Problems With An Earthly Millennial Temple

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal 5:1).

The prophet Ezekiel gives a lengthy and detailed description of a temple which was still to come.  Even up to our time this temple has not been seen.  Consequently it is thought by Dispensational Premillennialists to be still future.  In fact, at various times I’ve heard Dispensationalists saying that all the accoutrements of this future temple – the furniture, curtains, priestly vestments, and all the assorted bits and pieces which are essential for a working temple, are being prepared by the Jews so that when they build it, it will be ready for immediate use. 

But it is not merely a temple that is to be rebuilt, according to the Dispensationalists.  The whole Jewish Old Testament sacrificial system, with its animal sacrifices for sin and restored Levitical priesthood is at the heart of an earthly empire centred in Jerusalem and ruled by Jesus Christ for 1,000 years; a period known as the Millennium.  Prior to this, every Christian (the Church) on earth will have been taken away by Christ at the “Rapture”, a mythical event in which he comes with his angels to fulfil this purpose, and which happens in the middle of a mythical period known as the Great Tribulation.

In fairness to Dispensationalists, it must be said that they didn’t invent this temple and its OT sacrifices; it is described in minute detail in the last eight chapters of Ezekiel’s prophecy (Ezek chs 40-48).  In his vision, Ezekiel was taken from Babylon to Jerusalem where he met a man.  This “man” instructed Ezekiel to see and focus on what was to be revealed to him and declare it to “the house of Israel” which was in captivity in Babylon (40:1-5).  The following power points are what he saw:

  • a temple with precise and detailed description and measurements (40:1-38)
  • Within this temple were tables “to slay thereon the burnt offering and the sin offering and the trespass offering” (40:39-43)
  • Of the altar, the man told him, “This is the table that is before the LORD” (41:22)
  • Outside the inner gate were chambers for the singers, and “for the priests, the keepers of the charge of the altar: these are the sons of Zadok among the sons of Levi, which come near the LORD to minister to him (40:44-46). 
  • These chambers for the priests were “holy chambers, where the priests that approach the LORD shall eat the most holy things: there shall they lay the most holy things, and the meat offering, and the sin offering, and the trespass offering; for the place is holy” (42:13)
  • The priests were not to leave the holy place to go into the outer court, but were to leave their garments in the holy place “for they are holy; and shall put on other garments, and shall approach to those things which are for the people” (42:14) Inside was the tabernacle, which was “the most holy place” (41:1, 4)
  • “The glory of the LORD came into the house….and, behold, the glory of the LORD filled the house” (43:4-5).  He told Ezekiel that this was “the place of my throne….where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel for ever….Now let them put away their whoredom, and the carcases of their kings, far from me, and I will dwell in the midst of them” (43:7-9). 
  • God then told Ezekiel, “thou shalt give to the priests the Levites….which approach unto me…a young bullock for a sin offering.  And thou shalt take of the blood thereof, and put it on the four horns of the altar….thus shalt thou cleanse and purge it.  Thou shalt take the bullock also of the sin offering, and he shall burn it in the appointed place of the house, without [outside] the sanctuary” (43:19-21). 
  • On the second day a goat was to be offered following the same procedure as with the bullock (43:24). “Seven days shalt thou prepare every day a goat for a sin offering: they shall also prepare a young bullock, and a ram out of the flock, without blemish.  Seven days shall they purge the altar and purify it; and they shall consecrate themselves…upon the eighth day, and so forward, the priests shall make your burnt offerings upon the altar, and your peace offerings; and I will accept you, saith the LORD” (43:25-27)

This is not the language of memorial sacrifices, as I discuss later, but very definitely of sacrifices for sin in order to be purified and made acceptable to the LORD. 

Animal Sacrifices Can Never Take Away Sin

In answer to a question I asked an Independent Baptist pastor (which was “How can animal sacrifices for sin be reinstituted during the Millennium when Christ died as the Lamb of God to take away sin?  Isn’t this a denial of the Gospel?), he replied: 

“I would answer that the animal sacrifices of the Millennium will be the Jewish equivalent to a New Testament believers’ Lord’s Supper. Every animal that was slaughtered prior to Christ pointed to the coming Lamb of God. It pointed in a powerful visible object lesson to blood sacrifice as the only way to be right with God. This is true from the first animal slain to provide coats to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness (which came from the Fall) all the way up until the cross.  There was one unified thundering response to the question of how a sinful man could be justified: Blood! Then Christ came and fulfilled the picture of all these animal sacrifices. Once the Kingdom is finally established, the daily sacrifices will be a daily reminder to everyone of the blood of Jesus Christ shed for our sins. It will be ‘this do in remembrance of Me.’”.

However, the text doesn’t say that the animal sacrifices are memorial; it doesn’t even suggest it.  It clearly says the opposite – that they are real sacrifices for real sins.  For example, it calls them “the meat offering, and the sin offering, and the trespass offering” (Ezek 42:13).  In chapter 43 there are various animals to be sacrificed as burnt offerings and sin offerings (43:18-27); “…and I will accept you, saith the LORD God” (43:27).  And the whole system is Old Testament i.e. Old Covenant, from the temple, the animal sacrifices, the Levitical priesthood, the altar, the blood, the furniture, to the clothing required for the priests; and all the other requirements are straight out of the Law (see Ezek ch 44).  This whole passage defies and denies everything that Christ accomplished by his once-for-all sacrifice of himself, and is blasphemous if applied to the Millennium. 

And why were the simple elements of bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, established by Christ himself as a memorial and sufficient for the “church age” and for the New Covenant for 2000 years so far, deemed insufficient as memorials for the Millennial period?   When the simple elements of bread and wine symbolised Christ’s death, and were to be consumed as a church community in remembrance of him, why would he want to re-establish and fully restore a full-on OT sacrificial system and a full-on Levitical priesthood as a memorial of his atoning death?  It doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t fit scripture.  Rather, it flies in the face of every aspect of the gospel.  The whole thing is Jewish and Old Testament and Old Covenant.

However, it is not this passage of Ezekiel’s prophecy that is blasphemous – how could any scripture be blasphemous?  It is the interpretation forced upon it that is problematic because, when taken out of its Old Testament context and applied to any period after the death of Christ, it teaches “another “ gospel” (Gal 1:6-9).  Therefore it MUST be spiritualised, as many commentators suggest.  Indeed, Jesus told the Jews, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up….he spake of the temple of his body” (Jn 2:19-21).  And in the book of Revelation, John writes: “And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it” (Rev 21:22).  Here Jesus himself spiritualises the temple.

And Matthew Henry comments on Ezek 40:1-4: “From the top of this mountain he saw as the frame of a city, the plan and model of it; but this temple was as large as a city.  The New Jerusalem (Rev 21:22) had no temple therein; this which we have here is all temple, which comes much to one.  It is a city for men to dwell in; it is a temple for God to dwell in; for in the church on earth God dwells with men, in that in heaven men dwell with God”.  In this passage he also refers to the temple which Ezekiel was looking as “the gospel-temple” and “God’s house” i.e. the church.

Thus, the teaching about the new covenant and the heavenly sanctuary shows us that the New Covenant is forever, and that Ezekiel’s supposed millennial temple with its full-blown Levitical priesthood and animal sacrifices for sin cannot be taken literally – this is blasphemy and a denial of the once-for-all and finished sacrifice of Christ.  It is unthinkable that Christ, the antitype of the sacrificial system of the temple in the Old Testament, and who achieved full salvation for mankind would, at his second coming to earth, take the Church out of earth, along with the Gospel, and reinstitute the law and animal sacrifices for sin for a thousand years.  This is just not possible and goes against the Gospel, denying Jesus’ sacrifice, claiming that the Gospel was an interruption in God’s prophetic clock. 

Jesus is a Better Priest

“If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after Aaron?  For the priesthood being changed, there is of necessity a change also of the law….For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God” (Heb 7:11-12, 19).

The Levitical priesthood was established at the giving of the law at Sinai.  Consequently, as the writer of Hebrews tells us, it was insufficient and impermanent.  The Levitical priests had

to offer sacrifices for their own sins as well as the nation’s; “For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity….” (Heb 7:27-28).

But of Jesus it is written: “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec” (Heb 7:17).  Melchisedec was “Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God: abideth a priest continually” (Heb 7:3).

In contrast to the Levitical priests, of Jesus it is written: “But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood.  Wherefore he is able to also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them….made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself” (Heb 7:24-27).

This is further proof that the Levitical priesthood in Ezekiel’s prophecy cannot be restored in a future age but belongs to the Old Testament era and the Old Covenant.

Jesus Mediated a Better Covenant

Not only is Jesus our ever-living priest, he mediates a better covenant for us.  But Dispensationalists would have us believe that the Old Covenant is to be reinstated after Jesus has removed the Church from earth in a mythical Rapture – not only is the Rapture as Dispensationalists understand it a false doctrine, there is no such term in the NT. 

Built-in obsolescence

The Epistle to the Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians and it is all about the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old.  It says “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.  For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…..In that he saith a new covenant, he hath made the first old.  Now that which decayeth and groweth old is ready to vanish away” (Heb 8:7-8, 13). 

The apostle Paul calls the Old Covenant “the ministry of death” and “the ministry of condemnation”; whereas, in contrast, he calls the New Covenant “the ministry of the Spirit” and “the ministry of righteousness” (2 Cor 3:7-9).  Surely, this passage alone is sufficient to put away any idea of a restored Israel under the Old Covenant? 

Once again, the New Testament shows that the Levitical priesthood and the animal sacrifices in Ezekiel cannot possibly be future.  The New Covenant was established by Christ’s death (Lk 22:20) and is therefore permanent.  “But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.  For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins…In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure….Then said I [Jesus] Lo, I come to do thy will, O God.  He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.  By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:3-4, 6, 9-10).

The Insanity of the Doctrine of the Rapture

When speaking of the Rapture, my Independent Baptist pastor friend wrote: “To your next set of bullets, I will answer briefly. Yes, the church will give glory to Christ throughout all ages, world without end. But I wonder if you are assuming WHERE that will take place. It doesn’t say ‘on earth’ yet it sounds like you are adding that. The church will be in heaven giving glory throughout all ages once that rapture takes place. Under this point you also mention that you believe the Rapture is Post-tribulational, if I grasp you correctly”.

In my reply, I wrote: “No, I don’t think you have.  In my theology there is no Rapture or Great Tribulation.  The Rapture, as you call it, is what happens when Jesus returns – ONCE and for all.  When Jesus comes back, the dead in Christ arise and the living are both taken up to meet him in the air, and that is the end.  The wicked are judged and cast into hell and the righteous go to be with Christ forever”.   

 The pastor further stated following my interruption: “I would comment that after the Rapture, there will be hundreds of thousands saved, perhaps into the millions, during the Tribulation. The ones who survive the Antichrist’s persecution will be the sheep, the lost survivors of the Tribulation will be the goats – all described in Matthew 25:31ff. If your interpretation were right, how would you fit 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 and 1 Corinthians 15:51ff into the dragnet/wheat and tares scenario?  I conclude that they have to be describing two separate events. There’s just no way to combine them into one”.  

Me: “As I said, there will be no Tribulation or Rapture so there is no such event that has to fit these two passages into the dragnet/wheat and tares scenario.  The Rapture is simply the return of Jesus so it all happens together, as one event”.  

The pastor: “That turning away from Israel came when He offered Himself to the Jews as King, and they rejected Him by saying, ‘Away with Him! Crucify Him!’. God turned to the ‘nation’ or Gentile churches (which we have over the centuries proved to primarily be. Jews are rarely seen in New Testament assemblies, are they?).  This is all true. At the Rapture, however, that Gentile church is removed and taken to heaven for our Judgment Seat of Christ, where rewards will be distributed. Meanwhile on earth, the nation of Israel becomes the primary entity of God again, and the 70th week of Daniel occurs. By the end of it, the remaining nation of Israel is converted. Both the entity of Israel and the entity of the church have a role to play in the Millennium and in the eternal state afterward. This is seen in Revelation 21:12-14 where both Israel and the church are represented”.  

Me: “Does this mean that there will be no Jews in the church, seeing the nation of Israel is there and alongside the church as a separate entity?  If there are saved Jews in the church during the Millennium, will they be transferred across to Israel so that there are only Gentiles in the church and only physical or national Jews in national Israel?  Why would there be a church in the Millennium when the church has already been raptured?  And what does the church do with regard to the Millennial Temple and the sacrificial system?  Do they have separate worship places to Israel, and different ways of doing worship?  Why should the church be involved with a Levitical priesthood and sacrificial system in a Millennial Temple anyway?  Your description of the Millennium is very confusing.  It seems that both Israel and the Church have to do it all over again in the Millennium. 

In the current “church age” Pre-Millennium Israel is rejected and the Church is born and becomes the new people of God (according to you).  But during this period, you say, Jews can still be saved by faith in Christ and the gospel.  They therefore become part of the Church and become one body, and all remember Christ’s sacrifice and atonement together as they take the bread and the wine of the Lord’s Supper, you say (Eph 2:11-22.)

But then the Church, which consists of saved Gentiles and saved Jews, is raptured away, and all unbelievers are left behind, according to your theology.  But through the Tribulation, Jews and Gentiles who were left behind have a second chance and put their faith in Jesus….or whatever.  But I don’t know what it is that you say they’re meant to put their trust in – is it in the gospel of Jesus slain for sinners?….or do they look forward to a thousand year reign of Christ centred in Jerusalem on earth, and with a new temple and restored sacrificial system with Levitical priesthood, all of which is identical to the Old Covenant? 

If it is Christ’s atonement, why was the previous church raptured away?  Why didn’t Jesus just leave them on earth?  What was the point of taking the church away only so they could start another church from scratch all over again during the Millennium?   

And why is Israel restored to its former position and way of atonement and worship, as if nothing had happened in between the OT and the Millennium?  Why do they have to have their Old Covenant system with Christ ruling over it, when the Church is there as well, trusting the gospel…? 

If what you say is true, Jesus presides over an incomplete salvation for the Jews and a perfect salvation for the church at the same time….?  When does Israel get the chance to be free of animal sacrifices, in which God takes no pleasure (Heb 10:8)?  The whole of Heb ch 8-10 speaks of the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old, of the superiority of the priesthood of Christ over the Levitical priesthood, of the superiority of Christ’s sacrifice over that of animals; and that Christ’s perfect sacrifice was once and forever.  Why is it shunted aside in the Millennium, and Israel left to obey the law, when Peter in the NT said this was a burden which was too heavy for the Jews to bear (Acts 15:10)?  It seems to me, if I’ve understood you correctly, Premillennialism and its focus on Israel is beset with insurmountable problems”

Conclusion

The temple in Ezekiel’s prophecy cannot be a literal, future, building which houses the holy place from which God rules Israel, and a Levitical priesthood, and in which animal sacrifices for sin take place.  This denies the gospel and is therefore a different gospel which is no gospel because it is not good news (Gal 1:6-8).  This would be a major backward step by God, and would restore an imperfect sacrificial system of making people right with him  This doctrine has God, who was said to be pleased when Jesus made atonement on the cross, and when he found fault with animal sacrifices (Heb 8:7-9), now reinstating that which Christ died to abolish.  It has him bringing Israel back under the law, a yoke and a burden which they were unable to bear (Acts 15:10); and which they will have to bear for a thousand years. Again, Paul writes: “….the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24).

Whatever your theology of the end times, you cannot accept the view that there will be a literal millennial temple with a fully restored sacrificial system to atone for sin, and a Levitical priesthood which performs those sacrifices exactly as they did before Christ came to abolish the Old Covenant and to establish the New Covenant.  You cannot have a thousand year reign of Christ on earth with him presiding over the reinstated Old Covenant which was insufficient and temporary.  You cannot have Christ presiding over a system which brings people into bondage, a system which he gave his life to abolish.

“No man putteth a piece of cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.  Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved” (Matt 9:16-17).

Scriptures taken from King James Version.