Recent news about the arrival of five ‘unblemished’ red heifers at Tel Aviv’s International Airport in Israel has caused quite a stir among those who study end-times prophecy.
The red heifers were sent from Texas and were previously inspected by Jewish Rabbis to confirm that they were unblemished. What is interesting is that Evangelical Christians helped in the procurement of the cattle.
The Mosaic Law required an unblemished red heifer to be sacrificed for the sins of Israel outlined in Numbers 19. It involved one of the most key sacrifices associated with the Temple.
And according to a Christian website, theIsraelguys.com, the arrival of the red heifers is important prophetically because it paves the way for building the third temple in Jerusalem:
“According to rabbis and leaders in the Orthodox community, these heifers could be used to reinstate many of the practices of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, even before the 3rd Temple is rebuilt. “[…]
“At the welcoming ceremony, the small group witnessed the unloading of the heifers, recited blessings of thanksgiving, sang and danced, enjoyed a l’chaim [a toast], and even blew the shofar to celebrate this momentous occasion.”
Of course, the only thing missing at this point is the actual Temple itself. The Temple Mount (TM), an organization of Orthodox Jews, committed to seeing a third Jewish temple in Jerusalem, was behind the bringing of the red heifers to Israel.
It has already built most of the furniture needed for the temple, including the massive sacrificial altar. Priests are also being trained on how to perform the ritual sacrifices once the Temple is rebuilt.
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The only thing that TM has not constructed is the Ark of the Covenant, which was the most significant piece of furniture in the Temple, as the Presence of God rested on the Ark. In fact, the Ark of the Covenant was the reason the Temple was built.
But of course, the major hindrance to rebuilding the Temple is the Muslims, who currently control the Temple Mount, and would not allow a Jewish Temple to be built there at this point, but that could change.
Until that happens, the red heifers may be used as breeding stock, for the day that the third temple is finally built in Jerusalem.
Many Orthodox Jews and Evangelical Christians believe that God has ordained that the Jews will build a third temple.
They point to a couple of key scriptures.
There is a prophecy in Ezekiel (Ezekiel chapters 40 through 48) that speaks of a third temple, which is unlike either of the first two temples, Solomon’s or Herod’s, and suggest that it is pointing ahead to a third unbuilt temple.
Christians familiar with end-times prophecy also point to a passage in the book of Revelation, the Apostle John’s vision of the end times, which also speaks of a Temple:
11 Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there,2 but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months.” (Revelation 11:1-2 ESV)
In this passage, God commands John to measure the Temple, and it’s similar to a command given to prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 41:13) to measure the temple in his visions, suggesting these passages are connected.
But are these prophecies speaking about an actual physical third temple being built in Jerusalem or are they describing a spiritual one?
Jesus’s body is the temple
As the Jewish Messiah, the Lord’s arrival marked a significant change in the Kingdom of God.
Almost immediately we are told that Christ’s body is the Temple of God.
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple,[a] and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. (John 2:19-22 ESV)
This description of Christ’s body being the new Temple of God exposed a major flaw in Herod’s Temple. It did not contain the Ark of Covenant and the Presence of God that hovered on it, which was essentially the Temple’s reason for existing. The Ark had gone missing after the destruction of Solomon’s temple in 586 BC by the Babylonians.
In fact, the prophet Jeremiah had prophesied of the day that the Ark would disappear and people would no longer miss it (Jeremiah 3:16).
At the beginning of Christ’s ministry, we read of the Holy Spirit descending upon the Lord at his baptism (Matthew 3:16). Through this act, Christ became the new Temple of God, because Jesus contained the very presence of God.
This was then transferred to believers, and the church who because of Christ’s perfect sacrifice were also able to contain the Holy Spirit inside them and became the Temple of God (Ephesians 2:20-22).
Does the Church fulfill Ezekiel’s vision of the temple?
Another aspect that we need to realize is that the Jesus and the church fulfill many of the prophecies given about Ezekiel’s temple.
For example, we are told in that a river of water would flow out of Ezekiel’s Temple that would bring refreshment and healing to the nations (Ezekiel 47:1-12).
Jesus stood up in the Temple at the feast of Tabernacles and said anyone who believed on Him, out of them would flow rivers of living water (John 7:38). This was a reference to the Holy Spirit, but was it also a fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy about the third temple?
End of the sacrificial system
With Christ’s perfect sacrifice, the animal sacrifices are no longer needed. However, because many Orthodox Jews do not accept Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, they are convinced that the temple and its sacrifices are still necessary.
Will the Jews build a temple?
Now the bigger question is will the Jews still build a temple.
Though I can’t be dogmatic on this, I think not for a couple of reasons.
First, Jesus prophesied the destruction of Herod’s temple which took place in 70 AD (Matthew 24:1-2). As Jesus predicted, the whole site where the temple once stood in Jerusalem was stripped bare by the Romans. There was not a single stone left.
This is more significant than we realize
With Christ’s body and the church becoming the Temple of God, the old physical temple was no longer necessary and God basically ordered its destruction. It was being replaced.
Of course, this would not prevent Orthodox Jews from building a third temple. I am not completely convinced that God even wanted David and Solomon to build the first Temple, but allowed it to go ahead (2 Samuel 7:4-7).
So conceivably a third temple could be constructed, even if God doesn’t want one.
But there is an odd story in the Gospels that may suggest a third temple will not be built, and it involves a cursed fig tree.
Jesus had just cleansed the Temple in Jerusalem and decided to take the disciples to Bethany until things cooled down a bit.
On their journey, they encountered a Fig tree. Even though it was out of season, which Christ was fully aware of, the Lord searched the tree for figs. Finding none, Jesus cursed the tree, and it immediately withered and died (Matthew 21:18-21).
The next day, as Jesus and the disciples were returning to the Temple in Jerusalem, Mark noted that the fig tree was dead from its root, meaning it would never regrow back.
And Mark writes:
14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. (Mark 11:14)
What is the purpose of this story?
The sandwich theory states that if we really don’t know what the main message is in a particular story, we need to look at what took place before and after the incident.
Like a sandwich with bread on the top and the bottom, the real meat is in the middle.
Some suggest, that if we apply the sandwich theory of Bible interpretation, this story of the fig tree is about the Temple.
Because prior to the fig tree incident, Jesus had cleansed the temple (Matthew 21:12-17), and immediately after the cursing of the fig tree, we read that the Lord returned to the Temple (Matthew 21:23), where the priests confronted Jesus about the cleansing the previous day.
Since the temple was the theme before and immediately after the cursing of the fig tree, based on the sandwich theory, the fig tree is about the temple, that was cursed by Jesus and would never grow back again.
But like I said, this is just my interpretation. Time will tell.
READ: Christians weigh in on the relevance of the Red Heifer AND Red Heifers Arrive in Israel: Is it a Signal of the 3rd Temple, End Times?
How do you know that Christ figured the fig tree was out of season in Matthew 21:19? I would think He wouldn’t curse it unless he expected it to have figs on it at that time. He must have expected this tree to still be yielding fruit.
Possibly. But if the fig tree was a picture of the Temple, it should have been bearing fruit at all times. After Jesus saw the corruption taking place in the temple, He cleansed it and if the fig tree is symbolic of the Temple, the Lord cursed it and ended it.
I live in an area where agriculture is a big part of the economy. I suspect that nearly everyone born here knows when the wheat harvest takes place. It’s common knowledge. Israel was a much more agrarian society than any we have today, and I suspect that the harvest dates were equally well-known.
I believe this story involving the fig tree was really about the Temple.