By Ed Vasicek
Many religions had multiple temples, but God revealed a different standard: He only permitted one central sanctuary. Deuteronomy 12:5 (ESV) states, “But you shall seek the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there. There you shall go.” In contrast, an altar was to be built wherever God made an appearance (Exodus 20:24), but not a building. Only certain types of sacrifices could be made upon these local altars.
Although there are many physical and spiritual aspects to the Temple (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, for example), we must limit our focus.
Preventing Confusion: The Temple vs. the Synagogue
Modern Judaism does not use the term “temple” in the same way the Bible does. Jewish congregations often name their synagogues (meeting places) with the title “temple.” Temple Shalom would be an example. In actuality, these synagogues are not temples in the Biblical sense. In the Biblical sense, the Jewish people have not had their Temple since 70 AD.
The Nature of the Tabernacle & Temple
The Temple (or Tabernacle) structure was not intended to house people. The structure housed sacred objects used in the sacrificial worship of God. Only priests were allowed inside. Sacrifices were always slaughtered outdoors at the altar. Incense, however, was offered inside within the holy place.
If you were a typical devout Jew, you never saw the inside of the Temple (or Tabernacle). When you went to the Temple, you actually went into one of the courtyards surrounding the Temple proper.
Jewish men who lived reasonably near the central sanctuary were expected to enter the courtyards of the Temple to celebrate the three main feast clusters of Israel. (Exodus 34:23). Many Jews made the pilgrimage to Israel just once a year (1 Samuel 1:3) while other might make the trip every few years or perhaps once in a lifetime. Villages would send a representative from their town to make the trip for each feast cluster, and the locals would send money with him for offerings to be made on their behalf.
The Tabernacle (Portable Tent Temple)
God commanded the construction of the Tabernacle. The detailed instructions are documents in Exodus 25-31.
The Tabernacle was a religious tent. It was taken apart and transported from place to place during the forty years of wilderness wanderings. When the Jews entered the Promised Land, they pitched the Tabernacle in a particular location (the most famous of which was Shiloh, Joshua 18:1).
The Tabernacle is called the “House of the Lord” and referred to as “God’s Temple”(Psalm 27:4, I Samuel 1:9). After over 400 years of service, the Tabernacle was retired when the Temple building was constructed during Solomon’s reign. One respected tradition says it was buried under the temple mount.
Solomon’s Temple (The “First” Temple)
The idea to construct a permanent building for God’s Name was initiated by King David with God’s hearty approval (2 Samuel 7:1-17). But because David’s life was filled with bloodshed, He informed David that his heir would construct the building. David, therefore, began to accumulate materials.
David’s son, King Solomon, completed the building in 959 B.C. Constructed atop Mt. Zion, it was considered one of the greatest buildings of the ancient world.
Solomon’s Temple stood for almost 400 years; King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroyed it in 586 BC (2 Kings 25:8-10), on the 9th of Av. This was a judgment upon the Jews because they had forsaken Yahweh and turned to multiple gods and idols, despite being warned repeatedly by God’s prophets (2 Chronicles 36:14-16).
The Second Temple
A. Ezra’s Temple (Second Temple, Version 1)
When the Persians allowed some of the Jews to return to Jerusalem, a group did so and began rebuilding the Temple in 535 B.C. Despite obstacles, it was finally completed in 515 B.C. (Ezra 6) upon Mt. Zion
But the new Temple was generic and merely functional, nothing like the architectural marvel of Solomon’s Temple. Ezra 3:12-13tells us some older folks who remembered Solomon’s Temple wept when they saw its meager replacement.
B. Herod’s Temple (Second Temple, Deluxe Version 2)
Herod’s Temple was a complete remodel and expansion of Ezra’s Temple. It was so extensive that it took nearly 78 years to complete. It was started about 17 BC and completed about 63 AD, seven years before it was destroyed! Like Solomon’s Temple, it was considered an architectural marvel, one of the world’s wonders.
In John 2:20, we see a reference to this remodeling project: “The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you [Jesus] raise it up in three days?’”
Of course Jesus was referring to the temple of His body (John 2:21).
All that is left of this temple is a retaining wall that was not really part of the Temple, but helped level and square off the Temple Mount. We call this the “Wailing Wall.”
The destruction of the Second Temple (also on the 9th of Av) in 70 AD by the Romans fulfills the prophecy of Daniel 9:25-26.
The Tribulation Temple
Although there have been efforts to build a “practice temple” to train priests in Israel, there is no functioning temple to be found. When the actual Temple is built, it will have to be constructed on Mt. Zion. Since the location is holy to Muslims (and a Muslim shrine exists either where the Temple once stood or near it), the Jewish people would provoke a massive holy war should they even consider rebuilding the Temple.
It will take an act of God—or perhaps a stray missile from a Muslim source—to clear Mt. Zion. The Tribulation Temple is where the Antichrist will demand worship
2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.”
Ezekiel’s Millennial Temple (Ezekiel 40-44)
Like the construction of the Tabernacle, the Millennial Temple is defined in great detail in Ezekiel 40-44. The tedious specifics reinforce the conclusion that this will be a literal temple, not some spiritual allegory. Ezekiel could not have been more emphatic.
Although there will no longer be a sacrifice for sins (Hebrews 10:12), there will be other types of sacrifice offered at this Temple. Although one purpose of the sacrifices were to point to the Lamb of God, that was not their only purpose.
Some offerings, like the Fellowship offering (Lev 3; 7:11-35), were eaten by the priests and the people, a sort of religious barbeque. This is the precursor to the church dinner!
The idea that Temple worship can co-exist with the Gospel of the Grace of God is demonstrated in Acts 21; 17-26, where Paul shaved his head to take a Nazarite vow, which involved presenting a sacrifice.
God’s Temple in Heaven
From Hebrews 9:11-14 (and in various portions of Revelation), we learn that the earthly Temple—in some way—corresponds to God’s Temple in heaven. The physical structures of the Temple represent realities we perhaps cannot fully grasp.
Hebrews 9:11-12 reads, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”
God Himself as the Temple
After the 1,000-year Millennial Kingdom, Satan is released and leads a final rebellion, which is quickly quelled by the Lord (Revelation 20:7-10). This leads us into the Eternal State, which includes the New Jerusalem descending from heaven, a New Heaven and New Earth.
Will there be a Temple in the New Jerusalem? No! Revelation 21:20 states matters clearly: “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.”
God Himself is the Temple! The implication? All the functions facilitated by the Temple are no longer necessary! The New Heaven and New Earth represent complete harmony between redeemed creation and its Creator.