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Insight #353 – Red Heifers & the Third Temple

Have you heard? Israelis are about to produce water for purification with the ashes of a red heifer, which means they are about to build the Third Temple, which means the Antichrist will soon be revealed, which means end-time wars are just around the corner, which means the Messiah is about to come, which means, etc. Okay, let’s try to unpack some of this.

Jewish Views

Today’s Jews range from orthodox to atheists. They cannot forget the Roman desolation of their city and temple in 70 A.D. Many Orthodox Jews not only yearn for a Third Temple, but they are seriously preparing for it. The Temple Institute, founded in 1987, has as its goal the construction of that Third Temple. They are deeply researching all the related laws and traditions. They have already produced the needed temple vessels and garments. They are training descendants of Aaron for the temple service. But a major problem from the Orthodox viewpoint is that nearly all Jews today are ceremonially unclean – so they should not go up on the Temple Mount, much less offer sacrifices or build a temple there.

Enter the red heifer of Numbers chapter 19 (plus Jewish tradition). For the priests and people to be ceremonially clean, they need the ashes of a red heifer to make water for purification. Jewish tradition connects the next Jewish red heifer ceremony to the building of the Third Temple and the coming of their Messiah.

In 2022, after years of searching, the Temple Institute obtained five red angus heifers from Texas. The stir in early 2024 has been caused by reports that the red heifer ceremony is imminent. For many Jews, Muslims, and Evangelicals, that ceremony would signal that the Third Temple is about to be built and thus “end times” would be just around the corner. Which brings us to…

Muslim Views

What do Muslims care about red heifers? Nothing – except for the connection that the Jews make between the red heifers and the possible construction of a temple. And what interest do Muslims have in the Jews building a Third Temple? Everything! Of those Jews committed to the building of the Third Temple, the majority view is that it can only be built on the Temple Mount. “Temple Mount” is what Christians and Jews call the ancient compound in the Old City of Jerusalem where the original two temples stood. Muslims call the compound al-Aqsa or Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary). The two most important buildings in the compound today are the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. The latter, with its golden dome, has dominated Jerusalem’s skyline since it was first built in the seventh century. After Mecca and Medina, al-Aqsa is the third most holy site in Islam. This third most holy site for Muslims happens to be the most holy site for Jews.

A most dramatic moment in modern Jewish history was during the Six Day War of 1967 when Colonel Gur radioed, “The Temple Mount is in our hands!” Since then, the Temple Mount has been under the control of Israeli police. But – a huge “but” – also since then, the secular Israeli government not only grants, but protects, the Muslim’s sole right to worship on the Mount. Jews are not even supposed to pray there, though that is gradually changing.

Muslims are quite concerned over the red heifers now in Israel, knowing they are an important step in the effort of some Orthodox Jews to reestablish worship on the Temple Mount. Hamas recently said that their October 7 attack on Israel was partly due to this cow “threat,” for which reason, they termed the war “al-Aqsa Flood.” Many people, Muslim or otherwise, fear that any serious attempt of Jews to take over and fully control the Temple Mount could lead to an end-times Third World War.

Evangelical Views

The popular evangelical prophetic view is that red heifers now being in Israel means that Jews will soon build a Third Temple. This supposed Third Temple is a centerpiece of their prophetic view, which envisions an end-times Antichrist sitting in that temple. Of course, their end-times views include much more, but this is enough to explain the excitement of many evangelicals over what’s happening with red heifers in Israel today.

The Bible, however, nowhere predicts a rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem after its destruction in 70 A.D., which takes us to…

The Biblical View

Numbers 19 is the only biblical text that mentions the ordinance of the red heifer. It is part of the OT Law, which was nailed to the cross. It is not prophecy. Red heifer prophecies are from Jewish tradition, not God’s Word. Every Jewish attempt to follow the Law and tradition is evidence that they reject Jesus as their Messiah.

What does the Bible predict about Jews building a temple today? Nothing. Even if Jews were to build a Third Temple, it would not be God’s temple. Stephen was martyred after telling the Jews that the Second Temple was no longer God’s temple. He said, “The Most High doesn’t dwell in temples made with hands” (Acts 7:48). Jesus told a Samaritan woman, “The hour comes, when neither in this mountain [Mount Gerizim], nor in Jerusalem, will you worship the Father… true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:21-23). “Nor in Jerusalem”! That “West Bank woman” accepted Jesus as the Messiah. Both Jews and Muslims today who are fighting over Jerusalem are doing so precisely because they reject Jesus as the Messiah!

Let’s examine the texts which many Evangelicals cite to support their view of a Third Temple. Of major importance is Matthew 24 (with Mark 13 and Luke 21). It is true that later in this discourse, Jesus talked about His second coming and that heaven and earth will pass away. But what is so often ignored is what sparked the discourse, that is, Jesus’ astounding prediction regarding the temple then standing: “His disciples came to him to show him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all of these things, don’t you? Most certainly I tell you, there will not be left here one stone on another, that will not be thrown down” (Matt. 24:1-2). The entire first part of the discourse contains what Jesus said about the coming desolation of Jerusalem and Judea in 70 A.D., along with events leading up to and surrounding that terrible time – the time when His predictions were literally fulfilled. There is no way to avoid the 70 A.D. fulfillment of Matthew 24.

When we look for fulfillments of predictions regarding the “temple of God” in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-11 and Revelation 11:1-2, we must base them on sound biblical doctrine. After Jesus’ ascension, the physical temple in Jerusalem was never again called God’s temple, house, or building. Rather, God’s house, building, or temple (on earth), whenever identified after Jesus’ ascension, always refers to Jesus’ church (or individual Christians). Here are three examples: “Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?… Don’t you know that you [plural] are a temple of God, and that God’s Spirit lives in you?… God’s house, which is the church of the living God” (1 Cor. 6:19; 3:16; 1 Tim. 3:15). Thus, God’s temple in 2 Thessalonians 2 and Revelation 11 must refer to historical developments related to the church of God, not to events related to any temple that modern unbelieving Jews might build.

In short, the red heifers now in Israel cannot fulfill any biblical prophecy because there is none. Nor is there any biblical prophecy of a temple in Jerusalem after God (via the Romans) destroyed it in 70 A.D. Let’s be like Jews in Berea who “received the word with all readiness of mind, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).