One of the most difficult passages to harmonize with dispensational literalism is Ezekiel Eze. 40:1-Eze. 48:1 . In these chapters Ezekiel recorded a vision of a new temple in which sacrificial ritual occurred. This immediately places the dispensationalist in a dilemma. If the temple is viewed as in the eschaton and the sacrifices are literal, then this seems to be at odds with the Book of Hebrews, which clearly states that Christs sacrifice has put an end to all sacrifice. If, on the other hand, the sacrifices are not accepted as literal, this seems to oppose one of the cornerstones of dispensationalism, namely, the normal interpretation of prophetic literature.2
These sacrifices will be types and symbols of their faith in Christs death, but that does not make them any the less real. There will probably be mingled sorrow and joy in the sacrifices, as they recall how their fathers refused to accept Christ as the Messiah and how now they have the privilege of seeing it all so clearly.4
Most dispensationalists have explained the sacrifices in Ezekiel Eze. 40:1-Eze. 48:1 through what is known as the memorial view. According to this view the sacrifices offered during the earthly reign of Christ will be visible reminders of His work on the cross. Thus these sacrifices will not contradict the clear teaching of Hebrews, for they will not have any efficacy except to memorialize Christs death. The primary support for this view is the parallel of the Lords Supper. It is argued that just as the communion table looks back on the Cross without besmirching its glory, so millennial sacrifices will do the same.5
Atonement cleansing was necessary in Leviticus because of the descent of the Shekinah in Exodus Ex. 40:1. A holy God had taken up residence in the midst of a sinful and unclean people. Similarly Ezekiel foresaw the return of Gods glory to the millennial temple. This will again create a tension between a holy God and an unclean people.6
Animal sacrifices during the millennium will serve primarily to remove ceremonial uncleanness and prevent defilement from polluting the temple envisioned by Ezekiel. This will be necessary because the glorious presence of Yahweh will once again be dwelling on earth in the midst of a sinful and unclean people.7
Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary. For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aarons rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the peoples sins committed in ignorance; the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation. But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb. Heb. 9:1-14) [emphasis added]
Hebrews Heb. 9:10 and Heb. 13:1 state that the Levitical offerings were related to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body, and the sprinkling of blood so as to sanctify and purify the flesh. Animal sacrifices were efficacious in removing ceremonial uncleanness. While Christ is superior, the fact should not be lost that animal sacrifices did in the earthly sphere cleanse the flesh and remove outward defilement. . . . Hebrews reveals that Christs death met certain objectives and operated in a sphere different from that of the animal sacrifices of the old economy. Hebrews states that animal sacrifices were efficacious in the sphere of ceremonial cleansing. They were not efficacious, however, in the realm of conscience and therefore in the matter of spiritual salvation. Because of this, Christs offering is superior in that it accomplished something the Levitical offerings never could, namely, soteriological benefits.8
1 It must not be forgotten that Ezekiel is not alone in this affirmation of a revival of a temple ritual in the coming Kingdom. As Reeve says, The great prophets all speak of a sacrificial system in full vogue in the Messianic Age. [J. J. Reeve, Sacrifice, I.S.B.E., op cit., Vol. IV, p. 2651.].Alva J. McClain, The Greatness Of The Kingdom (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1959), 251.
2 Jerry M. Hullinger, The Problem of Animal sacrifices in Ezekiel 40-48, in Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 152 no. 607 (Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, July-Sep 1995), 279.
6 Ibid., 285.
7 Ibid., 281.
8 Ibid., 288.
9 Indeed, this is precisely the situation of the Roman Catholic who may have a mortal sin laid to his account which has the potential to send him to hell in the next moment if he should die before confession and absolution.
10 The population who entered the kingdom in their natural unresurrected bodies and who will eventually die.