Jerusalem in God’s Plan (Part 2)

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In my previous article, I had demonstrated that the NT view of Jerusalem is quite consistent and unambiguous – the Jerusalem for Christians is the heavenly Jerusalem, and the City of God in the New Heaven and New Earth. The earthly Jerusalem is irrelevant. This was asserted both before and after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

I avoided the question of the third temple in the earlier discussion, but it’s necessary to address it because if there’s to be a third temple on which prophecy is hinged, then national Jerusalem becomes significant. This subject deserves its own investigation, in which we now engage. The options before us are: (1) the popular opinion that there is significant prophecy concerning the third temple; (2) there will not be a third temple; (3) there may be a third temple but it is not in Scripture and not significant for the disciple of Jesus.

Here we will examine Scripture and other relevant matters to arrive at a tentative answer. I say “tentative” because I do not regard myself as an expert in such matters.

Daniel 9 and Matthew 24

Daniel 9 is the account of Daniel praying for the end of the proscribed exile of 70 years (9:1-19). He receives a revelation from God through the angel Gabriel in response (9:20-23). Using 70 years in a word play, Gabriel tells him that God has appointed 70×7 years for God’s plan to unfold. The time is divided into three parts: (1) seven sevens [i.e. 49 years], (2) sixty-two sevens [i.e. 434 years], and (3) a final seven [i.e. 7 years], making a total of 490 years. The counting starts and ends “From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem and end with the Anointed One” (9:25). You may be aware that the Anointed One is the same word as Messiah or Christ. It is more than likely this refers to the ultimate Anointed One, rather than the lesser anointed kings in Israel’s history.

Popular Christian thinking combines the first two blocks of time, seven sevens and sixty-two sevens into one continuous block of sixty-nine sevens [i.e. 483 years]. When they calculate the time of the decree to the death of Christ (9:25), it turns out to be exactly 483 years. (You can find many of these posts online.) Thus they show the remarkable fulfillment of biblical prophecy. The calculations are complicated but not complex, and are necessary for us to understand so we can evaluate better. So bear with me.

There are three to four major options on the start of the 483 years because there were three to four decrees: (1) decree of Cyrus, 538 BC; (2) decree of Darius I, 521-520 BC; (3-4) decree of Artexerxes, 458-457 BC and 445-444 BC.  In addition there are two possible end dates AD 30 or AD 33 (These are the only two possible years because these are the years when the Passover falls on Friday, when Jesus was crucified.) If you plug all the numbers in you will still not be able to get the 483 year fulfillment. So how do they get 483 years? They use 360 days for one year, which they call a “prophetic year.” Using this method, it is possible to use the above variables to come to 483 years.

Remarkable as it may be, I have reservations that this is the correct way to interpret. Here are my reservations:

1.  70×7. When we see numbers used in the formula of 70 times 7, we can either take the number literally, or dynamically. For example, Jesus asks his disciples to “forgive your brother”, not 7 times but 70×7 times. It is interesting that in the case of forgiving the brother, nobody takes it literally, but dynamically, as many, many times. There may be some justification to take the 70 x 7 as literal years, but we should not preclude the possibility of the dynamic use of the numbers. (See also, the assertion of Lamech, Genesis 4:24). In all other instances, 70 times 7 is not literal. This should lead us to question if we ought to take these years numerically, or to ask if there is a literary meaning instead.

2.  The breaks. Daniel gives us three segments: (Segment 1) seven ‘sevens’, 49 years; (Segment 2) sixty-two ‘sevens’, 434 years; and (Segment 3) one ‘seven’, 7 years. The popular method interposes a long period between segment (2) and (3); and say we are now living in between (2) and (3), waiting for the final seven years commonly called the years of tribulation. But there is no gap of time between Segment 1 and Segment 2. So why do we treat Segment 1 and 2 as running consecutively without any break, but interpose a break of several thousand years between Segment 2 and 3?                                                              

3.  The years. If you add up the years, you immediately see they do not add up to 483. Our brethren get this number by suggesting that Daniel used the prophetic year of 360 days in a year. If you count a year as 360 days we can indeed find a permutation that is 483 years. I have reservations as to whether there is a “prophetic year.” We can create an artificial year with any number of days we want, and make almost any period fit 483 years. It seems very unnatural to me that the Jews should use 360 days because they will be short of 5 plus days each year, and over time, it would totally mess up their agricultural cycle. (The use of intercalation to reconcile the lunar and solar cycles still result in 365 days a year on average.)

4.  Daniel 11:31; 12:11. Daniel used the “abomination of desolation” two other times. Daniel 11 talks about the wars between the kings of the north and the death of Alexander (the Seleucid Greeks based in Syria) and the kings of the south (the Ptolemy Greeks based in Egypt). Daniel 11:31 talks about the time when the Seleucid king (Antiochus IV) took out his anger on Jerusalem. He stopped the daily sacrifices at the temple, put up the statue of Zeus at the altar, and sacrificed a pig (167 BC). Daniel 12:11 seems to refer to the same incident “And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days. Blessed is he who waits and arrives at the 1,335 days.” This text is largely ignored because we don’t know what it is saying. Bible scholars are not agreed on these enigmatic numbers, but the likelihood is that Daniel is talking about the desecration of 167 BC. The two viable options are: (1) Daniel 9:27 is also talking about the desecration of 167 BC like the other two references; (2) Daniel is referring to an event that will repeat 167 BC is some way. The natural candidates would be AD 70 or an end time event. Even if we say it refers to an end time event, we must not forget the possibility that 167 BC is a strong contender.

5.  Matthew 24:15. This text may be the main justification for tying Daniel 9 to our own end times. “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” (Matthew 24:15-16; cf. Mark 13:14).

Properly understood, this text actually argues against reading Daniel 9:27 as a third temple rather than for it. There are two main ways to understand this text: (1) it is talking about the destruction in AD 70 or (2) it is talking about an event during the purported seven-year tribulation. I believe the evidence is overwhelming that it is talking about AD 70.

“As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (Mark 13:1-2; cf Matthew 24:1-2; Luke 21:5-6). The disciples ask two things (1) when it will happen, and (2) the sign of when it will happen (Mark and Luke) or the sign of Jesus’s coming (Matthew).  This question assumes the two will happen at the same time. Jesus’s answer corrects the mistaken assumption. “Such things must happen, but the end is still to come” (Matthew 24:6; Mark 13:7); “but the end will not come right away” (Luke 21:9). There are events that are only “the beginning of birth pains” (Matthew 24:8; Mark 13:8). The Good News will be declared to all the world before the end will come (Matthew 24:14), and in the meantime, there will be false Messiahs, persecutions, wars, natural disasters, etc.,  but you are to stand firm. (Mark 13:9-13; Luke 21:12-19). Up to this point, I think the consensus is that Jesus is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

Next comes the statement in question about the “abomination of desolation” and “armies surrounding” Jerusalem (Matthew 24: 15-29; Mark 13:14-25; Luke 21:20-26). Followed by what most will agree refers to the end, the appearance of “the Son of Man” and Jesus concluding “about the day and the hour no one knows (Matthew 24:30-36; Mark 13:26-31; Luke 21:26-33). The “abomination of desolation” / Jerusalem “surrounded by armies” is sandwiched between the destruction of AD 70 and the end. So we need to make a determination whether it goes with AD 70 or with the end.

There are several indicators in the text that it is about AD 70. (1) the call to flee to the mountains (Matthew 24:16; Mark 13:14; Luke 21:21). This was what the Christians and many Jews did in AD 66 ahead of the war that ended with the destruction of Jerusalem. (2) Matthew, writing to the Jews says, “pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath” (Matthew 24:20). This tells us it will happen at a time when keeping Sabbath for Jews is the norm affecting the majority of them. (3) “They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” (Luke 21:24). This reference is almost certainly about AD 70.

Conclusion on the Discourse on the Mount of Olives: Since the “abomination of desolation” and Jerusalem “surrounded by armies” is about AD 70, it is not a prophecy concerning the third temple.

6.  Another reason why I doubt Daniel 9 to be talking about desecration in the third temple comes from the introduction of this discourse. Daniel 9:24 says God has decreed 70×7 years concerning “your people and your holy city, (1) to finish the transgression, (2) to put an end to sin, and (3) to atone for iniquity, (4) to bring in everlasting righteousness, (5) to seal both vision and prophet, and (6) to anoint a most holy place.” All these point to AD 70. The work of Christ, his life, death and resurrection, has accomplished the six things expressed here, and it also spells the redundancy of the temple.

Conclusion on Daniel 9 and Matthew 24: There is no reason to read these texts as requiring a third temple.

Revelation 13

Revelation tells of the beast that rises from the sea with ten horns and seven heads, with power from the dragon. It seems to have a mortal wound but did not die. A second beast is from the land, and it compels people to worship the beast from the sea. It makes an image of the beast from the sea and causes it to come alive. The assumption many make is that this is talking about worship in Jerusalem.

First, we note that there is no mention or hint of Jerusalem here. It is almost certainly talking about the Roman Imperial system and the dragon behind it. If this is not about Jerusalem, then there is no need for a third temple to be rebuilt.

Next, I believe there is strong evidence that John is talking about the imperial cult temple in Ephesus. John is exiled to Patmos just off the coast of Ephesus. The personal reference point for him would be Ephesus where he labored. The beast from the sea is just like we say from over the sea, overseas, and the beast from the land is local. This was during the reign of Emperor Domitian who was honored as a god in Ephesus, and Ephesus was a well-known city of the imperial cult. The local leader compelled the imperial cult in Ephesus. Those who refused to pay cult to the emperor were punished variously. This is the most likely historic reference to the beast.

I will not elaborate on this as it is too involved, but I will just point out the essential, that this is not about Jerusalem or the temple in Jerusalem. It is historical with possible future relevance; it is not an elaborate prophecy about the future of what to expect in the third temple.

2 Thessalonians 2:4

“He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” (2 Thessalonians 2:4). This verse suggests to some that the “man of lawlessness” will set himself up in the third temple in Jerusalem and proclaim himself as God.

I will not be surprised if Paul is engaging in some creative political dissent here. Emperor Gaius (Caligula) wanted to set up an image in the temple in Jerusalem but failed. This was a time of great national angst for Israel, but there was great relief because Caligula died while the statue was on the way. This disaster would be like the disaster of 167 BC. But this is background imagery and subsumes under the main message. The issue is the return of the Lord. Paul assures that they have not missed the return of the Lord, and he adds information to explain to the Thessalonians why they have not missed the Lord’s return.

The verse before the text in question says, “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). There will be the appearance of the man of lawlessness. This refers to a political leader (most likely the supreme leader like the emperor) who does not regard the law (we are not told what law). He is the son of destruction, meaning he will be terribly destructive. Caligula would have fit the description, except that he died in AD 41 and this letter is written AD 50-51. So it is possible that Paul is using the impression of Caligula to explain the terrible man of lawlessness. He will be powerful, he will live above the law, and he will be destructive. At the writing of this epistle, Emperor Claudius was in power and he was a scrupulous legalist, so he was the opposite of Caligula and Paul cannot be referring to him.

The day of the Lord will be preceded by “the rebellion” (ESV, NIV) “falling away” (KJV).  The Greek term is “apostasia” from which we get apostasy. There will be a great rebellion / apostasy. Then comes our text. This man of lawlessness will set himself up as the supreme object of worship (somewhat like the leaders of North Korea), “so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.”  The question lies in what is meant by the “temple.”

Paul says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?…” (1 Corinthians 6:19).

“What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (2 Corinthians 6:16).

“built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:20-22).

Paul does not look back to the temple in Jerusalem even though it was still standing. He consistently says we are the temple of God. When the man of lawlessness will lead a rebellion / apostasy and set himself up in God’s temple, it points to apostasy among those who purport to follow Jesus Christ. There does not seem to be good reason to think that Paul suddenly switched from Christians as the temple of God to the temple in Jerusalem which he has completely ignored in all his deliberations.

The Third Temple May Be Built

I have just laid out for you why there is no biblical prophecy concerning the third temple and the return of Christ our Lord. What I am not saying is that the temple will not be built. In fact I think there is a fair chance that it will be built, not from Scripture but from circumstances, and not in fulfillment of prophecy but in the course of human events. Even so, there is significance for Christians and here is why.

Let’s assume the third temple is built. Those who related the temple to prophecy will wait 3½ years for some beast / man of lawlessness to assert himself in the temple. And I am quite sure they will be as disappointed as those who guess the date of the Lord’s return. What then are they to think? They either reject the Bible as false (less likely) or they will ask, “Where did we go wrong in our interpretation?” (more likely). So I think the building of the third temple, if it happens, and there is no scenario as painted for us in popular thinking, it will clarify Christian thinking and interpretation.

I believe the biggest impediment to the building of the third temple is the Dome of the Rock. The Dome of the Rock sits on “Temple Mount.” For the temple to be built, the Dome of the Rock has to go. The deliberate destruction of the Dome of the Rock will create unimaginable turmoil.

Archeologists today are challenging the location of the temple. They are now investigating an alternative site which I think is the more likely site. You will be able to find YouTube videos on this subject. In brief, we note that Josephus the Jewish historian description of the temple location does not fit the Temple Mount. He tells us the Fortress of Antonia (the Roman fortress that guards over Jerusalem) overlooks the temple area. To prevent the Romans and the impious King Agrippa II from overlooking the sacred activities, they extended the western wall of the temple to block their view. This does not fit the Temple Mount.

Another reason is the water supply. In 1997, the Gihon Spring was discovered. This is a very rare siphon spring which brings in fresh water several times a day through a natural siphon. Because the water is intermittent but fresh, the Pool of Siloam was dug out to hold the water when it comes in. This is the only source of fresh water into the city and it is not on the Temple Mount. The water supply probably influence where the temple was built. Both the Gihon Spring and the Pool of Siloam are now known locations. These are south of the Temple Mount.

The archeological investigations continue, and if it is shown that the temple was not on what is named “Temple Mount,” the greatest impediment to the building of the third temple is removed, and the erection of the temple in our lifetime becomes more likely. However, I don’t think this has anything to do with the return of Christ.

Conclusion

This is not a comprehensive examination of the third temple. And I make no claim to expertise. I am only sharing with you what I have discovered from Scripture. I find what Scripture says to be less flamboyant but more compelling at the same time. I would not enter into such discussion if current events have not created a flood of questions, and even though I have not satisfied myself that I know enough to make firm assertions, I find myself having to address questions the best I can from what I know because I owe the flock under my charge what meager knowledge I have.

Pastor Peter Eng

 

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