Questions & Answers

Dispensationalism, Jerusalem, and Sacrifices

Dr. Gentry:

I have two questions on how you might respond to some Dispensational explanations of Ezekiel 40-48. (1) Some dispensationalists argue that the dimensions of Ezekiel's temple are not a problem because the topography of the land will be radically changed in the millennium. They cite Zechariah 14 in defense of this topographical reconfiguration. They also cite the following passages to argue that Jerusalem will be much larger than what it is today: Jer. 31:38-40; Ezk. 48:30-35; Zech. 14;10-11. (2) The other thing relates to Ezekiel's sacrificial system. They state that since the apostles did not have a problem with sacrifice in the New Testament, then why should we see it as problematic in the millennium? They cite Acts 21:17-26 in support of the idea that the apostles did not have a problem with sacrifice as a memorial and that Ezekiel's sacrifices will have some efficacy for the unregenerate who are present in the millennium.

I have noticed that recently many Dispensationalists have felt the pressure of Covenant Theologians and have started an attempt to go on the offensive with their system via the internet and find ways to get around Covenant objections.

Thanks, J.R. B.

Dr. Gentry's response:

Thanks for your inquiry. Just briefly I would respond thus:

First, the prophetic texts that speak of Jerusalem being raised up are taken by dispensationalists in a woodenly literal fashion, as you know. But in fact, their interpretation is absurd. For instance, in Isa 2:2 we read:

"Now it will come about that in the last days, the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; and all the nations will stream to it. And many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways, and that we may walk in His paths. For the law will go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. Isaiah 2:3

If this were taken literally (as dispensationalists do) note the absurdities involved:

  1. For Jerusalem to be raised up as the highest mountain would involve such tectonic upheaval that it would absolutely destroy the city. Earthquakes are destructive natural phenomena. But this would involve even more catastrophe than quaking. It would engage mountain-building, which is absolutely destructive to a built city.
  2. If it were indeed raised above the highest mountains, it would be uninhabitable. It would be higher than Mt. Everest. This would give it a horribly cold and snowy climate.
  3. Not only would it be uninhabitable, but you wouldn't see great masses of people heading up the mountain to learn the law of the Lord.
  4. Obviously, this prophecy is speaking symbolically of the exaltation and dominance of God's kingdom, not its physical elevation.

Second, the matter of temple worship. The problem with the dispensational argument based on Acts is: The old covenant and new covenant overlapped for about forty years. God did not shut down the old covenant immediately. He gave the Jews a generation to understand the changing of the redemptive economy. We should note:

  1. In the Epistle to the Hebrews (written around AD 68-69), the writer speaks of the old covenant as nearing its final conclusion. Notice the verb tenses in this particularly important statement: "When He said, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear" (Heb 8:13). Consequently, in Acts the temple service was still in effect, but winding down. The temple began to be used as a base-of-operations for the Jewish converts to Christ to reach out to the Jews. But when AD 70 comes, the temple is forever removed.
  2. The very idea of the sacrificial system was to point to its conclusion, when it was finally fulfilled and no longer necessary: "For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never by the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near" (Heb. 10:1).

    In fact, the text goes on to say: "But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, Sacrifice and offering Thou hast not desired, but A BODY Thou hast prepared for Me; in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast taken no pleasure. Then I said, 'Behold, I have come (In THE ROLL OF THE BOOK IT IS WRITTEN OF Me) to do Thy will, O God.' After saying above, 'Sacrifices and offerings and WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices for sin Thou hast not desired, nor hast Thou taken pleasure in them" (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, "Behold, I have come to do Thy will." He takes away the first in order to establish the second. By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us" (Heb 10:3-15).

    This is why Jesus taught the woman at the well: "Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father" (John 4:21). The temple was on its way out. Mount Zion was about to lose its centrality and purpose.

  3. To return to bloody sacrifices even as a "memorial," would be to turn back to the blood of bulls and goats rather than turning to the blood of the Lamb of God. All bloody rites (including circumcision) have been done away with in Christ.

I hope this is helpful for your discussions with dispensational friends.