When I wrote my latest book, A New Look at the Old Testament, one of my goals was to bring to Christians and Messianic Jews a sound theology of the sacrificial system. Liberal Jews, and most Christians, think that the sacrificial system of Leviticus was primitive and will not return. The Reform and Conservative Jewish prayer books omit references in the Amidah and other places to the restoration of the sacrifices of Israel. Maimonides felt they were an accommodation to the culture of the Ancient Near East, a system of worship needed by Israel in its primitive setting, but no longer needed since we have outgrown ancient ways. Most Christians are of the opinion that the sacrifices are outdated, replaced by the better sacrifice of Jesus.
Yet more conservative-minded Jews and some Christians who take the prophets at their word still believe the sacrificial system has a future. Most importantly, this is due to Ezekiel 40-48, a description of the Coming Temple of Messiah.
So, I offer the following thoughts (actually part of my preparation for our Torah class at Tikvat David) as a way to start the discussion about this important topic. I plan to write several posts on this topic and hopefully answer many questions. I believe the sacrificial and purity laws of the Torah are foundational theology. They show the need for a cross and the certainty of resurrection. More on that later, but for now, let’s begin the conversation:
By some ways of thinking, the sacrifices of Israel and the purity laws should have no place in the Age to Come. Many regard these as outmoded ways of thinking, throwbacks to an era of paganism and ritual worship. These have no place now that worship in the spirit has come.
A quick survey of verses from Ezekiel’s description of the Third Temple gives the lie to such a notion. The only way to dismiss these verses and maintain a theology where purity laws have no place in God’s great future is to deny that Ezekiel’s vision will ever come to pass or to suggest his detailed descriptions are mere allegories:
They shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean. (Ezek. 44:23).
You shall give to the Levitical priests of the family of Zadok, who draw near to me to minister to me, declares Adonai Elohim, a bull from the herd for a sin offering. And you shall take some of its blood and put it on the four horns of the altar and on the four corners of the ledge and upon the rim all around. (Ezek. 43:19-20).
And they shall stand before me to offer me the fat and the blood, declares Adonai Elohim. They shall enter my sanctuary, and they shall approach my table, to minister to me, and they shall keep my charge. (Ezek. 44:15-16).
It shall be the prince’s duty to furnish the burnt offerings, grain offerings, and drink offerings, at the feasts, the new moons, and the Sabbaths, all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel: he shall provide the sin offerings, grain offerings, burnt offerings, and peace offerings, to make atonement on behalf of the house of Israel. Thus says Adonai Elohim: In the first month, on the first day of the month, you shall take a bull from the herd without blemish, and purify the sanctuary. (Ezek. 45:17-18).
When the priests enter the Holy Place, they shall not go out of it into the outer court without laying there the garments in which they minister, for these are holy. They shall put on other garments before they go near to that which is for the people. (Ezek. 42:14).
O house of Israel, enough of all your abominations, in admitting foreigners, uncircumcised in heart and flesh, to be in my sanctuary, profaning my temple, when you offer to me my food, the fat and the blood. You have broken my covenant, in addition to all your abominations. 8And you have not kept charge of my holy things, but you have set others to keep my charge for you in my sanctuary. (Ezek. 44:6-7).
The world of the Age to Come is not yet the Final Age (Rev. 20-22). In the Age to Come, the thousand-year kingdom of Messiah, there will still be death and sin. Isaiah 65 says the young will die at 100 years old and that there will be sinners (65:20). Thus, with sin and death still on the earth, there will still be a need for a Temple, a Torah, Purity Laws, and a Sacrificial System, for God’s glory will be in that Temple with Messiah Yeshua.
Yet there will be no Temple in the Final Age, since there will be no sin. As John saw in his vision:
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. Revelation 21:22-23.
Still, someone might ask, if Yeshua died for our sins, what use will sacrifices offered in a Temple be? The assumption is that the sacrifices of Leviticus were like smaller or temporary versions of the cross of Yeshua. They were not. The Levitical sacrifices had a different function: to keep the Temple clean from the pollution of Israel’s sins and impurities so that God would remain there. God does not choose to dwell in sinful pollution.
For more, see A New Look at the Old Testament, where I explain in detail the theology and procedure of the sacrificial system of Israel.