Why do the sacrifices return in Ezekiel's temple (Ezekiel 46-47)?
The passage you are asking about occurs near the end of Ezekiel 40-48 which describes the future Messianic kingdom that Jesus promised to His disciples before He returned to heaven (Acts 1:6-7). This kingdom is commonly called the 1,000 year kingdom or Millennium. Both Jews and most Christians agree that this passage is about the coming Messiah, but there are some who do not. In answering your question, we will first examine Ezekiel 40-48 and then answer your specific question.
What Is Ezekiel 40-48 About?
In order to understand Ezekiel 40-48, we need to know what the book of Ezekiel is all about. From the first chapter Ezekiel described a series of prophecies against the nation of Israel and other foreign countries. From history we know that all of the prophecies in Ezekiel 1-35 have been literally fulfilled. But the prophecies in Ezekiel 36-48 are future. Ezekiel 36-48 describes the return of Israel to the land that had they occupied, God’s judgment on the nations, and then the future 1,000 year kingdom or Millennium.
Those Who Disagree
There are some Christians who believe this passage is symbolic of the Christian church, and others would say it predicts the rebuilding of Solomon’s temple after the Jewish captivity in Babylon ended. Both views are wrong. The first view should be rejected because Ezekiel never tells us that these descriptions of the temple are symbols, and it is not obvious that these are symbolic of the church. Why would the prophet be so indirect when Ezekiel 1-35 has been so literal? This view is not consistent with the preceeding part of the book.
The last view should also be rejected because the prophet says this kingdom will last forever.
And He said to me, “Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell among the sons of Israel forever. And the house of Israel will not again defile My holy name . . .” (NASB) Ezekiel 43:7
Israel was destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Romans. That nation did not last forever. Only recently did they return to the land that God had given Israel in 1948, and still there is no temple. Ezekiel described a future temple – a literal temple that is still to come. We must remember that all of the prophecies in Ezekiel have been literally fulfilled today except for Ezekiel 36-48.
The Millennial Temple
Ezekiel 40-48 describes a temple that will exist in the Millennium. Earlier in Ezekiel God promised that He would establish His sanctuary, or temple forever. Since there is no temple today, we know that this prophecy has not occurred yet.
And I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. (NASB) Ezekiel 37:26
This is a future prophecy. Ezekiel 40-48 describes this temple in detail (Ezek. 43:7). The chart below provides a quick outline of Ezekiel’s description of this temple.
|Ezekiel||Description of the Temple|
|40||Outer and inner courts, the gates, and some offerings|
|41||Outer sanctuary (Holy Place) and inner sanctuary (Holy of Holies) and other parts of the temple|
|42||Chambers of the priests|
|43||Return of God’s glory and the altar|
|44||East gate and the Prince|
|45||The sacred land and more offerings|
|46||Worship and the Prince|
|47||The land and the healing waters|
|48||The land divided among the Tribes of Israel|
These chapters describe the temple, its priests, and the offerings of worship which Ezekiel saw in his vision. The vision is about a future temple.
The prophet also describes a person called “the prince” in Ezekiel 40-48. The prince is not Jesus Christ for several reasons. First, the prince offers sacrifices for himself (Ezek. 45:2, 4, 12; 45:22). Why would Jesus offer sacrifices for Himself since He is holy? Second, the prince will produce children (Ezek. 46:16-19). The prince cannot be Jesus since He no longer has human flesh but a transformed divine body. Jesus’ ministry and existence in a human body has ended. Third, “the prince” is not a priest. He will be allowed to provide animals for sacrifice, but he will be not be able to perform the ministries of a priest (Ezek. 45:11-19). Since Jesus is our high priest, He would be able to perform the ministries of a priest. This means the prince is not Jesus. So who is the prince? The prince is apparently a leader during the millennial kingdom. He appears to be an administrator in the kingdom. Since Moses never gave any instruction about a prince, we cannot be certain. This is a key fact that helps us understand that this temple is very different from anything in the past.
When we look carefully at the words in Ezekiel 40-48, we find that there are some significant differences between Ezekiel’s worship and the worship described by Moses. The Jews agree that there are differences from the instructions given by Moses – differences they cannot explain. Here are the key differences.
|Moses Feasts (Lev 23)||Ezekiel Feasts (40-48)|
|Day of Atonement||None|
|All the offerings||All the offerings|
There are differences in the feasts but not in the sacrifices. Notice that there will be no Day of Atonement, because Jesus has already died for our sins. There is no Pentecost, since the Holy Spirit has already come in power.
Why are there offerings or sacrifices in the kingdom? The millennial sacrifices and the sacrifices required by Moses are the same. There are no differences in the sacrifices. Why? The answer is that the sacrifices will be a memorial which will remind us of Jesus’ death. Today Christians take the Lord’s Supper or communion as a reminder of Jesus’ death and return to life. Jesus has already died, but we “do this in remembrance of Me.” (1 Cor. 11:24). The millennial sacrifices do the same thing.
The idea of a temple and sacrifices is common in the Bible. In the Old Testament there were sacrifices. In the New Testament the Mosaic Law disappeared (Heb. 8-9), but Christians became the temple of God (2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21). In the Tribulation period there will be a temple in Israel (2 Thess. 2:4). In Revelation we discover a surprising fact. There is a temple in heaven today (Rev. 7:15; 11:19; 14:17; 15:5-8; 16:1, 17).
And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple . . .” (NASB) Rev. 11:19
This agrees with Hebrews 9:23 which implies that there is a temple in heaven, and God plans to have a temple along with memorial sacrifices in the kingdom. The sacrifices do not forgive sins. They never have. They only looked forward to Jesus’ death. In the kingdom they will look back to Jesus just as the Lord’s Supper does today.