One of the important matters I wanted to address with my series on Ezekiel’s temple is that of hermeneutics and their application in the interpretation of prophetic passages like Ezekiel 40-48. I certainly acknowledge there are difficulties for my literal take on those chapters. However, there are also some profound difficulties for Reformed covenant folks who utilize a non-literal, more spiritualized view of the Ezekiel’s temple.
Because my literal hermeneutics place my theology in a position of criticism in what I would consider important matters of atonement, Christ’s cross work, and human salvation, I think it is necessary to demonstrate internal, theological and orthodox consistency with my literalism. Hopefully I have shown that to some degree, though I am sure there are blind spots I have overlooked.
With that in mind, I wanted to offer some quick responses to the various objections and questions I have encountered before and during my writing of my series.
I want to zero in on the ones I hear most repeated, as well as a few that may be considered debunkers of my view. I realize there may be some that I may overlook, so this is where I open up the comments to hear from readers who have been waiting eagerly to challenge me.
I definitely welcome those challenges, and if any are significant, I will try and add them to the main body of this post in an updated fashion with my response. I also realize there may be individuals who wander over to this post because they did a search on “Ezekiel’s temple” and was linked to me. I welcome your questions and challenges to.
I only ask one thing of you: Please take the time to read the series in it’s entirety and engage the arguments I have presented. I archived the articles under a specific tag so you can read them as a stand alone series. See here:
Oldest articles are at the bottom, so scroll down.
Now I know for a lot of folks, that request may be deflected out into the black hole of your mind, but if you take the time to read my articles before hand (carefully and with thoughtfulness), it will help eliminate any misunderstandings and covering old ground that has already been explained and answered.
Objections will be in bold blue, my responses will follow.
To push Ezekiel’s picture into some future era is to destroy the atoning work of our Savior on the cross.
As I have attempted to point out in my articles, there are significant, functional differences between what Christ did on the cross and the worship ceremonies that will be performed within Ezekiel’s temple.
I go into more detail with those differences in my articles, but the main distinction hinges upon the grammatical, contextual usage of “atonement” and to what “atonement” is applied. Whereas typically, any atonement made was designed to cleanse and purify objects and people from external, ritual impurity, the atonement Christ made on behalf of sinners cleanses and purifies people internally from their guilty consciences and sin against God (Hebrews 10:2,3). Animal sacrifices could never perform such a work. That is the distinction I believe many opposed to my viewpoint on Ezekiel’s temple fail to take into consideration.
Isn’t any kind of use of animal sacrifice in worship a return to the Mosaic law and Judaism?
No. Opponents of a future, literal fulfillment of Ezekiel’s temple vision exaggerate the nature of those animal sacrifices. This is especially true of my Reformed brethren who seem to think any mention of an animal sacrifice automatically equates Moses, the 10 Commandments, the book of Leviticus, works righteousness, etc.
Again, as I have noted, the sacrifices offered in Ezekiel’s temple have a different purpose and function than what Christ did on the cross. Additionally, because many of the key Levitical elements are missing in Ezekiel’s temple, particularly the ceremony of the Day of Atonement and the Mercy Seat (Ark of the Covenant), it is clear that what is happening in Ezekiel’s temple is not a return to Moses and the OT law.
The idea of animal sacrifices in worship is just odd in light of what Christ did and the enactment of the New Covenant.
I can understand that objection. We folks in the modern world who have been immersed among talking Disney animals for a couple of generations and who sleep with our pets would find animal sacrifices a strange ordinance or ritual to perform. Let me offer my thoughts on the matter in a bullet format:
- First off, that is our modern mind informing us, not Scripture.
- There is nothing biblically objectionable to using animals in a worship ceremony especially in the manner Ezekiel revealed. They don’t “replace” Christ.
- The ceremony is performed by an identifiable, specialized priest class who serve in the temple.
- The ceremony as outlined in Ezekiel’s description seems to be limited to the people of Israel who live in the land surrounding the temple complex. In other words, the ceremonies are not performed by every living person in the world at the time.
- Most significantly, other prophets saw the use of sacrifices (animals included) in worship for future Israel (Isaiah 19:21; 56:7; 60:7; 66:20-23; Jeremiah 33:18; Zechariah 14:16-21 to name a few).
How is this theologically different from Romanist reenactments of Christ’s sacrifice in their mass?
The immediate problem with this objection is that it assumes the sacrifices in Ezekiel are the same in substance and purpose as the Catholic mass. Whereas the mass is meant to be efficacious, in the sense that it is believed the real presence of Christ is literally in the elements and partaking of those elements imparts enabling grace to the person so he or she can work out personal justification, the sacrifices of Ezekiel are designed to externally purify the temple complex and the Jewish participants ministering in the temple. The Catholic mass is believed to genuinely impart some internal change to the participant, whereas the temple sacrifices are external effecting only the temple and the ministers’ outward impurity.
Ultimately it comes down to recognizing what the Bible teaches regarding the OT atonement and what was accomplished by Christ on the cross. Though there are similarities, they are not one and the same in design and purpose.
How is the OT sacrifice of animals again in the future an improvement on Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross?
They are not an “improvement” on Christ’s sacrifice, nor are the intended to be. As I have argued, there are really only two instances mentioned in Ezekiel of animals being sacrificed, 43:20, 26 and 45:15,17, 20.
In chapter 43, I pointed out that the sacrifice is made at the consecration of the altar in the temple. This sacrifice is not made on behalf of people, but is designed to cleanse the altar from impurity and setting it apart for worship of God whose presence will take up residence in the temple.
Additionally, it is noted that this sacrifice in chapter 43 appears to be a one time event, perhaps at the beginning of the millennium. Even if it is repeated annually, it is not a duplication of, or a replacement of, what Christ did on the cross, but is meant specifically to cleanse the temple of ritual impurity so as to minister along with the presence of God.
The next instance in chapter 45 are animal sacrifices being made on behalf of a specific group of individuals, that being what is called “the house of Israel.” I take that to mean those Jews living in the allotted land within Israel in which the millennial temple complex is situated. In other words, those sacrifices cleansed the people from external impurity so that God can dwell with them in the land.
Neither one of those instances have anything to do with Christ’s death on the cross nor are they salvific in the same fashion as Christ’s atonement.
Ezekiel’s temple is where the Lord will dwell with Israel forever (43:6-7). Does a literal 1000 years equate “forever?”
The funny thing about this question is that I know it is asked by an virulent non-premillennialist. He believes he has found an unsolvable “discrepancy” with my position in that the concept of 1,000 years does not equate the concept of “forever” or “eternal.”
In response, I can begin by pointing out an inconsistency with his position. While he may think he has found a glaring problem with my take on Ezekiel’s temple, he still chooses to ignore other references of “forever” as it pertains to Israel’s promise to the physical land of Canaan. Say for instance, Genesis 13:15, Exodus 32:13, 2 Chronicles 20:7 and Isaiah 60:21 to mention a few. So, if “forever” means uninterrupted in the case of Ezekiel 43:6-7, why doesn’t “forever” mean the same thing with the land promises as noted in those other passages?
We know for a fact those promises didn’t “remain forever” at least at the time God spoke them. So the non-literalist, as my critic calls himself, is forced to engage in exegetical Jedi mind-tricks in order to wiggle around the implications those land promises have for his hermeneutics.
He then either, A) re-defines “land” to be expanded to the whole world or cosmos, or B) claims the promises were contingent upon Israel’s faithful obedience to the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendents (i.e. Israel), which we know Israel failed with keeping, or C) he changes the meaning of “forever” in those other instances that don’t fit his particular hermeneutical paradigm.
Secondly, he fails to consider that future premillennialists teach that the millennium is the consummation of this age and the eternal state will follow immediately after the final judgment. God does dwell with His people “forever” just like Ezekiel states, because there won’t be any interruption between Christ’s return, the millennial reign, and the New Heavens and the New Earth.
Ezekiel’s prophecy suggests he expected that temple to be built once the exiles returned to the land of Israel in 536 B.C., but it wasn’t built. Why the 2,000 plus year “gap” with the prophetic fulfillment?
There is no more a “problem” with that postponement than there is with Christ’s Second Coming postponed for 2,000 plus years. Reading the NT, there are indicators that suggest that the apostles and early Christians expected Christ to return within their life time. But He didn’t. Christ Himself realized the postponement of His earthly kingdom would be confusing, hence the reason He responded to the disciples’ question about restoring Israel by saying “It’s not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1:6,7).
Because other prophetic texts speak of nations worshiping God at a “sanctuary” in Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:16ff., for instance), and it is tied to the coming of Messiah, I can understand how Ezekiel’s temple is related to the return of Christ and His reign over all the earth with absolute authority.