The people of Israel have built two temples to God in Jerusalem, and both have been destroyed. What does the Bible say about a third temple?
The temple of God in Jerusalem is a major theme in Bible history and prophecy. Since the second temple was destroyed in A.D. 70 and the temple currently does not exist in Jerusalem, many students of Bible prophecy wonder when it will be rebuilt.
Because the Bible prophesies that end-time sacrifices will be halted (Daniel 12:11), many conclude the temple must be rebuilt before that can happen. What does the Bible say about the third temple and when it might be built?
To really understand the third temple, it is helpful to understand the history and significance of the first two temples in Jerusalem.
History of the temple
The first stationary abode built to honor the God of the Bible originated with King David of Israel. As “the king said to Nathan the prophet, ‘See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells inside tent curtains’” (2 Samuel 7:2).
Although God had directed the Israelites to build Him a tabernacle—a tent that could easily be moved as they journeyed through the wilderness (Exodus 25-26)—He had not asked them to build Him “a house of cedar” (2 Samuel 7:7).
God was obviously pleased with David’s desire but did not permit David to build a permanent building for Him. Instead of allowing David to build Him a house, God promised David that He would make David a “house”—meaning that David’s throne would be established forever—and that David’s son would build a “house” for God’s name (verses 11-13).
As promised by God, one of David’s sons, Solomon, built “the house of the LORD” (1 Kings 6:1). This temple was located on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem and is commonly referred to as Solomon’s temple.
Upon completion, this temple became the center of religious worship in Israel. It lasted about 400 years from its construction during the reign of Solomon to its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. (2 Kings 25:9).
Where is the Temple Mount located?
Where was Solomon’s temple built? It was built on the Temple Mount, a leveled area of approximately 36 acres on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. This area has a rich history. It was where Abraham was told to go to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22:2, 14).
Many years later, following his sinful order to take a census of the Israelite people, King David purchased a threshing floor located on this site from Ornan. After sacrificing to God from this location and being answered there by God, David said, “This is the house of the LORD God, and this is the altar of burnt offering for Israel” (1 Chronicles 21:18-30; 22:1).
When Solomon began building the temple that bears his name, it was “at Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David, at the place that David had prepared on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite” (2 Chronicles 3:1).
Jerusalem is also called Zion, and this location was specifically chosen by God. He “desired it for His dwelling place” (Psalm 132:13). It is where God said He would put His name “forever” (2 Kings 21:7; 2 Chronicles 33:7).
The second temple
After 70 years of captivity in the Babylonian Empire, the Jews, via a decree by King Cyrus, were allowed to return to Jerusalem and begin rebuilding the temple. God had prophesied this many years before Cyrus was even born. Isaiah 44:28 records a prophecy of God, “Who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd, and he shall perform all My pleasure, saying to Jerusalem, “You shall be built,” and to the temple, “Your foundation shall be laid.”’”
Although the Jews began working on the temple almost immediately after their return, opposition by neighboring peoples and a laxness among the Jews themselves hindered the construction.
Through Haggai the prophet, God admonished the Jews to finish the project. “Then the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, saying, ‘Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?’” (Haggai 1:3-4).
Finally, in approximately 515 B.C. the temple was rebuilt on the same site on which it had previously stood.
Many sources, such as the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, refer to this second temple as the temple of Zerubbabel (article, “Temple”), the “governor of Judah” (Haggai 1:1) who helped coordinate its construction (Ezra 3:8; 5:2).
This temple was standing when Jesus came to earth as a human, although it had undergone major renovations by King Herod. After these renovations, it was referred to as Herod’s temple. Altogether this building stood for almost 600 years until its destruction by the Romans in A.D. 70.
For additional information about the location of the temple and the history of the first and second temples, see the article “Temple Mount: Its History and Future.”
A third temple?
Since a temple has been such an important fixture in the history of the ancient Israelites (and especially the Jews, who are also Israelites), many have wondered what the Bible says about a third temple.
While the biblical texts are not always as explicit as we would like, there are three scriptural indications of another temple. Two of these represent a literal temple; the third is symbolic.
Indication No. 1: sacrifices will resume
Based on prophecies in the book of Daniel about sacrifices coming to a close at the end of this age of man and of an end-time abomination of desolation, some believe the Jews will build another temple in Jerusalem prior to the return of Jesus Christ to earth.
Daniel 8:9-14 speaks of “a little horn” that will cause “the daily sacrifices” to cease. This “little horn” was Antiochus Epiphanes, who was a type of a false, end-time religious power that will be aligned with a civil power called the beast. For additional information on this “little horn,” see the articles “Daniel 7: Four Beasts and a Little Horn” and “Antichrist.”
Set in the context of end-time events, Daniel 12:11 again speaks of “the daily sacrifice” being taken away. These passages in Daniel that speak of sacrifices coming to a close lead some to conclude that a temple will be built in connection with the altar upon which these sacrifices will be offered.
While it is possible that the Jews will build another temple before the return of Christ (there are already people dedicated to fulfilling this expectation), it is also possible that the Jews will begin offering sacrifices on an altar without building a temple. ...In addition to these passages in Daniel, Jesus spoke of an end-time “abomination of desolation” that would stand “in the holy place” prior to His return (Matthew 24:15). Some believe the phrase “holy place” means there will be another temple, although this phrase could also simply refer to the altar on the Temple Mount.
The building of a third temple by the Jews on the Temple Mount is currently shrouded in uncertainty and is a focal point of Arab-Israeli conflict. An Islamic shrine called the Dome of the Rock currently sits on the site of the second temple. Another Islamic structure, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, also sits on the Temple Mount.
Although the area has been controlled by Israel since 1967, the administration of the site is under Jordanian custodianship, and Arabs vehemently oppose any building of a Jewish temple on this historic location. Muslims call the mount al-Haram al-Sharif, meaning “Noble Sanctuary,” and believe that it is the site from which Muhammad went to heaven.
While it is possible that the Jews will build another temple before the return of Christ (there are already people dedicated to fulfilling this expectation), it is also possible that the Jews will begin offering sacrifices on an altar without building a temple, as was done prior to the construction of the second temple (Ezra 3:1-6).
Indication No. 2: Ezekiel’s vision
Ezekiel 40-48 clearly speaks of a temple that would be built. But determining when this occurs has proven to be difficult. If it is referring to the Millennium, the 1,000-year reign of Christ after He returns to earth, why are animal sacrifices to be offered once again (Ezekiel 40:38-43) when Christ offered Himself “once for all” (Hebrews 7:27)?
Some think these chapters in Ezekiel look back to Solomon’s temple. But since Ezekiel’s vision of the temple (Ezekiel 40:1) came after the destruction of Solomon’s temple, others have assumed that Ezekiel’s vision was instruction from God for the building of the second temple or Herod’s rebuilding of it. Another view is that these chapters are allegorical representations of the Church.
But these historical views are obviously incorrect. As The Expositor’s Bible Commentary explains: “The historical fulfillments do not fit the details of the passage. The temples of Solomon, Zerubbabel, or Herod do not share the design and dimensions of the temple described in Ezekiel 40-42. The worship procedure set forth in chapters 43-46, though Mosaic in nature, has not been followed in history in exactly the manner described in these chapters. The river that flows forth from the temple in 47:1-12 has never flowed from any of the three historical temples mentioned above. The only comparisons to this river are seen in Genesis 2:8-14 and Revelation 22:1-2 (cf. Isa 35:6-7; Joel 3:18; Zech 14:8).
“The geographical dimensions and tribal allotments of the land are certainly not feasible today, nor have they ever been followed in times past. Geographical changes will be necessary prior to the fulfillment of chapters 45, 47-48. Therefore one would not look to historical (past or present) fulfillments of these chapters but to the future” (comments on Ezekiel 40:1–48:35).
The allegorical interpretation also fails to adequately explain these passages.
As The Expositor’s Bible Commentary further notes: “The figurative or ‘spiritualizing’ interpretative approach does not seem to solve any of the problems of Ezekiel 40-48; it tends to create new ones. … To interpret these chapters in any manner other than a normal, literal approach would appear to contradict the interpretative guide in the vision who warns Ezekiel that he is to write down all the minute details concerning the plan for the temple and its regulations so that these details might be considered carefully and followed in every aspect (40:4; 43:10-11; 44:5; cf. Exod 25:9; 1 Chronicles 28:19). Therefore a figurative approach does not adequately treat the issues of Ezekiel 40-48” (ibid.).
The best interpretation seems to be that these chapters of Ezekiel are describing a temple that will be built during the Millennium for Israel, a nation that will no longer be divided into two kingdoms (Ezekiel 37:22). The setting is when God’s Spirit will be poured out on the house of Israel and when God will “dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever” (Ezekiel 39:29; 43:7).
Another indication of this millennial temple is found in Zechariah 14:21, which says, “Yes, every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holiness to the LORD of hosts. Everyone who sacrifices shall come and take them and cook in them” (emphasis added throughout).
Although we aren’t told why animal sacrifices will resume in the Millennium, it appears that they will indeed take place at least for a while and will be associated with a physical temple.
Indication No. 3: a spiritual temple
As we have already seen, an allegorical interpretation does not fit Ezekiel 40-48. Yet there are several references in the New Testament to the people of God being a spiritual temple. It is interesting that this symbolic explanation was given even as the physical temple of Zerubbabel and Herod continued to exist.
To members of the Church of God at Corinth Paul wrote: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).
Instructing the brethren to avoid sexual immorality, Paul further wrote: “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19).
In 2 Corinthians 6:16 Paul again told the Corinthians, “You are the temple of the living God.” And in Ephesians 2:21 he spoke of members of the Church growing into “a holy temple in the Lord.”
Building on this symbolism of how we can be the temple of God, Paul explained that God had said, “I will dwell in them” (2 Corinthians 6:16). This occurs via the Holy Spirit residing in us after we repent of our sins and are baptized. Having Christ in us is our “hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27), and it is how we can be the temple of God.
Significance of a third temple for us
While the spiritual temple spoken of by Paul is already being built and a physical temple will exist during the Millennium, it remains to be seen whether the Jews will build another physical temple prior to the return of Jesus Christ. In terms of importance, being part of God’s spiritual temple is by far the most important endeavor we can undertake.
To stay abreast of prophetic trends and God’s expectations of those who are becoming part of His spiritual temple, we encourage you to request your free online subscriptions to Discern magazine and the Life, Hope & Truth Weekly Newsletter.
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To learn more about the Middle East, be sure to read the articles in this section on the “Middle East in Bible Prophecy.”