In my book, The Temple Revealed, I argue that the former location of the Jewish temple can now be known with certainty, and that the Church should support the rebuilding of the temple. But for some, the idea of Christians supporting the Jews rebuilding a temple is very controversial. Many Christians believe that God no longer has an interest in, or purpose for, a physical temple. Near the end of the book, after going through the prophetic, historical, and archaeological case for identifying its proper location, I make the scriptural case for Christians supporting the rebuilding of the temple.
I have also come across objections to supporting the rebuilding of a Jewish temple based on the metaphor used in the New Testament describing Christians as “living stones” in a new spiritual temple. The idea is that somehow this must mean that all scriptural references to a real temple, after A.D. 70, must be understood solely as metaphors that do not refer to any real structure. Since others may also have a similar question or just be unsure of what the Bible really has to say about temples in the Last Days, I thought it would be good to look at the scriptural references for temples in the Bible and then study the example of communion.
First, let’s list the seven temples found in scripture:
1. God’s eternal temple in Heaven – We see this several places in scripture (Isaiah 6:1-4, 2 Corinthians 5:1, Revelation 7:15 & 11:19). This is the place where God dwells in Heaven in unapproachable light, but after the Great White Throne judgment, it will come down to the new heaven and a new earth where believers will dwell with God as his children forevermore.
2. Solomon’s temple – The temple first built by Solomon found in 1 Kings chapters 5-9, which was built on the location shown to his father David—the threshing floor of Araunah.
3. Zerubbabel’s temple – A rebuilt temple, which was only a shadow of its former glory and is described in the book of Ezra.
4. Herod’s temple – The reconstructed and beautified temple built by Herod the Great around the time of Christ, which replaced Zerubbabel’s temple and is mentioned in Luke 21:5, John 2:20, Mark 13:1 and was also described in great detail by Flavius Josephus.
5. The Church – A temple made of living stones not built by human hands. The spiritual temple that Paul and others described in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 & 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:19-22, 1 Peter 2:5, 2 Corinthians 5:1, and Revelation 3:12, 21:9-14 & 21:22.
6. The Tribulation temple – Daniel 9:27, 11:31 & 12:11, Jeremiah 33:11, Ezekiel 43:1-4, Mathew 24:15, 2 Thessalonians 2:4, Revelation 11:1. The Bible describes that there will be a temple and sacrificial service and offerings during the time before Jesus returns to defeat the Antichrist, in accordance with the prophecy pronounced by Daniel.
7. Ezekiel’s temple/millennial temple – Ezekiel chapters 40-42 and Isaiah 2:2-3 & 66:20. After the devastation and destruction of the Tribulation, the tribulation temple will be either damaged or totally destroyed and will then be purified and repaired/rebuilt and expanded under the reign of Christ (which may also be another and final fulfillment of the 2300 mornings and evenings in Daniel 8:13-14).
Now, some might wonder why I haven’t included the tabernacle in this list. The answer is because the tabernacle was not a fixed location, but a temporary dwelling until Solomon’s temple was constructed. After the construction of the temple though, the temple became the fixed and permanent location for everything that had originally been in the tabernacle.
One could also argue that there is actually an eighth temple described in Revelation chapter 21. That might work in a Hebraic sense, since the final description of a temple would also work numerically as the “eighth” and perfect or complete temple. However, since what is described will be the unification of God’s temple in Heaven with the living stones of His children, I would argue that chapter 21 is just describing the fulfillment of the “living stones” promise.
9 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. 14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.Revelation 21:9-14 & 22
22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.
Therefore, although Christians are already called “living stones” in God’s temple, the complete fulfillment of that promise doesn’t come until after the final judgment. Since this is true, it would be a mistake to attempt to read the accounts of temples in the Tribulation and Millennium as just spiritual references to the Church. In order to show how that would be an improper understanding of scripture, I’d like to make an analogy to communion, as a hermeneutical example of why I think the passages about the temple should be read literally.
One of the more difficult teachings of Jesus is found in John 6:43-59, where he said that one must eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have eternal life. Although many at that time were offended and stopped following him because of that, we clearly understand that he was speaking metaphorically. He was teaching that believing in this death and resurrection is to partake (eat) of his flesh and blood and therefore to be saved.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”Ephesians 2:8
“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”Romans 10:9-10
Consequently, even though we know that the act of taking communion does not bring salvation, and the true reality of communion is found in the Spirit through faith in Jesus, we are still taught to practice the ordinance of communion with bread and wine (or crackers and grape juice;). We see this clearly documented in scripture (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Taking communion does not save us, it is only an earthly and physical representation of the spiritual reality of receiving salvation through belief in the name and sacrifice of Jesus.
Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.1 Corinthians 10:16-17
Now what does this have to do with a rebuilt temple? Because, just like a symbolic spiritual meaning does not invalidate the literal practice of regularly taking communion in church, it also doesn’t invalidate the testimony of scripture regarding a real physical temple at the place that God said one would stand and be a “house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7). I’m trying to show that underlying spiritual truths add meaning to the physical things mentioned in scripture, but they don’t replace or contradict the plain meaning of the text. Therefore, the physical structures and events associated with temples during the Great Tribulation and the Millennium should also be understood literally.
In conclusion, the biblical teachings about a temple in the last days can no more be spiritualized than can be the whole book of Revelation. To hold to the idea that the book of Revelation is either historical or purely metaphorical and will not have a specific temporal fulfillment, i.e. no future last days judgement of the nations on Earth, no physical return of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem, and no 1000 year reign of Christ on the Earth, etc., is to adopt an amillennial or post-millennial viewpoint, which I see as being outside of a proper understanding of Scripture.