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 (Ezek 42:15-20). The cubit used is specifically stated to be a “long cubit,” namely a regular cubit and a handbreadth (Ezek 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.
Importance of the Jewish Temple
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 538-515 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 Zerubbabel and Ezra. 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 – to many biblical commentators – 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?
Five Reasons for Rebuilding the Temple
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;
4) when Jesus establishes His earthly kingdom, He will rule it from the temple in Jerusalem; and
5) Israel cannot be restored as the most favored nation unless the temple is rebuilt.
Of course, if you’re a postmillennialist 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 in common human construction terms. 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? I also assume that God, being omniscient, knowing all things from the beginning to the end of time, has no need to postulate hypotheticals, prepare for unforeseen contingencies, or make plans He will never actually use. If God made specific, detailed plans for a temple that hasn’t been built yet, it’s because at some point He actually will fully utilize those plans.
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 likely 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?
Plus, Mat. 24:15 treats the Abomination of Desolation described in Dan. 9 as a future event during Jesus’ First Advent. Granted, the destruction of the Second Temple followed that by 40 years, but the events of 70 A.D. are not usually cited as when the Abomination of Desolation occurred in past fulfillment scenarios. Usually, when people claim that event has already happened, they point to the defiling of the Second Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes IV in 167 B.C. But there’s no way Jesus would have regarded that as a yet future event – so we must assume Jesus’ words have not yet been fulfilled.
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, or at the very least space for it has to be cleared, on the temple mount in Jerusalem.
The Jews aren’t going to reinstitute sacrifices without a rebuilt holy of holies, or at minimum a “clean” space on the temple mount where the holy of holies would go. And the Jewish holy of holies can only be built on the temple mount. And trust me, there are Jews in Jerusalem at this very moment who know the exact spot on the Temple Mount where the holy of holies must go. 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.
Also, when I discuss the timeline of end times events in Appendix C, you will see that there are two primary time markers from which all events in the end times are measured: the Second Coming, and before that, the stopping of regular sacrifices on the Temple Mount. This is an event of no small significance in the end times. It marks, as far as I can tell, when the Tribulation will begin. The stopping of sacrifices – not the Abomination of Desolation which follows it by 1290 days – is the key time marker in scripture.
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. Which makes perfectly logical sense for the time in which Christ is absent from earth, seated at the right hand of the Father. Eph. 1:20; 1 Pet. 3:22. But upon Jesus’ return to earth, all this will change and He will need a physical place (a building) in which to dwell.
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.
5) Israel’s Restoration Demands It. 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.
Driven To Rebuild
The Third Temple 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 believe the Third Temple will not actually be completed until after Christ returns. However, that’s not to say the Jews won’t try to get it started earlier. 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. 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. Still, this unfinished effort may have the effect of at least clearing the Temple Mount area, and that may be enough to start the regular sacrifices.
The Jews will likely seize any opportunity to rebuild (such as a catastrophic event destroying the Muslim structures on the temple mount due to military conflict). 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. And no matter why the Jews try to rebuild the temple, 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. 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. In fact, we can count on it, if we consider this prophecy concerning Israel in the Messianic Era:
The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended. Isa. 60:19-20.