Why Millennial Sacrifices?
In order to answer why there will be animal sacrifices in the millennium it is first necessary to survey certain elements of the religious and salvation history and future of Israel. Through the elaboration of certain aspects of Israel existence we can see reasons for the bringing back of the sacrifices.
1. The temple was where God resided when in Israel. It was God's decision that Israel construct a place for Him to dwell. The temple, therefore, was very closely associated with God's presence. Exodus 29:42-43 states: "It shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the doorway of the tent of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. I will meet there with the sons of Israel, and it shall be consecrated by My glory" (NASB). The tent of meeting, the precursor to the temple, was where God met with the sons of Israel. It was where He met with Moses as well. It was a vital place in the life of Israel, and when Israel rejected the Messiah, Jesus Christ, he said to Israel, "Behold, your house is left to you desolate" (Matthew 23:38). In other words, the presence of God is no longer in the temple! The Jews of Jesus' day decided they didn't want God's presence so He left them, but not permanently. So, the temple's reconstruction and the reinstatement of certain sacrifices during the millennium would show that Israel "had truly been redeemed and cleansed."* It will be clear evidence to the world that God accepts Israel as His people and always has. During this era it will be evident that Israel's chastisement is over (Ez. 36:23). That seems to be one reason for the millennial sacrifices-that the sacrifices would display God's love and salvation of His people and that His presence has returned.
2. It is important to note that Ezekiel is recounting what he sees in a vision from the Lord (chapters 40-48). This is where we find the specifications of the future temple (larger than the one in Solomon's day) and the renewal of certain sacrifices. A main reason there are sacrifices again is because the Lord has designed it this way. As stated earlier, the sacrifices, feasts, temple, and rituals were an integral part of Israel's religious life. This new appearance of the sacrificial system comes on the heels of Israel's national salvation. A few chapters earlier we see God's promise to Israel. He says: "I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols" (Ez. 36:24-25 NASB). God's design for Israel's restoration and salvation is different than His plan for the Gentiles. The Jews longed for the kingdom where the Messiah would reign on earth. Even after Christ had risen from the dead, the Jews asked Jesus if it was "at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6 NASB). It wasn't the time for that because God had planned to include the Gentiles in His salvific prerogative. The kingdom reign would occur after the "fullness of the Gentiles had come in" (Romans 11:25 NASB). So it is fitting for Jewish life, history, and salvation for there to be sacrifices and a temple when the Messiah reigns over them.
3. Another reason for the sacrifices in the millennium is that they are memorials pointing back to "Christ, our Passover, who was sacrificed for us all" (1 Corinthians 5:6). John MacArthur points out that they function as does the Lord's Supper. Even as Christ has already died, we remember that death when we take of the bread and the cup. His death doesn't need to happen again, neither do the sacrifices, but they are visible symbols of the reality behind them. Also, the sacrifices might really help us (and especially the Jews) appreciate the great price paid for sin. Ralph H. Alexander notes that among the sacrifices during the millennium, the Day of Atonement and the ark of the covenant are absent.** This may be because Christ's sacrifice is irreplaceable and the sacrifice done once a year on the Day of Atonement is replaced by the efficacious death of Christ, done once-for-all. The absence of the high priest may also highlight that propitiation has been made.** This is also consistent with the existence of the Feast of Booths in the millennium (Zech. 14:16). This memorial feast was to remind Israel of their Exodus from Egypt. Leviticus 23:43 states: "You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.'"
4. Many of the temple rituals during the millennium are for ritual purification. Ezekiel 43:26 says, "For seven days they shall make atonement for the altar and purify it; so shall they consecrate it" (NASB). Another passage, Ezekiel 45:19 commands that the temple be consecrated by the offering "of a young bull without blemish" (NASB). This, and the fact that the Day of Atonement is absent in the millennium, allows for harmony with the fact that Christ's sacrifice was sufficient to appease God's wrath.
5. Ezekiel 39:25 asserts: "Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, "Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel; and I will be jealous for My holy name" (NASB). Also, Ezekiel 36:32 states concerning God's restoration of Israel: "I am not doing this for your sake," declares the Lord GOD, "let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel!"(NASB). When taking Israel's restoration as a whole, including the sacrificial system, we see that God acts on behalf of His own name, for His own glory. This might be why He desires the rekindling of the sacrificial system, to bring glory to Himself and to Christ, the ultimate sacrifice.
*Gaebelein, Frank E. ed. Expositor's Bible Commentary: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel. Zondervan: Grand Rapids. Vol. 6: 1986, p. 947.