Is God's Temple Under Construction?

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Is God's Temple Under Construction?

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Many Jews long for it. A number are actively preparing for it. Bible prophecy says it will happen. Amazingly, it directly concerns you.

Before Jesus makes His prophesied return to earth, certain passages in the Bible appear to state that a third physical temple of God will be constructed or will be undergoing construction alongside an operational sacrificial altar, possibly directly on the ancient temple site atop Mount Moriah in the city of Jerusalem.

Since Judaism—a variant of the original Israelite religion established by God thousands of years ago—has adapted and functioned for nearly 2,000 years without an operating temple, one might be initially hard pressed to understand and appreciate the once-central role the temple of God played.

Let's review a brief history of the first and second physical temples to better understand the significance of what God is doing today. Let's also see how they may concern you!

The first physical temple in Jerusalem

First constructed and dedicated by King Solomon in the 900s B.C., the temple replaced the mobile sanctuary, commonly called the tabernacle, that was first developed during the time of Moses soon after the Exodus. This elaborate portable "temple" first served to house the resplendent Ark of the Covenant, which was placed in a designated space called the Holy of Holies—a space God's presence would occupy.

An estimated 15 to 20 stories high, the first temple complex made up about half of the city of Jerusalem at the time it was built. While the building was finished during the eighth month on the Hebrew calendar (1 Kings 6:38), it was not formally dedicated by King Solomon until nearly a year later in the following seventh month of the calendar, at the time of the annual Festival of Tabernacles (1 Kings 8:2; 2 Chronicles 5:3).

The finished temple, which towered over the city, meant different things to different people. Reflecting the future statement by Jesus that "a city that is set on hill cannot be hidden" (Matthew 5:14), the temple was specifically set on Mount Moriah by God to be "of great magnificence and fame and splendor in the sight of all the nations" (1 Chronicles 22:5, New International Version, emphasis added throughout).

To the ancient Phoenicians up north, the presence of a new regional superpower was most welcome. After becoming king, David ultimately united all of Israel, creating a regional military and political presence that could not be ignored. In fact, the new united kingdom that grew under King Solomon, David's son, stretched its borders far, shunting aside the Assyrians. The hated Assyrians now no longer dominated the Phoenicians, who were regional leaders in trade.

Now, with no more tribute being paid to the Assyrians, the Phoenicians were eager to forge strong ties with the burgeoning military power to the south, particularly since it seemed to win major battles effortlessly. Phoenicia thus was quick to recognize the victorious King David of Israel, sending diplomatic emissaries south with gifts of prized wood from the legendary cedars of Lebanon.

The Festival of Tabernacles dedication of this mammoth and glorious physical structure was an event of epic scale. Shortly before a dramatic dedication prayer by King Solomon, the priests carried the cherished Ark of Covenant, which contained the two stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments had been written by God Himself, into the new Holy of Holies.

As the priests withdrew from this sacred space, "the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple" (1 Kings 8:10-11, NIV)

The first temple dominated the early history of the united kingdom of Israel. But what does that have to do with you? Let's read on.

The once-proud temple destroyed

Tragically, despite this majestic and awe-inspiring beginning, the people of Israel and Judah ultimately allowed the beauty and magnificence of the physical temple to eclipse God Himself. They allowed, then promoted, its desecration. Despite many dire prophetic warnings from Moses to Jeremiah and more, first Israel, then Judah, turned to other gods, powerless idols of clay and stone (Ezekiel 8:5-17). As a result, they would pay a severe price.

The consequences of these lawless actions finally reached a bitter climax. The prophet Ezekiel recorded a vision of a dreadful scene. Centuries after Solomon's magnificent dedication, the presence of God once again took the form of a cloud. God's mighty manifestation again "filled the temple, and the court was full of the radiance of the glory of the Lord" (Ezekiel 10:4, NIV).

But this time something terrible happened —all a result of Israel's manifold sins and rejection of God: "Then the glory of the Lord departed from over the threshold of the temple," rising to the east gate of the Temple Mount and then on to lift above the Mount of Olives (Ezekiel 10:18, Ezekiel 11:1, Ezekiel 11:22-23)

With God's presence removed, the once-glorious temple became as an ordinary building. Without God's protection, ancient Jerusalem was doomed.

Finally, the previously unthinkable happened. "The city was besieged . . . the city wall was broken through" (Jeremiah 52:5-7). The result? Just as prophesied, in 587-586 B.C. King Zedekiah was forcibly captured and taken captive to Babylon, together with multiple thousands of Jewish families, now simply the booty of war.

Shortly thereafter the captain of the guard for Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar returned to Jerusalem. There "he set fire to the temple of the Lord, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down" (Jeremiah 52:13, NIV).

The promises of disobedience had tragically come to life. Now virtually annihilated, the ruins of Jerusalem and its once-mighty temple became the habitation of crows and vultures (Psalm 79:1-2).

However, all was not lost. God is merciful. And what came to pass has a direct impact on us today!

Rebuilt, yet not as before

Over time the political sands shifted. Decades later, the Persian Empire conquered the former Babylonian empire, and God caused its king to look favorably toward the captive Jews. Miraculously, King Cyrus of Persia was inspired directly by God to not only allow the Jews to return to their homeland, but to provide funds and supplies to rebuild the previously destroyed temple!

Accordingly, Cyrus the Great issued a decree in 538 B.C. to allow about 50,000 Jews, led by Zerubabbel, to return to Jerusalem and begin the rebuilding (Ezra 1:2-4; Ezra 6:3-5). This was no easy task, particularly given that the Jews now lacked the massive resources of an emerging superpower that Solomon previously enjoyed.

The Jews ran into numerous difficult challenges, and work lagged. In 520 B.C., nearly two decades later during the second year of the reign of King Darius (who succeeded Cyrus), God subsequently empowered the prophet Haggai to encourage and direct the Jews to again take up the rebuilding of the temple.

But as the rough-hewn walls of the second temple rose up, some of the older people present remembered the magnificence of the first temple and shuddered. Haggai again delivered a critical message from God: "Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?" (Haggai 2:3, NIV). Obviously the second temple in 520 B.C. was a far distant second to the structure it replaced.

Prophecies of greater glory and destruction

But Haggai then uttered a critical prophecy: "What is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord Almighty . . . 'The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house'" (Haggai 2:7-9, NIV).

This, of course, is nothing less than the prophecy that Jesus Christ, the Creator of the universe, would come to this second temple in person! That was fulfilled many times, when Jesus—the desired of all nations (Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 42:6)—would proclaim and teach many priceless truths in the temple courts (John 7:14; Matthew 21:12-16). What could be more glorious?

So this second temple had great significance, both for the ancient Jews and for us today.

The second temple would continue to be remodeled and transformed, finally undergoing massive redevelopment by Herod the Great some half a millennium after Haggai prophesied. This massive new structure finally physically eclipsed the temple built by Solomon in many respects. It was to this temple that Jesus Himself came.

But tragedy struck again. A few decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Jews collectively rebelled against the occupying Romans. They failed to trust in God, and they failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. The result of the rebellion against the Romans was barbaric carnage, and a first partial fulfillment of Christ's warnings given on the Mount of Olives came to pass (Matthew 24).

During the Festival of Unleavened Bread in A.D. 70, the Roman general and future emperor Titus surrounded Jerusalem with four legions of battle-hardened soldiers. The engines of war ground for months until July, when the temple area was set ablaze and thousands were slaughtered.

The magnificent temple was gone. And so we come to today. What does all of this mean for you?

What lies ahead regarding a temple?

As we have read and understand, the first and second temples played major roles in ancient Israel that reach across the ages to us. As students of Bible prophecy know, the book of Daniel points out that a future terrible entity "shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering" (Daniel 9:27) and that the forces of this entity "shall take away the daily sacrifices and place there the abomination of desolation" (Daniel 11:31).

This was partially fulfilled at the time of the Syrian Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century B.C. But Jesus pointed to Daniel's prophecy of the abomination of desolation as something future (Matthew 24:15). There was a measure of fulfillment with the Roman destruction that soon followed. But Jesus clearly connected the abomination prophecy with end-time events.

The prophesied cutting off of sacrifices and desecration presumably cannot take place without a functioning priesthood and a sanctuary area, which is part of what shows that a third temple with a functioning altar will likely stand in Jerusalem prior to the second coming of Jesus Christ.

But as significant as the construction of this temple would be in the march of end-time events, there is something far more significant in God's plan with regard to a temple being built.

Apart from the ancient physical temples of old, the Bible reveals the present construction of a temple that is of utmost importance to God. That temple has eternal consequences. God Himself is building it.

Where is that temple?

God is dwelling in a new temple

To answer that question, consider what the apostle Paul asked a gentile congregation in the Greek port city of Corinth some 2,000 years ago: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?" (1 Corinthians 6:19, New Revised Standard Version). He went on to emphasize this to the same congregation a few years later, when he told them "We are the temple of the living God" (2 Corinthians 6:16, NIV).

Why is this critically important to understand? The answer relates to the true definition of a Christian. A person can possess extensive biblical knowledge, can perform great acts of sacrifice and can demonstrate what appear to be major spiritual fruits, but that person may not be a true Christian except for the inclusion of one crucial element.

Paul defines a true Christian in a letter that he wrote to the congregation at Rome: "You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ [the same as the Holy Spirit], he does not belong to Christ" (Romans 8:9, NIV).

So a Christian is one who has living within him or her the Holy Spirit of God, making that person a living temple and part of the collective temple of all those in whom God's Spirit dwells, the temple now under construction that God is most concerned with!

While the gift of eternal life is just that—a momentous, unbelievable gift from God that cannot be earned—a Christian develops holy righteous character through overcoming trials and growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:17). This holy character results from the construction and development of the living temple of God—reflected in our thoughts, words and actions.

Our own spiritual construction project

Paul tells us, "Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship" (Romans 12:1, NIV).

How are we to do this? How are we to foster the development of our spiritual temple? Paul continues, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2).

The mind is where we truly surrender to God, where "we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV).

The Bible often gives us physical parallels to consider when we are trying to grow spiritually. In reviewing the building of the first temple, consider what David said about our motives for wanting to build our spiritual temple.

To be successful in our spiritual temple construction project, we must first acknowledge God as all-powerful, and then serve Him both with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind.

Why is a willing mind so important? Consider this critical fact: "The Lord searches every heart, and understands every motive behind the thoughts" (1 Chronicles 28:9, NIV).

Wholehearted devotion means we do it with all our might (Ecclesiastes 9:10). We don't hold back. As David prepared to set up Solomon for the construction of the first temple, we find that he publicly gave his "personal treasures . . . for the temple of my God, over and above everything I have [already] provided for this holy temple" (1 Chronicles 29:3).

Even though God is invisible, to succeed in our spiritual temple project we must deploy faith. Why? Because "without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him"! (Hebrews 11:6, NIV).

Any construction project has milestones and outcomes to meet. Our spiritual temple construction project is no different. As we progress in our Christian construction project, together with the Holy Spirit living and working within us, we will begin to display and demonstrate critical milestones and outcomes. We find them listed in Galatians 5:22: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (NIV). What is the chief defining milestone? As Jesus Himself said: "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).

Why is building a spiritual temple important? As noted earlier, a major purpose for the magnificent construction of the first temple was to bear witness of God's way of life. It was to be built "in the sight of all the nations" (1 Chronicles 22:5). Similarly, Jesus commanded His disciples to "let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16, NIV).

Finally, building a major construction project is tough work. If you don't know what you're doing, the construction of a spiritual temple can produce high anxiety.

But we have a spiritual construction manager onsite! He is prepared to help us with all directions and supplies. Paul declares this promise from God: "My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19, NIV).

The same words David told his son Solomon are true for us today as we conduct the construction of our spiritual temple: "Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Don't be afraid or discouraged by the size of the task, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. He will see to it that all the work related to the Temple of the Lord is finished correctly" (1 Chronicles 28:20, New Living Translation 1996).

Yes, God's temple is already under construction. Is He building it within you?