Jews and Christians alike anticipate the construction of a temple in Jerusalem. But is a temple necessary to fulfill prophecy?
It was April, A.D. 69. The 29-year-old General Titus had command of the Roman army for the Judean campaign. The Jewish war against Rome started in early A.D. 66. Gradually the Roman legions brought the rebellion under control. Now, in 69, the siege had caused famine. Jerusalem's population had swollen by the thousands as refugees gathered in one last desperate struggle against the Roman armies. Some 25,000 Jewish fighters prepared to hold off 80,000 Roman troops from four legions. The Roman 10th legion came up from Jericho on the east. The 12th came from the west. The fifth and 15th legions, under the personal direction of Titus, camped to the north on Mt. Scopus. By the spring of A.D. 70 one of the greatest and most famous battles of all history was under way. Titus sent his major thrust into Jerusalem from the northwest. Within three weeks, the Romans had broken through the third and second walls and occupied much of the city. The main body of Jewish zealots prepared to fight to the bitter end, barricading themselves in the natural fortress that was the Temple. The hot summer months were filled with the agonies of war. Finally, in late August of A.D. 70, the Temple Mount fell to the Roman forces. Apparently Titus had not intended to destroy the Temple. But one of his soldiers hurled a piece of burning wood into the sanctuary, setting the complex ablaze. Describing the scene, the Jewish historian Josephus wrote: "One would have thought that the hill itself, on which the Temple stood, was seething hot, as full of fire on every part of it, that the blood was larger in quantity than the fire, and those that were slain more in number than those that slew them; for the ground did nowhere appear visible, for the dead bodies that lay on it." Within days the Temple lay in ruins and most of Jerusalem was rubble. Sections of the Temple that had been overlaid with gold had melted in the destructive flames; soldiers and looters pushed stones aside to retrieve the melted gold. In the course of time, not one stone was left on another. An era that began a thousand years before was at an end. Now, more than 1,900 years later, there is revived interest in the construction of a Temple in Jerusalem. Some among the Jewish religious leadership believe a Temple must be built before the coming of the Messiah. Others don't think so. Many fundamentalist Christians believe a Temple must be set up before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Some Christian organizations have contributed to a fund to participate in the construction of such a Temple. What does the Bible say? Will there have to be a Temple in Jerusalem before the prophesied end-time events can take place? Must sacrifices be offered on the Temple Mount? Or will a physical building and sacrifices not be necessary until the Messiah has come and God's Kingdom is set up on earth? The future holds some interesting possibilities. Before studying the prophecies for the future, let's understand the history of probably the most famous geographical area and building in all human history — Jerusalem, the Temple Mount and the Temple itself.
The first Temple
King Solomon constructed the first Temple in the middle of the 10th century B.C. But even before Solomon, King David desired to build a house for God. After David returned the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, he said to Nathan the prophet, "See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells inside tent curtains" (II Samuel 7:2). Thus David let it be known that he wanted to build a Temple. That night, however, God informed Nathan that David's militaristic ways did not qualify him for the project. However, David's son Solomon would build the Temple. Then God revealed the plan and design He desired for the building. During the next years, David continued with plans for his dream to build a house for God. He purchased the threshing floor of Ornan, commonly called Mt. Moriah, for the project site. Interestingly, this is believed to be the same location to which Abraham brought his son Isaac to be sacrificed more than 1,000 years before David. In that case, you remember, God supplied a ram for the sacrifice after proving Abraham's obedience and faith. Then David began to collect materials for the construction of the Temple. David wanted quality for the house of God, and perhaps wasn't sure young Solomon would obtain the finest materials and hire the best craftsmen. David died at age 70, leaving Solomon with the responsibility to construct the Temple.
Construction under Solomon
To maintain peace in Israel, Solomon first honed his military strategy, assembling an imposing force of charioteers and horsemen — some 1,500 chariots and 12,000 horses. Then he set out to secure the economic basis of the kingdom. His copper mines and smelteries and his shipping and transport enterprises became famous. Camel caravans and ships provided a dazzling flow of goods and services. Taxes were also increased. The wealth provided means to build Jerusalem into a magnificent city. Solomon built his own palace, much more imposing than David's. Four years after he became king, Solomon started construction of the glorious Temple. The project was to last seven years. In addition to the material and laborers David had prepared for the project, Solomon hired even more workers and purchased more fine materials. Although by modern standards, it was not an especially large building, the Temple Solomon built was, for its time, extremely impressive. The Temple was not designed to hold thousands of people at a time. It was a center of worship. The priests had carefully prescribed duties and rites to perform. Even the animal sacrifices were performed in front of the Temple — not inside it. The workmanship and construction of the Temple were of the highest quality. The main walls were of hewn stone blocks quarried not far from the Temple Mount. Sturdy beams reinforced the walls. Finely carved horizontal beams were overlaid with ceiling planks and roof tiles. Finely dyed fabrics adorned some walls and doorways. Flanking the main entrance to the Temple were two massive bronze pillars, six feet in diameter and some 30 to 40 feet high. These and numerous other bronze castings were produced by a technology advanced for that day. Bronze and gold utensils were used for rituals and sacrifices. It didn't take long for the fabulous Temple to become a symbol of godly worship among the Hebrew peoples, and then its fame spread throughout the Middle East. But the time of peace and prosperity that existed under Solomon was short-lived. After Solomon's death, Israel was torn by revolution. The northern tribes formed a separate nation, retaining the name Israel. The southern nation continued under the name of Judah.
The Kingdom's decline
By 721-718 B.C., the northern tribes were carried away into captivity in Assyria. Most of those people never returned to their homelands, but in later centuries migrated to Europe and other areas of the world. For more information on where the so-called "lost" tribes of Israel are to be found today, send for our startling free book The United States and Britain in Prophecy. Not learning the lesson from Israel, Judah continued to reject God's ways, and between 604 and 585 B.C., they, too, were carried into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. In 604 the Babylonians took the first wave of captives from Judah to Babylon. Among the captives were Daniel and Ezekiel. For the next 19 years the Jews mounted a series of uprisings against the Babylonians in Judea. God's prophet Jeremiah faithfully carried out God's work during that time. Zedekiah, who was to be Judah's final king, in desperation formed an unwise 'alliance with the pharaoh of Egypt, contrary to Jeremiah's warnings. Enraged, Nebuchadnezzar sent his armies against one fortified Jewish city after another. He set a siege around Jerusalem. It was then only a matter of time. In the summer of 587 B.C. the Babylonians broke through Jerusalem's northern wall, swarming into the city. King Zedekiah fled toward Jericho, but was captured and brought before Nebuchadnezzar, just as Jeremiah had prophesied. The king's sons were killed before him and then his own eyes were put out. He was bound hand and foot and carried to Babylon, where he died. The palace and the Temple area were plundered, looted and set ablaze. The glory of Solomon's Temple was over. It had stood more than 350 years.
Permission to return
The Jewish captivity in Babylon had been prophesied to last about 70 years. In 539 B.C., the mighty Persian army under the command of Cyrus besieged Babylon. One night as the Babylonians drank and reveled, Cyrus quietly diverted the river Euphrates into irrigation channels, marched his army up the dry riverbed and in the early morning hours swarmed into the city, taking it in a few hours. Persia became the dominant empire of the world, inheriting the captive Jewish peoples. But Persian policies were different from those of the Babylonians. The Persians permitted captive peoples to live in their homelands and worship according to their ancient traditions. Previously deported peoples were allowed to return to the areas from which they had been taken. By 538 B.C., Cyrus issued a decree permitting Jewish subjects of his empire to return to their country and begin rebuilding. Settlers began to straggle back to Jerusalem. Among them was a descendant of King Jehoiachin named Zerubbabel. He was to become governor and play an important role in the reconstruction of Jerusalem and a new Temple.
A second Temple
Zerubbabel and Joshua, the high priest, cleared the rubble off the Temple Mount. The first order of business was to erect an altar and reinstitute animal sacrifices. This was done and the Festival of Succoth (the Feast of Tabernacles) was observed on the Temple Mount. It is important to note that a Temple was not at this time considered necessary for a sacrificial altar or for religious services. Then Zerubbabel began building a Temple. Just as Solomon had done, he hired quality craftsmen and ordered building logs of cedar. Levites were given responsibilities at the project. Songs and religious ceremonies recalled the days of glory of the first Temple. But the joys were short-lived. Because of many problems in the region, the work stopped. After more than a decade, work began and ended at irregular intervals. By 515 B.C., the main edifice of a Temple was completed and dedicated. This second Temple was similar in size to the one Solomon built, but nowhere near the magnificent structure destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. Because of prophecies uttered by Daniel, Ezekiel, Haggai and Zechariah, many began to look for the Messianic kingdom to be set up, and this second Temple seemed to play an important role. However, the years passed and the glory of the Temple as depicted by Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 40-48) was not realized. And there was no sign of the Messiah. In truth, Ezekiel was not prophesying about this time of reconstruction at all, but foresaw the Temple that would be built after the coming of the Messiah — not before. Then, in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, religious laxity and intermarriage with local peoples set the stage for a revival in Judea. In the land of Persia, a devout Jew named Nehemiah had been appointed to a high office in the Persian government. Upon hearing reports from Jerusalem of the sad state of affairs there, he obtained permission to lead an expedition to Jerusalem and complete the rebuilding process now long delayed.