Wed | Jan 16, 2019

Clinton Chisholm | Third Jerusalem temple heresy

Published:Sunday | December 10, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Clinton Chisholm
Ultra-orthodox Jewish men hold up a Torah scroll at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site.

So President Trump thinks that Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel and of Israel alone, and some Christians here are seeing biblical portents in this, including the unbiblical view that before our Lord's return, a third Jewish temple must be built in Jerusalem and the sacrificial system restored.

Researcher and specialist on prophecy, Grant R. Jeffrey, argues the third temple position in his 2007 book The New Temple and the Second Coming.

On Page 88, Jeffrey says, "Daniel prophesied that the rebuilt temple would serve as the centre of Israel's worship - complete with the resumption of the ancient animal-sacrifice system."

Jeffrey's logic was suspect in far too many places, and his abuse or misreading of Scripture was very disappointing. On Page 9, Jeffrey draws attention to Matthew 24:32-34, Jesus' fig tree parable, and then says, "The fig tree was well known as a symbol of Israel ... ." This is incorrect. The parable does not refer to Israel becoming a nation once again because Israel is not usually described, in the Bible, as a fig tree, but as an olive tree. Note as well that Luke's version of the Olivet Discourse says "and all the trees" (21.29).

Jeffrey is at his worst in logic and misreading of Scripture on Page 100 under the subheading 'Israel's Rebirth and the Third Temple'.

Jeffrey argues, "Isaiah foretold that the Temple of God would stand again in the latter days." He immediately quotes Isaiah 2:2 thus: "And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it."

This text is not about the Lord's house per se but about the mountain of the Lord's house, i.e., Mt Zion. 'The mountain' is the subject controlling the verb 'shall be established'; 'of the Lord's house' is simply a modifying phrase.

Barry Webb, in The Bible Speaks Today commentary series on Isaiah, informs at Is. 2.2: "Mountains played an important part in the religions of Israel's neighbours. They were ... highly favoured as sites for altars and temples ... . Isaiah here foresees the day when one holy mountain will stand supreme, reducing all others to utter insignificance ... ." (Page 45)

Jeffrey has misunderstood the meaning and essence of Isaiah's text. Jeffrey's poor reading and interpretation of Scripture continue on Page 100 when he writes: "The prophetic clock started ticking in the countdown to the Messiah's return. Israel, the 'fig tree' of Christ's prophecy, was reborn in 1948. And according to Jesus' prophecy, the generation living when Israel was reborn can hope to live to see the return of Christ" (see Matthew 24:32-34).

"Some readers may naturally ask how we can be certain that the fig tree putting forth leaves is God's prophetic symbol of Israel's rebirth. In both the Old and New Testaments, the symbol of the fig tree is used exclusively for Israel." (see Judges 9:10; 1 Kings 4:25; Luke 13:7; John 1:50).

Here is a shocker: Not one of these passages mentioned by Jeffrey supports his point about Israel being described as 'fig tree'. Let's examine these texts from the New King James Version.

Judges 9:10: "Then the trees said to the fig tree, 'You come and reign over us!'"

There is nothing about Israel here in Jotham's metaphor of a variety of trees as he spoke with the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo who had gathered to crown Abimelech king.

1 Kings 4:25: "And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, each man under his vine and his fig tree, from Dan as far as Beersheba, all the days of Solomon." No Israel as fig tree here either.

Luke 13:7: "Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, 'Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?'"

Jeffrey is hooked on a theory and so sees evidence for the theory, even where it is absent. Very sad, but all too popular a malady within Evangelical circles. We need to learn to read the Bible responsibly and meaningfully.




Israel, as an end-time marker, has been too dominant in the theology of Evangelicals. As Barry Webb rightly says, "Jesus gave no political predictions whatsoever for Israel. Therefore, the physical return of Israel (or a fraction of Israel; there are more Jews in New York than in the State of Israel!) is theologically irrelevant ... . We are not to politicise the promises made to Israel in the Old Testament. The promise to Abraham that in his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed finds its fulfilment through Christ in his Church, not in Israel's return to Palestine in 1948, fascinating though that is."

We would do well to remember that in the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21, after Jesus prophesied that the temple would be destroyed, the disciples asked him not only or primarily about the Second Coming but they asked and got answers to three questions.

Primary question: "When will these things be?" When will the buildings of the temple be destroyed? (Matthew 24:3; Mark 13:4; Luke 21:7)

Secondary question, "What will be the sign that these things are about to be fulfilled?" = What will be the sign that the buildings of the temple are about to be destroyed? (Mark 13:4; Luke 21:7)

Tertiary question in Matthew alone, "What will be the sign of your coming, and/even of the end of the age? (Matthew 24.3)

Even if a third Jewish Temple is built and the sacrificial system resumed, neither would have any validity before God because the Bible nowhere promises or prophesies anything about a third temple or a resumption of the sacrificial system.

The finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross brought an end to the sacrificial system, and it must not be forgotten that our Lord repeatedly prophesied doom on Jerusalem and on the temple.

- The Rev Clinton Chisholm is a theologian.

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