Recapitulation Revisited

revelationRecently I had a commenter drop some challenges to one of my posts on eschatology. Specifically, my post addressing the concept of whether Revelation 20 is sequential or a recapitulation.

I thought I would bring a few of them to the front page and interact with the arguments for a broader audience.

First, let me remind everyone of the basics of what I was discussing.

Briefly stated, the idea of recapitulation is “to repeat in concise form.” As I noted in my article, amillennialists and postmillennialists generally interpret the book of Revelation as a series of prophetic visions the Apostle John was given that describe the church age. With each new vision, the reader is returned back to the beginning of the church age and is provided new revelation describing it further or filling in more details of a previous vision.

The events in Revelation chapter 20, rather than following in chronological sequence to chapter 19, is a vision that returns John’s audience back to the beginning of the church age. In other words, the events revealed in chapter 20 comes before those revealed in chapter 19. The concept of the millennium described in chapter 20 is merely meant to convey the ideal conditions of Satan being bound and the church triumphantly proclaiming the Gospel throughout the world. Only at the end of that time will Satan be released before Christ returns to consummate this age.

I argued that the book of Revelation is for the most part sequential. Now that is not to say that some of the visions overlap and build upon each other by revealing newer content to previous content. By sequential, I mean that the prophetic events described in major sections generally follow one after the other and that any notion of recapitulation is forced upon the text by one’s eschatological system. That is especially true regarding how chapters 19 and 20 relate to each other.

I presented my case centered around three key arguments: The context of chapters 19 and 20 in the larger whole of the book, John’s repeated use of “and I saw” presents a chronological progression of events, and the purpose clause in 20:3, “any longer,” brings the reader to the conclusion that the events of chapter 20 follow closely after chapter 19.

So with that background in mind, let me interact with a few of the comments from my challenger,

1. The question of whether Revelation as a whole is recapitulative in structure is essentially different than the question of whether chapt 19 and 20 are recapitulative. That is, it is possible that Rev as a whole is recapitulative but 19 and 20 are not; it is also possible that Rev as a whole is not recapitulative but Rev 19 and 20 are. Yet you seem to address these two issues as if they are essentially the same.

I would agree with his premise. I wasn’t, however, directly addressing the concept of recapitulation in other portions of Revelation. In fact, as I noted above, I believe a few overlapping, recapitulatory style visions are in the book of Revelation, but that is irrelevant to my thesis.

The focus of my article explored whether or not the events of chapter 20 are a vision of recapitulation or do they follow in sequential, chronological order to chapter 19. Much of the foundation of non-premillennial theology stands upon a recapitulatory interpretation of chapter 20. I believe the exegesis of chapter 20 will only bring one to the conclusion that the events recorded in the chapter follow immediately upon those of chapter 19.

I am at a loss why my challenger thinks I conflated two issues. Because he mistakenly thinks I am conflating two issues, the possibly of recapitulation existing in the book with the focus of my post, exploring whether Revelation chapter 20 is a recapitulation of events, he proceeds to set up a series of strawman arguments.

2. You say that the context demands that they are chronological, however the evidence you provide in support doesn’t provide a sufficient logical basis for that claim.

It would have been helpful if he provided some key examples as to how my take on Revelation 20 not being a recapitulation is lacking in sufficient evidence.  Instead, he provides an example comparing Revelation 6:13 where it says how the stars of the sky fall to the earth, with Revelation 8:12, where the stars seem to be still in the sky since a third of them are made not to shine. But again, even if 8:12 is a recapitulation of 6:13, it has no relevance to chapter 20 being a recapitulation. There needs to be more refinement with his challenge.

He then moves to suggesting how eschatology discussed in other books in the NT contradict a sequential interpretation of Revelation 20. I am then directed to a couple of passages,

1 Cor 15 has a pretty specific chronology, yet no room is left in it for a literal 1000 year reign between the Second Advent and the New Heaven and Earth.

Sure there is room for a millennium. In fact, Michael Vlach’s little book on Premillennialism devotes an entire chapter to interacting with that basic objection. Additionally, portions of the book, Three Views of The Millennium, are available online and the premillennial response of Craig Blaising to amillenniallist Robert Strimple’s exact same objection as my commenter can be read HERE, and he also shows no difficulty existing for the possibility of a millennium kingdom.

The primary problem is the chronology of the stages of resurrection in 15:23,24.

1. “Christ the first fruits”
2. “after that those who are Christ’s at His coming”
3. “then comes the end.”

eschatologyMy detractor (and most non-Premillennialists) thinks no time exists between those who are resurrected at Christ’s coming and the end. But if there is a space of at least 2,000 years between Christ, the first fruits, and those who are resurrected at His coming, there really is no difficulty understanding that a space for a millennial kingdom can exist between those who are resurrected at His coming and the end. That is especially true if we have additional revelation from the Apostle John telling us a millennial kingdom will happen.

Moreover, the words epeita and eita, which are translated as “after that” and “then” can be understood as relating an interval of time between those resurrected at Christ’s coming and the end. The word eita is specifically used in other NT passages where the contexts shows us that an interval of time exists between two events. See for an example Mark 4:17; 4:28 [2x]; 1 Corinthians 15:5, 7; and 1 Timothy 2:13.

My commenter then moves to a second passage from Matthew 24:29 and states that because the cosmological signs are similar to those found in Revelation 6:12-14, Revelation cannot be chronological. Yet once again, the focus of my post is that the events of chapter 20 is sequential to chapter 19, and hence this example is entirely irrelevant to my thesis.

Finally, he comes to my key arguments.

First he interacts with my argument that says John’s use of “and I saw” (kai eidon) in 19:11, 17, 19; 20:1, 4, 11; 21:1 indicates a series of chronological visions.

At this point you seem to make a claim with no supporting evidence. Yep, the phrase indicates a series of visions, There is nothing about the phrase however which requires that these visions are showing chronological events. …. BOTH sides must already be committed to a particular view before they can make any claims about how this phrase is used.

I would argued that the supporting evidence is much stronger than he lets on with his complaint. I would refer readers to one of the original papers I used when writing my article, Premillennialism and An Exegesis of Revelation 20, in which the author lays out a tight, exegetical case for a sequential chronology of events from chapters 19 through 20.

Furthermore, most non-premillennial commentators disagree with my challenger’s assessment and affirm that John received the visions in chronological order. Where they may differ is that they would deny the progress of history revealed in those vision is in chronlogical order. That conclusion is of course driven by one’s theological and hermeneutical precommitments brought to the text as my detractor rightly notes. Thus, there really isn’t any serious difficulty with understanding the sequence of events between 19 and 20 as being in chronological, historical order unless you are insistent on disproving premillennialism.

He then moves to critiquing my final point that says how the purpose clause “any longer” in Revelation 20:3 indicates an interruption of something already taking place. In chapter 20, it would be the interruption of Satan deceiving the nations “any longer.”

This is a case of begging the question. It requires an interruption of something already taking place *only if one already presumes a chronological reading*!! How do you know it requires an interruption? Because 19 and 20 are chronological. How do you know they are chronological? Because otherwise it would require an interruption.

The clause “any longer” doesn’t stand on its own subjected to the whimsy of one’s theological presuppositions. There are other exegetical factors that draw us to the conclusion “any longer” means an interruption of something going before it. Regarding chapter 20, it is the the binding of Satan and all of the ramifications of what it means for him to be bound. I go into more detail about that binding in a separate article in my overall study on eschatology.

While I appreciate the sharpening effect of my commenter’s challenges, I find them a bit strained and the least bit persuasive. I still think the only way to make sense of the the events found between Revelation 19 and 20 is to see them as chronological in sequence.

Babies During the Millennium

babyOver at Turretin Fan’s blog, a guest blogger attempts to employ some defeaters against premillennialism.

Infants and the Millennium – A Pre-Millennial Quadralemma

The author asks the question, “What happens to babies born during the millennial reign after the Return of Christ?”

He lays out four options and then attempts to explain from Scripture how each one is extremely problematic for premillennialists who teach that when Jesus returns, He will reign over a global, theocratic kingdom for a thousand years.

They are,

  1. Babies are born and some believe in Christ and are saved, others do not and are damned.
  2. Babies are born but none of them believe in Christ and they are not saved.
  3. Babies are born and all of them believe in Christ and are saved.
  4. No babies are born during the millennial reign.

I will address each one of his arguments, but if the Scriptural claims of the first objection can be answered, the remainder are irrelevant to any case being made against premillennialism.

Let me look at the first one in full,

1. Babies are born and some believe in Christ and are saved, others do not and are damned. The problem with this view is that scripture makes it clear that Christ will not return until all of his people have been brought in.

In 2nd Peter 3, Peter makes the argument that Christ has not returned yet, and that God has not yet judged the Earth because not all of God’s people have been saved, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” God waits until the full number of his people have been gathered.

In Matthew 24:29-31 Jesus says of his own return that he will gather his elect from the entire Earth, “the four winds” North, East, South, West and from one end of Heaven to the other, both those on Earth and those in Heaven will be gathered together upon Christ’s return. All of God’s people will be gathered upon Christ’s return.

Finally, in Romans 11:25 scripture says that “a partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” This hardening will end when Christ is reigning from Jerusalem and the temple has been rebuilt. If the hardening of Israel has ended this must mean that the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, and if that’s the case, it would appear that no Gentiles will be saved during the millennial reign.

The objection is that ALL the people for whom Christ died will be brought to saving faith and after that last person receives Christ only then will He return. The idea being that once all the elect are brought to salvation the door is shut, as it were, and no person can be added to the number. That would mean no more human beings can be born after Christ’s return, or if they are born, they cannot be saved.

That deals a blow against premillennialism that understands that people are born during the millennium and their offspring will be the rebellious armies that are destroyed after Satan is released at the end of the millennium.

Three passages are presented that allegedly expose the flaws in the premillennial idea that babies are born and can be saved during the millennial reign of Christ. I’ll consider each one.

2 Peter 3. Second Peter is a letter specifically written to warn Christians about the infiltration of false teachers into the local church. Chapter 2 outlines their characteristics and warns believers to be on guard against such individuals.

In chapter 3, Peter reminds his readers that false teachers had always been around causing problems for God’s people. He further explains that false teachers will always continue to plague the church, but Christians are not to worry; their judgment is rapidly approaching. The reason why God is not slow is because He wants His people to be saved, and delays His judgment until all of those he wishes to save will be saved.

Two significant words should be examined. First, is the “coming” mentioned in 3:4 Christ’s actually second coming? In a sense, yes, but given the context of what it is Peter is addressing regarding the influence of false teacher, it is better to take this “coming” as a reference to His certain judgment that finally deals decisively with rebellious unbelievers. That happens at the end of the millennium.

Secondly is the phrase the “Day of the Lord” spoken about in 3:10. It is mistaken to automatically equate it to Christ’s second coming. Again, given the context of Peter describing how false teachers will be dealt with swiftly by God, I take this as being the final judgment of this age at the end of the millennium as described in Revelation 20:7 onward.

Hence, Peter’s words are not prohibiting the idea of babies being born and some saved during the millennium.

Matthew 24:29-31. Contextually in Matthew 24, the word “elect” is a technical description of the Jewish people who will be saved at the coming of Christ, not the “elect” as in all for whom the Father chose in eternity past and for whom Christ died. Taking that the elect spoken about here are exclusively the Jewish people who will be saved after the tribulation rather than ALL of the elect both Jews and Gentiles combined (a position Covenantalists often embrace by default), there is no problem with people being saved during the millennium.

Romans 11:25. It is assumed that the phrase “until the fulness of the gentiles comes in,” means the complete number of all gentiles who will come to salvation. So in other words, Israel’s partial hardening continues until all those gentiles God has chosen to save believe in faith. Once that happens, Christ returns, the Jewish hardening is lifted, and salvation is completed for all of God’s salvific purposes have been fulfilled.

However, the idea of “fulfilled” does not mean quantity, as in the total number of people, but more like quality, as in through Israel’s partial hardening, the gentiles are blessed. That is, gentiles are the recipients of Gospel blessing including salvation. That is what Romans 11:12 suggests when Paul writes, “Now if their transgression be riches for the world and their failure be riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!”

The word “fulfillment” is the same one used in 11:25 regarding the “fulness of the gentiles.” In 11:12, Paul explains that Israel’s rejection of Christ is riches for the world of the gentiles, in that the Gospel goes forth to all men everywhere in the world. If God is currently blessing the gentiles with the Gospel, how much more will He bless the Jews. Romans 11:25 says that happens once God has finished His purposes with the Gentiles.

The fulness of the gentiles being complete doesn’t mean there are no more people who could be born who will be saved. It means that God’s purpose with hardening the Jewish people during this time before the millennial will be completed.

babyOffering a response to those biblical objections in that first argument helps to dissolve the remaining three. I briefly respond to them,

2. Babies are born but none of them believe in Christ and they are not saved.

Citing from Isaiah 65:23-24, the objection states that this could not be an option for premillennialists. If we are to read Isaiah’s words in 65 literally, as well as Zechariah 14 and Micah 4, there has to be babies born during the millennium.

However, I don’t agree with the objection. I believe babies will be born during the millennium. Isaiah, Zechariah, and Micah are only a problem if the passages previously examined under objection 1 were genuinely a problem for the premillennial model, but they are not.

3. Babies are born and all of them believe in Christ and are saved.

As a premillennialist, I am at a lost as to why it is believed that objection is a dilemma for premillennialism. I know of no premillennialist who believes that. Again, it is only an objection if the points under the first argument cannot be answered.

4. No babies are born during the millennial reign.

Here is another point I disagree with as well and I’m left wondering why it is believed it is an objection. The author does appeal to Revelation 19:17-21 and states, “Revelation 19:17-21 describes the total destruction of all unbelievers upon Christ’s return. There will be none of God’s enemies left after Christ returns.” No, Revelation 19:17-21 does not describe the total destruction of ALL unbelievers upon Christ’s return, but the total destruction of ALL of Antichrist’s armies and those aligned with him against the people of the Lord, i.e., Israel.

Answering Objections to Ezekiel’s Temple Sacrifices

ezekielsanctuaryOne 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:

Ezekiel’s Temple

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.

Ezekiel’s Temple Sacrifices and Hebrews

atonementI had argued in my previous article that our understanding of the “animal sacrifices” in Ezekiel 40-48 hinges on a precise definition of what is meant by atonement and sin offerings.

The word atonement, depending upon the context, can have the meaning of wiping away or purging. Additionally, the atonement is made on behalf of a person or an indirect object and may really have nothing to do with moral sin or placating God’s wrath against sinners.

In the case of Ezekiel, the animal sacrifices “make atonement” first for the altar in the temple, and then for the people of Israel who will serve in that temple. In the context, the atonement effects external impurity, wiping away defilement and consecrating both the altar and the people to serve in the presence of the LORD who will take up residence in the temple.

The sin offerings have a similar idea. First, they are not offerings made for moral sin. In fact, “sin offerings” is an inaccurate translation. The better understanding of the phrase is one of purification. So rather, this is a purification offering. And secondly, these purification offerings work in a similar way the atonement did in that they purify objects and people for service before a Holy God.

How then do these sacrifices fit with the idea of Ezekiel’s millennial temple?

As a premillennialist, I understand that the Bible teaches that the millennium is an intermediary period of time between this current age and the eternal age to come (Isaiah 24, 25, 65, Zechariah 14) during which Jesus Christ reigns on earth for 1,000 years in a restored nation of Israel. To get a more formal overview, I refer you to this previous post HERE.

When I search Scripture and harmonize the various prophetic passages in the OT that speak to the conditions that will be present in that millennium, I notice a number of things.

1) Though Satan is bound and his influence restrained on the earth, the effects of the fall is still presence to a degree. Specifically, men will still die naturally.
2) Non-resurrected humanity will dwell with resurrected humanity.
3) The nations will be required to come to Jerusalem to worship God, presumably at the temple complex prophesied by Ezekiel (Zechariah 14:16-21).
4) Ezekiel’s temple will be built and God’s presence will take up residence there.
5) The people of Israel will have a role in leading the worship on behalf of those gentile nations that come to the land of Israel and the temple.

With those items in mind, the animal sacrifices and purification offerings, rather than atoning for man’s law-breaking and moral sin, serve as a means to purify the altar, the priests who serve in the temple, and the people of Israel who also live in the land and regularly participate in the worship of the LORD with those nations that come per Zech. 14:16ff.

What is in view is external ritual purification, not internal, spiritual purification.  During the millennium, God will dwell among His people who still live on a fallen world, albeit, the impact of the fall is greatly restrained. His restored people of Israel, who will be tasked to serve in this temple, also live in that fallen world, as well as among an earthly population of fallen humanity.  The purpose of the animal sacrifices, then, will be to cleanse the temple from any impurity that could be brought in, as well as keep the people who serve in the temple from defiling it.

That is how the animal sacrifices in Ezekiel differ from the sacrifice of Christ as taught in Hebrews. In chapters 9 and 10, the author of Hebrews does an exposition on the work Christ did on the cross on behalf of his people. The author zeroes in upon the sacrifice offered on the Day of Atonement as explained in Leviticus 16, and contrasts it with Christ’s atonement on the cross.

The Day of Atonement was the most critical holy day for Israel. It was that one day of the year on which the high priest came into the Holy of Holies within the tabernacle and made atonement for the entire nation of Israel. The blood of a slain goat was sprinkled by the high priest on the Ark of the Covenant and then he laid his hands upon the scapegoat that was released into the wilderness, symbolically picturing the taking away of Israel’s sins.

So with that ritual, we have presented for us the dual role of atonement where a substitute dies on behalf of the people’s sin and their sin is taken away.  The Day of Atonement cleansed the people of Israel from their moral impurity and God could continue to dwell with them until the next year when the process would be repeated.

The author of Hebrews contrasts the sacrifice made on the Day of Atonement with that of Christ on the cross. There are some significant distinctions:

1) The sacrifice on the Day of Atonement was made with an animal on behalf of people, whereas Christ, the perfect man, died on behalf of men. Only a man can be a fitting substitute for men who are created in the image of God.

2) The animal sacrifices could only provide atonement for the externals in the ceremony (Heb. 9:13,14), whereas Christ, because of who He was, could cleanse the internal, spiritual heart of men. Only Christ’s work can cleanse the conscience.

3) The high priest had to offer a sacrifice for himself before he went into the sanctuary to offer the atonement for the nation (Heb. 9:25, 26), whereas Christ could go into the sanctuary by His own blood. He was sinless, and thus needed no atonement made for Him.

4) The Day of Atonement was repeated every year, whereas what Christ did was once and for all (Heb. 10:2-4). His work put an end to animal sacrifices for the sake of man’s sin and guilty conscience.

5) By His death Jesus ratified the New Covenant that extends to all people of the earth that they too can have their sins forgiven and their hearts made new. Additionally, because of the work of Christ, the New Covenant has the force to write God’s laws upon the hearts of the people in that covenant (Heb. 10:16-18).

There are a number of differences between Christ’s fulfillment of the Day of the Atonement as explained by the author of Hebrews and the worship ceremonies found in Ezekiel 40-48, but the most obvious is that there isn’t any Day of Atonement mentioned by Ezekiel.  I believe the main reason is due to the fact Christ fulfilled and completed that ceremony once and for all and there is no longer a need for it.

Thus, the animal sacrifices spoken about in Ezekiel are of an entirely different nature than what Christ did on the cross.  Utilizing specified animals within the worship ceremonies of a restored Israel during the millennial kingdom is not a retrogression back to the Mosaic covenant. They are simply appointed for the purpose of cleansing from external defilement and nothing more as the people of Israel fulfill their role of leading the world in worship of God.

Now. With my next post, I’ll outline the standard objections and arguments against my position and provide a response. I’ll also open comments to readers so I can hear from them.

Animal Sacrifices in Ezekiel 40-48

animalsacrificeThe first entry in this series on Ezekiel’s temple outlined the three major interpretations of Ezekiel 40-48. The second one explained why I believe the chapters are describing a real, historical temple that will be built in a future, millennial kingdom where Christ reigns over all the earth out of Jerusalem.

With this post, I want to turn our attention toward addressing what Old Testament scholar, O.T. Allis says is the “Achilles heel” of a literal interpretation of Ezekiel’s temple and that is the descriptions of animal sacrifices taking place in that temple.

In fact, according to the critics of a literal interpretation of Ezekiel’s temple, if the mention of animal sacrifices are interpreted literally, then it will be a diminishing of Christ’s work on the cross and a complete return to the Mosaic system of worship.  Citing Allis again he writes that a “literal” interpretation (tied to Dispensationalism in his critique), inevitably “…represents a turning back from the glory of the Gospel to those typical rites and ceremonies which prepared the way for it, and have served that necessary purpose have lost forever their validity and propriety” [Allis, 248].

Jerry Hullinger summarizes the charges against the literal interpretation as,

  1. The whole Mosaic sacrificial system is to be reinstituted.
  2. The work of Christ on the cross is dishonored, especially in light of the epistle to the Hebrews.
  3. Those two positions are inevitable when one approaches Ezekiel 40-48 with a literal hermeneutic [Hullinger, 4,5].

Now, the typical response by those who believe Ezekiel’s temple is to be interpreted literally is to say those temple sacrifices are memorial in nature only, and in no way are meant to replace what Jesus did on the cross or reinstate the Mosaic sacrificial system. That is the position of a number of commentators on Ezekiel including Ralph Alexander, Charles Feinberg, Leon Wood, and Alva McClain to name a few.

There are basically two lines of argument made in defense of the memorial view:

First, it is argued the temple sacrifices are parallel to the Lord’s Supper.  In the same way Christians see the Lord’s Table looking back on the cross work of Jesus, so too the animal sacrifices will function in the same symbolic fashion during the millennium. Charles Feinberg, a proponent of the memorial view, writes,

Just as the Old Testament sacrifices could have value in pointing forward to the death of Christ, why may the not have equal value in pointing back to the death of Christ as an accomplished fact? The celebration of the Lord’s Supper through the Christian centuries has added not one infinitesimal particle to the efficacy of the work of Christ on the cross [Feinberg, 234].

Secondly, it is claimed that OT sacrifices were typological to begin with, pointing forward to Christ and were never intended to be efficacious. So in the same way those OT sacrifices looked forward to the ultimate fulfillment in Christ, the temple sacrifices look backward to the accomplishment of Christ.

Though the memorial view appears to be a valid solution for the idea of animal sacrifices in the millennial temple, I believe it has a couple of problems.

First, the text of Ezekiel says these offerings “make atonement.” Critics of a literal interpretation are right when they point out the language of Ezekiel makes it clear that those offerings atone. The words “memorial” and “in remembrance” are never used, unlike Christ’s words regarding the Last Supper when the New Covenant was inaugurated, (Luke 22:19, 1 Cor. 11:24, 25).

Second, there was much more to the Mosaic sacrifices than them merely pointing to Christ. They did have a religious function, primarily to keep God’s people, Israel, holy so that He could dwell among them. The significance of the OT sacrifices can be seen, for instances, in 1 Samuel 2 where Eli’s two wicked sons, Hophni and Pinehas, caused the people to sin with their abuse of the sacrificial offerings, (1 Samuel 2:12-17; 23-25) Eventually, God judged them for their abuse of the sacrifices (1 Samuel 2:34-36; 4:11).

So, if animal sacrifices are not memorial in nature and have some ritualistic value, how then are they to be explained in a millennial temple?

To begin, I’ll point out a couple textual and theological observation with this post, and expand upon them more with the next.

First, critics of a literal interpretation will exaggerate the nature and purpose of the animal sacrifices. They will claim any animal sacrifices would be a complete, whole-sale return to the Levitical/Mosaic sacrificial system if those sacrifices in Ezekiel’s temple are real, literal sacrificial offerings. But that is an erroneous conclusion.

It is obvious there are some similarities between the Levitical/Mosaic ordinances and Ezekiel’s temple worship. For example, there is a temple (of course), priests, the sacrifices in question, and feast days.  However, there are some significant differences.  Hobart Freeman points out those differences when he writes,

There is no mention of an ark of the covenant, golden lampstand, table of shewbread, and veil. The Passover and Feast of Tabernacles are observed, but Pentecost is omitted. While the five classes of sacrifices and offerings are cited, the central Levitical sacrifice, the Day of Atonement together with the sprinkling of the blood upon the mercy seat of the ark by the high priest, which was the most vital element in the Levitical system, is evidence that the millennial practices are not the reinstitution of Judaism [Freeman, 315].

Those differences are extremely profound, especially the absence of the ark of the covenant, the high priest, and the Day of Atonement.  That particular day and those particular elements were an important part of Israel’s covenant worship.  The writer of Hebrews referenced all of those items in the contrast made between the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement and Christ’s finished work as related in Hebrews 9 and implies that what it all represented was fulfilled in Christ and no longer applicable in the NC. That indicates that the atonement Jesus  made on behalf of His elect people is of an entirely different nature and purpose than the “atonement” made in Ezekiel’s temple.

Second, in Ezekiel 40-48, “atonement” is mentioned a total of 5 times, Ezekiel 43:20, 26 and 45:15,17, and 20.

Considering those two sections, the mention of atonement in Ezekiel 43 speaks of the atonement being made for the altar. It isn’t made on behalf of people. Moreover, that “atonement” appears to be a one time event, and is perhaps a ritual that is not repeated. In other words, it was made once to consecrate the altar for continued use. Only the mention of “atonement” in chapter 45 is spoken of being made for “them” meaning the people of Israel.

Though the discussion of “atonement” is mentioned merely 5 times in Ezekiel 40-48, “sin offering” is mentioned 14 times. 40:39; 42:13; 43:19,21,22,25; 44:27,29; 45:17,19,22,23,25: and 46:20. The question then is what is meant by “sin offering” and how is it understood in our understanding of “atonement,” animal sacrifices, and Ezekiel’s temple?

To answer that, it is important to define our terminology accurately. As a staunch, five point Calvinist, my definition of “atonement” has traditionally been the view articulated by a number of key, Reformed theologians.  Leon Morris is one of the more popular proponents of the typical Reformed view of atonement. In his masterful work, “The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross,” he defines atonement as the averting of punishment, or the turning away of divine wrath by the payment of a ransom, who in the case of humanity, would be Jesus Christ. This is called a “propitiation.”

Though it is true that “propitiation” as Reformed commentators define it is present in the act of making atonement, it would be a mistake to limit the concept of atonement to such a narrow definition. Propitiation is just one facet of the use of atonement in the whole of Scripture and depending upon syntax and context, “atonement” can also have the meaning of wiping away or purging. Jerry Hullinger explains that definition this way,

One support for the meaning of “wipe away” is that in Leviticus God is never the direct object of the atoning act. In nearly fifty references to atonement (kippur) … the object toward which the atonement is made is either a person (though indirectly) or an inanimate object. Thus it would seem that the act of atonement does something to the person or object rather than to God. [Hullinger, 43,44].

He adds this thought in a footnote,

Obviously sin and uncleanness are inimical to Yahweh, and in this sense He is a causative factor in atonement and thus needs to be propitiated. However, this is only an effect of atonement, while the “atoning” is doing something to the object, namely cleansing it, or taking away the offense. [ibid, 44 (fn.13)]

Next is the “sin offering.” Like the definition of “atonement,” the “sin offering” also has inaccurate misconceptions tied to it, primarily due in part to the English translations, namely, that the offering is made to take away moral sin. But a better understanding of “sin offering” is “purification” or “purgation offering.” That is because in a number of OT contexts where the “sin offering” is made, it is unlikely that “sin” is even present. For instance, in Leviticus 12:6,7 a new mother makes a “sin offering” for herself after the birth of a new child.

Rather than there being an offering for sin committed, the “sin offering” is designed to cleanse the tabernacle, the instruments used in worship, and individuals from any unintentional mistakes or unavoidable uncleanliness from contamination, say for instance a dead body or in the case of the new mother, giving birth.

Now. How exactly does all of that tie to Ezekiel’s temple and the animal sacrifices in the millennium? I’ll develop that in the next post on this subject.

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Sources

Literally Reading Ezekiel 40-48

templeAs I noted in my first post on the subject of Ezekiel’s temple, Christian interpreters are divided as to how we should understand Ezekiel’s prophetic visions. This is especially true regarding his vision of a temple in chapters 40-48.

Just to review:

There are typically three perspectives advanced by biblical interpreters as to how we should read Ezekiel’s temple vision. First is a symbolic/typological approach that believes the vision speaks to the final work of Christ and spiritual promises fulfilled in the NT church. Second is an idealized view of the prophecy that sees some aspects of the vision as being literal, but with the understanding that those “literal” elements speak to a greater spiritual reality which is fulfilled with God’s presence dwelling with the NT church. And then finally, the third view sees the vision telling of prophetic events that will be fulfilled in the future at the return of Jesus Christ when He establishes His millennial reign on the earth.

Those handful of divergent conclusions regarding Ezekiel’s temple reveal the impact one’s hermeneutics has upon interpreting prophetic literature as a whole.  I pointed out at the beginning of my series on eschatology (a long time ago now) that the principles of biblical interpretation a person brings to bear upon prophetic texts play a pivotal roll on how the passages in question will be interpreted and the theology one will derive from them.

But, as Jerry Hullinger notes: “…[T]he question is not really an issue of a strictly literal versus a strictly symbolic approach, because even the most extreme literalist takes some things as symbolic. And conversely, even the most stringent symbolist interprets some things as literal. The issue is a relative one involving the question as to which parts are to be taken in a given way” [Hullinger, 28, fn.29].

So in other words, those who treat the prophecy as literal do not dismiss that there exists some symbolism within the passage and those who view it as more spiritual do not dismiss the literal aspects. The question is: where is the literal/symbolic found and how are we to understand them as students of Scripture?

I take the prophecy of Ezekiel’s temple to be “literal.” Meaning, I believe Ezekiel is describing a real temple that is to be built and will function as a national worship center, not only for a restored Israel, but also for the entire world. Because the temple Ezekiel describes in scrutinizing detail has never been built, I believe the prophecy pertains to yet a future time. That future time, I believe, can only be the millennium in which Jesus Christ will reign for a thousand years from Jerusalem.

Now, just so I am clear. I don’t mean I read Ezekiel’s prophecy “literally” at the exclusion of recognizing any symbolic language that may be found in the text. When I say I take Ezekiel’s temple prophecy “literally,” I have in mind the idea that I take every word in its primary and ordinary meaning unless the exegesis of the text demands I understand those words differently.  Hence, any symbolism will be identifiable within the context as one studies the text.

I should also add that even though the prophet may at times paint symbolic word pictures with his use of language, those “pictures” still represents something that will really and tangibly come to pass.  For instance, Ezekiel 37 describes a valley of dry bones supernaturally coming to life. While I recognize that such a vivid image is symbolic, the image pictures something that will certainly happen, that being, the supernatural restoration of Israel to the promised land.

One further point. I don’t believe that because the book of Ezekiel is recognized as “prophetic literature” I, as an interpreter, am automatically required by default to interpret the book typologically and symbolically just because it’s “prophetic literature.” Again, while I recognize that symbolism is indeed present within the book, that symbolism will typically be explained or interpreted for us by the writer himself, or perhaps within the whole of Scripture. The symbolism will symbolize some historical person or events that will most certainly come to pass in the real world.

One of the primary reasons I read Ezekiel 40-48 literally is due in part to the grammatical-historical hermeneutic I utilize. Approaching the text with those rules of interpretation in place draws me to the conclusion that Ezekiel’s temple will be a real building. There is more I could mention, but let me lay out three reasons I believe these chapters describe a literal temple.

First, the text itself suggests this is a prophecy meant to be understood literally. For example, in the opening verses of Ezekiel 40, the prophet describes being taken in a vision to Jerusalem 14 years after the city was captured. In that vision, Ezekiel is guided by “a man,” – an angel – who revealed the “new” temple to him. That man directly tells Ezekiel to pay close attention to what he was about to see and hear so as to declare it to the house of Israel (Ezekiel 40:4).  Later, in chapter 43, when God begins announcing His intentions to dwell once again with His people Israel, Ezekiel is told to “make known to them” the design, arrangements, ordinances, and laws, and to write those things down so the people would perform them, (Ezekiel 43:11).

Considering that Ezekiel’s audience will be the people of Israel, how else would they understand the meaning of that vision? Why would they NOT understand it to mean God intended for them to build that temple in the fashion He reveals to Ezekiel? Am I to sincerely conclude that when they read Ezekiel’s plans, they understood them to merely be an “idealized” reality of God’s presence among His people, or that it was all “symbolic” of some spiritual body who will be known as “the Church” or “the New Israel” or whatever? If God intended for them to read Ezekiel’s description of the temple, I would expect God intended for them to really build it.

Some may object by pointing out that Ezekiel tells us it was “a vision” in 40:2. That would tell the reader that a “vision” is meant to be understood more symbolically than literally. However, I would point out Ezekiel 8-11, which is the description of God’s glory departing the temple in Jerusalem before it fell to Babylon. In 8:3, Ezekiel says he was carried there “in visions” and he saw the real temple in Jerusalem and the real glory of God leaving it. Chapters 8-11, where the glory of God is described leaving the temple is a bookend to chapters 40-48, where the glory of God returns. If the temple in 8-11 was a real, physical building, I should only expect the temple in 40-48 to be the same.

And one footnote to that point. In 1 Chronicles 28:11, David gives Solomon the plans to the temple he was to build. David tells Solomon in 28:19 that, the LORD made me understand in writing, by His hand upon me, all the works of these plans. David’s words to Solomon ring in a similar way as Ezekiel’s. Just as God showed David by a vision the real temple Solomon built in Jerusalem when he was king, so too God showed Ezekiel a real temple that will also be built in Jerusalem.

Second, the details of chapters 40-48 imply a literal interpretation, not a symbolic one. A second reason why I believe Ezekiel’s temple vision is literal has to do with the minute details described in the chapters. Such things as the measurements of walls, gateways, courtyards, and archways. Included is the exact number of steps leading up to the gateways, the landscaping of palm trees (assuming these are real palm trees and not decor), the geographic direction the doors and gateways are to face, and the calendar days sacrifices were to be prepared and offered.

If those details are meant to be “spiritual” or “typological” what possibly could be their referents? What would be the anti-types? Take for instance Ezekiel 34 and the comparison between good and bad shepherds who watch over God’s flock. Obviously the idea of shepherds is meant to symbolize the spiritual leadership in Israel and the “flock” is God’s people. But I make that interpretation because such is implied within the actual text.

Or again, Ezekiel 37, which is a vivid picture of a valley of dry, skeletal remains coming together and supernaturally returning to life as a living, flesh and bone army that is energized by the breath of God. The picture is of God’s gathering His people Israel who had been scattered throughout all the world and restoring them to their land and covenant faithfulness. Yet that symbol isn’t left to the whimsy of the interpreter. It’s explained within the very text of chapter 37.

Third, there are specific, unique details within the details that tell me Ezekiel’s vision is  literal. Expanding a little more on the idea of the minute details recorded in 40-48, is the description with particularly unique details.  For instance, in 40:26, Ezekiel records that 7 steps lead up to the southern gateway. In 40:31, with the gateways of the inner court there are 8 steps. This is also seen in 40:37 for another gateway in the inner court. What do 7 steps in one description mean as opposed to 8 in another if they are merely “spiritual?”

In chapter 41:23ff., Ezekiel describes wooden canopies covering the vestibules outside the sanctuary. The window frames were beveled. Why is it necessary to describe this detail in a vision that was never intended to be taken literally? What then is the point of describing canopies that were never meant to be fashioned?

One last example can be seen in the description of the river that flows out from under the temple threshold. According to Ezekiel, this river flows eastward toward the Dead Sea and “heals” its waters. The Dead Sea then becomes a “Living Sea” that supports an abundance of fish.  Moreover, fruit trees will grow up in the area surrounding the former “Dead” Sea and produce year around fruit.

The typical spiritual interpretation is to liken this river to the words of Jesus in John 7:38 where Jesus says that out of the hearts of those who believe upon Him “will flow rivers of living water.” Or Revelation 7:17 where it is written, for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

Daniel Block sums up the passage here in Ezekiel 47:1-12 by stating, “All these features suggest an impressionistic literary cartoon (a favorite expression Block uses throughout his commentary to describe the whole of Ezekiel’s temple prophecy) with an intentional ideological aim” [Block, 701].

The problem, however, with spiritualizing this river is Ezekiel 47:11 which states, But its swamps and marshes will not be healed; they will be given over to salt. What exactly is the point of noting how the swamps and marshes (positioned primarily at the south end of the Dead Sea) will still remain salty if this is a spiritual vision about a river of eternal life? Daniel Block cites Bishop Theodoret of Antioch (393-458 A.D.) who believed the temple stream is a picture of the saving grace of Christ and baptism through which that grace is received [ibid, 699, fn. 73]. Theodoret identifies the salt marshes with lukewarm Christians whose punishment is a useful warning to others. How it is exactly he finds lukewarm Christians in the text is left unexplained.

Honestly, I believe an appeal to “symbolism” and “typology” is often taken by commentators just because a supernatural event, like this river flowing from the temple, seems too fantastic for literal fulfillment.  It is as if commentators are defaulting to a spiritualized interpretation because it’s too hard to believe any such physical river could exist or that the land of Israel could change its geography. In spite of the fact Zechariah 14:4 suggests such a cataclysmic change does take place at the return of Christ.

That approach comes across as a hermeneutic of unbelief that doubts God’s supernatural intervention, similar to those skeptical scholars who attempt to explain away the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus or one man, Samson, single-handedly slaying an army.

Those are just three major reasons I take chapters 40-48 of Ezekiel as a literal description of a temple that will be built in the future. Obviously, I would be naive to think my position isn’t fraught with any difficulty. I recognize that it is. The most significant difficulty being the re-establishment of animal sacrifices in Ezekiel’s temple in worship.  Answering that objection is what I hope to take up next time.

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Sources

Interpreting Ezekiel’s Temple Vision

ezekielstempleWhen Christians discuss OT eschatological prophecy, eventually attention will have to be turned toward the vision of Ezekiel’s temple as recorded in chapters 40-48 of the prophet’s book.

Those nine chapters contain some of the most detailed descriptions in the form of blue-print-like schematics of a massive temple.  Ezekiel is told he is to “describe the temple to the house of Israel…Its entire design and all its ordinances, and perform them.” (Ezekiel 43:10-12).

The question for biblical interpreters is how to understand the fulfillment of the vision. Is Ezekiel’s temple to be a real, physical building erected in the land of Israel? Or is the vision meant to be understood symbolically and typologically? For those who believe the temple is a physical building, when exactly was the prophecy fulfilled? No temple like it ever existed in Israel’s history.  Moreover, if the temple’s construction remains to be accomplished sometime in the future, how is the discussion of animal sacrifices explained in light of Christ’s death that is said to have put an end to OT sacrifices?

For those who believe the vision is symbolic, how do they explain such extreme detail in measurement and procedure? As Lamar Cooper states in his commentary on Ezekiel,

The weakness of this approach is that it fails to account for the detailed descriptions of people, places, and events in the restored community… If these structures are only symbols of greater spiritual realities and nothing more, then such detail would be irrelevant. [Cooper, 352]

Nine chapters consisting of 260 verses of detailed architectural measurements and priestly function is a bit of overkill if the vision is merely symbolic.

The difficulty of interpreting Ezekiel’s temple vision isn’t limited to only Christian scholars. It has also been a problem with Jewish ones as well. Michael Brown notes that Talmudic rabbis believed the images of the visions were difficult enough that the prophet Elijah would have to come and explain them. [Brown, 171]  Medieval commentator, David Kimichi, notes Brown, interestingly finds proof of the resurrection in these chapters, because Ezekiel believed he and his contemporaries would one day, in the future, build this temple. Seeing that it was never completed, it must be accomplished sometime in the future and that would require a resurrected Ezekiel [ibid, 173].

Now, I’m of the opinion that even though Ezekiel’s final vision contains textual and theological difficulties any interpreter will have to work through. However, coming to the proper understanding of the vision isn’t an unattainable endeavor. There are at least three possible explanations for Ezekiel’s temple vision we could consider:

First is the symbolic interpretation.  This view has been the historical perspective of a number of Catholic and Protestant Reformed commentators over the years. “The vision symbolizes the church in it’s origin, development, influence and consequent completion in the hereafter…” [Freeman, 309].

Dr. Michael Brown argues for the spiritual view based upon a handful of reasons including the fact Ezekiel’s temple contradicts a lot of the descriptions in the Torah (Exodus/Leviticus/Numbers particularly) and the text suggests the prophecy will be fulfilled in Ezekiel’s lifetime (Ezekiel 40:4, 43:10,11), but wasn’t [Brown, 177].

Additionally, Ezekiel was a priest and the purpose of God showing him this vision was to convey the greatest sense of promise that the Lord’s presence would again dwell with His people in a glorious temple attended by a purified priest class who obediently served Him [ibid, 177, 178].  These images would have their fulfillment, then, in the coming of Israel’s true Messiah, Jesus Christ.

If we turn to the NT, we can see these images symbolically described in various passages. For instance, we read of Jesus using temple symbolism to describe His Resurrection (John 2:21).  The NT church, which is comprised of both saved Jews and gentiles, is likened by Paul to the “temple” in Ephesians 2:21,22 and 1 Corinthians 3:16, 17. Peter the apostle describes Christians as being a holy priesthood that offers spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God (1 Peter 2:5). And John records in his Gospel the words of Jesus who proclaimed that those who believe in Him will have living waters flowing out of their hearts (John 7:37, 38), a reference to the healing springs of water that flow out from under the threshold of the temple Ezekiel sees in his vision (Ezekiel 47:1-8).

A second view is something of a hybrid literal-symbolic interpretation. Mark Rooker explains how with this view, the vision is understood to be early apocalyptic literature, [Rooker, 403]. It is designed to figuratively address the restoration of Israel to the land after the exile and the renewed worship they will experience.  The prophecy is merely fulfilled in part through the historical reconstruction of Herod’s temple, but the vision points to the great reality of Christ’s body and it’s completion in the future at the coming of Christ and in the New Jerusalem.

Then, the third view believes this vision describes a future, millennial temple that will be rebuilt. The prophecy will be fulfilled literally after the return of Christ with a physical building being built in the land of Israel and a renewed Zadokian priesthood reinstated.

The primary reason proponents of this view believe it will be a real, physical building is that the language of the text suggests it will be a real, physical building. Ezekiel is told directly by the revealing angel that he was to write down all that he saw in detail and proclaim it to the house of Israel, (40:4 and 43:10, 11). There is similar language from God to Moses when he told him to build the tabernacle in Exodus 25:9 and David’s words to his son Solomon in 1 Chronicles 28:19.  Historically, both the tabernacle and the temple were real, physical structures.

Additionally, as noted above, the architectural details of Ezekiel’s temple are precise measurements. Lengths of walls, courtyards, entry ways, and other structural designs are laid out by the angel and written down by Ezekiel. Moreover, a restored priesthood is described with the vestments they wear, along with the individuals who can serve in the temple, the sacrificial procedure they will perform for the people, and the calendar days those procedures will take place.

Nothing in the descriptions of the temple’s structure and the priestly function gives indication that it is only meant to be symbolic language describing a future “spiritual body” called the Church, or even some idealized restoration for Israel that merely gives them hope for the future, but isn’t meant to be fulfilled in any fashion.  Seeing that no temple has ever existed in Israel’s history, this temple must be a future reality that is yet to come and the only possible time it could be built is when Christ returns to establish His millennial kingdom.

Now, with those three main perspectives laid out, I believe the third view is the only one that makes sense of the text. However, there are some significant problems with taking this prophecy in a literal fashion that describes a future temple that will be rebuilt when Christ returns.  The most glaring problem has to do with the presence of animal sacrifices and other priestly rituals that take place within Ezekiel’s temple. The animal sacrifices are particularly problematic in light of Christ’s cross work and Him being the fulfillment of many of the OT sacrifices that atoned for sinners. The key objection against the literal view is simply: If Christ fulfilled the OT sacrifices and atoned once and for all for sinners, any animal sacrifices will be a return to the old covenant and diminishes what Christ did.

My objective will now be to lay out my case as to why animal sacrifices are not a regression toward the OT and why a real, physical temple will be rebuilt in the future.

Sources

Resources on Ezekiel’s Temple

[UPDATE] I had a number of kind folks contact me after my first article on Ezekiel’s temple and they provided me with additional resources I hadn’t considered or might have forgot in the initial posting of this article. So I wanted to update my list below. Also, check the comments. One commenter provided an extensive reading list that goes beyond what I studied that may be useful for serious students.

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I plan to do a study for my continuing series defending premillennialism on Ezekiel’s temple vision from Ezekiel 40-48.  Those chapters are considered a major problem for the idea of a future, millennial kingdom because Ezekiel describes animal sacrifices taking place in the temple that is supposed to be built.  If he is describing a real temple, well then animal sacrifices would be a step back to the old covenant. Any thought of animal sacrifices atoning for sin diminishes Christ’s final cross work of salvation.

I believe it is an important objection to answer, so I’ll endeavor to lay out my case for why I believe Ezekiel’s temple will be a real, literal building with a reinstated Zadokian priesthood ministering with in it.

It order to utilize my time, I wanted to provide my sources for my research ahead of time so I can just have a link on hand I can refer people back  to. Additionally, just a word about comments. I certainly will welcome them agreeing and disagreeing, but I plan to finish my study first before I open comments. In other words, I’m not opening comments under each post. but will wait until I’m done. Then I will present one post that lays out and answers common objections to my position and with that post I’ll open comments. Make sense?

In the meantime, let me list my sources for my study:

Commentaries:

Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 7 – Jeremiah and Ezekiel (Ralph Alexander, Ezekiel).
NICOT series Book of Ezekiel, Vol. 2, Chapters 25-48, Daniel Block
NAC series, Ezekiel, Lamar Cooper
Prophecy of Ezekiel, Charles Feinberg
Leviticus 1-16, Jacob Milgrom

Old Testament Introductions:

An Introduction to the Old Testament, Raymond Dillard & Tremper Longman.
An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets, Hobart Freeman
The World and the Word – An Introduction to the Old Testament,  Eugene Merrill, Mark Rooker, and Michael Grisanti. Ezekiel, pp. 394-404, Mark Rooker.

General Biblical Studies:

Answers to Jewish Objections to Jesus, Vol. 2, Michael Brown
A Proposed Solution to Animal Sacrifices in Ezekiel 40-48, Jerry Hullinger
The Greatness of the Kingdom, Alva McClain
The Temple and Bible Prophecy, Randall Price.
Christ’s Atonement and Animal Sacrifice in Israel, John Whitcomb

The Restoration of Israel in the New Testament

IsraelDefending Premillennialism [12]

Covenant Reformed believers insist there is no future restoration of the Jewish people in a geopolitical kingdom situated in the land of Israel. Their main proof for that conviction is what they consider to be the complete lack of any mention in the whole of the NT of such a restoration.  For instance, Bruce Waltke writes,

“….not one clear NT passage mentions the restoration of Israel as a political nation or predicts an earthly reign of Christ before his final appearing.  None depicts the consummate glory of Christ as an earthly king ruling over the restored nation of Israel.  The Spirit’s silence is deafening”  [Feinberg, 273].

Covenant Reformers further insist such passages like Romans 4:13-15 and Hebrews 11:10 indicate that those OT promises in which the Jews are given a kingdom in the land of Canaan as an inheritance are now fulfilled in a spiritual sense.  In other words, the ultimate fulfillment of the land promise is not merely limited to a “restoration” of the Jewish people, but involves the whole world, both Jews and gentiles.

The burden then is upon the future premillennialist who believes Israel will experience a political restoration to demonstrate from the NT where exactly such a situation is confirmed.  If the NT is the culmination of God’s revelation to mankind, the greatest revelation being the very person of Jesus Christ, then it would only seem reasonable to expect God to provide us some indication as to whether or not the Jews are restored to a kingdom in the land of Israel. However, as one searches the NT, allegedly no clear verse can be found to affirm any restoration whatsoever.

Before considering a few passages of Scripture I believe do indicate a physical restoration of Israel to an earthly kingdom, we must consider a couple of hermeneutical factors, because how one approaches the Bible will factor heavily into how one interprets passages detailing Israel’s future.

First, as Christians we believe both the Old and New Testaments are of equal authority as divine revelation. On the surface, that is a rather simplistic, even patronizing comment. Of course everyone in whatever eschatological camp he may find himself will affirm that truth.

However, while everyone will certainly say he acknowledges such an obvious point, when it comes to discussions regarding the nation of Israel as it relates to the NT, and particularly the NT church, there will be those who will throw greater authorial weight behind the NT over the OT. They do so because it is understood the NT is the fullest expression of God’s revelation.  We are to read the OT through the lens of the NT, as the exegetical “rule” states.

But as I have argued in previous articles in my eschatological series, the fact the NT is the fullest expression of God’s revelation and brings into sharper clarity areas in the OT, doesn’t mean it cancels out, voids, or otherwise reinterprets the OT in matters pertaining to the promises made to Israel.

It’s my contention that where the OT speaks of a future restoration of Israel, we as Christians need to understand those promises being fulfilled just as they are revealed in the OT. Those promises were made to a specific audience, the Jews, who were God’s people of the covenant. That audience would have understood those promises revealed by the prophets applying specifically to them as a national people.  They would not have in mind those promises being fulfilled by an unknown group yet to be formed on the day of Pentecost perhaps 500 years in the future from when the prophecy is given.

To suggest there is some hidden meaning in the words of the prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Joel when they spoke of a future restoration of the nation of Israel I believe treats God as being dishonest. Especially if we insist specific promises naming the nation Israel no longer apply to the original recipients in the manner originally revealed by the Lord, but is fulfilled by other means by another group.

A second point to keep in mind is that the NT isn’t particularly focused upon the restoration of Israel. It’s focus is new revelation for the kingdom citizens, both Jew and gentile, who will populate the coming kingdom.  That is why we read the Bible in its entirety, as a collective whole. Though there may not be precise, detailed teaching on the restoration of Israel in a future kingdom found in the NT, it is found in the OT, and Christians should consider both testaments together in this regards.

I’ve heard some Covenant Reformed folks chide future premillennialists as being too “Jewish” with their  reading of the Bible, or disregarding the NT in favor of the OT, or any number of similar comments. But both testaments are divine revelation that convey to us the mind of God. Could there not be an opposite “danger” of being too “Judeo-phobic,” or perhaps a woefully imbalanced christological hermeneutic in play with such thinking?

Again, I believe we should strive to study both the OT and the NT together as God intends for us to understand them. We accomplish that by utilizing a consistent hermeneutic that handles the biblical text in the manner the inspired authors intended for their message to be understood by their original audience.

Now, with those two items in mind, let me move to three specific passages. Two of them will be found in Luke’s history of Acts and one in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Acts 1:3, 6-7.  Luke opens his history of the early church by explaining how after Jesus rose from the dead, He spent 40 days appearing to His disciples and teaching them concerning the Kingdom of God (vs.3). What it was specifically that Jesus taught the disciples about the Kingdom is not told to us.  However, we can get a hint of what He taught and draw some conclusions by how Jesus responded to the question asked of Him in verse 6.

Immediately before He ascended into heaven, the disciples asked Jesus if He was going to restore the kingdom to Israel at that time.  “Restoring” is translated from the word apokathistemi and it has the idea of returning something to its previous state. In the context, the disciples are asking about the kingdom promised to Israel, because the concept of “restoring” Israel is found extensively throughout the OT in key prophetic texts like Isaiah 49, 57, Jeremiah 30, 31, and Joel 2.

The answer Jesus gives his disciples in response provides us with three important insights.

First, the disciples expected an earthly restoration just as was prophesied in the OT. They certainly had to have had in mind the OT promises of a future restoration of Israel that is found in such prophets as Isaiah and Jeremiah.

Second, they expected a kingdom. This would be a national, geopolitical kingdom, one that is the same as David’s and Solomon’s.

Third, they expected that earthly kingdom to be restored to the nation of Israel.  Not a spiritual “remnant” called the “Israel of God,” but an ethnic, Jewish people known as Israel.

Jesus’ response to the question is telling, for He states, “It’s not for you to know the times and seasons.”  In other words, the disciples need not concern themselves with knowing the exact, divinely appointed time of that restoration. His response further demonstrates that the disciples’ understanding of a literal, earthly kingdom had to be the same or Jesus would have corrected their misconception. He had been teaching them, as was noted in verse 3, “things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” off and on for forty days prior. All the disciples had misunderstood concerning the kingdom was its timing, not its substance.

Acts 3:19-21.  Here we have Peter’s words calling Israel to repentance so that the “times of refreshing” may come from the presence of the Lord and Jesus will be sent at the “restoration of all things.”  The question for us is what does Peter mean when he says “times of refreshing” and “restoration of all things.”

Let’s consider the word “restoration” first. It is the same word form found in Acts 1:6, apokatastasis.  Again, it has the idea of restoring something to a previous condition.  This restoration is further defined by the word “times,” or karios as used in Acts 1:7 which means a divinely fixed time frame, a period of time ordained by God’s sovereign choosing.

Peter’s words here are an expansion of what Jesus stated to his disciples immediately before his Ascension.  Moreover, his audience is also the Jewish people who would certainly have an OT understanding of what the prophets meant by restoration.  In their minds, they would be thinking about the kingdom of Israel with their Messiah as king. They would not be pouring into his words a notion of a “spiritual remnant” that is now a new Israel comprised of by Jews and gentiles.

A similar idea would also be considered with the phrase, “times of refreshing.”  Old testament prophetic passages like Isaiah 11:6-10, 35:1-10, Ezekiel 34:26, and even Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:28 that anticipate what He calls “a regeneration,” speak of a special time of extensive blessing when the land is renewed and the people experience uninterrupted prosperity, especially the presence of the Lord dwelling in the land with His people Israel.  Thus, the “restoration” and “times of refreshing” are events connected to the fulfillment of God’s kingdom land promises to Israel.

Romans 11:25ff. One final passage I believe tells us about Israel’s restoration is Paul’s words in Romans 11:25ff.  Interestingly, Covenant Reformed folks are divided among themselves as to whether or not this passage speaks to a future restoration of national Israel.

There are three notable camps.

Some, like John Calvin, O. Palmer Robertson, and P.E. Hughes argue the “all Israel” that will be saved in 11:26 is the NT Church, or the “New Israel.”  Others, like Sam Waldron, Robert Reymond, and Louis Berkhof understand the “all Israel” to be a Jewish remnant that is presently being saved and added to the Church. Whereas a third group, for example John Murray, Leon Morris, and F.F. Bruce, understand the “all Israel” to be a total regathering and salvation of national Israel.  The fact that there exists a diversity of opinion regarding Romans 11 even among Reformed Covenant believers, demonstrates that there isn’t an airtight case against Israel’s national restoration as future premillennialists believe.

I plan to have a more comprehensive overview of Romans 9-11 at a future point, but for now, it is important to realize these 3 chapters in Romans is Paul’s explanation as to why the nation of Israel rejected their Messiah. Primarily that rejection is due to God’s sovereign, electing purposes with gathering the gentiles to Christ for salvation.

In order to accomplish that electing purpose, Paul says in Romans 11:25 a divinely appointed spiritual blindness, or partial hardening has come upon Israel UNTIL the fullness of the gentiles comes in.  I’ll pause here and point out Dr. Samuel Waldron’s exegetical argument against the view of a national restoration of Israel because it is well known as an anecdote against the premillennial perspective.

He argues that the word “hardened” has to do with the mystery of God’s election. He notes that Romans 11:7 presents two types of people from the standpoint of election, the chosen and the hardened. The chosen are saved, whereas the hardened are lost, and that hardening will never cease [Waldron, 137].

The problem with Dr. Waldron’s exegetical point is two-fold. First, Paul uses two distinct words in Romans 9-11 to speak of “hardening.” The first one in Romans 9:18 is translated from the word sklerno, which has the idea of “making hard” or “rendering obstinate or stubborn.”  The second use is found in Romans 11:7, 25 where the word translated as “hardened” is from porosis, which has the idea of “covering with a callus” or “obtrusiveness with mental discernment.” Some translations, like the NKJV, translate the word “blindness” rather than “hardness” at 11:25.

Secondly, contrary to his assertion that the hardening spoken of in Romans 11:7 can never cease, the same word is used in Mark 6:52 where the disciples are described as being “hardened” about what had happened when Jesus fed the 5,000.  Jesus later asked the disciples in Mark 8:17 if their hearts were hardened when Jesus warned about the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod. Obviously, this wasn’t a permanent hardening.

Rather than this being a permanent hardening that has happened to Israel, we have what the text states as a partial hardening, or better, blindness that will be removed. It is a divinely induced blindness for a period of time, that being while God brings in the “fullness of the gentiles.”  Oddly, Waldron’s and Roberston’s exegesis of the phrase “until the fullness of the gentiles” only serves to reinforce the future premillennial view, even though they believe it undermines it. Waldron writes, “…the idea is the partial hardening of Israel continues right up until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in – at which point Jesus returns.” [Waldron, 138]. But it is as the moment of Christ’s return, when the people look upon their Messiah that they believe in faith upon Him. In other words, the moment God finishes with the “fullness of the gentiles” is the moment the hardening is removed and the moment all the nation believes.

Paul goes on to say in 11:28, Israel is considered enemies for “your sakes,” meaning the gentiles who are the recipients of salvation. However, Israel won’t be left in their spiritual blindness, but will experience national salvation after that gentile fullness has been completed (vs. 26).

Additionally, Matt Weymeyer has pointed out the grammatical nuance of the correlative conjunctions used by Paul to describe Israel in Romans 11:28.  Those conjunctions, rather than contrasting an “old” Israel with a “new” Israel, express the idea of “on the one hand…but on the other” and reveal a dual status for Israel that makes them at the same time both beloved by God and enemies toward the gentiles for God’s purposes [Weymeyer, 65].

They will not, however, remain in that state. We know this because of three theological truths Paul mentions in the verses 28, 29.

– God has an electing purpose for Israel that will see completion.

– Israel is beloved for “the sake of the fathers,” meaning the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to whom God gave the promise of national identity in the land of Canaan.

– Because God’s calling is irrevocable (vs. 29). In other words, it is a calling God can never take back, and thus He can never undo His original covenant He made to His people Israel.

So, rather than there being no passages that speak to Israel’s future restoration, I believe there are some significant ones, particularly Paul’s words in Romans 11.  Both Jesus and the apostles expected a future restoration and nowhere do they reinterpret or reject what the OT prophesied regarding that restoration.

Sources:

John Feinberg ed., Continuity and Discontinuity
Matt Weymeyer, “Dual Status of Israel in Romans 11:28.” TMS Journal, Vol.16, No.1, Spring 2005 on-line here.
Samuel Waldron, MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto

Defending Premillennialism [11]

Joshua 21:43-45 and the Land Promises made to Israel

joshualeadingCovenant Reformed brethren claim that Joshua 21:43-45 is the definitive proof-text that confirms the land promises made by God to Abraham and his descendants were completely fulfilled. The passage reads,

43 So the LORD gave to Israel all the land of which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it.
44 The LORD gave them rest all around, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers. And not a man of all their enemies stood against them; the LORD delivered all their enemies into their hand.
45 Not a word failed of any good thing which the LORD had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass.

According to New Covenant proponent, Steve Lehrer,

The book of Joshua tells us that when the Israelites had finally taken most of the land, all of the promises given to Abraham had been fulfilled (Joshua 21:43-45). Nothing else needed to happen for God to make good on His word to Abraham. [Lehrer, 32]

Gary DeMar writes,

In addition, the text [Daniel 9:26] says nothing about the restoration of Israel to her land as a fulfillment of some covenant obligation. All the land promises that God made to Israel were fulfilled (Joshua 21:43-45). [DeMar, 332]

A Reformed blogger who did a series of articles on the land promises writes,

I am claiming that Joshua 21:43-45 declares that God fulfilled his promise to give the land to Israel. Nehemiah and Solomon also declare God did not drop the ball on any of his promises … The inspired author of 1 Kings [1 Kings 4:20, 21] certainly means to grab our attention here. He is proclaiming the promises concerning Abraham’s seed being as numerous as the sand of the sea, have been fulfilled. [Understanding the Land Promises]

Finally, Crenshaw and Gunn, citing Patrick Fairbairn, argue that Israel’s occupation of the land (they deceitfully call it “Palestine”) was ultimately just a type, and their temporary possession of the land was merely a foreshadowing of the things belonging to the Church which is concluded as being the entire earth [Crenshaw and Gunn, 241].

This passage in Joshua, it is argued, clearly states that God fulfilled all the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to Moses, of bringing the people of Israel into the Promised Land. Other passages in Scripture, like 1 Kings 4:21, 8:56, and Nehemiah 9:7-8, are also cited as affirming what is recorded in Joshua 21.

How then is a future premillennialist to understand this passage in Joshua? Does Joshua 21:43-45 prove that all the land promises have been fulfilled? That there is no future restoration of Israel in a geo-political kingdom within the physical boundaries outlined by God to Abraham (Genesis 12, 13, 15, 17)? And are the land promises merely typological anyways? Meaning there really is a greater fulfillment with God’s redeemed people, both Jews and gentiles, inheriting the entire earth?

First, in response, let me remind the reader of two key passages I noted in my previous study: Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 30.

Both Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 30 were written before Israel was led into the land by Joshua. Both passages make important redemptive, prophetic predictions concerning Israel’s position in the land. To summarize:

1) Israel will already be in the land and the disobedience of the people will bring God’s judgment upon them.

2) God’s judgment will ultimately bring Israel’s exile from the land (Lev. 26:32-34, Deut. 30:1 [29:28]).

3) God will regather Israel back to the land (Lev. 26:44, Deut. 30:3).

4) Israel’s restoration to the land is due in part to their spiritual salvation by means of God’s regenerating spirit as promised in the New Covenant.

Regarding the last point, Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 30 use New Covenant terminology when describing Israel’s salvation and their subsequent restoration in the land. The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel also use the same terminology when joining the spiritual salvation of the people with their restoration. Jeremiah specifically identifies the spiritual renewal of the people as a “New Covenant” God makes with them. Ezekiel doesn’t speak directly to a “New Covenant,” though he does mention an “everlasting covenant” in 16:60 and 37:26. Yet, just as Jeremiah does, Ezekiel describes Israel’s spiritual renewal as receiving “new hearts,” having “clean water sprinkled” on them, and the heart-led spiritual obedience of the people that results from the Spirit’s work.

Two factors can be observed with Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 30 and their relation to Joshua 21:43-45:

Israel’s predicted exile and restoration is fore-told BEFORE the people were even in the land and is to take place AFTER they have lived in the land for an unstated amount of time. This conflicts with the Covenant Reformed claim that Joshua 21:43-45 is a total fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham in Genesis, and the promise describing the land as an “everlasting possession.”

Moreover, Israel’s restoration to the Promised Land is in conjunction with the New Covenant that was confirmed and inaugurated by Jesus Christ. The spiritual renewal of the Jewish exiles and their restoration to the land follow after the New Covenant is ratified. Seeing that it is Christ who initiated the New Covenant, the events of restoration follow sometime future after the making of this New Covenant. Hence, there is still a future aspect of this New Covenant awaiting fulfillment, i.e., the Jews returning from exile, being spiritually regenerated, receiving their Messiah, and being restored to the Land.

Thus, the promise God makes in Leviticus, Deuteronomy and the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel to restore Israel forever in the land has to be different from what is being highlighted in Joshua 21:43-45. That means we need to understand this passage differently than the typical Covenant Reformed perspective.

It is important to know that Joshua 21 ends a specific section in the book of Joshua that begins with chapter 13. There, Joshua calls Israel to go and conquer the Canaanites that still dwelt in the land where Israel was yet to possess. In fact, Joshua states in 13:1 that “there remained very much land that needed to be possessed.” The chapters in between 13 and the end of 21 tell of the allotments each of the tribes received.

Joshua 21:41-43 is something of an editorial comment explaining how each of the tribes received from the LORD what He had promised Israel up unto that time. They were made a great nation, free from the Egyptian bondage, brought into the Promised Land, and under the leadership of Joshua, broke the military threat of the various Canaanite groups. Now that each individual tribe has received its allotment of the land, and there was still “very much land” yet to posses, the impression is that those tribes will go and drive those Canaanites out of the land and take possession of them.

The reality, however, as seen in the book of Judges, is that the tribes failed in accomplishing that possession. Instead, we see them not only failing to drive out the occupants (Judges 1:27-36), but also compromising their position of strength by making treaties with the Canaanites and putting them “under tribute.” This only led to the people involving themselves in the fertility religions of the Canaanites, marrying their sons and daughters, and eventually coming into bondage to the very Canaanites they were told to drive out of the land. The tribe of Dan, for example, was forced by the Amorites to leave their allotted territory so they moved to the most northern location of the Promised Land (Judges 1:34; 17-18).

If Joshua 21:43-45 is an absolute fulfillment of what God promised Abraham in Genesis 17:7, 8 as the Covenant Reformed claim, then there are some serious conflicts with what the original land promises promised and what happened in Israel’s history. A number of commentators on Joshua recognize this.

L. Daniel Hawk writes,

the sense of completion, however, stands in stark contrast to the sense of failure and incompleteness which characterizes the preceding material. How can the possession of Canaan be affirmed when the occupation of the land remains incomplete? And in what sense does Israel enjoy rest, given the presence of “determined” peoples with iron chariots? … The description of tribal lands puts Israel in the foreground and demonstrates repeatedly the nations halting and incomplete response to YHWH’s promises and commands. [Hawk, 224, 225]

George Bush (not the former president) notes,

The Canaanites, it is true, were yet in possession of some parts of the country, but they were so far subdued, that they gave them no serious molestation, and they were enabled to sit down in their possessions in the enjoyment of comparative rest and quiet. [Bush, 189]

Even Reformer, John Calvin, recognized the dilemma and the need to reconcile 21:43-45 with the rest of Scripture.

A second point, however, raises some doubt, namely, how the children of Israel can be said to have been settled in the possession of the land promised to them, and to have become masters of it, in such a sense that in regard to the enjoyment of it, not one syllable of the promise of God had failed. …
In order to remove this appearance of contradiction, it is necessary to distinguish between the certain, clear, and steadfast faithfulness of God in keeping his promises, and between the effeminacy and sluggishness of the people, in consequence of which the benefit of the divine goodness in a manner slipped through their hands. [Calvin, 247, 248]

Joshua 21:43-45, rather than being a declaration of absolute fulfillment of all the land promises God made to Abraham and his descendants, is more of an historical marker showing God’s faithfulness to His people up until that point. He was fulfilling His promises made to Abraham, not completing them entirely.

It should also been understood that this passage cannot be taken out the context of the whole of predictive prophecy concerning Israel and the land (Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 30, Jeremiah 30-31, Ezekiel 36-37, Acts 1:6,7, Romans 11). God had promised everlasting possession of the land to Israel; however, their occupancy of the land depended upon their covenant faithfulness. They failed to be faithful and lost the land. Yet, God is still good in that the better covenant He has made through Jesus Christ will create hearts of covenant faithfulness in the people of Israel and then they will truly enjoy the land as God has always intended.

Sources:

George Bush, Joshua
John Calvin,
Joshua
Curtis Crenshaw and Grover Gunn, Dispensationalism: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.
Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness
Gregory Harris,
Did God Fulfill Every Good Promise?
L. Daniel Hawk,
Joshua
Steve Lehrer, New Covenant Theology: Questions Answered.