Problems With An Earthly Millennial Temple

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with a 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 the present time this temple has not been seen.  Consequently it is thought by Jews and Premillennialists to be still future.  In fact, at various times I’ve heard Premillennialists 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 already being prepared by the Jews so that when they build it, it will be ready for immediate furnishing.   

But it is not merely a temple that is to be rebuilt, according to the Premillennialists.  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 fictional event in which he comes with his angels to fulfil this purpose, and which happens in the middle of a fictional period known as the Great Tribulation.

In fairness to Premillennialists, 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 points are what he saw:

  • a temple with precise and detailed description and measurements (40:1-38).
  • Within this temple were: “two tables on this side, and two tables on that side, 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, “…is for the priests, the keepers of the charge of the house…..these are the sons of Zadok among the sons of Levi, which come near to the LORD to minister to him (40:45-46). 
  • These chambers for the priests were “…holy chambers, where the priests that approach unto 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).
  • “And the glory of the LORD came into the house” (43:4-5).  He told Ezekiel that this is “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 for ever” (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 it [the altar]….thus shalt thou cleanse and purge it.  Thou shalt also take the bullock also of the sin offering, and he shall burned in the appointed place of the house, without 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.  And when these days are expired, it shall be, that 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 God (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 a future time, 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?  The blasphemy is the interpretation forced upon it 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….But 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 the order of Aaron?  For the priesthood being changed, there is made 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 forever, after the order of Melchisedek” (Heb 7:17).  Melchisedek 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 also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.  For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and 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 Premillennialists would have us believe that the Old Covenant is to be reinstated after Jesus has removed the Church from earth in a fictional Rapture – not only is the Rapture as Premillennialists 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 waxeth old is ready to vanish away (Heb 8:7-8, 13). 

The apostle Paul calls the Old Covenant “the ministration of death” and “the ministration of condemnation”; whereas, in contrast, he calls the New Covenant “the ministration of the Spirit” and “the ministration 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 he, 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).