I have just returned from a trip to Israel. While there I enjoyed an extensive tour of the Temple Mount with Dr. Randall Price and World of the Bible Ministries. Thus, I have been thinking quite a bit lately about the biblical temples. It seems to me that the various Jerusalem temples described in the Bible represent one of the great unifying themes of Scripture. They represent God’s past, present, and future hand in history. Thus, one way to get a perspective on what God has done, is doing, and will do, is to become familiar with the various temples of Scripture. To this end, this article and my next three articles will briefly survey what the Bible teaches on this important subject. To begin with, it is helpful to understand the four Jewish temples. Two of these temples existed in past Jewish history. Two of these temples will exist in Israel’s future.
The first temple is called Solomon’s temple because it was built by King Solomon (1 Kgs. 5-8) around 966 B.C. according to 1 Kings 6:1. Recall that God did not let King David build this first temple since he was a man of war (1 Chron. 28:3). Although David embarked on numerous projects in preparation for the nation’s first temple (2 Sam. 24:18-25; 1 Chron. 21:18-26), the honor of actually building the temple went to his son Solomon, who was Israel’s third king. When this temple was built, it was indwelt by God’s shekinah glory (2 Chron 5:14). This temple was plundered (2 Chronicles 36:7) and eventually destroyed by the Babylonians when the Jews were taken into the seventy-year captivity in 586 B.C. (2 Kgs. 25:9).
The second temple of Scripture is referred to as Zerubabbel’s temple. It was rebuilt under the leadership of Zerubbabel (515 B.C.) when the Jews returned from the seventy years of Babylonian captivity (Ezra 6:13-15). The ministries of the post-exilic prophets Haggai and Zechariah were largely dedicated toward motivating the returnees to rebuild this second temple (Ezra 5:1-2). When the older Jews who remembered Solomon’s temple saw Zerubbabel’s temple, they wept because it paled in comparison to the physical magnificence of Solomon’s temple (Ezra 3:8-13; Hag. 2:3). As recorded in the non-canonical books of 1–2 Maccabees, this second temple was desecrated by the Selucid Antiochus Epiphanes during the intertestamental period (169‒167 B.C.). The desecration and eventual liberation of the temple from Selucid rule was predicted four hundred years in advance by the sixth-century exilic prophet Daniel (Dan. 8:9-14; 11:31-32). Israel’s intertestamental temple liberation also forms the background for the holiday in Judaism known as the Feast of Lights or Hanukkah, which means dedication. This holiday is so significant to Judaism that it was added alongside the seven Levitical Feasts (Lev. 23). It was a holiday that Christ Himself celebrated (John 10:22). In fact, because I was in Jerusalem during the Feast of Lights, I had the opportunity to witness first-hand how modern Jews celebrate this holiday.
This second temple was renovated years later by King Herod (John 2:20). This is the temple we read so much about in the New Testament. For example, Jesus entered the temple as a youth and confounded the religious leaders with His wisdom (Luke 2:41-50). As an adult, He drove the money changers out of the temple (John 2:12-22). Satan took Him to the pinnacle of this temple to be tempted (Matt. 4:5). The disciples called Christ’s attention to the beauty of the temple (Matt. 24:1). The early church met in the courts of the temple (Acts 2:46). All of these passages are references to this second Jewish temple which was built under the leadership of Zerubbabel and renovated by Herod. This temple was ultimately destroyed by the Romans when they invaded Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Forty years before this invasion, Jesus predicted that this second temple would be destroyed (Matthew 24:2; Luke 19:41-43).
The third temple is referred to as the Tribulation temple. It will exist in the future and will be the temple that the Antichrist will desecrate midway through the Tribulation period. In so doing, the future Antichrist will imitate Antiochus Epiphanes who also desecrated the second temple in intertestamental times (Dan 9:27; 11:31). Just as Antiochus of old set up a pagan image in the temple, it appears that the future Antichrist will do much the same thing (Rev 13:15). Thus, prophetic Scripture demands that this temple must be rebuilt so that the Antichrist can desecrate it.
There are four biblical references to this coming temple. One of these references comes from the Old Testament and three of them come from the New Testament. Daniel made reference to this future temple. Daniel 9:27 says, “He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven’ but in the middle of that ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And one who causes desolation will place abominations on a wing of the temple until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.” Jesus also made a reference to the Tribulation temple. InMatthew 24:15, He said, “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel-.” This verse is a quote from Daniel 9:27 and deals with Antichrist’s future activity in the Tribulation period. The term “holy place” refers to the inner sanctuary of the Tribulation temple. Paul also referred to the third temple. In 2 Thessalonians 2:4, he writes, “He (Antichrist) opposes and exalts himself over everything that is called god or is worshipped, and even sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” John also mentioned the third temple. Revelation 11:1-2says, “I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, ‘Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshipers there. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months.”1
Although the Scripture clearly predicts the reality of the coming third temple of the Tribulation period, much debate persists concerning how this temple will actually be rebuilt. My next two articles will explore some of these issues. Then, the final article will examine the fourth temple as well as the metaphorical temples in the present Church Age.
My previous article gave a brief overview of the first two historical temples. That article concluded by noting that the Scripture predicts a coming third temple that will be desecrated by the Antichrist. Although the Scripture clearly predicts the reality of the coming third temple in the Tribulation period (Dan. 9:27; Matt. 24:15; 2 Thess. 2:4; Rev. 11:1-2), much debate persists concerning how this temple will actually be rebuilt. This article and the next one will briefly explore some of these issues.
Not A Spiritual Temple
Revelation 11:1-2 says, “I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, ‘Go and measure the temple of Godand the altar, and count the worshipers there. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months” (italics added). Notice that in Revelation 11:1John was told to measure the temple. According to Ezekiel 40:3ff and Zechariah 2:1ff, when God measures something, He is ascertaining the spiritual depth of His people. Many commentators believe that God is telling John to measure the Tribulation temple to demonstrate that this third temple will be built out of Jewish nationalistic pride rather than for genuine spiritual reasons. Remember, at the point in the Tribulation period when John describes the third temple, the nation of Israel as a whole will still be in unbelief. This unbelief explains why John, just a few verses later, analogizes Jerusalem’s spiritual condition to the depravity of Sodom and the bondage of Egypt (Rev. 11:8). This unbelief explains why their decision to rebuild this temple will be motivated by something other than a sincere and genuine desire to glorify God.
Times of the Gentiles
In Revelation 11:2, John was also told that the outer courts of the temple and the holy city of Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles for 42 months. This is a reference to the Times of the Gentiles which is also mentioned in Luke 21:24. That text says, “…Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” The Times of the Gentiles refers to the time period when the pagan nations of the world are able to influence or dominate Israel and Jerusalem through the application of political pressure (Dan. 2; 7). The Times of the Gentiles began when the pagan power Babylon conquered Israel and took the Jews into captivity in 586 B.C. Even after the Jews returned from Babylonian captivity, they continued to be manipulated by more powerful Gentile nations. Rome eventually occupied the land of Israel just prior to the time of Christ and then invaded Jerusalem in A.D. 70. When Israel became a nation again in 1948, she continued to face attack and enormous pressure from her hostile Arab neighbors. Even after the Jews regained control of Old Testament Jerusalem, the Jews surrendered control of the original temple mount to the Arabic Muslims in an attempt to appease them. The Arabs consequently have remained the present political custodians of the temple mount. Today’s international community continues to place enormous pressure on Israel in an attempt to get her to surrender more of her land to her hostile Arab neighbors. When Revelation 11:2 says that the outer courts of the temple and the holy city of Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles for 42 months, we learn that the pagan nations will continue to dominate Israel and the temple courts even during the Tribulation period. This situation will not change until the second forty-two months of the Tribulation period have expired and Jesus returns to liberate national Israel and establish His kingdom in Jerusalem. Then and only then will the Gentile nations no longer be able to influence and pressure Israel. In other words, only when Christ returns will the Times of the Gentiles have concluded. Thus, the Times of the Gentiles, or the era when Israel is dominated by the world’s pagan nations, represents the period between the Babylonian conquest of 586 B.C. and the second coming of Christ. Although the Scripture clearly predicts the reality of the coming third temple of the Tribulation period, much debate persists concerning how this temple will actually be rebuilt. My next article will explore some of these issues.