Jerusalem’s Temple Mount: Center of Conflict

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Center of Conflict

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MP3 Audio (43.68 MB)


Jerusalem’s Temple Mount: Center of Conflict

MP3 Audio (43.68 MB)

No place on earth has been as contentious as the land of Israel. And no city on earth has been as contentious as Israel’s capital, Jerusalem. And no part of Jerusalem has been as contentious as the Temple Mount, long a center of conflict and controversy.

Why would the Temple Mount, a large hilltop reshaped into a 36-acre stone platform that dominates the Jerusalem landscape, be such a source of conflict?

It depends on whom you ask.

For Christians, the Temple Mount is a vivid reminder of Jesus Christ’s ministry and the many incidents recorded in the Gospels that took place at the enormous temple complex constructed by Herod the Great and his successors.

For Muslims, the Temple Mount is al-Haram ash-Sharif, “the Noble Sanctuary,” the location to which Islam’s founder, Muhammad, supposedly flew by night from Mecca on Buraq, the winged steed of the prophets, and from which, accompanied by the angel Gabriel, he ascended to the heavenly throne of Allah.

For Jews, the Temple Mount encompasses the holiest spot on earth—the summit of Mt. Moriah where Abraham was spared from sacrificing Isaac, the spot where King Solomon built the beautiful first temple (destroyed by Babylonian invaders ca. 587 B.C.), the location of the temple rebuilt by Zerubbabel after the Jews’ return from exile in Babylon, the site of the magnificent temple of Herod the Great built in the decades before and after year one of the common era (destroyed by the Roman legions in A.D. 70), and the location of a future temple from which the Messiah will reign over all the earth.

Three religions, with three competing and overlapping claims—that’s a recipe for centuries of conflict.

Muslim denial of a Jewish temple or presence in Jerusalem

The Temple Mount has been in the news recently due to Muslim claims about its history. Earlier this year Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, addressed the Palestinian General Council. In a shockingly anti-Semitic two-hour speech largely ignored by Western media, Abbas condemned Israel as “a colonial enterprise that has nothing to do with Jewishness.” Of Israel’s history, he claimed that “everything has been made up.”

Those are curious statements from a man with a Ph.D. in history—until we realize that his Ph.D. was awarded by a Soviet college in Moscow and his doctoral dissertation was a denial of the Holocaust.

This isn’t the first time Abbas has made such statements. In previous speeches he has stated that the Jews “claim that 2,000 years ago they had a temple,” but “I challenge the assertion that this is so.”

He has also argued that Israelis “attempt to change the facts of Jerusalem’s landscape in every detail, and replace it with a different landscape whose purpose is to serve delusional myths and the arrogance of power. They imagine that . . . they can invent a [Jewish] history, establish claims and erase solid religious and historical facts.”

Similar comments have long been echoed by other Arab political and religious leaders and media figures. In an August 2015 Palestinian Authority TV program, a narrator declared to viewers:

“The story of the [Jerusalem] Temple is nothing but a collection of legends and myths for political reasons. [The Jews] have . . . used the myths in the service of their declared goals of occupation and imperialism. In the spirit of the delusions and legends, they try to get rid of the Al-Aqsa [the mosque near the Dome of the Rock] and establish their so-called ‘Temple’—the greatest crime and forgery in history.”

Tayseer Tamimi, the Palestinian Authority’s chief religious official, has made a number of absurd allegations about supposed Jewish attempts to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock. Several years ago, in response to Israeli archaeological excavations near the Temple Mount, Tamimi ridiculously charged: “The excavations’ purpose is to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque. In fact, its foundations have been removed. Chemical acids were injected into the rocks to dissolve them. The soil and the pillars [were moved] so the mosque is hanging in midair. There is an Israeli plan to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and to build the Temple.”

Such conspiracy theories and tortured reasoning are all too common in the Arab world. In between denials that Jews were ever in Jerusalem or ever built a temple there, some Palestinian officials have argued that the temple on the Temple Mount was originally built by the Canaanites (who preceded the Israelites’ presence in the land), and in one truly novel idea, some have stated that the temple was built by the first man, Adam—with the claim that as the first Muslim he actually built a mosque rather than a temple.

Earlier Muslim writings confirm the Jerusalem temple

When Muslims today try to deny a Jewish temple and Jewish presence in Jerusalem, they are not only rewriting history—they are denying earlier clear Muslim acknowledgments of these facts.

For example, in 1924 the Supreme Moslem Council, the governing body over Muslim affairs in Jerusalem and British-Mandate Palestine, published an English-language tourist guide to the Temple Mount titled A Brief Guide to al-Haram al-Sharif (that being the common Muslim name in use then). This guide, as well as later editions published through the 1950s, plainly stated: 

“The site is one of the oldest in the world. Its sanctity dates from the earliest times. Its identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot, according to universal belief, on which David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings” (emphasis added throughout). 

When Muslims today deny the existence of a Jewish temple in Jerusalem, they are even denying their own holy book, the Quran, which in Sura 17:7 refers to “the temple in Jerusalem” (Sahih International version) to which Muhammad miraculously traveled in his night journey.

Later Muslim translators and commentators claim the place he purportedly went to—Al Masjid al-Aqsa, meaning “the farthest temple” or “the farthest mosque,” refers to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem rather than the temple. But there’s a major problem with this: The Arabs wouldn’t capture Jerusalem and build the mosque for almost another century, long after Muhammad’s death! The only “temple in Jerusalem” the Quran could be referring to is the Jewish temple on the Temple Mount!

Early Muslim writings dating to the seventh and eighth centuries A.D. and an inscription dating to around 1000 A.D. refer to Muslims worshipping at the Dome of the Rock and “Bayt al-Maqdis,” an Arabic transliteration of the biblical Hebrew term “Beit HaMikdash”—literally “House of the Sanctuary,” a common Hebrew name for the Jerusalem temple. The Muslim writings refer to this and the Dome of the Rock as being the same location.

We see from these examples that up until recent times, Muslims freely acknowledged that a Jewish temple existed on the Temple Mount. So why did this change?

Modern controversy over the Temple Mount

So long as Jerusalem was under Muslim domination and there was no state of Israel to compete with for control, the Temple Mount wasn’t an issue. Muslims simply kept Jews and Christians away from the Temple Mount, and that was that.

But the situation changed 70 years ago with the 1948 establishment of the state of Israel and bloody fighting in Jerusalem in which Jewish areas of the city were overrun by Jordanian troops. As a result, Jewish synagogues were destroyed, Jewish property was confiscated, and Jewish graves were desecrated. Parts of the city became a “no man’s land” where the unwary could be shot by snipers.

This perilous situation continued until 1967, when in the Six-Day War Israeli troops captured the entirety of the city, repelling the Jordanians. The prize was the Temple Mount, which came under the control of the Jewish people for the first time since they had lost it to the Romans in the battle over Jerusalem in A.D. 70, 19 centuries earlier.

But so as not to further inflame Muslim anger against the tiny and still-fragile Jewish state that could lead to another round of war, Israeli commander Moshe Dayan left control of the Temple Mount to the Waqf, the Jordanian Muslim religious authority governing the Temple Mount. But one key condition was that believers of all religions—Muslim, Christian and Jewish—would now have access to the Temple Mount.

This precarious situation has led to more than 50 years of tension and bloodshed.

A heavy stone for all nations

Why did much of the Muslim world react with such fury when U.S. President Donald Trump announced several months ago that America would soon move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?

Why did six Arab states, acting on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, convince the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to designate the tomb of Rachel (wife of Isaac and one of Israel’s matriarchs) near Bethlehem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron (burial place of the Hebrew patriarchs and matriarchs Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah, and which lies beneath a gigantic stone structure built by Herod the Great) as Muslim sites in October 2015?

Why did that same resolution condemn Israeli archaeological excavations in Jerusalem—and particularly any near the Temple Mount—while ignoring Islamic actual destruction of evidence of a Jewish presence and temple on the Temple Mount?

Why do the charters of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas, the primary groups ruling over the West Bank and Gaza, call for the elimination of the state of Israel by force and for Arab takeover of all its lands?

Why, as noted earlier in this article, do Palestinian leaders and representatives deny any Jewish presence or Jewish temple on the Temple Mount or even in Jerusalem?

These are all rooted in the worldview of Islamic scholars and leaders that the world is divided into two spheres—dar al-Islam, meaning “the domain of Islam” (where Islam is dominant) and dar al-harb, meaning “the domain of war.” According to this worldview, it is considered an abomination for land that was once dar al-Islam, part of the land of Islam, to revert to dar al-harb, to fall back under control of non-Muslims, whether Christians or Jews.

This is a key reason why Muslims are so determined to bring the territory of Israel back under Muslim domination. Knowledgeable readers may recall that the Palestine Liberation Organization was founded in 1964, three years before Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War—so Muslim determination to “liberate” Israeli lands and return them to Arab control long predates Israel’s possession of these areas.

This also explains why Muslim leaders for years have openly boasted of their goal to liberate the land of Israel “from the sea to the sea”—from the Dead Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, which of course means no more Israel at all.

Considering these deep-seated hostilities, it’s no wonder that God prophesied of the end time: “And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it” (Zechariah 12:3).

Jerusalem surrounded by armies

Only a few days before His death and resurrection, Jesus gave a remarkable prophecy to His disciples while on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem. In addition to foretelling the destruction of the temple and its vast complex of courtyards, colonnades, storage buildings and other structures, He spoke of horrifying events and developments in the time of the end.

“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near,” He warned. “. . . For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled” (Luke 21:20-22). He went on to describe many terrifying events, including devastating warfare and disasters of various kinds that would precede His second coming.

And yes, Jerusalem and Israel will be mightily affected by these events. The hatreds, lies and spiritual deceptions built up over centuries will come to a head in an end-time crescendo of death and destruction unlike anything the world has ever seen—to the point that human extinction would result without God’s direct intervention (Matthew 24:21-22).

But Jesus ended His prophecy with hope: “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:27-28).

Rescue for the world from an unexpected source

The biblical book of Zechariah contains an astounding prophecy of what happens next: “Behold, the day of the Lord is coming . . . For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem . . . Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east” (Zechariah 14:1-4).

Centuries ago Muslims became aware of this prophecy and an accompanying one in Malachi 3:1 that “the Lord . . . will suddenly come to His temple.” Determined not to let this happen, they blocked up the gate in the city walls on the side that faces the Mount of Olives and opened a huge Muslim cemetery all along that side of the city walls. Knowing that the Messiah would also be a priest, they would make it impossible for Him to enter the city, because walking through a cemetery would make Him ritually defiled and unable to serve as a priest.

Apparently they underestimated Him, for Zechariah continues and tells us that “the Lord will be King over all the earth. On that day there will be one Lord—his name alone will be worshiped” (Zechariah 14:9, New Living Translation).

Once He has put down all rebellion and opposition (Zechariah 14:12-14), “it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles” (Zechariah 14:16).

Micah 4:2-3 goes on to explain how Jerusalem will fulfill its destiny as capital of a world transformed under the righteous rule of the King of Kings, Jesus Christ:

“Many nations shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and rebuke strong nations afar off; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Isaiah 11:9 foretells how this troubled city, its name denoting it as one of peace, will finally experience the peace it has longed and hoped for: “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

In a world that finally comes to know the true God, and to understand His way of life and to experience the blessings it brings, peace will at last become the new normal. Blessings will flow to the entire world! (To learn more, download or request our free study guides The Gospel of the Kingdom and Are We Living in the Time of the End?)

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem

Would you like to be a part of this incredible future? Would you like to share in this astounding future beyond today? You can! God calls you now to surrender your life to Him—through what the Bible calls repentance. It means turning from your own way of doing things and turning to God and His ways. It means seeking first His Kingdom and His righteousness in your life (Matthew 6:33).

You can start doing that now with what you’re learning in the pages of Beyond Today!

In Psalm 122:6, Israel’s King David tells us, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” Whenever I’ve visited Jerusalem I have taken David’s words to heart. I’ve waded through the crowds to the Western Wall, stood before that wall that has witnessed so many years and tears of hope and sorrow, bowed my head and asked God to send His Kingdom soon so that His beloved city may at last experience the lasting peace it has never seen.

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” Remember David’s words. May we all pray for the peace of Jerusalem that will come in the Kingdom of God, and pray that it come soon!



A Brief History of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount

ca. 1005/4 B.C.: Israel’s King David captures the Jebusite city of Jebus, also known as Salem since Abraham’s time, and makes it the capital of his unified kingdom of Israel and Judah (1 Chronicles 11:4-8). It comes to be known by various names, including Jerusalem, Zion and the City of David. David desires to build a temple to God but is told he will not be allowed to because he has been a man of war and that his son Solomon would build it. Late in life David begins gathering material for construction of the temple (1 Chronicles 22:1-16).

God through an angel and a prophet showed David where to erect the altar for the temple—on the threshing floor of Araunah or Ornan the Jebusite atop Mount Moriah, apparently the same place that God had given a ram for Abraham to sacrifice in place of Isaac (see 2 Samuel 24:16-24; 2 Chronicles 3:1; Genesis 22).

ca. 967 B.C.: David’s son and successor Solomon begins construction of the temple, utilizing workmen and materials from Tyre, whose King Hiram had built David’s palace in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 2:3–3:1).

ca. 960 B.C.: Solomon dedicates the temple, which is then filled with God’s glorious presence (2 Chronicles 5:1-14). But Solomon himself eventually turns to worship of foreign gods, and at his death ca. 931/930 B.C. his kingdom divides into the separate kingdoms of Judah (its territory surrounding and to the south of Jerusalem) and Israel (to the north of Jerusalem).

Over the following centuries the temple would at times be used for its intended purpose of honoring God, but also would fall into neglect, occasionally be repaired and restored, and eventually be transformed into a place of worship for pagan deities—largely depending on whether the kings of Judah reigning in Jerusalem were righteous or wicked.

701 B.C.: About 20 years after the northern kingdom is taken away captive into Assyria, the Assyrian king Sennacherib invades Judah and lays siege to Jerusalem, but the city and King  Hezekiah are miraculously delivered. In preparation for Assyrian invasion, Hezekiah ordered construction of a water diversion tunnel to provide a secure water supply for the city—an astounding archaeological proof of the biblical historical record that visitors to Jerusalem can see today.

ca. 700 B.C.: Although not attested in surviving historical records, archaeological evidence shows the Temple Mount was expanded during several periods—most likely during times of Jewish religious revival in the reign of King Hezekiah (ca. 729-686 B.C.) and again during a short-lived period of Jewish independence after 165/4 B.C.

ca. 587 B.C.: The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar invades the kingdom of Judah for the third time, besieges and burns the city and completely destroys the temple built by Solomon four centuries earlier. The Ark of the Covenant in the temple’s Holy of Holies disappears from history. Jerusalem lay in ruins for decades until Jewish exiles begin to return, as described in the biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Archaeological remains verify the destruction of the city by the Babylonians and the later rebuilding of fortifications as recorded in Nehemiah 2:11–4:23.

ca. 536/5 B.C.: Work begins on a rebuilt temple as described in Ezra 3:8-13. Work ceases, then renews, and the rebuilt temple is dedicated in 515 B.C., as described in Ezra 5:1–6:22.

168/7 B.C.: The Syrian invader Antiochus Epiphanes attempts to eliminate Jewish religion and erects a pagan statue (probably of himself) in the temple, and also desecrates the temple altar by sacrificing swine on it. This is a forerunner of the end-time “abomination of desolation” foretold by Jesus Christ in Matthew 24:15.

165/4 B.C.: The Jews cleanse and rededicate the temple and altar. The later Jewish holiday of Hanukkah commemorates circumstances surrounding these events. Sometime in the following years the temple platform is enlarged from the earlier construction by Solomon and Hezekiah.

ca. 20-18 B.C.: Herod the Great, king over Jerusalem and Judea, begins construction of a massive expansion of the Temple Mount and a new temple after completely removing the one built by Zerubbabel. His enormous temple complex is mentioned many times in the Gospels and was still being worked on 46 years after construction commenced, as noted in John 2:20.

A.D. 67: Around the time the temple complex begun by Herod the Great was finally finished, long-simmering Jewish hostility toward Roman rule broke out into open rebellion and began sweeping through Judea and Galilee, with ultimately devastating results for the Jewish nation.

A.D. 70: Roman legions surround Jerusalem and lay siege to the city, then break through its defenses, demolishing the Antonia Fortress adjacent to the north side of the temple complex. The Temple Mount itself becomes a battleground, and in the fighting the temple is burned and completely destroyed. The Romans destroy every vestige of the temple complex atop the foundation platform, fulfilling Jesus Christ’s prophecy that not one stone of the temple buildings would be left standing atop another (Matthew 24:1-2). The enormous foundation platform constructed by Herod remains, lying desolate.

A.D. 132-135: A second Jewish war against Roman rule, known as the Bar Kokhba revolt, breaks out with devastating results for the Jews of the region. Jerusalem is again destroyed, with Jews now expelled, and the city is rebuilt under the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a Roman city, Aelia Capitolina. During this time Hadrian builds a temple to Jupiter on the abandoned Temple Mount.

ca. A.D. 325: The Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, who came to support the dominant but compromised form of the Christian religion, demolishes the temple to Jupiter on the Temple Mount. Archaeological evidence in the form of mosaic flooring and other architectural details shows that at some point a Byzantine church was built on the Temple Mount.

ca. A.D. 692: Following the Muslim conquest of the Holy Land and capture of Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock is built on the Temple Mount. This structure, patterned after Byzantine churches and the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulcher, is a shrine rather than a mosque—built over the stone outcropping from which Muslims believe Muhammad ascended to heaven and which a number of archaeologists and other scholars believe marked the Holy of Holies of the Jerusalem temples.

ca. A.D. 705: The first Al-Aqsa Mosque, just south of the Dome of the Rock, is built on the Temple Mount (and later destroyed by earthquakes and rebuilt in 754, 780 and 1035). 

A.D. 1099: Jerusalem is retaken by Crusaders, who convert the Al-Aqsa Mosque into a palace and the Dome of the Rock into a church.

A.D. 1187: The Muslim conqueror Saladin recaptures Jerusalem and restores the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock to their previous functions. Jerusalem remains under Muslim control for the next 730 years until it is taken over by the British during World War I. During this time Jews or Christians are only rarely allowed on the Temple Mount.

A.D. 1948-49: After Israel declares independence on May 15, 1948, several months of war follow during which the Jordanian army captures large portions of Jerusalem. The city is divided into Jewish and Arab sectors. No Jews are allowed on the Temple Mount.

A.D. 1967: During the Six-Day War, Israeli forces capture all of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount—but out of concern over further inflaming the Muslim world, they allow Jordanian religious control of the Temple Mount to continue—although now Jews and Christians will be allowed on the Temple Mount, as Israel pledges free access to all of Jerusalem’s holy places. Archaeological excavations soon begin on the southern and western sides of the Temple Mount, and over the next few decades will reveal the city’s rich history—including its incontrovertible Jewish presence and character.