Where the world comes to study the Bible

The Doctrine of the Millennium — Part II: Spiritual Life in the Millennium

Article contributed by www.walvoord.com

One of the objections frequently raised against the doctrine of the millennium is that it substitutes a materialistic and earthly kingdom for one which is primarily spiritual. Augustine, for instance, is cited as one who forsook millennialism because of its alleged carnal and sensuous character. Amillenarians frequently attempt to refute premillennial doctrine by evidence that the kingdom introduced by Jesus was a spiritual kingdom. Oswald T. Allis, for instance, writes: “The Kingdom announced by John and by Jesus was primarily and essentially a moral and spiritual kingdom” (Oswald T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church, p. 70). He goes on to say: “…from the very outset Jesus not merely gave no encouragement to, but quite definitely opposed, the expectation of the Jews that an earthly, Jewish kingdom of glory, such as David had established centuries before, was about to be set up” (ibid., p. 71).

In answer to this common objection, premillenarians first of all concede that there is a present spiritual kingdom, a rule of God existing now in the hearts of men who are willingly obedient to God. To this kingdom every Christian in the present dispensation belongs. This kingdom, however, is to be contrasted to the future millennial kingdom, not by the demonstration that the future kingdom is devoid of spirituality, but rather by the fact that its spirituality is expressed in a special way, namely, the rule of Christ on earth with many accompanying special features of spiritual life and activity. Instead of a carnal and materialistic concept of the kingdom, the Scriptural description of the millennium presents a rule of God fulfilling the highest standards of spirituality.

The glorious presence of Christ in the millennium. Of central importance in the spiritual life of the millennial kingdom is the fact that Christ in His glorious person will be present and visible in the world during this period. This was the burden of Old Testament prophecy according to Peter: “…who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what time or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow them” (1 Pet 1:10-11). The glories that were predicted to follow are not only that glory which is Christ’s in heaven but that which is manifested to the earth at His second advent. It is stated also in Matthew: “…then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt 24:30).

Imbedded in countless prophecies of the millennium are predictions of the manifested glory which will feature the millennial earth. Isaiah writes: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the uneven shall be made level, and the rough places a plain: and the glory of Jehovah shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it” (Isa 40:4-5).

It was a prayer of Solomon relative to the future kingdom: “And blessed be his glorious name forever; and let the whole earth be filled with his glory” (Ps 72:19). The glory of the God of Israel will truly be manifested in Christ in abundant measure. It is indicated in so many Scriptures that one wonders how amillenarians can equate the millennium with the inglorious present age.

H. C. Woodring has provided an analytical summary of the glory of Christ in the millennium (For extensive discussion of the glory of Christ in the millennium see Hoyt Chester Woodring, Jr., “The Millennial Glory of Christ,” unpublished master’s thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, pp. 62-134). The glory of the humanity of Christ is manifested in His glorious dominion (Heb 2:8-9); a glorious govermnent, (Ps 2:8-9; 72:19 ; Isa 9:6-7; 11:4 ); a glorious inheritance of the promised land (Gen 15:7; 17:8 ; Dan 8:9; 11:16, 41 ); a glorious prophet and lawgiver (Deut 18:18-19; Isa 2:2-4; 33:21-22 ; 42:4 ; Acts 3:22); a glorious house and throne fulfilling the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam 7:12-16; Isa 9:6-7; Matt 25:31; Luke 1:31-33); and the glory of the kingdom itself (Ps 72; Isa 9:7; 11:10 ; Jer 23:6).

In like manner Woodring cites the glory of Christ as it pertains to His deity in the millennium. Divine attributes such as omniscience (Isa 66:15-18), and omnipotence (Ps 46:1-5; Isa 41:10, 17-18) are revealed in the millennium. As God He receives worship (Ps 46:6-11; 86:9 ; Isa 66:23; Zech 14:16-19). Other attributes and divine qualities manifested in the millennial reign of Christ are righteousness (Ps 45:4, 7; 98:2 ; Isa 1:27; 10:22 ; 28:17 ; 60:21 ; 63:1 ; Dan 9:24; Mal 4:2); divine mercy (Ps 89:2-3; Isa 54:7-10; 63:7-19 ; Hos 2:23); divine goodness (Isa 52:7; Jer 33:9-15; Zech 9:17); and holiness (Isa 4:3-4; 6:1-3 ; Ezek 36:20-23; 45:1-5 ; Joel 3:17; Zech 2:12; Rev 15:4); divine truth (Isa 25:1; 61:8 ; Mic 7:20).

The glorious presence of Christ in the millennial scene is of course the center of worship and spirituality. The many Scriptures bearing on this theme which cannot in any reasonable sense be applied to the present age nor limited to heaven point to the millennial kingdom of Christ on earth. The glory of Christ is further revealed in all aspects of the millennium and affects the spiritual life of the human race to an extent never realized in previous dispensations. describes a temple in detail as well as the ritual and priesthood connected with it. The explanation of the meaning of this prophecy has been a major problem in the premillennial interpretation of Scripture.

Five possible explanations have been given. Some have explained the Ezekiel description as either the specifications for the temple of Solomon or plans for the later temple built after the return of the Babylonian captivity. The Scriptures, however, give detailed specifications for both temples (1 Kgs 6:2—7:51 ; 2 Chron 3:3—4:22 ; Ezra 6:3-4), and a comparison of these with the Ezekiel passage will demonstrate beyond question that the Ezekiel temple is different in its structure than either of the other temples built by Israel in the Old Testament. Some have offered a third view in an attempt to explain these variations by considering Ezekiel’s temple as an ideal which the returning pilgrims should have observed but did not. There is no Scripture, however, to substantiate that the returning captives knew anything of Ezekiel’s temple. Still another concept is that the picture of Ezekiel’s temple was intended to be a typical presentation only to be fulfilled by the church in the present age. This of course provides no exegesis of the passages and raises innumerable problems.

The fifth view, and the only one which provides any intelligent explanation of this portion of Scripture is that which assigns Ezekiel’s temple to the future millennial period. Inasmuch as no fulfillment of this passage has ever taken place in history, if a literal interpretation of prophecy be followed, it would be most reasonable to assume that a future temple would be built in the millennium as the center of worship. Premillenarians such as Merrill F. Unger, Arno C. Gaebelein, and James M. Gray have written cogently in support of a future temple to be built in the millennium in fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy (Cf. Merrill F. Unger, Great Neglected Bible Prophecies, pp. 55-95; A. C. Gaebelein The Prophet Ezekiel, pp. 271-73; James M. Gray, Christian Workers Commentary, pp. 265-66). Other premillenarians such as H. A. Ironside feel uncertain whether Ezekiel’s temple will be built (Cf. H. A. Ironside, Ezekiel, pp. 284-85). Some have been troubled by the imensions of Ezekiel’s temple. Though it is true that the dimensions of the future temple would not fit the temple site as used historically in previous temples, a changed topography of Palestine in the millennium predicted in many passages would permit a rearrangement of the amount of space assigned to the temple. Actually, other views do not provide any legitimate explanation of the size of the temple either, except to deny literal fulfillment.

The only real problem in connection with a future literal temple is not the question as to whether such a temple could be built in the millennium, but the fact that this would indicate also a literal interpretation of the temple ritual and sacrifices. This introduces some real problems (For a full discussion see John L. Mitchell “The Question of Millennial Sacrifices,” Bibliotheca Sacra, July 1953, pp. 248-67; October 1953, pp. 342-61). Allusions are made to these sacrifices in the details of the construction of the temple (Ezek 40:39-42) with further details on the sacrifices themselves (Ezek 43:18—46:24 ). Ezekiel is not alone in his testimony to millennial sacrifices as Isaiah refers to it (Isa 56:7) and implies the institution of a sacrificial system and observance of the Sabbath (Isa 66:20-23). Jeremiah refers to the same thing (Jer 33:18). Zechariah has similar references (Zech 14:16-21). The details such as are offered for these sacrifices make it clear that it is a distinct system from the Mosaic, but that it involves animal sacrifices as well as other forms of worship similar to that provided in the Mosaic law. The suggestion that there would be literal sacrifices in the millennium is a focal point of opposition from amillenarians and is not necessarily embraced by all premillenarians.

Objections to sacrifices in the millennium stem mostly from New Testament affirmations concerning the one sacrifice of Christ. According to Hebrews 7:27, Christ “needeth not daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people: for this he did once for all, when he offered up himself.” According to Hebrews 9:12 Christ “through his own blood, entered in once for all into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption.” A similar expression is found in Hebrews 9:26 where it affirms: “Now once at the end of the ages hath he been manifested to put away sin by the sacriftee of himself.” Similar expressions are found elsewhere. The question is naturally raised why the sacrifices should be observed in the millennium if the sacrifice of Christ once for all fulfilled the typical expectation of the Old Testament sacrificial system. While other objections are also made of a lesser character, it is obvious that this constitutes the major obstacle, not only to accepting the sacrificial system but the possibility of the future temple in the millennium as well.

Those who consider the millennial sacrifices as a ritual which will be literally observed in the millennium invest the sacrifices with the central meaning of a memorial looking back to the one offering of Christ. The millennial sacrifices are no more expiatory than were the Mosaic sacrifices which preceded the cross. If it has been fitting for the church in the present age to have a memorial of the death of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, it is suggested that it would be suitable also to have a memorial of possibly a different character in the millennium in keeping with the Jewish characteristics of the period.

A. C. Gaebelein writes in support of this view: “But what is the meaning and the purpose of these animal sacrifices? The answer is quite simple. While the sacrifices Israel brought once had a prospective meaning, the sacrifices brought in the millennial temple have a retrospective meaning. When during this age God’s people worship in the appointed way at His table, with the bread and wine as the memorial of His love, it is a retrospect. We look back to the Cross. We show forth His death. It is ‘till He comes.’ Then this memorial feast ends forever. Never again will the Lord’s Supper be kept after the Saints of God have left the earth to be with the Lord in glory. The resumed sacrifices will be the memorial of the Cross and the whole wonderful story of the redemption for Israel and the nations of the earth, during the kingdom reign of Christ. And what a memorial it will be! What a meaning these sacrifices will have! They will bring to a living remembrance everything of the past. The retrospect will produce the greatest scene of worship, of praise and adoration this earth has ever seen. All the Cross meant and the Cross has accomplished will be recalled and a mighty ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ will fill the earth and the heavens. The sacrifices will constantly remind the peoples of the earth of Him who died for Israel, who paid the redemption price for all creation and whose glory now covers the earth as the waters cover the deep (A. C. Gaebelein, The Prophet Ezekiel, pp. 312-13).

Other writers such as William Kelly, Adolph Saphir, and Nathaniel West subscribe to the same point of view. Though West is not as sure that all of the details of Ezekiel’s prophecy will be fulfilled literally, he does say this of Ezekiel’s predictions: “But to return to Chapters xl-xlviii ,—so long perplexing to so many,—the favorite retreat of postmillennialists, and the ready refuge when pressed by Chiliastic argument. Intrenched here, they deem themselves secure. How interpret these Chapters? Do they belong to the 1000 years of John? Are these also a Millennial picture? We answer, Yes. They cannot be literalized into the times of the Restoration under Zerubbabel, nor spiritualized into the times of the New Testament Church, nor celestialized into the heavenly state, nor allegorized into the final New Heaven and Earth, nor idealized into an oriental phantasmagorial abstraction. Whatever difficulties attend the interpretation which regards them simply as the expansion of Chapter xxxvii, a picture of Israel’s dwelling safely in their own land glorified, with the temple shining on exalted Zion, as the prophets have predicted it, more and greater difficulties attend any other exposition… That bloody sacrifices seem a stumbling block, never can avail to dislodge the section from its place in prophecy or history. The picture is a picture of restored Israel from an Exile point of view, when the Temple was destroyed, the City laid waste by the king of Babylon, Israel’s instituted worship wrecked, and the prophet-priest, Ezekiel, was moved by ‘the hand of God’ to comfort the exiles of the Gola! It covers, perspectively, the whole temporal future of the people, and blends the Restoration, the Non-Restoration, the Abolition, the future Restitution, all in one. Isaiah had chiefly dwelt upon the prophetic side of the kingdom, in thrilling terms, Daniel dwells upon the kingly side and, to Ezekiel it is given to paint the priestly side of it” (Nathaniel West, The Thousand Years in Both Testaments, pp. 424-26). Though West elsewhere refers to Israel “offering perpetual spiritual sacrifice to God through Jesus Christ” (p. 239), he cannot resist the literal character of Ezekiel’s prophecy.

H. Bonar likewise writes in support of the literal view as follows: “The temple, the worship, the rites, the sacrifices, have all their centre in the Lamb that was slain. To Him they point, and of Him they speak. Why should they not be allowed to do so in the millennial age, if such be the purpose of the Father? They are commemorative not typical. They are retrospective then, not prospective, as of old. And how needful will retrospection be then, especially to Israel? How needful, when dwelling in the blaze of a triumphant Messiah’s glory, to have ever before them some memorial of the cross, some palpable record of the humbled Jesus, some visible exposition of his sin-bearing work, in virtue of which they have been forgiven, and saved, and loved,—to which they owe all their blessedness and honour,—and by means of which, God is teaching them the way in which the exceeding riches of His grace can flow down to them in righteousness. And if God should have yet a wider circle of truth to open up to us out of His word concerning his Son, why should he not construct a new apparatus for the illustration of that truth?” (H. Bonar, Coming and Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, 1849, pp. 222-23).

Opponents of literal sacrifices, such as Oswald Allis, Keil, Lange, etc., have no real exegesis to offer for the Ezekiel passage and other references to millennial sacrifices. Other than to suggest that they are not to be interpreted literally, their principal argument against the literal sacrifices is the seeming incongruity of such sacrifices as properly representing the work of Christ now fully revealed historically and exegetically in the New Testament.

Floyd E. Hamilton in his discussion of the question of whether Old Testament prophecy should be interpreted literally, loses little time in plunging into the question of millennial sacrifices as a demonstration of the impossibility of interpreting prophecy literally. He dwells upon “the blood and filth” and “the stench of the slaughterhouse” as being unfit for a future temple as a center of worship (Floyd E. Hamilton, The Basis of Millennial Faith, p. 41). It would seem that Hamilton and others have temporarily forgotten that the entire sacrificial system of the Old Testament, while perhaps incongruous with western civilization aesthetics, was nevertheless commanded by God Himself as a proper typical presentation of the coming work of Christ. If such sacrifices were fitting in the mind of God to be the shadows of the cross of Christ, what more fitting memorial could be chosen if a memorial is desired for that same sacrifice. Obviously, a memorial is not intended to equal or to be a substitute of the real sacrifice, but as a ritual it is to point to the reality which is Christ.

The literalness of the future temple and its sacrificial system, however, is not inseparable from the premillennial concept of the millennium and, though in keeping with the general principle of literal interpretation, is not the sine qua non of millennialism. It is significant, however, that most thoroughgoing students of premillennialism who evince understanding of the relation of literal interpertation to premillennial doctrine usually embrace the concept of a literal temple and literal sacrifices.

If a literal view of the temple and the sacrifices be allowed, it provides a more intimate view of worship in the millennium than might otherwise be afforded and, though the system as revealed is different from the Mosaic in many particulars, it obviously has as its center the redemptive and sacrificial system.

Spiritual life in the millennium will be characterized by holiness and righteousness, joy and peace, the fulness of the Spirit, and the worship of the glorious Christ. The fact that Satan will be bound and demons will be inactive will provide a world scene in which spiritual life can abound. Premillennialism instead of denying the spiritual character of the millennium affirms its high standard of spiritual life which in many respects is far above any previous dispensation.

Dallas, Texas

(Series to be continued in the July-Sep Number, 1958)


This article was taken from the Theological Journal Library CD and posted with permission of Galaxie Software.