In this last part of our study of the “Priestly Covenant” I will try to answer some of the main objections which might be thrown at what I have already stated.
1. If Christ is the Final Sacrifice for sins, how can there be a temple and sacrifices in the future?
This objection is based on a misunderstanding of the Book of Hebrews. Mixed in with this is a subtle prejudice (usually of the non-pejorative sort) against the very idea of a temple and sacrifices. I shall address the former issue more than the latter.
In Hebrews 7:12 the priesthood is said to be changed. That being so, how can Levites officiate in any future temple? The answer, of course, is that it is the High Priesthood which is under consideration in Hebrews (Cf. Heb. 4:14-5:5; 7:1-3, 11-13,23-27; 9:6-10, etc). Interestingly, there is no High Priest mentioned in Ezekiel 4o-48; nor is there any Day of Atonement (of which the writer of Hebrews makes so much). This is because Jesus combines both roles in himself (see Zech. 6:12-13). As Jesus now officiates in the heavenly tabernacle (according to Heb. 8:2 & 9:24), when He returns it ought not surprise anyone that, having left a (surely) stupendous temple in glory He should enter a magnificent one on earth!
Hebrews 9:9 and 10:2 make it clear that all the gifts and offerings of the temple could not (and so cannot in any future scenario) cleanse the conscience. It is Christ’s own sacrifice which does cleanse the conscience (Heb. 9:12-14), and clears the way for the blessings of the New Covenant (9:15). It is also plain from 10:2 that in order for the sacrifices of the OT to continue, there had to be a “consciousness of sins”. It is this consciousness which “the blood of bulls and goats” could not deal with. Neither could they finally expiate sins (10:4). Hence, Christ once-for-all offering is the only satisfaction for that task – it is the only propitiation (10:10-14).
Please notice that according to the writer of Hebrews the sacrifices and offerings of the Old Testament did not avail to “take away sins” (10:11). So then, what was the point of them? Well, they were “sacrifices for sins” (Heb. 5:1, 3; 7:27). But they were not potent enough to cleanse the conscience and to provide “redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant” (9:15).
My question in regards to future sacrifices becomes, “how can future sacrifices and temple ministrations be disallowed if they won’t do the work which Christ alone could and did do?” My answer is they cannot; not on that particular basis.
Added to this is the fact that, as I have said, Hebrews really concerns the High Priest, and there is no High Priest (of the Levitical sort) in Ezekiel’s [Millennial] Temple.
The question of the actual role of Millennial sacrifices is not my concern here; only whether temple sacrifices are obviated by anything said in the Book of Hebrews. But certain passages which I take as referring to the future kingdom age speak of children and sinners and foreigners journeying to Jerusalem (see e.g. Isa. 65:18-23; Zech. 8:3-8; 14:16-20). Will these people need to sacrifice as a mark of their inner acceptance of Christ’s work on the Cross? I think it not improbable. But again, my task here is not to explain future sacrifices, only to show that they are nowhere negated. (For more see here).
2. If there is a temple and sacrifices in the Millennium, how can there be any such things in the New Heavens and Earth?
To put the question another way, if the Priestly Covenant is eternal, as it appears to be, how can there be a temple with sacrifices in the New Creation?
If we allow that a case for millennial sacrifices is not defeated by anything in the New Testament, particularly the Book of Hebrews, what about in the New Heavens and New Earth? Here two issues present themselves:
First and foremost is Revelation 21:22, which in the midst of describing New Jerusalem reads:
But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.
One of the main uses of a temple was to create a “sacred-space” within which God and man could meet. In this context there is “no more curse” (Rev. 22:3), so everywhere is a sacred space. The Divine Presence pervades it, so there is no need of a temple as such. However, it needs to be noted that the glorious city itself is shaped like one enormous Holy of Holies (Rev. 21:15-16). It is a Great Cube.
Still, there is no mention of sacrifices in it. True, and it would be wrong to force an implication upon the text to help me along. Still, the New Jerusalem is not the entirety of the New Heavens and Earth. Revelation 21:24-26 state,
And the nations of those that are saved shall walk in its [New Jerusalem's] light, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it.
There will be nations dwelling on earth who, though they will have access to the New Jerusalem, are not occupants of its streets of gold. Twice we are told that they make “pilgrimages” there to bring their glory and honor into the city. But nothing is really said about what is happening on earth. This leaves upon the possibility (which in view of the Priestly Covenant is more than a possibility), that a temple and sacrifices will be still on earth in eternity. I see nothing to contradict this, although I confess that it may not sit easily with many people.
This, of course, is the substance of the second issue. And all I can do is to point out that God made an everlasting covenant with Phinehas. I am not attempting to explain all difficulties in this post. I am simply trying to show that nothing prevents the Priestly Covenant being sustained eternally.
3. Isn’t the covenant with the Levites connected to the Mosaic covenant which is temporary?
My final question can be answered easily enough. First by pointing out that if the covenant with Phinehas is bounded by the temporary Mosaic Covenant then it is a rather pointless covenant; for it would come about anyhow, without any requirement for God to enter into a covenant oath. God could simply prophesy it like He did in other specific cases.
More than this, we have already noted that there are some important differences between the Solomonic Temple and ministrations and Ezekiel’s Temple and ministrations. They are not exactly the same, and this caused the Jews to try to harmonize the conflicting details. But if Ezekiel’s Temple is a New Covenant Temple with Christ as its Melchizedekian High Priest, Who reconciles the throne and the priesthood in Himself (Zech. 6:12-13), then the differences present no problem and the Priestly Covenant transcends the Mosaic Covenant, exactly as the Davidic Covenant, which was made under the Mosaic constitution, is not circumscribed by it.
This then is the Forgotten Covenant. I hope these posts have helped shed some light upon it.