Can Old Testament Institutions be
Restored in the Millennium?
Interpreting Ezekiel ch. 40-48 & Zechariah ch. 14
Priests in the Millennium and in the New-Testament Era
References on Millennial-era priests
...I appoint unto you (disciples) a kingdom (Millennial)...That ye may eat and drink at my table, and sit on thrones (as kings) judging the 12 tribes of Israel (one-third of Israel will survive the Great Tribulation, and enter into the millennial kingdom - Zechariah 13:8,9)
Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, (Christ's Tribulation martyrs) and shall reign with him a thousand years. (the Millennium)
and hath made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall
reign on the earth (a future status in the Millennium).
References on New-Testament priests
1 Peter 2:5
Ye also as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. (prayer medi- ation and helps of every kind)
5...Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: in burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. (words of Christ pre-incarnate speaking of the Father)
9. Then said he, Lo I come to do thy will O God. He taketh away the first (Old covenant sacrifices) that he may establish the second (New Covenant sacrifice).
10. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Christ our high priest by His ultimate sacrifice)
19. Having therefore brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest (into the presence of the Father, previously represented by the Holy of Holies covered by a veil) by the blood of Jesus,
24. And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works. (the work of spiritual priests making the spiritual sacrifices noted in 1 Peter 2:5)
15. By him (Christ) therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God con- tinually, that is the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.
16. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
From the Rev. 20 and Luke 22 references above, it appears that priests of the Millennium will be of the same type as New-Testament spiritual-type priests indicated by the Rev.1 and 1 Pet.2 references. Evidently, both will minister prayer and helps of all kinds, though the millennial-type will have an added power as kings reigning with Christ. Those ministered to will be mainly those surviving the Great Tribulation, who will be mortals with intact sin natures, so they & their children will need to be redeemed. Many of the unsaved will join satan in a rebellion against Christ (Rev.20:7-10), but, even so, the ministry by spiritual-type priests with their added power will cause great fruitfulness and rejoicing throughout the eternal state.
Unsaved ones in that day, who are like those today that in anger ask us by what authority we presume to instruct them about their salvation, will not be able say that to those who reign as kings with Christ, the ultimate king and high priest; all skeptics will be silent, and there will not be any sane way to reject salvation by Christ, which will make the unsaved consider the offer far more urgently than was typical in past eras. What is so amazing is that a great many will reject Him, even in the light of knowledge that all truth & author- ity abide in Him. Just how corrupt the human heart can be, apart from Christ, will be emphasized with finality to show that, in every era of history, God has always been just in His dealings with mankind.
Various Old Testament Institutions in the Millennium
Old-Testament institutions of that future era should be in a Christological form symbolic of the originals, to show lost souls of that time that Christ as the Savior has always been God's plan. All will see that the priestly animal-sacrifice institutions prefigured Christ and His blood of the Cross Absolute authority of Christ the Savior will be declared in the original institutions, and enshrined forever in the symbolic ones.
Some say the institutions are literal, applying to the unsaved of that era. Some of these unsaved might reject Christ, and seek the only alternative old form of worship. However, those institutions prefigure Christ, so if such worship were to occur, these unsaved people would worship Him the same way that Old Testament saints did, but without hope of salvation since that form of worship has been done away with by God. Actually, the figurative language in Zechariah & Ezekiel refutes the notion of literal institutions.
Scripture reveals a great future for a literal Israel in a literal Millennium. Israel will receive a literal fulfillment of promises God made to the nation. The Millennium and fulfillment of the promises to Israel are clearly literal, but the extent to which the forms of the restored institutions will be literal needs clarification.
Testimony of Zechariah: Elements of Judaism will be restored in the Millennium, as Zechariah 14 tells us. However, Old Testament institutions were superseded by New Testament ones, and can old practices like feasts and temple worship be restored? It’s very difficult to imagine restoration of animal sacrifice since Christ is the superior superseding sacrifice. Yet such things will be restored in the kingdom dispensation since they once were God’s ordained way for His people, and they will be associated with Old Testament saints in the Millennium. However, while the institutions will be restored, the literality of their forms must be limited in some fashion.
The fully literal forms expired in the church era, and the associated letter of the law was superseded by the spirit of the law. The literal forms of the institutions of Judaism are not for the church era, as indicated by various scriptures. Paul speaks against Judaizing, the restoring of literal elements of Judaism in Christianity. In Gal.2:11-21, Paul scolds Peter for following Jewish elitism about eating meals with Gentiles. In Galatians 3 he speaks of foolishness by those seeking justification by the law. In Gal.4:9-11 he scolds Christians for observing elements of the letter of the law like special feast days. In Rom.2:28,29 he speaks of the literal circumcision as replaced by a spiritual type.
When in Acts 18:21 Paul says, I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem (Pentecost), he isn't observing the law, but attending a feast where he is to fulfill God’s will for service, as he reveals in Acts 20: 16. He shows us he’s been commanded by the Lord to be in the city, as we see by his refusal to heed warnings of imprisonment that awaited him at Jerusalem. Yet Paul himself was guilty of Judaizing by an Old Testament sacrifice for purification in the Jerusalem temple in Acts 21, but that was the result of urging by James and the Jerusalem church whose authority he obeyed. Paul suffered much for this error.
Now some literal elements of Judaism can’t be fully restored, even in the kingdom dispensation, especially animal sacrifice. Though such sacrifices once served to atone for sin, this was not valid after the Cross. Speaking of remission under the New Covenant, Heb.10:1-23 says in verse 14, for by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified. Heb.10:18 says, Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. Animal sacrifice was for the dealing with sin, and Christ ultimately saves both New and Old Testament saints from the penalty of sin. The old system of sacrifice only prefigured Christ, and can’t be restored, for that would reverse God’s plan and dishonor Christ, the king of the Millennium, so we can’t accept a notion of meaningless killing of animals for atonement of sin in the Millennium. Further, Israel as part of the church can’t be so dispar- ate as to return to animal sacrifice for sin. This casts doubt on the validity of fully literal forms of other Old Testament institutions being restored at that time.
There will be some literal aspect to Zechariah 14, but the extent of it in an apocalyptic book will be limited. In such a book, symbolism (not spiritual- izing that eliminates literality) is expected. Elements of Judaism noted, es- pecially animal sacrifice, would be referred to in a figurative sense, to note those spiritual institutions superseding literal Old Testament forms in the millennial era. Indeed, it would be necessary to utilize the Old Testament terminology figuratively to refer to future superseding spiritual elements in a book written over 400 years before Christ’s First Advent.
Figurative language is involved, and interpreters must identify its extent, which would only be the extent to which literalism is inappropriate. In the present case, Zechariah 14 is likely saying Old Testament institutions will be restored and honored in the Millennium because they once were God’s approved way. But scriptures like Heb.10:1-23 indicate some degree of the restoration can only be figurative. Indeed, this is suggested by reference to just one feast in Zechariah 14, the feast of Tabernacles, a forerunner of the Millennium. It finalized the year in Israel, as a time to rejoice over harvest ingathering and restoration of the food of life. This corresponds to a super-seding fulfillment in the Millennium, the great joy of a final ingathering of souls as Christ rules the world and restores spiritual life to Israel. And the feast was preceded by a Day of Atonement to restore Israel from all tragedy of sin so that the feast might be joyful. This relates to the Millennium as preceded by a day of national mourning to restore Israel from the sin and tragedy of rejecting Messiah (Zec.12:10-14), and give her kingdom joy. This feast, to be observed at the final millennial restoration of Israel, is like the one Judah observed in beginning restoration of the nation after Babylonian captivity (Ezra 3:4). Thus the feast relates to restoration, the millennial theme, and Zechariah denotes a literal superseding feast-type institution having much in common with the old feast, but in figurative form suited to the Millennium.
Further, Zech.14:18 notes Egypt as punished by lack of rainfall if it doesn’t observe the feast. Egypt in scripture symbolizes the world of Gentile nations, so this note adds to the sense of symbolism. Zech.14:16 speaks of all nations, and 14:18 speaks of Egypt, suggesting interchangeability, for no other nation is named in the verse. Then Zech.14:19 speaks of Egypt & all nations in the same verse, which is likely an equivalence of the two by which the all-nations symbolism is given. Egypt likely is a symbolic name here since the literal nation Egypt wouldn’t suffer much from punishment of no rain for failing to come to Jerusalem for the feast. Literal Egypt is a nation not dependent on its own rainfall for normal crop growth, annual Nile flooding nurturing all of the significant agriculture.
And when Zechariah 14:21 tells of pots for seething of sacrifices, there’s no mention of blood or killing of animals indicative of an actual sacrifice. Thus the verse should refer to spiritual sacrifices, passionate praise and good works inherent to New Testament believer-priests (Heb.13:15,16). The pots would signify the human vessels by which spiritual sacrifices occur. This correlates with the Zech.14:21 note about the pots being holy since, from the formal beginning of the church, believers have permanently had the Holy Spirit guiding their lives.
Regarding a temple building in Zech.14:20,21 indicated by use of the terms altar and house of the Lord, this too seems to be Old Testament language symbolic of superseding millennial forms. A literal temple existing during the Great Tribulation is noted in 2 Thess.2:7-12 & Rev.11:1,2, and there is a temple of God in heaven in the Tribulation, noted in Rev.11:19, 15:5,8 and 16:1. The earthly temple of the Tribulation will be defiled by the antichrist sitting in it, so this temple will likely be destroyed before the millennial rule of Christ. Christ can cleanse the temple so that He might dwell there in the Millennium, but He showed that He supersedes the literal temple by speaking of His body as a temple as He stood by the literal temple (Jn.2: 18-22). Thus, a continuing literal temple in His kingdom is quite unlikely. A temple building was a temporal place for recognition of God’s place in the lives of His people, until the believer’s body became God’s permanent temple. Antichrist’s defiling of the Tribulation temple signifies the end of this institution in original literal form (likely, aspects of other institutions too). Indeed, Rev.21:22 speaks of the superseding of the literal temple by Christ and the Father, as both rule in the eternal state, the second part of the earthly kingdom. Thus we expect no literal temple in the first part as Christ rules, and is the temple of God for all of His people. The millennial temple just signifies God’s dwelling place with man in the kingdom, as seen in Ezek.37:26-28. Here God’s tabernacle, or sanctuary, is with his people for evermore (the eternal state is said here to have no literal temple). The Acts 15:16 note (from Amos 9:11) on restoring David’s tabernacle should refer to restoration of the place of worship for David & Israel in the millen- nial spiritual sense.
Testimony of Ezekiel: Ezekiel chapters 40-48 speak of Old-Testament institutions restored in the earthly kingdom. Here there’s a description of a temple, the old priesthood and literal animal sacrifice with literal blood (Ezk.43:19-25), all relating to the Millennium. The literal animal sacrifice is undeniable, so this is a reference to a literal Old Testament kingdom. Here some fully literal forms of the institutions are seen, but the application of literality is unique in this largely apocalyptic book, some of the language being even more indicative of non-literal symbolic forms of the institutions than Zechariah 14 is.
We see here a complex reference to two kingdoms. A potential earthly one existed for Israel after return from Babylon, and at Christ’s First Advent, one involving literal Old Testament institutions. Christ’s sacrifice was pre- destined (God’s perspective), but if it had not happened, He would have become ruler of an Old Testament kingdom (man’s perspective). Israel pot- entially could have realized this kingdom, but forfeited it by disobedience in rejecting Messiah. Thus, that kingdom must be replaced by a millennial one with elements of the old institutions noted in Zechariah 14, but these will be in superseding millennial forms symbolic of what might have been.
The result of all this is that Ezekiel 40-48 speaks of two types of kingdoms, one that might have been, having fully literal institutions, and one that will be, having superseding symbolic ones. This is so since, even as temple-area measurements for the Old-Testament kingdom are envisioned (Ezk.40:5 - 43:17), failure of this kingdom is foreknown, the temple measurements foretelling those of a future Tribulation temple of Israel that will be defiled by antichrist (2 Th.2:4), necessitating that it be destroyed and superseded by a holy temple of the kingdom. Measurements taken on behalf of Israel indicated her ownership, as in Rev.11:1,2 that speaks of the court outside the temple proper as not to be measured because it’s given to the Gentiles for 42 months; this seems to speak of a superior new temple to replace the old at the end of the second half of the Tribulation. All this is the indicated interpretation since in Rev.21:15-23 it's New Jerusalem that is measured, and the temple is gone, being replaced by God the Father and Christ the lamb as the new temple. The old one likely is destroyed in favor of the eternal-state city belonging to all the redeemed, with the Father and Christ at its heart
The old kingdom in Ezekiel belonged to Israel, who forfeited it in rejecting the king, necessitating a new kingdom. We’re told of a kingdom that might have been (Ezk.43:7), and in telling of its glory, scripture alludes to a better eternal one (especially Ezk.43:9,44:2,3,9). Scripture reveals the eternal one by figurative language & symbolism in Ezekiel 47.
If Israel had received Christ, animal sacrifice would have continued for the redemption of the nation. But Christ superseded those sacrifices, further showing us that failure of the kingdom that might have been is foretold. God made a genuine kingdom offer to Israel, but He foreknew the rejection and necessary sacrifice of His only begotten Son (Rev.13:8). He reminds Israel that she could have avoided the Tribulation through obedience to the kingdom order presented by Ezra and Nehemiah after Babylonian Capti- vity, and ultimately by Christ after His ministry to her at the first Advent.
Additional literal language pertaining to the kingdom that might have been is seen in Ezekiel 40:2 where there is a very high mountain in Israel as the site of an immense temple area in Ezekiel 45:1. The size of the temple area is very impractical for a literal mountain location, requiring supernatural alteration of the landscape, which evidently would have happened if Israel had received her Messiah.
Figurative language is involved here. A very high mountain doesn’t exist in Jerusalem, and the highest one in any part of Israel’s historic territory is less than 10,000 feet above sea level. Physical terrain elevation in the Mill- ennium is possible, but there’s an allusion here to a figurative elevation in the millennial era since Zech.14:10 suggests a future political elevation of Jerusalem. The suggestion is an exalted mountain-like throne of Christ, and political exaltation of the city among surrounding lands, which is a major Zechariah 14 theme.
Ezekiel 43:1-7 tells us that God would have dwelt in the midst of Israel’s literal temple forever if she had received her Messiah. But the language is very positive about the actuality of God dwelling with Israel eternally, so His dwelling in a new kind of temple in the Millennium & eternal state is also being referenced. Indeed, the prince of the temple denoted in chapters 44-46 seems to be a high priest with a status far above that of all priests, which is suggestive of Christ as the chief personage in Israel’s kingdom that might have been. This is indicated in 44:1-3 where a special entrance to the temple area is said to be off-limits to all men, for God entered that way, but the prince is to enter and leave that way, indicating He is of divine nature. The prince leads the nation in sacrifice to the Father, as expected of Christ if Israel’s priestly kingdom had been actualized (He led Israel to the church this way by the Cross, even as most of Israel rejected this). But the prince has an assigned humanity, being said to have sons to whom He gives an inheritance (Ezk.46:17,18). This refers figuratively to Christ in a potential role like that of a Son of man in Israel’s kingdom. But Christ is the Son of God, and has sons only by the power of creation or regeneration, so this is an allusion to Christ as ruler of the Millennium. There He will have spirit- ual sons by salvation, to whom He gives a kingdom inheritance. This too foretells failure of Israel’s kingdom with its old institutions, and the reality of the millennial kingdom with superseding forms of the institutions.
Figurative language pertaining to the future millennial kingdom is striking in Ezekiel 47:1-12 regarding some implications of a literal temple building and a literal very high mountain as the temple location. The passage tells of water issuing from under the threshold of a house in the temple area, cre- ating a stream that gets deeper with increasing distance from the house until it becomes a river. The waters heal all living things that they contact, except miry marshy places (stagnant water) that remain saline or salted. The passage tells of trees on the river banks that give food in the form of eternal fruit that is new in various months, and they have never-fading leaves that are a healing medicine. The passage also tells of fishermen who use nets to catch fish of all kinds in the river.
Such language is highly figurative. A literal stream of flowing water that creates a river does not issue out of a sanctuary of a building (Ezk.47:1,2). And literal water flowing down a high mountain does not continually grow deeper every thousand cubits (~1500 ft.), growing from a shallow small stream to a great river (47:3-5). God won’t likely repeal the laws of nature that He instituted and called good in the creation.
This apocalyptic Ezekiel language is highly suggestive of Revelation 22 where a river of water of life from the throne of God’s sanctuary (not literal water, but water signifies life) nourishes trees on its banks that yield fruit. The trees produce new fruit each month, and have leaves for the healing of the nations. This apocalyptic language in Revelation is highly figurative, so that of Ezekiel would be also. Ezekiel simply provides more details on the river of life in the book of the Revelation.
God’s voice is like many waters (Rev.14:2, Ezk.43:2), and the river signi- fies continued flow of God’s Word of blessing that deepens as it flows out- ward from His exalted immense mountain-like sanctuary and throne (the water of life is God’s Word of salvation – Rev.22:17). In Revelation 22 the river is part of the kingdom in the eternal state, but Ezekiel says it flows in the millennial era also, as expected since blessings by God’s Word should be multiplied in the Millennium. Actually, a deepening river of His Word of far-reaching nature signifies a growing blessing that has flowed through- out world history, and will flow freely in the Millennium, bringing blessing to an ever-growing number of people. Here water of life emanating from God’s throne will be highly visible as Christ rules the world visibly by His Word. Living water also signifies people (Rev.17:15), who are “containers of life," so the ever-deepening river of life also signifies more & more souls added to the river of life in Christ as the Word reaches out into the earth. The marshy miry lands of stagnant saline water left unhealed by the river signify souls who don't join in the stream of blessing, not responding to the gospel, including unsaved ones of the Millennium who join satan in a final rebellion against Christ. In Revelation 22 the day of salvation concludes, and the river is only for God’s redeemed people.
Trees nourished by the river signify people established in the faith by God’s Word, as noted in Ps.1:3 where we see elements of Ezekiel’s prophecy. In Ps.1:3 the man established in God’s law, or Word, is like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season: his leaf shall not wither. The non-withered leaf signifies undiminished life in true saints produced by God’s Spirit, continuing to bring the gospel truth for spiritual healing to all nations throughout history. And fruit-bearing signifies the ongoing godly life of saints feeding their testimony to produce salvation fruit throughout history.
Of course, established souls were first won to Christ themselves, and the fish and nets signify the church era when many souls have come to Christ. Fish and nets are reminiscent of the gospels as Christ selected fishermen to preach the Gospel, and this is reminiscent of His metaphorical likening of winning souls to catching fish. The fish & nets likely also signify the many souls that will come to Christ in the millennial era.
In Ezk.47:8,9 healing waters of Jerusalem bring life to all they contact, and they heal an unnamed sea. Water flowing to the sea suggests the water of God’s Word (Eph.5:26) flowing out to people. A “sea” signifies people in Rev.13:1, and waters like seas in Rev.17:1,15 signify people. There’s an allusion to the literal Dead Sea here, some who comprise the “sea” being sin-dead souls never receiving life, even with input by the millennial-era water of life from God (revealing further the reason why millennial-era unsaved persons merit ultimate white-throne judgment.
This Ezekiel passage is synonymous with Zech.14:8 living waters flowing from Jerusalem to the former sea and hinder sea. In Zechariah former sea can signify premillennial saints in resurrected bodies, and hinder sea can signify millennial persons in natural bodies, all of whom receive life from God’s river of life by His Word. Sinful souls need healing from sin’s effects, and sinless souls need energy of life from God for eternality. There’s a good fit of the Ezekiel & Zechariah passages to this figurative interpretation. But the fit vanishes if, as scholars say, waters in Ezekiel heal physically, reduc- ing the salinity of Zechariah’s former sea (the Dead Sea) to promote fish & plant life. That would mean Zechariah’s hinder sea (the Mediterranean) is to receive healing to support fish and plant life, but this sea presently has abundant fish and plant life, and thus requires no such healing.
Ezekiel refers to the eternal-state kingdom, as well as the millennial one, projecting beyond the Millennium (the kind of thing Ezekiel did in 38:7-12 regarding the Babylonian war & captivity, Armageddon and final rebellion. We see this reference from the comments about Ezekiel’s river of life in Revelation 22 dealing with the eternal state, as noted above. And we also see it from comments about the gates of the temple city in Ezekiel 48:31-34 that speak of the city gates as having the names of the 12 tribes of Israel inscribed on them. The same thing is said of the city of New Jerusalem in the eternal state in Rev.21:10-13. We conclude that superseding symbolic aspects of the kingdom of Israel that might have been, will prevail in the eternal state, as well as the Millennium.
However, we still puzzle over Old Testament passages that seem to restore ancient relationships of Israel with ancient enemies and neighbors in the Millennium. A case in point is Isaiah 11 where several nations and peoples noted are no longer identifiable today. Well, the fact that we can’t identify these people doesn’t mean that God can’t. Language in passages like Isaiah 11 necessarily invokes ancient identities so that readers of that era could have a degree of understanding of the teaching. For generations appearing much later in history, the wording is symbolic of enemies and neighbors that have superseded the old ones, but behave in similar ways to Israel. Indeed, one has only to look at modern-day Egypt, Syria, Iran & others to see that the ancient hatreds & associations regarding Israel continue in people who have a genetic relationship to the earlier neighbors & enemies. The spirit of hostile relationships with Israel is still intact in these present peoples, so the effect today is much like the ancient one.