Many Christians consider the rebuilding of the Temple and restarting of animal sacrifices not a prophetic sign, but an affront to Christ and the church (the "real" temple?). If you learn what the Book of Hebrews says is the actual purpose of the Temple and sacrifices, the plain prophecies about them coming again will make more sense. Discover what must happen first before Temple construction can begin, what prophecy may bring it, when it happens in relation to the 70th week, and what if anything you should do when you see the Third Temple rebuilt.
No Jewish Temple Since 70 AD
Since AD 70 when a rebel faction inside the Roman army disobeyed orders and destroyed the Holy Temple, the Jews have been without their central place of worship. A sole remaining Temple Mount retaining wall, the Western “Wailing” Wall, has been serving as Judaism's most sacred site in place of the Temple.
For most Christians, the absence of Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount is far from a problem. It is just as it should be, to them. After all, that's a relic of the Old Covenant. Jesus said something about him being the temple (John 2:21) and didn't Paul say that the church is the temple now (1Co 3:16)? Given those perceptions, most Christians are not expecting another temple to be built or perhaps for God to ever allow it. Especially—God forbid—one with renewed animal sacrifices that Christians imagine as an affront to Jesus' one sacrifice for all time.
But for Jews, both religious and secular, the Holy Temple not only makes sense, a large segment of the population desire it. In a recent survey, one third of secular Jews and 43% of religious Jews were in favor of construction on the Temple Mount. What's more, there is real progress towards making it happen. The Temple Institute and dozens of other organizations are preparing for a Third Temple. They are making the priestly vestments, reconstructing the Temple's past ceremonial objects and furnishings (including the 200 pound golden seven branch menorah) as well as preparing for, yes, a renewal of animal sacrifices.
So who is right about God's will for the Holy Temple, Christianity or Judaism? Will the Holy Temple be rebuilt or is God really against it? What does Bible prophecy say?
Four Holy Temples in the Bible – All Literal
Christians who are against another Temple and renewed animal sacrifices in Jerusalem are probably unfamiliar with how many end time prophecies predict exactly that. Christians mostly just know about the past two temples:
- Solomon's Temple (destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar II)
- Zerubbabel's/Herod's Temple (destroyed by the Romans)
They would be surprised to find out that there are not just one, but two more Holy Temples predicted by the Bible:
- The Tribulation Temple (taken over by the Antichrist – 2Thessalonians 2:4)
- Ezekiel/Millennial Temple (built under the Messiah – Ezekiel 40-46; Zechariah 8).
Even Christians who are aware of the passages above often see only one Temple among them, or none (by treating them allegorically). However, the context of both the Ezekiel and Zechariah Temple prophecies are millennial, making them distinct from the prophecies of an end time Tribulation/Antichrist Temple such as Daniel, Revelation and Second Thessalonians describe. Zechariah 6:12-13 names "the Branch" (Christ) as the builder of the Temple. (It's hard for him to do that until the Millennium, after he returns.) Ezekiel spends several chapters detailing the Temple dimensions, priestly chambers and duties, altar, animal sacrifice schedule and contributions from the people. It's difficult to sweep all that away as allegorical.
The reason Christians are tempted to dismiss Temple prophecies in that way is because they do not understand the purpose of the Temple animal sacrifices. Most Christians think they served to take away sin until Christ came or only foreshadowed his sacrifice. However, the Book of Hebrews makes it clear that “the blood of bulls and goats never could take away sin” (Heb 10:4). It gives the true purpose of the sacrifices as being a “reminder of sin” (Heb 10:3). In other words, God in his love gave us forgetful humans helpful object lessons about sin through these sacrifices. As long as humans remain fallible as we are, we can benefit from both the foreshadowing in past sacrifices and the "back-shadowing" (if you will) in future sacrifices at the Holy Temple. When Christ comes to set up his Kingdom over the whole earth, the Fourth Temple will become a center of worship of YHWH God again.
Still, Christian animal lovers struggle with a God who would command adorable, precious, innocent animals to be slaughtered. It can challenge their faith in a loving God to see the Torah of Moses (given by God) command the sacrifice of animals. Then to hear that it will be allowed for a Third Temple and apparently commanded in the Millennial Temple (see Ezekiel 40-46) after Christ already fulfilled the sacrifices seems barbaric and not like the kind of God they imagine.
My personal answer to this dilemma is that it's supposed to be unpleasant to contemplate animals being sacrificed. Not liking it is the point. God is reminding us through the death of innocent animals about the price of not doing what he says. He did not create the animals only to give affection, companionship, eggs, milk and fleece and other things that don't cost their lives. He made them to also teach us about the blood cost of sin or not loving our fellow man.
I've observed that many animal lovers are misanthropes. They gravitate to animals because they cannot stand people. This is understandable given how people may have hurt them, but it is not how God ordered things. God never commands us to love animals but he does command us to love humans. Animals are used in sacrifices by God to show how serious that command is. We may not like it but we must trust that he knows best and it will make sense to us when we gain more of his wisdom and perspective in the future.
(That's the best answer I have for animal lovers so if you have a better one, please share it.)
"The Church Is the Temple?"
Finally, just as some deny any rapture at all (pretribulation, mid-tribulation or post-tribulation), there are some that deny a Third Temple is predicted. Typically they point to what Paul said about the church being God's temple (1Co 3:16) as if the use of something in a metaphor denies the reality of that thing in its normal form. In other words, just as the animal sacrifices pointed to Christ' sacrifice and yet literal animal sacrifices will continue after Christ fulfilled them, similarly the Temple of God that foreshadowed the church of God will likewise continue on alongside that which fulfilled it! 🙂
The Third Temple Prophecies
Hopefully now having resolved any Christian prejudices that the reader may have had against another temple and animal sacrifices appearing one day, let's now look at all the passages on this topic with an open mind. We'll see that we have a “temple,” a “holy place,” an “altar,” and daily “sacrifices” all literally described in prophecies surrounding the final seven years.
Daniel 9:27 (HCSB) — He will make a firm covenant with many for one week [the 70th week], but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and offering. And the abomination of desolation will be on a wing of the temple, until the decreed destruction is poured out on the desolator.”
Daniel 12:11 (HCSB) — From the time the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days.
Daniel here says that the Antichrist puts a stop to sacrifices (and sets up the abomination) in the middle of the 70th week, or last seven years before Christ returns (1290 days before Christ returns, to be exact). This obviously means that sacrifices commenced sometime before this and implies that there is a Temple already constructed to go along with the altar. Jesus confirms this:
Matthew 24:15-16 (ESV) — 'So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place...then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.'
The usage of the term "holy place" in other NT passages corroborate that this refers to the Holy Temple (Acts 6:13; 21:28). (Specifically, the Holy of Hollies was the holy place that the High Priest only entered once per year and where the Ark of the Covenant was kept behind a separating curtain.)
Revelation 11:1-3 (ESV) —1 Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there 2 but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. 3 And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”
Revelation tells us plainly that there will be a temple and altar standing by the time the Great Tribulation starts. However, it will be overrun by the nations (led by the Antichrist). If you want to know what they do with the Holy Temple, Paul gives us the most clear indication of a future Tribulation Temple:
2 Thessalonians 2:4 (ESV) — who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he [The Antichrist] takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.
The Antichrist will take over the Holy Temple built by the Jews for worship of YHWH God and use it to proclaim to the world that he himself is God.
Some commentators object that the “temple of God” could not refer to a temple built by the Jews under their Judaism and that it better fits the church (“the temple of God” as Paul said). However, although Judaism has its errors and faults, they still do worship YHWH God which is who the Temple would be dedicated to worshiping. It makes the most sense that it's referring to a literal temple with a literal seat in Jerusalem where we know the Antichrist conquers and sets up his headquarters (Dan 11:45=Lk 21:20). Otherwise, what sense can we make of the Antichrist figuratively “sitting” inside “the church?”
What's Stopping the Temple Today
The natural next question is when or how soon can this take place? The short answer is not right away. Despite what the prophecies say and the preparations already underway to make them happen, the Temple is still not ready to appear.
Some think the main barrier is that the Dome of the Rock is over the location of the First and Second Temples. Others dispute this and say that the right site is elsewhere on the Temple Mount. They suggest that a Third Temple could coexist on the Temple Mount without any harm coming to the Dome of the Rock.
One researcher, Bob Cornuke, claims the Temple was not even on the Temple Mount but in the City of David also called Zion.
Does this mean the Jews can proceed with rebuilding the Third Temple?
No as this ignores the political reality and who is in control of the Temple Mount now. Although Israel regained sovereignty over Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War, the Temple Mount is not under Jewish control. It has been administered since the Crusades by the Islamic Waqf, a joint Palestinian-Jordanian religious trust. The Israeli government is secular and has preferred to maintain the status quo on the Temple Mount where the third holiest Muslim site sits. This includes their enforcing of rules forbidding Jews to pray, bow, kneel, prostrate, dance, sing or even rip their clothes on the Temple Mount. It's a volatile situation with frequent Arab rioting at the slightest sign of a religious provocation by the Jews.
With the delicate current political situation Israel faces surrounded by Muslim Arab enemies, it's understandable that the Israeli government is actually hindering the Third Temple. Many Jews believe that those pushing for a Third Temple are being irresponsible and putting the nation at risk. Thus, for the Third Temple to appear, an upsetting of the current political situation is required.
And, by the way, it does not matter where Gentiles like Bob Cornuke think the Temple was or should be rebuilt. The Orthodox Jews are the ones who will rebuilding it. They will not be consulting Gentiles; they will rebuild it where they as Jews think it should go: on the "Temple" Mount. Therefore it does not matter whether Bob Cornuke is right or not (I think not). It will be build where the Jews decide and it won't happen until they are politically free to do so.
Another Prophecy That Can Unstop It
A popular theory for construction of the Third Temple is that the Antichrist will come and make a seven year peace treaty with Israel allowing them to build the temple, only for him to break the treaty 3½ years later. However, there is no such "peace treaty" in the Book of Daniel or anywhere else. (There is instead a "take over the world" pact that the Antichrist makes with ten rulers. For details see this article on Antichrist Myths.)
Nevertheless, Bible prophecy may still provide the answer to what will change this status quo. You may have heard of Isaiah's “Oracle against Damascus” (Isaiah 17) which appears to describe Damascus, Syria being nuked into oblivion. Or you may have heard of the Psalm 83 prophecy of an alliance of Arabs attacking Israel. (That turns out just as bleakly for the Arabs.)
Israel's Arab neighbors have not made a major coordinated joint attack like Psalm 83 describes since the 1973 Yom Kippur war. When they finally are able to justify doing so, Israel will defeat them handily using her nuclear arsenal. Not only, Damascus, but probably several of the aggressor nations' capitals will be nuked.
At that point, whether the Dome of the Rock is over the original site of the First and Second Temples matters less. Perhaps the Dome will be a casualty of war either directly or through a rogue element like the Roman one that destroyed the Second Temple. With the Arab's military power and political influence greatly reduced, Israel will be able to do what they want with the Temple Mount in the face of continued objections from Muslims. Perhaps a surge in nationalism after vanquishing their archenemies will swell and popularize support for the rebuilding of the Temple at last. Time will tell. All we know for sure is that the Temple must and will happen.
When We See the Third Temple Built, Then What?
For prophecy fans, it will be exciting to actually see the fulfillment of prophecy when the Temple is completed and animal sacrifices are performed daily. But will it be a useful sign of the end? Unfortunately not. It will not tell us how close we are to the end. Nor will it signify that believers need to do anything when they see it.
It is simply unclear in prophecy when the Temple is rebuilt in relation to the 70th week. All we know is that it must be complete along with daily sacrifices before the middle of the 70th week when the Antichrist sits himself (and his image) in it. It may happen several years before the 70th week even begins. We just are not told by the Bible. (One thing for sure, in answer to what someone asked me, the 144,000 will not be building the Temple. They come at the 6th seal months before the Great Tribulation and have a very different mission.)
Thankfully, by the time it happens we will probably not be limited to just what we can figure out from the our Bibles. A real prophet for the end times is prophesied by Malachi. This “Elijah” will come and teach the Gospel of the Kingdom (Mt 24:14) and how to turn to God (Mal 4:5). If you are looking for a better sign of the end that will be able to tell us how much time we have left, watching out for the end time Elijah prophet would be the way to go. He'll be able to tell us about the Antichrist, the Great Tribulation and what we need to do to escape both them and the terrible death-star Wormwood that precedes them.