will there be animal sacrifices in the kingdom?
In some ways, this subject is a difficult one to address, for brethren tend to be entrenched in holding strongly held opinions one way or another. However, we must approach the Word with all the teachability of little children (cp Mark 10:15), implicitly accepting whatever it tells us. We must be prepared to cast aside any preconceived ideas we may have, to be corrected in our understanding by the Holy Writ. And as we shall see, the Bible speaks with great clarity on the matter in question; it leaves us in no doubt as to what form worship in the Age to Come will take.
For some, the suggestion that there will be a re-institution of Animal offerings in the coming Kingdom, undermines the sacrifice of Christ, for it is felt that his offering should be sufficient for all things, there no longer being a need for other sacrifices after his one great sacrifice. Indeed, there is much truth in this feeling, for the offering up of Messiah is the greatest offering that ever has been—or ever will be—made. His sacrifice was far superior to any of the sacrifices under the law, for the Mosaic system required the repeated offering up of many sacrifices, whereas Messiah accomplished all effects in his one great offering: “ … nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with the blood of others; for then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb 9:25-26). And again, “For such an high priest became us … who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself” (Heb 7:27).
THE PUTTING AWAY OF SIN
According to the Apostle, cited above, the Master “put away sin by the sacrifice of himself”. In actual fact, his offering is the only sacrifice by which sin could be put away. Under the Law of Moses, no offering could put away sin: “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Heb 10:4). The shed blood of animals could not take away sins. What that effectively means, is that under the law, when a man offered his animal for a Trespass offering, or a Sin offering, that animal was in itself utterly incapable of removing his sin. It was just “not possible” for the blood of that animal to take away his sins.
But how then, did those who lived under the first covenant find forgiveness? Why were sin-offerings and trespass offerings required of men, if they were powerless to make provision for the covering of their iniquities? The apostle is clear in teaching that the putting away of sins committed under the Mosaic Law was effected by the sacrifice of Christ: “For this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance” (Heb 9:15). The Master then, died “for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament”. It is by his sacrifice that those who transgressed under the law, can find forgiveness. The offerings they made were powerless to save them, but they could find redemption through the work of Jesus Christ.
THE PURPOSE OF THE LAW
But what point was there then, in the sacrifices they were commanded to offer, if it was “not possible” for them to take away sin? The answer becomes clear, when we appreciate that the Law was a Schoolmaster, to lead the people to Christ. It was to teach them the principles of atonement, as a divinely-ordained instructor, that they might be led to the greater Prophet like unto Moses. That is the Apostle’s testimony: “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith …” (Gal 3:24).
Now here is an aspect of the Law not often thought about. It was to bring people into a position whereby they might be justified by faith—in Christ. The Law itself witnessed to the principle of justification by faith (Rom 3:21,22), for those who desired to find forgiveness under it had to look forward in faith to the coming of Messiah, as the lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. A man would offer his sin offering, or his trespass offering in faith that through a greater sacrifice of Yahweh’s providing, forgiveness might be found. Not that they understood all the details—they could not, for the mystery of the Gospel had not yet been revealed (cp 1 Cor 2:7-10), as it was later made known through the apostles and New Testament prophets (Eph 3:5). But nevertheless, through the promises made to Abraham, and the principles of the Law, men would be able to look forward in faith, to the coming of Messiah, who would take away their sins by the offering up of himself.
This is a fundamentally important point to recognise then, when we consider sacrifice in Scripture. No other offering, save that of Messiah, was efficacious for the putting away of sin. All the sacrifices under the Law were but shadows (Heb 10:1), giving a basic outline of the sacrifice of Christ. Their virtue was not in any ability to save, but in their ability to instruct the offerer that there would be a future sacrifice of Yahweh’s providing, who would take away the sin of the world. The vital point to understand, is that it is by Messiah’s offering alone, that forgiveness ever has been, or ever will be obtained, and not through any animal offerings.
SACRIFICES TO COME
What then, do the oracles of God teach us concerning sacrifices to come? Scripture is explicit in stating that sacrifices will be re-instituted in the kingdom. Consider the following testimony of Jeremiah concerning the future:
“Behold, the days come, saith Yahweh, that I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. In those days, and at that time will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David, and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land. In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name wherewith she shall be called, YAHWEH-TSIDKENU (Yahweh our righteousness)”.
So much is familiar to us; we readily and often use this passage in our preaching to describe the Age to Come. But the passage continues:
“For thus saith Yahweh; David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel; neither shall the priests the Levites want a man before me to offer burnt offerings, and to kindle meat offerings, and to do sacrifice continually … Thus saith Yahweh; If ye can break my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night, and that there should not be day and night in their season; then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant, that he should not have a son to reign upon his throne; and with the Levites the priests, my ministers” (Jer 33:14-21).
So then, Yahweh has made a covenant concerning the kings and priests of the Age to come. A covenant which is as certain as Yahweh’s covenant with day and night—a covenant which can only be broken if man can prevent day and night from occurring. This is a certain covenant, which states that the priests, the Levites shall never want a man to offer burnt offerings, and to kindle meat offerings, and to do sacrifice continually. There can be no doubt therefore; sacrifices will be made by Yahweh’s priests in the Age to come – Yahweh has made a covenant that it will be so, a covenant which cannot be broken so long as there remains a day and a night in their appointed seasons.
Another familiar passage that we often use to describe the coming Kingdom of glory is Isaiah chapter 56, which describes what form of worship will be accepted at that time:
“… the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to Yahweh, to serve him, and to love the name of Yahweh, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the Sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called a house of prayer for all people” (Is 56:6-7).
Here, we find that the sons of the stranger who join themselves to the Yahweh will offer acceptable sacrifice upon His altar. Notice this, the sons of the stranger—Gentiles—offering up acceptable sacrifice before Him. Burnt offerings, and sacrifices will be a feature of Divine Worship, in that day when Yahweh’s house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
Again, Isaiah chapter 60 provides a further prophecy of the offering of Gentile Sacrifices in the Age when Christ will bear rule over all nations:
“all the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together unto thee, the rams of Nebaioth shall minister unto thee: they shall come up with acceptance on mine altar, and I will glorify the house of my glory” (Is 60:7).
Here, Arab territories are referred to; their offerings shall come up with acceptance upon Yahweh’s altar. There can be no doubt that the offering up of animal sacrifices will be a prominent feature of worship in the Age to Come.
The last few passages we have considered, make reference to Yahweh’s Altar. This altar is described in considerable detail, in the 43rd chapter of Ezekiel’s prophecy. Again, this is a chapter which is familiar to us, as being something that relates to the future, with verses 4 –5 describing the return of Yahweh’s glory into the house of prayer for all nations, and verse 7 describing, “the place of my throne, and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel for ever”. This chapter gives the dimensions of the altar in verses 13-17, commencing: “and these are the measures of the altar after the cubits: the cubit is a cubit and an hand breadth; even the bottom shall be a cubit, and the breadth a cubit, and the border thereof by the edge thereof round about shall be a span: and this shall be the higher place of the altar …”.
But the presence of an altar generally implies the presence of sacrifice (Josh 22:10 excepted), and we have already considered some of the offerings that will be made. The chapter continues to describe other sacrifices, used in the purification of the Altar:
“and he said unto me, Son of man, thus saith Adonai Yahweh; These are the ordinances of the altar in the day when they shall make it, to offer burnt offerings thereon, and to sprinkle blood thereon. And thou shalt give to the priests the Levites that be of the seed of Zadok, which approach unto me, to minister unto me, saith Adonai Yahweh, a young bullock for a sin offering. And thou shalt take of the blood thereof, and put it on the four horns of it, and on the four corners of the settle, and upon the border round about; thus shalt thou cleanse and purge it. Thou shalt take the bullock also of the sin offering, and he shall burn it in the appointed place of the house, without the sanctuary” (Eze 43:15-21).
LITERAL ANIMAL OFFERINGS
These verses plainly show that there will be literal animal sacrifices offered in that day. Regarding the other references we have cited, it might be argued (and has been argued) that the sacrifices are spiritual sacrifices, not literal animals. The New Testament tells us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1), so maybe that is what is being referred to here; not the offering up of poor defenceless animals, but people dedicating themselves to the Lord.
However, Ezekiel 43 precludes any such application, for this chapter even tells us what will happen to the blood of the animal; it being placed upon the four horns and settle of the altar. The type of animal is named: a bullock, for a sin offering. And that bullock is to be burned in an appointed place, without the sanctuary. There can be no doubt, that what we are reading of here is the slaying and offering up of literal animals, in Sacrifice to the Deity in the Age to Come.
There are those who dispute the application of these prophecies to the coming age, on the basis of Ezekiel 43:11. They argue that the prophecy is a conditional one, that it’s fulfilment was predicated upon the children of Israel repenting of their iniquities. They say that Israel did not repent, and that therefore these verses will not be fulfilled. Let us therefore, take a look at the passage in question:
“Thou, son of man, shew the house to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities: and let them measure the pattern. And if they be ashamed of all that they have done, shew them the form of the house, and the fashion thereof, and the goings out thereof, and the comings in thereof and all the forms thereof, and all the laws thereof: and write it in their sight, that they may keep the whole form thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and do them” (Eze 43:10-11).
Now, notice first what these verses do not say. They do not state that the fulfilment of this prophecy would only come if the people repented. Those words just are not there. Such a statement is not made to Ezekiel. What the verses do say, is “If they be ashamed of all that they have done, shew them the form of the house …”. The verse is not about whether or not the things described will happen, rather it is about whether or not Israel would be shown those things in the first place. The distinction is important; we do not know how many of the people repented, and were ashamed of their sins; some of them may have been, and may have been shown the vision. Certainly for the most part they were not, and they therefore would not have been shown the vision—but that does not preclude the vision from being written down for later generations to see and consider. The objection cannot stand; the verse does not state what it is claimed to.
But in any case, we have proven (irrefutably, we believe), that sacrifices will be an integral part of acceptable worship in the Age to Come from passages outside of this prophecy of Ezekiel. This means that even if the objection was a valid one, it would in itself have little bearing on our main argument, for we can prove our case without reference to Ezekiel.
The argument, however, does not stand, and so we can look to Ezekiel for more details concerning the subject. There will be sacrifices in the Age to Come, and Ezekiel describes them for us; Burnt offerings (43:8, 27; 44:11; 45:17, 25; 46:4), Sin offerings (43:19, 21, 22, 25; 44:27, 29; 45:17, 19, 21-25), Peace offerings (43:27; 45:17), Meat offerings (44:29; 45:17, 25; 46:5,7), Trespass offerings (44:29) and Drink offerings (45:17), are all referred to as being re-instituted in the age to come.
The existence of animal offerings in the kingdom can also be seen from two of the feasts which will be kept at that time; the Passover, and the Feast of Tabernacles.
We read of the Millennial Passover in Ezekiel 45:21-25:
“In the first month, in the fourteenth day of the month, ye shall have the Passover, a feast of seven days, unleavened bread shall be eaten. And upon that day shall the prince prepare for himself and for all the people of the land a bullock for a sin offering …”.
Here, the Passover differs from that kept under the Mosaic institution, for it also combines principles from the Day of Atonement. Instead of a Passover Lamb, there is a bullock for a sin offering, which is offered for the Prince himself, and for “all the people of the land”. Notice this, the Passover in the kingdom age is not kept by all nations, but only by the Prince and all the people of the land. The Passover, being originally designed to memorialise the redemption of the children of Israel from the oppression of Egypt (Ex 12), will be a most fitting mode of celebration to memorialise Israel’s redemption from the Gogian oppressor, and their return to the land from captivity at that time. So it will be a great day of national rejoicing, as a great deliverance will be brought to mind from year to year. Truly in that day, “it shall no more be said, Yahweh liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but Yahweh liveth that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them” (Jer 16:14-15).
THE PRINCE—OFFERING FOR HIMSELF
In the Millennial Passover feast, the Prince is depicted as offering for himself, as well as for the people of the land. From this, it is concluded by some, that the Prince must be a mortal man, and cannot be Messiah. However, this would present an insoluble difficulty, for here, the Prince performs the role of a high priest in offering Sacrifice, and if he is not Messiah, it would present a situation of there being two High Priests in the Kingdom, the Prince and the Messiah—an untenable proposition. The difficulty is immediately removed, however, once we recognise the Master’s own involvement in his own sacrifice. It is true that he needed no sacrifice for transgressions, for clearly, he never transgressed. But he was born with a physical nature which was under condemnation (Rom 6:18), because of the impulses of sin that resided in it (cp Rom 7:17; 8:3). And it was through his Sacrifice that he redeemed himself (Heb 9:12 note: the sense of: “for us” is not expressed in the Greek text here), from the condemnation of that nature, that he might rise from the dead. This is the point—the Master had to redeem himself from the curse of his own nature, in order that he could redeem us from ours. Only when the root cause of transgression was condemned in him by his sacrifice, could the way be made open for our forgiveness. And so, God having “condemned sin in the flesh” of Christ (Rom 8:3) – the “law of sin” which physically dwelt in him (cp Rom 7:23) – he was given immortality, thus providing a foundation for the forgiveness and redemption of others. How wonderfully appropriate it will be, therefore, that in the Age to come, “the Prince” will not simply offer sacrifices for others, in a detached manner of indifference, but with a personal participation and involvement with them. Having been “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Heb 4:15), he will offer for himself to memorialise his own redemption from those infirmities, and his victory over the diabolos, or “sin in the flesh” (Heb 2:14, Rom 8:3), the victory by which both he, and those he came to save might be granted Eternal Life. Thus, the keeping of the Passover will memorialise the principles of redemption in Christ Jesus, from both the oppressor of Israel, and also from the greater enemy, Sin.
THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES
Although it will appear that the nations of the world as a whole will be exempt from the Passover celebrations, it will be a requirement that they attend Jerusalem annually to keep the Feast of Tabernacles: “it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, Yahweh of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles” (Zech 14:16). The verses which follow describe the punishment upon those who refuse to comply: “they shall have no rain”, or in the case of Egypt, “there shall be the plague”. This threatened withholding of rain gives an indication to the purpose of the feast, which is essentially to demonstrate utter dependence upon the Elohim of Israel for all things.
It is not possible to keep the Feast of Tabernacles without the offering of Animal Sacrifice, for under the law it was commanded:
“the fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto Yahweh. On the first day shall be an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein. Seven days ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto Yahweh; on the eighth day shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto Yahweh: it is a solemn assembly; and ye shall do no servile work therein” (Lev 23:36).
For eight days, then, offerings “made by fire” were to be presented before Yahweh, with the first and eighth days being days of rest to the nation. The observance of this feast also involved dwelling in booths, temporary structures constructed from “the boughs of the goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook”. “Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths: that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am Yahweh your Elohim” (Lev 23:42-43). So it is, that whatever other lessons can be drawn from this feast—and there are many—it’s central object was to serve as a yearly reminder of how the Israelites were strangers and sojourners, dwelling in booths, under the Divine supervision and protection as they left Egypt to go into the land of promise. How fitting it will be therefore, that all peoples in the Millennial Age, having left their respective countries to travel to that same land, shall also be taught the same principle—reliance upon Israel’s God for all things—and that those who refuse to comply will learn the lesson the hard way, in the withholding of the Lord’s blessing of rain, until they relent.
But there is another significant point; the feast of Tabernacles coincided with the final ingathering of the harvest: “Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto Yahweh seven days …” (Lev 23:39). And as such, it typifies the final ingathering of peoples at the end of the Millennium, the final resurrection and judgement, when the harvest of the world will be complete, and the situation prepared for the final stage, when Yahweh will be “all in all” (cp 1Cor 15:20-25). How appropriate then, that in earnest of this, all nations shall be gathered in to Jerusalem at the time of this annual event, to present themselves before the Great King, keep this feast, and so be taught in word and practice, of the time of their ultimate ingathering, and acceptance before Yahweh at the close of the thousand years.
SOME OBJECTIONS CONSIDERED
We have seen then, that there are clear and unequivocal prophecies in Scripture, which state that the offering of animal Sacrifices will be an indispensable part of worship in the Age to Come. However, some do raise objection to these, and we bring our considerations to a conclusion by answering some of these objections:
- There are no New Testament passages which state that animal sacrifices will be reinstated, and by contrast, there are New Testament passages which speak of the elements of the Law passing away.
It is true that the New Testament does not contain such prophecies as we have considered in the Old. However, both Old and New Testaments form the complete Inspired Word, and we would be wrong to reject the plain teaching of the Old Testament purely on the grounds that the same teaching is not repeated in the New Testament. To reject future Animal Sacrifices on these grounds is not wise, for it would leave us with many passages of the Old Testament which would otherwise be inexplicable—we have considered some passages which cannot be explained in any other way than to be plainly stating that sacrifices will be offered.
In actual fact, the New Testament does not contradict the Old Testament; there is no passage in the New Testament which states that there will not be animal offerings in the Kingdom. When pressed, those who present this objection will be unable to produce a single such passage. However, it is true that there are plenty of passages which show that the Law of Moses was to pass away, being fulfilled in Christ, such as 2 Peter 3:7,10, a verse often used to show the point:
“the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up”
This is certainly depicting the dissolution of the Mosaic heavens and earth around the time of AD 70—however it does not preclude the coming of a new age, when certain aspects of the old will be reintroduced, in a modified form. Indeed, Isaiah predicts that this will happen, “I will create a new heavens and a new earth …” (Is 65:17). The Mosaic heavens and earth were to depart, but a new heavens and earth are to be re-instituted, with, as we have seen, animal sacrifices being a part of worship there. Finally, the above argument provides us with no answers as to what Jeremiah 33, Isaiah 56 & 60, and Ezekiel 43 actually do refer to, if not animal offerings.
- The Sacrifice of Christ was a putting away of sin once for all, there is no need for any further offering up of animal sacrifices. To think of innocent animals having to suffer in the kingdom is not at all in harmony with what we imagine the kingdom to be like.
To address the second part of this objection first; what we may imagine the kingdom to be like may be different to what it will actually turn out to be. Our picture of the Kingdom must be founded upon the descriptions that Scripture furnishes us with; we have proved irrefutably that animal sacrifices will be a part of the kingdom, and so that should form part of our vision of the future. Part of the problem is that we live in a way that is so detached from the death of animals in an age when we purchase meat shrink wrapped from the supermarket. To speak of “innocent animals suffering” is a loaded, emotive term —animals have to die to provide us with the food which we eat (unless we are vegetarian). We don’t see that aspect, and so conveniently forget it when we enjoy our Sunday roast. But in the kingdom, animals will be slain for a far more noble purpose than to provide man with tasty food—it will be to glorify Yahweh, and provide a graphic picture of how the sacrifice of Christ is able to bring us forgiveness and life.
It is true that the Sacrifice of Christ was a putting away of sin—indeed as we have shown, it was the only sacrifice by which sin could be put away. But that does not mean there will be no need for animal offerings in the future; we have seen that under the Law of Moses, the blood of bulls and goats was not designed to take away sin, but rather to teach about the atoning principles of the sacrifice of Christ. The Law of Moses was a divine institution devised to teach a nation; in the kingdom, there will be many nations who will all need to be taught. What better way then, to revive the old Schoolmaster—which was perfect for the job it was designed to do—on a global scale, to instruct the multitudes?
- Animal offerings have not had to be made for two thousand years since the death of Christ—if they are so important, why don’t we have to offer them?
The Law of Moses was designed to teach a nation; the laws of Christ are for individuals scattered amongst many nations. Here is the difference; the sacrifices were part of a national code, the laws of Christ are for individuals. It has pleased the Lord to command that his brethren memorialise his death through the acts of baptism, and breaking bread together in the period before his return. Of this simple feast of remembrance, the apostle wrote “for as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (1Cor 11:26), which implies that when he come, the memorial feast will have fulfilled its function, and will no longer be kept. A different memorial will be needed for national remembrance, and we have considered passages which do plainly state that sacrifices will be offered in that age. The above objection does not even attempt to offer an alternative explanation of those passages.
Such is the matter as it appears to us. We invite further comment from our readers.