If Judaism ever builds a new Temple in Jerusalem, what attitude should followers of Jesus have toward it? In short, we should ignore it. A new Jewish Temple in Jerusalem won’t have any positive supernatural meaning for New Covenant believers or anyone else, and here’s why …
Since the time when Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem was burned to the ground by the Romans in 70 CE, there have been only two serious attempts to rebuild a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount where it was originally located.
Some claim in error that the Jews under Bar Kochba regained Jerusalem from the Romans and began to rebuild the Temple, but there is no documented evidence that Bar Kochba ever captured the city of Jerusalem itself. When Bar Kochba was defeated and killed in 135 CE, the emperor Hadrian ordered that the Jewish city of Jerusalem be destroyed completely and renamed Aelia Capitolina. The Temple Mount platform was leveled and plowed under, leaving no visible remnant of Herod’s Temple in place (the Temple building itself had been destroyed by Titus and his Roman legions in 70 CE). If you recall, Jesus had foretold it would be so, prophesying in 30 CE, “See ye not all these things? [the Temple buildings] Verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:2)
In 313 CE, Christianity was legalized in the Roman Empire by the emperor Constantine I. His mother Helena soon thereafter made Jerusalem a pilgrimage site for Christians. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, supposedly the location where Jesus was crucified and buried, became the focal point of pilgrimage worship in Jerusalem, while the nearby Temple Mount remained desolate and forgotten. Twenty-three years after the death of Constantine, his nephew Julian, known to history as Julian the Apostate, was installed as the last non-Christian ruler of the Roman Empire. During his reign from 360-363 CE, Julian actively encouraged the return of the Roman people to pagan Hellenism and forcefully rejected the teachings of Christianity. He wrote a number of blasphemous treatises whose sole purpose was to convince his subjects that the Christian religion was nothing but a hoax.
Julian is important in Jewish history because, in a deliberate attempt to diminish the influence of Christianity in the empire, he showed favor to the Jews. In 363 CE, Julian commanded the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, the first serious attempt to rebuild it after its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE The fourth-century historian Ammianus Marcellinus, in his Roman History 23.1.1-3, offered the following account:
“To pass over minute details, these were the principal events of the year. But Julian, who in his third consulship had taken as his colleague Sallustius, the prefect of Gaul, now entered on his fourth year [363 CE], and by a novel arrangement took as his colleague a private individual; an act of which no one recollected an instance since that of Diocletian and Aristobulus. And although, foreseeing in his anxious mind the various accidents that might happen, he urged on with great diligence all the endless preparations necessary for his expedition, yet distributing his diligence everywhere; and being eager to extend the recollection of his reign by the greatness of his exploits, he proposed to rebuild at a vast expense the once magnificent temple of Jerusalem, which after many deadly contests was with difficulty taken by Vespasian and Titus, who succeeded his father in the conduct of the siege. And he assigned the task to Alypius of Antioch, who had formerly been proprefect of Britain. But though Alypius [as manager of construction on site in Jerusalem] applied himself vigorously to the work, and though the governor of the province co-operated with him, fearful balls of fire burst forth with continual eruptions close to the foundations, burning several of the workmen and making the spot altogether inaccessible. And thus the very elements, as if by some fate, repelling the attempt, it was laid aside.”
That first attempt to rebuild the Jewish Temple was halted by a severe earthquake centered in the Galilee, followed by mysterious fire erupting from excavations on the Temple Mount mentioned above. A month later, Julian the Apostate died in battle against the Sassanid Persians and construction on the Temple was abandoned without anything of substance ever being built.
After the failed attempt by Julian, only one more serious attempt to rebuild the Temple would be made, that being an aborted attempt made by the Babylonian mystic Nehemiah ben Hushiel in 614 CE. (and if you have never heard of him, don’t be surprised; Christianity has had a bad habit of thinking only in terms of what has happened in the church, neglecting the events and figures of Jewish history that are important to a correct understanding of the prophecies in Daniel, for instance). That second attempt actually had its beginning a dozen years earlier in 602 CE, when the Byzantine emperor Maurice, who had helped establish Chosroes II on the Sassanid throne in Persia, was killed in a palace coup in Constantinople. The young Sassanid king, using the murder of Maurice as a pretext to break the peace treaty between Byzantine Rome and Persia that had been signed before the death of Maurice, attacked the Byzantine provinces in Asia Minor, the area known today as Turkey.
From 605-613 CE, the Sassanid armies of Chosroes captured the important Byzantine cities of Dara, Amida, Edesa, Hierapolis, Aleppo, Apamea, Caesarea, and Damascus, plus all of the surrounding provincial territories. Emboldened by his relatively easy victories, Chosroes declared a holy war against Byzantine Christianity, and boasted that he would extend the empire and its Zoroastrian religion even beyond the far-flung boundaries that had existed under Darius III a thousand years earlier.
Pausing in Damascus on his campaign to annex Egypt, Chosroes made a strategic political decision that was designed to weaken the Byzantine defenses in Judea, through which he had to pass to invade Egypt. He appointed the son of the Jewish Exilarch in Babylon, a mystic named Nehemiah ben Hushiel, as nominal head of his armies, although his general Shahrbaraz, known as “the king’s boar,” actually led the invasion.
The Jews in the land of Israel rallied behind the invading army of Chosroes, who was considered by many Jews to be a “second Cyrus” who would return them back to self-governance and restore their Temple in Jerusalem. They had been treated harshly by the Byzantine Christians for more than three-hundred years and were eager for a change of regime. With the help of thousands of Jewish citizens inside its walls, Jerusalem was captured by the Persians in 614 CE, and a massacre ensued. Centuries of hatred and resentment were unleashed against the Christian populace, holy sites, and clerics. Zechariah, bishop of Jerusalem, and the “true cross” relic were carried captive back to the Persian capital.
After taking the city, Chosroes II established Nehemiah ben Hushiel, son of the Exilarch in Babylon and figurehead commander of the Persian army during the invasion, as governor in Jerusalem. Ben Hushiel governed the city with a twelve-man “council of the righteous,” exercising political and religious authority. Soon after being installed as governor of Judea, he began making preparations for rebuilding the Temple, and he also began sorting out genealogies in anticipation of resuming the priesthood. However, ben Hushiel was killed by a mob of rioting Christian youths only a few months after being appointed governor. Chosroes, needing to placate the city’s anti-Jewish Christian majority, appointed a Christian governor to replace ben Hushiel and banned Jews from approaching within three miles of the city gates, dashing all hopes for a rebuilt Temple.
In 628 CE, Jerusalem was recaptured by the new Roman emperor Heraclius, whereupon thousands of Persians and Jews were killed in the process as the city reverted to Byzantine rule. To ensure that the Temple Mount remained ritually inpure for Jews, the Christian majority in Jerusalem began using the Temple Mount and site of the Temple as a garbage dump and sewer. Christian women even resorted to sending soiled mentrual cloths from as far away as Constantinople and Rome to be deposited on the holy site.
In the year 638 CE, Caliph Omar, leading the armies of Islam as they expanded into the lands of the Byzantine Empire, accepted the surrender of the city of Jerusalem. Ironically, it was the Muslim Omar and not the Catholic Bishop of Jerusalem Sophronius who revered the Temple Mount area as a most holy place, as indicated by this account of Omar’s first visit to Jerusalem recorded by the Muslim historian Mujīr al-Dīn al-’Ulaymī (b. 1456):
“When ‘Umar reached the old ruined gates of the Temple he was horrified to see the filth, ‘which was then all about the holy sanctuary, had settled on the steps of the gates so that it even came out into the streets in which the gate opened, and it had accumulated so greatly as almost to reach up to the ceiling of the gateway.’ The only way to get up to the platform was to crawl on hands and knees. Sophronius went first and the Muslims struggled up behind. When they arrived at the top, the Muslims gazed appalled at the vast and desolate expanse of Herod’s platform, still covered with piles of fallen masonry and garbage. The shock of this sad encounter with the holy place whose fame had reached them in far-off Arabia was never forgotten: Muslims claimed that they called Anastasis al-qumamah, ‘the Dungheap,’ in retaliation for the impious behavior of the Christians on the Temple Mount. ‘Umar does not seem to have spent any time on this occasion examining the [Sakhrah] rock, which would later play such an important part in Islamic piety. Once he had taken stock of the situation, he threw handfuls of dung and rubble into his cloak and then hurled it over the city wall into the Valley of Hinnom. Immediately his followers did the same.”
A few decades after the conquest of Jerusalem by Omar and his Muslim army in 638 CE, his successors built the Al-Aqsa Mosque, recognizable today by its silver-gray dome on the southern end of the Temple Mount platform, and, to its north, they built a shrine, the (now golden) Dome of the Rock. The latter was purposefully erected over the rock presumed to be the exact spot where the Jewish Temple’s Holy of Holies was once located, and the dome’s inner surface was purposefully adorned with anti-Christian Arabic inscriptions denying that Jesus is the Son of God (1 John 2:22). Those acts were meant to proclaim to the world that Islam had superseded both Judaism and Christianity as the one true monotheistic religion.
After more than thirteen centuries, the Dome of the Rock, with its blasphemous anti-Christian inscriptions prominently displayed for all to see (and, in ignorance, most Christian leaders who lead tours to Israel often visit the Dome and marvel at the beauty of those Arabic inscriptions that deny the Sonship of Jesus), continues to desecrate the sacred Temple Mount site, and it will probably continue to do so “even until the consummation” as indicated in Daniel 9:27.
The events surrounding the second attempt by Jews to rebuild the Temple are described in Daniel 11:36-45, a portion of Danielic prophecy incorrectly assigned to the future by many Daniel expositors but already fulfilled, as the historical record clearly shows insomuch as the events in that period of history exactly agree with the events described in the biblical text. The key to understanding Daniel 11:36-45 is not found in describing future events but instead by examining events that have already happened in history as described in Daniel 11:42-43, “He shall enter also into the glorious land, and many countries shall be overthrown: but these shall escape out of his hand, even Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon. He shall stretch forth his hand also upon the countries: and the land of Egypt shall not escape. But he shall have power over the treasures of gold and of silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt: and the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall be at his steps.”
Those verses describe a king that will conquer Egypt after coming through the land of Israel, and will approach near to both Libya and Ethiopia. Fortunately, from the standpoint of identifying the king, there have been only a few conquerors of Egypt since the time of Antiochus IV., the period of history at which the prophecy in verse 35 left off. Looking at Egyptian history after that period, there is only one king who came down through the land of Israel and conquered all of Egypt, then made military excursions into both Libya and Ethiopia that are documented in the historical record. That king is Chosroes II Parvez, the twenty-second king of the Sassanid Persian Empire, who reigned from 590-628 CE. He is the one who fulfilled the prophecy, not some future Jewish antichrist as some of the more flamboyant old-school “Daniel experts” incorrectly propose.
What about the prospect of the Jews building a “Third Jewish Temple” in Jerusalem that occupies so much of Christian eschatological thinking? It shouldn’t matter one way or another to those of us who believe the Scriptures. The only true Temple of God that matters was begun in 30 CE with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit to indwell believers who place their faith in the atonement achieved by Jesus, and that Temple is still under construction at the present time. Both Jesus and Paul told us so, as recorded in the Scriptures.
In John 2:18-22, Jesus said, “Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body. When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.”
In Matthew 21:42, Jesus further taught that he was the cornerstone of the new Temple. saying “Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?“
In 1 Corinthians 3:16, Paul reminded us by saying, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” And, Paul also wrote in Ephesians 2:19-22, saying “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.“
In the time before the appearance of Jesus in Israel, the heart of the Jewish people was the Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Their relationship with God was centered on the Temple, its priesthood, and its sacrifices. The prophet Ezekiel had revealed during the exile that God would one day replace that “Jewish heart” made of stone with a heart of flesh, prophesying “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26) And, that’s what happened in history. The Temple of stone was destroyed in 70 CE, but forty years before that happened Jesus had been crucified and raised from the dead after three days to become the cornerstone of the new Temple, as Jesus had said he would do, thus becoming the heart of flesh promised to Israel by Ezekiel. On the Day of Pentecost in 30 CE the Holy Spirit was sent by Jesus to indwell those who had faith (and would have faith in the future) in the atonement with God achieved by him for the purpose of building the holy Temple of flesh on that foundation, again exactly as the Scriptures had promised.
If a new Temple is ever erected on the Temple Mount, and a system of Aaronic/Levitical priests and sacrifices or some substitute system representing the Mosaic Law and denying the New Covenant confirmed by Jesus is instituted, it will be an expression of the spirit of antichrist, as are the Muslim Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque that presently occupy that space.
New Covenant believers—Jews and Gentiles alike—should not waste time looking for a new Jewish Temple of stone to be built in Jerusalem. Any such temple built apart from recognizing Jesus as the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God will be exhibiting the spirit of anti-Christ, as explained in 1 John 2:22. We know that the true Temple of God is Jesus and his Church composed of Jews and Gentiles indwelt by the Holy Spirit and reaching out to the uttermost parts of the Earth. Instead of devoting our energies to speculating about the Jews in Israel building a third Jewish Temple, we are commanded to go about the business of building God’s Temple by sharing the Gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus with everyone on Earth, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.