When will this last days madness end? Christians have been preoccupied with making unbiblical claims about Bible prophecy for centuries. I thought it would all be over after the so-called rapture did not occur in 1988. Here we are more than 30 years later, and the prophetic claims keep coming based on the same arguments that have repeatedly been weighed and found wanting in terms of what the Bible actually says.
Here’s the latest from someone who should know better:
Today [September 17, 2019] is the day of the momentous Israeli elections and the countdown to the even more momentous Trump “peace plan” for the Middle East, which reportedly will soon be unveiled. Along with President Trump, I’m rooting for Bibi Netanyahu and believe he will squeak through – but whatever happens in this election, God’s prophetic timetable will unfold, and the events of the last days will occur in the order and in the manner in which He has prescribed them. We can only perceive these landmarks of prophetic fulfillment “as through a glass darkly,” but we remain highly attentive as they emerge into view because we who are “sons of the light” have been promised in 1 Thessalonians 5:4 that the day of the Lord’s return will not take us by surprise. (WND)
The author goes on to claim that all things are in place for the construction of a third temple. He writes, “I want to clarify that I am in favor of the Third Temple because I know it is a necessary prerequisite to the second coming of Christ.” No, it’s not.
Scott Lively, the author of the above claim, is not alone. Doomsday preacher Paul Begley is making a similar case. So is Irvin Baxter of the EndTime Ministries. He argues that “the third Holy Temple will be rebuilt in the last seven years of the world’s existence…. Rick Brinegar and Dave Robbins of the Endtime Ministries said: ‘The Bible prophesies, in many places, that a Third Temple will be built in the near future.'” We’ll put that claim to the test.
Rebuilding the temple excites modern-day prophecy “experts” who claim the temple must be rebuilt to fulfill Bible prophecy. The thing of it is, the New Testament doesn’t say anything about a rebuilt temple. Even rebuilt-temple advocates Thomas Ice and Randall Price admit, “There are no Bible verses that say, ‘There is going to be a third temple.’”1
Even so, end-time advocates claim, “there will be a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem at least by the midpoint of the seven-year tribulation period.”2 Where in the NT does it say this? If this is a key end-time event, why is the NT silent about it?
When Trump moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem, one third-temple advocate wrote, “Trump’s role [is] similar to the one played by Cyrus, the Persian king who ended the Babylonian exile and helped build the Second Jewish Temple.” (WND) The difference is that we’re told in the Bible that Cyrus would be instrumental in rebuilding the temple after it was destroyed by the Babylonians.
In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah there are four commands by Median and Persian kings that refer to rebuilding the post-exile temple (Ezra 1:1-11; 4:24; 6:1-12; 7:7-26; Neh. 2:1-8), and a direct reference in Isaiah 44:26-28 that Cyrus would be involved in rebuilding the post-exile temple. As we’ll see, there is no comparable scriptural support in the NT for rebuilding the temple a third time.
A Literal Reading of the Bible Means No Rebuilt Temple
Does the Bible predict that a third temple will be built, one following Solomon’s temple and the post-exile temple that was still standing and going through a period of renovation in Jesus’ day? Don Stewart and Chuck Missler insist,
The crucial issue boils down to how we interpret prophecy. There are two basic ways to interpret Bible prophecy. Either you understand it literally or you do not. If a person rejects the literal interpretation, then they [sic] are left to their own imagination as to what the Scripture means…. We believe it makes sense to understand the Scriptures as literally requiring the eventual construction and desecration of a Third Temple.3
No Third Temple Mentioned
Stewart and Missler have made it simple for us to determine whether the Bible addresses the issue of a rebuilt temple. If the Bible is interpreted literally, the need for a third temple should be explicitly stated. What biblical evidence do they offer to support their claim that “the Bible, in both testaments, speaks of a Temple that has yet to appear”?4 From the OT they use Daniel 9:27, 11:31, and 12:11 for support. Ice and Price can find only one verse for support (Dan. 9:27).
Since Daniel was written after Solomon’s temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. (2 Kings 25:8-9; Dan. 1:1-2) and before the second temple had been built by the returning exiles (Ezra 6:13-15), it stands to reason that the “sanctuary” whose “end will come with a flood” (Dan. 9:26) must refer to the second temple that had not been built at the time the prophecy was given.
It was this post-exile rebuilt temple that was desecrated but not destroyed by Antiochus Epiphanes around 170 BC. After a period of misuse and disuse, Herod the Great restored and enlarged this rebuilt temple, a project that started around 20 BC. It was this same temple that Zacharias served in (Luke 1:9), that Jesus was taken to as an infant (2:27), that had been under construction for forty-six years when Jesus prophesied that He would be its permanent replacement (John 2:20), that Jesus cleansed of the money changers (Matt. 21:12), that He predicted would be left desolate (Matt. 23:38; 24:2), whose veil was “torn in two from top to bottom” (Matt. 27:51), and that was finally destroyed by Titus in AD 70 as Jesus had predicted (Matt. 24:1-2).
Is there any indication in passages from Daniel that we are to skip over what we know was a rebuilt temple, the temple that was standing in Jesus’ day, and look for another unmentioned third temple? Would Jews living in the first century have made the historical leap over the temple that was standing before them and suppose Jesus was describing yet another rebuilt temple?
As Ice and Price admit, the Bible does not say anything about another temple. The passages from Daniel cited by Stewart and Missler and Ice and Price can easily find their fulfillment in the rebuilt temple that was standing during the reign of Antiochus (Dan. 11:31; 12:11) and the second temple’s destruction in AD 70 (9:27). In fact, Ice and Price find the fulfillment of Daniel 11:31 in the sacrilegious acts of Antiochus:
The abomination of desolation was something that took place the first time through Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century B.C. when he stopped the sacrifices and desecrated the second Temple by sacrificing an unclean pig on the altar and setting up in its place a statue of Jupiter. This literally fulfilled Daniel 11:31. Therefore, these future events will be similar in kind to the prototypes—they will be real, historical events in a last days’ Temple.5
Daniel only mentions one sanctuary (8:11, 13; :26; 9:17, 26; 11:31; cf. 12:11). What indication does the reader have that two temples are in view? The temple that Jesus said would be torn down and dismantled stone by stone was the “last days’ Temple,” the only one mentioned by Daniel.
Now we are left with Daniel 9:27 as the only verse from the OT that Ice and Price contend supports the need for a third temple. But there is a problem with their reasoning. They argue that “the city and sanctuary” in Daniel 9:26 refers to Herod’s temple that was destroyed when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in AD 70 (Luke 21:6):
Jesus, seeing Himself as the Messiah, therefore saw the Romans as the people … who will destroy the city and the sanctuary. Knowing that He would soon be cut off (crucified), He likewise knew that the Temple’s destruction would soon occur.”6
In the span of two verses, these authors find two temples, one in Daniel 9:26 and another one in 9:27, separated by 2000 years. As a careful reader will note, the “sanctuary” (temple) mentioned in Daniel 9:26 is not mentioned in 9:27. This means that Daniel 9:27 is describing events related to the already mentioned sanctuary of 9:26 which Ice and Price say refers to the temple that was standing in Jesus’ day.
What Does the New Testament Say?
Since we’ve seen the OT doesn’t say anything about a third temple, maybe the NT says something about it. Stewart and Missler and Ice and Price claim to have incontrovertible biblical evidence for a rebuilt temple in three NT passages: Matthew 24:15, 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, and Revelation 11:1-2.
On Matthew 24:15, Stewart and Missler write: “Jesus spoke of this prophecy being still future to His time (Matthew 24:15).”7 This is true. But the rebuilt temple was still standing when Jesus said that “the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet” would stand “in the holy place.” Notice the audience context: “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet” (Matt. 24:15). When who sees it? When “you see it,” that is, when those in Jesus’ audience of that generation see it. Ice and Price never explain the audience reference “you.”
If Jesus had a distant future audience in view, He would have said: “when they see the abomination of desolation.” Here’s their interpretation of Matthew 24:15: “‘The holy place’ is a reference to the most sacred room within Israel’s Temple. What temple? The third Temple, since it is a future event.”8 The destruction of that temple took place before their generation passed away (Matt. 24:34). There is no mention of a future rebuilt temple or even an implied reference. Jesus does not say, “When they see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet standing in the rebuilt holy place after this holy place is destroyed and rebuilt.”
The holy place, the sanctuary, was right before their eyes: “His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him … not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down” (Matt. 24:1-2). Jesus doesn’t say anything about another physical temple.
Ice and Price argue that “the apostle Paul gives us perhaps the clearest passage relating to the third Temple in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4.”9 Since Paul wrote before the temple was destroyed in AD 70, what is it in these verses that told the Thessalonians that the temple where “the man of lawlessness” was to take his seat was a second rebuilt temple? Paul does not describe “the temple” (lit. sanctuary) as a rebuilt temple. What would have led his original audience to conclude that he was referring to, using Ice and Price’s words, “the future third Temple,” when the temple was still standing in Jerusalem when he wrote his letter to them?
“The man of lawlessness” was being restrained “now,” that is, in their day (2:6, 7) and “the mystery of lawlessness was already at work,” and the Christians at Thessalonica knew the identity of the restrainer (2:6). For a verse-by-verse study of 2 Thessalonians 2, see my book Last Days Madness, chaps. 22 and 23.
Third-temple advocates try to muster support for their position by referencing Revelation 11:1-2. They begin by assuming that Revelation was written nearly three decades after the temple was destroyed.10 From this unproven assumption, they conclude that John must be measuring a rebuilt temple.
The passage doesn’t say anything about a rebuilt temple. The words “shortly,” “near,” and “quickly” (Rev. 1:1, 3; 3:11; 22:7, 10, 12) are used to describe the time when the events outlined in Revelation were to take place. These words are meaningless if the events have not taken place in this very symbol-laden book. The fact that John is told to “rise and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and those who worship in it” (11:1), is prima facie evidence that the temple was still standing when John received the Revelation (1:1).
How could John have measured a temple that did not exist in his day? Ice and Price insist that the temple John was told to measure was a literal stone temple, not a “spiritual temple.” “For example, in Matthew 24 Jesus is speaking about a literal Temple, since in the context of the passage He is standing and looking directly at the second Temple.”11
I agree. John was told to measure the literal Temple that still had worshipers in it, the same temple Jesus taught in (Luke 2:41-52; 19:41; 21:37), cleansed (Matt. 21:12), and Titus destroyed in AD 70. In all of Jesus’ teaching, He never mentioned that the temple would be rebuilt after He said it would be destroyed before their generation passed away (Matt. 24:34).
The burden of proof is on rebuilt-temple advocates to come up with one verse that unequivocally states that a rebuilt temple is required to fulfill some end-time prophetic program. Since they admit that “There are no Bible verses that say, ‘There is going to be a third temple,’” we must conclude that end-time temple advocates’ preoccupation with a rebuilt temple is misguided.
What if Israel rebuilds the temple? It won’t have anything to do with Bible prophecy because (1) the Bible does not say anything about another rebuilt temple, (2) it would be an affront to the finished work of Jesus Christ if one was ever built, (3) the Jerusalem in Paul’s day (then the “present Jerusalem”) “is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free” (Gal. 4:25-26), (4) since the coming of the true temple (Jesus Christ) we come “to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22) where there is “no temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple” (Rev. 21:22), and (5) by extension “we are the temple of the living God” because God dwells in us (2 Cor 6:16-17; 1 Cor. 3:16).
- Thomas Ice and Randall Price, Ready to Rebuild: The Imminent Plan to Rebuild the Last Days Temple (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1992), 197-198. [↩]
- Ice and Price, Ready to Rebuild, 198. [↩]
- Don Stewart and Chuck Missler, The Coming Temple: Center Stage for the Final Countdown (Orange, CA: Dart Press, 1991), 193. [↩]
- Stewart and Missler, The Coming Temple, 194. [↩]
- Ice and Price, Ready to Rebuild, 200-201. Emphasis added. [↩]
- Ice and Price, Ready to Rebuild, 68. [↩]
- Stewart and Missler, The Coming Temple, 194. [↩]
- Stewart and Missler, The Coming Temple, 199. [↩]
- Ice and Price, Ready to Rebuild, 199. [↩]
- For a defense of a pre-A.D. 70 date of composition for Revelation, see Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation, 2nd ed. (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 1999). [↩]
- Ice and Price, Ready to Rebuild, 200. [↩]