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The Significance of the Holy Temple

The Significance of Zion

And the Tragedy of Tishah B'Av...

Spiritually speaking, Jerusalem, and in particular Mount Moriah (i.e., the Temple Mount), is considered the most important place on earth, for the following reasons:
 

  1. According to the Jewish sages, God began the creation of the universe there, and the bedrock at Moriah is called Even ha-Shetiyah (אבן השתייה), "the Foundation Stone," referring to the creation of the earth on the First Day (Isa. 28:16).
  2. The dust of Moriah is said to have been used to create Adam (who was later placed in the "garden which lay to the East"). As will be seen, man was created from the place of his atonement.
  3. According to common Jewish tradition, Moriah was the place that Adam first offered sacrifice, as did his sons Cain and Abel. So did Noah and Abraham. King David and Solomon set the altar for the First Temple there. 
  4. It was in Jerusalem that Abraham met with Malki-Tzedek (Gen. 14:18; Heb. 7:1).
  5. Abraham offered Isaac on Mount Moriah (Gen. 22:1-19). This is known as Akedat Yitzchak or "the binding of Isaac" and clearly prefigures the sacrifice of God the Father of Yeshua His Son (see below for more on this).
  6. Isaac met his bride there (Gen. 24:63-67). This is a picture of the bride of the Messiah.
  7. Jacob had his dream of the ladder to heaven there (Gen. 28:10-22).
  8. Moses foresaw the Holy Temple (Ex. 15:17) and was given its blueprint at Sinai (i.e., the Miskhan or Tabernacle).
  9. According to the Talmud, Jerusalem was named by God. The name has two parts: Yira, which means "to teach," and shalam, which means "peace."  Jerusalem is the place where God would teach humanity the meaning of peace, through the Prince of Peace, Yeshua the Mashiach, and His sacrifice for humanity.
  10. King David made Jerusalem the capital of Israel (2 Sam. 24:18-25).
  11. Solomon built the First Temple there (1 Kings 6-8; 2 Chron. 3:1-2).
  12. Zerubbabel and Nehemiah built the Second Temple there (Neh. 4-6). Later, King Herod (37-4 BC) remodeled and enlarged it, but the Romans destroyed it in 70 AD (the massive retaining wall (the Kotel or Wailing Wall) that encompass Mount Moriah is all that remains of the Second Temple).
  13. We are explicitly commanded to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Ps. 122:6).
  14. The LORD Yeshua called Jerusalem the "City of the Great King" (Matt. 5:35) and had special affection for it (Matt 23:37). He attended the festivals there (Luke 2:43, John 2:23), taught there, and performed His sacrificial work there (Matt. 16:21).
  15. Yeshua was crucified in Jerusalem, just to the north of Moriah at Golgatha (Matt. 27:33). There is also sound archaeological evidence to suppose that the place of the crucifixion of Yeshua was at the summit of Mt. Moriah, probably near the present-day Damascus Gate.
  16. Yeshua was raised from the dead in Jerusalem (Luke 24:46-7).
  17. Yeshua ascended from Mount Olives in Jerusalem (Acts 1:12).
  18. The Church was born in Jerusalem (Acts 1:4,8,12; 2:1-40).
  19. The Apostle Paul kept the Jewish festivals and ceremonial laws in Jerusalem (even after coming to faith in Yeshua as His Lord - see Acts 18:18; 20:6; 21:20-24) and was willing to be killed there for the sake of Yeshua (Acts 21:13).
  20. The writer of the book of Hebrews calls Jerusalem "the City of the Living God"
    (Heb. 12:22).
  21. Jerusalem is the place where the Third Temple (tribulation temple) will be built
    (Rev. 11; Matt. 24).
  22. Jerusalem is the place where the LORD Yeshua will return in glory
    (Zech. 14:4; Acts 1:12; Matt. 24).
  23. Jerusalem is the place where the Fourth Temple (millennial temple) will be built (Ezek. 40-45).
  24. Jerusalem is the name of the coming paradise of God, which descends upon the earth after the millennial reign of Messiah (Rev. 3:12, 21:2,10).
  25. Jerusalem is the most frequently occurring place name in the Scriptures, mentioned over 800 times (Zion is mentioned an additional 152 times). Note that although Scripture sometimes calls all of Jerusalem "Zion," Mt. Zion lies about half a mile to the West of Moriah. In ancient times a deep valley separated Mt. Zion from Mt. Moriah, but today rubble from Jerusalem's many destructions completely fills this valley. Just east of Mt. Moriah is the Mount of Olives which is about 300 feet higher than the high points of Mt. Zion or Mt. Moriah. Yeshua ascended to heaven from the summit of the Mt. of Olives according to Acts 1:1-12 and will make his triumphant return to earth from the same location, according to Zechariah 14:4.

A famous midrash sums up the sentiment of many Jews regarding Jerusalem and the Holy Temple:

    "As the navel is set in the center of the human body, so is the land of Israel the navel of the world; as Jerusalem is in the center of the land of Israel, so is the sanctuary in the center of Jerusalem; as the holy place is in the center of the sanctuary, and the ark is in the center of the holy place, and the foundation stone is before the holy place, so from it the world was founded." (Adapted from Midrash Tanchuma, Kedoshim)
     

The word moriah (מוריה) comes from the verb ra'ah (ראה), "to see" (with the divine Yah- [יהּ] suffix), and is first explicitly mentioned in the Torah in connection with Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac (known as the Akedat Yitzchak, or "binding of Isaac"). There is a play on words here.  It was at Moriah (lit. "seen by YHVH") that Abraham called the LORD Adonai Yireh (יְהוָה יִרְאֶה), "the LORD who sees [our need]" in reference to the provision of sacrifice in Isaac's place.

Consider how the Akedah provides a prophetic picture of the provision of sacrifice made by the Lord Yeshua as the "Lamb of God" (Seh haElohim) who "takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29). Both Isaac and Yeshua were born miraculously; both were "only begotten sons"; both were to be sacrificed by their fathers at Mount Moriah; both were to be resurrected on the third day (Gen. 22:5, Heb. 11:17-19); both willingly took up the means of his execution; and both demonstrate that one life can be sacrificed for another – the ram for Isaac, and Yeshua for all of mankind. Indeed, the first occurrence of the word love in the Scriptures (אהבה, ahavah, in Gen. 22:2) refers to a father's love for his "only" son who was offered as a sacrifice on Moriah (the very place of the crucifixion of Jesus), a clear reference to the gospel message (John 3:16).

When the Israelites first entered the Promised Land under Joshua, Moses' vision of the Temple (embodied in the Mishkan, or Tabernacle) still burned within their hearts. Nonetheless, it was centuries later when King David purchased the threshing floor of Arunah the Jebusite (2 Sam. 24) and there erected an altar in the hopes of building God "a house" (2 Sam. 7). The LORD forbade David, however, but assigned the actual building of the Temple to his son Solomon (2 Chron. 6:9; 2 Sam. 7:12-14). Later we read that the Shekhinah Glory of the LORD filled Solomon's Temple (1 Kings 8:10-11). After centuries of delay, Moses' vision of the Holy Temple was realized!

Or so it seemed... Solomon's Temple stood for close to 400 years, but because of rampant apostasy was later destroyed in 586 BC by the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar. This was a catastrophic blow to the Jewish heart.  Ezra the Scribe later led a return of the exiles to rebuild the Temple (under the auspices of King Cyrus of Persia), but the Ark of the Covenant was apparently missing -- and the Holy of Holies was therefore empty. Nearly 500 years after that, the Second Temple was in such severe need of repair that King Herod the Great refurbished it and expanded its size.  This was the Temple that stood in the time of Jesus, who was dedicated there as a baby and taught there during his ministry. However, Herod's Temple was likewise destroyed in fulfillment of Jesus' pronouncements of judgment (Matt. 24:1-2; Mark 13:2; Luke 21:6, 20-24).

Bas Relief Roman Destruction of Temple

Titus destroys the Second Temple


 

During his earthly ministry, Yeshua referred to himself as the True Temple of God that dwelt among us. The Mishkan (Tabernacle) was a temporary dwelling place as was the physical Bet Hamikdash (Temple). As Solomon said, God never could be contained in a house made of stone, cedar and gold (2 Chron. 6:18). These were shadows of a greater Substance that entirely embodied the Temple's purpose and essential truth (Col. 2:17). Yeshua told the Pharisees of his day that he was greater than the Temple in Jerusalem (Matt. 12:6) and challenged them: "Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19-21). Yeshua is the Shekhinah - the Presence of God - manifested in the temple of human form: "For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (Col. 2:9, John 1:1,14). As the Lamb of God, Yeshua is not only the Kodesh Hakodoshim (Holy of Holies) -- embodied within a human heart of flesh -- but also the substance and end of all sacrifice (Heb. 10:12). When his flesh was destroyed on the Cross, the curtain of the Temple was likewise rent asunder (Matt. 27:50). Access to the inner sanctum of the LORD was thenceforth available to all who would come in faith. Yeshua alone is the Spirit, Source and the End of the true Temple of God.

But what about the great promises of God that one day the Temple would be restored upon the earth (Isa. 65, Ezek. 40-48, etc.)? What about the promised regathering of Israel from among the nations (Deut. 30:3-5; Neh. 1:8-9; Ezek. 37:11-12, 21; Ezek. 39:28; Zeph. 3:19-20, Acts 15:16, etc.)? Do not Jews from around the world pray for this very thing every single day? (See the 17th blessing of the Amidah prayer.)  And don't the Jewish sages, based on reasoning directly implied by the Hebrew prophets, still speak of yemot Hamashiach (the "days of the Messiah") and a coming Messianic Era? Won't the Messiah usher in a new era of peace for humanity and restore national Israel to her greatness? According to some of these sages, the Messiah will usher in Yom YHVH, the "Day of the LORD" and then the sabbatical millennium, the 1000 year reign of King Messiah, will commence.  Prior to the arrival of the Messiah, however, will be the "time of Jacob's trouble," the acharit hayamim, or the "end of days" (note how this coheres with the Christian expectation of the Great Tribulation and the Second Coming of Jesus).



 

Since we understand that Yeshua is the true Temple and the beginning and end of all sacrifice, what are we to make of the prophesied "Millennial Temple" (i.e., the Fourth Temple of the Millennial Kingdom - not the Third Temple spoken of during the Tribulation period in Matt. 24:15-21, 2 Thess. 2:1-4)? This Fourth Temple will be built after the Second Coming of the Yeshua as Mashiach ben David (Isa. 2:2-3; Ezek. 37:26; Micah 4:1-2, 7; Joel 3:21; Mal. 3:1, Ezek. 40-45, etc.). Does this represent, metaphorically, the presence of redeemed (ethnic) Israel (i.e., 1 Pet. 2:5), or should we expect to see a literal Temple built, complete with a restored Levitical priesthood, animal sacrifices, and so on, along the lines of Ezekiel's detailed vision (Ezek. 40-45)?


 

Exegetically, the description of the Fourth Temple ("Ezekiel's Temple") does not read as a metaphor in Scripture: the language used is replete with precise measurements and architectural terms. Moreover, there are distinct changes to its functioning from that of Mosaic revelation. For instance, there is no "wall of partition" between Jews and Gentiles, no appointed High Priest, no special furnishings in the Holy of Holies, and so on (for more information, see Lambert Dolphin's excellent article here). And even though animal sacrifices will be offered at this Temple (Ezek. 43:18-46:24), this in no way impugns the "once and for all" sacrifice of Jesus. It must be remembered that animal sacrifices never could take away sin (Heb. 10:4,11), and therefore there's no reason to think that sacrifices offered in the Millennial Temple will be anything other than memorials of the finished work of Jesus.

The Millennial Kingdom itself appears to be an "intermediate period" in God's plan for the ages - the "Seventh Day" of Creation that foreshadows something deeper still. That "something deeper still" is the eternal state of olam habah, the world to come, and the heavenly city of New Jerusalem:

    "And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb." (Revelation 21:22-23)


     

There are a lot of mysteries in the overarching plans and purposes of the Lord, chaverim. One thing is certain, however, and that is that the New Covenant has not been entirely fulfilled, since Yeshua is not presently seated on David's throne (on earth) and Israel's full participation and centrality has not yet occurred:

    "Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law (תּוֹרָה) within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."

    Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar - the LORD of hosts is his name: "If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever." Thus says the LORD: "If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the LORD" (Jeremiah 31:31-36).
     

The Temple of the LORD is already here -- in the Person of the resurrected Messiah -- and yet it will be made fully manifest in the days to come: First in the Millennial Kingdom (after Jesus' Second Coming), and later still in olam habah (the world to come) as the eternal community of those redeemed by the Lamb of God (Rev. 21:22-23).  So for those of us who hold faith in Yeshua as the Messiah, our mourning for the Temple is really mourning for the Presence of our Beloved Savior.  May He come quickly, and in our days...


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