A “third temple” in Jerusalem! Such has been the excited talk among Jewish leaders and laymen alike who, over the years, have been preparing themselves for restored temple worship. Likewise, many in “Christendom” are sympathetic to the Jews’ aspirations. They believe that before Jesus returns to earth, the Jews will restore their sacrificial system and, therefore, there has to be a “third temple” to be constructed in Jerusalem in the near future. Among several end-time Bible prophecies, both these people would point to Ezekiel 40-48 as talking about this “third temple.”
Why a “third temple?” This, of course, presupposes the fact that there had been a first temple and then a second temple.
The first temple was that built by King Solomon (see 1 Kings 5-8 and 2 Chronicles 2-7). This was the temple which, centuries later, King Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed along with the king’s house and the houses of the great citizens of Jerusalem (2 Kings 25:8-17; 2 Chronicles 36:17-19). Most of the Jews had been carried away captive to Babylon.
After 70 years of the Jews’ captivity in Babylon, God inspired Zerubbabel and his companions to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the ruined temple there, despite some opposition by hostile occupants of the land (Ezra 1-7). This came to be known as the “second temple.” Later, Herod the Great repaired and embellished this temple after it had been partially destroyed. This was the temple during Jesus’ earthly ministry.
It was this temple — not another one yet to be built — about which Jesus prophesied (Matthew 24:15) that it would be destroyed when “the abomination of desolation” (or “the abomination that makes desolate,” KJV) would be offered as before (in 168 B.C. when Antiochus Epiphanes sacrificed a pig to the pagan god Zeus on the temple’s altar). The destruction of this second temple took place in A.D. 70 when the Roman general Titus placed a pagan idol in the temple.
However, Jesus’ prophecy about the temple buildings being thrown down in such a way that “not one stone shall be left…upon another” (Matthew 24:2) was about the very end-time — yet to be fulfilled. Jesus’ disciples asked about the sign of Christ’s second coming and “the end of the age” (Verse 3). The destruction of the temple site in A.D. 70 has still some stones remaining upon another — as witnesses the Jews’ “wailing wall.”
Will, therefore, a “third temple” be constructed in Jerusalem in the near future, just before Christ returns? Is there even a need that a full temple be there in order for Christ’s so-called “Olivet prophecy” to be fulfilled?
The greatest challenge for the Jews in their aspiration to build a third temple in Jerusalem has been the presence of the Islamic structures on the temple mount: the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsah. Muslims will not simply give up these structures without a big fight! They consider this site the third most holy of Islamic sites, the first being Mecca and the second being Medina. Muslims believe that their prophet Muhammad came to Jerusalem and ascended to heaven from the spot where these Islamic structures were since built.
There is talk about some kind of compromise being brokered by a prominent religious figure between the Jews and the Muslims so that a “third temple” in Jerusalem can be built before Jesus’ return. Whether the compromise will push through or not, it would still be possible for the Jews to perform their sacrificial rituals with just an altar as a “holy place” (Matthew 24:15) even without a full temple present.
Ezra 3:2 shows that the returning Jews, led by the high priest Jeshua or Joshua, were able to offer animal sacrifices on an altar they built — even before the temple (what later turned out to be the “second temple”) was completed. This could very well be the same case with the Jews during these end-times.
For more on this view, see this link: http://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE , and select Good News (1951-1989), then the issues of 1980-1989, and scroll down to the issue of February 1985, for the article “Coming: A Temple in Jerusalem?” (pages 6-8, 24). Stay on this link for Part 2 of the same article, in the March 1985 issue (pages 12-17).
Millennial setting of temple
Many Bible students believe, as I do, that the temple described in Ezekiel 40-48 is set during the early days of the 1,000-year reign of Christ and His glorified saints here on earth after His return. Ezekiel 44:3 gives away the setting of this prophecy. Here is mentioned “the prince” who may — and will — sit “to eat bread before the LORD” in that temple all through the initial 1,000-year reign of Christ (called by many “the Millennium”) and, presumably, beyond.
Who is that “prince?” Earlier, in Chapter 34, Ezekiel prophesies about the coming restoration of Israel (God calls them “My sheep” or “My flock,” Verses 11-22). Then God declares, “I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them — My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I the LORD, will be their God, and My servant David a prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken” (Verses 23-24).
Ezekiel 37:24-25 also declares, “David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments and observe My statutes, and do them. Then they shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob My servant, where your fathers dwelt, and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children’s children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever.”
Without a doubt the setting of the temple of Ezekiel 40-48 is during Jesus’ reign on earth. King David, along with all the saints of God, will be resurrected (or changed, for those remaining alive) to immortality, to live forever with Christ (1 Corinthians 15:20-23, 50-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
The late treasurer of the Worldwide Church of God, L. Leroy Neff, published an excellent booklet about the coming temple in Jerusalem that visualizes the details of that temple (Ezekiel 40-48). See this link: https://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE, select “Reference Material,” and scroll down to the booklet titled “God’s Temple in Prophecy.” For a full-color version of this booklet you may stay on the same link and select instead “Good News (1951-1989),” then (1980-1989) and scroll down to the issue of May-June 1988 for the two-part article “A Look at Ezekiel’s Temple” (pages 14-19) and its sequel in the issue of July-August 1988 (pages 14-19).
If the temple in Ezekiel 40-48 is set at a yet future time, many may take issue with why there appear to be some “anachronisms” — things that will recur which are supposed to have been actually fulfilled when Christ came the first time. Why:
- The return of the Levitical priesthood? Ezekiel 40:45-46; 44:15-16, etc. mentions the restoration, particularly, of the priesthood of the sons of Zadok. Doesn’t Hebrews 7:11-28 clearly declare that there has now been a change in the law concerning the priesthood — that the imperfect Levitical priesthood has been replaced by the perfect high priesthood of Jesus Christ, after the order of Melchizedek? And doesn’t 1 Peter 2:9 affirm that all believers in Christ now constitute “a royal priesthood?”
- The return of the animal and other sacrifices? Ezekiel 43:18-27; 45:13-25; and 46:11-15, 20, 24 declare the ordinances regarding burnt offerings and sin offerings. Haven’t these sacrifices all been fulfilled by Jesus Christ when He offered His body and blood on Calvary to atone for the sins of all mankind? Wouldn’t going back to these ordinances constitute “works of the law” that would thus contradict faith in Christ’s sacrifice (Galatians 3:10-14; Hebrews 10:1-10)?
- The return of circumcision? Ezekiel 44:6-9 has God forbidding foreigners uncircumcised both in heart and in flesh from entering His sanctuary. Wasn’t the nettling issue of requiring circumcision for Gentile believers in Christ already resolved in that general conference of church leaders, as recorded in Acts 15? Didn’t Paul categorically say: “…if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:22-4)?
How do we square these seeming contradictions, through The Whole Counsel of God (Acts 20:27)?
The Levitical priesthood
Hebrews 7:18 talks about “an annulling of the former commandment” — referring to the “change of the law” concerning the priesthood (Verse 12). God had commanded Moses to take his brother Aaron and his sons (all of them descended from Levi, through his son Kohath and his grandson Amram (1 Chronicles 6:1-15, etc.), that they may “minister to Me as priest[s]” (Exodus 28:1). God gave the rest of the tribe of Levi as helpers of the priests in the various functions of the tabernacle/temple or sanctuary (Leviticus 3:6-9; 4:1-23; 8:19, etc.).
These Levitical priests ministered to the children of Israel who, as a whole, were a stiff-necked, rebellious people (Exodus 32:9; 33:3, 5, etc.). Without the Spirit of God working in both the priests and the people, the Levitical ministry failed to make themselves and the people perfect, truly cleansed of sin (Hebrews 7:18-19; 9:9-10, 13; 10:1-4).
When Jesus Christ came, the law on the priesthood and the temple was changed to something spiritual. Jesus, who was born of the tribe of Judah and not of Levi, has become the High Priest, after the order of Melchizedek, to all Christians (Hebrews 7:11-22). As Peter declared, the Church of God is now collectively “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2;9). And Paul writes that the Church of God — collectively and individually — is now the spiritual temple in which God’s Spirit dwells (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19).
A new ballgame
This being the case, a new standard for Christians has been set! As God’s “firstfruits” or those who have the “firstfruits” of God’s Spirit (James 1:18; Revelation 14:4; Romans 8:23), Christians are called to be “priests” of God. Malachi 2:2 reveals the major work of a priest: “For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge, and people should seek the law from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 2:7).
In Hebrews 5:12-14, Paul [see: Who Wrote the Letter to the Hebrews?] addressed Hebrew Christians who — as a part of the “firstfruits” or the “firstborn” of God, along with Gentiles (non-Israelites) called to faith in Christ as His “elect” — will become “kings and priests” with Christ when He comes back to earth to establish God’s kingdom here. They, together, will reign with Him for an initial 1,000 years (Revelation 20:6, etc.). [See: Predestination and This Is Not the Only Day of Salvation.]
As priests, they will help Christ teach the true gospel to all the nations that will survive the Great Tribulation and the Day of God’s Wrath. [See: World Peace — At Last!] They will continue that work for the billions of human beings who will be born all through the 1,000 years of Jesus’ reign.
That is why Paul took the Hebrew Christians to task for being slow in learning beyond “the first principles of the oracles of God” and for not having “their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” enough to become teachers (Hebrews 5:12-14).
The special calling of God’s elect is to become teachers of those mortal human beings who will survive as subjects of God’s kingdom on earth. These mortals will be the spiritual “babes” that will need to be given spiritual “milk” and not “solid food.” They are the ones who will need to be taught “the first principles of the oracles of God” and “the elementary principles of Christ” (Hebrews 6:1).
Back to basics
Isaiah 6:13 shows that only a tenth (10%) of all Israel will survive the dire events before Christ’s return. Romans 2:5-6, 8-9 tells us that God will judge Gentiles (as exemplified by the Greeks) in the same manner as the children of Israel (as exemplified by the Jews). Both these surviving mortal Gentiles and Israelites will have brought with them knowledge and practices not based on the truths of the Bible. It has been said that it is harder (Herbert Armstrong figured it as harder by 10 times) to unlearn an error or bad habit than it is to learn some new thing or a good habit. So thoroughly has Satan deceived the whole world (Revelation 12:9) that it will take God’s Spirit — as well as diligent and loving instruction by God’s elect teachers (Isaiah 30:20-21; 2 Timothy 2:24-26) — for these surviving mortals to learn God’s perfect way to everlasting life.
To help these mortals to learn God’s way effectively, the new temple in Jerusalem will be built, and the nation or kingdom of Israel will be restored so that the children of Israel will serve as a “model” nation or kingdom for all the rest of mankind to follow. That has been God’s irrevocable plan for the children of Israel from the start (Deuteronomy 4:5-8; Exodus 19:6; Zechariah 8:22-23). Referring to Israel, Paul said that “they are beloved for the sake of the fathers” [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob] (Romans 11:28-29). [See: God’s Kingdom and Israel.]
When Jesus returns as a “refiner’s fire” and “launderer’s soap, “He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the LORD an offering in righteousness” (Malachi 3:2-3). All the restored elements of temple worship (the Levitical priests, the animal sacrifices, etc.) as Ezekiel 40-48 pictures will serve as some kind of “instructional aids” to help both Israelites and Gentiles to accept Christ as pictured by these aids, believe and accept Him as their Savior and Lord, and eventually receive everlasting life. These aids will be useful especially for the new generation of human beings that will be born all through the 1,000 years of Christ’s reign on earth.
After that 1,000-year reign, the rest of humanity that have not truly known Christ [and who will come up in the “general resurrection” after that period (Revelation 20:5)] will also benefit from those aids. As many as will truly believe God’s truth will also receive God’s Spirit and, as they continue in righteous living, they also will be changed to glory and immortality as the rest of humanity earlier saved. [See: Predestination and Are We All God’s Children?]
As for circumcision, we need to understand that this is also a part of the basics along with the sacrificial system and the Levitical priesthood. Colossians 2:11-14 shows the connection between circumcision (a bloody ritual, see Exodus 4:25-26) and Christ’s shed blood for the forgiveness of our sins. [See: Freed From Bondage.] This will need to be taught and implemented among the mortal subjects of Christ’s kingdom while the new temple in Jerusalem stands.
Why a “split-level” standard
Why would God require a different — a more spiritual — standard for the “firstfuits” of His human creation than He would for those who will follow them as, presumably, the “secondfruits” and the “thirdfruits?”
For one thing, those who have been a part of the “firstfruits” are the people of God who have had to learn and practice God’s true ways in a world and society still ruled by Satan the devil. They have had more “overcoming” to do than those who will become the “secondfruits” and the “thirdfruits” in a setting where Satan and his demons will have been put away, and where human society will be taught and will be following God’s righteous and holy ways.
We cannot presume to know all of God’s thoughts, which are higher than we can ever attain to (Isaiah 55:8-9), but from what God has revealed so far, it would seem that the “firstfruits” would collectively constitute the “bride of Christ” [“virgins” to meet Him as their “Bridegroom” at His return (Matthew 25:1-7, etc.)]. They will be “married” to Christ and, as they have made themselves ready, they will collectively become His “wife” (Revelation 19:7). As Christ’s wife, the “firstfruits” would understandably become a “mother” to those who, through that “marriage” will be “born” as “secondfruits” and “thirdfruits” in God’s “family plan.” [See: Predestination and God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 3 , particularly the sections on “The Feast of Tabernacles and the Jews” and “The Last Great Day and the Jews.”]
As such it would make sense that God would require a higher standard for His Son’s “wife” than He would for His “children.” Thus, for the benefit of these “children,” the temple in Ezekiel 40-48 will be built and will remain all through Christ’s reign on earth — until the “a new heaven and a new earth” will take place (Revelation 21:1-5). That will happen after all human beings who have ever lived will have been given a fair chance to know the gospel of salvation, be judged, and be saved [unless they freely choose to remain wicked] (Revelation 20:4-6; 21:8).
No temple in the New Jerusalem
At the end of Christ’s temporary reign on earth (for a thousand years and some years after that period), the earth and all its “works” will be burned up with “fervent heat” and all things “dissolved” (2 Peter 3:10-11). That destruction would include the new temple in Jerusalem as described in Ezekiel 40-48, as we shall see.
After the earth is purged of all that human hands have touched, “a new heaven and a new earth” will be created. And the “holy city, New Jerusalem” will come down out of heaven from God (Revelation 21:1-2, etc.). This is that “city” or “perfect tabernacle not made with [human] hands… not of this creation,” and “whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 9:11; 11:10).
Revelation 21:22 describes the apostle John’s vision of the “holy city” — “But I saw no [physical] temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” We may not fully appreciate now what it means for God the Father and Jesus Christ to be the spiritual “temple” in the New Jerusalem in place of a physical temple.
Perhaps we can begin to understand this from what Jesus told His disciples: “Abide in Me…” (John 15:4). Jesus repeated that idea in Verses 5-7, 9. In his letter the apostle John writes: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God…” (1 John 4:16). Verse 13 says that we abide in God “because He has given us of His Spirit.” Likewise, we abide in God when we truly confess “that Jesus is the Son of God” (Verse 15).
When, as Christians now, we learn to abide in God and in Jesus Christ, we will not feel it strange to live forever as God’s glorified children and worship before God and Christ as the spiritual temple in the New Jerusalem!
Not only has Jesus promised those who truly believe in Him, that they will abide in Him and in the Father. He and the Father will also abide or live in God’s people even now, and especially for all eternity (John 14:23; 15:4; 1 John 4:15, 16). Now, that is perfect unity! [See: Two Goats Together and The True Christ.]
What an exciting time to look forward to!
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.