) of Christ . . . So then each of us shall give account of himself to God� (Rom. 14:10-12).
           Even more ominous, perhaps, are the words of the apostle Peter: �For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?� (1 Pet. 4:17-18).
           The apostle John warned his disciples (�little children�): �abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming� (1 John 2:28). �The passive voice coupled with the expressionautou suggests that a believer withdraws in shame. It suggests a shrinking back from Christ, perhaps from a sense of guilt, with the believer producing the action [rather than Christ putting the believer to shame].�5

Christ�s Qualifications for Judging Us

           One fact will be agreed upon by all Christians: our Lord is fully equipped to examine and evaluate the thoughts, motives, words and deeds of every member of his Body, the Church! �Our God is a consuming fire� (Heb. 12:29), and He has �eyes like a flame of fire� (Rev. 2:14; cf. 19:12).
           The Lord Jesus told us that �there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spokenin the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops� (Luke 12:2-3). Paul confirmed that �God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ� (Rom. 2:16). These �secrets� include the motives behind all of our thoughts, words, and actions. Our God is infinitely concerned about the true reasons why we do and say things!
           In this light, Paul could assure the Corinthian believers that it was not so much what they thought of him that mattered. �He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels [motives] of the heart� (1 Cor. 4:4-5).
           Our Lord Jesus Christ will also evaluate us on the basis of how much we knew of His will and word, because �from everyone who has been given much shall much be required� (Luke 12:48). Therefore, �that slave who knew his master�s will, and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, shall receive many lashes.� But if we did not know His will, are we not completely free of consequences? No, for such ignorance is culpable: we should do everything possible to learn what His will is for our lives through reading and believing His Word! Therefore, �the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few� (vv. 47-­48).
           Mere human courts and judges, of course, cannot begin to compare with the absolute perfection of His examination of people! That is because �the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account� (Heb.4:12-13).
           At the b�ma our Lord will show no partiality. �Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. But he [i.e. the Christian servant] who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, andthere is no partiality� (Col. 3:23-25). �. . .  the Father without partialityjudges according to each one�s work� (1 Pet. 1:17). And the Bible ends with this word of divine assurance: �Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work� (Rev. 22:12), to which the apostle John, and hopefully each believer, responds: �Even so, come, Lord Jesus!� (vs. 20).

The Most Detailed Description of the B�MA of Christ

           Paul had (under God) laid the foundation for the church at Corinth (Acts 18:1-18), and Apollos of Alexandria, a disciple of John the Baptist (Acts 18:24-28), effectively built upon that foundation. But the Corinthians, in a fleshly way, polarized around one or the other of these servants of God (1 Cor. 1:10-17)!
           Now Paul confronted this sectarian mentality as a basis for teaching the doctrine of the b�ma. �Neither he who plants [i.e., Paul] is anything, nor he who waters [i.e., Apollos], but God who gives the increase. . . . Each one will receivehis own reward according to his own labor. . . . But let each one take heed how he builds on [the foundation]. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ� (1 Cor. 3:7-11).

           Thus, the discussion concerns the destiny of believers only. What kind ofsuperstructure have we built upon the foundation of our life in Christ? At this point the heavy part of the passage begins: �Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one�s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one�s work, of what sort it is. If anyone�s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone�s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet as through fire� (1 Cor. 3:12-15).
           Tragically, hundreds of millions of Roman Catholics have been taught that this verse refers to purgatory, a place where imperfect Catholic believers supposedly must pay for their sins, perhaps for centuries! �But that is to miss Paul by a wide margin. This is metaphor, pure and simple. The Greek construction,houtos de hos, makes this certain: �thus, as it were, only through fire�. [Paul is] probably reflecting something like Amos�s �firebrand plucked from the burning� (4:11).�6
           �The Roman Catholic interpretation completely misses the point. Paul is using an analogy. He is not talking about a real fire. He is not talking about men and women burning. Paul is speaking of an imaginary building that represents a person�s ministry, not the individual himself. Figuratively speaking, it is a person�s work that will burn, not the person himself. The focus of the illustration is the potential loss of reward for poor service, not the atonement of sin or the cleansing of souls.�7
           Thus, everything we have said, done, and even thought, as true Christians, must be brought to full light. Could it be any other way? Can our Lord be deceived by mere outward religious forms and appearances? If any final recognition or honor or reward or crown be granted to God�s servants at that day, must it not be done in loving perfection? Will not all Christians, in that day fully glorified and thus sinless, agree totally with His final evaluation of each and every one of us?
           Plainly, it is the unworthy works that will be burned, not the believers themselves! In fact, even though a believer�s �work is burned . . . he himselfwill be saved� (3:15). But does not that reduce the b�ma confrontation to total insignificance? No, for �he will suffer loss . . . as through fire.� But does this mean that some believers will be in a state of depression forever? �It would not be heaven if we were to spend eternity in sadness because of what we did not do. Undoubtedly there will be regret, but our overwhelming emotion will be the realization of the wonderful grace of God that saved us and brought us to heaven. There will be rejoicing in heaven instead of tears.�8
           How, then, do we relate all of this to the forgiveness and cleansing He provides for us when we confess our sins (cf. 1 John 1:9)? Does this forgiveness and cleansing cancel out any potential loss of reward at the b�ma?

David and Bathsheba

           Perhaps the clearest answer to this question is provided for us in 2 Samuel 12. King David had sinned grievously against the LORD by having one of his faithful generals, Uriah the Hittite, killed, in order to obtain his wife Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11)! When David refused to confess his sin, God sent Nathan the prophet to get his attention with a tragic story about a rich man who took a poor man�s �one little ewe lamb� to prepare it for a guest.
           David, of course, was enraged: �As the LORD lives, the man who has done this shall surely die!� (12:5). �Then Nathan said to David: �You are the man! . . . Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife�� (12:7-10).
           That did it! David immediately saw the magnitude of his own sin, and cried out: �I have sinned against the LORD!� (vs. 13). Psalm 51 is a profound expression of David�s deep repentance to God. Did this genuine confession change anything? Yes! Nathan replied immediately: �The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.� Then was everything wonderful again? No! �However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child who is born to you shall surely die� (vs. 14). Furthermore, �the sword shall never depart from your house . . . I will raise up adversity against you from your own house . . .� (vv. 10-11). Among the disasters that followed were the sins and rebellions of his sons Absalom, Amnon, and Adonijah.

           Question: Did the LORD truly forgive David? YES.
           Question: Were the full consequences of his sin totally wiped out? NO.

           That is the ultimate issue. When we truly confess our sins, God graciously forgives us and restores fellowship with us. But the full consequences of our sinsmust still be brought to light and dealt with by the LORD. That will be the function of the b�ma.

The Public Testimony of Believers

           What concerns our loving LORD is not only His daily relationship with us, but also the long-term influence and impact of our Christian lives and ministries upon others. For example, if a pastor commits a serious public sin, his position of leadership in the church is (with possible rare exceptions) finished, even though he might genuinely confess his sin to God.
           As Paul wrote to Timothy, �a bishop [overseer] must be blameless . . . he must have a good testimony among those who are outside� (1 Tim. 3 :2, 7); and, �in purity, show yourself an example of those who believe� (1 Tim. 4:12). And to the church at Ephesus: �do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints� (Eph 5:3). And to Titus, �Appoint elders in every city . . . if a man be blameless, the husband of one wife . . .� (Titus 1:5-6). To be even more specific, �Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge� (Heb. 13:4). Finally, James, the pastor of the great church at Jerusalem, said: �Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment� (James 3:1). The public doesn�t know or even care about whether he has made a personal confession to his God. What they do care about – and will probably never forget – is his public sin. This deeply hurts and grieves our LORD, and will surely be a major factor in determining the gain or loss of a reward or crown at the b�ma.
           �Adultery is not the only sin that disqualifies a minister from office, but it is one of the more visible and confusing sins plaguing the church of our time. What is particularly troublesome about this sin is the abuse of power that often attends it. Deep pain is brought to the sexual partner in a clergy affair, and even deeper pain to the minister�s wife. The minister, given an honored office through which he is called to serve abused and vulnerable people, violates that very trust by becoming, himself, a violator . . . Many borrow psychotherapeutic concepts such as healing and recovery as rationales for returning to pastoral ministry, but with no genuine recognition of the pathology that manifests itself in the abuse of power.�9
           Thus, God intends the b�ma confrontation to motivate each and every believer –  not just church leaders – to serve Him in spirit and in truth. It is not designed to be a horrible threat that produces depression and fear, but, rather, an encouragement to love and serve and obey Him from the heart. In this light, may we, as Christians, be more concerned than ever before about our testimony for the Savior who loves us with infinite love, and paid the ultimate price for our redemption and future glorification.

     1�These Games, held every two years under the patronage of Corinth and second only to the Olympics, were extravagant festivals of religion, athletics, and the arts, attracting thousands of competitors and visitors from all over the empire . . . Paul would have been in Corinth during the games of A.D. 51 (in the spring)� (Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Pub. Co.], p. 433).
     2Lewis Sperry Chafer explains that the word �disqualified� [adokimos] is mistranslated �castaway� in the A.V., implying loss of salvation. �It is the negative form and its positive is rightly translated in 2 Tim. 2:15, �Study to show thyself approved [dokimos] unto God.� The disapproval which the Apostle dreaded is none other than the burning of unworthy works of service (cf. 2 Cor. 5:11)� (Systematic Theology IV [Grand Rapids: Kregel Pub., 1993], p. 406.)
     3John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Pub., 2008), pp. 283-284.
     4It was my privilege to see this b�ma during a visit to Corinth on August 21, 1952. For a photo, see James L. Boyer, For A World Like Ours (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1971), p. 51. For its location in ancient Corinth, see The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Vol. I (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 1980), p. 314. See also the photo and discussion in V. Gilbert Beers, The Victor Handbook of Bible Knowledge (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1981), pp. 592-93.
     5Samuel L. Hoyt, �The Negative Aspects of the Christian�s Judgment,�Bibliotheca Sacra 137:129-30 (April-June, 1980). Quoted in Charles C. Ryrie,Basic Theology (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), p. 598. See also John A. Sproule, �The Christian and Future Judgment� (a research paper for the course on Biblical Eschatology CTA 302 [Grace Theological Seminary, 1974], available from
     6Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians NICNT (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1991), p. 144.
7James G. McCarthy, The Gospel According to Rome (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Pub., 1995), p. 111. Cf. Mike Gendron, �The Fatal Fable of a Sin-­Purifying Fire� (Proclaiming the Gospel, 18:2 [April-June, 2009, at]). See also, Norman A. Olson, �Biblical Basis for Purgatory?� in The Baptist Bulletin (April, 2005, p. 9. Email:; and, especially, Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology 4 (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2005), pp. 362-380. The official Roman Catholic statement may be found in Catechism of the Catholic Church (Liguori, MO: Liguori Publications, 1994, pp. 268-269).
     8C. Swindoll and R. Zuck, Understanding Christian Theology (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Pub., 2003), p. 1279.
     9R. Kent Hughes and John H. Armstrong, �Why Adulterous Pastors Should Not Be Restored: Repentance Is Not Enough for Returning Fallen Ministers to the Pulpit� (Christianity Today [April 3, 1995], p. 34).

Ezekiel 40 thru 48 and Millennial Sacrifices

Ezekiel 40 thru 48 and Millennial Sacrifices

Dr. John Whitcomb

The future function of the millennial temple (Ezekiel 40–48) has long been problematic for dispensationalists in view of the finished work of Christ.1 Light is shed on this problem by noting the original theocratic purpose of OT sacrifices. This purpose was functionally distinct from that of the redemptive work of Christ. Millennial sacrifices will not simply memorialize Christ's redemption but will primarily function in restoring and maintaining New Covenant Israel in theocratic harmony. The differences between the Old Covenant stipulations and those of Ezekiel 40–48 can be accounted for in terms of this solution, in harmony with the unique spiritual provisions of the New Covenant.
How does the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ relate to the animal sacrifices which God gave to Israel through Moses? What did the blood of these animals accomplish for believing and/or unbelieving Israelites during the days of the Old Covenant theocracy? How does that Old Covenant sacrificial system compare with the New Covenant system envisioned in Ezekiel 40-48 and other OT prophets, especially in the light of the NT book of Hebrews? A wide difference of opinion still exists in this important aspect of biblical theology. It is the thesis of this study that the answers to these questions lie in the recognition that there are distinct functions in the plan of God for the blood of sacrificial animals and for the precious blood of God's Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. This distinction is especially significant for understanding the reinstatement of animal sacrifices in the future millennial kingdom of Christ.
The Church and the Mosaic Covenant
The atoning work of Jesus Christ is infinite in value, and is therefore eternally sufficient and efficacious for those who put their trust in Him. This truth is clearly and repeatedly taught in the NT and is therefore fundamental to the Christian faith. The book of Hebrews especially emphasizes the contrast between the substitutionary work of Christ and the blood of bulls and goats in the Mosaic / Levitical / Aaronic system of the Old Covenant. The following statements make this clear: "the Law made nothing perfect" (7:19); "both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshipper perfect in conscience" (9:9); "the Law . . . can never by the same sacrifices year by year . . . make perfect those who draw near" (10:1); "it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (10:4); "[animal] sacrifices . . . can never take away sin" (10:11); "where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin" (10:18). Thus, the New Covenant, in which the NT Church has its soteriological foundations (Heb. 8:6–13, 9:15, 12:24; cf. Luke 22:20; Rom. 11:16–18; 1 Cor. 11:25; 2 Cor. 3:6), is infinitely superior to the Old Covenant of Moses, which was indeed "only a shadow of the good things to come" (Heb. 10:1).2
Does this mean, then, that Israel, the chosen theocratic nation, with its unconditional Abrahamic Covenant guarantee of a land (Gen. 12:7; 13:14–17; 15:18–21; Deut. 30:5) and divine blessing (Gen. 12:2–3) has been forever set aside nationally in favor of the Church?3 This has indeed been the conclusion of many Christian theologians animals and for the precious blood of God's Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. This distinction is especially significant for understanding the reinstatement of animal sacrifices in the future millennial kingdom of Christ.
The Church and the Mosaic Covenant
The atoning work of Jesus Christ is infinite in value, and is therefore eternally sufficient and efficacious for those who put their trust in Him. This truth is clearly and repeatedly taught in the NT and is therefore fundamental to the Christian faith. The book of Hebrews especially emphasizes the contrast between the substitutionary work of Christ and the blood of bulls and goats in the Mosaic / Levitical / Aaronic system of the Old Covenant. The following statements make this clear: "the Law made nothing perfect" (7:19); "both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshipper perfect in conscience" (9:9); "the Law . . . can never by the same sacrifices year by year . . . make perfect those who draw near" (10:1); "it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (10:4); "[animal] sacrifices . . . can never take away sin" (10:11); "where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin" (10:18). Thus, the New Covenant, in which the NT Church has its soteriological foundations (Heb. 8:6–13, 9:15, 12:24; cf. Luke 22:20; Rom. 11:16–18; 1 Cor. 11:25; 2 Cor. 3:6), is infinitely superior to the Old Covenant of Moses, which was indeed "only a shadow of the good things to come" (Heb. 10:1).2
Does this mean, then, that Israel, the chosen theocratic nation, with its unconditional Abrahamic Covenant guarantee of a land (Gen. 12:7; 13:14–17; 15:18–21; Deut. 30:5) and divine blessing (Gen. 12:2–3) has been forever set aside nationally in favor of the Church?3 This has indeed been the conclusion of many Christian theologians from the days of the church fathers down to modern times. Israel as a national entity is seen by such writers as apostate and therefore broken off forever as a distinct nation in the program of God.
The New Covenant However, the NT, including the book of Hebrews, does not teach that Israel has been forever set aside.4 It does teach the end of the Old Covenant given by God to Israel through Moses. Yet the NT does not reject the Abrahamic Covenant (which the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31 further elaborates). During the period from the death of Christ and the Day of Pentecost to the destruction of the Temple and the Jewish sacrificial system by Roman armies in A.D. 70, Jewish Christians were strongly pressured by their "kinsmen according to the flesh" to abandon the distinctive freedoms they found in the Christian gospel and to turn to a supposedly Mosaic legalistic belief (cf. Acts 15; Gal. 2–3). It was to such Christian believers that the author of Hebrews emphasized the shadowy insufficiency and temporary nature of the Mosaic covenant. He was not addressing Old Covenant national Israel, as were Jeremiah and Ezekiel, but professing members of the true Church.5
The contrast in Hebrews, then, is not between the Church and Israel under the New Covenant, or between the spiritual sacrifices offered by the Church (Heb. 13:15) and the animal sacrifices which Israel will someday offer under the New Covenant. It is rather between the shadowy, insufficient nature of the Old Covenant and the sufficient, permanent nature of the New Covenant. The Church participates soteriologically in the New Covenant which was originally revealed by God through Jeremiah and Ezekiel with reference to a repentant Israel in the coming Kingdom age (Jer. 31:33–34; Ezek. 11:19–20; 36:25–28). The sufficiency of the New Covenant is guaranteed in the spiritual regeneration of all its participants.7
Romans 11 and Israel's National Regeneration
The Church was graciously placed into a New Covenant relationship with God, but it did not thereby replace national Israel. This is explained in Romans 11:11–32. During the present age, national / theocratic Israel has indeed been "rejected" (11:15) and "broken off" (11:17–22) because of "transgression," "failure," and "unbelief" (11:11, 12, 23). But that is by no means the end of Israel as a nation, for "Israel did not stumble so as to fall" (11:11). Some day, in fact, Israel will experience divine "fulfillment" (11:12) and "acceptance" (11:15). Indeed, "God is able to graft them in again . . . if they do not continue in their unbelief" (11:23).
Paul argues that it will actually be more appropriate for God to do this for the "natural branches" than it was for God to graft in Gentiles "contrary to nature" (11:24), for Israel will be grafted back into "their own olive tree" (11:24; cf. John 4:22 – "salvation is of the Jews"). "The root" of the olive tree which is "holy" and "rich" and which "supports" Gentile Christians, is the Abrahamic Covenant (cf. Rom. 4:11–17, "the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all"). The fact that the Church participates in the soteriological benefits of the Abrahamic and New Covenants (cf. Eph. 2:12–22) is a major factor which demonstrates continuity between Israel and the Church. But it hardly demonstrates that the Church has supplanted Israel in God's program.8 Indeed, "the gifts and the calling of God" are "irrevocable" (Rom. 11:29). Likewise, the Christian can be assured of his eternal salvation in Christ (cf. Rom. 8:28–39; Phil. 1:6) only because God keeps His covenant promises.
Israel and the New Covenant
The New Covenant, originally promised to Israel as a nation (Gen. 12:1–3; Jer. 31:33–34), now also provides the Church with the infinite and eternal benefits of the substitutionary blood of Christ. But what did the New Covenant originally involve? It involved God's provision for a new heart through the Holy Spirit (i.e., regeneration; cf. Ezek. 36:26–27) for the entire nation of Israel; the restoration of this regenerated nation to its ancestral land (Ezek. 36:28 — previously guaranteed by the Abrahamic Covenant, and not annulled by the Mosaic Covenant [Gal. 3:17]); and a dynamic, functioning theocracy of twelve tribes gathered around a great new city and temple (Ezek. 40–48; cf. Joel 3:18; Dan. 9:24; Hag. 2:7, 9; and Zech. 14:16–21). Indeed, eight centuries before the New Covenant was described in detail by Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Moses, the human spokesman for the Old Covenant, foresaw the basic provision of the New Covenant, namely a national restoration of Israel to her promised land by God's sovereign grace through regeneration of the heart (Deut. 30:1–14).
Remarkably, even the ultimate passing away of the Aaronic high priesthood for Israel was indicated at an early stage in the progress of revelation when God announced through David concerning his greater Son, a non-Levite, "Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek" (Psa. 110:4; cf. Hebrews 7). When the New Covenant is fulfilled for Israel, therefore, her high priest will be none other than her Messiah, and not a descendant of Aaron. This is a fact of tremendous importance in the light of Ezekiel 40–48, which conspicuously omits any reference to a Zadokian high priest (cf. Ezek. 40:46, 43:10, 44:15, 48:11 which state that only the descendants of Zadok out of the descendants of Aaron would minister before the LORD), and the book of Hebrews, which identifies Jesus Christ as the permanent High Priest of God's people.
Why does Ezekiel emphasize the special function of Zadokian priests in the future Temple? The obvious answer is that God promised to the line of Zadok an everlasting priesthood (1 Sam. 2:35; 1 Kings 2:27, 35). This confirmed His promise of an everlasting priesthood to Zadok's ancestor Phinehas (Num. 25:13), which also confirmed His promise of an everlasting priesthood to Phinehas' grandfather Aaron (Exodus 29:9; 40:15). See 1 Chronicles 6:3, 50 for the full genealogy. Furthermore, this promise was strongly confirmed by God through Jeremiah (33:17-22), who linked the perpetuity of the Levitical priesthood for Israel with the perpetuity of the Davidic kingship and the perpetuity of the earth's rotation on its axis! In view of these promises, confirmed again and again, it is highly significant that the millennial Temple will have the sons of Zadok as its priests (Ezek. 40:46, 43:19, 44:15, 48:11). God apparently means what He says! The intrinsic probability of this being fulfilled literally is strengthened greatly by the mention of 12,000 Levites who will be sealed by God during the seventieth week of Daniel (Rev. 7:7). If these are literal Levites, it would be highly inconsistent to maintain that the Temple will be merely figurative. If God's promises to Aaron, Phinehas, and Zadok are to be spiritualized, how can we insist that His promises to David will be fulfilled literally (cf. 2 Sam. 7:13, 16)?
A century before Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the prophet Isaiah also foresaw this New Covenant system, even though he did not use the technical term. In the deepening gloom of national apostasy under Ahaz and even godly king Hezekiah, the prince of writing prophets spoke of "an everlasting covenant" which God would make with Israel "according to the faithful mercies shown to David" (55:3; cf. 61:8). That this anticipated the New Covenant is confirmed by the fact that a national forgiveness of sin is included (59:20–21, cf. 27:9; Rom. 11:26–27). Isaiah not only foresaw God's New Covenant with Israel, but also a temple in the holy land (2:2–3; 56:5–7; 60:13). Here animal sacrifices would be offered on its altar by Egyptians (19:21) and Arabians from Kedar and Nebaioth (60:7), through "priests and Levites" (66:21), so that "the sons of the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord . . . even these I will bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar" (56:6–7; cf. 66:19–20).
To Hosea, Isaiah's contemporary prophet in the northern kingdom, the wonders of this great New Covenant were also revealed (Hos. 2:14–23). Hosea implied that after "many days" during which the nation would be "without king or prince," animal "sacrifices" would be resumed "in the last days" (3:4–5).
Jeremiah lived to see the final collapse of the politically independent theocracy of Israel (609–586 B.C.). To him the expression "a new covenant" was first revealed. This New Covenant included the offering of animals upon the altar of a temple in the holy land. Looking back to the Davidic Covenant (which was one aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant), the God of Israel announced: "I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth. . . . David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel" (33:15, 17; cf. vv. 21, 22, 26). Then he added these significant words: "and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man before Me to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings, and to prepare sacrifices continually" (33:18; cf. vv. 21, 22). Thus, Jeremiah, in stating the total demise of the temporary Old Covenant (31:32), and in anticipating the national regeneration provided in the permanent New Covenant (31:31–34; 32:38–40; 33:6–13; 50:5), included animal sacrifices offered by Levitical priests as permanent aspects of this New Covenant for national Israel.
Ezekiel was the third major prophet who spoke of Israel's everlasting covenant of peace, designated in 16:60–63; 20:37; 34:25; 37:21–28; and described soteriologically in 11:19–20 and 36:25–28. Included in this covenant was provision for "My sanctuary in their midst forever" (37:26, 28). In amazing detail, this sanctuary or temple is then described in chapters 40–48 with regard to (1) the precise dimensions and arrangements of its courts, gates, chambers and furnishings (40:5–43:27); (2) its officials, including the mortal prince (44:3; 45:7, 16, 22; 46:2–18) and the Levitical descendants of Zadok (who replaced Abiathar as David's faithful high priest) who would serve as priests (40:46; 43:19; 44:10–31; 48:11); (3) the different types and characteristics and purposes of its animal sacrifices (40:38–43; 42:13; 43:18–27; 44:11–16, 27–29; 45:15–25; 46:2–15; 46:20–24; cf. 20:40); and (4) the boundaries and dimensions of the tribal territories surrounding the city and the temple with its life-giving river (47:1–48:35).
Zechariah foresaw the strict enforcement of the Feast of Tabernacles among all Gentile nations (14:16–19; cf. Ezek. 45:25). Zechariah also anticipated, in connection with the fulfillment of the New Covenant (9:11; 13:1), that "all who sacrifice will come and take [every cooking pot in Jerusalem] and boil in them" (14:21). Other prophets who spoke of the future temple were Joel (3:18), Micah (4:1–5), Daniel (9:24), Haggai (2:7, 9), and Malachi (3:3–4). Our Lord referred to this temple in Matthew 24:15 (cf. Mark 13:14); Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:4; and John in Revelation 11:1–2.
The Church and the New Covenant
How should Christian participants in the New Covenant view these prophetic utterances concerning a restoration of national Israel to its land, complete with temple, Zadokian priests, and animal sacrifices, especially in the light of the emphatic pronouncements of the book of Hebrews? Liberal and Neo-orthodox theologians dismiss Ezekiel's temple vision as an apocalyptic dream,9 or a tentative plan for the second temple which the returning exiles never adopted.10 Most evangelical commentators assume that the covenants of God with Israel are being fulfilled in the Church11 and / or refer somehow to the eternal state.12 Even some premillennialists, finding it difficult to reconcile animal sacrifices in the millennium with the book of Hebrews, conclude that Israel's new covenant will indeed eventuate in national conversion and divine blessing in the Holy Land for a thousand years, but without a temple, priests, and sacrifices.13
Keenly sensitive to the tensions and problems involved in this theological controversy, John F. Walvoord significantly concluded that "the most thoroughgoing students of premillennialism who evince understanding of the relation of literal interpretation to premillennial doctrine usually embrace the concept of a literal temple and literal sacrifices."14 Without doubt, the large majority of dispensational premillennialists do interpret the Zadokian priesthood and animal sacrifices of the millennial age literally. They also attempt to modify the supposed clash between the OT prophecies of the New Covenant and the book of Hebrews by viewing these animal sacrifices strictly as memorials of the death of Christ, like the Church eucharist of the bread and cup.15 Such an approach may be questioned, however.
The key to the entire problem may be found in answers to three questions. (1) What was the true function of animal sacrifices in the Old Covenant? (2) What is the significance of the fundamental differences between Ezekiel's picture of the New Covenant system of worship and the Old Covenant system of worship? (3) Would a worship system involving animal sacrifices necessarily represent a great step backward for New Covenant Israel during the Kingdom Age?
The True Function of Animal Sacrifices
In answer to the first question, animal sacrifices could never remove spiritual guilt from the offerer or clear his conscience. The book of Hebrews is very clear about that (10:4, 11). But it is equally erroneous to say that the sacrifices were mere teaching symbols given by God to Israel to prepare them for Messiah and His infinite atonement. Such a view is contradicted by precise statements in Exodus and Leviticus.16
The Scriptures tell us that something really did happen to the Israelite offerer when he came to the right altar with the appropriate sacrifice; and he was expected to know what would happen to him. What happened was temporal, finite, external, and legal – not external, infinite, internal, and soteriological. Nevertheless, what happened was personally and immediately significant, not simply symbolic and / or prophetic. When an Israelite "unwittingly failed" to observe a particular ordinance of the Mosaic Law (in the weakness of his sin nature [Num. 15:22–29], not "defiantly," in open rebellion against God Himself [Num. 15:30–36]),17 he was actually "forgiven" through an "atonement" (a ritual cleansing; cf. Heb. 9:10, 13) made by the priest (Num. 15:25–26).
But what was the precise nature of this "forgiveness" and this "atonement"? To say that it was exclusively a prophetic anticipation of Christ's atoning work does not do justice to the progress of revelation.18 There simply is no biblical evidence that the knowledge-content of OT saving faith always and necessarily included a crucified Messiah. However, in God's eternal purpose, the death of His Son has always been and always will be the final basis of spiritual salvation (Rom. 3:25–26). Saving faith before the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) involved a heart response to whatever special revelation of God was available at that time in history (cf. Romans 4; Galatians 3; Hebrews 11). Such Spirit-initiated faith produced a "circumcised heart" (Lev. 26:41; Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 4:4; 9:25; Ezek. 44:7, 9). No one was ever spiritually regenerated by works, not even by fulfilling legally prescribed sacrifices, offerings and other Mosaic requirements.19
In the covenant at Sinai, God provided a highly complex and rigid structure for his "kingdom of priests." Within that structure, national / theocratic transgressions would receive national / theocratic forgiveness when appropriate sacrifices were offered to God through legitimate priests at the tabernacle / temple altar. This "forgiveness" was promised regardless of the spiritual state of either the offerer or the priest. For example, for both believing and unbelieving Israelites in Egypt, God promised: "when I see the blood I will pass over you" (Exod. 12:13; cf. 12:23). However, such sacrificial blood could never cleanse the conscience or save the soul (Heb. 10:1–2), so God repeatedly sent prophets to call His people to love and obey their God from the heart. Apart from such genuine faith, all the ceremonially "kosher" animals in the whole world would avail nothing in the spiritual realm (Psa. 50:7–15; Isa. 1:11–20; Amos 4:4–5; 5:21–27; Hos. 5:6; Mic. 6:6–8; Jer. 6:20; 7:21–23). It was not to be either faith or sacrifices; rather, it was to be both faith and sacrifices (cf. Psa. 51:19).
It was just as true then as it is today: "it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Heb. 10:4). But it was also true then, under the Old Covenant, that "the blood of goats and bulls . . . sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh" (Heb. 9:13). In the words of F. F. Bruce,
the blood of slaughtered animals under the old order did possess a certain efficacy, but it was an outward efficacy for the removal of ceremonial pollution. . . . They could restore [the worshipper] to formal communion with God and with his fellow-worshippers. . . . Just how the blood of sacrificed animals or the ashes of a red heifer effected a ceremonial cleansing our author does not explain; it was sufficient for him, and no doubt for his readers, that the Old Testament ascribed this efficacy to them.20
This was the unique tension within the theocracy of Israel that many Christian theologians apparently do not comprehend.
Now what does all of this indicate with regard to animal sacrifices in the millennial Temple for Israel under the New Covenant? It indicates that future sacrifices will have nothing to do with eternal salvation which only comes through true faith in God. It also indicates that future animal sacrifices will be "efficacious" and "expiatory" only in terms of the strict provision for ceremonial (and thus temporal) forgiveness within the theocracy of Israel. Thus, animal sacrifices during the coming Kingdom age will not be primarily memorial, like the bread and the cup ("do this in remembrance of Me" – 1 Cor. 11:24), in church communion services, any more than sacrifices in the age of the Old Covenant were primarily prospective or prophetic in the understanding of the offerer.
It is at this point that premillennial theologians exhibit differences. A. C. Gaebelein expressed, perhaps, the majority opinion when he wrote: "While the sacrifices Israel brought once had a prospective meaning, the sacrifices brought in the millennial Temple have a retrospective meaning."21 Ezekiel, however, does not say that animals will be offered for a "memorial" of Messiah's death. Rather, they will be for "atonement" (45:15, 17, 20; cf. 43:20, 26).
The Hebrew word used to describe the purpose of these sacrifices in Ezekiel 45:15, 17, and 20 is the piel form of kaphar. . . . But this is precisely the word used in the Pentateuchal description of the OT sacrifices to indicate their . . . expiatory purpose (cf. Lev. 6:30; 8:15; 16:6, 11, 24, 30, 32, 33, 34; Num. 5:8; 15:28; 29:5). If the sacrifices mentioned in Ezekiel are to be understood literally, they must be expiatory, not memorial offerings.22
The distinction between ceremonial and spiritual atonement is by no means a minor one, for it is at the heart of the basic difference between the theocracy of Israel and the Church, the Body and Bride of Christ. It also provides a more consistent hermeneutical approach for dispensational premillennialism. In his analysis of atonement in the OT, Richard E. Averbeck has shown that the Hebrew term rpk, used so frequently in Leviticus, does not mean "to cover," but rather "to appease or cleanse."
Only Christ's sacrifice was of the kind that could form the basis for eternal and spiritual salvation (Heb. 9:15). But this in no way refutes the . . . efficacy in the Old Testament atonement sacrifices. Those sacrifices had to do with the covenant relationship between God and the nation of Israel. 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.23
With respect to the Millennium, Averbeck concludes:
This accords well with the issue of the millennial sacrifices mentioned in Ezekiel. These rituals will not be memorials. They will atone . . . in the same efficacious way as the ones in Aaronic times. Why will this be necessary? Because God will again be dwelling, in His glory, among [mortal] men. . . . Christ did not shed His blood for the cleansing of any physical altar. Therefore, the special rite for the yearly cleansing of the millennial sanctuary will be required (Ezek. 45:18–20). Regular sacrifices will be reinstituted in the millennium.24
In the light of these considerations, it is significant that Anthony A. Hoekema, an amillennial theologian, leveled one of his heaviest criticisms of premillennialism at this very point:
Extremely significant is the note on page 888 of the New Scofield Bible which suggests the following as a possible interpretation of the sacrifices mentioned in these chapters of Ezekiel's prophecy: "The reference to sacrifices is not to be taken literally, in view of the putting away of such offerings, but is rather to be regarded as a presentation of the worship of redeemed Israel, in her own land and in the millennial temple, using the terms with which the Jews were familiar in Ezekiel's day." These words convey a far-reaching concession on the part of dispensationalists. If the sacrifices are not to be taken literally, why should we take the temple literally? It would seem that the dispensational principle of the literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy is here abandoned, and that a crucial foundation stone for the entire dispensational system has here been set aside!25
Hoekema's objection is well taken. However, he assumes, along with many nondispensational theologians, that animal sacrifices in the millennium would involve a reinstitution of the Mosaic economy, just as if Christ had never died. Oswald T. Allis, another Reformed theologian, stated, for example: "Literally interpreted, this means the restoration of the Aaronic priesthood and of the Mosaic ritual of sacrifices essentially unchanged."26 That this is not the case will be demonstrated next.
Israelite Worship Under the Old and New Covenants Contrasted
Ezekiel's picture of millennial worship and the Mosaic system which had been established nine hundred years earlier exhibit fundamental differences. OT scholars have often wrestled with the significance of these differences. Andrew W. Blackwood, Jr., did not hesitate to call them "discrepancies," hastening to assure his readers that
they concern matters that make no earthly difference to Christian faith, however they may have jarred the sensibilities of our Jewish forebears. There are twenty major discrepancies between Ezekiel and the Torah. Compare 46:6f. with Numbers 28:11, for example. Here are outright contradictions in the number of bullocks, lambs, and rams and the amount of flour to be used at the new moon offering ceremonies. . . . Long ago the rabbis were driven to say that Elijah, when he came, would explain away the difficulties. They said likewise that the entire prophecy would have been excluded from the canon were it not for the devoted labor of Rabbi Hanina ben Hezekiah, a scholar of the first century A.D., who must have written an extensive commentary on Ezekiel: "Three hundred barrels of oil were provided for him [for light], and he sat in an upper chamber where he reconciled all discrepancies" (Babylonian Talmud, Menahoth 45a).27
It is the view of the present study that there are no discrepancies within Scripture, and that God's servants today do not have to wait until Elijah appears to discover a theologically and hermeneutically satisfactory solution to this problem.
A century ago, Nathanael West listed some of the important differences between Old Covenant Israel and Millennial Israel in order to show how appropriate Ezekiel's structure will be for the Kingdom age.
If the similarities between [Ezekiel's] portrait of the "many days" of Israel in the Kingdom, and Israel's former Old Testament life, their ritual and laws, are remarkable, still more remarkable are the vast and important differences noted by Jews and Christians alike; differences so great as to make the [Jews], at one time, almost extrude the book from the sacred canon as uninspired. It is plain that these differences imply an entire revolution from the old order of things, and intimate strongly the "vanishing away" of the Law, to make room for the "New Covenant" he has elsewhere, like Jeremiah, Hosea, and Isaiah, proclaimed with such spiritual force.
There are changes in the dimensions of the Temple so that it is neither the temple of Solomon, nor that of Zerubbabel, nor that of Herod; changes in the measures of the outer court, the gates, the walls, the grounds, and the locality of the temple itself, raised on a high mountain, and even separate from the City. The Holy Places have hardly anything like the furniture that stood in the Tabernacle of Moses or the Temple of Solomon.
There are subtractions also. There is no Ark of the Covenant [cf. Jer. 3:16], no Pot of Manna, no Aaron's Rod to bud, no Tables of the Law, no Cherubim, no Mercy-Seat, no Golden Candlestick, no Showbread, no Veil, no unapproachable Holy of Holies where the High Priest alone might enter, nor is there any High Priest. . . . The priesthood is confined to the sons of Zadok, and only for a special purpose. There is no evening sacrifice. . . . The social, moral, and civil prescriptions enforced by Moses with such emphasis are all wanting.28
William Kelly was fascinated with the fact that there will be nothing in the Millennium answering to the Feast of Pentecost.
The omission seems to me to denote how completely it has been realized in the highest sense in the Church, which, as it were, has monopolized it. That heavenly body has come in between the true Passover, and before the verification of the Tabernacles [cf. Ezek. 45:25; Zech. 14:16–19], and has, so to speak, absorbed Pentecost to itself. . . . Who but God Himself could have thought of such an omission as that of Pentecost six centuries before it was realized so unexpectedly after the ascension?29
In addition to all of this, C. F. Keil, writing from a postmillennial perspective, discovered ceremonial and ritual adaptations in Ezekiel's vision of Israel's future service for God that he believed to be far more appropriate than the Mosaic structure for a post- Calvary eschatological program.
According to Ezekiel's order of feasts and sacrifices, Israel was to begin every new year of its life with a great sin-offering on the first, seventh, and fourteenth days of the first month . . . before it renewed the covenant of grace with the Lord in the paschal meal . . . and throughout the year consecrate its life to the Lord in the daily burnt-offering, through increased Sabbath-offerings . . . in order to live before Him a blameless, righteous,and happy life.30
Keil also concluded that the shift "of the chief atoning sacrifices" from the seventh month, at the end of the religious year, to the first month (for Ezekiel completely eliminates the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement, leaving only the Feast of Tabernacles in the seventh month)
indicates that, for the Israel of the new covenant, this eternally-availing atoning sacrifice would form the foundation for all its acts of worship and keeping of feasts, as well as for the whole course of its life. It is in this that we find the Messianic feature of Ezekiel's order of sacrifices and feasts, by which it acquires a character more in accordance with the New Testament completion of the sacrificial service, which also presents itself to us in the other and still more deeply penetrating modifications of the Mosaic torah of sacrifice on the part of Ezekiel [which] indicates that the people offering these sacrifices will bring forth more of the fruit of sanctification in good works upon the ground of the reconciliation which it has received.31
These are helpful insights, almost unique to a non-premillennial commentator, for understanding the religious structure of the millennial Kingdom age as well as the function of animal sacrifices during that time period. Unfortunately, Keil's theological position forced him to abandon the literal fulfillment of these prophecies and to denounce "M. Baumgarten, Auberlen, and other millenarians [who] express the opinion that this shadow-work will be restored after the eventual conversion of Israel to Christ, in support of which Baumgarten even appeals to the authority of the apostle to the Gentiles [Romans 11]."32
Millennial Sacrifices Will Not Be a Backward Step for Israel
Consistent dispensationalism must teach the practice of animal sacrifices for a restored and regenerated Israel in the Millennium. But this raises the third major question: Would such a worship system necessarily represent a great step backward for New Covenant Israel during the Kingdom age?
The answer is no, for Israel will indeed be under a New Covenant program, not the Old Covenant given to Moses which was not designed to guarantee salvation. Church communion services will no longer be observed, for they have been designed only to "proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" (1 Cor. 11:26). But after He comes, animal sacrifices within a New Covenant structure, endorsed (though not performed — cf. John 4:2) by the living Lamb of God, will constitute a gigantic step forward for Israel, not a reversion to "weak and beggarly elements" (Gal. 4:9) which actually enslaved the nation because of its unregenerate misuse of the Law. The apostle Paul "did not see any contradiction between the finished work of Christ and the offering of animal sacrifice" (Acts 21:26).33
John A. Sproule has pointed to the principle of progressive revelation as a guarantee that millennial Israel will have the entire NT available to them, including the Book of Hebrews.34 The two witnesses (Revelation 11), the 144,000 (Revelation 7, 14), and the Zadokian teaching priests functioning in the millennial temple (Ezekiel 40–48) will therefore know considerably more than John the Baptist, Apollos, the apostle Paul (who probably never read the book of Revelation), and even the apostle John. They will know about the full and finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. They will see no conflict between Ezekiel and Hebrews. They will realize that the omission of a high priest in Ezekiel 40–48 was not a mistake, just as it is now realized that the omission of a genealogy for Melchizedek in Genesis 14 was not a mistake (cf. Hebrews 7).35 Rather, they will recognize this omission as God's way of opening the door to the Melchizedekian High Priest of Psalm 110:4 (cf. Zech. 6:13: "He will be a priest on His throne"), whose visible presence on earth during the coming Kingdom age will be the ultimate answer to this dilemma of the ages.
Believing Jews will experience regeneration and sanctification (but not Spirit baptism) just as Christians do today, by the grace of God and through faith in the Lord Jesus. These future Jewish believers and their Gentile proselytes will not be glorified through seeing Jesus at His coming and in His Kingdom any more than the disciples in the Upper Room were glorified when they saw their resurrected Lord. However, the concept of progressive revelation guarantees that the New Covenant theocracy will begin with more knowledge than the Church had at Pentecost. Yet this theocracy will retain its distinctive Israelite characteristics — a promised land, a temple, appropriate animal sacrifices, and an earthly Zadokian priesthood (in that day visibly subordinate to Jesus Christ the Melchizedekian High Priest).
These sacrifices, illumined by a vastly greater understanding of the true significance of the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world, will be appreciated all the more for what they can and cannot accomplish for the offerer. For non- glorified millennial Israel and her Gentile proselytes throughout the world (e.g., Psalm 87; Isa. 60:1–14; Zech. 8:20–23), the continued presence of a sin nature will call for constant instruction and exhortation in revealed truth. Not even a perfect government will automatically solve this deep, universal problem.
Jerry M. Hullinger concludes:
The fundamental rationale of the Mosaic sacrificial system [was] the presence of the divine glory. The Mosaic system was instituted in Leviticus subsequent to the descent of the Shekinah in Exodus 40:34–38. Because of the communicability of uncleanness, the purity of God's presence needed to be protected. Fittingly, as Ezekiel envisioned a future temple in the millennial kingdom with the resident glory of God [Ezek. 43:2–7; 44:1–4], he saw the necessity of sacrificial blood once more because of the presence of nonglorified individuals who can be a source of communicable contamination.36
In distinction from the perfection of the eternal state as described in Revelation 21–22, Christ will "rule all the nations with a rod of iron" (Rev. 2:27; 12:5; 19:15) with strict controls, especially in religious practices (cf. Zech. 14:16–21). Even though outward submission to these religious forms will not necessarily demonstrate a regenerate heart (which has been true in every age of human history), it will guarantee protection from physical penalties and temporal judgments. Those who love the Christ will exhibit a genuine spirit of submission to His government. But those who do not truly love Him will follow Satan (even as Judas Iscariot betrayed Christ after years of observing His perfect leadership) in global rebellion at the end of His righteous reign, and will be destroyed in cosmic fire (Rev. 20:7–9).
How can vital spiritual instruction be accomplished for citizens of the millennial Kingdom age through a system of animal sacrifices? If it is theoretically possible (though sadly rare) for the Church today to achieve a spiritual, symbolic, and pedagogic balance in the use of the bread and the cup in the Eucharist, then it will be all the more possible for regenerated Israel to attain the divinely intended balance between form and content, lip and heart, hand and soul, within the structures of the New Covenant. It is not only possible, but prophetically certain, that millennial animal sacrifices will be used in a God- honoring way (e.g., Psa. 51:15–19; Heb. 11:4) by a regenerated, chosen nation before the inauguration of the eternal state when animals will presumably no longer exist.
Before the heavens and the earth flee away from him who sits upon the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11), God will provide a final demonstration of the validity of animal sacrifices as an instructional and disciplinary instrument for Israel. The entire world will see the true purpose of this system. Of course, the system never has and never will function on the level of Calvary's Cross, where infinite and eternal guilt was dealt with once and for all. But the system did accomplish, under God, some very important pedagogical and disciplinary purposes for Israel under the Old Covenant (Gal. 4:1–7). There is good reason to believe that it will yet again, and far more successfully from a pedagogical standpoint, function on the level of purely temporal cleansing and forgiveness (cf. Heb. 9:13) within the strict limits of the national theocracy of Israel during the one thousand years of Christ's reign upon the earth in accordance with the terms of the New Covenant.
1. This paper is a revision of an article published by Grace Theological Journal 6.2 (1985), pp. 201-217. The author expresses his appreciation to John A. Sproule, former Professor of New Testament and Greek, Grace Theological Seminary, for his careful interaction with this study, especially from the perspective of the Book of Hebrews; and to Richard E. Averbeck, former Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, for his keen insights on Old Testament covenants and the function of "atonement" in Leviticus and Ezekiel. Research papers by the following graduate students at Grace Theological Seminary have also been of considerable assistance: David R. Webb (1980), Robert L. Maziasz (1980), and David C. Wagner (1985). More recently, Jerry M. Hullinger has written an outstanding Th.D. dissertation, "A Proposed Solution to the Problem of Animal Sacrifices in Ezekiel 40–48" (Dallas Theological Seminary, January, 1993). See also his articles, "The Problem of Animal Sacrifices in Ezekiel 40–48" in Bibliotheca Sacra 152 (July- Sept. 1995), pp. 279-289, "The Divine Presence, Uncleanness, and Ezekiel's Millennial Sacrifices" in Bibliotheca Sacra 163:652 (Oct.-Dec. 2006), pp. 405-422, and "Two Atonement Realms: Reconciling Sacrifice in Ezekiel and Hebrews" in Journal of Dispensational Theology 32 (2007), pp. 33-64.
2. Cf. Homer A Kent, Jr., The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary (Winona Lake, IN: BMH, 1972) 155–60.
3. The Abrahamic Covenant was unconditional only in the sense that God's sovereign grace guaranteed the ultimate spiritual salvation of Israel as a nation and great spiritual blessings to the nations through Abraham's ultimate Seed. It did not guarantee the regeneration of all his physical descendants. "An unconditional covenant . . . may have blessings attached to that covenant that are conditioned upon the response of the recipient of the covenant . . . but these conditioned blessings do not change the unconditional character of that covenant" (J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1964] 68). Cf. Charles C. Ryrie, The Basis of Premillennial Faith (New York: Loizeaux, 1953) 48–75; Eugene H. Merrill, "The Covenant with Abraham: The Keystone of Biblical Architecture," Journal of Dispensational Theology, vol. 12:36 [Aug. 2008] 5–17. The Abrahamic / New Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant are not in contradiction with each other. God promised, "I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it" (Jer. 31:33; Rom. 2:25–29; 8:3–4; Heb. 7:18–19). The reappearance of some aspects of the Mosaic ritual during the Millennium will not necessarily, therefore, be a contradiction to the dynamics of the New Covenant. This seems to harmonize with Jesus' statement in the Upper Room: "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say unto you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God" (Luke 22:15–16).
4. Carefully documented refutations of "replacement theology" may be found in Ronald E. Diprose, Israel and the Church: The Origins and Effects of Replacement Theology (Johnson City, TN: STL Distribution, 2004; phone 800-289-2772); Barry E. Horner, Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2007; phone 800- 247-4784); and Paul Richard Wilkinson, For Zion's Sake: Christian Zionism and the Role of John Nelson Darby (Colorado Springs, CO: Paternoster Press, 2007).
5. Cf. Kent, Hebrews, 158–59: "the author [of Hebrews] is writing to Christians when he mentions the new covenant. It is granted that they are Jewish Christians, but the fact remains that they are Christians. . . . There is one new covenant to be fulfilled eschatologically with Israel, but participated in soteriologically by the church today."
6. "New Covenant" translates diaqh,khj kai,nhj in Heb. 8:8; 9:15; and diaqh,khj ne,aj in 12:24.
7. Kent, Hebrews, 153.
8. C. E. B. Cranfield (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans [2 vols.; ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1981] 2, 448, for example, concludes that "it is only where the Church persists in refusing to learn this message [of Romans 9–11] . . . that it is unable to believe in God's mercy for still unbelieving Israel, and so entertains the ugly and unscriptural notion that God has cast off His people Israel and simply replaced it with the Christian Church. These three chapters emphatically forbid us to speak of the Church as having once and for all taken the place of the Jewish people." Then he adds in a footnote, "And I confess with shame to having also myself used in print on more than one occasion this language of the replacement of Israel by the Church." Cf. his more recent Romans: A Shorter Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985) 215, 273. See also John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (NICNT; 2 vols.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968) 2, 98; and Arnold A. Van Ruler, The Christian Church and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971) 45, 55, 57, 75–98 (extensively quoted in Earl D. Radmacher, "The Current Status of Dispensationalism and Its Eschatology" in K. S. Kantzer and S. N. Gundry, eds., Perspectives on Evangelical Theology [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979] 172–74).
9. Cf. Moshe Greenberg, "The Design and Themes of Ezekiel's Program of Restoration," Int 38 (1984) 181–208; John W. Wevers, Ezekiel (The New Century Bible Commentary; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969) 207; and Jon Douglas Levenson, Theology of the Program of Restoration of Ezekiel 40–48 (Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1976) 161–63. Surprisingly, this position is also advocated by John B. Taylor, Ezekiel: An Introduction and Commentary (London: Tyndale, 1969) 253.
10. Among those who have held this view are Eichhorn, Dathe, Herder, Doederlein, and Hitzig. These are cited in Patrick Fairbairn, An Exposition of Ezekiel (Evansville, IN: Sovereign Grace, reprint 1960) 433.
11. Cf. Fairbairn, Ezekiel, 435: "from the Fathers downward this has been the prevailing view in the Christian Church." See also Andrew W. Blackwood, Jr., Ezekiel: Prophecy of Hope (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1965) 235, 270. Typical of Blackwood's dubious hermeneutics is his discussion of the centrality of the altar in Ezek. 40:17: "Many Protestants today are carefully ignoring God's message to us through Ezekiel's placement of the altar. . . . Today in the beautiful new Roman Catholic churches that are being constructed the sacramental table is brought away from the wall; so that the congregation, insofar as it is physically possible, surrounds the table. Ezekiel certainly is telling us that church architecture should be an expression of theology" (pp. 240–41).
12. Cf. Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979) 205–6; H. L. Ellison, Ezekiel: The Man and His Message (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956) 137–44; and C. F. Keil, Commentary on the Old Testament (10 vols.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, reprint n.d.) 9, 417. However, for a list of contrasts between Ezekiel 40–48 and Revelation 21–22, cf. Ralph Alexander, Ezekiel (Chicago: Moody, 1976) 130–32.
13. Cf. Increase Mather, The Mystery of Israel's Salvation, vol. 22 in A Library of American Puritan Writings, ed. Sacvan Bercovitch (New York: AMS, 1983) 113–14; George N. H. Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Kregel, reprint 1952) 3, 83–91; H. A. Ironside, Ezekiel the Prophet (New York: Loizeaux, 1949) 284–90; and J. Sidlow Baxter, Explore the Book (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1960) 4, 32. In contrast, Erich Sauer (From Eternity to Eternity [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954] 181) has provided a wholesome perspective on the basic hermeneutical issue: "Either the prophet himself was mistaken in his expectation of a coming temple service, and the prophecy in the sense in which he himself meant it will never be fulfilled; or God, in the time of the Messiah, will fulfill literally these prophecies of the temple according to their intended literal meaning. There is no other choice possible."
14. John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Findlay, OH: Dunham, 1959) 315; cf. p. 311.
15. Cf. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, 312. Progressive revelation requires that millennial believers (who will constitute a decreasing proportion of the world's population as the Kingdom age continues) will be reminded of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God when they behold the shedding of animal blood at the Temple altar. Cf. Arno C. Gaebelein, The Prophet Ezekiel (New York: Our Hope, 1918) 311–13. However, that will not be their sole purpose and function.
16. Cf. John S. Feinberg, "Salvation in the Old Testament," in Tradition and Testament: Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg, John S. and Paul D. Feinberg, eds. (Chicago: Moody, 1981) 70. Cf. Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago: Moody, 1995) 117–120. Ryrie correctly concludes: "The basis of salvation is always the death of Christ; the means is always faith; the object is always God (though man's understanding of God before and after the incarnation is obviously different); but the content of faith depends on the particular revelation God was pleased to give at a certain time. These are the distinctions which the dispensationalist recognizes, and they are distinctions necessitated by plain interpretation of revelation as it was given" (121).
17. Cf. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward An Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978) 117–18.
18. Cf. John S. Feinberg, "Salvation in the Old Testament," 50, 51, 53, 55, 68. See also Ryrie, Dispensationalism 118–119: "Unquestionably the Old Testament does ascribe efficacy to the sacrifices. . . . The bringing of sacrifices restored the offender to his forfeited position as a Jewish worshipper and restored his theocratic relationship."
19. John S. Feinberg, "Salvation in the Old Testament," 61.
20. F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964) 201, 204. Italics added. In a personal communication, Professor John A. Sproule noted that "to argue from the present tense of a`gia,zei in Hebrews 9:13 that such things (i.e., the blood of bulls and goats and the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer) would still sanctify defiled persons, as such ceremonies might still be carried out in Jewish sects at the time during which the author of Hebrews was writing, is unnecessary. The present tense (aspect) in New Testament Greek is much more flexible. The present tense (a`gia,zei) could be used here simply for dramatic effect or vividness."
21. Gaebelein, The Prophet Ezekiel, 312. For a listing and analysis of other 19th and early 20th century proponents of literal sacrifices in the Millennium (e.g., Adolph Saphir, William Kelly, Nathanael West, W. Haslam, Burlington B. Wade, John Fry, and H. Bonar), cf. John L. Mitchell, "The Question of Millennial Sacrifices," BSac 110:439 (1953) 248–67. George N. H. Peters (The Theocratic Kingdom, 3, 83, 88) also mentions D. N. Lord, Tyso, Shimeall, Begg, Baumgarten (in Herzog's Encyclopedia, "Ezekiel"), Auberlen, Hofman, and Volch.
22. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, 204, n. 16. As we have already explained, "expiatory" is the wrong term to describe the function of these sacrifices, if the term is understood on the infinite level of Christ's work on the Cross.
23. Richard E. Averbeck, "An Exegetical Study of Leviticus 1:4 With a Discussion of the Nature of Old Testament Atonement," (unpublished M.Div. Thesis; Winona Lake, IN: Grace Theological Seminary, 1977) 68.
24. Ibid., 68–69. In a personal communication (Feb. 1985), Averbeck suggested that the "cleansing of the sanctuary" (= "you shall make atonement for the house") during the first week of the first month constitutes the millennial form of the ancient Day of Atonement.
25. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, 204. The footnote cited by Hoekema in The New Scofield Reference Bible ([New York: Oxford, 1967] 888, n. 1) actually offers this view as the second of "two answers" to the animal sacrifice problem in Ezek. 43:19 which "have been suggested." It was, nevertheless, a serious concession.
26. Oswald T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1945) 246; cf. 245, 248.
27. Blackwood, Ezekiel: Prophecy of Hope, 21–22.
28. Nathanael West, The Thousand Years in Both Testaments (New York: Revell, 1880) 429–30.
29. William Kelly, Lectures on the Second Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 267–69. Quoted in John L. Mitchell, "The Question of Millennial Sacrifices," 260.
30. C. F. Keil, Commentary on the Old Testament: Ezekiel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, reprint n.d.) 429.
31. Ibid., 430.
32. Ibid., 431.
33. Jerry Hullinger, "A Proposed Solution to the Problem of Animal Sacrifices in Ezekiel 40–48" (Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1993), p. 230. Cf. pp. 10 and 232.
34. Personal communication, February, 1985.
35. For additional insights on this important issue, see Randall Price, The Temple and Bible Prophecy (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Pub., 2005), pp. 516–557; Thomas Ice, "Literal Sacrifices in the Millennium" in Pre-Trib Perspectives (June, 2000), pp. 4–5; and Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of the Messiah (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2003), pp. 458–469.
36. "The Divine Presence, Uncleanness, and Ezekiel's Millennial Sacrifices," Bibliotheca Sacra 163 (Oct.-Dec. 2006), p. 422. Cf. Hullinger, "The Problem of Animal Sacrifices in Ezekiel 40–48," Bibliotheca Sacra 152 (July-Sept. 1995), p. 281.