(Ezek. 40-48) Amillennialists hold that the millennium cannot be literal, because it demands animal sacrifice. Doesn’t this contradict the argument from Hebrews that Christ died once-for-all (Heb. 7:27; 9:12, 26)?

CLAIM: Amillennial interpreters argue that the dispensational reading of Ezekiel 40-48 is heretical, because it contradicts the author of Hebrews, who claims that reverting to animal sacrifices is apostasy. For instance, Curtis Crenshaw writes, “The passage most commonly mentioned that represents great difficulty to dispensational literalism is Ezekiel’s temple vision.”[1] Likewise, Floyd Hamilton writes, “The restoration of the whole sacrificial system seems to dishonor the sacrifice of Christ… According to a literal interpretation of Ezekiel 40-48 the whole ceremonial law is to be again set up in Israel.”[2]

RESPONSE: In order to understand this difficult passage, we should compare the premillennial and amillennial views.

How do premillennial interpreters handle this difficult passage?

First, these sacrifices could be commemorative of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice during the millennium—just as the Lord’s Supper is commemorative during the church age. Even in the old covenant, the festivals didn’t procure salvation for the people, but instead, they served as “memorials” of Yahweh’s redemption (Ex. 30:16; Lev. 2:2, 9; 5:12; 6:15; 24:7; Num. 5:15, 18, 26).[3] Just as the old sacrifices pointed forward to Christ (Heb. 10:4), the future sacrifices might point backward to Christ. In fact, Paul writes, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). Notice that Paul writes that we will practice communion until… when? We practice it until Christ returns. Therefore, we should expect a change in communion at this time.

We need to remember that the Law and sacrificial system was given after Israel already had an unconditional covenant with Yahweh. Hullinger writes, “Sacrifices were not intended as a means of procuring the salvific favor of God but to deal with those things that disrupted fellowship with Him and with fellow members of the community.”[4] Thus even in the old covenant, the sacrifices weren’t made to purchase salvation, but to keep it.

Second, these future sacrifices will not be identical to the old covenant Levitical sacrifices. As we compare the old Levitical system with the future system in Ezekiel 40-48, we see that the Ark of the Covenant, the manna, Aaron’s rod, the Tables of the Law, the Cherubim, the mercy-seat, the golden candlestick, the shew-bread, the veil, the Holy of Holies, and the high priest are all gone! These were all crucial elements of the old sacrifices, which were fulfilled in Christ.[5] The future prince[6] is the one who offers the sacrifices (Ezek. 45:16-17), rather than the priests. These differences must be clues that this future sacrificial system is radically different from the old one.

Third, these future sacrifices will not actually pay for sin, any more than the Levitical sacrifices did. Ezekiel mentions that the Temple will make “atonement” (Ezek. 43:20, 26; 45:15, 17, 20). However, Leviticus states that the OT sacrifices “make atonement” as well (Lev. 4:20, 26, 31, 35). The same language is used in each instance, but we know from the author of Hebrews that this wasn’t efficacious. He writes, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). Thus while Ezekiel uses the language of atonement, this doesn’t mean that the sacrifices themselves make the atonement. Instead, like the Levitical sacrifices, these point to ultimate sacrifice of Jesus.

Fourth, the two books (Hebrews and Ezekiel) were written for two different groups in God’s plan (the Church and Israel). This apparent contradiction is harmonized, when we realize that Hebrews was written for Christian believers in the current age, while Ezekiel was written for Jewish believers in the future age. Because God is clearly working differently through the two different groups, we can expect to see differences in the direction for both groups.

How do amillennial interpreters handle this difficult passage?

While this passage is difficult for dispensational interpreters, we find their view much more cogent than the alternatives. Amillennial interpreters spiritualize these nine chapters to refer to the church. Since a future Temple is impossible on their view, this entire section must refer to the future church, which is the “Temple of God” (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). For instance, amillennial commentator John Taylor writes,

The vision of the temple was in fact a kind of incarnation of all that God stood for and all that he required and all that he could do for his people in the age that was about to dawn. On this view, which of all the interpretations seems to take the most realistic view of the literary character of the material with which we are dealing, the message of Ezekiel in these chapters may be summarized as follows: (a) the perfection of God’s plan for his restored people, symbolically expressed in the immaculate symmetry of the temple building; (b) the centrality of worship in the new age, its importance being expressed in the scrupulous concern for detail in the observance of its rites; (c) the abiding presence of the Lord in the midst of his people; (d) the blessings that will flow from God’s presence to the barren places of the earth (the river of life); (e) the orderly allocation of duties and privileges to all God’s people, as shown both in the temple duties and in the apportionment of the land (a theme taken up in Rev. 7:4–8).[7]

However, this reading is implausible for a number of reasons:

First, these nine chapters of Ezekiel are too long and detailed to spiritualize away. In this section, Ezekiel gives hundreds of detailed descriptions of the dimensions, furnishings, and measurements of the Third Temple. Why would he give us so much description and detail, if this was supposed to be spiritually fulfilled? The OT sacrificial system was detailed, and it was spiritually fulfilled in Christ. And yet, it still literally existed! If this future temple is fulfilled in the Church, the question remains: Why the tremendous detail, if it was never meant to be built?

Second, multiple OT authors refer to a Third Temple at the end of human history. If we are going to spiritualize away Ezekiel, then we need to apply the same method for multiple other prophets:

Isaiah: He writes, “Burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar” (Isa. 56:7). He also mentions “grain offerings” during this time (Isa. 66:20).

Jeremiah: He writes, “The Levitical priests shall never lack a man before Me to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to prepare sacrifices continually” (Jer. 33:18).

Zechariah: He makes reference to “all who sacrifice” (Zech. 14:21).

Malachi: After the return of Christ (Mal. 3:2), the prophet writes, “They may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years” (Mal. 3:3-4).

Third, multiple NT authors refer to a Third Temple at the end of human history. Jesus said, “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (Mt. 24:15). Paul writes that the man of lawlessness “opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God” (2 Thess. 2:4). Likewise, John was told, “Get up and measure the temple of God” (Rev. 11:1).

Of course, rather than finding a spiritualized fulfillment, some amillennial theologians have instead resorted to claiming that this prophecy will never be fulfilled. For instance, Leslie Allen writes that the prophet’s vision never came to fruition, and was therefore a false prediction. He writes, “To resort to dispensationalism and postpone them to a literal fulfillment in a yet future time strikes the author as a desperate expedient that sincerely attempts to preserve belief in an inerrant prophecy. The canon of scriptures, Jewish and Christian, took unfulfillment in its stride.”[8] In other words, the Bible’s predictions do not need to be fulfilled. Of course, for those with a high view of Scripture, this option is untenable (see “Inerrancy”).


[1] Curtis Crenshaw, Dispensationalism Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow (Memphis Footstool, 1989), 23. Cited in Hullinger, Jerry. “The Problem of Animal Sacrifices in Ezekiel 40-48.” Bibliotheca Sacra. July-September, 1995. 280.

[2] Floyd Hamilton, The Basis of Millennial Faith (Grand Rapids Eerdmans, 1942), 40, 42. Cited in Hullinger, Jerry. “The Problem of Animal Sacrifices in Ezekiel 40-48.” Bibliotheca Sacra. July-September, 1995. 280.

[3] Gleason Archer writes, “So it is with these burnt offerings. They will have no atoning efficacy—atonement has been accomplished by Calvary—but they will serve as elements in that form of holy communion that will be instituted during the Millennium… It is therefore only to be expected that after the Second Coming some different elements should be appointed for the Kingdom Age, and very naturally also, elements reminiscent of those God appointed for His ancient people in Moses’ time.” Archer, Gleason L., Paul D. Feinberg, Moo, Douglas J., and Richard R. Reiter. Three Views on the Rapture: Pre-, Mid-, or Post-Tribulation ? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996. 110.

[4] Hullinger, Jerry. “The Function of the Millennial Sacrifices in Ezekiel’s Temple: Part 1.” Bibliotheca Sacra. 167 (January-March 2010). 42.

[5] Dwight Pentecost writes, “While portions of the Aaronic system are seen in the millennial system, yet it is marked by incompleteness and deletion of much that was observed formerly. The very center of the whole Levitical system revolved around the day of Atonement, with its ritual of sprinkling of the blood of atonement by the High Priest on the mercy seat. It is significant that all the necessary parts of this important ritual—the High Priest, the ark and mercy seat, and even the day itself—are all omitted from the record. The absences of that which was most vital to the Levitical system shows that the millennial age will not see the re-establishment of Judaism.” Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things to Come: a Study in Biblical Eschatology. Grand Rapids, MI: Academie, 1964. 522.

[6] The prince is not Christ, because he has sons (Ezek. 46:16), but he is a new figure that did not exist in the old system of priests. He is probably just a future ruler that has delegated authority under Christ (Lk. 19:17).

[7] John B. Taylor, vol. 22, Ezekiel: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1969) 247.

[8] Leslie C. Allen, vol. 29, Word Biblical Commentary: Ezekiel 20-48, (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002). 214.