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

Ellison: Undue Pride

“Two reasons are given for Pharaoh’s punishment [Ezekiel 29], but it is likely that both ultimately go back to the same cause.

The lesser is his completely callous use of Israel as a cat’s paw (vv. 6f.). This was clearly seen by the Rabshakeh (II Kings 18:21), and it lies behind Isaiah’s condemnation of every approach to and entanglement with Egypt (see also [Ezekiel 16]).

Behind the Pharaoh’s willingness to use others without any thought of their welfare lay not only the natural selfishness of man but even more the belief that he was a god incarnate.

It is always a very evil thing when a man persuades himself that for any reason he is not subject to the normal limitations of man; he will always end by falling lower than the normal level of mankind.”

-H. L. Ellison, Ezekiel: The Man and His Message, 113.

Ellison: Unfulfilled Prophecy

“Our starting point must be Jer.18:7-10. Here it is stated categorically that all national prophecy is conditional. It is based on conditions in existence at the time of the prophecy, and if these are changed, then the prophecy ceases to be in force. The most obvious example of this is Jonah’s prophecy to Nineveh. Not only was it not fulfilled, but quite obviously Jonah did not expect it to be (4:2).

Except where a promise is confirmed by God’s oath (Gen. 22:16; Psa. 105:9; Heb. 6:13) we are safe in concluding that every statement of God about the future has some element of the conditional in it, something ancient Israel was as unwilling to believe as we are.

Where the prophecy is concerned mainly with the doom or prosperity of an individual or of a people, a change of behaviour can annul the prophecy. This explains the apparent smugness of Hezekiah’s answer to Isaiah (Isa. 39:8), when the latter foretold the Babylonian captivity. He knew that by living Godfearing lives his descendants could postpone the judgment indefinitely.

Something will have happened both in Tyre and in Egypt, and it may be in Babylon, to cause the doom uttered [in Ezekiel 25] not to go into effect, and for Ezekiel this was so obvious that neither apology nor explanation was necessary.

Where, however, the prophecy is one of God’s purposes of blessing to mankind, the element of condition is merely one of time and manner, not of substance. For example, had David’s successors walked in his ways, God’s promise (II Sam. 7:12-16) to David would have been fulfilled in all its details, Their sin led to the fall of the royal house, but the essential portion of the promise was fulfitled in Christ.

If we could grasp this clearly, it would clear away much false exegesis on prophetic Scripture.”

-H.L. Ellison, Ezekiel: The Man and His Message, 103.

Ellison: Trust While Life Is Normal

“The typical orthodox Christian lays great stress on correct doctrine about God, but Israel’s ancient sin is all too often his as well. It is not so difficult to trust, when all the old landmarks disappear and chaos seems to be resuming its sway, for then even the unbeliever is forced to throw himself on God, if he is to survive. It is amid the great uniformities of life, hemmed in by the great gods of “Egypt,” the state, public opinion, and economic pressure, that we find it hardest not to make concessions to the world.”

H. L. Ellison, Ezekiel: The Man and His Message, 79.

Ellison: God’s Acts

“In Ezekiel’s day men were quite sure what Jehovah would and would not, could and could not do. The coming destruction of Jerusalem and the temple [as foretold by Ezekiel] and the building of a new people in exile meant the turning over of a fresh leaf in the book of God’s revelation, and Ezekiel is stressing that the one who is bringing calamity and fresh grace upon them is the same one who brought them out of Egypt and made a covenant with them at Sinai. We must note though that this fresh knowledge of God was not to come by a fresh study of the revelation of the past or by a renewed speaking through His prophets, but before all else by His acts.

Our God is not merely a God who speaks but also a God who acts, and His words have to be interpreted in the framework of His mighty acts.”

-H. L. Ellison, Ezekiel: The Man and His Message, 38.

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.