Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Weird and Wacky Theology: Will the Jewish Temple be Rebuilt?

This second dose of Weird and Wacky Theology addresses whether the Jewish Temple will be rebuilt. Visit Jews for Jesus website and you can read an article by Zhava Glaser where she asks rhetorically,

"What flour is to bread, the sacrificial system is to the religion revealed in the Jewish Scriptures. It is not a garnish. It is not a flavoring. It is the very substance out of which the Jewish religion was constructed. We can forever design our own substitutes, but they cannot satisfy our yearnings the way God's own provision can. Though some rabbis might minimize the revealed system of worship and its requirements, can the individual Jew neglect what God says? Can there be a "proper" Judaism without a priesthood, an altar, a sacrifice and a place on earth where God meets the individual?""

For many Orthodox Jews, the answer to these rhetorical questions is clearly 'no'. They pray three times a day that the Temple will be built in their life time. Some Messianic and Dispensational writers agree. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, for example, writes,

"there will be a sacrificial system instituted in the Millennium that will have some features similar to the Mosaic system... What will the purpose of these sacrifices in light of Christ's death? To begin with, it should be remembered that the sacrificial system of the Mosaic Law did not remove sin either (Heb. 10:4), but only covered them (the meaning of atonement in Hebrew). Its purpose was to serve as a physical and visual picture of what the Messiah would do (Isa. 53:10-12). The Church has been commanded to keep the Lord's Supper as a physical and visual picture of what Christ did on the cross. God intends to provide for Israel in the kingdom a physical and visual picture of what the Messiah accomplished on the cross. For Israel, however, it will be a sacrificial system instead of communion with bread and wine. The purpose of the sacrificial system in the kingdom will be the same as the purpose of communion of the Church: In remembrance of me." (Israelology, pp.810-811).

Fruchtenbaum is not alone - he is following the Cyrus Scofield who sees the sacrifices in Ezekiel's Temple as 'memorial' offerings. The problem with this interpretation is that it is not what Ezekiel says! Ezekiel 43:19 says the sacrifice must be a 'young bull'. O dear...

The idea that the Temple must be rebuilt was popularised by Moishe Rosen. He writes, "...at some point in these stressful days, the ancient Jewish Temple will be rebuilt on the holy Temple Mount in Jerusalem... Prophecy foretells the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple and the reinstitution of the sacrifices prescribed in the law of Moses. In a vision of the future Temple, Ezekiel received this word... Some way, somehow, the Temple will be rebuilt, in spite of the fact that two Arab shrines now stand on the only site on earth where this Temple may stand." (Overture to Armageddon, p. 114).

David Brickner, the present Director of Jews for Jesus also believes this (Future Hope, p. 18). Now before I go any further, let me make it plain, this article is not a criticism of Jews for Jesus. I have invited UK staff of Jews for Jesus to teach in our church and I continue to affirm their evangelistic work - I just don't agree with the dispensational presuppositions of some of their leaders.

As Fruchtenbaum rightly states, the Temple sacrifices, at best, only ever provided a temporary cover for sin. The daily sacrifices, and the smoke rising from the altar were a constant reminder of the need for a Saviour. How then could God encourage the sacrificial system to be reinstated when he had sent his son Jesus to be the ultimate sacrifice, to shed his own blood on the cross to take away our sin? As Glaser rightly concludes her article:

"Isn’t it ironic that it takes the New Testament to tell of the new altar, the everlasting sacrifice and the new high priest through whom gentiles as well as Jews are made holy?”

To suggest, as some Christians do, that sacrifices must be made once more to fulfill Bible prophecy sets one passage of scripture against another, and undermines the New Testament’s teaching that the work of Christ is sufficient, final and complete.

Those who advocate the need for a new Temple and reintroduction of sacrifices (whether for atonement or as a memorial) are nevertheless ignoring the way the image of the Temple is invested with new meaning. Subsequent to Pentecost, the Temple imagery is applied to the Church, the Body of Christ, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. For example, Paul, writing to the Church in Ephesus, describes them as part of the new living Temple.

"Consequently, you are … members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy Temple in the Lord." (Ephesians 2:19-21)

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul quotes from passages in Leviticus and Isaiah, both of which refer to the physical Tabernacle and Temple, and applies them to the Church.

"For we are the Temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ ‘Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.’" (2 Corinthians 6:16-17 citing Leviticus 26:12 & Isaiah 52:11)

In his letter to the Romans, Paul uses Temple language to describe how we are to offer, not a dead animal sacrifice but our bodies as living sacrifices as our act of worship (Romans 12:1-2). Peter does the same thing describing the Church using Hebrew imagery associated with the Temple (Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 28:16). Christians are, he says, being made into the new house for God, in which Jesus is the ‘precious cornerstone’ (1 Peter 2:5-7).

So the Temple in Jerusalem was only intended to be a temporary building, a shadow pointing to the day when God would dwell with people of all nations through Jesus Christ. The flow of biblical revelation is progressive and moves in one historical direction. Christians who support the rebuilding of the Temple in the belief that future sacrifices will be memorial offerings, or can even atone for sin, are committing apostasy. Why? Because they are trying to reverse the flow of revelation and go back to the shadows when we already have the light of Christ. In the words of the writer to the Hebrews:

"It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace." (Hebrews 6:4-6).

And that is the final rub. People must choose between a religion and a relationship; between the
words ‘do’ and ‘done’; between law and grace; between the need to offer continual sacrifices for sin or accept the finished work of Jesus Christ in our place; between a physical Temple and a spiritual one; between one in Jerusalem that is redundant and one that encompasses the whole world that is under construction.