Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Animal Sacrifices in the Millennium?

One of the most embarrassing aspects of Dispensationalism is their insistence that there will be a return to animal sacrifices during the Millennium. Most Dispensationalists have no idea that this is part of their system. The Progressive Dispensationalists have mostly abandoned this element. However, the hard-core Dispensationalists still hold to it.

If you recall, Dispensationalists believe that after his second coming, Jesus will reign on the earth for exactly one thousand years. This thousand-year period is often called the Millennium, taken from the Latin phrase "thousand years," found in Revelation 20.

Whereas all Premillennialists believe in a future Millennium on earth, Dispensationalists are unique in that they believe that the temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem, according to the vision given in Ezekiel 40-48. Herein lies the problem.

The vision in Ezekiel 40-48 includes animal sacrifices. Because Dispensationalists are committed to a literal, future fulfillment of Ezekiel 40-48, Dispensationalists believe that there will be a return to animal sacrifices during the Millennium.

Some Dispensationalists have tried to skirt the issue by arguing that the animal sacrifices are of a memorial nature. Thus, the animal sacrifices are simply pointing back to the death of Christ, in a similar way that the Lord's Supper points back to Christ.

However, the text of Ezekiel 40-48 belies this claim. These are not mere memorial animal sacrifices. Fourteen times, the text calls for a "sin offering" (Ezekiel 40:39; 42:13; 43:19, 21, 22, 25; 44:27, 29; 45:17, 19, 22, 23, 25; 46:20). Leviticus describes the sin offering as "making atonement" (Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31, 35, etc.). These are animal sacrifices to atone for sin.

Thus, according to Dispensationalists, during the future Millennium, there will be a temple in Jerusalem with Levitical priests offering animal sacrifices to atone for sin.

Most Christians find such a belief unsustainable in light of the book of Hebrews. God repeatedly stresses that the Old Covenant is finished. It is obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). The sacrificial system was "imposed until the time of reformation" (Hebrews 9:10). Christ's sacrifice was the once-for-all-time sacrifice (Hebrews 9:26).

Yet, Dispensationalists persist in their belief of a future Millennium with animal sacrifices. There are some other rather novel attempts to explain future animal sacrifices, but none has gained a wide following, and most find them woefully inadequate.

Rather than engage these point-by-point and getting lost in the details, I believe it is more helpful to look at the big picture. "Future animal sacrifices" is one of those Copernican Revolution issues about which I wrote in the early days of this blog.

Do future animal sacrifices make any sense, given the book of Hebrews and the rest of Scripture? Is this not an obvious fatal flaw in Dispensationalism? Should this not cause one to question the entire system?

I am not saying that Ezekiel 40-48 is an easy text to interpret, yet future animal sacrifices ought to be the last interpretive option. The book of Hebrews alone ought to cause us to take a fresh look at Ezekiel 40-48 and see if God meant something other than future animal sacrifices.

This is not a matter of changing the original meaning of Ezekiel 40-48. I am not going get into the details of the exegesis (perhaps in a future post), but Ezekiel 40-48 can be understood without violating authorial intent and without resorting to future animal sacrifices.