Will Old Testament animal sacrifices be restored when Christ returns?

Question
Will Old Testament animal sacrifices be restored when Christ returns?
Answer
While there are different views concerning this, from what I consider the correct view of eschatology, which is amillennialism, I would say there absolutely will be no animal sacrifices. Let's divide this answer into three parts: 1) one resurrection, not multiple; 2) one sacrifice, not multiple; and 3) one final temple, not multiple.

One Resurrection — Not Multiple

First, the question assumes that someone will be left behind after the second coming. It also assumes multiple resurrections, which there won't be. Consider these Bible texts:

John 5:28-29: Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

Acts 24:15: Having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.
As shown in these inspired texts (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21), both the righteous and the unjust will be resurrected from their graves at the same time: "an hour" (singular), not hours; "a resurrection" (singular), not resurrections). Indeed, all those in their graves will all at once be resurrected. Thus, there will be one awakening, "some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt" (Dan. 12:2). And there is only one resurrection at the second coming, not multiple ones.

There are some who assert that there is more than one resurrection and support this by citing this verse in Revelation:

Revelation 20:4-5: The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

Indeed the Bible does speak of more than one resurrection. However, when does this first resurrection transpire? Is it at the last day, as some assume? I say it doesn't because, for those in Christ, it has already transpired!

Let's look at these three texts:

Romans 8:30: And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified [edoxasen].

Ephesians 2:6: … and raised us up [synegeiren] with him and seated us [synekathisen] with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

Colossians 3:1: If then you have been raised [synegerthete] with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

What isn't clear in our English texts is made clearer in the Greek ones. The words "glorified" in Romans 8:30, "raised" and "seated" in Ephesians 2:6, and "raised" in Colossians 3:1 are each in the aorist tense and the indicative mood. This is important. The aorist tense means something that simply occurred. It's a statement of fact. However, the verbs in question are also in the indicative mood, which reveals that a time element comes into play, or they are in the past tense. In other words, when we interpret Scripture, we should look at them as already having happened in a now but not yet sense. So, the first resurrection has already happened. (Please see, "How can I be seated with Christ in the heavenly places if I'm still sitting upon the earth?" below.)

All those "in Christ" are in an intimate, solemn, binding, and eternal covenant with Christ (Heb. 13:20-21). They are eternally in union and identified with him. When Christ died, we died (Rom. 6:3). When he was buried, we were buried (Rom. 6:4). When he was raised up, we were raised up (Rom. 6:4-5; Eph. 2:5). When he was glorified, raised and seated, so was his invisible church (Rom. 8:30; Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1). Believers are co-crucified, co-buried and co-resurrected with Christ (Rom. 6:3-5). They are co-quickened, co-raised, co-seated in the heavenly places with Christ (Eph. 2:5-6). And they are co-buried, co-raised, co-quickened with him (Col. 2:12-13; 3:1). No wonder Paul seems to already be raptured and in ecstasy when he pens Romans 8:31-39! So great a salvation (Heb. 2:3)!

These verses in Romans, Ephesians, and Colossians are key verses for interpreting Revelation 20:4-5. When properly understood, we realize that the first resurrection takes place when we are born again and that the second death has no power over us.

Since, there is one resurrection at the last day, there won't be anyone left upon earth to even offer animal sacrifices!

One Sacrifice — Not Multiple

Some teach a stark contrast between Israel and the church. They haven't come to the realization that Israel was simply the old covenant church. They also haven't seen the intense and parallel similarities between the old and new covenants. (Please see, "The Old/New Testament Church" and "The Re-Newed or New Covenant?" below.) They assume that at the second coming the nation of Israel will be restored to an earthly prominence and will reign with Christ upon the earth for literally a thousand years. In other words, some would be left behind for a period, which was pointed out to be in error above. They believe the temple and the Old Testament sacrifices will be restored. They claim that these sacrifices will be a memorial, some believing these sacrifices will be efficacious (i.e. having power to redeem) and others saying they won't be. Either way they assume they are reminders of what took place in the past under the old covenant to assist a millennial Israel to better understand Christ's sacrifice during the thousand-year period.

Jesus Christ, the Once-And-For-All Sacrifice

Besides there not being a literal thousand-year millennial period (see “Pre-Mill Dispensationalism and Historical Premillennialism Problems?” below) making all this sacrificial re-institution moot, a return to the Old Testament sacrifices position described above doesn't agree with what the Bible teaches. The author of Hebrews states that the final and perfect sacrifice for sins has already been offered (Heb. 9:24-28). Christ is the "once for all" sacrifice. He was sacrificed "once" to take away the sins of his people (Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 3:18). His sacrifice opened the way to God, so no other sacrifice is needed (Heb. 10:19-22). Jesus fulfilled the entire Law (Matt. 5:17). "It is finished" (John 19:30).

Unlike the old covenant sacrifices that had to be repeated again and again (Heb. 10:1, cf. Heb. 9:25-26) and that could never take away sins (Heb. 10:4), the sacrifice of Christ for the sins of his people was necessary only "once for all" (Heb. 7:27; 9:14, 28; 10:10, 12, 14; 1 Pet. 3:18). There is no alternative because "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12: cf. Rom. 3:20; 10:4). There is, then, no warrant for or need of multiple animal sacrifices. The only sacrifices that should be offered now are by the “royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9) and spiritual ones that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:5).

Old Covenant Sacrifices — Not Effectual

To those that hold that the Old Covenant animal sacrifices were effectual, Scripture emphatically says they never were (Heb. 10:4; cf. Heb. 9:9-11). They never saved a single soul, but only looked forward to Christ who saves his elect. However, efficacious or not, the animal sacrifices are now "dead works."

Old Covenant Sacrifices — Now Dead Works

The writer of Hebrews states:

How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Heb. 9:14).

The "dead works" the author of Hebrews refers to is the old covenant sacrificial system described earlier in Hebrews 9:12-13. The sacrifices ended (became dead) at the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ when the temple curtain tore from top to bottom (Matt. 27:50-51). They were buried at the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.

These works are dead and buried and shouldn't be resurrected. Hebrews 7:12 reads: “For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. Someone better than Moses is here (Heb. 3:3-6). With this, why would we lay again a foundation of "dead works?" Indeed, whoever has entered into Jesus' rest has ceased his own works, and this includes the temple sacrifices (Heb. 4:10; cf. Gen. 2:2-3). Besides, what high priest could possibly replace Jesus, even temporarily, in an earthly temple? (Heb. 6:19-20; 7:11, 23-24). Surely it wouldn't be biblical to ever re-institute the Old Testament sacrifices for any reason.

Old Covenant Sacrifices — A Shadow of Things to Come

Remembering that Israel didn't believe Moses and the prophets (Luke 16:31), and many didn't even believe Jesus himself, why would re-instituting the animal sacrifices have any reminding value? Besides, one doesn't have to re-institute something to be reminded of it; we have the entire Old Testament as a reminder. While their shadow is important, their re-institution is unbiblical. Israel already has everything they need to direct them to Christ (Rom. 9:4-5). The writer of Hebrews urges readers to leave the former things (Heb. 6:1-3) and go on to maturity in Christ (Heb. 5:11-14; 6:1). So, today we are to go forwards, not backwards — "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith" (Heb. 12:1-2).

As the Law was a shadow of the things that were to come, yet the realities were in Christ, so were the sacrifices of the Old Testament (cf. Col. 2:17; Gal. 3:24). While very important, "they serve as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things" (Heb. 8:4-5).

Moreover, in Christ, God removed the distinction between Jews and Gentile (Eph. 2:14-15, 17; cf. 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11, 15). There is now one people of God (Rom. 2:28-29; 9:6-7; Gal. 3:7, 26-29; 6:15-16) and only one way to God (John 14:6). "All Israel" is the invisible church (Rom. 11:26-27). (Please see "Can you explain Romans 11?" below.) There are not two separate systems of salvation for two different people groups. Even Abraham had the Old/New Testament gospel of faith preached to him (Gal. 3:8) and new covenant believers are biblically his seed (Gal. 3:29; cf. Rom. 4:11-17). There is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one faith, one Lord, and one baptism (Eph. 4:4-5).

One Final Temple — Not Multiple

Recall what Jesus said to Israel in Matthew 23:38: "Your house is left to you desolate." The Jewish temple is no longer God's house. When Jesus died, the temple curtain was torn in two (Matt. 27:51-52) and God forever ceased to honor it with his divine presence; it is ichabod in the Hebrew language, meaning his glory has departed from it (cf. 1 Sam. 4:21-22).

The now-but-not-yet temple God is presently building on earth is his living, vibrant church; not a brick and mortar structure (1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:16-7:1; Eph. 2:20-21; 1 Pet. 2:5). At the consummation, it will be transformed into the city/temple envisioned by Ezekiel and John.

John says there will be no earthly type of temple in heaven as "the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple" (Rev. 21:22). Now, some people teach that the temple Ezekiel (Ezek. 40-48) describes is the millennial temple of Israel; however, as both Ezekiel and John teach (cf. Rev. 21-22), this temple will be on the new earth, not the old. Let's look at this a little more closely.

Ezekiel's and John's prophesied temple shouldn't be interpreted literally because there are too many dissimilarities between it and an earthly Jerusalem temple and even with Jerusalem itself. For instance, in Ezekiel there many transformations: 1) topographically, a very high mountain is not located in Jerusalem (Ezek. 40:1-2; 47:1-12); 2) structurally, it's larger than Solomon's temple (Ezek. 40:5-42:20); 3) institutionally, no high priest is named (Ezek. 44:10-23); 4) sacrificially, the New Moon offerings differ (Ezek. 46:1-7; cf. Num. 28:11-15); 5) ceremonially, the furniture in the sanctuary is missing; and 6) unlike the tent in the wilderness and Solomon's temple, unless the temple is the entire invisible church (Matt. 16:18; 28:18-20, et. al.), there no command to build the structure (cf. Exod. 25:8-9; 1 Chron. 22:6-11; Hag. 1:1-15).

So, Ezekiel's prophesied temple must be interpreted symbolically. As such, it isn't referring to the literal Jerusalem on this old earth. For instance, Ezekiel references a "very high mountain" (Ezek. 40:1-2; cf. Rev. 21:10), from where he observed something "like a city" (the temple). Although there are seven hills, there is no such mountain (Greek, mega oros) in or around Jerusalem ("like a city" Ezek. 40:1-2). Additionally, Ezekiel also used figures of speech that take us back to the Garden of Eden (Ezek. 47:1-12; Gen. 2:10; Rev. 22:1; cf. John 7:37-38). As the river flowed out from Eden (Gen. 2:10-14), so Ezekiel’s river flows out from the temple (Ezek. 47:1-2). Ezekiel used prophetic imagery to describe the city/temple. He did this to bring us forward to the final eschatological temple in the new heavens and new earth (cf. John 21-22).

Furthermore, the Ezekiel prophecy (Ezek. 40-48; cf. Rev. 21-22) can't refer to a localized brick and mortar temple in Jerusalem. He described it as "like a city" (Ezek. 40:2), while at the end of his prophecy he stated the city's name is "the Lord is there" (Ezek. 48:35). This thing is huge! All God's people are there (Rev. 21:3), and aren't God's people the temple too? (1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:16-7:1; Eph. 2:20-21; 1 Pet. 2:5). Won't those who overcome be pillars there? (Rev. 3:12-13; cf. Gal. 2:9; 1 Tim. 3:15)? Aren't we filled with his Spirit? (John 14:16; 2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13; 4:30; 5:17-21). Christ in us is the hope of glory! (Col. 1:27; cf. Rom. 8:10). God fills the entire city/temple (Rev. 21:22; cf. Exod. 40:34-35; 1 Kings 8:10-11).

Clearly, this temple in view here is the immensely expanded city/temple of the New Jerusalem! And new heavens and new earth are the new Eden (i.e. garden temple) which is the Holy of Holies where God walked in the very beginning (Gen. 3:8; Ezek. 37:27; cf. Lev. 26:12; Num. 5:3; Deut. 23:14; Jer. 32:38; 2 Cor. 6:16), and where the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world (Gen. 3:21; Isa. 53:7; John 1:29, 36; 1 Pet. 1:19; Rev. 5:6, 9, 12; 13:8). So, ultimately, the entire new heavens and new earth are God's dwelling place (Rev. 21:1-3).

Through the second and last man Adam (1 Cor. 15:45, 47), God accomplishes what he originally ordained in Genesis 1-2 — his total creation and his covenant people, Christ's bride, his invisible church, his elect from the four corners, living in complete unity worshiping him perfectly in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:24). His word never returns void (cf. Isa. 55:11) So, there's only one final temple and it's upon the new heavens and the new earth, not the old.

In Closing

To renew the Old Testament sacrificial system would be to deny that Christ is the only way to God (John 14:6), that his sacrifice alone is sufficient (Rom. 5:1; 8:1), and that there is only one gospel (cf. Gal. 3:8)! Moreover, it confuses the final temple imagery of Scripture. Jesus, the Lamb, is all the sacrifice one needs because “there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 5:2). No other sacrifice can save (Acts 4:12).

Reference

Beale, G. K. The Temple and the Church's Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God. IVP Academic, 2004.

Related Topics

The Old/New Testament Church
The Re-Newed or New Covenant?
Can you explain Romans 11?
Is Jesus the ONLY WAY to Heaven?
Pre-Mill Dispensationalism and Historical Premillennialism Problems?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).