Ellison: Millennial Animal Sacrifices

“For those that take [the Animal Sacrifices in Ezekiel] seriously as a Divine revelation and not merely as Ezekiel’s programme for the future clothed in vision form, the sacrifices provide the real crux in its interpretation. Make the sacrifices symbolic and the temple becomes symbolic too; take the temple literally and we have to agree that there will be animal sacrifices in the Millennium.

I have no difficulty in a vision of sacrifice in a symbolic temple, for it was the guarantee to Ezekiel that the great principles of Divine redemption remained good to the end of time, but I require stronger evidence than this vision to accept against all the weight of New Testament evidence that the Levitical sacrifices will be reintroduced.

The paradox of Hebrews, “Apart from shedding of blood there is no remission” (9:22), and “It is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins” (10:4) is already latent in the Old Testament. Already in Num. 15:30f. we have a major limitation on the efficacy of animal sacrifices, for they are there declared unavailing for deliberate sin; there is, however, nowhere in the Old Testament any suggestion that those who commit deliberate sin are finally cut off from Divine forgiveness.

Whether it be in the cry of Psa. 51:1-17, with its express disclaimer of sacrifice in v.16, or in the reiterated prophetic appeal to repentance (cf. especially Ezek. 18), there is the clear vision of Jehovah, “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin (Ex. 34:6f.) which is basic to the whole Old Testament revelation. The sacrifices stand as a perpetual mysterious reminder that forgiveness is de- pendent on more than God’s grace, but this something does not begin to be truly revealed until Isa. 52:13-53:12.

Ezekiel’s vision underlines the promise of Jer. 3:16f., for there is no ark and mercy seat in the new temple. Why should we think that Ezekiel failed to rise to the level of his prophetic predecessors, who, though they did not reject sacrifices, as an earlier generation of scholars thought, yet relegated them to a purely secondary place of no real or vital importance? Indeed, one of the most remarkable features of [the book of Ezekiel] is its virtual ignoring of sacrifices until [Chapters 40-48], and even here there is relatively little said about them.

Presumably all who regard the temple as millennial and take the sacrifices literally would subscribe to the statement in the Scofield Bible (p.890): ‘Doubtless these offerings will be memorials, looking back to the cross, as the offerings under the old covenant were anticipatory, looking forward to the cross. In neither case have animal sacrifices power to put away sin (Heb.10:4; Rom.3:25).’

Though I fully recognize their sincerity, I must beg them to realize that those who cannot follow with them are no despisers of the Scriptures. They read Hebrews to mean that the abolition of the Aaronic priesthood and of the Levitical sacrifices is final and for ever.

In addition they cannot see why, when water, bread and wine have met the symbolic needs of nearly a thousand generations of Christians, the Millennium will need more. The King has returned and the curse on nature has been lifted; why should the animal creation still lay down its life?

The fact is that the ultra-dispensationalist is apt so to divide up the revelation of God that he fails to see it in its completeness. Above all he fails to realize that while human response to the Divine revelation may ebb and flow, the revelation itself never turns back but always deepens. There is presumably more privilege in this dispensation for the predestinated member of the Church, but in the Millennium, as the temporal prepares itself for the eternal, there will be neither less knowledge nor blessing.

Indeed I find it hard to believe that it is meant seriously, when I am told that our present freedom for all to worship equally in all places will be replaced by a position in which man’s privilege of worship will depend in measure on his geographical relationship to an earthly Jerusalem. The suggestions of supersonic aircraft bringing pilgrims to Jerusalem and of others sharing in the temple services by television are tragi-comic.”

-H.L. Ellison, Ezekiel: The Man and His Message

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