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Difficult Millennial Questions

I can’t find a verse in the NT that describes sacrifices during the millennium?

Indeed, we look in vain to find millennial sacrifices mentioned in the NT, but it is also not surprising. The NT is not interested to repeat all the great detail that the prophets describe of the age to come, precisely because it already stood written. It is only the erroneous assumption that the NT corrects the OT that would require us to see every detail repeated again before it can be believed.

We note that mention of the ”the age to come” in the NT is not usually attended with much elaboration. It is mostly used as a kind of ‘short hand’ to reference the time of the great transition from this age to the next. By itself, the term neither affirms nor denies millennial distinctions. The millennium is mentioned only once in what many would remind us is a ‘highly symbolical’ book.

On the contrary, the further revelation of a distinct millennial stage of fulfillment between the day of the Lord and the final perfection solves the riddle of OT prophecy. For those inclined to respect the literal details of prophecy, it helps to reconcile so much that would otherwise have been a hopeless puzzle.

Whereas many of the promises that were thought to belong strictly to the time after the great tribulation were now being experienced in unexpected advance of that day, the early church would not have seen this as an occasion to call in question any of those promises that remained to be fulfilled to Israel in a still coming day of the Lord, understood now to be the time of Jesus’ post-tribulational return. That the yet future ‘restoration of all things’ must necessarily include the plenary fulfillment of all that prophets have spoken was never in doubt (Mt 19:28; 23:39; Acts 1:6; 3:21; Ro 11:25-27; Rev 1:7).

So we say that what the prophets put on the other side of the day of the Lord still belongs there, a measure of present fulfillment notwithstanding. The NT does not correct or change anything that stands written in the OT. Rather, it reveals a mystery that discovers a hidden, albeit foretold age that must supervene between the present age and the age to come.

Whereas it is true that some of what the prophets connect to the day of the Lord has come already, it is also true that the tribulation is still future and certainly the day of the Lord is still future. What presumption then to so confidently deny to the natural branches the full covenantal vindication of all that the prophets describe of that coming day?

Therefore, to ascribe equal authority to both testaments means that we do not require repetition of every detail of prophecy. Progressive revelation expands and amplifies the vision of OT eschatology, but this does not call for correction or change of the plain meaning of words in their native context.

That said, however, the NT certainly is clear that Christ has fulfilled the many types and shadows of tabernacle and the alter. This brings the question; does fulfillment of a type necessarily mark its end? Jesus is the ‘teleos’ (goal) of the law, but does this mean that the law is without further significance, or that it is no longer in force, particularly where one is still ‘under’ its curse? Christ was the great anti-type to the blood sacrifices, but they continued to be offered until the destruction of the temple, as Jewish believers would continue to center their activities in the temple and continue to make annual pilgrimage (Acts 21:26; 24:17).

Notwithstanding, it is what the NT reveals of the final sufficiency of Christ’s blood, particularly in the apologetic presented in the book of Hebrews (see especially Heb 10:2) that raises serious questions concerning a resumption of sacrifices in the millennium. Indeed, no question is more difficult for those who would defend the literal view of OT prophecy. What are we to make of this? Are millennial sacrifices indeed irreconcilable with Christ’s once and for all sacrifice?

One thing is clear: Interpreted literally, the prophecies definitely predict sacrifices and a renewed temple service in the millennium (Isa 56:5-7; 60:7, 13; 66:20-23; Jer 33:15-22; Zech 14:16-21). The context is plainly post-tribulational / post- day of the Lord Israel, which is to say, millennial.

Regardless of our answer to this question, it cannot be denied that Ezekiel’s vision of a new temple is pictured in the setting of a topographically transformed and elevated temple mount in a newly liberated Jerusalem (Zech 14″9-11). This temple has never existed before in any literal sense, and it is clearly AFTER the day of the Lord described in Eze 39:8, 22-29.

So the larger implication of our approach to this question will not only bear on the question of a future millennium, but particularly how we should interpret its purpose and nature in light of what scripture reveals will distinguish and characterize that unique time. For example, will the millennium include such distinctly ‘Jewish’ features as a literal inheritance of the Land by an entirely saved Jewish nation? (Isa 4:3; 45:17, 25; 54:13; 59:21; 60:21; 66:22; Jer 31:34; Eze 39:22, 28-29; Zeph 3:13 etc.).

Can we rightly conceive of a time on this earth when evangelism will not be necessary among the Jewish inhabitants of the Land? (Jer 31:34). Many competent interpreters have said no. Such an extravagant promise can only be fulfilled in heaven. But the greatest crisis for interpretation seems indeed to be the question of whether the future reestablishment of Israel as theocratic head of the nations will also feature another temple with a worship that includes sacrifices.

How should such this language be interpreted? All are agreed concerning what these texts mean in their native context and intention. The question is whether the NT states anything definitely that forces us to spiritualize or re-interpret this aspect of OT prophecy?

If reconciliation is not possible without spiritualizing temple and sacrifices, then certainly later NT revelation must take precedence, but I believe there is a better explanation and that failure to make needful distinctions between the dispensations have created the illusion of a false choice. I am reminded of the old ‘black and white fallacy’ in logic, which assumes that the alternatives thus far considered are the only ones that exist.

I can only give where I stand currently and tentatively on this question, but my answer would be incomplete if I did not give first place to the more easily demonstrated proofs that strongly incline me in the direction of the literal view. Firstly, we know from Heb 10:4 that no sacrifice, whether past or future, was ever efficacious to the actual taking away of sin. Therefore, we can be certain that if there is a future literal sacrifice, it can only be of a memorial nature, much the way that the more portable ordinance of the Lord’s Table functions now for a pilgrim church scattered throughout the nations.

A fully regenerate Israel will most certainly NOT confuse any temporal structure, or emblematic ordinance as a means of justification. How could they? They will have a new heart of divinely guaranteed continuance. Even the godly remnant of the OT, as in the case of David, showed their knowledge that the ordinances of the law counted for nothing unless the heart was first broken and contrite (Ps 40:6; 51:16).

But when this inward reality will first be secured by true repentance, ‘then’ may the worshiper offer sacrifices extravagantly, in jubilant assurance of divine acceptance (Ps 51:19). That is always the order. It is so now with the use of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and it will be so in the millennium, regardless of which ordinances God has deemed appropriate to that unique time and circumstance.

There is much that could be said on this subject that time does not permit, but the question of millennial sacrifices is admittedly very difficult for those who are committed to a consistently literal hermeneutic. This is why no other question is more exploited against a millennial future for Israel than this.

It is the seemingly impossible thought that sacrifices might be re-instituted in the millennium that is most often and most effectively invoked to dismiss a future literal millennium and to justify the ‘re-interpretation’ (spiritualization) of a large volume of Old Testament texts that speak of the post-tribulational restoration of Israel. The argument goes that the millennial headship of a Jewish Israel would imply a regression from the unity of Jew and gentile in the one new man (a ‘re-erection’ of the middle wall of partition).

This would furthermore imply a return to legal ordinances (another grossly misrepresented topic). The solution is typically to deny a millennium altogether, and if not to deny the millennium, certainly its specifically Jewish character. Of course this can only be done by the wholesale spiritualization of a considerable volume of OT prophecy.

Even if we allow full place for all the normal conventions of prophetic and apocalyptic literature, as the common use of figure, type, metaphor, poetic symbolism, and even so-called ‘cosmic language,’ still, there is an enormous amount of prophetic detail that is hard to fit with any spiritual counterpart in the NT, whether for this age or the eternal state of the new heavens and earth.

In order for the Scripture to be fulfilled in every jot and tittle, the details of prophecy demand an age between this age and the final perfection of the new heavens and earth. That further installment of the ‘age to come’ is the millennium. It begins only AFTER the destruction of the last beast of the last persecution (Dan 2:44; 7:11; Rev 6:10-11; 17:12; 19:20; 20:4-6; 2Thes 2:3-4, 8).

One can see at once the kind of problems that such re-interpretation and spiritualization of such a large body of specific prophetic detail would pose for the church’s apologetic towards Jews that are knowledgeable of the scriptures. So the question of the relationship and harmony of the two testaments is a problem that has great bearing on how we talk to Israel, certainly now, but most critically in the coming time of Jacob’s trouble.

We are often reminded that the only clear reference to a future millennium is found in a highly symbolic and pictorial book of beasts and dragons and cubed numbers in multiples of 12 and 7. Many also point out that the promise of the Land recedes in the NT into a heavenly country, with no specific reference to an “earthly” (sometimes called ‘carnal’ or ‘Jewish’) millennium.

Even Paul, in his argument for a necessary future covenant fulfillment for the natural branches makes no particular mention of the Land. Some see this as evidence that Paul has ‘re-interpreted’ the Land promise. Others note the connection of Paul’s language to clear OT references to the the day of the Lord (compare Isa 27:9; 59:13-21 with Isa 63:3-7; Jer 31:31-34; see esp. Eze 30:3 with Lk 21:24; Ro 11:25-27).

Against such clear evidence that Paul has in mind the post-tribulational day of the Lord in Ro 11:26, non-millennial interpreters tend to understand the Deliverer’s return to Zion as a reference to the Lord’s first advent. It is really quite the contrary. Furthermore, unless we accept the view of preterism (that all NT prophecy concerning Jerusalem is past), we find that the NT is not at all silent about the Land, as the entire drama that concludes the age is set in the context of a final Antichrist assault on Jerusalem (Mt 24:15-29; 2Thes 2:4; Rev 11:2 etc.). This is in full accord with the eschatology of the covenant in the OT.

It is the tendency of the supercessionist view to transfer everything that the prophets depict as following the day of the Lord into the present age. Of course, this removes any need for a millennial interim between this age and the perfect state. This is done by a process they call ‘re-interpretation’, which they believe can be justified by certain instances where the NT will apply some future (post-day of the Lord) promise to the church of the present age.

Certainly this is partly true, since the church is indeed the ‘first-fruits’ of the eschatological promise. But the present spiritual fulfillment does not detract from its more literal and exhaustive fulfillment at the day of the Lord. One example would be Peter’s application of Joel’s prophecy of the day of the Lord to the present outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 2:20). We can be sure that Peter is NOT announcing the arrival of the day of the Lord, since he would have been aware that Jesus used the very same language of Joel’s prophecy to speak of His return after the tribulation (Joel 2:31; Mt 24:29).

Notwithstanding, Acts 2:16-20 has been a favorite text to defend the view that all the OT prophecies of the day of the Lord should be transferred entirely to the church of the present age. It is to assume that whenever an OT prophecy is applied to the present, it has been exhaustively fulfilled in every part. If the presence of the kingdom can anticipate a greater realization in the future, how can a present ‘first-fruits’ of the messianic redemption be thought to nullify the day of the Lord restoration of Israel? (Mt 23:39; Acts 3:21; Ro 11:26). By what logic does a partial fulfillment on this side of the Lord’s return nullify a fuller future fulfillment on this earth after the last tribulation?

While it is true that the mystery reveals that the church of the present age appropriates some (not all) of the first fruits of that coming age, this does nothing to change or disappoint God’s determination to publicly vindicate His irrevocable covenant in the sight of all nations. As shown above, we believe that Paul’s reading of the covenant requires a time on this earth when there will not be found a single Jew on the earth that is not saved (see above).

This would not be nearly so astonishing if this referred only to resurrected Jews, but many scriptures combine to show that the salvation of the surviving Jewish remnant go into the millennium in natural bodies. Evidently, the surviving remnant of Israel is “born in one day” as they look upon Him whom they pierced (Isa 59:21; 66:8; Eze 39:22; Zech 3:9; 12:10; 14:7; Mt 23:39; Acts 3:21; Ro 11:26; Rev 1:7) at the same the church is being translated at the last trump (Isa 27:13; Mt 24:31; 1Cor 15:52; 2Thes 2:1; Rev 10:7; 11:15).

In marked contrast to the rapture, the Jewish survivors of the last tribulation return to the Land by natural means of transport with the assistance of gentile survivors (see Isa 49:22; Isa 60:9; 66:20; Zech 8:23). With the Deliverer’s return to Zion, the surviving remnant is regenerated in an instant, first to mourn apart (Zech 12:11-12) and then to begin the last world wide return to the Land (compare Isa 11:15-16 with Isa 27:12-13).

Notice that this return is distinguished from all others in that not a single Jewish survivor is left behind (Eze 39:28).  If such promises can be conceived to happen in literal actuality, it means that this earth is yet to witness the unprecedented spectacle of an entirely saved Jewish population. Significantly, the public fulfillment of the covenant of Jer 31:34 also finishes the mystery of God (Rev 10:7).

Not only does the millennium begin with a fully regenerate Jewish population, this astonish burning bush of divine testimony is promised everlasting continuance. The promise of an all saved nation is extended to include the future children that will be born to Jewish parents (see Isa 54:13; 59:21; 66:22). No wonder interpreters tend to put this in heaven, as they are hard pressed to find fulfillment in the visible church. That something like this could be fulfilled on this earth, especially by Jews that have not yet been resurrected may seem incredible, but none of this is any more incredible than the bodily resurrection of Jesus?

It is this reading of the covenant that makes perfect sense of a future millennium. It is also the only reading that can make sense of the way that God has chosen that the age should end over the ‘controversy of Zion’ (Isa 34:8) and ‘the time of Jacob’s trouble’ (Jer 30:7; Dan 12:1; Mt 24:21). Can it really be that God will hold all nations accountable to know and understand such an ancient promise? Indeed, it will be the test that will embroil all nations over the Jerusalem question (Zech 12:2-3). It is the question of an abiding and irrevocable covenant election that still stands with the natural branches (Ro 11:27, 29).

The theology of replacement tends to believe that before something of OT revelation can be applied to Israel in the future, they would first need to see it reiterated in the NT. They argue that progressive revelation requires us to abandon the narrow, “nationalistic” orientation of the limited and culture-bound foreview of the OT prophets.

They would have us see that all of this has all been “transcended” (changed?) by a kind of metamorphosis. You may notice that what some justify as ‘progressive revelation’ has much in common with the evolutionary view of scripture embraced by theological liberalism. That is a view that certainly has no problem at all with the unfulfilled details of prophecy.

Here is the decisive question that will ultimately determine our view of the end: The prophets place everything of Israel’s covenanted hope into the context of a future post-tribulational day of the Lord. Should the present fulfillment of some (some say all) of these promises mean that all the prophecies that picture an earthly fulfillment after the tribulation are no longer to be expected, particularly if this would mean a special place of preeminence of the ‘natural Jewish branches?

If these prophecies are to be fulfilled on earth in a future millennium, does this mean we should interpret their meaning in strict conformity to the original intention of the biblical writers, or does NT revelation constrain us to adapt them to some higher spiritual fulfillment? If so, what would this be, and would it be sufficient to account for the great volume of detail that the prophets use in their descriptions?

These are the questions that interpreters and teachers struggle to understand and explain. By perfect design, God has put before us a profound mystery that requires setting our heart to understand. Not only the church, but ultimate all nations will be forced to wrestle with its implications, so it is not a merely an academic exercise (Ro 11:25, but also Ro 11:33-36).

As Jesus was the stone of stumbling to first century Israel through the mystery of His twofold advent, it seems evident to me that the same mystery is still with us in its essence; now in the form of the question of an abiding election of a particular land and people. I believe God intends to use the last day’s crisis of Israel as a formidable test of the heart concerning its disposition towards God’s free and sovereign right to choose as He will choose.

To what degree then does NT revelation justify re-interpretation of that great volume of prophecy that the prophets put on the far side of the great tribulation? That is the question. I do not believe we should expect, as it was never the purpose of NT revelation to explicitly reiterate the basic contour of OT hope, simply because is has not changed. The revelation of the mystery of the gospel has indeed expanded our vision of the glory of God’s eternal purpose beyond anything the prophets could have conceived, but that glory has not occasioned a radical re-interpretation of Israel’s hope, as presupposed by a-millennialists and replacement theologies of different kinds.

What is new is the revelation of Messiah’s twofold coming, departure, and return to Israel. This discovers an unexpected interim that inserts itself between the unexpected death and resurrection of Messiah and the well known day of the Lord that can now be seen as the time of His return.

Through the gift of the Spirit and the revelation of the mystery of the gospel, many of the mighty powers and spiritual blessings of that coming age have come in unexpected advance of ‘that day.’ This is agreed by all schools. What is not agreed is how far this has changed or cancelled the prophecies and promises of the ‘not yet’ that the prophets put in the future with the still coming day of the Lord.

The principal point of difference is this: How far does the presence of the kingdom justify the cancellation or modification (“re-interpretation”) of the kingdom’s future on earth after the day of the Lord but before the eternal state? This is where the question of how post-tribulational / post-day of the Lord prophecies become the point of great controversy.

It is true that Paul says nothing explicit about Israel’s future relation to the Land in his treatment of Israel’s failure in Ro 9-11, but certainly this was not in question. Paul would have understood that the ‘necessary’ vindication of covenant promise in the restoration of the natural branches is indivisibly connected with inheritance of the Land. Such reiteration would have been completely redundant and unnecessary to anyone believing the literal words of the prophets.

It is the question of what it takes to fulfill the covenant. Does Paul insist on a future salvation of Israel that does not include return to the Land? How one reads the covenant and understands its language to be either figurative or literal will determine how we interpret the grafting in again of the natural branches. In fact, how we see the election of Israel in relation to the modern situation in the Land will determine how we understand the meaning of the last days and the test of hearts that the crisis of Israel is divinely designed to expose.

So, since Paul does not say anything specifically concerning the Land, does this mean that the inextricable relation of the Land to the ‘everlasting covenant’ (Gen 17:7-8; 1Chron 16:17-18; Ps 105:10-11; Isa 61:8-9; Jer 32:40-41; Eze 36:26-28) has now been transferred to heaven? The question of the Land is carried forward to the time of the unequaled tribulation precisely because it is intrinsic to the covenant and the last day’s assault on the covenant by the forces of the Antichrist.

It is the Antichrist’s war against the covenant that is the special subject of such clearly tribulational passages as Dan 11:28, 30-31, 39; Joel 3:2; Zech 14:1-4 etc.). Manifestly, the nations cross a line of no return when they lift themselves up to assault the covenant land and people. Why is this?

Significantly, the prophets show this particular act of covenant defiance to be the ultimate provocation that causes God’s fury to come up in His face (Eze 38:18; Joel 3:2). We should ask, why, in all the generations of divine forbearance of depravity and gospel rejection, is it only now that the nations finally and fatally transgress the bounds of divine tolerance? (Isa 24:5). It is because God has ordained that His  irrevocable covenant with Israel is to become the watershed issue of division and a stone of stumbling at the end of the age that will test and reveal the thoughts of many hearts (Lk 2:34-35).

Our perspective is NOT dispensationalism. Recognition of a special millennial calling and role for Israel does not militate against the unity of the body of Christ. Saved Israel and saved gentiles in the millennium will be no less members of the body of Christ on earth. However, as the man and woman are equals in Christ, but not in authority, it is no regression to understand that God’s will require all nations to honor His special election of Israel (Zech 14:16-19).

Of course, as always, the freedom and right of God to bestow special favor sets up a test of the heart (Gen 37:3-4, 11, also Ps 2:6, 8 with Ps 48:2; Isa 14:13). This was the test that was put before the woman of Canaan in (Mt 15:24-28). May we not expect that as it has pleased God to move the Jew to jealousy through the gentile, He has an intention to prove the hearts of the nations through a restored Israel at the end of the ‘times of the gentiles’? We are sure that He does, not only then, but even now, as we move towards an age ending collision over the question of covenant election.

Regardless then of how literally we are able to conceive of a restored temple and sacrifice, this question cannot be permitted to dominate all others. It does not change the far greater evidence that favors the view that a future millennium awaits the full and open vindication of the covenant in the salvation of ‘all Israel,’ as we believe Paul intends that term.

Therefore, the NT is not occupied with an agenda of ‘re-interpretation,’ but concerns itself with the revelation and application of a mystery that discovers an age between the advents that realizes some (not all) of Israel’s promises, replacing nothing of what remains to be established on earth with the natural branches at a still future day of the Lord. All of this is in perfect keeping with the well established pattern of NT fulfillment that scholars have called, the ‘already and the not yet’ of an ‘inaugurated eschatology.’

This is why I find it a thing to be wondered at that replacement theology can so well assure itself that an admittedly still future day of the Lord cannot include what the prophets so clearly promise to the ‘natural branches’ at that time. That’s what mystifies me.

Even if we allow for the utmost natural difficulty in understanding a ponderous mystery that is calculated to send us to prayer, still, to so assuredly conclude that the day of the Lord will NOT bring a millennium of covenant fulfillment for the natural branches seems to me a colossal presumption.

Yours in the Beloved, Reggie

2 Responses to Difficult Millennial Questions

  1. Dave

    I don’t guess I have ever really thought about this or it just never crossed my mind. And I might be labeled “Replacement Theologist” by my view, but I do not see two people in the New Testament. I see one people, both Jew and Greek, unified by Jesus Christ. While Israel’s blessings does not cease to exist, I do believe the Church shares in all the blessings promised to Abraham and his seed. Everything promised to Israel is now enjoined by the Church because of Christ.

    A “New” Covenant replaces the “Old” one. I believe this was the message Paul was trying to convey in Romans. If there is no longer an Old Covenant, then what happened to those things promised in the Old Covenant? God does not lie, so they will be fulfilled, but only in the scope of the New Covenant. The New Covenant wasn’t for the Gentiles, but for Israel and only became available to us after Israel rejected Christ. We so often forget that. It is a better covenant than what God had originally made with them and they hoped to see the day that the Messiah came and fulfilled everything.

    If the Church shares in Israel’s pain during the tribulation, then why doesn’t the Church share the same blessings and promises made to Israel? I believe under the “New Covenant” we do. I do not think the Church replaces Israel, but rather joins Israel in their blessings and promises since we are both branches of the same tree. I don’t believe you can bless one side of the tree (Israel) without blessing the other side (the Church).

    As far as the sacrificial system during the Mill, I do not believe there is room for that under the New Covenant. So there must be some other meaning in my opinion. Paul devoted almost the whole book of Romans on the subject of living under the law and how Christ was the once and for all sacrifice. So why would we, under the reign of Christ go back to what was temporary under the law? Again, I think there has to be some other meaning of Ezekiel’s vision which you reference.

    So much of prophecy from the OT can only be seen clearly after its revelation. The Apostles and Jesus both demonstrate this when quoting OT passages and applying them differently than anyone would have thought. I believe this is the case for prophecy of the sacrificial system which would be a slap in the face of Jesus. It would suggest that He alone is not enough for Israel or us for that matter. While I haven’t given it an in-depth study, that is my opinion just from reading your article and what I know of the New Covenant vs the Old Covenant.

  2. Tom Quinlan

    Hi brother Dave,

    Reggie’s article on “One or Two Peoples of God?” (Currently in the “Articles” menu) might be of interest here. I don’t think you’ll get much objection from Reggie on your statement about one people of God, unless the intent is to deny Israel’s future role.

    Also, I don’t think you’ll hear us say that the Church is to take a back seat to the glorious promises of Israel in the millenium. There is certainly enough glory to go around. I just read this in Art’s “Apostolic Foundations” today:

    “The greatest description of Israel’s millennial glory is probably in the book of Isaiah, and certain of the other prophets. For example, she will be named by a new name. Her people will be called the ministers of the Lord. Nations will come to her. She will be a diadem and crown in the hand of the Lord. The language is lavish to describe what this nation will be in the Millennium, so what then will the Millennium itself be? Restored Israel is not the administrator of that Kingdom, but the subject of it. The risen glorified church administers the Kingdom. It is the church who rule and reign with Christ. Israel will be the subjects of the Kingdom as much as they were under King David. This time they will be subjects under the Greater King David (Jesus), who will be their Prince and Ruler forever. They will make known the Kingdom in the same sense that the church today promulgates the gospel of the Kingdom, but the actual administration, the governing, the establishment of this rule of God in the earth is reserved as a privilege for a church of a particular kind. She has established her claim and credential to be co-rulers, and to rule and reign by virtue of her sacrifice, character and conduct in the earth.”

    Those of us who come to Christ before He returns will be enjoying unhindered eternal reward by the time Israel is operating in their millennial blessing. You are right in saying that both sides of the tree are blessed.

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