In present-day Jerusalem sits the “Dome of the Rock,” which now houses a Mosque for Muslim worship. This Muslim place of worship sits on, or next to, the original site of king Solomon’s temple, and the subsequent second temple which the Jews built following their return from captivity in Babylon.
Many Jews and Christians look forward to the day when the Dome of the Rock is no more, and the third temple is erected which is, it is commonly thought, the place from which the Messiah will reign on earth for 1,000 years. But where does this idea come from? In other words, according to the Scriptures, should we be expecting a temple, like the temples of first and second temple Judaism, to be built where the Dome of the Rock now stands?
Origins of the Idea of a Future Temple
Most Christians, and perhaps even Jews, come to this conclusion on the basis of, primarily, three books in the Bible: Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation. Daniel references the abomination of desolation which would come to stand in the holy place, or the place it ought not be:
For ships of Kittim will come against him; therefore he will be disheartened and will return and become enraged at the holy covenant and take action; so he will come back and show regard for those who forsake the holy covenant. Forces from him will arise, desecrate the sanctuary fortress, and do away with the regular sacrifice. And they will set up the abomination of desolation.Daniel 11:30-31
Many Jews thought the fulfillment of this prophecy occurred during the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (168 B.C.), when he captured Jerusalem and set up a statue of Zeus in the temple, to whom they sacrificed a pig on the altar of incense. This indeed appeared to perfectly fit Daniel’s characterization of the abomination of desolation. But, Antiochus’ escapade came to pass too early to fit Daniel’s prophecy.
In both Ezekiel and Revelation, the temple is given spacial location and even measurements in some cases. Ezekiel’s prophecy must, it is thought, be future since nothing like Ezekiel’s temple has been erected to date; and, Revelation suggests it is future as well since it looks forward to Christ’s return and the final judgement, especially in the final portion of the book.
Thus, many Christians have concluded that this prophecy of Daniel must, in fact, be future, especially since Jesus foretells it once more in Mark 13:14. He says, “When you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” Though Antiochus may have been too early, the events of 70 A.D. are not.
Daniel’s Prophecy Already Fulfilled?
If we zoom out and look at what’s going on, we will see there are really two different things occurring. On the one hand, there is the abomination of desolation and the cessation of animal sacrifices, and on the other hand there is a future temple spoken of in several places of Scripture.
However, there are events which have occurred since Jesus’ prophetic words in Mark 13, and those events comfortably fit what was originally predicted. First, in 70 A.D., the Roman emperor destroyed Jerusalem, its temple, and then hauled off the temple lamp stand, as well as other artifacts.
Second, in Mark 13, Jesus goes on to say:
The one who is on the housetop must not go down, or go in to get anything out of his house; and the one who is in the field must not turn back to get his coat. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! But pray that it may not happen in the winter. For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will.Mark 13:15-19
When the Roman government destroyed and looted Jerusalem, over 1 million Jews perished, but not the ones who heeded the instructions of Christ. The Jewish Christians did not perish because they left in a hurry, just as Christ had commanded. In context, the abomination of desolation would be the Romans, who stood in the holy place as they destroyed it (Matt. 24:15).
As a result of the Roman siege, the regular sacrifices ceased, in accordance with Daniel’s prophecy (Dan. 11:30-31). If, in light of these considerations, it can be said that, (1) an abomination stood in the temple in 70 A.D., and (2) the sacrifices ceased in 70 A.D., at what point can we finally conclude Daniel’s prophecy has indeed been fulfilled—at least in part?
What Is the Future Temple?
I take the position that Daniel’s prophecy was fulfilled in 70 A.D., but what about the future “temple” described in places like Ezekiel and Revelation? First, it’s important to note how the word “temple” is used in the New Testament apart from its use to indicate the actual temple that stood in the first century.
Jesus refers to Himself as the temple when He says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up (Jn. 2:19).” Paul refers to the church as the “temple” (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21). Finally, and perhaps most astonishingly, John in Revelation makes the bold claim that in the City of God, when Christ returns, there will be no temple:
I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.Revelation 21:22-23
The eschatological temple, therefore, is the bride of God. Now, the bride is imperfect, but she is being refined for that Day on which the Father will present her to the Son, without blemish. On that Day, Christ will be her all in all. He will be the center around which she revolves. In glory, the temple is the Christ and His bride, a temple made without hands.