Since the beginning of 2014 an intriguing appeal has been made by evangelists on television programs for believers to aid Israel as money is raised to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. According to these speakers, Christians have an obligation to help in the reconstruction of the Temple on the same spot where the first two Temples stood so majestically.
But do Christians have an obligation to help rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem? It’s a question that generates more than a few questions in response. For example, what purpose does the Temple serve? Why does the Temple need rebuilding? Does the Bible promise the Temple will be rebuilt? And finally, if these are the last days, what significance does the Temple hold for believers?
The role of the Temple in Judaism was well known to all Jews. Sinners received God’s forgiveness at the Temple when they presented themselves and their sin offering there. The shedding of innocent blood at the Temple had a three-fold purpose: (1) it taught that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), (2) it taught that without the shedding of blood there could be no forgiveness for sin (Hebrews 9:22), and (3) it pointed forward to the blood the Lamb of God would shed at some future point to take away the sin of the world (Isaiah 53:5).
God initiated the sanctuary service in Eden as a primer on salvation (see Genesis 3:21). For Israel, the lessons of God’s redemption plan were learned first in the mobile sanctuary and later in the Temple. The lesson was simple yet profound. A sinner brought a sin offering in the form of an innocent, clean animal to the priest at the sanctuary. There the innocent blood was spilled for the guilty, symbolically showing what God’s Lamb would do for humanity on Calvary.
Jewish tradition declared the Temple as the only place of blood sacrifices. During the Exodus, sinners would bring their sacrifices, without spot or blemish, to the priest at the mobile sanctuary. However, once Solomon’s Temple was constructed in Jerusalem, the sanctuary of the Temple became the only location sanctified for sacrificial purposes. So although the Jews could worship at their local synagogues, they considered the Temple in Jerusalem the only appropriate place for sacrifices.
This fact explains why Jews offer no animal sacrifices today. There is no Temple in Jerusalem. Twice built, the Temple has been twice destroyed. The Babylonians destroyed the first Temple, built by Solomon, in 586 B.C. Titus and the Roman legions demolished the second Temple in A.D. 70. With the second Temple’s destruction, Judaism had nowhere to sacrifice sin offerings. That’s why there are no sacrifices today. There is no Temple.
For more than 1,900 years the absence of the Temple has precluded animal sacrifices among the Jews. But now the plans are being made for a new temple in Jerusalem, and some Christian leaders view collaboration in the reconstruction of the Temple as ordained in heaven. But is it?
There is no promise in God’s Word of a third temple. Indeed, we’re reminded in Hebrews 9:8-11, 23, 24 that the Temple on earth was a type and shadow of the true temple in heaven. In fact, the earthly Temple was never meant to be a permanent structure. Its purposes were to exist only until Jesus, the Lamb of God, satisfied all of the spiritual realities and requirements of the Messiah. John the revelator was given a glorious snapshot of the earth made new, and of the Holy City, New Jerusalem, in Revelation 21:22. John reports he saw no temple there. Instead, he declared that God and Christ are the temple there.
And does the earthly Temple play a role in the lives of the redeemed in these “last days”? The answer is a simple no. Jesus speaking in John 2:19-21 calls His body the temple. Paul writing in 1 Corinthians 3:16, 17 reminds us that the Holy Spirit dwells within believers, because we are the temple of God. The Temple in Jerusalem ceased to be relevant in the lives of God’s people once the Lamb, Jesus, had been sacrificed on the altar of the cross on Calvary. The point of the sanctuary service had been to point God’s people to the ultimate sacrifice, the life of God’s Son for the redemption of humanity, so that “whoever believes in Him should not perish” (John 3:16). Once the true Lamb had been slain, there was no longer need of either the sanctuary service or the Temple.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Christians assisting Israel in the reconstruction of the Temple, however, is their failure to recognize that their acceptance of the call to help rebuild the Temple is in essence a rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. The Temple is needed only so long as sacrifices are necessary. The only reason for continuing animal sacrifices would be because we don’t believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and we yet await the true Messiah’s arrival. But we know our Redeemer lives and He is returning soon to gather His people.
And we do want to help those in Israel, and elsewhere, to be ready to meet Him in peace. That is a responsibility we gladly shoulder.