A Temple Filled with Unsearchable Riches, Part 4
There are "uncertain details" which should never be allowed to affect fellowship among brothers and sisters, namely the size of Christ's future temple upon the earth, or the form and shape of its construction.
Who Needs a Temple with Animal Sacrifices?
This grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. (Eph 3:8).1
Today, some Christadelphians spend a great deal of time, individually and collectively, thinking about a future, literal temple. We imagine its vast dimensions and the immense wealth which will be poured into it—as though it will be a bigger, better version of Solomon’s Temple and/or Herod’s Temple. Perhaps we see this future temple as the centerpiece of Christ’s Kingdom on earth.
One particular interpretation of Ezekiel 40-48 (Henry Sulley’s),2 has gained such a foothold in parts of our brotherhood that its belief has practically attained a first-principle status.
It should be said here that such an elevated status for this proposition was never intended at the beginning, as demonstrated by a portion of the lengthy article that first appeared in The Christadelphian Magazine (Birmingham, U.K.) in May 1898.3 This same article has been reprinted subsequently in the pages of the same magazine, at least twice, by each of the first two editors who succeeded Robert Roberts:
a) C.C. Walker: The Christadelphian Magazine, Vol. 60, No. 70–June 1923, pp. 248-256.
b) John Carter, The Christadelphian Magazine, Vol. 92, No. 109–Nov. 1955, pp. 414-418.
This article, written by Bro. Roberts shortly before his death in September 1898, lists a number of teachings and ideas which had been held by some Christadelphians but which, by common consent, had never risen to the level of first principles.
In other words, as Roberts put it, they were merely “uncertain details” which should never be allowed to affect fellowship among brothers and sisters. These ideas included:
- The details of God’s appearance.
- The manner and methods of creation.
- The origin of God’s holy angels and their precise standing in the sight of God
- The details of organization and government in the future Kingdom Age on the earth.
- The exact nature of the Bible “devil” in any given Bible passage, that is, whether the “devil” refers to a person, a government or another organization, or the general principle of “evil” in the world and in the individual.
- The actual location of the Judgment Seat which Christ will establish on the earth when he returns; and—pertaining to our special subject here:
- The size of Christ’s future temple upon the earth, or the form and shape of its construction.
Robert Roberts’s complete statement about the last “general truth” above, along with the “uncertain detail” which pertains to it, is as follows:
(a) The General Truth: That Christ will build the temple of the future age as a house of prayer for all people.
(b) The Uncertain Detail: What will be the size of it? What will be the shape of it? There are no grounds for absolute certainty. There are strong grounds for the view presented by Bro. Sulley in his temple book: but we should not be justified in making the reception of this view a condition of fellowship. It is sufficient that the general truth is received. Any view that may be entertained about details is not inconsistent with the general truth.
Although Bro. Roberts accepted much of Bro. Sulley’s thesis on the last nine chapters of Ezekiel, his words above also make it plain he never considered this idea a first principle. Nor did he believe that others should or would make it so.
Another lesser-known fact bears out this observation. Even though Robert Roberts accepted much of Henry Sulley’s thesis and gave it considerable publicity in The Christadelphian Magazine (even saying there were “strong grounds” for accepting it), not every believer followed suit, even at that time.
There is quite a body of discussion, from more than a few other believers, in another Christadelphian periodical of the time, The Fraternal Visitor. These monthly magazines themselves, the ones published from the 1880s to the turn of the century, are difficult, if not impossible, to find these days.
However, the expositions there cover a wide range of alternative interpretations of Ezekiel 40-48. They also offer serious scholarly counterpoints to Henry Sulley’s ideas. This is not the place to go into this matter for now, but perhaps this area may be explored more fully in the future.
The Hebrew tabernacles and temples of the Old Testament, up to and including Herod’s, were built (and furnished and organized) in attempts to serve the LORD God of Israel. However, as each fell into ruin or was destroyed, sometimes by Israel’s enemies, it has been understood by the prophets–including the Lord Jesus Christ—as a result of God’s will.
It seems that all such great divinely appointed places of animal sacrifice to the LORD have, in the end, proved to be of no lasting value or consequence. The writer to the Hebrews has sounded the final death knell of such buildings and services.
The New Testament evidence (of which there is a considerable amount in Hebrews) suggests that there should be no need for such sacrifices after the perfect and once-for-all sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Heb 7:18-28; 9:9, 12, 28; 10:4, 11, 12, 14, 18; also compare Eph 2:15; Col 2:14; Rom 10:4).
Let us consider one passage from the Letter to the Hebrews.
Although this statement was in the first instance about the Law of Moses, it seems clear that the writer of the Letter is stating certain basic principles about any sacrifice:
- Once “perfection” has been achieved, sacrifices should stop being offered. These sacrifices require death, over and over, and by their very nature, are a continual reminder of sin (the wages of which is death). At the same time, however, they do not provide an absolute cleansing from that sin. Don’t such animal sacrifices seem inappropriate in the Kingdom of God when so many will have been so perfectly cleansed forever from sin and its consequences?
- Won’t even the more positive sacrifices, such as burnt offerings and peace offerings—which are plainly alluded to in Psalm 40 and Hebrews 10 as being fulfilled in Christ—seem out of place in the Kingdom? We remember, as Paul said, that all these regulations have been “abolished” in the offering of the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph 2:15 KJV), who “having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Col 2:14). This suggests that the repetition of any such sacrifices would continue to keep sin in the forefront, when instead people living in God’s Kingdom should be reminded of the complete remedy for that sin, the Man who himself will be a physical presence there.
- Jesus is the One who came to do the will of God, and as such, he is the sin offering, burnt offering and peace offering, all rolled into one. He is also the “end of the law” (Rom 10:4 KJV) in two senses: (1) he brings the law to a conclusion because (2) he is himself the complete fulfillment and personification of that law. As such, he is the living demonstration that the old law of sacrifices is no longer necessary. When a building is completed, shouldn’t the scaffolding be removed?
- Through Jesus, God “set aside” (Greek athetesis) the first covenant, which was “weak and useless.” (Heb 7:18-19). He did this so that He might establish the “second,” which was “a better hope,” because it allowed believers to draw nearer to Him (Heb 10:19). The second covenant is “the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:2), also called “the new covenant.” (Heb 8:8-13; Jer 31:31-34). Under this new covenant, the only true sacrifice is the one the Lord himself has already offered, once, for all time and for all people.
So, we must ask the question: Will there finally be, in the Kingdom Age, a third covenant, reinstituting other animal sacrifices similar to the Law of Moses? All Bible evidence tells us that these sacrifices were done away with forever by the second covenant (Heb 10:9).
Therefore, to go back to such sacrifices is equivalent, in Scriptural terms, to going back to Egypt after being freed from slavery. This seems counterproductive and confusing, to say the least!
The one sacrifice of Christ has made faithful men and women “perfect forever.” (Heb 10:14; cp. Heb 9:12, 28). That perfect sacrifice has been enough for numerous generations of men and women, both Jews and Gentiles, who have lived and died from that day to this. And it will be equally sufficient for all those mortals living during the Kingdom Age.
Does there really need to be some other sacrifice for those future generations of mortal peoples? Isn’t the Lord Jesus Christ enough?
The one sacrifice of Christ has made faithful men and women “perfect forever.”
The Hebrews passages we have cited—in fact, the whole of the Letter—argued for the soon-coming termination of all temple ritual:
This came, as a matter of fact, with the destruction of Herod’s temple in AD 70. When the Romans destroyed that temple, it presented—to the Jews and to the world—God’s corroborating evidence that the sacrifice of His Son had become, once and for all time, the only true and eternal Divine remedy for the human condition of inevitable sin and death.
The same sort of divine proof was provided initially in the tearing of the veil to the Most Holy, from top to bottom, at the time of Christ’s crucifixion:
This opened the way for a new approach into a reconstituted Most Holy through the blood of Christ:
So, as the writer to the Hebrews puts it, having offered that one perfect sacrifice at one time and one time only, Christ “sat down.” (Heb 10:12). That is, he ceased his priestly labors, at least those pertaining to the offering of sacrifice (or sacrifices).
What is the Point of Animal Sacrifices in the Kingdom?
It is indeed plain that there is no longer any need to foreshadow the offering of Christ, once that sacrifice has been completed by his resurrection, glorification and ascension to heaven.
A further point ought to be mentioned. Even the supporters of Bro. Sulley’s interpretation must admit there is no value or benefit pertaining to forgiveness of sins or eternal life in the sacrifice of animals during the Millennium.
Furthermore, the only possible reason for such sacrifices is to demonstrate to spectators what these services must have been like in earlier times. This is explained by the author himself, who can rationalize such elaborate sacrifices only as a looking back to the one sacrifice of Christ. He writes:
“How are we to understand [the] re-institution [of animal sacrifices] in view of the testimony respecting him who ‘hath offered one sacrifice for sins for ever’ (Heb 10:12 KJV)? The obvious inference is that, as under the Mosaic law animal sacrifices pointed forward to the sacrificial Lamb of God’s providing, so, in the age to come, animal sacrifices will point backward to that same provision for taking away sin. As in the former case animal sacrifices could never in themselves ‘take away sins,’ so also in the latter.”4
Bro. Sulley’s admission takes on all the more significance when we stand back for a moment and recognize how serious some believers feel about a Millennial temple. As stated already, this gigantic and marvelously detailed temple—which the author envisioned as being built at Jerusalem—is also assumed to be the focal point of worship in the Age to come.
How meaningful will be the “worship” at a building when the Lord Jesus Christ (the true temple which God built) will be present among all of mankind? Knowing Jesus to be the focal point of worship in the Millennium, I have to say that such a fixation upon a mere building seems perilously close to idolatry.
How can we take Christ’s once-and-for-all sacrifice and put it to the side as negligible? How can we seek spiritual fulfillment in procedures that have “waxeth old” (Heb 8:13 KJV) and in an ongoing slaughter of animals that can never take away sin?
One must ask how important, truly, is a grand edifice when its primary purpose is not salvation but instruction in old rituals rendered obsolete by newer circumstances.
And why is further instruction needed in the principles of sacrifice for anyone, when the risen and glorified Lord Jesus Christ dwells on the earth in the midst of his family, his brothers and sisters? And why is such instruction needed when our Savior has already instituted a suitable memorial for all who believe in him, the Breaking of Bread. (Matt 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20; 1 Cor 11:23-29)?
We may add that the Breaking of Bread is a memorial that the Lord Jesus has promised to renew with his beloved brothers and sisters when he returns to celebrate the “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9) in the Kingdom of God.
In an essay entitled “Ezekiel’s Restoration Prophecies” (from Twenty Essays in Search for Truth), Bro. Alan Fowler writes:
“With the exception of Henry Sulley and his highly idiosyncratic interpretation of the Temple Vision, all architects who have attempted a reconstruction have come to a conclusion that the description of the future temple in Ezekiel depicts an essentially Mosaic pattern in the structure of the temple and in its sacrifices and its insistence on circumcision of those who worship.
Believers in a reconstructed Mosaic Millennial temple argue that this is necessary in order to educate the mortal population. However, they fail to explain how, for about 2,000 years, we have been able to understand the symbology of the temple without its existence. We are therefore being asked to accept that in the Millennium, there will be a widespread prevalence of what today we call “learning disability” among the mortal population of the earth.
It is easy to understand how religious Jews who reject the Lord Jesus Christ look forward to the rebuilding of a Mosaic temple, but it is very difficult to understand how those who accept the inspiration of the writer to the Hebrews and of the apostle Paul could ever anticipate a reconstruction of a Mosaic temple in the Millennial Age.”5
Some of our own hymns, which appear in our current hymnbook and have been sung for many years, implicitly make the same points as above, that is, that the Old Testament sacrifices have been replaced, forever, by the one sacrifice of the Great Priest after the order of Melchizedek (Heb 7:1, 10, 11, 15, 17).
We other priests deny,
And laws, and offerings too.
None but the Priest on high
The mighty work can do:
Through him, then, all our praise be given,
Who pleads his household’s cause in heaven
Now let our humble faith behold
Our great High Priest above,
And celebrate his constant care
And sympathetic love.
The names of all the saints he bears,
Engraven on his heart:
Nor shall the lowliest saint complain
That he has lost his part.
Those characters shall firm remain,
Our everlasting trust,
When gems and monuments and crowns
Have moldered into dust.
The true Messiah now appears,
The types are all withdrawn;
So fly the shadows and the stars
Before the rising dawn.
Now sacrifice, and offered lambs,
And kids and bullocks slain;
Incense and spice of costly names
Would all be burnt in vain.
Aaron must lay his robes away,
No longer offerings bring,
When God’s own Son is sworn to be
Redeemer, Priest and King.
We would do well, I believe, to listen carefully to the words of our own hymns as we sing them and then to heed our own self-administered advice.
Austin Leander Ecclesia, TX
1 All Scriptural citations are taken from the New International Version, unless otherwise noted.
2 Sulley, Henry, The Temple of Ezekiel’s Prophecy, Nottingham, U.K, 1887.
3 True Principles and Uncertain Details; or the Danger of Going Too Far in our Demands on Fellow-Believers, Vol. 35, pp. 182-189, by Robert Roberts, author and editor.
4 Ibid, Henry Sulley, The Temple of Ezekiel’s Prophecy, pp. 58, 59.
5 Fowler, Alan W., Twenty Essays in Search for Truth, Ortho Books, 2013.