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Does the rebuilding of a temple in Jerusalem hinge on a red heifer?

heifer-red-foter-RobertScarthThe recent discovery of a one-year-old red heifer in America has Orthodox Jews buzzing about the possible rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.

The Romans destroyed the last Jewish Temple in 70 AD. Its destruction was actually prophesied by Jesus (Mark 13:1-4).

It was the Jew’s third temple, the first having been constructed by Solomon and destroyed in 586 BC by the Babylonians (2 Kings 25:9). The second was built during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah and it fell into disrepair. The last version of the temple was re-built by Herod in 19 BC.

However, the Jews have always believed a third or fourth temple (depending on how you look at the previous two) would be constructed because of a prophecy by Ezekiel describing a yet un-built temple (Ezekiel 40:2f). Many Christians believe the temple will be built during Jesus thousand-year reign because its construction takes place after the destruction of Gog (Ezekiel 38-39).

Though a Muslim mosque sits on the temple mound in Jerusalem, some Jews suggest there would be room for a Jewish Temple on the site in addition to the mosque, considered the third most important site among Muslims.

The red heifer sacrifice

With the discovery of a perfect red heifer, there is excitement building among orthodox Jews about the possible rebuilding of the temple.

One of the requirements of the service in the temple was the sacrifice of an unblemished “red heifer”:

Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 2 “This is the statute of the law which the Lord has commanded, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel that they bring you an unblemished red heifer in which is no defect and on which a yoke has never been placed. (Numbers 19:1-2 NASV)

Aside from no physical defects, the Jews interpreted unblemished to mean the heifer must be perfectly red. Perfectly red heifers are extremely rare.

According to Jewish tradition only nine perfect red heifers have been found between the time of Moses and destruction of the last temple in 70 AD. In 2000, a red heifer was rejected because it had two black hairs.

Some orthodox Jews believe the appearance of an unblemished red heifer would be a sign God wants the fourth temple constructed as a red heifer sacrifice is a necessary for priests to work in the temple..

Though an unblemished red heifer was recently found it is still no guarantee it will meet the standard. The heifer must be three years old when it is sacrificed and unblemished red heifers have changed color in the past before coming of age.

During the three-year wait period, the heifer is cared for and kept from work including carrying anything on its back as simple as cloth.

The purpose of the red heifer

In the Old Testament, at three years of age the red heifer was sacrificed and then burnt on the Mount of Olives. This meant it was the only animal sacrificed outside the camp.  Its ashes were then mixed with water (water of remission) and sprinkled on priests cleansing them for work in the temple.

Priests who had touched a dead body (human or animal) were not allowed to enter the temple. Since eating meat would essentially make a priest unclean for temple work, this was the only sacrifice that could sufficiently cleanse them for service.

Isaiah 1:18, which describes our sins as scarlet, refer to this sacrifice:

“Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They will be like wool. (Isaiah 1:18 NASV)

When the priests burned the ‘red heifer, “scarlet material” was thrown into the fire which would mix with the ashes of the heifer (Numbers 19:6).

Christians believe Jesus fulfilled the sacrifices required by the law bringing them to an end. In fact, the writer of Hebrews specifically refers to Jesus fulfilling the “Red Heifer” sacrifice:

For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:13-14 NASV)

The Temple Institute makes preparations

Jerusalem’s Temple Institute is making preparations to transport the red heifer to Israel and care for the animal until it turns three. The Institute will also begin the process of training priests for this rarely used sacrifice.



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