By Mark A. Kellner
Even though much of the secular press has little use for authentic Christian messages, it’s often happy to exploit this or that “theory” if it helps sell newspapers or draw website viewers.
The latest evidence of this is the frenzy over a report that a red heifer has been born in Israel; it has been certified by some Orthodox rabbis as being thoroughly red and free from blemish. London’s Mirror newspaper blared: “Birth of ‘first red heifer in 2000 years’ fulfills Bible prophecy and signals ‘end of days.’ ” Similar headlines were found in the Daily Star tabloid and across the Atlantic in the New York Post.
The Third Temple
The Mirror report mentioned the belief held by Orthodox Jews and by some Christians that a third temple needs to be constructed on the “Temple Mount” in Jerusalem, prime real estate currently occupied by the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock shrine, two of Islam’s most cherished sites. While Israel has had control of Jerusalem since 1967, the government has made no effort to displace these religious sites, since that would almost certainly invite a military attack from the Jewish state’s Muslim-majority neighbors.
Such technicalities pose little concern for the so-called “temple faithful,” Jews who have worked for years to prepare vessels for temple service, garments for a new generation of priests, and training for an estimated 500 Jewish men identified as Levites via DNA testing.
Now all that’s needed is the red heifer so the third temple can be built and purified, some are saying, in assertions that gave rise to these hysterical headlines.
Advent of the Messiah
What does a cow have to do with a new temple? And would building a third temple trigger the advent of the Messiah, whom Christians believe and testify is Jesus of Nazareth? Advocates of the red heifer go back to Numbers chapter 19, which describes the ritual for purifying the tabernacle in the wilderness. (Third temple proponents assert these rituals would apply to a new edifice.)
The verses read, “The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘This is the ordinance of the law which the LORD has commanded, saying: “Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which a yoke has never come” ’ ” (vv. 1, 2).
This heifer must be slaughtered in the sight of the high priest, and some of its blood must then be sprinkled at the entrance to the tabernacle to purify the structure. The heifer’s remains are burned, and then, we read in verse 9, “a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and store them outside the camp in a clean place; and they shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for the water of purification; it is for purifying from sin.”
To conclude the instructions, the Lord is quoted in verse 10 as saying these rules “shall be a statute forever to the children of Israel and to the stranger who dwells among them.”
However, while God hasn’t changed the demands of the Ten Commandments, something prophesied by Jesus—and confirmed in AD 70—did change the rules about the need for another temple. You can read about it in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 24.
Jesus’ Prophecy Concerning the Temple
“Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down’ ” (Matthew 24:1, 2).
It happened just as Jesus predicted, and for nearly two thousand years since its destruction by the hands of the Romans, there has been no temple. There’s been no need since His crucifixion, because the barrier—the veil—between man and God has been removed. In Matthew 27:51, we read that at the moment Jesus died on the cross, “the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” There is no longer any need for a temple where men can offer sacrifices, because Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice, once, for all humankind (Hebrews 10:12).
If we no longer need the physical sacrifices of animals—or the intervention of Levitical priests—to obtain forgiveness of sin, then there’s no need for a temple to hasten the return of the Messiah. Don’t be misled: Jesus will return, but not because a red heifer was born in Israel, or anywhere else.
For more on whether or not a new temple has to be erected before Jesus returns, check out this question-and-answer with Pastor Doug. And if you want a complete explanation of the role of Israel’s Temple in Prophecy, this special video presentation by Pastor Doug will answer all your questions!