Does Bible Prophecy Require a Third Temple to Be Built?
The Bible talks about sacrifices resuming in Jerusalem, but does this mean a temple must be built there for end-time prophecy to be fulfilled? Many believe so, but what does the Bible say?
For years, the Temple Institute in Jerusalem has been preparing the implements and materials needed for a third temple.
In 2015 they completed an altar needed to restart sacrifices and performed a reenactment of the Passover sacrifice. In 2017 they performed a sacrifice near the Temple Mount, a controversial act that resulted in some being arrested. In 2018 they were given permission to perform a reenactment of the Passover sacrifice at the foot of the Temple Mount.
This week the Temple Institute overcame a major hurdle in their plans to build a third temple. It was something most people would not expect: cows.
Why were red heifers sent to Jerusalem?
The Temple Institute made the news when five red heifers were flown to Israel from Texas to meet the requirements for resuming temple sacrifices. These five unblemished red heifers (a heifer is a young female cow that has not yet calved) were supplied by a Christian group in Texas.
The requirement comes from Numbers 19:2-10, where God commanded a sacrifice of this special heifer whose ashes would be used for “the water of purification,” necessary to purify the priests before they could offer sacrifices.
In times past, obtaining an unblemished red heifer was difficult. As a cow ages, hairs may turn white or black causing the animal to be rejected by the rabbis as blemished.
Here’s the irony of the red heifers being provided by a Christian group:
For the Jews, the red heifers are for the purification of the priests so they can offer sacrifices in a future temple to prepare for what they believe will be the first coming of the Messiah.
But some Christian groups believe that the third temple must be built so it can be occupied by the “man of sin,” based on their reading of 2 Thessalonians 2:4.
So, by providing the red heifers to the Jews, they seek to speed up end-time events. Ironically, the fulfillment they wish to hasten will be largely destructive to the Jews and the world.
Though the Temple Institute represents a radical fringe group in Israeli society, many evangelical Christians support their efforts because they believe the building of a third temple is necessary to fulfill prophecy. (Both groups seem to conveniently ignore that their respective views of the end times and coming of the Messiah are diametrically at odds.)
But does Bible prophecy require a temple to be built as a sign of Christ’s return? What does the Bible say about the third temple?
Will daily sacrifices be resumed in Jerusalem?
After the collapse of Alexander the Great’s empire, his kingdom split into four smaller empires under his generals (Daniel 8:8). A ruler named Antiochus Epiphanes rose to power in the Seleucid Empire. He ruled over the Jews and outlawed worship of the true God. He stopped the daily sacrifices and offered unclean sacrifices to pagan gods instead (Daniel 8:11-12, 13; 11:31). This event is discussed in our article “Abomination of Desolation.”
If the “daily sacrifices” are going to be stopped in the future, that means they must first be resumed!Jesus prophesied that this historical event would also have a future fulfillment. In the end times, a despotic ruler (“king of the North”) would stop the “daily sacrifices” again.
We know from Daniel that these events will occur at “the time of the end” (Daniel 12:9) and that “from the time that the daily sacrifice is taken away, and the abomination of desolation is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days” (verse 11)—indicating a countdown to Jesus Christ’s return.
If the “daily sacrifices” are going to be stopped in the future, that means they must first be resumed! This is why the actions of the Temple Institute and their emboldened plans to resume sacrifices are interesting.
Must a third temple be rebuilt?
After the destruction of Solomon’s temple, the Jews were subjected to 70 years of captivity in Babylon (Daniel 9:2; Jeremiah 29:10). Afterward, God began the process of returning them to their homeland to rebuild.
This shows that only an altar is necessary for sacrifices to be offered. A temple is not a requirement.
So why do some believe a temple must be built in Jerusalem in the end times before Jesus Christ returns?
Does Ezekiel’s temple describe a rebuilt temple in this age?
In Ezekiel 40-48 we read about a vision of a future temple. The vision is recorded after the destruction of the first temple and before the construction of the second temple.
The second temple was not a fulfillment of this vision because it did not have the physical features described by Ezekiel. So, some connect this with the prophecy of the sacrifices being stopped and conclude that there will be a temple built in Jerusalem before Christ’s return.
But, as we have seen, the sacrifices don’t require a temple. When you study the description of Ezekiel’s temple, it becomes clear that this is a structure that will be built after Jesus returns. Here are some reasons:
- Jerusalem will be known as “THE LORD IS THERE” (Ezekiel 48:35). So this temple will stand at a time when God is ruling in Jerusalem.
- A river will flow from the temple that will heal the land and the seas (Ezekiel 47:1, 8-9).
- The time setting is after God delivers Israel (Ezekiel 39:25-26, 27-28).
- God’s Spirit will be poured out on all Israel (Ezekiel 39:29).
These prophecies clearly describe a temple to be built during the millennial reign of Christ on earth—not a temple built by human beings in this age.
Will the “man of sin” actually occupy a third Jewish temple?
Does the prophecy about the “man of sin” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 require a third temple to be built in Jerusalem? Many do see this scripture as an indication that a temple must be built in Jerusalem before Christ returns.
However, though it could possibly be fulfilled by a physical temple, there is another more likely way this scripture could be fulfilled.
The New Testament identifies the true Church of God, composed of believers who have God’s Holy Spirit, as the spiritual temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16).
In 2 Thessalonians 2:4 Paul described things that the man of sin will claim are true, but are actually false. For instance, he claims to sit “as God,” though he is not God.
So, the reference to the “temple of God” could be another false claim he will make—that the church he leads is the true “temple of God.” However, the church he will lead will be a counterfeit of the true temple of God—the faithful Church Jesus built in the first century.
Interestingly, many people have noted that the Roman Catholic Church has historically claimed to be the one true universal church and the Kingdom of God on earth.
To learn more, read “Church History: Constantine, an Emperor Who Defied God” and “How to Spot a Counterfeit Church.”
It can be easy to assume a physical temple must exist for the sacrifices, but we need to be careful not to force conclusions into Scripture when other options are certainly viable.
Does Bible prophecy require a third temple in this age?
Some prophecy students erroneously believe a third temple must be built in Jerusalem for end-time prophecy to be fulfilled.
But it’s important for our readers to understand that the building of a third temple in Jerusalem before Christ’s return is not necessarily a definite prophetic sign to watch for.
What is essential is the reinstitution of sacrifices in Jerusalem—which requires only an altar, not a completed temple.
Continue watching Jerusalem and Europe. Watch for continued efforts to reinstate sacrifices in Jerusalem and for the rise of a religious and political power in Europe that will eventually end those future sacrifices.