In our Bible study at church we are working our way through Hebrews and in my own daily reading I have been in Ezekiel. Recently I have read through the last 8 chapters concerning the millennial temple. It's been very interesting to me to compare some of the statements made in Hebrews with what we read in the last 8 chapters of Ezekiel. I have to say that I have questions without answers.
Here, we have offerings re-instituted. I've had this on my mind for some time now because the difference in the content of the two books is quite striking. Hebrews is all about one offering forever and here in the millennial temple we find further offerings. I was wondering what your thoughts are on this as I'm struggling with it.
You certainly are not the only one wondering about these sacrifices. I just came across a summary of an article by Charles C. Ryrie from "Emmaus Journal 11" (winter 2002) called "Why Sacrifices in the Millennium?" It deals with the same problem of explaining the purpose of sacrifices in Ezekiel 40-46 where the text clearly refers to the millennial temple. Ryrie gives three reasons (which I will put in my own words).
- To provide temporal forgiveness for the sins of those living in the kingdom. The keeping of the law in the Old Testament never gave eternal life, so it certainly will not do so in the kingdom. However, they will need to keep a working relationship with God--much as we do when we ask for forgiveness of sins for the purpose of a right daily walk. We already have all our sins forgiven as to our eternal home, but we need to keep things right between us and God for our daily walk. The sacrifices may even be used to keep the wrath of God at bay for those who are not saved. It could simply be a way of avoiding God's anger against sin. See Zechariah 14:16-19 and consider how God stops the rain to those nations who refuse to come up to Jerusalem at the feast of tabernacles. This is also kingdom age doctrine.
- To point to the Saviour. Just as the OT sacrifices pointed to Christ in type, so the sacrifices can be a living reminder of the ways in which Christ fulfilled the sacrifices. They will show that the reigning Sovereign is also the suffering Saviour. When we keep the Lord's Supper, we do it in remembrance of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:24-25). Christ has already died, yet we memorialize His death on the cross when we take of the bread and fruit of the vine. This would be perfectly proper for the kingdom age. They would provide the Old Testament pictures without the veil hiding their meaning (2 Corinthians 3:13-15).
- To provide an opportunity for obedience to the kingdom saints in order to bear fruit and give evidence of their faith.
Though I do not have an exact statement of purpose in scripture, these reasons make a lot of sense to me. However, there is one beautiful picture that I want to tell you about. In the kingdom age, when the people of the land come to worship in the temple complex in the solemn feasts, they may enter either by the north gate or by the south gate (Ezekiel 46:9). However, when they leave after meeting with "the prince in the midst of them" (v.10), they are to leave by the gate opposite the one they entered. In other words, if they entered the north gate, they are to leave by the south gate. And, if they entered by the south gate, they are to leave by the north gate. The man who worships there "shall not return by the way of the gate whereby he came in" (v.9).
This is a wonderful picture of the effect that the kingdom sacrifices are to have on the people who participate in them. They are not to leave in the same way they entered. In type, they should be changed by what they have seen. It is also a great picture of how we should enter and leave church services today.
In conclusion, though I do not have a perfect answer to your questions, I do not see any serious problem with God requiring sacrifices of the earthly saints during the kingdom age.