Politics & Prophecy: A Lawyer’s View of the End Times
Part 5 – The Kingdom of Christ
by Gerald R. Thompson
ONE WORLD RELIGION
The Millennial Church
We’ve talked about what the kingdom of Christ will look like governmentally during the Millennium. But what about the Church? What will it look like?
Mainly, it will actually look like a worldwide body of Christ. That is, one body, with one head. Believers, though many, will be one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Rom. 12:5. No longer will there be any divisions within the Church, but believers worldwide will be united in the same mind and the same judgment. Cf. 1Cor. 1:10. It’s hard to imagine. But that’s what you will get when the one true head of the Church (Col. 1:18) will lead it visibly.
I suspect all Christian denominations and sects with which we are now familiar will disappear. Christ is not divided (1Cor. 1:13), so neither will His Church be after He arrives. All too familiar divisions over baptisms and sacraments will vaporize. So too will all doctrinal disputes in other areas. Jesus will be here in person to answer all religious questions and put an end to all disputes. There will be no contrary viewpoints on any matter to which He will speak. His word will be the one true rule of faith and practice for everyone. Isa. 2:3. No one else’s opinion will matter.
Undoubtedly all separate Christian movements led or started by so-called prophets coming after Christ will be gone. Prophets and prophecy will not necessarily be sealed up and finished, but prophets will merely take their place alongside other Church officers as contributing members of the body, and not be its leaders or founders. Gone will be all false prophets and self-appointed prophets. Those who are called by Christ as prophets will not involve themselves with anything so scandalous as a separated denomination or sect. Those things will not exist.
When the Millennium starts, the Church will literally start over from scratch. All that came before will be discarded and thrown away by God as useless. Just imagine, if you will, all the people who are religious and church-going but who never truly believed at the point when Jesus returns. They may (or may not) survive the Tribulation, but do you really think God is going to move forward in the kingdom of Christ, (re)building the Church with people who were only pretenders? They will be of no use to Jesus.
Instead, Jesus will form a new core constituency consisting of the nation of Israel, who will follow the example of the 144,000 and convert to Christ so that Judaism and Christianity will unify and merge with the result that “all Israel will be saved.” Rom. 11:26. [Note: I did not just say that the nation of Israel and the Church would unify and merge. Once the Jews accept Jesus as their Messiah, the religions of Judaism and Christianity will merge – Jesus is not going to rule the world and preside over two religions from the rebuilt Temple. But national Israel (genealogically and politically) will always be separate from the Church.]
From there, the Gospel will spread around the globe and many of the remaining peoples will also turn to Christ. The Church, as an institution, will be recreated from these new exclusively Gentile converts, guided and judged by the translated saints. No one will be grafted into the Church based on prior religious experience. And all remnants of the religions which previously covered the earth will be discarded in toto.
Also totally absent will be all forms of human priesthoods, except for the Levites who will minister exclusively to the Jews, of course. “For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings, and to make sacrifices forever.” Jer. 33:17-18. And in the Millennium, “the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who kept the charge of my sanctuary when the people of Israel went astray from me, shall come near to me to minister to me. And they shall stand before me to offer me the fat and the blood, declares the Lord God.” Eze. 44:15.
For Christ abolished all human priesthoods in the Church as a result of the First Advent, and He alone will act as high priest on behalf of all believers as a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Heb. 5:10; 6:20; 7:17. The universal priesthood of all believers is of course a present spiritual reality, but in the Millennium it will be a political (i.e., an institutional) reality.
No one in a leadership role in the Millennial Church will dare to call themselves a priest. Or for that matter, reverend (for all believers are equally holy to God). Or father. Mat. 23:9. The word minister will return to being a verb, not a noun or a title. I suspect (but don’t know for sure) there will still be bishops and overseers, but they will likely be known simply as elders and they won’t be able to turn their humble office into a career. There simply won’t be any more profiteering in the Church. It’s way long overdue.
In Shakespear’s Henry The Sixth, one of the characters (a rebellious person) declared, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” But in the Millennium, it is the priests who will all be eliminated, since all human priests in the Church are false priests (there is no true priest except Christ). True, some present day priests may be genuine believers and be translated along with the rest of the Body of Christ at Jesus’ return, yet I suspect many will not make the cut. The point is, those priests who remain un-translated will no longer be needed and those who are translated will not be replaced or returned to their old jobs.
And while a great many lawyers will also undoubtedly not be included in the First Resurrection, at least in the kingdom of Christ there will still be a need for lawyers and judges to help govern the people – lawyers who will be honest and judges who will be righteous. “Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed.” Rev. 20:4. But a professional priest who is either honest or righteous is an oxymoron, as any honest man of God would acknowledge there is no true priest in the Church but Christ, and any righteous man of God would decline the dishonor of being named a priest of God among men.
Oh, there might still be pastors in the Millennium (maybe), but there definitely will no longer be any clergy. By this I mean that the original intent of Eph. 4:11 will finally be put into effect. That scripture tells us there are certain offices in the Church appointed by God: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers. I have no reason to believe any of these offices (as originally intended) will change in the Millennium – each of them will still play a vital role in the life of the Church. But “pastors and teachers” probably refers to only one office, not two.
Although perhaps 1 Cor. 12:28 is a more realistic list (it does not mention pastors). I do not want to get bogged down in this issue here, because I have written about it very extensively in an essay called Five Biblical Principles of Church Government. But the upshot is this: the word pastor is only ever mentioned in the N.T. exactly once. So its viability as a spiritual office separate and distinct from teacher is highly suspect. Look up my other essay if you want to know more.
The Bible absolutely nowhere indicates there is any hierarchy among these offices (whatever they are), that any of them are full-time while others are part-time, that any are compensated while others are uncompensated, or that any have authority or leadership over the others. So, there might or might not be pastors, but pastors will not be in charge in any event. They will have no elevated status, no higher calling, no superior authority, no exclusive sacerdotal functions, and no greater ministry than apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teachers. Which is to say, there will be no clergy.
Neither will there be any laity. The clergy-laity distinction will evaporate. The Church will still be an institution of charity and giving, but no one will collect tithes, which absolutely never were made a part of the functioning of the Church. “But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” 1 Cor. 12:24-25.
The whole concept of a tithe presumes a division in the body: those who pay it (laity) vs. those who receive it (clergy) – a shameless carryover from Judaism and its division between Levites and non-Levites. The absence of a clergy-laity distinction negates the tithe – not that it ever belonged in the Church to begin with.
Each of the offices will return to its original function for the benefit of all. Apostles will be needed to plant churches (which is all the authority the original apostles ever had). Prophets will be needed to proclaim the word of God (but not necessarily to predict the future). Evangelists will be needed to spread the Gospel (it never has been and never will be the job of every Christian to evangelize). Pastors may be needed to mentor believers (but not to lead or shepherd people like sheep). Teachers will be needed to instruct the faithful (but not have any inherent ruling authority). And none will jockey for positions of authority and power. They will just fulfill their callings.
This will be possible only because everything that exists now (Church-wise) will be removed. For one thing, only unbelievers will enter the Millennium. So as an institution among men, the Church will start over and be done right, since Jesus will be there personally to supervise its rebirth.
You know – the way the Church was intended to be from the beginning, but people screwed it up. They could have, would have, should have read the scriptures to see what is plainly written there about the Church, but instead they promoted and preserved their own selfish interests. At long last, all these false religious trappings will be thrown off once Jesus returns.
A Kingdom Of Priests
You may be asking yourself, what about Rev. 20:6? “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.” Aha! Doesn’t that prove there will be priests in the Millennial Church? Yes and no.
Look at the verse (Rev. 20:6). A) These are resurrected (and translated) saints we’re talking about, not mortal human beings who survive the Tribulation. B) These priests will rule and reign in the Millennial kingdom, i.e., they will be kingdom priests. Government workers. Not exactly your typical sort of priests. So if you’re inclined to draw any parallels between these priests and the clergy of today – well, don’t bother. But, let’s see what else the scriptures have to say about the matter:
Ex. 19:5-6 – “if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
Isa. 61:5-6 – “Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks; foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers; but you shall be called the priests of the Lord; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their glory you shall boast.”
Isa. 62:1-2, 12 – “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. … And they shall be called The Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord; and you shall be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken.”
Zech. 8:20-23 – “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going.’ Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.'”
1 Pet. 2:9-10 – “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
Let’s look at the biblical concept of kingdom priests. It all started with the giving of the law to Israel in the time of Moses. “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Ex 19:6. Observations: A) this statement was directed exclusively to Israel in its national capacity; and B) this statement was not referring to the Levitical priesthood.
Unquestionably, Ex. 19:6 is the verse where God sets Israel apart from all other nations as His most favored nation. But Israel did not at that time become either a kingdom of priests or a holy nation. Rather, those descriptions look forward to the day when all Israel will be saved. Only then, i.e., once the Millennium begins, will the nation truly be holy and every member thereof stand as a priest before God. Only when Jer. 31:33 is fulfilled, or as God says, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts,” will Israel be a kingdom of priests.
In other words, the Levitical priesthood did not make Israel a kingdom of priests. Under that system, only a very small number of persons were priests – the rest of the nation, even the rest of the Levites, were not. The concept behind a kingdom of priests is that every single member of the kingdom will be a priest, not just some. The fact that Israel as a nation is not at the present time a kingdom of priests is confirmed by Hos. 4:6. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me.”
Thus, in the N.T., we see this concept begin to be realized (or foreshadowed) in the priesthood of all believers. The whole idea of which is that people no longer need to go through a human intermediary (a priest) to get to God. Through Jesus and because of His high priesthood (in other words, He is the head priest), each believer has direct access to God. Human priesthoods are obsolete. I have covered this in extensive detail in Five Biblical Principles of Church Government.
“You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood.” 1 Pe 2:5. “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father.” Rev 1:5-6. “You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God.” Rev 5:9-10.
The priesthood of all believers was specifically foretold in Isa 66:18, 21. “The time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. … And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites,” says the Lord. But no one who is a member of the universal priesthood of believers would refer to himself as a priest, as a title, because it doesn’t distinguish any believer(s) from all other believers. It would be like a Christian today calling himself The Saved One, when there is absolutely nothing distinctive about one person’s salvation compared to others. Nonetheless, it is technically true that every believer is a priest.
So the question is, when the saints rule and reign with Christ in the Millennium, what kind of priests will they be? Will they be chosen on the basis of ancestry? Is it a position anyone can sign up for? Will these priests be seminary graduates? Will they collect tithes? Will they be a separate class of believers within the Church? Bottom line: Will the Millennial priests be priests after the fashion of the Levitical system (which today’s clergy are modeled after), or will they be priests after the fashion of the universal priesthood of all believers?
Unless God completely changes the nature of the Church in the Millennium (something I can’t even imagine that He would do), I have to believe the priesthood of believers will be the model for the priesthood. Thus, there will be priests, but no clergy in the Millennial Church.
Nevertheless, the nation of Israel will occupy a unique position within the Millennial kingdom, essentially as go-betweens for the Gentile nations and the King of kings. See Isa. 61:5-6, above. Isa 62 (above) indicates how Israel will be a light to the Gentile nations, serving essentially an evangelistic function. This is in fact a repeated theme in the Bible. “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Isa. 49:6. Also see Acts 13:47; Lk. 2:32. This, then, will be the full and final realization of Israel as a kingdom of priests.
A Revival of Sacrifices
Ezek. 43:18, 26-27 – And he said to me, “Son of man, thus says the Lord God: These are the ordinances for the altar: … Seven days shall they make atonement for the altar and cleanse it, and so consecrate it. And when they have completed these days, then from the eighth day onward the priests shall offer on the altar your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, and I will accept you, declares the Lord God.”
Ezek. 45:17 – “It shall be the prince’s duty to furnish the burnt offerings, grain offerings, and drink offerings, at the feasts, the new moons, and the Sabbaths, all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel: he shall provide the sin offerings, grain offerings, burnt offerings, and peace offerings, to make atonement on behalf of the house of Israel.”
Ezek. 44:6b-8, 10, 12 – “Thus says the Lord God: O house of Israel, enough of all your abominations, in admitting foreigners, uncircumcised in heart and flesh, to be in my sanctuary, profaning my temple, when you offer to me my food, the fat and the blood. You have broken my covenant, in addition to all your abominations. And you have not kept charge of my holy things, but you have set others to keep my charge for you in my sanctuary. … But the Levites who went far from me, going astray from me after their idols when Israel went astray, shall bear their punishment. … Because they ministered to them before their idols and became a stumbling block of iniquity to the house of Israel, therefore I have sworn concerning them, declares the Lord God, and they shall bear their punishment.”
These verses from Ezekiel are some of the toughest prophetic scriptures to understand. I struggled with them myself for a long time, but I believe I now have the key.
The problem is this: Ezekiel’s temple has never yet been built, so it must be yet future, because (among other things) God does not make contingency plans that He will never use. Not only the Third Temple, but the sanctuary and altar are measured and specified in long cubits (a cubit and a handbreadth – Ezek. 43:13). These are the units of measurement in real world human construction, confirming the Millennial sanctuary and altar are to be taken literally, and they will indeed be used for animal sacrifices.
Yet we know that the redemptive work of Jesus has already been perfected and completed in His First Advent, eliminating the need for animal sacrifices in the context of the Church covenant. So, if the Third Temple will have a literal sanctuary and altar – and literal animal sacrifices will be taking place – what is going on? How are these two things to be reconciled?
If you read up on this question, you will find many proposed answers, including: 1) the sacrifices and offerings must be allegorical or symbolic only; 2) there are different types of atonement (higher and lower), and whereas the salvation through Christ is a high atonement, the sacrificial system is a lower atonement; 3) another way of saying that, I suppose, is that animal sacrifices never actually saved anyone, they just atoned for sins temporarily, until the next set of sins were committed; 4) the Ezekiel sacrifices are to be understood as a memorial or remembrance rather than as a form of atonement; 5) the Jewish sacrifices under the Mosaic law never really went away and are eternal until the new heavens and new earth are created; and 6) the sacrifices are not really for atonement purposes at all, they are just a form of kingly tribute paid to the King of Kings.
Let me address each of these, in turn. First, you don’t need a literal altar on which to perform merely symbolic sacrifices. The Jews in the Millennium aren’t going to be performing sacrifice re-enactments. Yes, there will be real slaughtering of animals going on. Eze. 40:41-32; 44:11. Second and third, the problem with higher and lower atonement (or forgiveness vs. atonement), is that sacrifices in the Millennium will not be for the purpose of individual redemption at all. They will serve a national or corporate purpose only, for Israel as a nation. Remember, at this point all Israel is saved. What does anyone need “more” personal redemption for?
Fourth, the sacrifices will not be for a memorial, because they will be required as part of an ongoing obligation under the Mosaic covenant that never ended. The Mosaic law is not being remembered, it is being resumed. And yes, the sacrifices will serve the purpose of national atonement. Eze. 45:17. Fifth, true, the Mosaic sacrificial obligations never really went away. They were simply prevented from being observed due to the lack of a physical temple. Sixth, as per Eze. 44, the sacrifices will not be a form of tribute, but a form of punishment. But yes, the King of Kings will demand it.
I want to make it clear I am not suggesting that the future resumption of animal sacrifices has anything to do with the redemption of any individuals. Jews in the Millennium will be covered by the New Covenant with Israel, under which all Israel will be saved. Meanwhile, the Church covenant will be plenty sufficient to redeem any individual Gentiles. But this isn’t about the Church, or salvation, or redemption. More to the point, Millennial animal sacrifices are not about any individuals at all. It’s about the nation of Israel as a corporate entity. And as a nation, Israel has both a unique privilege, and a unique burden.
The privilege, we have already partially identified. Israel, among all the nations of the world, is the only one identified by God as His treasured possession, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. Israel is also singled out as the only nation whom God calls my people, the people whom God will dwell among, and who are identified with His holy name. To the Jews alone were committed the oracles of God, that is, the scriptures, (Rom. 3:2). Salvation itself is from the Jews (Jn. 4:22). Further, even the territories of the nations were determined around Israel (Deu. 32:8), and Jerusalem is the center of the world (Eze. 5:5; 38:12). All of that is pretty special, and unique.
In Ezek. 43, when the sacrifices are made, who is it that the Lord will accept? Israel. In Ezek. 45, the prince of what nation is to furnish the sacrificial offerings? Israel. So grab onto this truth: Ezekiel nowhere says that the sacrifices in the Millennial temple are to be offered by or on behalf of any Gentiles. The sacrificial system, when revived, is for Jews only. And when I say Jews only, what I mean is the nation of Israel, as a nation, in its corporate capacity.
God has always dealt with Israel covenantally as a nation, or corporately. The Mosaic covenant was given to Israel as a national constitution. When all Israel saved, salvation will be imparted to the Jews corporately, as a nation. (Jer. 31:31-34). So when God finally deals with the past sins of Israel, it should be no surprise He will deal with them corporately, as a nation.
This is an issue of national (corporate, and ancestral) shame and iniquity. It is, as Ezek. 44 clearly indicates, a matter of national punishment. It doesn’t mean that any Jews will be denied entry into heaven, or even that they will be denied the many physical blessings God has promised to bestow on Israel during Christ’s earthly kingdom. It simply means, in terms of religious duties, that they will have certain ritualistic obligations the Gentiles will not also have. And this punishment will be imposed not because of anything the Jews at the time will have done, but because of what their ancestors did long ago in the past.
How, you may ask, is God justified in making this corporate punishment for past sins? Consider this:
Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. … Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord, behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.'” (Jer. 18:5-6,11).
But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? (Rom. 9:20-21).
It’s tough love, people. God can do whatever He wants with His own possession among the peoples of the world. Ours is not to question why, but merely to understand. God has made His intentions known, and they are unmistakable. They shall bear their punishment.
Is it starting to make sense to you now? In reality, there is no conflict between the resumed sacrificial system for the Jews and the grace of God (i.e., salvation through faith) extended to all nations through Christ. They both exist together, side by side.
Levite Land Ownership
I suppose I can briefly mention the apparent contradiction, in speaking of the Levitical priests, between Ezek. 44:28 (“This shall be their inheritance: I am their inheritance: and you shall give them no possession in Israel; I am their possession.”) and Ezek. 48:10, 12 (“These shall be the allotments of the holy portion: the priests shall have an allotment measuring [25,000 by 10,000 cubits]. And it shall belong to them as a special portion from the holy portion of the land, a most holy place, adjoining the territory of the Levites.”).
So, do the Levitical priests in the Millennium have land ownership, or not? Remember that under the Mosaic law, the Levites had no land ownership in ancient Israel. “And no portion was given to the Levites in the land, but only cities to dwell in, with their pasturelands.” Josh. 14:4. See the pattern? Obviously, even if they did not individually own any land, the Levites had to live somewhere. Where did they live? In cities, connected to pasturelands that were held in common. Held in common by whom? All the Levites.
In the Millennium, this pattern will repeat, except it will not be limited to cities. So, the Levites will have an allotment of land to be held in common among them, but no, none of them will have individual ownership which can be sold or otherwise transferred. Thus, there is no inconsistency between Ezek. 44:28 and Ezek. 48:10-12.
ENDNOTES * Ver. 8.0. Copyright © 2013-2020 Gerald R. Thompson. All rights reserved. Used by permission. All Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version.