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Two Future Temples

Ezekiel 43:27 - 
your priests will offer your burnt offerings and peace offerings on the altar, and I will accept you, declares the Lord.

Zechariah 6:12 - Here is the Man whose name is the Branch, and he willbuild the temple of the Lord.

Matthew 24:15 - When you see the “abomination of desolation,” spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place…

At the present time there is no temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the location of both the first and second Jewish Temples. Instead, two Muslim shrines, The Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque, stand on the Temple Mount. Meantime, the Jewish people continue to consider the Temple Mount to be the most sacred place for Jews in all the world. No wonder the Temple Mount is a political powder keg and must be part of any formula for peace in the Middle East!

According to the Bible, a temple will once again stand on the Temple Mount. How and when the Temple Mount will be available for a future temple remains to be seen. Biblical prophecy “buffs” have proposed all kinds of potential scenarios for how all of this could take place—everything from earthquakes to explosives to the collapse of the Temple Mount platform!

Some well-meaning Christians have felt that the biblical predictions of a future Temple should be spiritualized, saying that these prophecies refer to the Church or to the individual Christian. Indeed, 1 Corinthians 3:16 makes it quite clear that the Church, as the body of Christ, is the spiritual temple of the Holy Spirit. And in 1 Corinthians 6:19 we are taught that the physical body of every individual believer is to be honored and kept clean, because it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. But these wonderful New Testament truths do not alter the biblical predictions of a literal future Temple in Jerusalem.

The question of a future Temple gets more complicated when we realize that the Bible teaches that two temples are yet to stand on the Temple Mount in the future. First will come a Tribulation Temple, followed by a Millennium Temple which will be built when the Lord returns and sets up His kingdom on this earth. Let's look at the Scriptures dealing with these two future temples.

The Tribulation Temple

Jesus referred to the Tribulation Temple in His Olivet Discourse: “When you see the 'abomination of desolation' which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place...then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (Matthew 24:15-16). Obviously, there must be a literal temple present in order for the desecration of the holy place to take place, as predicted by the prophet Daniel. So we must look back in history to see whether or not this prophecy has already been fulfilled in a past Temple. Indeed, subsequent to Daniel's prophecy there was a desecration of the Temple, when Antiochus IV (175-164BC) of Syria invaded Judea. He declared that daily sacrifices must cease, and he set up an “abomination of desolation” by erecting a statue of the Greek god, Zeus, in the holy place of the Temple.

The prophet Daniel predicted these historical events in Daniel 11:21-35. Notice particularly: “forces from him will arise, desecrate the temple fortress, and do away with the regular sacrifice. And they will set up the abomination of desolation” (v31). But this inter-testamental fulfillment of the Daniel 11 prophecy occurred long before the Lord Jesus gave His Olivet Discourse, in which He indicated that the “abomination of desolation” was still future. However, the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus IV was not the only “abomination of desolation” predicted by the prophet Daniel, for in Daniel 12:11 we read of another “abomination of desolation.” The context of this other “abomination of desolation” is the end times, as verse 9 makes clear: “Go your way, Daniel, for these words are concealed and sealed up until the end time” (Daniel 12:9). Thus it is clear that, in His Olivet Discourse, our Lord was speaking of this future“abomination of desolation.” This future desecration was also what the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote of the future “man of lawlessness” who will “take his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4).

The desecration and destruction of the Temple by Rome in 70AD was certainly subsequent to our Lord's Olivet Discourse, and even subsequent to the writings of Paul. Was this the fulfillment of the desecration prophecy of Daniel 12? Were the prophetic “end times” fulfilled when the Roman armies overran Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple that had been built by Herod the Great? The destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD was certainly a partial fulfillment of this prophecy, as Luke's account of our Lord's Olivet Discourse makes quite clear:“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is at hand…and they will fall by the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 21:20-24).

The fact that “the times of the Gentiles” have been in effect ever since the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD indicates that a partial fulfillment of the Olivet Discourse prophecy has taken place. However, the complete fulfillment of the Olivet Discourse prophecy awaits events leading up to the Lord's return, as the contexts of the Olivet Discourse and Daniel 12 make abundantly clear. In Matthew 24 the Lord went on to say that the tribulation of those days will be greater and more devastating than any time of trouble in the history of the world (v21). The Roman conquest of 70 AD was a time of great trouble, but clearly not the worst calamity in all of world history. Furthermore, the Lord spoke of His return to this earth “immediately after the tribulation of those days” (v29). So the Temple that the Lord had in mind in Matthew 24:15, where the abomination of desolation will be set up, could not have been the Temple which was destroyed by the Romans. There will be a literal temple built in the future, which will be taken over by the forces of evil during the future Tribulation period.

Whether we will see the Tribulation Temple built in our lifetime remains to be seen. At present, several groups in Israel are anticipating a future Temple by carefully preparing temple articles and priestly garments according to the instructions given in Exodus. How all these efforts will fit into the construction of the Tribulation Temple is uncertain, and whether or not the Ark of the Covenant will be found and become part of the scenario is still unknown. But prophetic Scripture clearly requires that a functioning Temple be present for the period of great Tribulation.

The Millennium Temple

Chapters 40-48 of Ezekiel's prophecy contain a grand and detailed vision of a glorious Temple to be built sometime in the future. Ezekiel was given the precise dimensions of this future Temple (chapters 40-42), and he foresaw the glory of the Lord returning to this Temple (chapter 43). Ezekiel was given details of the function of the priests and Levites and the order of worship in this future Temple (chapters 43-46). He was shown the layout for the whole area surrounding the future temple complex (chapter 45). Chapters 47-48, which give the future topographical changes in the Jerusalem area and the political reorganization of the whole land with the 12 tribes of Israel, complete this amazing prophetic vision given to Ezekiel.

If we are practicing good principles of interpretation, we must conclude that the glorious temple of Ezekiel's vision is a literal Temple to be built in the future. Since Ezekiel's vision of the destruction of the first Jewish Temple literally came true, right down to the very details (Ezekiel 7-12), it is reasonable to assume that Ezekiel's vision of the future temple will be fulfilled literally, right down to the very details—and there are many! In fact, there are so many details, including the exact dimensions, that it is very difficult to attempt to interpret this future temple as a spiritualized reference to the Church today. Why would God include so many elaborate details of plans and functions that have no bearing whatsoever on the Church as the temple of the Holy Spirit? A more proper and consistent interpretation indicates that Ezekiel's temple is a literal temple that will be built for the Lord's literal kingdom here on this earth when He returns. According to Revelation 20:6, this kingdom will last for 1000 years, and the Temple of Ezekiel's vision will serve as the center of divine government during the Millennium.

While this Millennium Temple will be built in the same general location as the Tribulation Temple, there are several indications that it will not be the same Temple. First of all, topographical and geological changes in the Jerusalem area will occur when the Lord returns. Zechariah 14 indicates that the Mount of Olives will split in half and a large valley will be formed in the middle. In addition, Ezekiel 47 indicates that fresh subterranean water will continuously flow from the temple area in Jerusalem down to the Dead Sea in the east and the Mediterranean Sea in the west. Scripture does not tell us whether or not these “earth-moving“ events will destroy the Tribulation Temple, but they are certainly of a magnitude that would do tremendous damage to any buildings standing on the Temple Mount. Furthermore, the dimensions of the Millennium Temple complex are on such a grand scale that it would appear that the Millennium Temple will have to be built after the topographical and geological changes take place. Therefore, the future Millennium Temple must be a different temple than the future Tribulation Temple.

In the messianic passage of Zechariah 6:9-15, where the coming Messiah is given the title of “the Branch“ and unites the offices of King and Priest, we learn that He will personally direct the building of a future temple. Clearly, this future literal temple of Zechariah's prophecy will be the Millennium Temple, built for Christ's 1000-year reign on earth. This prophecy should not be interpreted as a reference to the Church today. Zechariah and his contemporaries understood this prophecy to be a promise of a literal temple and a literal throne where the Messiah would literally reign over His kingdom on earth—with no competition! Zechariah's prophecy was not fulfilled at the first coming of Christ because the King and His kingdom were rejected. That generation did not obey the Lord. But at the second coming of Christ there will be a godly remnant of Jews who come from “far off“ (v15)—around the world—who have recognized Jesus as their Messiah and trusted Him as their Savior, who will welcome the return of their Messiah. This remnant of the Jewish people is the “all Israel“ mentioned in Romans 11:26: “And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written, 'The deliverer will come from Zion, and turn godlessness away from Jacob..'“ These Jewish believers will participate with Gentile believers in the building of the Millennium Temple (v15). What an encouragement Zechariah's prophecy would have been to the Jews of his day, who were rebuilding the Temple that had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. Their rebuilt Temple was not much of a structure compared to the glory of Solomon's Temple, but it foreshadowed the building of a great and glorious future Temple, where the Messiah would rule and reign supreme!

The Question of Sacrifices

Some Christians have problems with a literal interpretation of Ezekiel's temple vision because of the implied reinstitution of animal sacrifices (Ezekiel 43-46). Wouldn't a literal temple with literal sacrifices contradict the clear teaching of Hebrews 10:10-14? At first consideration, this seems to be an insurmountable theological and hermeneutical barrier to a literal temple. It is important to notice, however, that in Hebrews 10 the author is not saying that there can never be animal sacrifices in the future. The thrust of his argument is that animal sacrifices could never take away sin! The animal sacrifices of the Old Testament period pointed forward, prophetically portraying the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. If animal sacrifice is reinstated during the time of the millennial kingdom, these sacrifices would look backward, in a retrospective and instructive way, commemorating an already accomplished salvation. They would not remove sins any more than the sacrifices in Old Testament times removed sins, but they would remind believers and instruct unbelievers of the cost of redemption from sin.

During the millennial kingdom, the Church and the Old Testament saints will reign with Christ in their sinless new bodies, but there will be human beings with sinful human natures living on the earth at that time as well. Some of these people will be believers, but some will be unbelievers. Every person coming out of the Tribulation and entering the Millennium will be a believer, but not all those who are born during the 1000 years of the kingdom will become believers. Because sin will be present, the Lord will need to “rule with a rod of iron” during the Millennium. (See Revelation 2:27; 12:5 and 19:15.)

And because there will be unbelievers, Satan will be able to deceive many people, and lead them in a great rebellion at the end of the Millennium (Revelation 20:7-9). The fact that the Lord will be reigning over this earth as glorious King will not eliminate sin, and people of that time will need to be reminded that sin is a serious offense against a holy God. Even in the glorious atmosphere of the millennial kingdom there may be a tendency to forget the great cost of redemption. The Church observes the Lord's Supper as a commemoration of our Lord's costly sacrifice at the cross—but the Lord's Supper will only be practiced “until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Animal sacrifices during the Millennium would certainly be a vivid reminder of Calvary. A lamb “led to the slaughter” as a sacrifice provides an unforgettable reminder of the cost of redemption!

In Luke 22:16, in the context of eating the Passover meal at the Last Supper, the Lord Jesus said that He would “never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” During the Millennium, the celebration of the Passover and the other Jewish feasts involving sacrifices makes sense for restored Israel under the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Then Israel, as well as the saved Gentiles of the Kingdom, will be divinely enabled to see the deeper spiritual meaning of the Old Testament sacrifices. The Millennium Temple and the reinstated sacrificial system will focus attention on the Lord Jesus Christ as Israel's suffering Messiah and Savior of the world. In that day, Israel will finally be a light to the nations, as God had originally intended. There will be no Temple or animal sacrifices in the eternal state, because the effects of “the curse” will be forever erased (Revelation 21:22 and 22:3), but the millennial kingdom of Christ on this earth precedes the sinless eternal state. During the Millennium, the saved peoples of the earth, both Jew and Gentile, will maintain fellowship with the Lord by coming to Jerusalem in that day to worship Him. (See Zechariah 14:16-21.)

Prophetic Scriptures indicate that there will be two future Temples in Jerusalem. Hosea 3:4-5 states that Israel will remain “without sacrifice…or idol” until “the last days.” In those last days, which may not be far away, a Tribulation Temple will be built, where idolatry and the “abomination of desolation” will take place. But then the Lord will return and build the Millennium Temple for His Kingdom here on this earth. In that wonderful day, all the world will come to appreciate the holiness and grace of the Lord through this future Temple and its function in restored Israel under the new covenant.
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