Sunday, August 25, 2019

Why I believe there’s going to be a future “abomination of desolation” in a rebuilt Jewish temple (Part One)


According to the belief of many Christians (e.g., those who belong to the Roman Catholic Church and many mainline Protestant denominations), God’s covenant people, Israel, have no further prophesied role to play in God’s redemptive plan, and have no distinct expectation or eonian destiny apart from that which belongs to the ecclesia which is [Christ's] body (Eph. 1:22). I think this view is mistaken, and have written several articles in refutation of it (see, for example, my four-part study, God’s Covenant People,” as well as the related, follow-up articles I posted on my blog during the months of October and November in 2018). God’s numerous promises to Israel throughout Scripture – as well as Paul’s words in Romans 11 – completely refute the “replacement theology” (or “supersessionism”) that has, unfortunately, been affirmed by many Christians throughout “church history.”

In connection with the view defended in the articles referred to above, the position for which I’m going to be arguing in this study is that, at some point in the future (quite possibly the near future, but definitely before this present eon ends), a third Jewish temple is going to be built in Jerusalem. And in conjunction with the rebuilding of the Jewish temple, I believe that Israel’s sacrificial system is going to be reinstated. However, at some point after the construction of this future temple has been completed (perhaps very soon after), the regular sacrifices that will have been taking place are going to be caused to stop, and an object that Christ referred to as the “abomination of desolation” (Matthew 24:15) is going to be set up “in the holy place.”

I want to make it clear that my main reasons for holding to this admittedly controversial position are not based on current political/religious events and developments taking place in Israel or the rest of the world (and depending on who you ask, things may or may not be seen as moving in a direction that makes the construction of a third temple in the near future likely). Instead, my belief that a third (as well as a fourth) Jewish temple is going to be built at some future time is based primarily on my understanding of scriptural prophecy. Thus, it is to scripture – rather than to current world events – that I will be appealing in defense of my position.[1]

The Fourth (and Final) Jewish Temple

Although the third temple that I believe is going to be constructed in the city of Jerusalem before Christ returns will be the last Jewish temple to exist during this “present wicked eon” (which will end at the time of Christ’s return), it won’t, I don’t think, be the last Jewish temple to be constructed in Israel. Around the time of Christ’s return, I believe that the third temple – which, I will argue, will be desecrated by the setting up of the “abomination of desolation” approximately 3 ½ years before Christ’s return – is ultimately going to be destroyed. And at some point after the kingdom has been restored to Israel (and Christ has begun to reign over the earth), I believe that a fourth and final temple is going to be constructed in the restored city of Jerusalem.[2]

Before I begin my defense of the position that a fourth Jewish temple is going to be constructed after Christ’s return, I think it would be worthwhile to point out the fact that the eonian expectation that will involve a rebuilt temple in the land of Israel (as well as the reinstatement of Israel’s sacrificial system) does not belong to those who are part of that company of saints that Paul referred to as “the body of Christ” and “the ecclesia which is [Christ’s] body.” In contrast with the eonian expectation that belongs to those constituting “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16), we who are in the body of Christ will not, during the eon to come, be “reigning on the earth” as “a kingdom and priests to [Christ’s] God and Father” (Rev. 1:6; 5:10; cf. 20:4-6), or dwelling in “the citadel of the saints and the beloved city” that we find referred to in Revelation 20:9. Rather, our eonian allotment will be “in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1-9; Phil. 3:20) and “among the celestials” (Eph. 1:3; 2:6; cf. 1:20). Rather than receiving an allotment in the kingdom that is to be restored to Israel after Christ returns to earth, the kingdom of God in which we will be enjoying our eonian life – i.e., the kingdom of God in which “flesh and blood is not able to enjoy an allotment” (1 Cor. 15:50-53) – will be the Lord’s “celestial kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:18).

With this important distinction between Israel and the body of Christ kept in mind, let’s now consider some important prophecies concerning the restoration of the kingdom to Israel (since it is only after this has taken place that I believe the fourth temple will be constructed). In Acts 1:6-8, we find a fascinating exchange between Christ and his disciples in which they refer to this future restoration:

Those, indeed, then, who are coming together, asked Him, saying, “Lord, art Thou at this time restoring the kingdom to Israel?” Yet He said to them, “Not yours is it to know times or eras which the Father placed in His own jurisdiction. But you shall be obtaining power at the coming of the holy spirit on you, and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem and in entire Judea and Samaria, and as far as the limits of the earth.”

Here we find that, forty days after the disciples had received instruction from the risen Christ concerning the kingdom of God (Acts 1:1-3), they believed that Christ was going to be “restoring the kingdom to Israel.” In fact, the question they asked Christ shortly before his ascension suggests that this was the very subject on which Christ had been instructing them during the past forty days. Notice that Christ doesn’t say anything to correct their belief that he was going to restore the kingdom to Israel, or tell them they were mistaken for believing this. He simply told them that it was not theirs “to know times or eras which the Father placed in his own jurisdiction.”

Christ’s response to his disciples implies that he is going to restore the kingdom to Israel, but that it was simply not God’s will for them to know when this time would come (thus, we read elsewhere that the “day of the Lord” – i.e., the prophesied period of divine indignation that will prepare the earth for the restoration of the kingdom to Israel – will come “as a thief in the night”; see 1 Thess. 5:1-3; cf. 2 Pet. 3:10). To their surprise, the restoration of the kingdom to Israel was not going to happen immediately. Instead, Christ was going to ascend to heaven, sit down “at the right hand of God,” and remain there for an indefinite period of time (in the meantime, Christ’s apostles would be empowered to do important evangelistic work in his absence).

Now, in conjunction with what Christ had been personally teaching his disciples on the subject of the kingdom of God, there are a number of prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures that the disciples likely had in mind when they asked Christ whether he was at that time restoring the kingdom to Israel. For example, in Ezekiel 37:21-28 (cf. 36:24-31) we read the following concerning this kingdom:

Thus says my Lord Yahweh:  Behold, I shall take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will convene them from all around and bring them to their own ground. I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel, and one king shall be king for them all. They shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they be divided into two kingdoms any longer. They shall not defile themselves any longer with their idol clods, with their abominations and with all their transgressions. I will save them from all their backslidings in which they have sinned and will cleanse them. They will become My people, and I Myself shall become their Elohim.

My servant David will be king over them, and there shall come to be one shepherd for them all. They shall walk in My ordinances and observe My statutes, and they will do them. Thus they will dwell on the land that I gave to My servant Jacob, in which your fathers dwelt; they will dwell on it, they and their sons and their sons’ sons throughout the eon, and David My servant will be their prince for the eon. I will contract with them a covenant of peace; It shall come to be an eonian covenant with them; I will establish them and increase them; I will put My sanctuary in their midst for the eon, And My tabernacle will be over them. Thus I will become their Elohim, And they shall become My people. Then the nations will know that I, Yahweh, am hallowing Israel When My sanctuary comes to be in their midst for the eon.

From these passages it’s evident that the land promised to Israel (the boundaries of which are specified in Numbers 34:1-15 and elsewhere) will constitute the geographical territory of the kingdom that is to be restored to Israel. We also find that God’s servant, David, will reign as king over the restored nation. Finally, we’re told that God’s “sanctuary” will be “in their midst for the eon.” That this “sanctuary” refers to a magnificent temple that will exist in the land of Israel during the eon to come is evident from the last nine chapters of Ezekiel, where we find God’s detailed instructions for the construction of this future temple (including its dimensions, parts and contents).

Ezekiel wasn’t the only prophet to refer to this future temple. Other references to the temple that will exist in the land of Israel during the eon to come are as follows:

The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of Yahweh shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem. Isaiah 2:1-3 (cf. Micah 4:1-5)

The glory of Lebanon shall come to you, the cypress, the plane, and the pine, to beautify the place of my sanctuary, and I will make the place of my feet glorious. Isaiah 60:13

And in that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the streambeds of Judah shall flow with water; and a fountain shall come forth from the house of Yahweh and water the Valley of Shittim. Joel 3:18 

And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says Yahweh of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares Yahweh of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says Yahweh of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares Yahweh of hosts. Haggai 2:7-9

In addition to the consistent prophetic references to a future temple existing in the geopolitical territory of Israel during the eon to come, the inclusion of such a staggering number of details concerning this temple that we find in Ezekiel 40-48 constitutes, I believe, a sufficient and conclusive refutation of the view that the temple referred to in these passages should be understood figuratively/allegorically. Significantly, in Ezekiel 40:4 we read that the prophet was told to “declare to the house of Israel everything you see.” We also read that Israel was told to “keep its whole design and all its ordinances, and perform them” (43:11). These and other similar instructions echo the words of Exodus 25:8-9 (which concern the creation of the tabernacle in accord with the pattern Moses saw on the mountain). There is simply no good reason to believe that the temple prophesied in Ezekiel and elsewhere will be any less literal than was the tabernacle which God, through the mediation of Moses, instructed Israel to make.

What about future animal sacrifices?

Along with the immense number of details that we find revealed in the closing chapters of Ezekiel concerning the temple that will exist in Israel during the eon to come, we’re also provided with details concerning the different types, characteristics and purposes of the animal sacrifices that will be performed at this time (Ezekiel 40:38-43; 42:13; 43:18-27; 45:15-25; 46:2-15; 46:20-24). Consider the following examples:

“And on the day that he goes into the Holy Place, into the inner court, to minister in the Holy Place, he shall offer his sin offering, declares the Lord Yahweh. This shall be their inheritance: I am their inheritance: and you shall give them no possession in Israel; I am their possession. They shall eat the grain offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering, and every devoted thing in Israel shall be theirs. Ezek. 44:27-29

“Thus says the Lord Yahweh: In the first month, on the first day of the month, you shall take a bull from the herd without blemish, and purify the sanctuary. The priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering and put it on the doorposts of the temple, the four corners of the ledge of the altar, and the posts of the gate of the inner court.” Ezek. 45:18-19

“Thus says the Lord Yahweh: The gate of the inner court that faces east shall be shut on the six working days, but on the Sabbath day it shall be opened, and on the day of the new moon it shall be opened. The prince shall enter by the vestibule of the gate from outside, and shall take his stand by the post of the gate. The priests shall offer his burnt offering and his peace offerings, and he shall worship at the threshold of the gate. Then he shall go out, but the gate shall not be shut until evening.” Ezek. 46:1-2

Other references to animal sacrifices taking place during the eon to come can be found in Isaiah 56:6-7; Isaiah 60:7, 13; Isaiah 66:19-21; Jeremiah 33:17-18; and Zechariah 14:19-21.

Now, most Christians, it would seem, believe that the entire sacrificial system around which Israel’s temple-based worship was centered was invalidated or “done away with” through Christ’s death on the cross. According to this commonly-held view, any reinstatement of Israel’s sacrificial system would be inconsistent with the truth and significance of Christ’s death. Not only would the performing of animal sacrifices at some future time be worthless, but – according to popular Christian belief – it would manifest a complete disregard for Christ’s definitive sacrifice for sins. In fact, I’ve heard one Christian confidently state that a rebuilt temple and the resumption of the sacrificial system would be an “abomination” to God! One fellow believer expressed this popular view (in a public comment on Facebook) as follows: “Why would God commission [Israel] to build a temple to sacrifice in? That is like saying Christ wasn't enough, so let's all go back to the temple and bring in the Red Heifer. Also, why would the so-called coming antichrist stop people from doing something that was antichrist (instead of Christ)?”

As common as this view is among Christians today (and has been throughout “church history”), I believe it betrays a misunderstanding of the purpose of sacrifices made in accord with the law given to Israel. This view seems to presuppose that God originally instituted Israel’s sacrificial system with the intention of temporarily (and imperfectly) accomplishing that which Christ would later do perfectly and permanently through his death on the cross. Or, at the very least, this view presupposes that God expected Israel to believe that the sacrificial system would, to some degree or another, accomplish the same thing that Christ ultimately accomplished through his sacrificial death. But that’s simply not the case. The purpose of animal sacrifices made under the law and the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross were/are completely different. The sacrifices made under the law were never intended to accomplish that which Christ’s sacrifice accomplished, and Christ’s sacrifice was not intended to accomplish that which the animal sacrifices offered under the law were designed to accomplish. It would, therefore, be a fallacy to conclude that, because Christ’s sacrifice was far superior to the animal sacrifices performed under the law, his death therefore removed any further need for Israel to perform animal sacrifices.

But if the animal sacrifices performed in accord with Levitical law had a different purpose than Christ’s sacrifice, then what was their purpose? What did they accomplish? Answer: They were intended by God to deal with ceremonial uncleanness so that Israel could offer acceptable worship to God in the temple, in accord with what God himself had commanded them. The sacrifices made it possible for a person or object that had become ritually impure to return to an acceptable status for participation in worship at the temple, so as to avoid defiling the sacred place of worship. In the words of Hebrews 9:13, “the blood of he-goats and of bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the contaminated, is hallowing to the cleanness of the flesh.” In other words, the purpose of the sacrifices made under the law was to preserve the sanctity of the place of worship, and make people (and things) ceremonially clean for the purpose of worship in the temple.

Under the Levitical system, sacrifices were required to make atonement for the buildings, the altar (Exodus 29:37; Lev. 43:20–27), the Levites (44:25–27), and the sanctuary (45:18). We’re also told that sacrifices made atonement for the ritual impurities or personal events that separated anyone from participation in the temple services (such as child birth or a skin disease; see Lev. 12:7; 14:9-20). Obviously, it wasn’t a violation of the “moral law” (as codified in the Ten Commandments) to give birth to a child or to have a skin disease. Again, the atonement that was effected by virtue of these sacrifices pertained to ceremonial impurity/uncleanness, and made it possible for the person who had become ritually impure to return to an acceptable status for participation in worship at the temple, so as to avoid defiling the sacred place of worship.

Christ’s sacrifice, on the other hand, was not intended to make people and things ceremonially clean/ritually pure in connection with the temple-based worship system that God instituted for Israel. According to what we read in Hebrews 9-10, Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice for sins made the believing Jews to whom the author wrote “perfect in regard to conscience,” it procured their “eonian redemption,” and it “perfected to a finality” those who were being “hallowed.” Since Christ’s sacrificial death had nothing to do with making people and things ritually pure and preventing defilement of the temple, it did not invalidate Israel’s sacrificial system, or take away the (relative) importance of animal sacrifices in connection with the temple. And the mere fact that Gentile members of the body of Christ may struggle to make sense of Israel’s divinely-prescribed sacrificial system is no reason to deny its importance for Israel, or its rightful place in God’s past and future purpose for his covenant people.

So, although Christ’s sacrifice is clearly superior to the animal sacrifices that were made under the law (since it accomplished something far greater than these offerings ever could), it’s equally true that Christ’s sacrifice accomplished something that the Levitical sacrifices were never designed to accomplish. Again, the purpose of sacrifices made in accord with the Mosaic Law was to preserve the sanctity of the place of worship, and make people and things ceremonially clean for the purpose of worship in the temple. Israel’s sacrificial system can, therefore, be understood as having a relative importance for Israel. Christ’s sacrifice, on the other hand, has an absolute importance for all people. Since Christ’s sacrifice has an absolute importance for all, and Israel’s sacrificial system has only a relative importance for Israel, the latter did not remove the relative importance of the former (since it accomplished something that the former was never intended to accomplish). And it’s for this reason that the resumption of animal sacrifices in a rebuilt Jewish temple would in no way be incompatible with the fact of Christ’s death for our sins.

Moreover, we know that, approximately 30 years after Christ’s death and resurrection, there were “tens of thousands” of believing Jews in the land of Israel who were “all inherently zealous for the law.” These believing Jews – among whom James and the other Jewish elders would’ve counted themselves – believed that it would’ve been wrong for any of them to apostatize from Moses (which we’re told would’ve involved no longer circumcising their children or “walking in the customs” of the Mosaic law), and that anyone who taught otherwise was wrong (Acts 21:18-22). But this would mean that there were “tens of thousands” of believing Jews who, 30 years after Christ’s death and resurrection, saw nothing problematic about Israel’s temple-based ceremonial worship and sacrificial system (for “walking in the customs” of the Mosaic Law would’ve included participation in this). That is, these believing Jews did not see any inconsistency between their faith in Christ (and life as “Messianic Jews”) and their continued participation in a ceremonial, temple-based worship system that involved (and was inseparable from) animal sacrifice.

According to the popular view among Christians concerning the validity of Israel’s sacrificial system after Christ’s death, does it make any sense that, thirty years after Christ’s death, there would’ve been “tens of thousands” of believing Jews who saw no problem with Israel’s sacrificial system? If Israel’s sacrificial system had, in fact, been invalidated by Christ’s death (and participation in this system was incompatible with the life of a Jewish believer in Christ), wouldn’t thirty years have been more than enough time for the twelve apostles and James to “get the word out” in Jerusalem that this was the case? But that’s not what we find. And not only do we find no disruption in the involvement that believing Jews had in Israel’s temple-based worship and sacrificial system, but it’s evident that Paul himself did not view participation in this system by believing Jews as being at all inconsistent with their faith in Christ.

In Acts 21:26, we read that Paul – out of courtesy to the believing Jews who’d heard false rumors concerning what he was teaching Jews among the nations (and who were thus suspicious of him) – agreed to take part in a Jewish purification ceremony to dispel their fears that he was teaching “all the Jews who are among the nations to forsake Moses” (Acts 21:21). Now, if Paul had believed that sacrificing animals in the temple was something that Israel ought not to have been doing any longer because of the sacrifice of Christ thirty years earlier (and that doing so was actually contrary to the truth of Christ’s sacrifice), there’s no way he would’ve agreed to take part in a law-based ritual which involved, among other things, offering a sacrifice in the temple. Had Paul believed that the “tens of thousands” of believing Jews who were all “zealous for the law” ought to have distanced themselves from Israel’s sacrificial system, then it would’ve been disingenuous and downright hypocritical for him to have done what we’re told he did (even as a courtesy to James). Such an act would’ve misled an entire company of believing Jews (tens of thousands, in fact), and served to further confirm them in a belief that Paul knew was at odds with their faith in Christ. The very thought is outrageous.

Thus, this single episode in Paul’s apostolic ministry tells us that, in contrast with the belief of many Christians today, the apostle of the nations did not believe that it was wrong for those constituting the “Israel of God” to continue to participate in Israel’s temple-based ceremonial worship and sacrificial system, or that participation in this system by believing Jews was somehow incompatible with their faith in Christ. And this can only mean that Paul did not believe that Christ’s death had invalidated Israel’s sacrificial system, or that Israel’s sacrificial system was somehow “antichrist” (as the believer quoted earlier erroneously thought it to be).

A few more related objections answered

Another (related) reason why many Christians believe that a rebuilt temple would not have divine approval (whether in this eon or the next) is based on the belief that the Mosaic Law and the old covenant ended nearly 2,000 years ago (either at the time of Christ’s death, or at the destruction of the second temple in 70 AD). For example, commenting on my article concerning John’s expectation, one reader (“Lorrie”) wrote that “…70 AD is crucial to understanding that the Law has been fulfilled and is no longer part of God's plan for the rest of the ages.”

When Lorrie referred to the law as having been “fulfilled,” I assume that she was referring to the following words of Christ in Matthew 5:17-20:

”You should not infer that I came to demolish the law or the prophets. I came not to demolish, but to fulfill. For verily, I am saying to you, Till heaven and earth should be passing by, one iota or one serif may by no means be passing by from the law till all should be occurring.”

However, this passage in no way proves that “the Law is no longer part of God’s plan for the rest of the ages.” For Christ to have come to “demolish” the law and the prophets would mean that he came to put an end to them, and make them no longer applicable to (or authoritative for) Israel. But this is the very thing that Christ declared he didn’t come to do. Instead, he came to “fulfill” them. Although many Christians interpret the word “fulfill” to mean “bring an end to,” such an interpretation is untenable (as it would essentially have Christ contradicting himself by declaring that he didn’t come to put an end to the law or the prophets, but to put an end to them).

When a certain prophecy is “fulfilled,” that which was written or spoken by the prophet is not “ended” or “terminated”; rather, that which was prophesied actually occurs or is brought about. It is, in other words, carried out, or carried into effect. Thus, for the law and the prophets to be “fulfilled” (or “made full”) by Christ involves that which is written in the law and the prophets being fully carried out by Christ (such that it actually occurs and is brought about). And we know from the prophets that the law given to Israel will continue to be in effect during the eon to come (e.g., Isaiah 2:3; 66:22-23; Jer. 31:33; Ezekiel 36:27; 37:24; 44:15-17, 24; 45:21, 25; Micah 4:1-2; Zech. 14:16-18; etc.). Thus, it follows that the passing by of the law given to Israel cannot occur before the next eon ends. Until “heaven and earth should be passing by,” the following words spoken by Christ in his “sermon on the mount” (which immediately follow his words in Matt. 5:17-18) will remain applicable to Israel:

“Whosoever, then, should be annulling one of the least of these precepts, and should be teaching men thus, the least in the kingdom of the heavens shall he be called. Yet whoever should be doing and teaching them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of the heavens. For I am saying to you that, if ever your righteousness should not be super-abounding more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, by no means may you be entering into the kingdom of the heavens.”

[For a fuller defense of this view, see part three of my study, “God’s Covenant People” (]

Concerning the ending of the old covenant, I was once assured by another believer that the author of the letter to the Hebrews “emphatically declared that the old covenant had been done away with.” However, we actually read no such thing in this letter (despite the fact that the author very easily could have said this, had he believed it to have been the case). Rather than saying that the old covenant had been “done away with,” the author of Hebrews instead wrote the following concerning it: “In saying ‘new,’ [God] has made the former old. Now, that which is growing old and decrepit is near its disappearance(Heb 8:13). To say that something is “growing old and decrepit” and is “near its disappearance” is not the same as saying that it has, in fact, ended or disappeared. And since that which the author wrote was true at the time when he wrote his letter (which was likely more than 30 years after the death and resurrection of Christ), it would mean that Christ’s death and resurrection did not end the old covenant.

The “nearness” of the disappearance of the old covenant (and the implementation of the new covenant) is inseparably connected to the return of Christ. In Hebrews 1:2 the author referred to the era in which he wrote as “the last of these days” (cf. Acts 2:16-18; 1 Pet. 1:20), and in Heb. 10:25 he referred to the future day of the Lord as “drawing near” (cf. verses 26-31). James wrote that the “presence of the Lord is near” and “the Judge stands before the doors.” Peter wrote in his first letter, “Now the consummation of all is near.” Insofar as the nearness of Christ’s return was true when the author of Hebrews wrote, the disappearance of the old covenant could be said to have been “near” as well, since it is at the consummation referred to by Peter (when the “Chief Shepherd is manifested”) that the old covenant will disappear, and the new covenant will go into effect (and which will involve Israel, as a nation, being supernaturally empowered by God to successfully keep the law).

As far as the events surrounding the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD, this was not the first time that Jerusalem fell to a foreign power and the temple was destroyed (nor was it the first time that the Jewish people were exiled from their land). The same thing happened in 587 BC under King Nebuchadnezzar. And we know that this judgment didn’t involve the end of the Mosaic Law or the old covenant. On the contrary, that which took place at this time was in accord with the old covenant (which threatened Israel with curses for disobedience; see, for example, Lev. 26:14-39 and Deut. 28:15-68). And in accord with God’s promise of national restoration and healing, the Jewish temple was eventually rebuilt. In light of these considerations, we can conclude that the events of both 587 BC and 70 AD are proof that God’s covenant with Israel was still in effect at these respective times in the nation’s history, and in no way suggest that the Mosaic Law or old covenant ended when the temple was destroyed.

The last objection I will be considering is based on the following words of Stephen in Acts 7:46-50: And he requests that he may find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob. Yet Solomon builds Him a house. But the Most High is not dwelling in what is made by hands, according as the prophet is saying, “‘Heaven is My throne, yet the earth is a footstool for My feet. What kind of house shall be built for Me?’ the Lord is saying, or what is the place of My stopping?” Is it not My hand that does all these things?'”

The problem with this objection is that God’s “not dwelling in what is made by hands” is something that was just as true (and just as understood to be true) in Solomon’s day as it was when Stephen spoke before the Sanhedrin. Stephen wasn’t giving Israel any “new revelation” here. For anyone to believe that God did dwell in what is made by hands would be to believe something that was not even true in Solomon’s day, when the first Jewish temple was built! Although Solomon declared that he had “built…a House, a residence for [God]” and “a site for [God] to dwell in for the eons” (1 Kings 8:13), even Solomon knew and openly acknowledged that the newly-constructed temple was not something that could possibly contain the transcendent Creator of heaven and earth, or keep him bound to a single location on earth as a dwelling place (see 1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chron. 2:6).

Nevertheless – and this is the point that needs to be emphasized here – the temple in Jerusalem could still, in all truthfulness and legitimacy, be referred to as the “temple of God” or the “temple of Yahweh” (1 Kings 8:10-11, etc.). Why? It wasn’t because God was literally contained within its walls (for again, not even Solomon believed that). We’re told that God promised David that his son would “build a House for My Name” (2 Sam. 7:13; 1 Kings 5:5). God himself declared in 2 Chron. 7:16, “Now I have chosen and sanctified this House for My Name to be there unto the eon. My eyes and My heart will be there all the days.” God also told Solomon that he had chosen the temple to be “a house of sacrifice” (2 Chron. 7:12). And this wasn’t just true of Solomon’s temple; the second Jewish temple (commonly referred to as “Herod’s temple”) was just as much the temple of God or “temple of the Lord” as the first (Luke 1:9).

Christ himself even referred to the second temple as “my Father’s house” (John 2:16; cf. Luke 2:49), and both his words and his actions made it clear that he understood the temple to be a holy and sacred place (Matt. 23:16-17; Mark 11:15-17; cf. Isaiah 56:7, which Christ quoted when he “cleansed the temple”). Obviously, Christ would’ve agreed with Stephen in Acts 7:46-50 (and Paul in Acts 17:24) that “the Most High is not dwelling in what is made by hands.” And yet, Christ still considered the temple to be his “Father’s house,” and – unlike many Christians today, it would seem – believed the temple to be a place with which God’s honor was greatly connected. The problem in Stephen’s day was not with the temple itself (which, again, is something that God himself said would be for his “Name”), but rather with the hearts of those who worshiped there.

Part Two:

[1] It should also be noted that am in no way a “Zionist,” or sympathetic toward the Zionist political/religious movement. Christians who think that God approves of (and will bless) those nations or individuals that support and “stand with” the modern state of Israel today are, I believe, about as misguided as a first-century Christian would’ve been for supporting Saul of Tarsus before his conversion on the road to Damascus. The fact that I believe that the existence of the present-day state of Israel is in accord with God’s sovereign plan (as is everything else that exists or takes place in the universe) doesn’t mean that I approve of everything the state of Israel does, or consider it ethically superior to (or more “deserving” of national existence than) other nation states and people groups in the world today. In any case – and regardless of what one’s stance is toward the state of Israel and Zionism – this article is not a defense of the present-day Israeli state/government, or its national/international policies.

[2] I refer to this fourth temple as the “final” temple in light of Revelation 21:22, where we read that John did not perceive a temple in the future city that is going to be descending out of heaven from God after the creation of “the new heaven and new earth.”

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