Where is the Temple? Part I (Why This Question Must Be Answered)
Last week’s brutal killing of four Jewish Rabbis and an Israeli Druze policemen by two Arabs living in East Jerusalem generated outrage and condemnation from Israelis and from citizens and leaders of nations throughout the world. It was the subject of news reports and articles from a myriad of sources, including the Eye of Prophecy article entitled, And Justice for All. Sadly, the murders also produced celebrations by thousands of Palestinians who praised the killings and the killers.
In a general historical context, this merciless atrocity was yet one more manifestation of the deep hatred harbored by Arab Muslims in Israel and by Muslims the world over for the Jews, and for the very existence of a Jewish nation. Yet, there was a narrower purpose behind the murders. Like several other Palestinian lone wolf attacks against Jews in recent weeks, it’s all too clear that the incitement instigated by Palestinian leaders, not the least of whom was the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, motivated the assassins to strike.
Ostensibly the attack on the Har Nof Synagogue worshippers was in retaliation for the death of a Palestinian bus driver, because of lies disseminated throughout the West Bank and Gaza that Jews killed the man. This despite overwhelming evidence that the driver committed suicide. But there was a deeper underlying motivation: None other than President Abbas’ not-so-veiled threat against the Jews—by encouraging all Palestinians to do whatever possible to counteract Jewish “contamination” of the Al-Aqsa mosque complex on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.
Equally evident is that Israelis have absolutely no interest in setting foot inside the Dome of the Rock or otherwise contaminating Muslim shrines.
Abbas knows this; thus, his bellicose statement was intended to incite Palestinians to harass and even prevent Jews from visiting the Temple Mount for any reason whatsoever, certainly not to pray or worship. Despite recapturing all of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of June, 1967, the Israelis gave supervisory administration of Temple Mount back to the Jordanians, who detest any Jewish worship or prayer on this Jewish holy site.
For Americans reading this article, especially Texans, can you imagine Sam Houston, after reclaiming the Alamo, giving it back to Mexico for administrative purposes or any other reason? But even more presumptuously … Mexican authorities refusing permission for Americans to set foot in the Alamo? I think not!
Under those conditions why does any Jew, even the Orthodox, bother to set foot on Temple Mount? Their second Temple was destroyed long ago by the Romans. When they finish their ascent to Temple Mount, all they see are Muslim shrines. Even some Israelis including leading politicians discourage Jews from visiting Temple Mount, to appease those who seek their very destruction. Yet, the question is rhetorical: The religious and national heritage established and perpetuated by this ancient sacred site of the 1st and 2nd Jewish Temples is reason enough.
Neither is Abbas oblivious to the ongoing movement of the Jewish Temple Mount Faithful and other organizations that have gained momentum in recent months to reclaim this ancient Jewish Holy Site as belonging exclusively to the Jews. Knesset Members are listening more intently to those calling for annexation of Temple Mount as part of Jerusalem proper … with the ultimate goal of rebuilding the Third Temple.
Some Tough Perplexing Questions
Some, including me, have championed the Israeli/Jewish right to the Promised Land and also their authority to rebuild the most sacred edifice ever erected in Jewish history—Solomon’s Temple. Plus the Biblically predicted fact that a Third Temple will one day be rebuilt. Please see Eye of Prophecy posts, A Third Jewish Temple, Part I & Part II, published 4-26-14 and 5-3-14.
But with this article, a reverse twist meant to dutifully challenge (with consideration, courtesy, respect, and even reverence) the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with a poignant but probing question: Where is the Temple?
What happened to it? How can any Jew embrace and practice Judaism without the ancient sacrifices, which is the fundamental reason the Tabernacle and then the Temple was built in the first place? Did the loss of the Temple affect the very core of the Jewish faith? If so, how and to what extent? In light of clear Scripture evidence that God, himself, orchestrated the destruction of Solomon’s Temple (through a pagan nation, Babylon, to punish Israel for their grievous transgressions … likewise Roman demolition of the 2nd Temple because of Israel’s unbelief), has God also done away with the very heart of his redemptive plan for mankind through Israel—reconciliation and salvation by the sacrificial shedding of blood?
Please continue with me today and for the next two articles. I believe you’ll find this to be a fascinating journey beginning some thirty-three hundred years ago at Mount Sinai. We will closely examine and follow the hallowed unerring map of Scripture that will lead us to our destination. Then decide for yourself if the question has been answered and what it really means.
But first an (obvious) disclaimer: The question, Where is the Temple, isn’t meant to be answered by a literal location. Because we know that the Temple isn’t (anywhere). It’s gone. But why? Was there a more far-reaching purpose why God allowed the Temples to be obliterated? What was/is God’s ultimate purpose for the Temple? Can that purpose be fulfilled if there is no Temple? Who, if anyone; or what, if anything, has replaced the Temple for two thousand years?
In short, how can the Jewish faith function without adhering to the entire Mosaic Law; which clearly was an equally balanced two-tier foundation of: (1) Obedience to God’s Word … pillars of laws, commands, decrees, regulations. (2) Sacrificial Offerings … the cornerstones of atonement by, blessing from, and relationship with God. Moreover, the God-ordained location for the animal sacrifices was first the Tabernacle and later the Temple, which were built on Mount Moriah, the ancient site of today’s Temple Mount. Among other requirements, only the physical entrance into the inner sanctuary (Holy of Holies) once a year by the High Priest would ensure God’s ultimate forgiveness of Israel’s sins, individual and national.
Putting it bluntly: Keeping the Ten Commandments and other regulatory decrees is only half of what is required by the Law of Moses. There must also be strict observance of the Sacrificial System as a means of reconciliation to God for breaking his law. How can God remove or even cover sin without the required sacrificial offerings commanded by God through Moses? If the Temple is rebuilt, will the reinstated burnt offerings once again certify forgiveness of sin and restoration to God?
The entire Jewish faith hinges on the Law of Moses. But without the Sacrificial System that reached its annual peak on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) to include the sacrifice of one goat in the Holy of Holies within the Temple itself for forgiveness of sins; then the release of the second (scape) goat into the wilderness to symbolically carry away the sins of the people, how can a Jew or anyone be reconciled to God.
Regarding the Day of Atonement: “On that day offerings of purification will be made for you, and you will be purified in the Lord’s presence from all your sins” (Leviticus 16:30). Then a few verses later: “This is a permanent law for you, to purify the people of Israel from their sins, making them right with the Lord once each year” (Leviticus 16:34).
We will, therefore, begin with the basic premise of the Mosaic Law: No Temple, no sacrifices. No sacrifices, no forgiveness of sins. No forgiveness of sins, no redemption.
In the Beginning
God activated his extraordinary plan of salvation for the entire human race immediately after Adam and Eve sinned against God in the Garden of Eden. Because God is omniscient, he knew that the man and women he created would misuse the free will he gave them, by deliberately choosing to disobey him; thus, he conceived a remarkable remedy that would satisfy his attributes of holiness and justice. Because the very life of mankind is sustained by blood, the sacrificial substitutionary shedding of blood would be the source of a redemptive purchase from the penalty of sin … of restoration to God.
Many know the story. Shamed by the guilt of their sin, Adam and Eve suddenly realized they were “naked.” Before they ate the fruit of the one tree that God forbade them to touch, they thought nothing of wearing only their “birthday suit” in the Garden. But when they took the fruit from the tree and ate it, “At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves” (Genesis 3:7).
But from God’s vantage point, Adam and Eve’s choice of fig leaves or any other botanical covering was totally inadequate to hide their nakedness, which now was a source of culpability before God. Meaning that their nakedness was a whole lot more than skin deep. Their very soul and spirit had been exposed before God, an exposure that revealed the ugliness of their sin and accountability for their rebellion.
Do you remember what the Lord did? First, he pronounced the penalty on Satan, then Eve, then Adam. Only after sentencing Adam and Eve did the Lord make both a literal and symbolic provision to cover their dishonor and disgrace. “And the Lord God made clothing from animal skins for Adam and his wife” (Genesis 3:21).
As many Bible commentators and teachers have correctly said: In order to provide the animal skins, God had to kill (shed the blood of) innocent animals. Thus began the fundamental source of and prerequisite to man’s redemption, which would subsequently become an essential, eternal life-giving principle and practice that began in the time of Moses—the substitutionary shedding of innocent blood in exchange for forgiveness of sin.
Not the warped child sacrifice that some depraved ungodly people have practiced down through the ages; rather the sacrifice of otherwise innocent animals. An absolutely vital truth that would eventually culminate in the greatest sacrifice of all time; one that would forever bridge the unbridgeable chasm between man and God. The sacrifice of lambs, goats, and bulls was only a temporary prototype depicting the once for all atonement of the Righteous for the unrighteous, the Just for the unjust.
“In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).
Why shedding of blood? Because God through Moses said: “…the life of the body is in the blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the Lord. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible” (Leviticus 17:11).
First, the (Ten) Commandments
The entire Levitical sacrificial system was an inseparable facet of the meticulous Tabernacle design, construction, and function imparted by God to Moses. But first came the Ten Commandments … then more commandments, decrees, and regulations. Followed by detailed instructions of what to do about violations, both intentional and inadvertent, of these moral, spiritual, social, and ceremonial laws. Thus, the shedding of the blood of innocent animals accompanied with true heartfelt repentance of wrong things done constituted the remedy … the ongoing solution for breaking God’s laws.
If asked how and when the Ten Commandments were first given to the Hebrews, many Jews and even Christians who read the Bible on a regular basis would answer that the Commandments were written by the hand of God on two solid stone tablets during Moses’ forty day sojourn on Mount Sinai. And they would be correct. Well not quite, but almost!
No, it was not when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the stone tablets, then smashed them on the rocks in anger at what some of the people had done in his absence … the golden calf. Only to return to the mountain for a second set of tablets. It was before that.
“Exactly two months after the Israelites left Egypt, they arrived in the wilderness of Sinai … Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. The Lord called to him from the mountain and said, ‘Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel. You have seen what I did to the Egyptians … Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation. This is the message you must give to the people of Israel’” (Exodus 19:1-6).
Moses then relayed God’s words to the people who agreed that they would, “…do everything the Lord has commanded” (Verse 8). But then God did something entirely unexpected. Up to this point, God had spoken audibly only to Moses.
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will come to you in a thick cloud, Moses, so the people themselves can hear me when I speak with you. Then they will always trust you’” (Verse 9). Moses then relayed specific instructions to the people to get them ready for this spectacular encounter with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the true and living God.
“On the morning of the third day, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled. Moses led them out from the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently. As the blast of the ram’s horn grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God thundered his reply” (Exodus 19:16-19).
“Then God gave the people all these instructions: ‘I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but me. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind….’” (Exodus 20:1-4).
The passage continues with God’s majestic powerful voice naming each one of the Ten Commandments. Thus, the Israelites first received the Commandments directly from the voice of God. What was their reaction?
“And they said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen. But don’t let God speak directly to us, or we will die!’” (Exodus 20:19).
“Don’t be afraid,” Moses answered them, “for God has come in this way to test you, and so that your fear of him will keep you from sinning!” (Verse 20).
“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Say this to the people of Israel: You saw for yourselves that I spoke to you from heaven’” (Verse 22).
Following the Ten Commandments, many more instructions concerning their relationship with God and interpersonal relationships with each other were given to Moses.
“Then Moses went down to the people and repeated all the instructions and regulations the Lord had given him. All the people answered with one voice, ‘We will do everything the Lord has commanded’” (Exodus 24:3).
All of God’s Covenants have been sealed with blood, including the Covenant with Adam, Noah, and Abraham. So, too, with Moses and the Hebrews. “Then Moses took the blood from the basins and splattered it over the people, declaring, ‘Look, this blood confirms the covenant the Lord has made with you in giving you these instructions’” (Verse 8).
Another incredible thing happened: “Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders climbed up the mountain again. There they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there seemed to be a surface of brilliant blue lapis lazuli, as clear as the sky itself. And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, he did not destroy them. In fact, they ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in his presence!” (Exodus 24: 9-11).
Amazing! More than once in Scripture, we are told that no one can look upon God and live. In this case, the Lord made an exception. However, I’m convinced that this face to face encounter with the living God was possible because God appeared in the form of the pre-Incarnate Messiah, the second Person of the Godhead, who made other appearances before he actually came to this earth, born of a Virgin.
Only after all these remarkable events did Moses actually receive the Ten Commandments in written form … the tablets. “Then Moses disappeared into the cloud as he climbed higher up the mountain. He remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights” (Exodus 24:18).
Then the Tabernacle
Not until the Law was given to Moses, then to the people, did God issue orders to build the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle. Yet even the Covenant of the Law had to be ratified with blood. This Mosaic Law was and still is the bedrock core essence of Judaism. It is practiced with a good deal of diligence and passion in today’s world, especially by Orthodox and Conservative Jews. Even liberal Jews innately recognize that being a Jew is more than genealogical; it’s identification with and (to varying degrees) participation in these sacred beliefs that ultimately define them as Jewish.
Photo Depicts Temple Mount. Plenty of Room for 3rd Temple!
The written Law of Moses is of vital importance to the Jewish faith; it is the heart of the Torah … the first five books of the Bible. Indeed, the Ten Commandments provide the most excellent moral foundation known to mankind. Strategic, enforceable laws are built on it. Time tested values and customs thrive on it. Healthy family and social relationships depend on it. But without the ensuing Festivals and particularly the Sacrificial Offerings, any spiritual interaction and relationship with God was impossible. Because no one could or can keep every point of the Law. You break one law, you break them all.
Then the Temple replaced the Tabernacle as a much larger, more glorious, permanent building in Jerusalem; that nevertheless possessed the same blueprint design consisting of, for example, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies.
But the question cannot be skirted or flippantly brushed aside: Where is the Temple? Which then begs the question: What happened to the Sacrificial Offerings sovereignly instituted by God?
If a Jew or if any Gentile is going to stake their eternal destiny on successfully keeping/following the Mosaic Law, the Ten Commandments, or even related man-made moral/religious rules of conduct, then they must comply with two cornerstone requirements articulated and demonstrated throughout Scripture by the true and living God who issued these decrees.
- The laws must be kept perfectly and continually, without exception. (God’s Holiness)
- If anyone sins by breaking even one law, then they must internally—from their heart— confess their sin, ask for forgiveness; and externally demonstrate their repentance by an appeal to the High Priest for a substitutionary shedding of innocent blood to remove the guilt and stain of these sins. (God’s Grace and Mercy)
In other words, the Law without Grace can only condemn. It cannot save. Right standing with God comes only through faith in God’s sacrificial provision for every man, woman, and child.
Anticipating the Hebrews’ questions on who would succeed their High Priest, Aaron, God told Moses: “In future generations, the purification ceremony will be performed by the priest who has been anointed and ordained to serve as high priest in place of his ancestor Aaron….” (Leviticus 16:32).
But there was a High Priest who predated Aaron and Moses by hundreds of years—Melchizedek. A priest who gave Abraham the first High Priestly blessing ever given, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth” (Genesis 14:18). A priest who was also a king, which superseded the Aaronic priesthood; because after Moses’ time priests could not be kings, nor could kings be priests.
Eventually there would come a High Priest who was sinless, who didn’t need to make a sacrificial purification offering for himself. Indeed, this High Priest was a descendant from the tribe of Judah because he is also the King of Israel, who would sacrifice himself for the sins of the people … ALL people, Jew and Gentile alike.
“And no one can become a high priest simply because he wants such an honor. He must be called by God for this work, just as Aaron was. That is why Christ did not honor himself by assuming he could become High Priest. No, he was chosen by God who said to him, ‘You are my Son, Today I have become your Father … You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek’” (Hebrews 5:4-6).
Things to Ponder
Because the Temple and, therefore, the sacrificial system of sin and peace offerings were eradicated by the Romans in 70 AD, Halacha (keeping the Jewish law, the complete body of rules that Jews are bound to follow, including biblical and rabbinical commandments and binding customs) is the only viable facet of Judaism applicable to contemporary Jews.
But according to the Scriptures (Torah itself), this is not enough. God knew that no one could ever keep the law in its entirety, because every person is born with a sin nature and a nature to sin. Thus, the law was not meant to be the source of salvation. It was intended only to show us God’s perfect standard of righteousness, and how no person ever has or ever will live up to that standard. That trust in God’s marvelous plan of substitutionary sacrifice (first with animals and finally, for all time, with his Son) was the only way of salvation.
This was true long before God gave the Law and the Sacrificial Offerings to Moses and the people. “And Abraham believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith” (Genesis 15:6, italics for emphasis).