Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Is It God’s Will for There to Be Another Jerusalem Temple?

There are many Christians today who think that the Bible prophesies the existence of another literal, physical temple in Jerusalem at some point in the future.  Some are even actively trying to cause this temple to be built.

In fact, these ideas are completely misguided.  Those who think there has to be another literal temple are making a serious mistake.  And anyone who encourages the building of one is actually working against the purposes of God. 

There are a number of points to consider here:

The church and the individual Christian as temples

In the New Testament we find the word ‘temple’ being used to refer the universal church (2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:20-21), to a local church (1 Corinthians 3:16), and to the body of every individual Christian (1 Corinthians 6:19).  The context of each of these passages shows that this metaphor is used because God lives inside believers. 

Under the Old Covenant, the Jerusalem temple was God’s dwelling place on earth.  This, of course, does not mean that God literally dwelt in the temple, and the Bible clearly recognises this.  See, for example, 1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chronicles 6:18; Acts 7:47-50.  Nevertheless, the temple was regarded as God’s symbolic dwelling place on earth.

However, under the New Covenant in Christ’s blood, a monumental change has occurred.  The place where God now dwells is in His Christian people!  He actually lives inside us by His Spirit!

If God wanted there to be another literal temple in Jerusalem, it would mean that He intends to go backwards in His revelation and plan of salvation.  Having moved from the shadow that is the literal temple, to the reality that involves living inside His people, it would then be His will to go back to the shadow.  And we should have no hesitation in saying that He plans to do no such thing.

The temple and sacrifice

It is important to recognise that the offering of sacrifices was right at the heart of what the two previous Jerusalem temples were all about.  There were parts of the temple apparatus, such as the bronze altar (2 Chronicles 4:1), that existed only for the purpose of offering sacrifice.  In view of the extremely close biblical connection between temple and sacrifice, it is completely unrealistic to think that there could ever be another temple in Jerusalem that would not involve sacrificial rites. 

However, the book of Hebrews teaches us clearly that when Jesus died on the cross, He established the New Covenant, which superseded the Old Covenant with its sacrifices; see especially 8:1-10:18.  All the sacrifices of the Old, Mosaic Covenant are therefore now redundant.

It is sometimes argued that Acts 21:17-26 shows that a future temple, where sacrifices are offered, would not contradict the Christian faith.  In this passage Luke tells us that on one occasion when Paul was in Jerusalem, he paid the expenses of four Jewish Christians who offered sacrifices in connection with a vow they had taken.  In fact, although the text is not clear, it may well be implying that Paul himself also offered sacrifice at this time.

If some Jewish believers offered sacrifices on this occasion, so the argument goes, then why could other Jewish believers not do something similar in the future?

This, however, is a very weak argument.  It is true that while the first century temple was still standing, it seems to have been appropriate for Jewish Christians to offer some symbolic sacrifices there.  However, after the death and resurrection of Jesus, none of these sacrifices was really necessary. 

Offering them was useful for Jewish Christians to deflect the hostility of non-Christian Jews.  This can be seen in the passage in Acts.  And it was useful too for showing these Jews in a practical way that when Jews became Christians they did not have to leave their Jewish heritage behind.

But no sacrifice during the first decades of the church was necessary in itself.  And, even though symbolic sacrifices had their place while the temple still existed, it is another thing entirely to think that God actually wants another temple to be built where unnecessary sacrifices can be offered.  He surely doesn’t. 

The tearing of the temple curtain

Three of the Gospels tell us that when Jesus was crucified, the curtain of the temple was torn in two (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45).  And each of these Gospels clearly implies that it was God, or possibly an angel under His direction, who did the tearing.

There is debate about the precise significance of what the tearing of the curtain signifies.  There may well be more than one aspect to it. 

Nevertheless, a torn curtain means that the temple is not fit for purpose.  And if God acted to make it unfit at exactly the time Jesus was on the cross, part of the meaning seems to be that His death served to make the temple obsolete. 

Again, the fact that early Jewish Christians offered some symbolic sacrifices at the temple doesn’t contradict this.  The death of Jesus was the end of an era as far as the Jerusalem temple was concerned.

No prophecy of another literal temple

Importantly, the Bible never teaches clearly that there will be another temple in Jerusalem after the destruction of the second temple in 70 AD.  The idea that there will be one is just an inference that has been made from a few passages. 

In what follows I will list the most relevant of these texts, commenting on them briefly.  My aim will be to stress one key thing, which is that none of these passages has to be interpreted to be referring to a literal temple at a time later than the first century AD.  They can all be interpreted in other ways.

(1) In Ezekiel 40-47 there is an extended description of a temple that the prophet sees in a vision.  Because there are some differences between this temple and the second literal temple (which lasted from the late 6th century BC to 70 AD), many claim that Ezekiel’s temple is a literal temple which has yet to be built.

We must recognise clearly, however, that Ezekiel specifically refers to sacrifices being offered at this temple.  See, for example, 43:18-27; 45:13-25; 46:4-7.  But, as I have already noted, all the Old Covenant sacrifices were superseded when Christ established the New Covenant.  And it is completely implausible to think that God wants a new temple to be built where unnecessary sacrifices will be offered.

Most importantly, sacrifices for sins are offered at Ezekiel’s temple.  See, for example, 40:39; 42:13; 43:19; 44:27.  But the book of Hebrews tells us plainly that Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice dealt with sin permanently, making sin sacrifices at the literal temple redundant. 

We should therefore be in no doubt that Ezekiel 40-47 is not referring to a literal temple that will be built in Jerusalem at some point in the future.  Either Ezekiel’s temple refers loosely to the literal temple that was destroyed in 70 AD and/or it refers to a metaphorical temple of some sort. 

(2) Matthew 24:15 prophesies the existence of a ‘desolating sacrilege, which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place’. 

It is true that ‘the holy place’ here very probably refers to a literal Jerusalem temple.  However, it is not difficult to believe that the only temple in view is the first century one, and that Matthew’s prophecy was fulfilled during the war with the Romans of 66-73 AD.

Even if there is a secondary level of reference to a later time, given the flexibility of Jewish prophetic language, this later temple could be a figurative, non-literal one of some sort. 

(3) The verses that Matthew 24:15 refers to are Daniel 9:27; 11:31 and 12:11.  The same conclusions apply to the Daniel passages themselves as apply to Matthew’s use of Daniel: there is no clear reason for thinking that a literal temple at a time later than the first century AD is in view. 

(4) 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 tells us of a ‘man of sin’ who ‘sits in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God’. 

Even if, as seems likely, this refers to an event that takes place later than the first century, it is important to understand that prophetic language is often highly symbolic.  It is by no means necessary to understand the temple here literally.

I know that I have dealt with these passages very briefly.  However, all I have been trying to do is show that none of them clearly refers to a literal temple at a time later than the first century AD. 

Given that these texts can all be interpreted to be referring to something other than a future literal temple, and given the huge weight of evidence against the existence of a future literal temple that comes from the things I discussed earlier in the article, it makes perfect sense to conclude that none of these passages refers to a literal Jerusalem temple that exists after the first century AD.

Summing up

All things considered, then, we should firmly reject the idea that God wants there to be another literal temple in Jerusalem

Furthermore, it seems equally implausible that there has to be a literal temple that exists as some kind of evil thing that is opposed to God.  Nothing in the Bible remotely suggests that anything of this sort has to be built.

It is not impossible that at some point in the future the Israelis might choose to build a temple.  But if they do, they will surely not be doing the will of God or fulfilling biblical prophecy.

Those Christians who are actively encouraging the building of a temple in Jerusalem are therefore making a terrible mistake.  Let us be clear too that they are not just wasting their time.  They are actually working against the gospel by trying to re-establish something that the gospel has superseded.

Jews need Jesus for salvation

Some of those who are trying to get a temple built in Jerusalem have been deceived by the heresy known as Dual Covenant Theology.  Teachers of this heresy claim that while Gentiles are saved by faith in Jesus, Jews who reject Jesus as the Messiah can nevertheless be saved by participating in a covenant that God has made with the Jewish people.

The New Testament makes it abundantly clear, however, that those who reject Jesus as Messiah, whether they are Jews or Gentiles, will not be saved. 

In John 3:18, for example, Jesus teaches the Jew Nicodemus: 
‘The person who believes in Him [Jesus] is not judged.  But the person who does not believe has already been judged, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.’
 This is clear that failing to believe in Jesus involves judgment, and this judgment surely involves missing out on salvation from sin.

Similarly, in John 8:24 Jesus, speaking to Jews, says: 
‘. . . unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.’
 This verse is very clear that Jews who do not believe in Jesus will not be saved.

Again, in John 14:6 Jesus teaches: 
‘I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.’
 This implies that Jews who do not believe in Jesus will not be saved.

And in Romans 1:16 Paul tells the church in Rome: 
‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek’.
 This quite strongly suggests that we can expect Jews and Greeks who do not believe the gospel of Jesus Christ not to receive salvation.   

There are many other biblical passages which teach that if Jews reject Jesus, they will not be saved from their sins.  These include John 1:11-12; 12:46; 15:6; 20:31; Romans 3:21-23; 9:1-11:32.

Like Gentiles, Jewish people today desperately need to hear and believe the message that Jesus is the Messiah and the Saviour of the world.  Encouraging them to build a temple in Jerusalem is to point them away from Him, towards the sacrifices that cannot take away sins.  Those Christians who are trying to get the temple rebuilt are therefore making a terrible mistake.

In fact, I think Christians who are doing this remind us of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, where we hear of false teachers who were telling new (Gentile) Christians that it was God’s will for them to keep the Law of Moses.  These teachers were insisting on the performance of things that God had superseded in Christ. 

In response, Paul wishes a curse on them (1:8) and describes them as ‘false brothers’ (2:4).  He also says that those who have been seduced by this false teaching have become estranged from Christ and have fallen away from grace (5:4).  These are all very strong words, and we should note them carefully.

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