The Forgotten Covenant (Pt.4)

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

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.

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26 comments

  1. Thanks very much for opening up these difficult issues and providing such clear reasoning. Just a knee-jerk reaction comment though to one point. You write : “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.”

    Wouldn’t this then entail death in eternity?

    Thanks again.

    1. Justin,

      This is an excellent question and I cannot furnish a very satisfactory answer to it. Here are two possibilities:

      1. If one adopts an old-earth position then one already has God pronouncing everything “very good” over millions of dead and fossilized animals which were killed by predators and disease while thorns and thistles were growing around them. Add to this the view of men like Beale and Dumbrell that only the Garden of Eden was really “good” and there cannot be any quarrel about animal death in Eternity. Of course, I don’t take such a position so this option is not open to me!

      2. The word translated “everlasting” in Numbers 25:13 is “olam” does not automatically mean “eternal”. In fact, that is not its primary sense. The word could be translated as “durable” or “age-lasting”. In that case there would be an implied limitation of the covenant to the history of this earth. That would take us up to the close of the Millennium. This fits its usage in Genesis 9:16 and the Noahic Covenant. Would this suit the Abrahamic and Davidic and New Covenants? Perhaps, but not without a little discomfort. Genesis 17:7-8 serves to stress the “everlasting” nature of the covenant through Isaac. Here the meaning is best understood as eternal. See John Sailhamer, The Pentateuch As Narrative, 158.

      Thus, this understanding would not require a continuance of sacrifices after the Millennium.

      Thank you for your question.

      God bless,

      Paul H

      1. That’s a very satisyfing answer. Certainly option 1 is not open to us. I was aware that olam does not mean “eternal” since it is used in the O.T.for things that did end and covenant folk like to point that out. But I did think you were taking the view that in this context it was eternal.Clearly you don’t although you are able to show that other covenants are eternal. It therefore seems to me you accommodate the passages convincingly. I’m glad I asked you. Thanks very much.

      2. I thought of something while reading Jeremiah 33. It’s thin — REAL thin, but here it goes:
        in v20, it seems as if as long as the covenant with night and day exist, so shall the Levitical priesthood and Davidic throne exist.
        but in Revelation, God seems to do away with his covenant with night and day. Therefore, the throne and priesthood maybe might not be “eternal”
        but alas, in vs 25, this is slightly altered, where, the Davidic throne (with no mention of the priesthood) is contingent upon God being the author of the cosmos, which of course, is absolutely and immutably true. So in vs25, the Davidic throne (and maybe not the priesthood) is preserved as being eternal.
        I understand God is using elaborate language to get across a point, and I’m probably way wrong, but I thought it was at least worth mentioning.

        Also, Dr. H, do you have a good reference that treats the concept of “everlasting” (that is, “olam” and other words to describe “forever”)? I’m wondering if sometimes when God says forever, He means until the end of the “age” (dispensation?), end of “time” itself (up to eternity-future) or if it means forever and ever (up to and including eternity future). the first does not sit well with me at all, but the latter two I could possibly be able to adopt. thanks!

      3. Alex,

        These are good questions. I cannot be definite, but here are some thoughts: First, although it is common to believe it, the Book of Revelation does not say that there will be no Sun or Moon in the New Creation. It only says that there will be no NEED for these in New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:23; 22:5). Hence, this does not really affect the question.

        I cannot think of a good reference for ‘olam’ off the bat, but it can mean “till the age end” as I note above. But the continuity between this creation and the next (as I see it) encourages me to view the usage of terminology implying “everlasting” in Jer. 33 etc., as eternal in connection with the covenants. In fact, I would even argue this in connection with the Noahic covenant – since it’s stipulations transfer to the New Heavens & Earth.

        God bless,

        Paul

      4. Thanks very much for these thoughts Alex and for the response Paul. Incidentally I received my latest copy of The Christian Research Journal and Hank Hannegraaff has a 12 page article entited “Left behind: from root to ripened fruit.” It’s lifted largely from his Apocalypse Code and spends quite a bit of it interacting with LaHaye. He cites certain passages in support of his position as if dispensationalists have never seen them before! What interested me though was his comments drawn from Timothy Webber re the number of notable early dispensationalists eg. Gaebelein who were on the vanguard of promoting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories eg.The Protocols. That was news to me and quite a surprise.

  2. The Priestly covenant is definitely the forgotten covenant, and, personally, I’ve never studied it. But I want to follow up on a couple of thoughts on the millennial sacrifices.

    I think your argument goes like this, “Millennial sacrifices won’t impinge on the sacrifice of Christ, because they–like the old covenant sacrifices–don’t provide true propitiation for sins. Millennial sacrifices also don’t contradict Hebrews because Hebrews clearly affirms the validity of the sacrifices under the old covenant even though they didn’t truly atone for sin.”

    I think, however, that the argument that the author of Hebrews is making is stronger than that. It seems that his point is to keep Jewish Christians from returning back to the old covenant, hence the warning passages. The Hebrews should not return to the old covenant and its sacrifices because the sacrifice of Christ did away with them. Now that Christ has come, we are in a new era of redemptive history, and we place our faith directly in the sacrificed Christ. We also express our faith, not through animal sacrifices, but through sacrifices of praise (Heb. 13:15). Therefore, to offer an animal sacrifice would be to repudiate the sacrifice of Christ.

    If the animal sacrifices didn’t really atone for sin, then couldn’t anyone today theoretically offer animal sacrifices as an expression of their faith? That just seems really weird to me.

    I’m not saying that I agree with the non-dispensational systems, but they do have an attractive logic to them by arguing that the picture of a restored temple, animal sacrifices, etc. seems to be going backwards in redemptive history now that Christ has come. But, then again, God’s plan of salvation seems to shatter expectations (Romans 11).

    1. Would this help: that the Mosaic sacrifices are much more than atonement of sins? I found that most Reformed covenantal teachers have trouble explaining fully the Book of Leviticus. Most of sacrifices seem to be something other than atoning sins or doing more than that.

      This is where I turn to messianic Jews because they have a much better grasp on Leviticus than Reformed guys. Allow me to shamelessly plug in two articles here from Arnold Fruchtenbaum:

      http://www.ariel.org/pdf/mag-spr-sum2012.pdf

      http://www.ariel.org/pdf/mag-fall2012.pdf

      1. “RITUAL CLEANSING FOR RITUAL UNCLEANNESS

        Since the Shechinah Glory will be within the Holy of Holies of the Millennial Temple, it would be impossible to approach the Temple compound in a state of ritual impurity and therefore the sacrifices will be for the cleansing of ceremonial uncleanness. “

    2. A few comments:

      1. My argument is in support of the feasibility of future sacrifices being impeded by the Book of Hebrews. I am not making the writer of Hebrews’ argument for him.

      2. I have some doubts and concerns about assuming that Hebrews is necessarily addressed to Hebrew Christians. The work nowhere says that, and if it is we are faced with big problems.

      3. The most pressing problem is the famous warning passages. I am very unimpressed by standard Reformed exegesis of these texts (e.g. Owen, Pink, Hughes, Schreiner). If they are written to Christians then Christians can lose their salvation. I think Scot McKnight (for all his issues) has made this case powerfully and the push-back has been lame.

      4. The writer of Hebrews seems more concerned with future rest (as promised in the OT in Jer. 31!) than with Jewish Christians going back under the Law.

      5. We must remember what I said about the emphasis on the High Priest and Day of Atonement. Hebrews isn’t as concerned with sacrifices per se.

      6. The problem with the logic of non-dispensational systems is that it preempts the text (in this case but in many others too). At the end of the day, our job is to listen to what God says and try to make sense of it. It is not to argue on the basis of what seems reasonable to us. The doctrine of eternal Hell does not seems that reasonable to me. Neither does the hypostatic union of the dual natures of Christ, but…it is not unreasonable and when we believe these doctrines many other things start to make sense. The objections cannot overthrow the plain words of Scripture.

      Thanks for a good comment.

      God bless you and yours,

      P

      1. Side tangent! So, I’ve read a few of your articles in which you’ve implied that Hebrews wasn’t written to Hebrews Christians, but have demurred saying who you think the audience actually is (mostly due to topic constraints). Can you indulge me for a second and let me know who you think it is and what the warning passages mean?

      2. Ha! Well, I don’t want to cause any kerfuffle. I don’t pretend to have solved the puzzle. But as you ask:

        1. I think it helps to read Hebrews straight after reading the OT (and maybe Matthew). It has a very OT flavor.

        2. The writer of Hebrews is very skilled at getting his meaning across. He builds his points carefully.

        3. There is a strong prophetic edge to the book: E.g., 2:5, 8b, 10; 4:1, 9; 8:13; 9:15, 26-28; 10:1, 25; 12:2. Notice the references to “the end” in 3:6, 14; 6:11; 9:26 (cf. Matt. 24:13). Ch. 1:2 refers to (Lit. ‘the end of these days’).

        4. Notice too that 2:10ff.; 3:6 and 4:9 may refer to Israel.

        5. The warning passages cannot be circumvented: 2:2-3; 3:6, 12-14; 4:11; 6:4-6; 10:26f. The references to striving to enter rest do not fit comfortably within Pauline categories either. But they may fit a Tribulational setting (Matt. 24; Rev. 12:17; 14:12; 15:3, 5?).

        So, just like Revelation contains universal truths applicable to the church but is not wholly directed doctrinally at the Church, perhaps Hebrews is of the same stock? It’s title “To the Hebrews” could well be original (see the work of Hengel on the Gospels), in which case it is rather odd to have a letter to Jews only. I admit that there are places which argue against this view – 2:12; 12:23, etc., but to me these present fewer problems than the warning passages, which bug me!

        I think Hebrews may be profitably looked at as an epistle for the Tribulation containing present truth for the church.

        There! I’m not being dogmatic about it, but I like it better than contorting Hebrews into Pauline shapes which it doesn’t appear to like very much!

        God bless you and yours,

        P

      3. Isn’t this the same Andrew J Wilson that said on Christianity Today a while ago that there might not have been a literalAdam and Eve in the Book of Genesis?

    3. Paul, it’s true. Fruchtenbaum has set a fuller exposition in his “Footsteps of the messiah” and he was quoting Whitcomb almost verbatim there.

      It’s interesting as I has never read any Reformed pushback on this argument. My Reformed circle (Sydney Anglicans) doesn’t seem to be aware of academic-dispensational teachings or free grace teachings. They seem to have no idea who Whitcomb, Ice, Horner etc are.

      1. I still like FF Bruce a lot. William Lane is very good. P.T. O’Brien is solid too. They’d be my top three, and they counter-balance each other well.

        Of course, none of them consider my thesis. 🙂

        P

      2. Joel, yes Fruchtenbaum follows Whitcomb. As for Wilson on the historical Adam; well the article in question does not suffer from such problematic eisegesis.

        P

  3. Apostle Paul has no problem with sacrifices many years after the resurection of our Lord Jesus. Maybe it is something for us to consider. Acts 21:23-24; 18:18 (Num. 6:2-21).

  4. To crpascarella,

    Wilson’s article was very good and thorough. I agree with him about the two evidence-to-inference conditionals and his conclusion that the warning passages are warnings to true believers. However, as with Schreiner & Caneday and O’Brien, Wilson’s position reduces to the absurdity of Divine sabre-rattling. It does not take seriously enough the author’s evident rhetorical gifts, nor does it deal with some of the pertinent issues I briefly outlined above. For that reason, I do not accept his conclusions.

    God bless,

    Paul

  5. Reblogged this on beliefspeak2 and commented:
    The Millennial sacrifices proclaim Christ’s death similar to how Church Age “Lord’s Supper” observances do. Both “Believer’s Baptism” and “The Lord’s Supper” memorialize Christ’s atoning work: the once for all sacrifice at Calvary’s cross. If the Old Testament sacrifices were shadows of Christ’s one sacrifice then it may be helpful to look at them as morning shadows. Now, and in the Millennium, they are evening shadows. Christ’s redemptive event is pictured from two perspectives: before and after.

  6. “I can’t answer questions the content of which has what I know to be serious evident issues.”

    I have expunged your assertions. You were given the chance to answer the question you were asked in post 1 (twice) and you chose to ignore it and insert more of your rambling. (I was tempted to respond to your silly statement about what constitutes a covenant, but I don’t think it worth the time).

    Since you seem unable to answer my questions or to seriously interact with these articles you are done here. Any further comments by you will be removed. – PH

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