Beale: Future Animal Sacrifices in Ezekiel ?

“The notorious problem of what to make of the sacrifices in Ezekiel’s temple may be solved by seeing them beginning fulfilment in Christians who offer themselves to God by suffering for their faith…

Implicitly, Christ’s great sacrifice is the ultimate fulfillment of Ezekiel’s temple vision, since Revelation 11 portrays the career of the church according to the outline of Christ’s career. Hence, it is not incorrect to say that Ezekiel speaks in the language and images familiar to his audience in portraying sacrifices in a temple to prophesy about the escalated redemptive-historical realities of Christ’s sacrifice and the church’s imitation of that sacrifice. Both of these ‘sacrifices’ of the new epoch are linked exegetically by allusions to the Ezekiel temple in Revelation 11:1-2 and the Lamb of 21:22.

Those who see a literal temple structure as the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy usually interpret the sacrifices there to be ‘memorial sacrifices’ that commemorate Christ’s death. In response, numerous commentators have pointed out that this would violate the principle of Hebrews: the Old Testament sacrifices pointed to Christ’s ‘once for all’ sacrifice (Heb. 9:12, 26, 28; 10:10-18), so that to go back to those sacrifices would indicate the insufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice for sin (cf., e.g., Heb. 10:18: ‘Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin’). This would appears to amount to a reversal of redemptive history and, more importantly, a denial of the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice.

The Scofield Bible, espousing the standard literalist dispensational approach, gives a surprising response to what appears to be a vexing problem for those arguing for the future revival of the sacrificial system. In addition to saying that the sacrifices might be memorials Scofield also offers the following possibility: “The reference to sacrifices [in Ezekiel’s temple prophecy] is not to be taken literally, in view of the putting away of such offerings [according to Hebrews], but is rather to be regarded as a presentation of the worship of redeemed Israel, in her own land and in the millennial temple, using the terms with which the Jews were familiar in Ezekiel’s day’ (C. I. Scofield, The New Scofield Reference Bible, 1967, 888).

More than one commentator has recognized the inconsistency in this quotation from the Scofield Bible: ‘These words convey a far-reaching concession on the part of dispensationalists. If the sacrifices are not to be taken literally, why should we take the temple literally? It would seem that the dispensational principle of the literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy is here abandoned, and that a crucial foundation stone for the entire dispensationalist system has been set aside!’ (Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, 1979, 204).

Therefore, make the sacrifices symbolic and the temple becomes symbolic too (H. L. Ellison, Ezekiel: The Man and His Mission, 1956, 140). Even to entertain the possibility that the sacrifices are memorials contravenes a literal interpretation of prophecy because of the Hebrew word that Ezekiel uses to explain the purpose of the sacrifices: ‘to make atonement’ (45:15, 17, 20). The verb is kipper (in the Piel verb form), which is the exact word (and verb form) employed in the Pentateuch to describe sacrifices that have an atoning purpose (Lev. 6:30 [23]; 8:15; 16:6, 11, 24, 30, 32, 33, 34; Num. 5:8; 15:28; 29:5) (following Hoekema 1979, 204). Of course, the atoning purpose in the Old Testament accomplished only a temporary ‘covering’ (which is the meaning of kipper) of Israel’s sin, which pointed typologically to Christ’s ‘once for all atonement’. The point is that Ezekiel does not call these sacrifices ‘memorials’, but puts them on a par with the Levitical typological sacrifices of atonement. 

From a New Testament perspective, the Lord’s Supper is the only memorial instituted by Christ to ‘memorialize’ his redemptive work. To suggest that this memorial will cease in a coming millennium, to be replaced by the ‘old’ Old Testament sacrifices, not only is at variance with the book of Hebrews, but abrogates Christ’s command to remember him in the Lord’s Supper (Ellison 1956, 142). This in light of the evidence, it does not seem likely that Ezekiel’s sacrifices will be literally fulfilled in a future temple.”

-G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, 2004, 343-345.

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