Beale: Future Animal Sacrifices in Ezekiel ?

“The Scofield Bible, espousing the standard literalist dispensational approach [to interpreting eschatological passages], 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’ (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. Ellison, Ezekiel: The Man and His Message, 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)

Thus, in light of the evidence, it does not seem likely that Ezekiel’s sacrifices will be literally fulfilled in a future temple.

A related issue is whether or not to take literally Ezekiel’s apparent portrait of Jerusalem as the centre of the world to which Gentiles must come in order to be related to God (Ezek. 47). If taken in a narrowly literal manner, then the redemptive-historical principle of John 4:21, 23 would be radically violated: ‘an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father… but an hour is coming, and now is,when the true worshipers will worship the Father in [the Holy] Spirit and truth’.

This principle is related in Jesus’ mind to Ezekiel’s vision. Jesus alludes to the water flowing from Ezekiel’s end-time temple in John 7:38 and interprets it of himself and of the Spirit in relation to believers, a passage that further develops the ‘living water’ theme of John 4. One could say, therefore, that just as the picture in Ezekiel 47 of Jerusalem as the centre for world worship is meant to be taken figuratively on the basis of Jesus’ teaching,so also is all of Ezekiel 40-48 to be taken.

One does not need, however, to resort to a figurative approach to be consistent with Jesus’ teaching, if…our…argument…is correct: that in the end time an Eden-temple will be established as a new Jerusalem that will extend throughout the whole earth.”

-G.K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, 344-345.

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