Thomas Ice is a Dispensationalist and the Executive Director of the Pre-Trib Research Center in Wash. D.C.
The Research Center was founded a few years ago by Tim LaHaye and Mr.
Ice to research, teach, proclaim, and defend pretribulationism.
Thomas Ice wrote an article entitled Why Literal Sacrifices in the Millennium? (Click on this title to view the webpage for his article). I wrote a response to his claims and this article is a presentation of his thoughts followed my my response. I have not edited his words and present them just as he wrote them. My responses to his claims follow the indented and italicized quotations from Ice as follows in this example.
WHY LITERAL SACRIFICES IN THE MILLENNIUM?
A common objection to the consistent literal interpretation of Bible prophecy is found in Ezekiel’s temple vision (Ezekiel 40-48). Opponents argue that if this is a literal, future temple, then it will require a return to the sacrificial system that Christ made obsolete since the prophet speaks of “atonement” (kiper) in Ezekiel. 43:13, 27; 45:15, 17, 20. This is true! Critics believe this to be a blasphemous contradiction to the finished work of Christ as presented in Hebrews 10.
Hank Hanegraaff says that I have “exacerbated the problem by stating that without animal sacrifices in the millennium, Yahweh’s holiness would be defiled. That, for obvious reasons, is blasphemous.” He further says that such a view constitutes a return “to Old Covenant sacrifices.”1
“Is it heretical to believe that a temple and sacrifices will once again exist,” ask John Schmitt and Carl Laney? “Ezekiel himself believed it was a reality and the future home of Messiah. Then, it becomes not heresy to believe that a temple and sacrifices will exist; rather, it is almost a heresy to not believe this, especially because it is a part of God’s infallible word. The burden on us is to determine how it fits — not its reality.”2 At least four other prophets join Ezekiel in affirming a sacrificial system in a millennial temple (Isaiah 56:7; 66:20-23; Jeremiah 33:18; Zechariah 14:16-21; Malachi 3:3-4), which supports a literal and thus futurist understanding of Ezekiel.
Ice is confusing literalizing something with fitting the picture into scripture. He agrees with the thought that if Ezekiel believed there would be literal animal sacrifices, then we must simply accept the thought that there will be these sacrifices. So, he says, we must simply figure out how literal animal sacrifices can fit into the overall picture with New Testament teachings that claim Christ's sacrifice finished the need for atonement and sacrifice for sin once and for all. However, Ice and his fellow literalists have overlooked the fact that Ezekiel said those animal sacrifices were for atonement and for sin. When the rest of the Bible, especially the New Testament, states truths about sacrifice for atonement and sin that demand we cannot literalize Ezekiel's prophecy without making conclusions that present God as contradicting His own truths by His actions, then we cannot literalize that prophecy. Hebrews 10 literally stated that sacrifices would only continue to be offered when the sacrifices could not perfect the people who draw nigh to God by them. Whether this picture of animal sacrifices are mentioned in Ezekiel or not is not the point. It is whether or not a literalizinig of these instances of animal sacrifice is allowed due to the plain teachings in the New Testament. So, it is extremely illogical and narrow minded to say that it is blasphemy to not believe these will occur literally.
Using Ice's reasoning, we can say it is blasphemy to not accept the idea that Jesus is presently a lamb with seven eyes and seven horns since that is what we read in Revelation 5. We are not told John believed there would be an actual lamb with that many eyes and horns, or not. We are not told Ezekiel actually believed there would be animal sacrifices in the millennium. Ice simply said Ezekiel, himself, believed it was a reality. How do we know? Where does Ezekiel say this is not a type or shadow? We do not read John saying the lamb with 7 eyes and horns is a type or shadow, but we still believe it was. The lamb reference is also part of God's infallible word. Ice is being very illogical in this instance, and the overwhelming thought that comes to me when I read such stretches of reasoning is that he is indeed defending dispensationalism, but with the conviction that he must come up with anything in order to do so, whether it is ridiculous or not. Some people simply believe they cannot be wrong if they adhere to their "church's" tradition on a matter, because their church cannot be wrong. For some reason, prophecy is always high on the list of teachings that cannot be questioned, but only defended, due to the belief such doctrines their church proposes cannot be wrong.
NEW COVENANT SACRIFICESWe do not believe that reinstituting sacrifices in a future dispensation will be a return to the Mosaic system of the Old Covenant. The Mosaic Law has forever been fulfilled and discontinued through Christ (Romans 6:14-15; 7:1-6; 1 Corinthians 9:20-21; 2 Corinthians 3:7-11; Galatians 4:1-7; 5:18; Ephesians 2-3; Hebrews 7:12; 8:6-7, 13; 10:1-14). The millennium will be a time in which Israel’s New Covenant will become the ruling jurisdiction (Deuteronomy 29:4; 30:6; Isaiah 59:20-21; 61:8-9; Jeremiah 31:31-40; 32:37-40; 50:4-5; Ezekiel 11:19-20; 16:60-63; 34:25-26; 36:24-32; 37:21-28; Zechariah 9:11; 12:10-14). Therefore, it will not be a time of returning to the old but of going forward to the new. “For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also” (Hebrews 7:12).
It is one thing to say Mosaic law will not be reinstated, but it is another to say that sin offerings that are distinctly mentioned in Ezekiel 45 will literally occur. Mosaic Law may not be re-instituted, but Ice believes sin offerings that also occurred in Mosaic Law will be re-instituted, and that is just as bad. The truth of the matter is that Ezekiel was not lying, but he was speaking about a vision he saw that can only be interpreted symbolically because of the truths of the cross sacrifice in the NT. Are we saying he did not see this vision? Of course not. John, also, actually saw Jesus as a Lamb with seven eyes and horns. But we know that was not going to be fulfilled literally. The truth is that Jesus fulfilled all the sacrifices offered in the Old Testament, for all their various reasons, in His single sacrifice. And THAT PICTURE is used in Ezekiel, whether Ezekiel knew it was symbolic or not. Peter told us that the prophets of old did not write for their time and their benefit, but their writings were for our admonition.
1 Peter 1:10-12 KJV Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: (11) Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. (12) Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.
The truths of what those prophets wrote were not revealed to those prophets, such as Ezekiel. They testified of the sufferings of Christ. This means we can read Ezekiel and understand all that the sacrifice of Christ accomplished. We understand that the New Testament taught that the CHURCH is the temple of the Holy Ghost. The various sacrifices Ezekiel foretold were types and symbolic pictures of what Christ accomplished for the church. By looking at what sin offerings were instituted for in the Old Testament, whether Ice believes Mosaic Law will be reinstated or not, we can learn exactly what the cross of Jesus did for us, for those sacrifices were types and shadows of Christ's accomplishments on the cross. Christ did not only die for sin, but for atonement. He also died for our victory over the works of the flesh, according to Galatians 5:24. His single sacrifice was not fulfillment of only one of the Old Testament sacrifices, but for all of them! That same concept is what we are intended to understand when we read of all the various sacrifices Ezekiel foretold would occur in his future, as fulfilled in Christ.
The new millennial law will contain a mixture of Mosaic-type laws with totally new non-Mosaic laws not found in the 613, under the jurisdiction of the New Covenant. Jesus the Messiah will be physically present instead of the Shechinah glory presence in conjunction with the ark of the covenant;
This was stated by Ice in his assumption that Jesus will literally rule in a physical kingdom, when Jesus said that is impossible by referring to the Kingdom as something that cannot be seen.
Luke 17:20-21 GNB Some Pharisees asked Jesus when the Kingdom of God would come. His answer was, "The Kingdom of God does not come in such a way as to be seen. (21) No one will say, 'Look, here it is!' or, 'There it is!'; because the Kingdom of God is within you."
... a new priestly order from the sons of Zadok (Ezekiel 40:46; 43:19; 48:11) instead of the Levites; a new temple measuring one mile square (Ezekiel 40:48-41:26) instead of the much smaller Solomonic model. Randall Price tells us:
The previous section concerning the design of the altar of burnt offering (43:13-27) introduced the reinstitution of the sacrificial service, which continues in the subsequent chapters (44-46) with regulations for the Levitical priests and the various sacrifices to be offered for Israel’s atonement. Although detailed instructions concerning the institution of the sacrificial system appear for the first time in these chapters, frequent references to the practice have been made since the beginning of the prophecy (40:38-43, 46-47; 41:22; 42:13-14).Moreover, these references are not incidental, but intrinsic to the entire presentation of Ezekiel’s vision in chapters 40-48. For example, there is a statement concerning the sacrificial system in every chapter but one (chapter 47). These references include: “new moons and Sabbaths . . . all the appointed feasts” (Ezekiel 44:24; 45:17; 46:3, 11-12),“daily offerings” (Ezekiel 46:13-14), “burnt offerings, grain offerings, and the libations” (Ezekiel 45:17; 46:2, 4, 11-15), “blood sacrifices” (Ezekiel 43:20), an “altar” for burnt offering (Ezekiel 40:47; 43:13-27), an “altar” for incense offering (Ezekiel 41:22), “boiling places” to “boil the sacrifices of the people” (Ezekiel 46:23-24); a “Zadokite” priesthood to “offer Me the fat and the blood” (Ezekiel 40:46; 42:13-14: 43:19; 44:15-16; 48:11), a “Levitical” priesthood to “slaughter the burnt offering” (Ezekiel 44:10-11;48:22). Furthermore, the offerings are stated to be for “a sin offering” (Ezekiel 43:22, 25; 44:24, 29) and to “make atonement” (Ezekiel 43:20; 45:25). Since the sacrifices and sacrificial personnel are so prominent throughout these chapters, the treatment of the sacrifices cannot be avoided.
It is hard to believe such writers actually think such things as i quoted above in light of the fact that offerings for sin and atonement cannot occur after Christ's offering for sin and atonement as stated in the book of Hebrews. The details of sacrifices and priests are prominent in Ezekiel's writings because there is much rich symbolism to be understood in explaining the work of the cross and Jesus Christ's sacrifice than lack of mention of them would afford, whether these short-sighted men can correctly deduce what they are or not.
Again, Hebrews 10 clearly stated that sacrifices would only continue to be carried out for sin if the consciences were not purged, and if the offerers were not perfected. Since Hebrews 10:14 reads that Christ's offering forevermore perfected those who are sanctified, then sacrifices for sin ceased.
Hebrews 10:3-4 KJV But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. (4) For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
Hebrews 10:16-18 KJV This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; (17) And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. (18) Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.
SIN OFFERINGS were explicitly listed in Ezekiel 45.
Ezekiel 45:23 KJV And seven days of the feast he shall prepare a burnt offering to the LORD, seven bullocks and seven rams without blemish daily the seven days; and a kid of the goats daily for a sin offering.
Hebrews 10 reads THERE IS NO MORE OFFERING FOR SIN once God remits iniquities through an offering, and that is exactly what Christ's offering accomplished. That means there can be no SIN OFFERINGS after the cross.
WHY A TEMPLE AND SACRIFICES?
The purpose for a temple throughout Scripture has been to establish a location upon earth—which is under the curse of sin—for the presence of God that reveals through its ritual God’s great holiness. God’s plan for Israel includes a relation to them through a temple since He wants to dwell in the midst of His people. Currently the Church is God’s spiritual temple made of living stones (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; Ephesians 2:19-22). The millennium will return history to a time when Israel will be God’s mediatory people but will also continue to be a time in which sin will be present upon the earth.
It is also blatantly false to say Israel will once again be God's mediatory people. Israel has cut themselves off from the promises of God by violating the requirements laid out in those promises. Those promises are not unconditional. I will actually post a lot of writing about this specific truth later in days to come, as I am currently studying that aspect.
The fact that the covenant for the church's existence is not faulty, since only faulty covenants require additional ones later (Heb 8:7), means that everything Ice said about this additional temple that belongs to another covenant is patently false.
Thus, God will include a new temple, a new priesthood, a new law, etc., at this future time because He will be present in Israel and still desires to teach that holiness is required to approach Him. This is contrasted with the fact that no temple will exist in eternity (Revelation 21:22) because God and the Lamb are the temple since there will be no sin in heaven, thus no need for ritual cleansing.
This is evidence of Ice's lack of understanding of biblical imagery and context. One has to make things up as one goes along, in order to make the literalist picture work, although the Bible does not explicitly state such things will literally occur. Notice that none of the New Testament writers plainly taught anything about a literal reinstitution of animal sacrifices and physical temple. Such ideas have to be contrived from prophecies that do not state these things shall be literal, themselves. One has to actually add to what the New testament writers taught as doctrine in order to accept this literalist interpretation of prophecy.
Ezekiel 47 reads of a river flowing from the temple, where trees exist on either side of the river whose leaves give healing and fruit is for food. Revelation 22 shows the exact same river with the same trees on either side of the river whose leaves give healing and fruit is for food. But the river is flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb in revelation, and not a temple as in Ezekiel. Why the discrepancy? Its it because Ezekiel's temple river and trees are a totally different set of trees and river than John's in Rev 22? No. THE BIBLE GIVES THE ANSWER!
Revelation 21:22 KJV And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.
The reason Ezekiel saw a temple issuing out the river and John saw a throne of God and the lamb issuing out the river is because GOD AND THE LAMB are the temple! Ezekiel was shown his picture of the temple because the prophets did not know that the sacrifice of Jesus, represented by the Lamb that John the Baptist referred to as Christ, would fulfill all their symbolic types and shadows that dealt with sin. They new a Messiah would come, but they did not know the details of how Christ would actually carry out atonement. This shows us the same reason why Ezekiel was shown a temple and priests and sin offerings.
The painstaking detail in Ezekiel 40-48 is similar to the instruction given to Moses for building the tabernacle and then to others for building the Solomonic temple. Such detail is meaningless unless taken literally as were the tabernacle and first two temples.
Incorrect. We are distinctly told that the tabernacle of Moses was a grand type full of symbolic truths that point to the work of Jesus Christ in Hebrews 9. Hebrews 9 only mentions some of the types, and Hebrews speaks of more elsewhere in its writings. So whether details are provided or not, those details prove to be types of Christ. There were details of the most holy place, which Hebrews 9 explains represented Christ's work in the true temple of heaven. So details do not mean there is no type or shadow to be had for understanding Christ as Ice implies.
If the detail was intended to be symbolic, the symbols are never explained,
Ice said the symbols were not explained by Ezekiel, but overlooks the fact that they not explained in Exodus concerning the most holy place, but we know they are symbolic due to New Testament teachings. Does the New Testament's silence on other details of the tabernacle of Moses imply that these other details are not symbolic? Who would say so?
...as is usually the case with genuine biblical symbolism. Because no textual basis exists for a non-literal interpretation, those attempting such explanations become subjective in their many and various guesses about the meaning of the passage
The textual basis for a non-literal interpretation is the doctrinal facts stated in Hebrews 10 regarding need for continued sacrifices for sin. And Hebrews 10 forbids further need since a sacrifice was offered that perfects the comers thereunto, and that was the sacrifice of Christ!
It must be remembered that the levitical sacrifices of the Mosaic system are said by the Bible to “make atonement” as well (for example, Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31, 35, etc.). If these sacrifices in the past actually atoned for the people’s sins, which, of course, they did not, then they would be equally blasphemous in light of Christ’s perfect sacrifice.
Ice gets quite ridiculous at this point. He implied Moses lied and God lied when sacrifices were offered for "atonement", by saying they actually did not atone for sins. Meanwhile Ice stated in this article that Ezekiel's reference to these events means they must occur since they are in God's Word. What about applying the same veracity for something mentioned in God's Word about OT offerings for atonement? After all, the bible said those sacrifices were for atonement. Was God lying? Did not Moses believe they were for atonement as Ice claims Ezekiel believed actual animals were to be offered according to his prophecy? What else can he have implied other than saying Moses lied about the atonement in those sacrifices? Ice does not say. The only way we cannot make a liar of God and Moses is to understand that they LED TO ATONEMENT that would be fulfilled by Christ's offering of Himself for atonement. Those people who lived under Law in Moses' day had faith in the atonement that represented Christ's true atonement, and was counted for them for atonement as though they had faith in Chris as we do, when Christ actually made atonement. They did not receive full atonement in their day, of course. But their offerings for atonement still were efficacious by their effects of atonement being put ON HOLD, so to speak, until their antitype, Jesus Christ's sacrifice, actually occurred.
In this manner alone, God and Moses are not made to be liars in saying those animal sacrifices were for atonement.
Hebrews 10:4 says, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Furthermore, there would have been no need for Christ’s once and for all atoning sacrifice if these past acts did the job.
Since Christ's sacrifice did the job, and since those sacrifices of old were clearly stated to be for ATONEMENT, then my explanation above is the only one I can conceive that makes more sense of this biblical picture.
So what do both past and future sacrifices accomplish if they don’t actually remove sin? These sacrifices provide ritual cleansing of the priests, sanctuary, and utensils. Only Christ’s sacrifice on the cross actually removes one’s sin. Jerry Hullinger provides a solution that:
...deals honestly with the text of Ezekiel, and in no way demeans the work Christ did on the cross. This study suggests that 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.
This explanation is false because Ezekiel did not say it was for ceremonial uncleanness alone. They were simply said to be sin offerings and for atonement. Period.
Because of God’s promise to dwell on earth during the millennium (as stated in the New Covenant),This is not taught in the New testament, and is therefore a moot and false point.
it is necessary that He protect His presence through sacrifice...
Protect His presence through sacrifice?? Where did these people ever get this idea? How would sacrifices protect His physical presence on earth? When Jesus resurrected from the dead in a very physical and immortal body, He did not need protection through sacrifice then! He remained for forty days in that body on earth! It is ridiculous and utter folly to say His physical presence on earth requires protection in any form at all while on earth.
It should further be added that this sacrificial system will be a temporary one in that the millennium (with its partial population of unglorified humanity) will last only one thousand years.
Temporary or not, it is absolutely impossible to occur because the only reasons for continued sacrifices ever given in the bible are found in Hebrews 10 where we read they continue only when the offerers are not perfected by any sacrifice that has ever occurred yet.
Critics of future millennial sacrifices seem to assume that all sacrifices, past and future, always depict Christ’s final sacrifice for sin. They do not! There were various purposes for sacrifice in the Bible. Many of the sacrifices under the Mosaic system were purification rituals.
How more ignorant can a writer be? Christ's sacrifice was not only for sin. It was for many things, including purification! Everything all those many sacrifices accomplished under law are culminated in Christ, and Christ died for more than just our sins.
This is why atonement can be said in the past to be effective, yet still need Christ’s future sacrifice, because many of the sacrifices did atone ceremonially, cleansing participants and objects in temple ritual. In Ezekiel 43:20 and 26, the atonement is specifically directed at cleansing the altar in order to make it ritually clean. The other uses of atonement also refer to cleansing objects so that ritual purity may be maintained for proper worship (Ezekiel 45:15, 17, 20).
Making a place in a building ritually clean is mentioned in Hebrews 9 as being fulfilled in Christ in plain terms.
Hebrews 9:21-24 KJV Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. (22) And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. (23) It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. (24) For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us:
We are distinctly told that Christ's blood did more than atone for sins. It also cleansed Heaven's holy place, itself. It was not that Heaven was unclean, but it was ceremonially cleansed since our participation would spiritually occur in this most spiritual realm and domain. Ice is obviously ignorant of such teachings in Hebrews 9, which is not hard to understand since Hebrews writes of some things hard to be understood!
Many who take a literal interpretation of these sacrifices also believe that they will serve as a memorial to Christ’s once-for-all atoning work. Yet, critics believe this to be a flawed conclusion. Support for a future memorial aspect can be seen in the fact that our current observation of the Lord’s Supper includes this aspect (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
I already dealt with the memorial error. And this gets even more ridiculous here. Communion supper of the eucharist is not offering blood sacrifices again. It is symbolic and without blood. and it is not for sin, but to symbolize unity in Christ.
Under the Mosaic system — which looked ahead — many times various temple sacrifices are specifically called “memorials” (Exodus 30:16; Leviticus 2:2, 9; 5:12; 6:15; 24:7; Numbers 5:15, 18, 26). Such terminology could in fact be the basis for our current Church Age understanding of remembering the Lord’s death adopted by Paul. The Mosaic memorial aspect clearly supports viewing future Temple sacrifices in this way, as millennial believers look back upon Christ’s sacrificial provision.
If these MEMORIAL sacrifices were without blood and without taking the life of the flesh, then they would be acceptable as memorials and would not violate Hebrews 10. but communion is without blood and natural animal life.
The presence and purpose of millennial sacrifices neither diminish the finished work of Christ, nor violates the literal interpretation of these prophetic passages.
They most certainly do diminish and violate the work of Christ. Dr. Ice's explanations are easily proved as error.
Nothing in Ezekiel 40-48 conflicts with the death of Christ or New Testament teaching at any point. The supposed contradictions between a literal understanding of Ezekiel and New Testament doctrine evaporate when examined specifically and harmonized. Although there will be millennial sacrifices, the focus of all worship will remain on the person and work of the Savior. The millennial temple and its ritual will serve as a daily reminder of fallen man’s need before a Holy God and lessons about how this same God lovingly works to remove the obstacle of human sin for those who trust Him. Maranatha!
The only way Ezekiel's words and the New Testament can harmonize is for the Ezekiel's words to be understood as symbolic visions that spiritually represent all the facets of what Christ's sacrifice on the cross accomplished.