Is Rebuilding the Temple the Next Event on the Prophetic Timeline?
An Israeli political party official wants to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. He doesn’t want to wait for years. He wants to begin now. Of course, there’s a practical problem because the Muslim Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque are on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Then there’s the theological problem. Rebuilding the temple excites modern-day prophecy “experts” who claim the temple must be rebuilt to fulfill Bible prophecy. The thing of it is, there is nothing in the New Testament about a rebuilt temple. Rebuilt-temple advocates Thomas and Randall Price admit, “There are no Bible verses that say, ‘There is going to be a third temple.’”1
Even so, they claim “that there will be a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem at least by the midpoint of the seven-year tribulation period.”2 As we will see, the Bible says no such thing. (For a biblical study of how prophecy writers get a future “seven-year tribulation period,” see my book Truth About the Rapture).
When Trump moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem, one third-temple advocate wrote, “Trump’s role [is] similar to the one played by Cyrus, the Persian king who ended the Babylonian exile and helped build the Second Jewish Temple.” The difference is that we’re told in the Bible that Cyrus would be instrumental in rebuilding the temple after it was destroyed by the Babylonians. (WND) In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah there are four commands by Median and Persian kings that refer to rebuilding the post-exile temple (Ezra 1:1-11; 4:24; 6:1-12; 7:7-26; Neh. 2:1-8), and a direct reference in Isaiah 44:26-28 that Cyrus would be involved in rebuilding the post-exile temple. As we’ll see, there is no comparable scriptural support in the NT for rebuilding the temple again.
A Literal Reading of the Bible Means No Rebuilt Temple
Does the Bible predict that a third temple will be built, one following Solomon’s temple and the post-exile temple that was still standing and going through a period of renovation in Jesus’ day? Don Stewart and Chuck Missler insist,
The crucial issue boils down to how we interpret prophecy. There are two basic ways to interpret Bible prophecy. Either you understand it literally or you do not. If a person rejects the literal interpretation then they [sic] are left to their own imagination as to what the Scripture means…. We believe it makes sense to understand the Scriptures as literally requiring the eventual construction and desecration of a Third Temple.3
The authors are careful to say only that another rebuilt temple is required. A third temple is required only if your end-time system requires a rebuilt temple. Jesus’ completed redemptive work makes the need for a rebuilt temple unnecessary. His ministry begins with the declaration that He is our tabernacle (John 1:14), “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29), “the temple” (John 2:19-21), and the “chief cornerstone” (Matt. 21:42; Acts 4:11; Eph. 2:20). By extension, believers are “as living stones, … being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). Those “in Christ” are the true temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21; Rev. 21:22).
Jesus and the people of God are the focus of the only temple that has any redemptive significance. To be “in Christ” is to be in the temple and all it stood for, “the renewed centre and focus for the people of God”4 (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 1:2, 30; Gal. 3:14, 28; 5:6). The NT references to the temple of stone only refer to its destruction (Matt. 24:1-2) never its reconstruction. It is significant that “Jesus never gives any hint that there will be a physical replacement for this Temple. There is no suggestion, either in the Apocalyptic Discourse or elsewhere, that this destruction will be but a preliminary stage in some glorious ‘restoration’ of the Temple.”5
A Shadow of Things to Come
The original temple was a shadow of things to come. It was designed to be a temporary edifice looking forward to the completed work of Jesus Christ. For dispensationalists to insist that another temple is needed to complete some type of covenantal obligation with the Jews goes against the entire NT and makes the “first covenant … faultless,” with “no occasion sought for a second” (Heb. 8:7). Let the Bible settle the issue:
Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary, and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer. Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, “See,” He says, “that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.” But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises (Heb. 8:1-6).
The writer of Hebrews declares that Jesus entered “through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation” (9:11). Since Jesus completed His redemptive work, any new temple “made with hands” is not much different from a pagan temple that has no inherent life or redemptive value (cf. Acts 17:24; 19:26; 2 Cor. 5:1). “[T]he description of the Jerusalem Temple as ‘made with hands’ . . . is a strong means of playing down its significance. This had been a way of belittling the pagan idols (e.g. Ps. 115:4; cf. Isa. 46:6); to describe the Temple in such a fashion was potentially incendiary.”6 This is because “the author of Hebrews believed the Jerusalem Temple was but a ‘shadow’ of the reality now found in Christ (8:5).”7 The “new covenant” had made the “old covenant” obsolete (8:13).
No Third Temple Mentioned
Stewart and Missler have made it simple for us to determine whether the Bible addresses the issue of a rebuilt temple. If the Bible is interpreted literally, the need for a third temple should be explicitly stated. What biblical evidence do they offer to support their claim that “the Bible, in both testaments, speaks of a Temple that has yet to appear”?8 From the OT they use Daniel 9:27, 11:31, and 12:11 for support. Ice and Price can find only one verse for support (Dan. 9:27).
Since Daniel was written after Solomon’s temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. (2 Kings 25:8-9; Dan. 1:1-2) and before the second temple had been built by the returning exiles (Ezra 6:13-15), it stands to reason that the “sanctuary” whose “end will come with a flood” (Dan. 9:26) must refer to the second temple that had not been built at the time the prophecy was given. It was this post-exile rebuilt temple that was desecrated but not destroyed by Antiochus Epiphanes around 170 B.C. After a period of misuse and disuse, Herod the Great restored and enlarged this second temple, a project that started around 20 BC. It was this same temple that Zacharias served in (Luke 1:9), that Jesus was taken to as an infant (2:27), that had been under construction for forty-six years when Jesus prophesied that He would be its permanent replacement (John 2:20), that Jesus cleansed of the money changers (Matt. 21:12), that He predicted would be left desolate (Matt. 23:38; 24:2), whose veil was “torn in two from top to bottom” (Matt. 27:51), and that was finally destroyed by Titus in AD 70.
Is there any indication in the three passages from Daniel that we are to skip over what we know was a rebuilt temple, the temple that was standing in Jesus’ day, and look for another unmentioned third temple? Would Jews living in the first century have made the historical leap over the temple that was standing before them and suppose Jesus was describing yet another rebuilt temple? As Ice and Price admit, the Bible does not say anything about another temple. The passages from Daniel cited by Stewart and Missler and Ice and Price can easily find their fulfillment in the rebuilt temple that was standing during the reign of Antiochus (Dan. 11:31; 12:11) and the second temple’s destruction in AD 70 (9:27). In fact, Ice and Price find the fulfillment of Daniel 11:31 in the sacrilegious acts of Antiochus:
The abomination of desolation was something that took place the first time through Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century B.C. when he stopped the sacrifices and desecrated the second Temple by sacrificing an unclean pig on the altar and setting up in its place a statue of Jupiter. This literally fulfilled Daniel 11:31. Therefore, these future events will be similar in kind to the prototypes—they will be real, historical events in a last days’ Temple.9
Daniel only mentions one sanctuary (8:11, 13; :26; 9:17, 26; 11:31; cf. 12:11). What indication does the reader have that two temples are in view? The temple that Jesus said would be torn down and dismantled stone by stone was the “last days’ Temple,” the only one mentioned by Daniel. We know that the last days were a first-century reality, not the prelude to the period of time just before a pre-tribulational rapture: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (Heb. 1:1-2; cf. Acts 2:17; James 5:3).
Now we are left with Daniel 9:27 as the only verse from the OT that Ice and Price contend supports the need for a third temple. But there is a problem with their reasoning. They argue that “the city and sanctuary” in Daniel 9:26 refers to Herod’s temple that was destroyed when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in AD 70 (Luke 21:6): “Jesus, seeing Himself as the Messiah, therefore saw the Romans as the people … who will destroy the city and the sanctuary. Knowing that He would soon be cut off (crucified), He likewise knew that the Temple’s destruction would soon occur.”10 In the span of two verses, these authors find two temples, one in Daniel 9:26 and another one in 9:27, separated by 2000 years. As a careful reader will note, the “sanctuary” (temple) mentioned in Daniel 9:26 is not mentioned in 9:27. This means that Daniel 9:27 is describing events related to the already mentioned sanctuary of 9:26 which Ice and Price say refers to the temple that was standing in Jesus’ day.
For Ice and Price to find another rebuilt temple, Daniel 9:27 would have to say something like this: “After an unspecified period of time, he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering in the third sanctuary; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction of the third sanctuary, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.” Of course, not one word of this is found in Daniel 9:27.11
What Does the New Testament Say?
Since we’ve seen the OT doesn’t say anything about a third temple, maybe the NT says something about it. Stewart and Missler and Ice and Price claim to have incontrovertible biblical evidence for a rebuilt temple in three NT passages: Matthew 24:15, 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, and Revelation 11:1-2. On Matthew 24:15, Stewart and Missler write: “Jesus spoke of this prophecy being still future to His time (Matthew 24:15).”12 This is true. But the rebuilt temple was still standing when Jesus said that “the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet” would stand “in the holy place.” Notice the audience context: “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet” (Matt. 24:15). When who sees it? When “you see it,” that is, when those in Jesus’ audience of that generation see it. Ice and Price never explain the audience reference “you.”
If Jesus had a distant future audience in view, He would have said: “when they see the abomination of desolation.” Here’s their interpretation of Matthew 24:15: “‘The holy place’ is a reference to the most sacred room within Israel’s Temple. What temple? The third Temple, since it is a future event.”13 Yes, it was a future event in around AD 30. The destruction took place before their generation passed away (Matt. 24:34), in AD 70. There is no mention of a future rebuilt temple or even an implied reference. Jesus does not say, “When they see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet standing in the rebuilt holy place.” The holy place, the sanctuary, was right before their eyes: “His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him … not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down” (Matt. 24:1-2).
Ice and Price argue that “the apostle Paul gives us perhaps the clearest passage relating to the third Temple in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4.”14 Since Paul wrote before the rebuilt temple was destroyed in AD 70, what is it in these verses that told the Thessalonians that the temple in which “the man of lawlessness” was to take his seat was another rebuilt temple? Paul does not describe “the temple” (lit. sanctuary) as a rebuilt temple. What would have led his original audience to conclude that he was referring to, using Ice and Price’s words, “the future third Temple,” when the temple was still standing in Jerusalem when he wrote his letter to them? “The man of lawlessness” was being restrained “now,” that is, in their day (2:6, 7) and “the mystery of lawlessness was already at work,” and the Christians at Thessalonica knew the identity of the restrainer (2:6). (For a verse-by-verse study of 2 Thessalonians 2, see my book Last Days Madness, chaps. 22 and 23.)
Third-temple advocates try to muster support for their position by referencing the book of Revelation 11:1-2. They begin by assuming that Revelation was written nearly three decades after the temple was destroyed.15 From this unproven assumption, they conclude that John must be measuring a rebuilt temple. The passage says nothing about a rebuilt temple. The words “shortly,” “near,” and “quickly” (Rev. 1:1, 3; 3:11; 22:7, 10, 12) are used to describe the time when the events outlined in Revelation were to take place. These words are meaningless if the events have not taken place in this very symbol-laden book. The fact that John is told to “rise and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and those who worship in it” (11:1), is prima facie evidence that the temple was still standing when John received the Revelation (1:1).
How could John have measured a temple that did not exist in his day? Ice and Price insist that the temple John was told to measure was a literal stone temple, not a “spiritual temple.” “For example, in Matthew 24 Jesus is speaking about a literal Temple, since in the context of the passage He is standing and looking directly at the second Temple.”16 I agree. John was told to measure the literal Temple that still had worshipers in it, the same temple Jesus taught in (Luke 2:41-52; 19:41; 21:37), cleansed (Matt. 21:12), and Titus destroyed in AD 70. In all of Jesus’ teaching, He never mentioned that the temple would be rebuilt after He said it would be destroyed before their generation passed away (Matt. 24:34).
The burden of proof is on rebuilt-temple advocates to come up with one verse that unequivocally states that a rebuilt temple is required to fulfill some end-time prophetic program. Since they admit that “There are no Bible verses that say, ‘There is going to be a third temple,’” we must conclude that end-time temple advocates’ preoccupation with a rebuilt temple is misguided. What if Israel rebuilds the temple? It won’t have anything to do with Bible prophecy because (1) the Bible does not say anything about another rebuilt temple, (2) it would be an affront to the finished work of Jesus Christ if one was ever built, (3) the Jerusalem in Paul’s day (“present Jerusalem”) “is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free” (Gal. 4:25-26), (4) since the coming of the true temple (Jesus Christ) we come “to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22) where there is “no temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple” (Rev. 21:22), and (5) by extension “we are the temple of the living God” because God dwells in us (2 Cor 6:16-17; 1 Cor. 3:16).
- Thomas Ice and Randall Price, Ready to Rebuild: The Imminent Plan to Rebuild the Last Days Temple (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1992), 197-198. [↩]
- Ice and Price, Ready to Rebuild, 198. [↩]
- Don Stewart and Chuck Missler, The Coming Temple: Center Stage for the Final Countdown (Orange, CA: Dart Press, 1991), 193. [↩]
- Timothy J. Geddert, Watchwords: Mark 13 in Markan Eschatology (Sheffield, England: JSOT, 1989). Quoted in Peter W. L. Walker, Jesus and the Holy City: New Testament Perspectives on Jerusalem (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 9. [↩]
- Walker, Jesus and the Holy City, 8. [↩]
- Walker, Jesus and the Holy City, 10. [↩]
- Walker, Jesus and the Holy City, 208. [↩]
- Stewart and Missler, The Coming Temple, 194. [↩]
- Ice and Price, Ready to Rebuild, 200-201. Emphasis added. [↩]
- Ice and Price, Ready to Rebuild, 68. [↩]
- For an exposition of Daniel 9:24-27, see Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church, 4th ed. (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 1999), chap. 25. [↩]
- Stewart and Missler, The Coming Temple, 194. [↩]
- Stewart and Missler, The Coming Temple, 199. [↩]
- Ice and Price, Ready to Rebuild, 199. [↩]
- For a defense of a pre-A.D. 70 date of composition for Revelation, see Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation, 2nd ed. (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 1999). [↩]
- Ice and Price, Ready to Rebuild, 200. [↩]