Thursday, September 14, 2006

What do YOU think of the Millennium Temple?

I am currently ruminating about the various attempts by sympathizers of Dispensationalism to steer a “safe” course through the minefield of a literal Millennial Temple. In view of this newly acquired (or rather, required) pet topic - which might bog me down for another week or two - I might as well post a teaser on this issue of concern.

I am curious to know how fellow brethren, both Dispensational and Non-dispensational, reconcile the animal sacrifices reiterated in Ezekiel 40-48 with a literal, historical-grammatical hermeneutics. After going through numerous papers written by Dispensationalists, plus an article written by Dr Prabhudas Koshy of Far Eastern Bible College (who is also my previous pastor!), I will try to classify these “commando” exegeses into the following broad categories:

The Various Views on the Ezekielian Sacrifices

1. Memorial view: Animal sacrifices have no expiatory value, and are offered in the Millennium to commemorate Christ’s death.

2. Whitcomb’s view: Animal sacrifices are offered for ceremonial “cleasing,” and in this sense, do have expiatory value.

3. No literal animal sacrifices. Despite their “consistently literal hermeneutics,” some Dispensationalists actually understand that these sacrifices will not be restituted in the Millennium.

I chanced upon Randall Price’s article “An Overview of the Future Temples” today, which contains a fairly accurate summary of the Dispensationalist’s position. Rapture-ready Randall Price wrote:

“The Millennial Temple will be built by Christ (Zech. 6:12-13), redeemed Jews (Ezek. 43:10-11), and representatives from the Gentile nations (Zech. 6:15; Hag. 2:7; cf. Is. 60:10) at the beginning of the Messianic kingdom (Ezek. 37:26-28). As a sign of the restoration of theocratic rule the Shekinah Glory will return to its Holy of Holies (Ezek. 43:1-7; cf. Is. 4:5-6). . . . [A] feature of Ezekiel's Temple that indicates its literal interpretation is the ceremonial system including blood sacrifices. This is in keeping with other prophetic predictions where the Temple includes a priesthood and sacrifices (Is. 56:6-7; 60:7; Jer. 33:18; Zech. 14:16-21). The function of these sacrifices may be memorial in nature, just as the Lord's Supper is today (1 Cor. 11:24-26), however, the fact that they are said to be for "atonement" may also indicate the need for a ritual purification. This would be necessary, as in the past (Heb. 9:13), for those saints living in mortal bodies throughout the Millennium and seeking approach to the Temple since God's holy presence will be resident there (Jer. 3:17; Zech. 14:20-21).”

According to Price, “the function of these sacrifices may be memorial in nature.” But again, he seems not to be able to make up his mind on this issue, and added ambiguously that “the need for a ritual purification” and atonement might become necessary in the Millennium. Do we suppose that, after the substitutionary death of Christ our Passover Lamb, animal sacrifices might again be needed to “purify” and ceremonially “cleanse” the worshipper in the millennial temple? If, indeed, legal, ceremonial cleansing is required in the Millennium to approach God, why is there no necessity today for this “ceremonial,” temporal cleansing?

Do read up Dr Koshy’s article “The Millennial Temple” in The Burning Bush, Volume 6 Number 1 (January 2000). Dr Koshy is, according to the college’s Statement of Faith, a Reformed theologian adhering to the Reformed doctrine of the atonement. It is interesting to note that Koshy and Price embrace essentially the same view on the Ezekielian sacrifices.

There are some questions we might want to ask ourselves when pondering upon this “mammalian, sacrificial” issue:

1. Firstly, what should be our hermeneutical approach when studying the visions of Ezekiel?

2. What should be our interpretational grid when seeking to understand Ezekiel, especially in employing the principle of progressive revelation, that is, the interpretation of the Old Testament with New Testament Revelation (and not vice versa)?

3. What does Leviticus teach with regard to bloody sacrifices? What are the etymological implications regarding the Hebrew word for “atonement,” especially when applied to the Book of Ezekiel?

4. Can a Reformed theologian consistently adhere to such distinctives of Dispensational Premillennialism - i.e. the temple, the sacrifices, the priesthood, the rite of circumcision and the restitution of Jewish Feasts and Festivals in the millennium – and remain distinctively Reformed?

5. Last but not least, here is the most important question of all, “What does it mean to be Reformed?” Does it mean a mere adherence to the five points of Calvinism, or is there more to the theological label? (Hint: I believe that the Reformed faith is more than a mere adherence to the 5 points!)

Finally, let me refresh our memories with regard to my previous statement in paragraph two, “I am curious to know how fellow brethren, both Dispensational and Reformed, reconcile the animal sacrifices reiterated in Ezekiel 40-48 with a literal, historical-grammatical hermeneutics.” Therefore, if you see me, bump into me, or when you remember to drop me a note, do let me know what you think.

How do you, as a child of God, understand the visions of Ezekiel in chapters 40 to 48?

That will be all for now, after a very busy week of research and writing. Thanks for dropping by.


ddd said...

Eh... have you read Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series? Seems there is another view on the Ezekiel temple...

According to LaHaye, the temple would be built after the rapture by the unbelieving Jews who would reinstitute their sacrifices etc... according to the Mosaic laws. However, God is against these sacrifices and these sacrifices would end when Christ comes back after the 7 years of Tribulation. Meanwhile, 3 and a half years into the Tribulation, during the Mid-Tribulation period, the Antichrist who has just been resurrected would desecrate the Jewish temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar in there.

vincit omnia veritas said...

Thanks for your contribution. The Tribulation Temple is the third temple to be built, after Solomon’s and Herod’s temple. Not all agree that this temple will be built. The Millennium Temple is allegedly the fourth temple. This is distinct from the Tribulation Temple. Nice hearing from you again, brother!

Jenson's Blog said...

Hi Vincent,

Just looking at Patrick Fairbain's Visions of Ezekiel for the Reformed position on this matter. He noted 4 views on Ezekiel 40-48:

1) Historico-literal: Ezekiel was describing Solomon's Temple.
2) Historico-ideal: Ezekiel was describing what the Temple should have been after the captivity.
3) Jewish-carnal: to be accomplished by the Messiah at his second coming
4) Christian-spiritual: Ezekiel was describing the Gospel age. Temple = Type of Church.

Obviously, he wrote it with greater length (pg 439-510, Kregel Edition), so I am only giving a short summary...

Concerning the rest of your post,

1) I liked what Prabhudas Koshy quoted - "When the plain sense makes good sense, seek no other
sense." Funny how he quoted this, and then proceed to make very little sense in his assessment of Eze 40-48. I am more inclined to look at it figuratively, i.e. the old school Reformed perspective on it. Since I do not believe in the literal Millenium Kingdom anyway, so that "Temple" will have to be here and now.

2) I admit first of all, I rely heavily on Fairbain. He sees the Gospel being worked out in Ezekiel's vision, which excites me cos we are living in it now. Hence there is a fair amount of spiritualising, but Fairbain rarely goes overboard.

3) The atonement, as far as I can say is fulfilled in Christ. The old animal sacrifices are pictures/visual aids for the Jews to point them to a coming Messiah who would die for the sins of His people. The book of Hebrews does clarify all that...

4) NO. Reading some of FEBC material, I would seriously urge them to drop the WCF altogether! (What is the point of just amending the section on the Lord's return to make it premillenial?)

5) I have written on this issue many times before in my own blog because of my scrapes with "reformed" people on discussion boards and in churches. It is definitely more than 5 points. It is more than paying lip-service to the creeds, confessions and catechisms or decorating one's bookshelf with nice thick books! It is quite crystal clear to see that there is a polarisation of the old, Reformed writers and the modern "Reformed" Christians.

vincit omnia veritas said...

Hi Jenson,

Have you been "running around" lately, i.e. traveling? Nice hearing from you again!

And good answers too.

Fairbairn’s commentary is (I believe) the only one that is able to stand head to head with Greenhill’s 5 volumes on Ezekiel. In fact, how many books have survived so many decades of publication? For those of you who wants this book, check out:

I must say that I am very pleased with your answer. And a hearty “Amen!” to that. You wrote, “It is quite crystal clear to see that there is a polarisation of the old, Reformed writers and the modern "Reformed" Christians.” How true.

Maybe we should write more on this issue. Maybe in the next post. Ahem.

I personally believe that the way forward is to study Ezekiel “ideationally,” and maybe explore an eschatological possibility in the book of Revelation.

Jenson's Blog said...

If you do not mind me advertising this:

Our pastor, Dr. Peter Masters, republished this book few years ago (under Wakeman Trust) and has since heavily promoted it. It is paperback and a lot cheaper.

My copy was purchased second-hand and it was published by Kregel (hardback, now out of print), with a foreword written by... you guessed it, my own pastor.

It goes to show how valued this book was and still is today.