Friday, June 22, 2018

The Millennium Temple and the Problem of Millennial Interpretation

Introduction

Certain prophecies in the Old Testament seem to predict the rebuilding of a Jewish Temple in the future. Central to the dispensational teaching of a millennium temple is the prophecy of Ezekiel in chapters 40 to 46. “Besides Ezekiel 40-46, there are other prophecies in the Bible that talk about a millennial temple [i.e. Isa 56:6-8; Jer 33:15-18; Ezek 20:40; Zech 14:16].”[1]

In his paper The Millennial Temple, Dr Prabhudas Koshy expounds the Bible Presbyterian understanding of Ezekiel chapters 40 to 46. According to Koshy,

“There are generally two views among Bible-believing scholars concerning the number of future temples in Jerusalem. The first view says that there will only be one temple, and it will be built during Christ’s millennial rule. The second view believes that there will be two temples in Jerusalem. The first will exist in the seven-year tribulation period, and the second in the millennial period.”[2]

Koshy perceives that “bible-believing scholars” adhere to the teaching that at least one Jewish temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem in the future. Indispensable to these “bible-believing” views is the concept of the Millennial Temple, which is purportedly constructed during “Christ’s millennial rule.”

In agreement with Dispensationalists, Bible Presbyterians believe that during the earthly Millennium, the Jewish Temple, together with its sacrificial system, will be re-established. In fact, Grace Theological Seminary Professor - Dr John Whitcomb - insists that “consistent dispensationalism must teach the practice of animal sacrifices for a restored and regenerated Israel in the Millennium.”[3]

Jeffrey Khoo, the Academic Dean of Far Eastern Bible College, likewise understands that one of the “characteristics of the millennium” is the reinstitution of Jewish temple “worship (Zech 8:20-24).”[4] Consistent with the literalistic hermeneutics of Dispensationalism, Khoo believes that “a millennial temple is described in Ezek 40-46.”[5]

In his Prophecy Knowledge Handbook, Professor John Walvoord aptly elucidates the dispensational doctrine of Ezekiel’s millennial temple,

“In the Millennium, apparently, sacrifices will also be offered, though somewhat different than those required under the Mosaic Law, but this time the sacrifices will be memorial, much as the Lord’s Supper is a memorial in the Church Age for the death of Christ.”[6]

The predominant dispensational understanding of the millennial animal sacrifices is that, these animal offerings are primarily memorial in nature.[7] They serve as a commemoration of Christ’s atoning death.

Prabhudas Koshy, the Dean of Students and the Lecturer in Hebrew of Far Eastern Bible College, agrees with this dispensational view. He writes,

“The millennial sacrifices do not save. They function as reminders. They remind people of what Christ had already done on the cross. Those who object to a millennial temple believe that the Old Testament sacrifices which have been abrogated in the church age would never be reinstated. . . . it is not correct to say that the millennial sacrificial system is exactly the same as that of the Old Testament. There are similarities and differences. The marked differences show us that the millennial sacrifices will be unique and distinct in their features (see Ezek 40:1-46:24; Isa 56:7; 66:20-23; Jer 33:18; Zech 14:16-21; Mal 3:3-4). However, the purpose is the same - not to offer a means of salvation, but to serve as a memorial of Christ’s death.”[8]

Expanding upon the Bible Presbyterian understanding of the Millennial Temple and its sacrifices, Prabhudas Koshy continues,

“What will the future millennial temple be like? . . . There will be feasts and sacrifices. In Ezekiel 44 burnt offerings and sin offerings and trespass offerings are mentioned (40:39). The bullock, the he-goat, and the ram are to be offered (43:19-25). The blood is to be sprinkled on the altar (43:18). The meal offering is also incorporated (42:13). Morning sacrifices will be offered daily (46:13). The priests who are Levites are to officiate (43:19). Moreover, several feasts will also be instituted. The Passover feast will be observed again (45:21-25), and annually the feast of tabernacles will be commemorated (45:25). The year of Jubilee will be observed too (43:4-5).”[9]

Hermeneutics and Ezekiel’s Temple Vision

The dispensationalist’s teaching of the reinstitution of a Jewish Temple and its cult of blood sacrifices is, inevitably, a product of its literalistic hermeneutics. Koshy criticizes non-dispensational exegetes that a symbolical interpretation tends to ignore the details of Ezekiel’s prophecy. He alleges that “[non-dispensationalists] go to great lengths to explain away the measurements and specifications of the temple building. Such a figurative view seems forced.”[10]

Merrill Unger similarly argues for a literalistic interpretation of Ezekiel’s vision of the temple, “Ezekiel’s temple is a literal future sanctuary to be constructed in Palestine as outlined, during the Millennium. The words of the prophet are taken in their natural grammatical and literal sense. Nothing is spiritualized or idealized that is not so indicated by the Sacred Text.”[11]

Agreeing with Unger and other dispensationalists, Koshy believes that a literal, natural reading of Ezekiel 40-46 provides the exegetical foundation for the Bible Presbyterian doctrine of a millennium temple:

“The fourth temple that will be built in the millennial rule of Christ is also known as “Ezekiel’s Temple,” for the temple and its system of worship are described in great detail by Ezekiel the prophet (Ezek 40-46). Some interpreters reject the literal meaning of Ezekiel 40-48, and view the description as figurative of the New Testament Church. . . . A natural reading of the text points to a literal physical temple. The golden rule of interpretation is: “When the plain sense makes good sense, seek no other sense.’”[12]

But such an interpretation of Ezekiel’s visions in chapters 40 to 46 is hermeneutically flawed. Due to the genre of Ezekiel’s visions, we must not only consider the linguistic and referential levels of communication, but also the visionary and symbolical levels. A literalistic hermeneutics might appear to be an adequately objective method of interpretation. But in the understanding of visions, the Reformed hermeneutical rule of analogia fidei, coupled with the principle of progressive revelation, necessitate the interpretation of highly symbolic or visionary passages of Scripture in the light of New Testament revelation and teachings.

As mentioned previously in other chapters of this book, the interpretation of symbolic elements with the objectivity of clearer passages will guide the exegete in obtaining a correct understanding of visions and other obscure passages. Whenever visions are encountered in Scripture, the exegete ought to remember this axiom in his interpretation: “spiritual truths are framed in terms of concrete realities.”[13] By using this axiom, the interpreter will avoid overemphasizing the physical elements of the vision, and yet discover the spiritual reality within its symbolical dimensions. Therefore, a more comprehensive and faithful method of interpreting visions is to understand them ideationally.

Patrick Fairbairn elaborates upon this principle,

“It is to be borne in mind that the description [in chapter 40 to 48] purports to be a vision - a scheme of things exhibited to the mental eye of the prophet “in the visions of God.” This alone marks it to be of an ideal character, as contradistinguished from anything that ever had been, or ever was to be found in actual existence, after the precise form given to it in the description. . . . [The visions of Ezekiel] presented a vivid picture of what either then actually existed or was soon to take place, but in a form quite different from the external reality. Not the very image or the formal appearance of things was given, but rather a compressed delineation of their inward being and substance.”[14]

According to Beale, there are at least four “main lines of interpretation” pertaining to Ezekiel’s temple vision:

“First, the vision is prophetic of a literal physical temple to be built in Israel. Second, the vision is figurative of an ideal heavenly temple that was never intended to be built or established on the earth. Third, the portrayal is a figurative vision of an ideal temple. Fourth, the depiction is of a real heavenly temple that would descend and be established on earth in non-structural form in the latter days.”[15]

Beale favors an ideal approach to Ezekiel’s temple vision, and combines the last two lines of interpretation in his understanding of the visionary elements. He reasons that Ezekiel’s “vision likely pertains to the heavenly temple corresponding to God’s dwelling in the midst of his people, and not in a physical temple.”[16] He further argues that the broad context of Ezekiel 40-48 points to a non-structural end-time temple.[17] This is also corroborated by the descriptions within the actual text itself (Ezek. 40-48).[18]

With regard to the physical descriptions of Ezekiel’s vision, Beale contends 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.”[19] In other words, a literalistic understanding of Ezekiel’s language denies the prophet’s intended message of “redemptive-historical realities” which are fulfilled in Christ and His Church.

Spiritual truths are often conceptualized ideally within visions, and such visions are not meant to be interpreted with mere wooden literalism. Therefore, the correct understanding of such visions would involve the extraction of the underlying spiritual truths, which is expressly concealed within the physical-historical elements of the vision. The very notion of interpreting such imagery literally undermines the redemptive-historical realities contained therein. As we shall study below, it is theologically difficult, if not impossible, to interpret Ezekiel 40-46 literally.

Ezekiel’s temple is not a literal temple “made with hands (2 Cor. 5:1; Heb. 9:11, 24).” For God “dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things (Acts 17:24-25).” Clowney explains,

“The temple which Ezekiel prophesied is the temple of the covenant, of God’s presence claiming his people forever. The Apostle labored as a master builder in that temple, working in gold, silver, and precious stones, laying no other foundation than the one which God set in place, Jesus Christ.”[20]

The Church is the temple of the Holy Ghost. Christians are not required to worship God exclusively in Jerusalem, but in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Neither do we expect a redemptive regression back into Judaic sacrificial rituals, nor do we anticipate future worship within the locality of Jerusalem. Edmund Clowney exclaims,

“Ezekiel prophesies in the name of the Lord, “I will set my sanctuary in the midst of them forevermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people…” (Ezek 37:26b, 27). Paul responds, “. . . we are a temple of the living God; even as God said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Cor 6:16). . . . Do not propose to the Apostle Paul that God’s holy sanctuary of the last days, begun in the Spirit, will be completed in the flesh!”[21]

Daniel Block likewise agrees that,

“It seems best to interpret [Ezekiel] chs. 40-48 ideationally. The issue for the prophet is not physical geography but spiritual realities. . . . The prophet is hereby introduced to the theological realities awaiting his own people. Whereas [Ezekiel] 37:26-27 had spoken of the establishment of Yahweh’s permanent residence among his people, following their homecoming, the present vision picks up the theological theme and describes the spiritual reality in concrete terms, employing the familiar cultural idioms of temple, altar, sacrifices, nasi, and land. In presenting this theological constitution for the new Israel, Yahweh announces the righting of all the old wrongs, and the establishment of permanent, healthy deity-nation-land relationships. Ezekiel’s final vision presents a lofty spiritual ideal: Where God is, there is Zion. Where God is, there is order and the fulfillment of all his promises. Furthermore, where the presence of God is recognized, there is purity and holiness. Ezekiel hereby lays the foundation for the Pauline spiritualization of the temple. Under the new covenant, even Gentiles’ communities may be transformed into the living temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16-17). Moreover, through the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God, individual Christians become temples, residences of deity (1 Cor. 6:19).”[22]

In addition to Block’s understanding of an ideal temple, Beale sees an eschatological focus within Ezekiel’s temple vision. Beale believes “that [Block’s] view of an ideal temple could be combined with an eschatological approach.”[23] Consistent with the principle of progressive revelation, Beale understands the temple city of Revelation 21 as a fulfillment of Ezekiel’s temple vision.[24]

As Beale maintains,

“The broad structure of the city from [Revelation] 21:12-22:5 is based on the vision of Ezekiel 40-48. Ezekiel 40-44 prophesies the pattern of the final temple, and Ezekiel 45-48 primarily depicts the future arrangement of the eschatological city and the divisions of the land around the temple compound. Revelation 21:12-22:5 further interprets the yet-future fulfillment of Ezekiel by collapsing temple, city and land into one end-time picture portraying the one reality of God’s communion with his people.”[25]

Beale continues,

“If Revelation 21-22 is the fulfillment, then Ezekiel’s temple is not to be established in a temporary ‘millennial’ period, but in the eternal new heavens and earth, which is the setting of John’s final vision.”[26]

The strength of Beale’s interpretation lies in his combined usage of the Analogy of Faith, and the principle of progressive revelation. Ezekiel’s vision is not merely a “lofty spiritual ideal,”[27] but also finds an eschatological fulfillment within the Canon of Scripture.

The presence of God determines the locality of the temple. Redemptive history sees the development of the Temple from a limited, typological, Judaic perspective progressing to the New Testament reality of God dwelling amongst His people, the Church. God’s Shekinah presence was previously limited to the heavenly realms and the Holy of Holies. By virtue of the redemptive work of Christ, the last Adam, creation is redeemed from sin and death. In the age to come, God’s glorious presence would ultimately extend to the New Heavens and the New Earth, that is, the entire cosmos. “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God (Rev. 21:3).”

“Thus, the redemptive-historical development may be explained as proceeding from God’s unique presence in the structural temple in the Old Testament to the God-man, Christ, the true temple. As a result of Christ’s resurrection, the Spirit continued building the end-time temple, the building materials of which are God’s people, thus extending the temple into the new creation in the new age. This building process will culminate in the eternal new heavens and earth as a paradisal city-temple. Or, more briefly, the temple of God has been transformed into God, his people and the rest of the new creation as the temple.”[28]

Problems with the Dispensational View

The overarching weakness of the dispensational view of the Millennium Temple is found in its redemptive implications. At the very least, it seems to impose upon Scripture an overt regression of New Testament realities back into Old Testament shadowy forms. It is notable that even Progressive Dispensationalists are willing to embrace the “typo-prophetic hermeneutical principle” in their interpretation of Old Testament prophecies.[29] According to Mangum, a Progressive Dispensationalist, the “careful contextual interpretation of these Old Testament imageries leads one to consider their typological significance in one’s exegesis of them and to reject a careless literalism.”[30]

Concerning his understanding of Ezekiel’s temple visions, Mangum writes:

“In the case of prophetic references to Levitical temple worship, animal sacrifices, and Jewish festivals, it would strike me as odd for God to dispensationally retrogress by re-implementing such heuristic devices in the future. Such a move would seem to me, as well, to go against the arguments presented in Galatians, Ephesians, and Hebrews against setting up Jew-Gentile barriers and against continuing to offer animal sacrifices today.”[31]

The Bible Presbyterian would do well to reflect upon the following hermeneutical-theological concerns when exploring interpretative options for Ezekiel’s temple visions.

Circumcision

If Ezekiel 44:6-9 were to be understood literally, it would mean a reinstitution of the Old Testament sign of circumcision in the millennial age. “Thus saith the Lord GOD; No stranger, uncircumcised in heart, nor uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary, of any stranger that is among the children of Israel (Ezek. 44:9).” A Christian would, therefore, be required to be circumcised in order for him to worship at Jehovah’s sanctuary. This is also true for a stranger; even strangers must be circumcised in the “flesh.”

But the Apostle Paul warns, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law (Gal. 5:1-3).”

Again in Galatians chapter 6, Paul reminds us, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God (Gal. 6:15-16).”

According to Ephesians 2:11-21, the partition between the circumcised and the uncircumcised has been broken down forever, “For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby (Eph. 2:14-16).”

If these last nine chapters of Ezekiel were to be interpreted literally, the rite of circumcision would be imperative during the millennium. This would reestablish that which is forever abolished by Christ our Savior,[32] and render the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34) ineffective.

The Lord’s Supper and the Passover Feast

In Ezekiel 45:21, we read that the Feast of the Passover is literally restored. Observed on the fourteenth day of the first month, it includes the seven days’ eating of unleavened bread, and the sin offerings of bullocks, rams and kids. Primarily a commemorative ordinance that reminds the children of Israel of their deliverance out of Egypt, it is also a type of the great deliverance wrought by the Messiah for all his elect. This type has been fulfilled by its antitype, the death of the Messiah. Paul writes, “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us (1 Cor. 5:7).”

According to the Reformed, Calvinistic view, baptism has replaced the rite of circumcision in the Church, just as the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper has permanently substituted the Jewish ordinance of the Passover Feast. The Lord’s Supper is to be a permanent ordinance for the Church of Christ, which commemorates the Lord’s death “till he come(s) (1 Cor. 11:26)” again.

Christ our Passover lamb, who is sacrificed for us, has fulfilled the typological function of the Passover Feast. With the Lamb of God ruling visibly in the alleged earthly millennium according to dispensational premillennialists, why is there a need for this commemorative ordinance once again? In the eschatological millennium, Christ has indeed come.

Allis reasons,

“There is only one memorial feast for believers, since the Cross showed so plainly the inadequacy of the blood of bulls and goats, and that is the Holy Supper of the body and blood of Christ, which the Church has observed for centuries and is to keep “until He come.” The thought is abhorrent that after He comes, the memory of His atoning work will be kept alive in the hearts of believers by a return to the animal sacrifices of the Mosaic law, the performance of which is so emphatically condemned in passages which speak with unmistakable plainness on this very subject. Here is unquestionably the Achilles’ heel of the Dispensational system of interpretation. Its literalistic and Old Testament emphasis leads almost inevitably, if not inevitably, to a doctrine of the millennium which makes it definitely Jewish and represents a turning back from the glory of the gospel to those typical rites and ceremonies which prepared the way for it, and having served that necessary purpose have lost for ever their validity and propriety.”[33]

It is very unlikely, if not impossible, that the vision of Ezekiel is to be understood literally as Dispensationalists and Bible Presbyterians assert.

The Priesthood

Bible Presbyterians acknowledge that in accordance with Ezekiel’s vision, “not all Levites will serve as priests, but only the sons of Zadok.”[34] Zadok was High Priest in the time of King David, the eleventh in descent from Aaron. Dispensationalists and Bible Presbyterians believe that during the millennium, the priests were to be from among the sons of Levi, but entirely of the sons of Zadok (Ezek. 40:46). The ministry of the Zadokian priesthood is to offer animal sacrifices – that is, burnt and sin offerings – both for the people and for themselves.

The prophet Ezekiel writes, “Yet they shall be ministers in my sanctuary, having charge at the gates of the house, and ministering to the house: they shall slay the burnt offering and the sacrifice for the people, and they shall stand before them to minister unto them. . . . But the priests the Levites, the sons of Zadok, that kept the charge of my sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from me, they shall come near to me to minister unto me, and they shall stand before me to offer unto me the fat and the blood, saith the Lord GOD: They shall enter into my sanctuary, and they shall come near to my table, to minister unto me, and they shall keep my charge. . . . And in the day that he goeth into the sanctuary, unto the inner court, to minister in the sanctuary, he shall offer his sin offering, saith the Lord GOD (Ezek. 44:11, 15-16, 27).”[35]

Hebrews chapter 5 teaches that Christ is our High Priest “after the order of Melchisedec (Heb. 5:6).” If Ezekiel’s vision is to be understood as foretelling the resumption of an earthly priesthood and an endless succession of blood sacrifices, our Savior as High Priest must have failed to accomplish what He set out to do.

We also read in Ezekiel’s vision that the ministrations of the Zadokian priesthood at the altar, with continual offerings of animal sacrifices, were “to make reconciliation” for the people (Ezek. 45:15-17). But Hebrews 2:17 says, “Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.” It is Christ the faithful High Priest who had made reconciliation for the sins of the people. If this is true, why is the ministry of the Zadokian priesthood necessary? Unless, of course, one believes that our faithful High Priest has failed to accomplish His ministry of reconciliation.

Again, Hebrews chapter 7 clearly describes the passing of the Levitical-Aaronic priesthood when Christ our High Priest entered His Melchizedek Priesthood. There exists now a new order of priest: the Melchizedekan priesthood.[36] The writer of Hebrews asks, “If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron (Heb. 7:11)?”

The book of Hebrews unveils to us that there is, indeed, no need for the restoration of the Aaronic-Zadokian priesthood in the Millennium and the cruel reinstitution of animal sacrifices, together with the incessant flow of animal blood for the reconciliation of man to God. As the Apostle Paul has declared, “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-19).”

If we are already reconciled to God in Christ, and if believers can now approach the “Holy of Holies” by virtue of Christ’s death, why is there any necessity of animal sacrifices and the Zadokian priesthood for worship in the Millennium as alleged by Bible Presbyterians? Furthermore, the reinstitution of Jewish, temple worship is akin to the restoration of Jewish ceremonial peculiarities, and the reimplementation of a divide between Jews and Gentiles. While the New Testament commands Christians to worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:21-24), for “the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father (John 4:21),” Bible Presbyterians would have us believe that we ought to revert to worship in Jerusalem, and only in Jerusalem’s Millennial Temple.

Progressive Dispensationalist Todd Mangum warns:

“Classical dispensationalists [and Bible Presbyterians] would do well to remember that, at the moment Jesus commended His soul to the Father in death, the veil of the temple was supernaturally torn in two from top to bottom (Matt. 28:50-51). Paul explains the significance of this Divine act in Eph. 2:11-22. It took the precious blood of Christ, he says, to tear down this dividing wall between the “uncircumcised” and “circumcised.” Likewise, the writer of Hebrews tells us that the precious sacrifice of Christ is what has given believers today free access to the “Holy of Holies” (Heb. 4). I do not have the impression that God achieved these things, at such great cost, for a mere temporary reprieve. A restoration of the Levitical priesthood, however, would mean that God, in the millennial kingdom, plans to re-stitch this veil that He previously tore down at such great cost and re-implement a dividing wall between Jew and Gentile believers.”[37]

Animal Sacrifices

The most serious error of the dispensational interpretation is the belief in the reinstitution of redemptive sacrifices in the millennium. A literal understanding of numerous passages in the last nine chapters of Ezekiel requires the reestablishment of “the burnt offering and the sin offering and the trespass offering (Ezek. 40:39).”[38]

Consistent with the dispensational literalistic hermeneutics, bullocks, he-goats and rams will once again be offered in the Millennium Temple. Blood will be sprinkled afresh onto the altar, and the Zadokian priesthood will perform these sacrifices. “Yet Paul speaks of these things as “weak and beggarly elements” which have been abolished; and the great theme of Hebrews is the fulfillment of the Old Testament typical system of expiation in the high priestly atonement and mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ.”[39]

Hebrews 10:5-10 elucidates that Christ has, by His First Advent, abolished the old covenant of legal sacrifices through His atoning death on Calvary. “Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Heb. 10:8-10).” If Christ has indeed fulfilled the will of the Father through the offering of His body “once for all (Heb. 10:10),” why would it be necessary to reinstitute the Old Testament types and shadows of animal sacrifices within the New Covenant administration?

In fact, the book of Hebrews provides an elaborate and theologically complete exposition of the superiority of Christ’s death. The entire sacrificial ritual of the Old Testament pointed forward to the sacrifice of Christ. Once His atoning death had been accomplished, the former typological ritual of Levitical sacrifices became unnecessary (Heb. 10:5-9). Christ’s single sacrifice for sins is effective for the elect, and never requires to be repeated.

With the inauguration of the New Covenant, there is no longer any need of blood sacrifices (Heb. 10:16-18). The writer of Hebrews proclaims to us that “there is no more offering for sin (Heb. 10:18),” “for by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified (Heb. 10:14).” The all-sufficient, substitutionary atonement for sin was offered “once for all” at Calvary. Christ’s self-offering is definitive, efficacious, final and complete.

The notion that it is God’s will to reinstitute the Levitical ritual of legal sacrifice is, to say the least, a mockery of Christ’s death and passion for His people.
 
References
Note: Abbreviated references - please refer to full citations in previous blogs.
 


[1] Prabhudas Koshy, “The Millennial Temple,” The Burning Bush 6, no. 1 (2000): 26.
[2] Ibid., 24.
[3] John Whitcomb, “Christ’s Atonement and Animal Sacrifices in Israel,” Grace Theological Journal 6, no. 2 (1985): 215.
[4] Khoo, Fundamentals of the Christian Faith, 136.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Walvoord, The Prophecy Knowledge Handbook, 202. Dispensationalist John Whitcomb, however, disagrees that the animal sacrifices will be memorial. Whitcomb apparently realizes the hermeneutical dilemma dispensationalists had sunk into. To be consistent with the “literal hermeneutics”, he had to agree with critics of dispensationalism that animal sacrifices were not merely memorial or teaching symbols. Whitcomb writes: “But it is equally erroneous to say that the sacrifices were mere teaching symbols given by God to Israel to prepare them for Messiah and his infinite atonement. Such a view is contradicted by precise statements in Exodus and Leviticus.” See Whitcomb, “Christ’s Atonement and Animal Sacrifices in Israel,” 208. Whitcomb continues, “Thus, animal sacrifices during the coming Kingdom age will not be primarily memorial (like the eucharist in church communion services), any more than sacrifices in the age of the Old Covenant were primarily prospective or prophetic in the understanding of the offerer.” Whitcomb, “Christ’s Atonement and Animal Sacrifices in Israel,” 210.
[7] See John L. Mitchell, “The Question of Millennial Sacrifices,” Bibliotheca Sacra 110 (1953): 248ff.
[8] Koshy, “The Millennial Temple,” 30, emphasis mine.
[9] Ibid., 28-29.
[10] Ibid., 26.
[11] Merrill F. Unger, “The Temple Vision of Ezekiel,” Bibliotheca Sacra 105 (1948): 423-424.
[12] Koshy, “The Millennial Temple,” 26. The first temple is Solomon’s temple, the second being Herod’s temple, which was subsequently destroyed in A.D. 70 by General Titus. The third is the dispensationalist’s tribulation temple. See Koshy, “The Millennial Temple,” 24-25. The existence of a third temple is implied by the dispensationalist’s parenthesis interpretation of Daniel 9:27.
[13] Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion, 366.
[14] Patrick Fairbairn, Exposition of Ezekiel (Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace Publishers, 2001), 436.
[15] G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2004), 335.
[16] Ibid., 338.
[17] Ibid., 336-340.
[18] Ibid., 340-343.
[19] Ibid., 343.
[20] Edmund Clowney, “The Final Temple,” Westminster Theological Journal 35, no. 2 (1973): 186.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Daniel I. Block, The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 25-48: New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1998), 505-506.
[23] Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 346.
[24] See Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 346-354. Also study the parallels between John’s description of the Temple City in Revelation, and Ezekiel 40-48. This is conveniently tabulated in Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 351.
[25] Ibid., 350.
[26] Ibid., 351-352.
[27] Block, The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 25-48, 506.
[28] Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 392-393.
[29] R. Todd Mangum, “Can We Expect a Restoration of Levitical Animal Sacrifices? A Progressive Dispensationalist Opinion” (paper presented to the Northeastern Regional Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Langhorne, Pennsylvania, 30 March 2001), 8, available from http://www.biblical.edu/images/connect/PDFs/Restoration%20.pdf#search=%22todd%20mangum%20a%20future%20for%20israel%22; Internet; accessed 11 September 2006.
[30] Ibid., 3.
[31] Ibid., 13.
[32] See Acts 15; Rom. 2:26-29; 4:9-12; 1 Cor. 7:18-19; Gal. 5:2-6; 6:12-15; Phil. 3:3;  Col. 2:11; 3:11.
[33] Allis, Prophecy and the Church, 247-248.
[34] Koshy, “The Millennial Temple,” 29.
[35] See also chapter 43:18-27.
[36] Also see Hebrews 5:5-10; 6:20.
[37] Mangum, “Can We Expect a Restoration of Levitical Animal Sacrifices? A Progressive Dispensationalist Opinion,” 4-5.
[38] Also see Ezekiel 40:38-43; 42:13; 43:18-27; 44:11, 27, 29; 45:13-25; 46:2-7, 11-15, 20.
[39] Allis, Prophecy and the Church, 246.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

God’s Decree to Create: A Necessity?

The following question was posed in the Reformed Baptist Fellowship and Theology Forum:

“I've been reading James Dolezal's, All That Is In God and also listening to John Webster's Heyward lectures on creation. Both agree that as Webster puts it, "the beginning of creation is no beginning for God" and brings about no change in him. Dolezal has a chapter explaining how God is Eternal Creator. Webster emphasises that God is perfect fullness without creation and that creation was wholly superfluous, and that God was free not to create. I struggle to see how God can be described as Eternal Creator and also be free not to create. If the will of God flows inevitably from the being of God, does that not mean that God is not free in anything, but had to do all that he has in fact done? Can anyone help with this? Am I misunderstanding Dolezal's argument?”
There seems to be two questions that we are considering here. Firstly, was it necessary for God to will to create? Or, to put it in another way, was God’s decree to create necessary?

Secondly, was Creation itself (i.e. the world) necessary? Does the world necessarily exist?
On first impression, the two questions appear to be quite similar. If God decrees to create in His eternity, immutability, aseity, and goodness, the world must necessarily exist. But was God free to will to create, or was He compelled to create out of His nature and being? Here, Muller is helpful:

“Aquinas makes a basic distinction between the necessity to create and the necessity, once the work of creation is viewed as belonging definitively to the will of God, of creating the world in a certain manner. He also divides this second necessity into two questions relating to ends and means. Thus, first, the divine determination to bring the world to its full realization—the eternal idea which God has in his mind concerning the world—is a counsel freely formed, an idea freely conceived. The object and end of God’s willing is his own goodness—the glory of God rests in a sense on his power to create or not to create. In a derivative sense, however, creation is necessary even if no necessity is placed on the will of God from without. Since discrete ideas cannot be separated out of the mind or essence of God—so that the content of the divine mind is simple and equal to God himself—the eternally free will to create and the eternally realized idea of the creation must result in the world itself. For God’s eternal mind and will are immutable: the world must necessarily exist, but this is a necessity of the consequence or of supposition, resting upon the divine counsel or decision to create.”[1]
Thus, Aquinas makes a distinction between necessitas consequentis (i.e. “the necessity to create”) and necessitas consequentiae (i.e. “the necessity, once the work of creation is viewed as belonging definitively to the will of God, of creating the world in a certain manner”). Allow me to explain this with simple propositional logic.

Let us take a proposition that P = I will work tomorrow. And allow us to consider a simple conditional sentence with the form “If P, then P”. A sentence with this structure is true by virtue of its logical form. If I will work tomorrow, then I will work tomorrow. This logical form of the sentence is then necessarily true since it is logically true for every case of that P. Hence, it is necessary that, if I will work tomorrow, then I will work tomorrow.
To put it succinctly:

Necessarily (If P, then P)
or

(1) Nec (P-->P).
In (1), only the implication between the antecedent and consequent is necessary (also called implicative necessity). Both the antecedent and consequent can be contingent and not necessary. This implicative necessity is also known as the necessitas consequentiae (the necessity of the consequence). For those who remember their lessons in conditional sentences for Greek grammar: if the protasis is true, then the apodosis is guaranteed by means of implicative necessity. But both the protasis and apodosis can be contingent and not necessary.

The necessitas consequentis (the necessity of the consequent) can be written as:
(2) If P-->Nec P.

In this case, the consequent itself (or apodosis) is necessary. If I will work tomorrow, it is then necessary that I will work tomorrow – which is not true!
(1) does not imply (2), nor does (2) follow from (1). Even if I will work tomorrow, it is a contingent event and not logically necessitated. Confusing (1) and (2) is to confuse necessitas consequentiae with necessitas consequentis, what logicians would call a modal fallacy.

Taking this understanding and applying it to our topic at hand, we have the following propositions to consider.
(3) It is necessary that: If God wills to create, then God wills to create.

The antecedent, which Muller states as the “divine determination to bring the world to its full realization” is contingent in the sense that it “is a counsel freely formed, an idea freely conceived.” Muller continues to explain that, “there is in any will a certain necessity and a certain freedom. Aquinas looks to the analogy of the human will. Certain things are willed necessarily or governed by the nature and the end, the goal, of the person—yet the person freely chooses the means by which he effects that end. This argument also applies to God: for in the act of creation God necessarily wills his own absolute goodness as the end or goal of all his willing. Yet God freely chooses, without any necessity, the means by which he will communicate his goodness to creation. He freely chooses those things and means which lie outside of his nature and refer to the contingent order of nature.”[2]
To elucidate this further, what Aquinas is saying is that the end or goal of the things willed (Creation, for example) is necessarily governed by God’s nature, “for in the act of creation God necessarily wills his own absolute goodness as the end or goal of all his willing.” Yet God freely chooses the means by which His goodness is communicated to His creation. With His “eternally free will to create,” “the object and end of God’s willing is his own goodness—the glory of God rests in a sense on his power to create or not to create.”[3]

Proposition (4) is, however, not true where:
(4) If God wills to create, then it is necessary that God wills to create.

Remembering that no necessity is placed upon God’s will from without, God’s necessity to create is correctly termed as a necessity of the consequence “insofar as, de potentia ordinata, God has bound himself to the counsel of his will.”[4] God in His eternity, immutability, aseity and perfection decrees to create. God’s willing to create was not necessary in a logical sense, that is, God was not compelled out of a logical necessity to create. It is instead a necessity of the consequence (necessitas consequentiae), or as how the Reformed Scholastics would put it, conditional necessity.
Now to answer the question, “Was Creation of the world necessary? Does the world necessarily exist?” Creation itself is necessary “in the derivative sense” as Muller aptly puts it, and therefore is a necessitas consequentiae by virtue of God’s decree and will. “For God’s eternal mind and will are immutable: the world must necessarily exist, but this is a necessity of the consequence or of supposition, resting upon the divine counsel or decision to create.”[5]

Again, “there is no necessity that God decree what he decrees; but, granting the divine decree, God is bound to his own plan and promises. Therefore, the fulfillment of the divine plan and the divine promises is necessary, but by a necessitas consequentiae.”[6]
It is also important to note that, in creating, God contingently wills all that is contingent. His will to create is directed ad extra onto contingent objects (e.g. time, space, and matter), and hence, His creation is the contingent manifestation of His divine will and does not emanate from His being or substance. So Creation is not necessary in the sense that God is necessary – a necessary being and the First Cause (necessitas absoluta), but is a necessity of the consequence of God’s decree to create.

Van Asselt writes, “If the decision of the divine will is directed to contingent objects ad extra, then God’s will is contingent, too. In other words, God contingently wills all that is contingent. Created reality, therefore, is the contingent manifestation of divine freedom and does not necessarily emanate from God’s essence. For if this were the case, all things would coincide fundamentally with God’s essence, and the actual world would be an eternal world and the only one possible world.”[7]


References


[1] Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy;  Volume 3: The Divine Essence and Attributes (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 59–60.
[2] Ibid., 60.
[3] Ibid., 59.
[4] Ibid., 60.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms : Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1985), 200.
[7] Willem J. van Asselt, “‘The Abutment against Which the Bridge of All Later Protestant Theology Leans’: Scholasticism and Today,” in Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism, ed. Joel R. Beeke and Jay T. Collier, trans. Albert Gootjes, Reformed Historical-Theological Studies (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011), 199.