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Andrew Bonar: Leviticus, Covenantal Premillennialism, and Ezekiel

April 3, 2017 1 comment

As part of the 2017 Challies Reading Challenge, for the commentary I’m currently reading Andrew Bonar’s classic and highly-recommended commentary on Leviticus (1846).  I’m a little over halfway through, and greatly appreciate it, as a verse by verse, chapter by chapter commentary that is straightforward reading for the layperson, with many good devotional thoughts.

I have read other works by Andrew Bonar, including his Christ and His Church in the Book of Psalms, and (earlier this year) his biography of Robert Murray McCheyne, which I especially enjoyed.  I like reading his perspective as a covenantal premillennialist, a view not often seen today, due to the over-reaction by many Reformed against the errors of dispensationalism–to the point of rejecting even what has historically been affirmed by Reformed / covenantal theologians.  For Bonar, in the Reformed tradition, saw the unity of scripture (Old and New Testament), and noted in Leviticus many types (figures, allegories) of Christ—yet also affirmed what the scriptures say regarding Israel’s future and how the scriptures describe the future millennial age.

Here, from Bonar’s commentary – published in 1846, years before dispensationalism had taken hold of much of evangelical Christianity – come some interesting thoughts regarding Leviticus and the last chapters of Ezekiel, regarding the future millennial temple.  He notes (as did the later dispensational writers) the differences in this temple as compared to the previous tabernacle and temple, and relates the types and shadows of Leviticus to their educational, instructional purpose:

Is it not possible that some such end as this may be answered by the temple which Ezekiel foretells as yet to be built (chap. Xl., &c.)  Believing nations may frequent that temple in order to get understanding in these types and shadows.  They may go up to the mountain of the Lord’s house, to be there taught his ways (Isaiah 2:3).  In that temple they may learn how not one tittle of the law has failed.  … Indeed, the very fact that the order of arrangement in Ezekiel entirely differs from the order observed in either tabernacle or temple, and that the edifice itself is reared on a plan varying from every former sanctuary, is sufficient to suggest the idea that it is meant to cast light on former types and shadows.  … As it is said of the rigid features of a marble statue, that they may be made to move and vary their expression so as even to smile, when a skillful hand knows how to move a bright light before it; so may it be with these apparently lifeless figures, in the light of that bright millennial day.  At all events, it is probably then that this much-neglected book of Leviticus shall be fully appreciated.  Israel—the good olive-tree—shall again yield its fatness to the nations round (Romans 11:17).  Their ancient ritual may then be more fully understood, and blessed truth found beaming forth from long obscurity.”

The commentary itself includes many references to New Testament passages as well as the Psalms, to give a complete picture of the Levitical worship and what various texts in Leviticus symbolized or paralleled elsewhere.  As for instance, the concluding remarks on Leviticus 1 relate the sacrifices found here to the original sacrifices and features of Eden, explaining these details of God’s progressive revelation from earlier to later Old Testament revelation:

Let us briefly notice that the rudimental sketch of these offerings, and the mode of their presentation, will be found at the gate of Eden.  …  Just as we believe the Hiddekel and Euphrates of Genesis 2 are the same as the Hiddekel and Euphrates of later history; and the cherubim of Genesis 3 the same as those in the tabernacle; and the “sweet savour” of Genesis 8:21 the same as that in Leviticus 1:9 and Ephesians 5:2; so do we regard the intention of sacrifice as always the same throughout Scripture.

In Mosaic rites, the telescope was drawn out farther than at Eden, and the focus at which the ground object could be best seen was more nearly found.  But the gate of Eden presents us with the same truths in a more rudimental form.

… opposite to this sword [at the gate of Eden], at some distance, we see an altar where our first parents shed the blood of sacrifice—showing in type how the barred-up way of access to the Tree of Life was to be opened by the blood of the woman’s bruised seed.  …when we find clean and unclean noticed (Gen. 8:20), and in Abraham’s case (Genesis 15:9,10), the heifer and goat, the turtle and the pigeon, and also “commandments, statutes, and laws” (parallel to Lev. 26:46), we cannot but believe that these fuller institutions in Leviticus are just the expansion of what Adam first received.  The Levitical dispensation is the acorn of Eden grown to a full oak.  If so, then may we say, that the child Jesus, wrapped in his swaddling-clothes, was, in these ceremonies, laid down at the gate of Eden!

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Classic Premillennial Views: Ezekiel’s Temple (Nathaniel West)

December 2, 2014 1 comment

Occasionally the question comes up, what does historic premillennialism believe regarding Ezekiel’s Temple and the Sacrifices? It must first be noted that this is really a secondary issue, not an essential of any form of premillennialism – and further, that even dispensationalists have differing views. H.A. Ironside and a few others have taken the Scofield Bible’s “secondary” explanation of a literal temple with symbolic language for the sacrifices.  Another good, basic reference is an article regarding Charles Spurgeon’s eschatology, which notes Spurgeon’s speculation regarding the future millennial temple:

  1. During the millennial kingdom there may be a temple or “Christian Structure” built on the Temple Mount for worship of God.
  2. During the millennium there may be some forms of Old Testament ceremonial adherence (Sabbaths, News Moon, etc.), but that those forms will be modified to be appropriate for the church.

Nathaniel West’s classic work “The Thousand Year Reign of Christ” (1899) supplemental material includes a full essay, “The 1000 years in Ezekiel,” on the question of where Ezekiel 40-48 fit within the premillennial timeline. After establishing that this temple exists during the 1000 year intermediate state — and not any time in the past, and also not as something purely idealistic (with no reference to any time, and not during the Eternal State – Nathaniel West shares some interesting points regarding the idea of the temple itself as well as its “bloody sacrifices,” including how the text can be understood to follow the literal hermeneutic and as typical language, in a way that does not violate the principle of literal language yet not contradicting other biblical teachings that conflict with “bloody sacrifices.”

Following are some excerpts from this material, which is not available online, but only in existing used print copies.  (Note: emphasis is in the original text.)

It is enough, for our present purpose, to state where we fully believe these Chapters belong, and their connection with the “first resurrection,” even as (apostle) John has briefly stated the connection of the 1000 years, in the same way. …

The locus of the whole scene of the New Israel, in their New Land, redistributed and transfigured, their New Temple, New City, and New Cult, is between the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment at the end of Ezekiel’s “Many Days,” 38:8, Isaiah’s “Multitude of Days” Isaiah 24:22, Hosea’s “Third Day” 6:2, and John’s “1000 years,” 20:1-7. That is the region where they belong. That bloody sacrifices seem a stumbling block, never can avail to dislodge the section from its place in prophecy or history. The picture is a picture of restored Israel from an Exile-point of view, when the Temple was destroyed, the City laid waste by the king of Babylon, Israel’s instituted worship wrecked, and the prophet-priest, Ezekiel, was moved by “the hand of God” to comfort the exiles of Gola!” (noted in the footnote, the prophecy in Ezekiel 40-48 was written in October 572 B.C.)

 

It covers, perspectively, the whole temporal future of the people, and bleeds the Restoration, the non-Restoration, the Abolition, the future Restitution, all in one. Isaiah had chiefly dwelt upon the prophetic side of the kingdom, in thrilling terms, Daniel dwells upon the kingly side and, to Ezekiel it is given to paint the priestly side of it. … And, as all the rest speak, so does he, in Old Testament terms, and paints in Old Testament colors, yet not without the most startling modifications of the Mosaic worship;–not legislating the “rudiments of the Pentateuchal priest-code,” but amending, abolishing, and adding to it, changing it,–a sign of fading, not advancing, Mosaism.

One thing we know, beyond dispute, viz., that “Israel” of the Millennial Age is a converted people, “serving God in newness of the Spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” How much of Ezekiel’s typical picture will fade in the fulfillment, how much brighten to intenser glory, we may not decide. Nor does this impinge on the doctrine of “exact accomplishment.” It neither asserts nor denies. It leaves to the future, problems the future only can solve. It refuses to reconcile apparent contradictions by the adoption of a principle of interpretation which, if logically carried out, would end in the denial of Christianity itself. It waits. The early Jewish Christians adhered to their Jewish rites long after their conversion on the day of Pentecost. They worshiped still in the Temple. At any rate, the future will bring the solution. … We can agree and with Kahle, feel sure, that “it is not for us to determine how much of these closing predictions of Ezekiel will be literally fulfilled, how much not, when Israel has turned to the Lord with all their heart.” We may not go to the length of Baumgarten and Hess who, perhaps, press the literal, in some respect, to the quick, but we may follow men of scholarship and greatness in the knowledge of God’s word, like Crusius, Delitzch, Nagelsbach, Hofmann, Neumann, and agree, even with Kuenen and Graf, in this, that “it is vain, either to idealize, or seek to spiritualize, the many of minute details of these Chapters.”

Further:

The relations described are too perfect to allow us to see in this picture a representation, beforehand, of the restored Church of Zerubbabel and Joshua, of Ezra and Nehemiah, such as was afterward related historically. Or, is it the consummated Jerusalem, the Eternal City of God? For this again, the relations are too limited, too specifically Jewish. And yet there are elements, even in the oracles of Ezekiel, that do not find expression in the architectural plan framed after the Mosaic pattern. The Temple is seen standing on a high mountain. This feature, and the Temple-River swelling as it goes, show that the whole is more than a new architectonic for the building of God’s house, or a new revision of the Law, or the Restoration of the State. It is a prophetic vision in which the Church of God and the Temple, are presented in glorified form. And yet the detailed descriptions are of such a kind, the walls, the chambers, and the doors, that they yield a real architectonic of which a plan may be drawn, complete as that of the temple of Herod or Solomon. The Mosaic cultus here, is typical prophecy.

and

Attempts have been made to crane up this picture, and its separate features, by artificial means, to the height of the New Testament revelation, by putting a spiritual meaning into everything, or an outward fulfilment has been claimed by which even the bloody sacrifices must be logically ascribed to converted Israel. Really neither the one nor the other view accords with New Testament teaching.

Highlights From Recent Online Articles: Creation Science

February 2, 2013 4 comments

Just a quick look here at an interesting recent online article:

From ICR.org’s January edition of “Acts & Facts”:  a clear and simple article (and written by a Ph.D. scientist), “The Two-Book Fallacy”.  A few months ago I heard the term “two books” (several times) from an Old Earth Creationist, one who often appealed to scientist authority (see this conversation).  ICR’s article points out what should be obvious, the difference between a book and the world around us:

It is not something that is comprised of statements in human language. It is not something that a person can literally read or interpret in the same way that we interpret a sentence. … The advantage of a book is that it is comprised of clear statements in human language that are designed to be understood by the reader. The meaning of a book is the intention of the author. But that’s not the case with nature. What does a rock mean? What does a fossil mean? They don’t literally mean anything because they are not statements made by an author who is intending to convey an idea. …. a record is an account in writing that preserves the knowledge of facts or events. Rocks and fossils are not in the written form and are, therefore, not a record. … the primary purpose of nature is not to teach, but to function. Consequently, the world is not comprised of statements that are easy to understand. Moreover, nature is cursed due to sin. Therefore, God gave us a clear, inerrant account of the major events of history in writing so that we can begin to properly understand nature.

Ezekiel’s Temple: The Animal Sacrifices

October 31, 2011 4 comments

I recently learned of another approach to understanding Ezekiel 40-48.  Well known is the idea of amillennialists and postmillennialists, that those chapters do not have any specific meaning other than great spiritual ideas of what the Jewish worship might have been.  By contrast, dispensational premillennialists view the temple and the sacrifices as literal, a package deal.

However, a few within this group actually take an inconsistent approach:  the temple itself is a literal structure that will exist during the Millennial Kingdom.  But what is described about the sacrifices and priestly system is symbolic of the worship that the Israelites in that age will experience.  The Jews of Ezekiel’s day could not have understood our church age, and so Ezekiel described it in a way they would understand.  Dan Duncan at Believers Chapel (where the late S. Lewis Johnson taught), for instance, expresses this view in his Ezekiel series, again because of the supposed conflict with New Testament revelation, that Christ finished the OT priestly system.  This view is listed as the second (not primary) explanation in the Scofield Bible, and dispensationalist H.A. Ironside also took this view.

I found this explanation rather unsatisfying, for obvious hermeneutical reasons.  Why would Ezekiel 43 contain such very detailed, precise descriptions for something that is only symbolic of something else?  How can we say that the physical description of the temple itself is the Millennial temple, but that the description of the services held there (animal sacrifices) is not literal and really means something else?  At this point I also refer back to Matt Weymeyer’s list of rules for determining if a passage is literal or not.

1.  Does it possess a degree of absurdity when taken literally?  Example: Isaiah 55:12 “the trees of the fields will clap their hands.”

2.  Does it possess a degree of clarity when taken symbolically?  Symbolic language effectively communicates what it symbolizes.
Isaiah 55:12 does possess a degree of clarity when taken symbolically.

3.  Does it fall into an established category of symbolic language?  — figures of speech, etc.  You have to be able to identify what kind of symbol you’re dealing with.  Isaiah 55:12 is a  Personification type of symbol.

Matt Weymeyer applied this test to Revelation 20, but the same can be done for the Ezekiel passage about animal sacrifices.  We can easily understand that Ezekiel 43 does not appear “absurd” when taken literally.  Yes, it may be a difficult question to answer, but the passage itself is not absurd such as the idea of trees clapping their hands.  If Ezekiel 43 is symbolic, is that symbolic view clear?  Just as theologians have come up with many different “interpretations” of Revelation 20, same here, many different “interpretations” have been suggested:  that it’s symbolic for the future worship during the Mill. Kingdom, or that it’s describing the actual sacrifices of the post-exilic period; or that the whole temple structure itself isn’t real since there is no future Millennial Kingdom.  So again, Ezekiel 43 fails the second test; we do not see a clear meaning if Ezekiel 43 is symbolic.  Then the third test:  what category of symbolic language is Ezekiel 43?  Is it a figure of speech, a metaphor, a personification? Of course the Ezekiel passages about animal sacrifices are not a type of symbolic language.

Once we establish, on hermeneutical grounds, that there will be sacrifices during the Kingdom, we move on and address the issue more honestly, looking at the meaning of those sacrifices.

Here are a few links for further information concerning Ezekiel’s Temple sacrifices:

WHY LITERAL SACRIFICES IN THE MILLENNIUM  (Thomas Ice)

Animal Sacrifices in Israel — Past & Future  (John Whitcomb)

Ezekiel’s Temple: Premillennial Achilles’ Heel?  (Paul Henebury)

The Amillennial “Binding of Satan”: A Conundrum Like Ezekiel’s Temple

August 11, 2010 2 comments

In his “The Divine Purpose” series, S. Lewis Johnson makes yet another interesting point concerning the amillennial view of Revelation 20 and the binding of Satan.

In light of what the book of Hebrews points out concerning the finished work of Christ on the cross, amillennialists frequently criticize the premillennial view of Ezekiel 40-48.  How can there still be animal sacrifices, and a return to the Mosaic system, after the work of Christ has been completed?  Some premillennialists respond that Ezekiel 40-48 must be talking about a memorial only.  S. Lewis Johnson believed that Ezekiel 40-48 is something more than a memorial, and he believes a better explanation exists.

However, amillennialists themselves have a similar inconsistency when they link the binding of Satan (Revelation 20:1-3) to that same finished work on the cross.  For if, as amillennialists claim, the binding of Satan began at the time of the cross, and Satan is now bound — then what is the answer to Revelation 20 verses 7-8?

“And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog.”

For if the binding of Satan is a binding that came about at Calvary, then surely Satan being released at a future point contradicts their whole stance concerning Hebrews and the completed sacrifice — the same conundrum as the matter of animal sacrifices during the Millennial Kingdom in Ezekiel 40-48.  Furthermore, the amillenial binding is one that limits Satan in that he can no longer deceive the nations, because now the gospel is unhindered and can go freely about the world in the great missionary activity of the church.  Again, Revelation 20:7-8 clearly tells us that Satan will be allowed to go out and deceive the nations — the very “limitation” that Satan supposedly has now, and a limitation brought about by that finished work of Christ.

For further study concerning the binding of Satan, see “Is Satan Bound Today?” by Michael Vlach, which gives many additional scriptural reasons why this binding of Satan is yet future.

See also:  article concerning Ezekiel’s Temple

Ezekiel’s Temple and OT Millenial Passages

October 16, 2008 1 comment

Still doing a lot of reading and studying, not much time for writing. Here are some of my thoughts for today…

I listened to John MacArthur’s answer regarding Ezekiel’s temple in the light of the finished work of the cross (from the 2007 Shepherd’s Conference, General Conference 5) and transcribed it for my future reference:

“How does the Lord’s table relate to the fact that Christ’s sacrifice is a once for all sacrifice? The Old Testament sacrifices were not a substitute for Christ, they were a depiction, they were a picture, they were a picture, a type, prior to the cross, pointing to the cross. The Lord’s table is a picture of the cross, past the Cross, pointing back, and the best understanding that I have of the millennial temple in Ezekiel 40 to 48 and the millenial sacrifices is that in the kingdom, which is for Israel in fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant and Davidic covenant and new covenant promise of Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36 and 37, Israel is featured. The apostles, Jesus said from His own lips, will sit on 12 thrones ruling the 12 tribes of Israel. And so it is uniquely Jewish and it is uniquely for them and I think the Lord will reinstitute the Old Testament symbols that pointed to the cross and they will carry out some of those symbols which will then be infused with a full understanding of what they meant in the light of the cross, and they will by then have come to look on Him whom they have pierced and mourn for Him as an only son, have had the fountain of cleansing opened to them, they will be in the kingdom, Christ will be present and it will all become clear to them. It will be a complete unveiling of all of those sacrifices which were so richly symbolic to Israel in the past.”

It sounds similar to a few things I’ve come across elsewhere, and the most complete answer so far. I know the standard amill answer, about how all of those chapters in Ezekiel are symbolic of what the ideal temple could have been, if the Jews had been faithful — sorry, I don’t buy that one anymore, as I become increasingly dissatisfied with the pastor that over-spiritualizes and over-allegorizes difficult texts without really looking at what they actually say. Allegory and spiritualization doesn’t account for the very specific measurements and details. Considering MacArthur’s answer (among many other things I’ve already studies), I conclude that, though the great promises of God are fulfilled in Christ’s atoning work on the cross and His promises for the Church, that does not mean God is limited to only redeeming Gentiles; He could very well have an even greater plan than anything we can imagine, including a special redemptive plan in the future for His elect of the Jewish nation. Nothing in the fulfillment of the New Testament promises means that God is completely through with Israel, and so what must we do with the words of Jesus and Paul, saying “until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled?” So as I understand the pre-mill position, at the end times God will bring in more of His elect, only in this case the elect will be individuals of Jewish descent.

Now I’m beginning to see the greater picture, the full meaning of some Old Testament prophecies, such as Isaiah 66. Last night, my amill pastor mentioned this text in passing, one of many passages as he jumped around on a lot of different thoughts, but cited this passage (Isaiah 66:19-20) as referring to the church and the gospel going out to all the lands. Yet in the context, a few verses later it describes the New Heavens and the New Earth, and the people looking at all the dead bodies — a direct tie-in with the battle of Armageddon. Instead, Isaiah 66:18-20 seems a lot like what is prophecied in Zechariah 14.

Like the fuller understanding of the fulfillment of Matthew 24:14, of course this is talking about something far greater than anything done by the Church in this age. There are plenty of New Testament passages talking about that, but this passage has nothing to do with the Church.