Jesus’ enemies charged that He said He would destroy the temple (Mark 14:58; 15:29-30; Acts 6:14). This charge was false in the sense that He certainly led no political movement calling for the temple’s physical destruction, but it was true in another sense. His death on the cross brought an end to an old covenant and His resurrection initiated a new one.
Although Jesus never said that He would personally oversee the physical destruction of Herod’s temple, He made it clear that it was under God’s judgment (Matthew 23:38; Luke 13:35).1
Jesus claimed messianic authority to fulfill the old covenant, judge the temple, and replace it. During the last week of His life He in effect “signed his own death warrant” by dramatically interrupting temple sacrifices2 during the time Jerusalem was full of Passover pilgrims (Mark 11:15-18).3
The temple would be destroyed because it had become an idol, the central symbol of a violent nationalism that had nothing to do with God’s purposes.
One of the main purposes of Old Testament law was to make the people of Israel conscious of the great gap between their own weakness and corruption and the expectations of a holy God (Romans 5:12-20). Sacrifices in the temple were intended to make Israel conscious of her need for divine grace and forgiveness. They were not sufficient to atone for sin. They were sufficient only to point forward to the coming of the Messiah who would die for the sins of the world.
In a number of explicit passages written specifically to Hebrew Christian congregations, the epistle to the Hebrews declares how temple worship and sacrifices were rendered obsolete by the blood of Jesus Christ:
By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us (Heb 10:10-15 NKJV; also see 9:11-15; 10:4,15-18).
Atonement for sin was made once and for all through Jesus Christ’s perfect life and death. Only the infinite sacrifice of the Son of God could reconcile our natural and moral evils with a holy Creator (Luke 22:20; John 6:53; Romans 3:25; 1 Corinthians 10:16; Ephesians 2:13; Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:18-19).4 Because Jesus Christ was the supreme and sufficient sacrifice, the church, His body, became the new, living temple (2 Corinthians 6:16-17; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:5-7).
There are disagreements among premillennialists over the role of a physical temple in Jerusalem during the millennium. However, no Christian should disagree that restoration of blood sacrifices in a temple of unbelief would be an abomination. Blood sacrifices in a premillennial temple would certainly “trample the Son of God under foot, treat the blood of the covenant as an unholy thing, and insult the Spirit of grace.”5Tragically, religious Zionists have already initiated a process to build a new Jewish temple. So far the Israeli government hasn’t allowed it to happen. They have two main reasons. The first is that two of the most important Muslim structures in the world are located on the spot where the temple would have to be built, and their destruction would amount to an Israeli declaration of religious war on Islam (the entire Muslim world). The second reason is that most Orthodox Jewish scholars oppose the rebuilding of the temple before the coming of Messiah because they believe they will need supernatural instructions regarding exactly where and how it should be built.6
In spite of these perils and uncertainties, in 2001 the Israeli Supreme Court permitted a cornerstone for a temple to be symbolically laid. Meanwhile, religious Zionists have been proceeding with the preparation of temple furnishings and utensils as well as genealogical research to establish a “legitimate” new priesthood.Many thousands of Christians have seen presentations, both in Israel and North America, by Zionist groups seeking to restore the temple. Christian churches and media ministries have collected hundreds of millions of dollars for their cause.
Christian supporters of a new Jewish temple apparently seek to assist and hasten Christ’s return.7 In an age of weapons of mass destruction and total war, Christians and Jews in the 21st century are risking even more in trying to force God’s hand than were the Jewish Zealots of the first and second centuries.
Even apart from the disgrace it brings on the name of Jesus Christ, Christians should realize that supporting the construction of a third Jewish temple will not force God to act or bring the age to a close. The temple can be rebuilt, destroyed, and rebuilt again.
The hope of a premillennial rapture should offer no comfort to Christians who encourage violence by funding the rebuilding of the temple. Knowing how badly his disciples misinterpreted biblical prophecy concerning His coming, Jesus made it perfectly clear that we will not be able to predict when the endtime will unfold.
But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Matthew 24:43-44 NKJV; also see 25:10-13).
Many Christians in the past have mistakenly supported violence on the basis of a conviction that they were participating in endtime events.8Contemporary evangelicals have no reason to believe that God would not condemn such complicity in the violence of the age (Matthew 7:23), and allow them to reap the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7) they have sown.
- Lo, your house is left to you desolate.
He threatens the destruction of the temple, and the dissolution of the whole frame of civil government. Though they were disfigured by irreligion, crimes, and every kind of infamy, yet they were so blinded by a foolish confidence in the temple, and its outward service, that they thought that God was bound to them; and this was the shield which they had always at hand: “What? Could God depart from that place which He has chosen to be His only habitation in the world? And since He dwells in the midst of us, we must one day be restored.” In short, they looked upon the temple as their invincible fortress, as if they dwelt in the bosom of God. But Christ maintains that it is in vain for them to boast of the presence of God, whom they had driven away by their crimes, and, by calling it their house (lo, your house is left to you), he indirectly intimates to them that it is no longer the house of God. The temple had indeed been built on the condition, that at the coming of Christ it would cease to be the abode and residence of Deity; but it would have remained as a remarkable demonstration of the continued grace of God, if its destruction had not been occasioned by the wickedness of the people. It was therefore a dreadful vengeance of God, that the place which Himself had so magnificently adorned was not only forsaken by Him, and ordered to be razed to the foundation, but consigned to the lowest infamy to the end of the world (Calvin’s Commentaries).
Jesus’ predictions of the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple are too many and varied to be dismissed as vaticinia ex eventu. Often they are expressed in Old Testament language which implies a typological use of the Old Testament closely related to what we have so far examined. . . . The destruction of the Temple and capital of the nation . . . finds its types in the Old Testament history. They are now to be repeated on a scale more drastic even than the Old Testament catastrophes. The destruction of Jerusalem, 587 BC. In the words “your house is abandoned to you desolate” there is a probable allusion to Jeremiah 22.5 (LXX) (R. T. France, Jesus and the Old Testament, p. 71). Back To Article
- Without the Temple-tax, the regular daily sacrifices could not be supplied. Without the right money, individual worshippers could not purchase their sacrificial animals. Without animals, sacrifice could not be offered. Without sacrifice, the Temple had lost its whole raison d’etre. The fact that Jesus effected only a brief cessation of sacrifice fits perfectly with the idea of a symbolic action. He was not attempting a reform; he was symbolizing judgment. We may remind ourselves of the horror with which Jews contemplated the cessation of the regular sacrifices (Dan. 8:11f.; 11:31; 12:11; 1 Macc. 1:45f.; Jos. War 6:94f; mTaan. 4:6). Jesus’ action symbolized his belief that, in returning to Zion, YHWH would not after all take up residence in the Temple, legitimating its present administration and its place and function within the first-century Jewish symbolic world. Rather, as Josephus himself claims to have realized, the cessation of sacrifice meant that Israel’s god would use Roman Troops to execute upon the Temple the fate which its own impurity, not least its sanctioning of the ideology of national resistance, had brought upon it (Jos. War 6.96-110). The brief disruption which Jesus effected in the Temple’s normal business symbolized the destruction which would overtake the whole institution within a generation. . . . Jesus’ action in the Temple was intended as a dramatic symbol of its imminent destruction; that this is supported by the implicit context of Zechariah’s prophecy, and the quotations from Isaiah and Jeremiah and that Jesus’ specific actions of the overturning tables, forbidding the use of the Temple as a short-cut, and the cursing of the fig tree, were likewise all designed as prophetic and eschatological symbolism, indicating both the arrival of the kingdom and the doom of the city and Temple that refused it. The reasons for this total action are to be sought in Jesus’ agenda, and his critique of his contemporaries, which we have explored in earlier chapters. What he did in Jerusalem was completely consistent with what he had done and said throughout his public work (N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, pp.415-16). Back To Article
- “Virtually all the traditions, inside and outside the canonical gospels, which speak of Jesus and the Temple speak of its destruction. Mark’s fig-tree incident; Luke’s picture of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem; John’s saying about destruction and rebuilding; the synoptic traditions of the false witnesses and their accusation, and of the mocking at the foot of the cross; Thomas’ cryptic saying (‘I will destroy this house, and no-one will be able to rebuild it’); the charge in Acts that Jesus would destroy the Temple: all these speak clearly enough, not of cleansing or reform, but of destruction. I submit that these cannot all be retrojections, ‘prophecies’ after the event. Further, the destruction-theme is sufficiently unlike the early Christians’ practice of continuing to worship in the Temple for the motif to be regarded as simply a feature of early Christian theology.
“All this, I suggest, creates a context within which the conclusion is irresistible: when Jesus came to Jerusalem, he symbolically and prophetically enacted judgment upon it—a judgment which, both before and after, he announced verbally as well as in action. The Temple, as the central symbol of the whole national life, was under divine threat, and, unless Israel repented, it would fall to the pagans. Furthermore, Jesus, by making this claim in this way, perceived himself to be not merely a prophet like Jeremiah, announcing the Temple’s doom, but the true king, who had the authority which both the Hasmonaeans and Herod had thought to claim. In acting the way he did, ‘he conjured up the nation’s most compelling traditions at a moment when receiver-competence was at its peak,’ i.e. when the lookers-on, Passover pilgrims with their hearts set on YHWH’s kingdom, would have been most likely to comprehend the multiple symbolic meanings of his action” (N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, pp.416-17). Back To Article
- Jesus Christ was a human sacrifice, but not a sacrifice offered up by fallen mankind to God. Jesus offered himself freely as a sacrifice by God to God for mankind (John 3:16; Romans 8:32; 1 John 4:9). Back To Article
- “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Heb 10:26-29 NIV). Also see Hebrews 6:1-7.) Back To Article
- The Bible contains no instructions for the rebuilding of the temple, and the temple mentioned in Ezekiel is the temple that will be rebuilt during the millennial reign, not the temple that is implied in Revelation 11. (Some premillennial Bible students think the temple in Ezekiel’s vision should be taken in a symbolic, rather than a literal, sense.)
In addition, most Jewish-Orthodox scholars reject any attempts to build the Temple before the coming of Messiah. This is because there are many doubts as to the exact location in which it is required to be built. For example, while measurements are given in cubits, there exists a controversy whether this unit of measurement equals approximately 1.5 feet or 2 feet. (For the most part, however, even those who advocate the 2-ft. interpretation do so only as a stringency, and accept the 1-1/2 ft. understanding as normative.) Without exact knowledge of the size of a cubit, the altar could not be built. Indeed, the Talmud recounts that the building of the second Temple was only possible under the direct prophetic guidance of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Without valid prophetic revelation, it would be impossible to rebuild the Temple, even if the mosques no longer occupied its location (Wikipedia). Back To Article
- One of the Jewish radicals, Gershon Salomon, stated at a Christian Zionist conference:“The Israeli Government must do it. We must have a war. There will be many nations against us but God will be our general. I am sure this is a test, that God is expecting us to move the Dome with no fear from other nations. The Messiah will not come by himself, we should bring him by fighting” (Sam Kiley, ‘The righteous will survive and the rest will perish,’ The Times, 13 December 1999, p.39). Back To Article
- See the ATQ article, How Often Have People Misapplied Prophecy? Back To Article