One of the more divisive debates in the field of eschatology is in regard to the Third Temple. There are some who believe that there will be a physical Third Temple that will be built around the time of the Second Coming of Christ, as is allegedly mentioned in some of the Old Testament prophets. On the other hand, there are many who believe that this Third Temple is symbolic and that the physical building will never exist.
To better understand what the Third Temple is most likely to be, let’s explore the context of the first two temples, and what Scripture has to say about a potential Third Temple.
What Is the Purpose of the Temple?
The temple was first built to provide a physical place where the presence of God would dwell among the people of Israel. God’s presence on Earth dwelt for hundreds of years in the tabernacle, which was a tent that the people of Israel used in locations like Shiloh prior to their arrival at Jerusalem. However, in 1 Chronicles 22, David prepared for the building of a permanent temple, and charged his son Solomon to oversee its construction. The purpose of the temple is to house God’s physical presence. It is where God’s people go to worship Him and make sacrifices before Him.
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What Happened to the First Two Temples?
The First Temple was built by Solomon and his crew. This temple was destroyed in 586 BC, when the Babylonians destroyed the city of Jerusalem and took the Israelites in exile.
The Second Temple was rebuilt after Cyrus the Persian had taken over the Babylonian empire, and he allowed the Israelites to return from exile. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah detail the process of rebuilding the temple. This temple was hoped to be the place where God’s presence would dwell on Earth forever. However, this would prove to not be the case, as it was destroyed in AD 70, when the Romans sacked Jerusalem.
Where Is the Third Temple Mentioned in the Bible?
Although not as explicit as many would like, there are a few common passages to which people point in regard to the Third Temple in Scripture. Here are three passages that often are referenced as biblical evidence for a literal Third Temple:
“And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed.” (Daniel 9:26)
“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, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4)
“Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, 2 but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months.” (Revelation 11:1-2)
Is the Third Temple Literal or Symbolic?
Despite these references to a future temple, it seems that the biblical consensus, in particular the teachings of Jesus and Paul, is that there will be no literal Third Temple. Jesus and Paul both teach repeatedly that God’s people are His new temple, as He dwells within them. If God makes His dwelling within His people, there is no need for a building in which to dwell. The Church is God’s new temple, rendering another temple unnecessary.
In 1 Corinthians 3:16, Paul asks the following question, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” Paul is explicit here, that God’s Spirit dwells within His followers. The Church now serves that function of the temple.
Paul goes on later in the same letter, saying, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
Notice how Paul is teaching this to his readers before the Second Temple in Jerusalem was ever destroyed by the Romans. Paul believed that the Church had taken over for the temple, and not simply because the temple had been destroyed.
Even though the temple was still standing tall, Paul never once teaches in his letters that Christians are to flock to it to be in the presence of God. He consistently teaches that God’s Spirit dwells within Christians, and that the Church is the new temple. Even after the Jerusalem temple was destroyed, Paul would not have awaited the building of a new one.
Where Does God Dwell Today?
Jesus foresaw this same dynamic, teaching decades before Paul that the temple would no longer be used for the worship of Yahweh. While speaking with the woman at the well, Jesus said, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father” (John 4:21). Jesus understood at this early point in His ministry that through His sacrifice and the giving of the Holy Spirit, the temple would no longer be needed to worship God and be in His presence.
Jesus makes a similar point near the end of His ministry, according to the Gospel of Luke, “And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down,’ (Luke 21:5-6). Jesus foresaw the destruction of the temple. Notice how He does not mourn. If He viewed the temple as still vital to our worship of Him, one would think that He would seem more concerned about its destruction and express a desire for it to be rebuilt. However, this is not the case. Jesus shows no remorse for the destruction of the temple, because He knows that it had already been superseded at that point by Him, and succeeded by His Church.
While often debated among Christians and Jews alike, Jesus and Paul are clear in their teaching. There is no need for a Third Temple, for the Church is the new temple. We do not need a new place for God’s Spirit to dwell, for He already dwells within His disciples. Let us praise Him that we do not need to journey to Jerusalem in order to worship Him and be in His presence!
Photo Credit: © Getty Images/TonyBaggett
Lucas Hagen is a freelance writer, recently graduated from Taylor University with majors in Biblical Literature and Youth Ministries. When he is not writing for Crosswalk, you can find him reading great books, playing guitar, competing in professional disc golf tournaments, and spending quality time with his lovely wife, Natalie, and their fluffy cat, Woodward. You can read more of his writing at habitsofholiness.com.
This article is part of our larger End Times Resource Library. Learn more about the rapture, the anti-christ, bible prophecy and the tribulation with articles that explain Biblical truths. You do not need to fear or worry about the future!