If you agree or disagree with Pastor Bill Barnwell, this makes for interesting reading; as well, it raises legitimate questions concerning a rebuilt Temple which many students of Prophecy are anticipating. (written in 2005)
One of the strangest teachings from proponents of dispensationalism is the assertion that the ancient Jewish temple will be rebuilt.
It is understandable why some extremely conservative Orthodox Jews would desire to have a rebuilt temple, but logically it makes little sense why so many Christians are clamoring to see a third temple. Last week, Hal Lindsey wrote an excited column titled “Revived Sanhedrin discusses temple” where he cites evidence of plans for a renewed temple in Israel. While Mr. Lindsey is a fine Christian and no doubt has done many good things for Christianity, his theological views on the “end-times” which he has been teaching for years are, I believe, full of errors and pose both theological and political concerns.
Before I go into my arguments let me give some background on the concept of the temple itself.
In the Old Testament, there was a central place of worship for the Israelite community. In the book of Exodus, Moses received from God plans to build a “tabernacle” which would serve many of the same functions as the temple would in later Israelite history. The design, description and purpose of the tabernacle can be found in Exodus 25–26 and 36–40. It was there that God would dwell directly amongst His people. The tabernacle was to be portable. Though elaborate the tabernacle could be taken apart and set up by the Levites (one of the 12 tribes of Israel who were designated to have the priestly responsibilities) who would transport it as the Israelites moved from place to place. It was at the tabernacle where the Israelites would present a variety of sin, guilt, fellowship, etc. offerings that are described in better detail throughout the book of Leviticus.
Fast forward a number of generations to the time of King David.
David desired to build a permanent temple to God, where He would dwell amongst His people and the sacrificial and worship system would be centrally and permanently located. God told David, however, that his son Solomon would instead build the temple (The background and building of the temple can be found in I Kings 5–6; I Chronicles 28–29; 2 Chronicles 2–7).
The temple was tragically destroyed around the time of 586 B.C. when the Babylonians swept up the southern kingdom of Judah where the temple was located (2 Chronicles 36:15–23). The Israelites were stunned seeing both northern and southern kingdoms overran (first by the Assyrians and then by the Babylonians) and also their temple destroyed.
Eventually a new empire arose, the Medo-Persian Empire.
King Cyrus decreed that foreigners could return to their homelands, including the Israelites. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah detail the return to the homeland. It was at this time that the temple was rebuilt (Ezra 6:13–18). However the second temple was not as magnificent as the first temple. The Israelites had a new temple and a new central place of worship, but it was not as beautiful and they were still under foreign domination.
Then the Roman Empire arose (after the Persians and Alexander the Great’s empire) which is the setting the New Testament takes place in.
The temple had some renovation done by the time of Christ’s ministry. It continued to hold great prominence in the religious life and rituals of the Jewish people. However, in A.D. 70 the temple was destroyed by the Romans who ransacked the city. It was another time of deep mourning for the Jewish people. Since that day the temple has not stood and Jewish religion and practice have never been the same.
Why It’s Important to the Dispensationalists
Dispensationalists believe that the temple must be rebuilt a third time. They interpret certain passages of Scripture (wrongly in my view) to suggest that the Antichrist can not appear until the Temple is rebuilt. In the dispensational view, the current nation state of Israel holds great prominence. It is supposedly “God’s time clock of prophecy.” However, contrary to what the popular preachers and “end-times” books say, the current political entity of Israel has little if anything to do with the “end-times.” Yet dispensationalists teach that the temple will be rebuilt in Israel and then the Antichrist will exalt himself in the temple proclaiming to be God. This will take place before or after the “rapture” where Christ will secretly come for His saints (as opposed to with His saints for the “real” Second-Coming). Eventually, the Antichrist and the false prophet will be defeated and Satan bound for a 1000 years while Christ will set up His millennial Kingdom on earth. After the 1000 years, Satan will be loosed for a final battle but will be defeated and eternity will begin.
The Antichrist exalting himself in the Temple mainly comes from a futuristic interpretation of Daniel 9:20–27 where the Antichrist is supposedly forming and then breaking a covenant with Israel and then overtaking the temple.
Let me just say that this interpretation is highly suspect and scholars have never agreed on a proper interpretation of this passage (who is the “he” of verse 27? The Anointed One or the ruler? And what is the identity of those two people? The standard response is Christ and the Antichrist, but it’s not as cut and dry as most think). My own opinion is that every prophetic camp has their short-comings in interpreting this passage. As of now, the full meaning and interpretation of this passage is very much debatable.
While most Christians want to read these as strict accounts of the end of the world, Christ was first and foremost discussing the coming destruction of Jerusalem.
Read Matthew 24 for yourself. It begins by the disciples drawing attention to the temple and its surrounding buildings. Christ responds “Do you see these things?” (vv. 2). The “things” that he is referring to as the subject are the things the disciples just drew attention to – the buildings of Jerusalem. He then goes on to say that the day was coming when the area would be destroyed (vv. 2). In verse three the disciples ask him when that is going to happen and in verse 4 he begins to give the “signs” of this judgment.
When the passage is read in context this way, it becomes obvious that the main meaning of the passage refers to the destruction of Jerusalem (which Christ just mourned over at the end of chapter 23).
“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’
In verse 15 Christ cites the “abomination that causes desolation, spoken of through the prophet Daniel.” Dispensationalists see this as a clear reference to the Antichrist exalting himself in a rebuilt third temple.
However, Luke’s gospel seems to clearly suggest that the “abomination” is Jerusalem being surrounded by armies (Luke 21:20–21) which is why this passage was historically interpreted to refer to Roman plundering of Jerusalem which took place in A.D. 70.
Some object and claim that the Olivet Discourses are examples of “Double Fulfillment” meaning that the prophecy was fulfilled in A.D. 70 and will receive its final fulfillment in the coming end-times. This is possible perhaps, as examples of this are seen elsewhere in Scripture. For example, look at where the NT writers cite Old Testament prophecy and you will see different historical layers of fulfillment. In those instances however, the Biblical writer cites a verse or two. I’m a little hesitant to take entire chapters of Scripture and apply the same method. Also one must keep in mind that the Biblical writers were inspired by the Holy Spirit in what they wrote and interpreted.
The same cannot exactly be said for Tim Lahaye. Basically, any claim of double fulfillment is speculative for a variety of reasons and such a position should only cautiously be held to.
Theological Problems of a Rebuilt Temple
In Lindsey’s article, he is clearly very excited about the prospect of a rebuilt temple. In the column he asserts that plans to rebuild the temple are part of Bible prophecy. He also claims that the reemergence of a Jewish Sanhedrin (the Sanhedrin was a community of interpreters who were the religious and theological authority before the fall of the temple) is a fulfillment of Bible prophecy as well.
The second claim is extremely strange (please show me Scripturally, Mr. Lindsey, where a new Sanhedrin is even alluded to) and doesn’t warrant much discussion, but the first is more theologically problematic.
The big question is this:
Why in the world would a new temple be a good thing in light of the work of Christ? Christ replaced the temple and temple worship. Sacrifice for sins are not atoned for through the blood of bulls and goats at a temple, sacrifice for sins were accomplished once and for all through the sacrifice of Christ. Therefore, when Mr. Lindsey seems eager to see the Old Testament sacrificial system reintroduced, I am highly offended and puzzled why he thinks this would be a good thing.
Dispensationalist temple theology runs directly counter to what is taught in the book of Hebrews where the earthly tabernacle (the forerunner of the temple) was described as a shadow and imperfect compared to the work of Christ.
The message is clear in these chapters: The Old Covenant was inferior to the New, the tabernacle (and by extension, the temple) was inferior to Christ, the sacrificial system of the Old Covenant is inferior to Christ’s sacrifice of the New Covenant, the OT priesthood of the Levites was inferior to the NT priesthood of Christ, etc. Consider Hebrews 9:8–14, where after discussing the man-made tabernacle and its religious rituals, the author writes:
“The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshipper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings – external regulations applying until the time of the new order. When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once and for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”
In the light of the teachings of Hebrew and actually the whole of New Testament theology, it seems highly problematic to cheer on a rebuilt temple. Therefore, it would be unwise to interpret certain OT and NT passages as referring to a future rebuilt temple. Such a temple would have no salvific power and it seems bizarre that God would put such emphasis in a false idol in terms of the timing of His Second Coming.
Of course most dispensationalists do not believe anyone could actually be “saved” through renewed temple worship except for those who believe in a “dual covenant” theology.
Dual covenant basically meaning that one did not have to believe in Christ as long as they were faithful to the Old Covenant – but this runs directly counter to the teachings of the New Testament (John 14:6; Hebrews 8:7–13). However, even the vast majority of dispensationalists reject such a belief as heretical. The question is why then would they want people to waste their time through more temple worship?
The answer is because a peculiar interpretation of Bible prophecy and their hope to see these events happen so they can be “raptured” off to heaven while those that are “left-behind” bear the brunt of God’s judgment.
There are all kinds of problems with modern day rapture theologies as well, though that is not the point of the present column.
My own view of the “end-times” best resembles the historical premillennial view (throughout church history the Church was split between amillennialism and what is now considered “historical” premillenialism) that was embraced by a large part of the church throughout church history that believes in a literal millennial reign of Christ, a literal Antichrist, a literal Second Coming etc., but not the dispensational views of Israel and the Church, the secret rapture, the rebuilt temple, etc.
I also think the contention that Christians will not endure a future tribulation runs completely contrary to Christian experience all throughout history. The saints have always been persecuted and have always had to endure struggle.
I certainly don’t claim infallibility on these matters but at this time the position being outlined seems to me the closest to Scriptural teaching.
Political Problems of a Rebuilt Temple
The most obvious problem of a rebuilt temple will be further inflammation of hostilities between Jews and Muslims.
While Lindsey’s article asserts that the actual location of the second temple was in current territory of modern-day Israel, many others believe that the temple needs to be rebuilt on top of the Dome of the Rock, which is, of course, holy Muslim land and on Muslim territory. As a result many who hold this interpretation are determined to see more wars and hostilities between Jews and Arabs to make sure that “Bible prophecy” is fulfilled.
This is a clear case of bad theology trying to determine political policy. This is not something that should be encouraged by Christians today and leaders who develop and influence public policy and opinion.
This is part of the larger issue of dispensationalism’s influence of Christian public opinion (and by extension the resulting pressure from Christian groups that affect public policy). According to the dispensationalist, modern Israel is always right and the Arabs are always wrong. Not only that but the people who make up modern Israel are “God’s chosen people” and hence can never be questioned (according to the New Testament, however, God’s chosen people are people of faith in Christ). This has lead to a very uneven and unfair approach from most modern day Christians to the problems of the Middle East. Israel certainly has a right to exist as a nation. There are good reasons to be generally supportive of Israel. But Israel is not always right, and every atrocity or bad move by today’s state of Israel is not honoring or glorifying to God. Also, the idea that we should unflinchingly support Israel in every circumstance is rooted in bad theology and the silly idea that God will curse us if we criticize Israel (a bad interpretation of Gen. 12:3).
It’s time to stop letting faulty theology influence our foreign policy. Some Christians should also stop cheerleading violence and problems in the Middle East and stop seeing any proponent of peace as being a candidate for the Antichrist.
The whole of the Biblical Scriptures and Biblical Theology strongly leans against a rebuilt third temple. The desire for a new temple is a smack in the face to the work of Christ and shows little regard or concern for the people who would be caught up in false temple worship.
Instead of showing concern for the Jewish people, this and other areas of dispensationalism simply make them pawns in a fantasy game of what appears to be fictional theology. Not only is the idea of a rebuilt temple theologically problematic, it is politically problematic and would increase tensions between Jews and Muslims. Christians should stop letting highly questionable theology guide their opinions and views of Jews and Arabs and their desired approaches to public and foreign policy.
In conclusion, I offer a friendly challenge to Mr. Lindsey or any other dispensational writer in print to rebut the claims and assertions found in this essay.
Not only does “iron sharpen iron,” but there is much at stake in our understanding of these matters. If it can be proven that I am in error then I will humbly concede that this is so. Hopefully the dispensationalist would do the same. In the meantime, let the readers decide who has the more persuasive interpretation of the Biblical text.
Bill Barnwell is a pastor in Flushing, Michigan. He spent most of his undergraduate college career studying politics and government before feeling called to the ministry. He has completed a Master of Ministries degree and is currently working towards a Master of Arts in Theological Studies degree at Bethel College in Mishawka, Indiana.