Politics & Prophecy: A Lawyer’s View of the End Times
Part 3 – The Restoration of Israel
by Gerald R. Thompson
Ezek 40-44 (summary) – Ezekiel is shown visions of a temple with many precise measurements. He is given the dimensions of rooms, courts, gates, the thickness of walls, the size of the altar, etc. The exact floor plan does not concern us here. Overall, the temple area is 500 cubits square (Eze 42:15-20). The cubit used is specifically stated to be a “long cubit,” namely a regular cubit and a handbreadth (Eze 40:5), or 20″-24″ inches. So the whole temple area is given as between 833 and 1,000 feet square.
Dan. 9:27 (summary) – The Antichrist will stop Jewish sacrifices and offerings, and then commit the Abomination of Desolation in the temple of God.
Zech. 6:12-15 (summary) – The man whose name is the Branch will build the temple of the Lord, and will sit and rule on his throne. He will sit on the throne both as priest and as king, and bring peace between the two offices. And those who are far off will come and help to build the temple of the Lord.
Rev. 11:1-2 (summary) – Rise and measure the temple of God, but not the outer temple court because it will be trampled under foot by the nations for 42 months.
The rebuilding of the Jewish temple is very closely linked both to the restoration of Israel and the Messianic Era. The rebuilding of the temple is important because it is the place from which the Messiah (Jesus) will rule the earth as the seat of his kingdom. The rebuilding of the temple also signifies that the enemies of Israel have been conquered and their presence removed from the land.
In the history of Israel, there have been two temples (not including the tabernacle, or tent used prior to that), both of which stood on the temple mount in Jerusalem. The First Temple was built by king Solomon, which was destroyed in 586 B.C. when Israel was deported to Babylon. The Second Temple, sometimes called Herod’s temple, was originally built around 515 B.C. and later modified by Herod just prior to the birth of Jesus. This Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. as prophesied by Jesus (Mat. 24:1-2). The temple has not been rebuilt since then.
In 691 A.D. the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim shrine, was built on the Jewish temple mount. A mosque was added to the site in 705 A.D. and was rebuilt several times. The present Al-Aqsa Mosque dates to 1033 A.D. The point is, the Jews will never rebuild the temple any place other than the original temple mount, so it cannot be rebuilt until the Muslim structures come down and/or the Muslims release control over the temple mount. If those Muslim structures had not existed, the Third Temple would most likely have been built already.
Our concern here is whether biblical prophecy foretells the building of a Third Temple, often identified with Ezekiel’s vison of the temple in Ezek. 40-44. Several O.T. prophets wrote during the time between 586 B.C. and the rebuilding of the temple by Nehemiah. Example: Haggai 1:1-15, referring to the rebuilding of the second temple. We are not interested in these prophecies here, nor in Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the second temple, because none of these past events signify the inauguration of the Messianic Era or the Millennium.
The possible rebuilding of the Jewish third temple is hotly debated. There are good reasons for being skeptical. First, the finished work of Jesus regarding the way of personal salvation needs no physical temple. The physical temple was, in fact, obsoleted by Christ. See Heb. 8:2; 9:11.
Second, a rebuilding of the temple by the Jews implies a return to the sacrificial system of the O.T. – but aren’t they supposed to be turning to Christ in the end times? Third, in this time of political volatility and dispute over the control of Jerusalem, how could the Jews rebuild the temple where Islamic structures now stand?
Notwithstanding these concerns, I believe there are four principal reasons why the Jewish temple will be rebuilt a third time in Jerusalem in the future:
1) the temple prophesied in Ezekiel 40-44 has never yet been built;
2) there must be a temple of God in order for the Abomination of Desolation to occur;
3) numerous scriptures refer to a restoration of daily sacrifices which has not occurred yet; and
4) when Jesus establishes His earthly kingdom, He will rule it from the temple in Jerusalem.
Of course, if you’re a post-millennialist or an amillennialist, the question is pretty well moot. Ezekiel’s temple is taken to refer to heaven, the Abomination of Desolation occurred in the past, daily sacrifices have been obsoleted, and there isn’t going to be an earthly kingdom of Christ headquartered in Jerusalem. But for everyone else, let’s consider these four reasons.
1) Ezekiel’s Prophecy. The fact that Ezekiel’s vision of the temple of God is measured and defined so minutely suggests a physical structure, not merely a spiritual or allegorical one. To the same effect is the fact that measurements are given in long cubits, an historical building or construction term. If Ezekiel’s temple was intended by God to be allegorical or spiritual or heavenly only, there would be absolutely no purpose in giving its detailed and precise measurements. God does not intentionally mislead.
Plus, the idea that Ezekiel’s temple is actually a vision of heaven is strictly ruled out by Rev. 21:22, which clearly states the New Jerusalem (heaven) will have no temple in it. I will not, and I urge you not to, read any scripture in a way which necessarily contradicts another scripture. Logically, if heaven will have no temple, then Ezekiel cannot give us a prophecy of a heavenly temple.
It is also a historical fact that no temple in Jerusalem ever had the dimensions specified in Ezekiel. In other words, Ezekiel’s temple has never yet been built. So, the question is simply this: If no past temple fits Ezekiel’s vision, and heaven won’t have a temple, why did God give the vision to Ezekiel unless it was a blueprint of a physical structure yet to be built?
In any event, the visions of Ezekiel taken as a whole are entirely incompatible with John’s visions of the New Jerusalem. The New Jerusalem will be 1,500 miles square and just as tall, to be located on the new earth. The city will have twelve gates named for the tribes of Israel, but no land will be apportioned in their names.
In Ezekiel’s visions, not only is there a temple which is precluded by Revelation, but the city of Jerusalem itself is only 4,500 cubits (under two miles) square instead of 1,500 miles. Ezekiel foresaw the land of Israel being re-parceled out among the tribes, with the boundaries described in standard metes and bounds terminology (just like a property deed) – all in reference to existing landmarks on the current earth. Also, he saw a river flowing south through the Arabah into the sea – again using current landmarks, things that will not exist on the new earth.
So how can the visions of Ezekiel possibly refer to the new earth and the New Jerusalem (i.e., heaven)?
2) The Abomination of Desolation. Dan. 9:27; 11:31 and 12:11 all make reference to the Abomination of Desolation. Mat. 24:15 and 2Th. 2:4 are to the same effect. These texts are all part of prophecies primarily related to the future Antichrist and not to past events. We have already discussed Dan. 9:27. The other texts will be treated in the next section on the Abomination of Desolation, which should be read together with this section.
The point is, you can’t have a future Abomination of Desolation unless the temple exists in which it will take place. To say there will be no future Jewish temple is equivalent to saying there will be no future Abomination of Desolation and all the prophecies about it have already been fulfilled, even to the point where the Tribulation must already have happened (i.e., in 70 A.D.). This is what postmills believe, of course.
Yet, Mat. 24:21 says that the Tribulation will be “such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” Can it be seriously contended the troubled times of 70 A.D. will never be equaled, and that nothing in the future could ever be worse than that? Or is Mat. 24:21 one of those verses we are supposed to spiritualize because Jesus didn’t really mean for us to take His words literally?
3) Reinstitution of Daily Sacrifices. The verses already cited make reference to the future stopping of Jewish daily sacrifices. That’s great, except there haven’t been any Jewish daily sacrifices since Herod’s temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. So in order for them to be stopped in the future, they first have to be reinstituted. And before the sacrifices can be reinstituted, the temple has to be at least partially rebuilt on the temple mount in Jerusalem.
The Jews aren’t going to reinstitute sacrifices without a rebuilt holy of holies. And the Jewish holy of holies can only be built on the temple mount. There is only one place such things can occur. Which is to say, the Jews do not consider themselves at liberty to move the holy of holies from its historic location. They are obligated to rebuild it where God first placed it.
Further, it’s not a question of whether the daily sacrifices should be reinstituted from a Christian perspective. The Jews will want to reinstitute them, and they are the ones who will build the Third Temple. The Jews (prior to the Messianic Era) will not accept that the Mosaic sacrificial system has been abrogated. To them, the Mosaic laws are still in effect and they are just waiting for the opportunity to reinstitute that system.
4) The Temple as a Seat of Government. As Zech. 6 makes clear, upon the return of Jesus, He will sit on the throne located in the temple of God both as priest and as king. We will consider this further when we examine the Millennial kingdom. But the point is, the future temple will have a governmental purpose which has nothing to do with sacrifices or redemption.
It’s easy to get lost in the discussion about sacrifices and miss the whole point of what the original purpose of the temple was. The temple, and the tabernacle before it, were the places where the glory of God, the very presence of God, dwelt. The ministry of Christ, in addition to obsoleting the sacrificial system, also obsoleted the concept of a building housing the presence of God.
Thus, at Jesus’ death, the temple veil was torn from top to bottom. Once the Holy Spirit had been sent, the presence of God indwelt every believer, and believers have become the temples of God ever since.
While that ministry of the Holy Spirit will undoubtedly continue after Christ’s Second Coming, there will be an added dimension which we currently lack. Namely, the presence of God will once again be manifest in physical form, i.e., the person of Jesus. This will not alter or replace the current ministry of the Holy Spirit, it will simply be an additional factor.
Consequently, wherever Jesus dwells after His return will necessarily be a temple. Since Jesus will be the embodiment of the presence of God, His house will be God’s house. And God’s house is, by definition, a temple. It was said of Jesus in His First Advent that He had “nowhere to lay his head.” Mat. 8:20, Luk 9:58. We have no reason to suppose this will be true of Jesus’ Second Advent. In that time, He will be king of the world and He will need a place to govern from. That place will be the temple in Jerusalem, which will again be the house of God simply because Jesus will live there.
I don’t know that it is necessarily an additional fifth reason for rebuilding the temple, but allow me to here observe that (according to my prior discussion) the present age – the Church age, or the time of the Gentiles – began with the rending of the temple veil at the time of Christ’s crucifixion and the obsolescence of the Levitical priesthood. The prior age – when Israel was first among the nations – began with the giving of the Mosaic law on Mt. Sinai which included the temple regulations and the institution of the Levitical priesthood.
All iterations of the Jewish temple to date – the tabernacle, the First Temple and the Second Temple – occurred during that prior age when Israel was preeminent. Not only that, but the beginning and end of the age itself are marked with the creation and destruction of the temple. So too when Jesus returns, the temple that He builds will mark both the beginning of the kingdom age and the restoration of Israel as first among the nations.
I daresay the existence of a Jewish temple and the preeminence of Israel among the nations of the earth are so intertwined that neither can exist without the other. So if Israel is to be restored, the temple must be rebuilt, and if the temple is rebuilt, the restoration of Israel must accompany it.
The Third Temple, if it is built prior to the Second Coming, will not be built by Christians, but by the Jews. The Christian doctrine that any physical temple was obsoleted by Christ will play no part in the decision whether to build a new temple. Rather, it will be driven by Jewish beliefs. And the prevailing belief among rabbinic Jews is that in the Messianic Era (the Golden Age), the Messiah will come and a Third Temple will be built.
It’s an interesting read to see how the various Jewish factions (Orthodox, Conservative, Reformed) view the resumption of O.T. sacrifices. Conservative and Reformed Jews tend not to want to resume such sacrifices, even if a temple were rebuilt, because they see them as antiquated and/or nullified by the passage of time. However, Orthodox Jews generally hold that in the Messianic Era, most or all of the O.T. sacrifices will be reinstituted, at least for a time.
Perhaps not surprisingly, there already exist organizations and groups in Israel whose purpose is to see to it that a Third Temple is built and sacrifices reinstituted. Notable among these are the Temple Institute and the Temple Mount Faithful (officially, the Temple Mount and Eretz Yisrael Faithful Movement). The Temple Institute has been engaged in the development of actual temple ritual objects, garments, and building plans suitable for immediate use in the event conditions permit its reconstruction.
Both of these organizations regularly petition for approval to enter the temple mount. So far, for obvious political reasons (to avoid antagonizing the Muslims), the Israeli government has not responded favorably.
We have to realize how important the rebuilding of the temple is to the Jews. First, all Jews, whether Orthodox, Conservative or Reformed, are still looking for Messiah. Whether they foresee the resumption of sacrifices or not, they associate rebuilding the temple with the coming of Messiah. Thus, rebuilding the temple can be a way to anticipate or possibly hasten the Messiah’s coming.
Second, all Jews realize that rebuilding the temple will not happen until they control the temple mount – something they desperately want to do. In their minds, whoever controls the temple mount will control Jerusalem and all of Israel.
Just as the Muslims view a mosque as a form of control over the areas where it is built (think of the mosque at “ground zero” in New York) to show their dominance, Jews view the rebuilding of the temple as essential so they can claim victory over their enemies and be able to proclaim it to the nations. The rebuilding of the Jewish temple is the ultimate in international bragging rights.
The desire of the Jews is not going to simply go away because of a little political instability. They will not be put off because they can’t get at the temple mount now. If anything, political volatility is not going to diminish in the future, it is going to intensify, and the Jews know this. The seeds of the disputes between Jews and Arabs, Israel and Islam go back 4,000 years (back to Abraham). Another decade, another century, or even another millennium isn’t going to change what the present generation, or any future generation, will want to do.
The parties will continue to press against each other until something breaks. Any stability achieved will be momentary – this conflict is inevitably coming to a head. And as that process unfolds, volatility will favor the unexpected, the radical change. Just because Muslims have controlled the temple mount for 1400 years means nothing other than all things eventually come to an end.
Overall, as I examine the scriptures, I see a possibility that there may actually be two new temple rebuildings, not just one. I tend to put together the verses regarding the Abomination of Desolation and the starting/stopping of sacrifices to conclude that the Jews will make a future first effort to rebuild the temple (i.e., a Third Temple). This effort may or may not succeed, that is, be completed. It may be the rebuilding effort prophesied in Dan. 9:27 which is cut off before completion, or, that scripture may only pertain to the city and not to the temple per se.
The Jews may not wait to rebuild until Messiah comes, given the opportunity (such as a catastrophic event destroying the Muslim structures on the temple mount due to military conflict). They may begin temple construction, resume sacrifices, and then suffer the Abomination of Desolation. It doesn’t matter how or why the temple mount has become cleared, whether from destruction by Zionists or by a wayward rocket launched from a Muslim area. The Jews will seize any opportunity to rebuild, and the Muslims will oppose and resist it.
In any event, Rev 11:2 says the temple will be overrun by the nations for 42 months. So there has to be a temple existing for that to happen, or at the very least, access to the temple mount. We know from history and Jewish teachings that sacrifices can never resume until the Jews have access to the place where they believe the Holy of Holies once sat. No other place will suffice, not even some place on the temple mount other than where the Holy of Holies sat. Whether it is necessary, or possible, for the Jews to actually erect a structure on that spot during the Tribulation, we do not know. It is likely they will make an attempt to do so, but that effort may be stymied in part or in full, and in the event a pre-millennial temple is ever built, it is likely to be short-lived.
I tend to put together the other scriptures from Ezekiel’s vision and regarding the Messianic kingdom (Zech. 6), so that upon His return, Jesus will rebuild or complete the temple according to God’s blueprint. He will then use the temple as His seat of government – but it will still be a temple because He is there. This will probably be the fourth temple to be attempted, but quite possibly only the third temple to be completed. I think it likely that whatever the Jews build on the temple mount during the Tribulation, if anything, will be a mere footnote in the eventual annotated history of the Third Temple to be built by Christ.
This temple, since Jesus will already have returned, will never suffer the indignation of the Abomination of Desolation and will last a thousand years. Nor can any temple built by Christ after the nations are conquered be trampled under foot by the nations for 42 months. Jesus will not return until after those things take place. So anything He builds will not be compromised or defiled.
Ezek. 43 does tell us that the glory of the Lord will fill the temple Ezekiel saw. I don’t see how this could happen in the present age before Christ’s return. God is not going to display His shekinah glory in this Church Age. But after the Second Advent, this is not necessarily a problem, as God (in the person of Jesus) is going to be visibly present. And wherever Jesus goes, the glory of the Lord will be there, too.
Dan. 8:11-14 (summary) – The regular burnt offering was taken away from the Prince of the heavenly host, and the place of his sanctuary was overthrown. “For how long is the vision concerning the regular burnt offering, the transgression that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and host to be trampled underfoot?” “For 2,300 evenings and mornings. Then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state.”
Dan. 9:27 (summary) – The Antichrist will stop Jewish sacrifices and offerings, and then commit the Abomination of Desolation in the temple of God.
Dan. 11:31 – “Forces from him [the Antichrist] shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate.
Dan. 12:11 – “And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days.”
Mat. 24:15-28; also Lk. 21:20-28 (summary) – When Jerusalem is surrounded by armies, then its desolation is near. The abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel will come, and then there will be great tribulation unlike any before or after in history. For the sake of the elect, those days will be cut short. False Christs and false prophets will arise. Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot until the time of the Gentiles is fulfilled.
2Th. 2:4 (summary) – The Antichrist (man of lawlessness) will take his seat in the temple of God and proclaim himself to be God.
We have mentioned the Abomination of Desolation many times, but have not yet defined it.
The Abomination of Desolation is something that is always mentioned in the context of a desecration of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. An abomination is something shameful: something that is immoral and/or disgusting. Desolation means to make something empty, uninhabited and deserted. In the context of the temple, it implies that it will be laid waste in a shameful or immoral way.
For the desolator, it implies that the proper resident of the temple (God) and the caretakers of the temple (priests) have been displaced and overthrown. For the Jews, it means the temple will be made unclean, the laws of God violated, and a false god will occupy it.
The prophecy of the Abomination of Desolation is a classic example of a “double fulfillment” prophecy, being mentioned in both the O.T. and N.T., and having both a past and a future fulfillment. The past fulfillment was still future when the prophecy was written, but it is long past for us today. (No, I don’t think the book of Daniel was a forgery written in the second century B.C.)
The past fulfillment concerns the actions of one Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a regional king who ruled from 175 – 164 B.C. over the Syrian section’ of Alexander’s empire, which included Jerusalem. Antiochus killed 40,000 Jews and sold 40,000 more into slavery. He robbed the temple of all its treasures (gold and silver implements, etc.), placed an idol of the Greek god Zeus in the sanctuary, sacrificed a pig (an unclean animal) on the altar and spread its blood around the sanctuary, and even forced the Jews to worship Bacchus, the Greek god of pleasure and wine.
Antiochus further prohibited the reading of the scriptures and forbade the practice of circumcision which God commanded to Abraham. And, he stopped the daily sacrifices in the temple on December 25, 167 B.C. for a period of three years. Sacrifices resumed when Antiochus died in battle in 164 B.C.
I have not read anywhere that Antiochus sat in the temple and proclaimed himself to be God there, but he did have coins of the realm minted with his portrait on them along with the inscription, “God Manifest” (referring to himself).
Antiochus IV certainly did commit a type of Abomination of Desolation in the Jewish temple. However, no period of either 1,290 days or 2,300 days as Daniel prophesied can be correlated with him. No historian has ever shown how these time periods would apply to Antiochus IV.
Additionally, when Jesus talked about the Abomination of Desolation in Mat. 24:15, He treated it as a future event in the context of the sign of His returning and of the close of the age. He specifically referred to Daniel’s prophecies about the event as something that hadn’t happened yet. And at the time Jesus spoke, Antiochus IV had been dead for 194 years. So the Abomination of Desolation cannot have been completely fulfilled in the past.
Which means that when 2Th. 2:4 tells us the Antichrist will take his seat in the temple of God and proclaim himself to be God, this must yet be a future event. And as mentioned earlier, this can hardly happen unless there exists a Jewish temple in the future which he will desecrate.
Do not be like the scoffers who will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 2Pe. 3:4. Just because the rebuilding of the Third Temple hasn’t happened yet, and just because it doesn’t look possible now, doesn’t mean it won’t happen exactly as God has predicted.