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Postmillennialism: The Old Testament Sacrificial System by Loraine Boettner

By April 9, 2011April 12th, 2016Postmillennialism

The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews has much to say about the endless repetition and the futility of the ancient sacrifices. He shows that their only value was to symbolize and point forward to the one true sacrifice that was to be made by Christ. ‘We have been sanctified,’ he said, ‘through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all And every priest indeed standeth day by day ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices which can never take away sins; but he, when he had offered one sacrifice for sin for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; henceforth expecting till his enemies be made the footstool of his feet. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified’ ( Heb. 10:10-14).

Rev. Harold Dekker, one of the speakers on The Back to God Hour radio program, says concerning the futility of the animal sacrifices and the finality of Christ’s sacrifice as set forth in this passage: ‘Continually, day by day, year after year, God’s people made their sacrifices according to the Old Testament law. The writer calls to mind the mountains of herbs and grain and meal offerings which had been brought before the Lord, the rivers of blood which had flowed from millions of sheep and goats and droves of cattle. And then he raises the question, Why the constant repetition? Why the endless pilgrimages to Jerusalem? Why the interminable fires upon Israel’s altars? Why the shedding of blood? The reason, says the inspired writer, is that none of these brought lasting relief to troubled consciences. So on and on went the sacrifices.’ But of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary he says: ‘He was surely the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. Let the blood now dry on the horns of the altar. Let the ovens that bake meal offerings now be cooled. Let the sacrificial animals go back to pasture. Final atonement is accomplished! Let all men everywhere now look to the one sacrifice of Christ finished on the cross!’

In its doctrine of an earthly Kingdom with a restored temple, priesthood and sacrificial system, Premillennialism is a recrudescence of Judaism. Snowden has set this forth quite convincingly, and we quote him at length:

‘It is one of the plainest universal teachings of the New Testament that the sacrifices of the Mosaic economy were fulfilled in Christ and were then done away as vanishing shadows that prefigured the substance, or as morning stars that heralded the rising of the sun and were then lost in its light.’ Paul’s warnings against a return to these are cited: ‘How turn ye back to the weak and beggarly rudiments, wherewith ye desire to be in bondage over again? Ye observe days, and months, and seasons, and years’; ‘For freedom did Christ set us free: stand fast, therefore, and be not entangled again in a yoke of bondage’ (Gal. 4:9,10; 5:1). ‘The Epistle to the Hebrews,’ says Snowden, ‘is one long and conclusive argument that the old ordinances are fulfilled and done away in Christ, ‘who needeth not daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, 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 (7:27).

‘Who would ever have expected that in the face of all this teaching and of these earnest efforts to rid the Christian Church of these old ordinances that had served their day as the withered and empty husk has served the corn, there would arise among believers in later times a school of interpreters who would teach that the whole Mosaic system, with its temple and central seat of worship and its seasons and feasts and sacrifices, its passover and its unleavened bread, its daily peace offerings and bloody burnt-offerings and sin offerings, its altar streaming with blood and its smoke and incense, was to be restored in Jerusalem after the second coming of Chris Who would have believed this incredible thing? And yet this very thing has come to pass and now is…

‘This doctrine is first rooted in the logic of the system. It is a cardinal principle of Premillennialism that the prophecies of the Messianic kingdom in the Old Testament apply, not to the first but to the second coming of Christ and to the millennial kingdom He will inaugurate. It is a further principle of this system that these prophecies must be interpreted in a literal sense in accordance with its teaching that the Bible means what it says, and to abandon this mode of interpretation in its application to these prophecies would be to concede the principle of figurative interpretation and this again would wreck the system.

‘Premillennialism is therefore required by its own logic to take the prophecy of Ezekiel, chapters 40-48, in which an idealized vision of the temple is set forth, including the passover and all the bloody offerings which are expressly commanded (45:2l- 25), and transfer it bodily and literally to the millennial kingdom in Jerusalem after the second coming of Christ. And this system must do the same thing with all similar prophecies. Isaiah declares: ‘And they shall bring all your children out of all the nations for an oblation unto Jehovah, upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, saith Jehovah, as the children of Israel bring their oblation in a clean vessel into the house of Jehovah. [Here we notice that the means of conveyance have long since been outmoded and belong to a distant age. Surely they would not be appropriate for the very advanced and prosperous kingdom that Premillennialists expect in the millennium]. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith Jehovah’ (66:20,23). Zechariah prophesies: ‘And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations that came up against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the king, and to keep the feast of tabernacles’ (14:16); ‘and all they that sacrifice shall come.’ ‘The inescapable logic of Premillennialism requires that all these and similar prophecies be literally fulfilled in Jerusalem. This is ‘judaizing Christianity’ with a vengeance. And this is revolting; and some Premillennialists do revolt at it. David Brown quotes Increase Mather, a premillenarian, as saying, ‘And a most loathsome work they do perform, both to God and man, that dig up the ceremonies out of that grave where Jesus Christ buried them above sixteen hundred years ago” (The Coming of the Lord, pp. 206-209).

Let there be no doubt but that Dispensationalism does teach the re-establishment of Judaism following the Church age. Lewis Sperry Chafer, late President of Dallas Theological Seminary, says that after the Church age has run its course there is to be. ‘the regathering of Israel and the restoration of Judaism’ (Dispensationalism, p. 40). And Merrill F. Unger, also of Dallas Theological Seminary, says; ‘At the second advent Christ will restore the Judaistic system with far greater glory and spirituality than it ever had in the Old Testament period until its complete dissipation with the destruction of Herod’s temple in 70 A. D. The heart and center of re-established Judaism will be the millennial temple, in connection with which Judaism will enjoy its final state of development’ ( Bibliotheca Sacra, Jan.-March, 1960).

Only to a literalist does the re-establishment of the sacrificial system and temple ritual seem sensible. To a Post- or Amillennialist it is too materialistic. Premillennial logic, however, does not permit these sacrifices to be ‘spiritualized.’ To do so would remove a cornerstone from the system, and, if consistently carried out would lead straight to conclusions that they are most anxious to avoid.

Some Premillennialists say that the sacrifices to be offered in the Millennium will only be ‘memorials’ of the work that Christ accomplished on the cross. Scofield gives this explanation when he says: ‘Doubtless these offerings will be memorial, looking back to the cross, as the offerings under the old covenant were anticipatory, looking forward to the cross’ (p. 890). This explanation is also given by G. Campbell Morgan in his book, God’s Methods with Man (p. 118). But that explanation contradicts the premillennial principle of literal interpretation of prophecy and cannot be allowed. Ezekiel says plainly that ‘the priests,’ ‘the sons of Zadok,’ shall again serve, that they shall be given ‘a young bullock for a sin-offering.’ He says further: ‘And thou shalt take the blood thereof, and put it on the four horns of it [the altar], and on the four corners of the ledge, and upon the border round about: thus shalt thou cleanse it and make atonement for- it’ (40:46; 43:19, 20). Those who are so insistent that ‘the Bible means what it says’ cannot be allowed to ‘spiritualize and allegorize’ statements such as these when found in sections which they themselves say describe the restoration of the Jews in Palestine during the millennial era. Ezekiel chapters 40-48 is at least twenty times more extensive and detailed than is Revelation 20:1-10, which Premillennialists say must be taken literally. So those who insist on literal interpretation find here a program for the restoration of the Levitical ritual and priesthood, despite the fact that Galatians and Hebrews each makes it plain that the temple, the human priesthood and the ritual have been abolished forever.

In any event, the re-institution of a sacrificial system could not do other than dishonor the sacrifice that Christ made on Calvary, which the Scripture represents as a ‘once for all’ sacrifice (Heb. 7:27). The New Testament has absolutely nothing to say about such memorial sacrifices, nor anything about rebuilding the temple. Furthermore, all memorials are unnecessary when the one to be memorialized is present in person, as Christ will be after His Second Coming. We may also add that one feature of Roman Catholicism that we find particularly offensive is its doctrine that in the Mass the sacrifice of Christ is repeated, that the bread and wine actually are changed into His flesh and blood — ‘the unbloody repetition of the Mass,’ as it is called.

Concerning the subject of animal sacrifices during the Millennium Allis says:

‘The thought is abhorrent that after Christ comes, the memory of His atoning work will be kept alive in the hearts of believers by a return to the animal sacrifices of the Mosaic law, the performance of which is so emphatically condemned in passages which speak with unmistakable plainness on this very subject. Here is unquestionably the Achilles’ heel of the Dispensational system of interpretation. Its literalistic and Old Testament emphasis leads almost inevitably, if not inevitably, to a doctrine of the millennium which makes it definitely Jewish and represents a turning back from the glory of the gospel to those typical rites and ceremonies which prepared the way for it, and having served that necessary purpose have lost for ever their validity and propriety’ (Prophecy and the Church, p. 248).

Snowden’s conclusion regarding this phase of Premillennialism is also worth quoting. He says:

‘Enough and more than enough has been said to prove that Premillennialism is a recrudescence of Judaism. It is Juristic in its method of establishing the kingdom, and above all, in its restoration of the sacrifices after the second coming of Christ. This is indeed renouncing the logic of Paul and ‘turning back to the weak and beggarly rudiments’ and putting our necks again under the Mosaic yoke of ‘bondage.’ This is turning the clock of religious development back two or three thousand years. It is putting the altar back in Jerusalem and going back to ‘the blood of bulls and goats.’ If any Premillenarians pause at this or say that they do not hold it, we must repeat that we are not dealing with individuals but with the logic and literature of the system, and there can be no doubt whither the logic leads and what the representative writers teach.

‘Truly old forms of religions die hard. Judaism has strange tenacity and still clings to the Christian Church… Judaism is a withered husk; the corn has gone out of it. Jerusalem is a splendid memory. The eagle, once it gets out, can never be crowded back into its shell. Christianity has taken its Height from Mount Zion and never will it officially be back there. Jesus Himself swept the kingdom off that mountain-top as its central seat and released it to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations that men everywhere may worship the Father in Spirit and in truth…

‘Paul with one stroke of his pen ‘spiritualized’ the whole Old Testament economy when he wrote, ‘And if ye are Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise’ (Gal 3:29). Peter also ‘spiritualized’ the Old Testament and buried the Jewish eschatology when he wrote. Ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’ (I Peter 2:5). This is the way the New Testament throughout spiritualizes the Old. This is ‘the glorious liberty of the children of God’ (Rom. 8:21); and when we read these premillenarian interpretations and arguments we hear Paul’s earnest and eloquent voice ringing across all these centuries and bidding us, ‘stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ made you free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bandage’ (Gal. 5:1)’ (The Coming of the Lord, pp. 217-219).

It is admittedly difficult in many instances to determine whether statements in Scripture should be taken literally or figuratively. As regards prophecy, that often cannot be determined until after the fulfillment. Most of the Bible, however, particularly the historical and the more didactic portions, clearly is to be understood literally, although some figurative expressions are found in these. But that many other portions must be understood figuratively is also clearly evident. Even the Premillennialists must take many expressions figuratively or they become nonsense. Since the Bible gives no hard and fast rule for determining what is literal and what is figurative we must study the nature of the material, the historical setting and style and purpose of the writer, and then fall back on what for lack of a better name we may call ‘sanctified common sense.’ Naturally the conclusions will vary somewhat from individual to individual, for we do not all think alike nor see alike.

It should hardly be necessary to point out that true Postmillennialism is supernaturalistic through and through. Pre- and Amillennialists sometimes represent this system as though it taught the conversion of the world through merely humanistic and evolutionary processes. Present day Modernism does set forth a program of world betterment by natural rather than supernatural means, and opponents sometimes represent that as Postmillennialism. But by no stretch of the imagination does such a system have any moral right to be called Postmillennialism. That is not the sense in which the term has been used historically, yet comments of that kind have given rise to much unjust criticism. Representative postmillennial theologians, such as Augustine, Brown, Hodge, Dabney and Warfield, have been consistent supernaturalists and have believed in a fully inspired and authoritative Bible and in the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit as the only means by which an individual can be brought to salvation.

On the other hand the distinguishing feature of present day Modernism by which it is to be identified wherever it shows itself is its more or less consistent denial of the supernatural, i.e., denial of the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures, the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, blood atonement, miracles, final judgment, heaven and hell. It is concerned primarily with this life, and it proposes to reform the world through education, social and economic progress, improved health programs, better relations between capital and labor, etc. Those things are good as far as they go and, wherever possible, should be encouraged. But they are only the by-products of true Christianity.

The fact that different views concerning the Second Coming of Christ and the Millennium have been held and are held should not discourage anyone from making an earnest search for the truth. This situation in the field of Theology is no different from that in the field of Medicine, in which eminent doctors hold differing views as to how certain diseases should be treated or how the human body should be cared for. We have, for instance, medical doctors, chiropractors, osteopaths, surgeons, dietetic specialists, physical exercise enthusiasts, etc. But that does not prevent us from believing in health nor from seeking the best methods to preserve health; nor does it save us from suffering the consequences if we choose wrongly. Nor is the situation in the realm of politics and statesmanship any different. We have various political parties, Republican, Democrat, Socialist, Labor, Communist, etc., each advocating different principles as to how the nation should be governed, and particularly at election time we hear very conflicting opinions. There are various theories of education and of church government. In each of these spheres it is our duty to search diligently for the truth and so far as possible to separate truth from error. Our beliefs concerning the manner and time of the Second Coming of Christ will not change that event by one iota, but what we believe concerning those matters will very definitely affect our lives and conduct while we are waiting for that event.

It is to be regretted that these differences of opinion even among those who accept the Bible as the inspired and authoritative word of God cannot always be dealt with by unprejudiced exegesis and friendly discussion rather than made the basis for quarrels or tests of orthodoxy. As a general rule Premillennialists. basing their views on a more literal interpretation of Scripture, have a tendency to feel that those who do not accept their system hold a lower view of Scripture and that they are not consistently Christian. One might easily receive the impression from reading premillennial literature that only they believe fully in the Lord’s return. It has even reached such a state in some dispensational circles that if one questions the personal reign of Christ in an earthly kingdom he is met with a question such as, ‘Then you do not believe that Christ is to return?’ An examination of Bible institute catalogues reveals that most of them restrict faculty members to the premillennial view. Some are reluctant to graduate a student, or at least will give him a lower grade, if he does not accept that view. Prophetic conference literature presents a one-sided futurism and encourages the inference that opposing views are not evangelical. Some make a hobby of Premillennialism, ending it with remarkable ingenuity in almost every prophecy and vision and promise from Genesis to Revelation, and giving it undue prominence in their preaching — Gray places the number of New Testament references to the coming of Christ at a minimum of 300, and Morgan says that on an average one verse in each 25 in the New Testament refers to it. The differences between Post-, A-, and Premillennialists, which should be treated as comparative non-essentials, actually divide the churches and becomes a serious impediment to Christian fellowship. Unquestionably the vagaries of dispensational extremists, not merely in such sects as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Millennial Dawnists, and some Pentecostal and Holiness groups, but also in the conventional evangelical churches, have divided Christians into antagonistic groups and have done much harm to the cause of Christianity.

In discussing these problems, then, two important facts should be kept in mind: (1) Evangelical Post-, A-, and Premillennialists agree that the Bible is the word of God, fully inspired and authoritative. They differ not in regard to the nature of Scripture authority, but in regard to what they understand Scripture to teach. And, (2) the three systems agree that there was a First Advent, and that there will be a Second Advent, which will be personal, visible, glorious, and as objective as was the Ascension from the Mount of Olives.

It should be added that while the Church has debated and reached conclusions and has embodied these conclusions in her creeds as regards all of the other great doctrines of the faith, the subject of Eschatology still remains in dispute as to the manner of Christ’s return and the kind of kingdom that He is setting up or will set up in this world. For this reason the Church in practically all of her branches has refused to make any one of the millennial interpretations an article of the creed, and has preferred rather to accept as Christian brethren all those who believe in the fact of Christ’s Coming. Hence, while personally we may have very definite views concerning the manner and time of His coming, it would seem that our motto should be: ‘In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.’