SUNDAY STUDY: Rebuilding the Temple

Excerpted from Friends of Israel (foi.org)

A radio conversation between Steve Conover and Chris Katulka 

Steve Conover: This is the Friends of Israel Today. I’m Steve Conover, and with me is Chris Katulka, our host and teacher. For the Orthodox Jewish community, rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem is a priority. There are organizations that exist today that are working to establish a third temple, and there’s been a longing to see the temple rebuilt since its destruction in 70 AD.

Chris Katulka: That’s why, today on the program, we’re going to actually look back in church history at one major moment where the Jewish people almost saw the temple rebuilt. It was a pretty close moment where they were able to work together to see the temple almost rebuilt.

Steve Conover: Thanks, Chris. But, first, in the news, even though Prime Minister Netanyahu won reelection in Israeli politics, he still needs to work with other political parties to form a governing majority. Recently, President Reuven Rivlin extended the deadline by two weeks for Netanyahu to form a new governing coalition after the prime minister requested extra time while he continues to hold talks with potential partners. The extra time was granted because of Passover and the recent Gaza uprising taking priority in the prime minister’s office.

Chris Katulka: Well here’s my take. There’s a lot of major items on Netanyahu’s table right now. While trying to form a government which, let me tell you, is extremely time-consuming, he is also trying to manage the aftermath of Hamas launching more than 600 rockets into Israel. Four Israelis died because of it. So my friends, this is a really good time to be praying for the peace of Jerusalem.

The Jewish temple that once stood in Jerusalem is one of the most important aspects of the Jewish faith. Even though the temple was destroyed almost 2000 years ago, its significance cannot be over-stressed. Many of the laws in the Old Testament, laws that observant Jewish people follow are laws that necessitate a temple, laws like the sacrificial system, certain laws that deal with issues of purity, certain laws surrounding the holidays like Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. All of these laws necessitate a temple. Now, it’s important to stress that the temple itself isn’t the centerpiece. It’s what the temple housed. It’s Who dwelled in the temple. The temple is the house of God. It’s the sanctuary of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and without God in a temple, it’s really just a pile of stones. Without God in the tabernacle, it was just a big tent.

But today, I want to focus on something interesting, the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. Certain religious sects of Judaism are extremely excited to rebuild the temple that was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Now, we’re not going to talk much about the modern rebuilding effort that’s underway. But first I want to talk to you about the efforts to rebuild the temple that took place in the past. The desire to rebuild the temple isn’t a modern phenomenon. It’s an ancient passion that’s linked to the understanding that the law that was given to Moses on Mount Sinai requires a central place of worship, a place to meet God.

Now, I didn’t know this until I was reading through Dr. Bill Krewson’s book, Jerome and the Jews, and by the way, I’m hoping to sometime soon have Dr. Krewson on to talk about his book and the important work that he did, but I learned through reading that early on in church history, opportunities started to arise to have the temple in Jerusalem rebuilt. It’s important to remember that, for centuries, Rome was a pagan society. The Rome of Jesus’s day was extremely pagan. In fact, the port city of Caesarea on the Mediterranean Sea was built up by Herod the Great, and this port city was extremely pagan. Archaeologists who excavated Caesarea found sculptures of men and women. There was a temple to Augustus that was built in Caesarea, and that’s why when God calls Peter to go to Caesarea, it was probably a surprise to him because he was a practicing Jewish person and going to a very pagan city like Caesarea would have been a surprise to him, let alone the fact that God is the one that’s calling him to go there.

Now, after the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD, like Caesarea, they would eventually build a Roman temple in its place, a temple to Jupiter. Rome would also rename Jerusalem a city called Aelia Capitolina. So by 200 AD, Jerusalem itself was completely paganized. For Rome after all the Jewish revolts, all the Roman money and energy and blood they poured into Judea and Jerusalem, their goal was to remove any aspect of Jewishness from Jerusalem. But see, everything started to change around 313 AD when Constantine, the emperor of Rome, converted to Christianity and made Christianity legal. Constantine eventually spread Christianity all throughout Rome, and during his rule, his relationship with the Jewish community, it really wasn’t terrible. Now, granted he did outlaw Jewish people from proselytizing and sharing their faith, but either way, the relationship that Constantine had with the Jewish community was kind of normal for that time.

Enter Emperor Julian, the nephew of Constantine who took control of Rome in 337 AD. Julian was actually raised to believe in Christ. He studied under the famous church historian Eusebius. However, he was greatly influenced by Greek philosophers and eventually he shed himself completely of his Christian upbringing. Instead of just leaving Christianity alone, it was a mission of Julian’s to expose Christianity by isolating it. So first, he made some political moves to return paganism into the Roman culture. He kind of became the leader of the new Roman paganism, and even though Rome remained tolerant to all religions at that time, he insisted on poking holes in Christianity.

Now, after he created and formed this new Roman paganism, he tried to woo the Jewish people toward his agenda. Instead of looking at Judaism as this out-of-box religion that’s different from all other Roman religions like they did in the past, he actually tried to paint Israel’s God as one of the many gods of Rome. He wanted to welcome the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob into the pantheon of Roman religions. While welcoming Israel’s God into Roman culture, Julian actually attempted to isolate Christianity. He writes that the belief of the Jews are identical or only slightly different from those of other nations with the exception of the belief in one God. On various occasions, he even denies the allegorical interpretation of Christianity and he derives these arguments from the Bible itself. Remember, he grew up in a Christian home. He grew up in a Christian family. He was trained by Christians.

However, he was not pleased with the Jewish zealousness against other gods and with the Jewish observance of the Sabbath. Now, even though Emperor Julian had no particular feelings toward the Jewish community, he knew that he could rock the boat in the Christian world if he created a conversation around rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem, something that would perk the interest of the Jewish community but cause consternation in the Christian world. See, by the 4th century, replacement theology had embedded itself into church theology. Replacement theology is the belief that the church replaced Israel, that Israel no longer holds covenantal status in God’s eyes. Their sin of rejecting Christ has led to the church replacing them completely. This doesn’t just come across in the way you read the Bible, but it also comes across practically as well.

So for those in the church during Emperor Julian’s reign, the idea of rebuilding a Jewish temple flies in the face of replacement theology. For them, Jesus destroyed the temple in 70 AD as a sign that God was through with Israel. Each stone that fell from the temple was a marker that God moved away from the Jewish people and replaced them with the church. So to rebuild the temple is to show priority to Israel once again, and many in the church were not happy with Emperor Julian’s decision to kind of start this conversation with the Jewish community.

Now, just before Julian left on a Persian campaign, he sends a letter to the Jewish communities where he promised to abolish — listen to this — all anti-Jewish laws that were established and to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. He even promised to worship with the Jewish people in the temple. So his letter to the Jewish community is almost giving historians insight to the fact that there was some movement going on. There was a lot of movement happening to help create and to build this temple.

Now, there’s a lot of speculation surrounding this historical moment. First, there are Jewish records that come from this period that show the rise of messianic fervor, that there was some anticipation that Julian would do what he promised. One letter reveals that Julian provided the funds and the building materials, but building was halted because of fires and an earthquake. Historians believe early church fathers used this as an opportunity when the temple didn’t actually come to its fruition, the church fathers used this as an opportunity to embellish on the idea that God was through with Israel by preventing the building of the temple. One writes that the Jewish people received Julian’s proposal enthusiastically, coming in thousands to the Temple Mount with stones in their hand, but when the first stones were laid, the Jewish people were threatened by earthquakes and hurricanes and finally driven off by a heavenly fire in the specter of Christ, it’s written.

So you can see the embellishment of the early church when they saw that the Jewish people couldn’t complete the building project of the temple. Of course the temple was never rebuilt by Julian. The effort lost steam at some point. However, we cannot deny that there was still a fervor back in the 4th century to see the temple rebuilt around the time of Julian’s reign.

Here’s an interesting bit of archaeological evidence to show you what I mean. When you walk along the Western Wall of the Temple Mount that still stands today, down on the southern part of the wall is a Hebrew inscription that was actually uncovered in 1969. It was really ancient graffiti if you will. The inscription was of Isaiah 66:14 which says this: “When you see this, you will be happy and you will be revived. The Lord will reveal his power to his servants and his anger to his enemies.” This verse that is etched in the stone, it’s all about the idea that God’s going to rebuild the temple, He’s going to restore His people, bring the Jewish people back to the land. It’s a restoration promise from Isaiah Chapter 66. The idea of the Temple Mount potentially being rebuilt during the reign of Emperor Julian is what, archaeologists believe, gave this guy who etched Isaiah 66 on the stones the heart and the desire to put that on there because there were some movements happening in that time to maybe see the temple rebuilt.

Now, we’re going to talk about whether or not the temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem. What do the Jewish people think about that? What does the Bible say about it?

Steve Conover: Rose Guide to the Temple is a beautifully illustrated book written from a Christian perspective that provides a complete, easy-to-understand overview of the history of the temple in Jerusalem. Based on the most up-to-date discoveries, this book explains the biblical and historical background of the temple.

Chris Katulka: I think when you understand the layout of the temple, when you understand how God designed the temple, it actually helps us understand better how God wants His people to worship Him, that He’s holy, that He desires to be worshiped. He wants people to come to Him. So understanding the architectural layout of the temple is so important, and I know that if you enjoy studying God’s word, you will love the fact that the Rose Guide to the Temple answers so many of these questions about how the Jerusalem temple looked during biblical times. Bible scholars and professors will enjoy the well-annotated text as well. The author is archaeologist and professor Dr. Randall Price who has spent more than 30 years exploring the Holy Land and studying the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Steve Conover: Well said, Chris. Order your copy of Rose Guide to the Temple by going to foiradio.org or call 888-343-6940.

Chris Katulka: We’ve been talking about the history of the desire to see the Jewish temple rebuilt. It’s not a modern desire. It’s an ancient desire, and in the previous segment, we connected to the 4th century Roman Emperor Julian who became friends with the Jewish people and made a promise to rebuild the temple only to upset and consternate the Christian community whom he couldn’t stand.

There were other attempts to rebuild the temple throughout history. In 610 AD, the Sassanid Empire gave the Jewish people control of Jerusalem and the rules actually ordered them to restart animal sacrifice. They started to rebuild until the Persians gave it back to the Christians, gave Jerusalem back to the Christians who tore down the wall and turned it actually into a garbage dump. In 1267, there were no Jewish people living in Jerusalem, but they would often make a pilgrimage from Damascus and Aleppo to Jerusalem to pray that God would restore the land and rebuild the temple. The Jewish people would actually meet on Sabbath and they built a synagogue there to pray. Maimonides writes during this time “And may He who deemed us worthy to see Jerusalem in her ruins grant us to see her rebuilt and restored and the honor of the divine presence” — that’s God — “returned.” So you can, again, see that fervor to see a temple rebuilt and the restoration of Jerusalem in the 1200s AD.

Even today, there is a massive effort to see the temple rebuilt by the Orthodox Jewish community. The Temple Institute, for instance, has a goal to build the third temple on the Temple Mount, and this organization has invested millions of dollars into rebuilding the utensils and the garments and all of the tools needed for sacrifice on the temple. Now, most Jewish people don’t care much for the rebuilding of the third temple, but the Orthodox Jewish community certainly does.

But the question is, what does the Bible have to say about a future temple? Does the New Testament indicate that a future temple will be built? I actually believe that it does.

In 2 Thessalonians, Paul is giving the Thessalonians details about the coming of the Lord and he begins to talk about the establishment of the man of lawlessness who is the antichrist. Somehow in some fashion, nobody exactly knows, a third temple will be rebuilt. However, it will be used to reveal the nature of the antichrist. Paul writes this, “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not arrive until the rebellion comes and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship. As a result, he takes a seat in God’s temple, displaying himself as God.

Paul is saying that the antichrist will reveal his blasphemous ways when he stands in the third temple and reveals himself as God. So for the antichrist to do such a thing, a third temple must be built. But, that’s not the temple that we should be looking for. When Jesus returns, He will sit in a temple prophesied by the prophet Ezekiel, a millennial temple where God’s presence will dwell and Christ will reign. Friends, that’s the temple that we should be looking forward to, the temple that Jesus Christ will build when He comes to reign on earth.

Steve Conover: Israel on the verge of becoming a state, a teenage Holocaust survivor arrives on her shores alone. His name is Zvi Kalisher. Little did he know his search for a new life in the Holy Land would lead him to the Messiah. Zvi, enthusiastic to share his faith, engaged others in spiritual conversations, many of which can be found in our magazine, Israel My Glory. While Zvi is now in the presence of his Savior, his collected writings from well over 50 years of ministry continue to encourage believers worldwide.

Now, from “Apples of Gold”, a dramatic reading from the life of Zvi:

The situation in Israel is very tense. There is no peace. Most of the time, I am on duty and must patrol the dark streets or Jerusalem on the Arab side. My task is to look for mines and booby traps. Our neighboring Arab countries continually threaten to destroy us, but we are not afraid and trust in the Lord. We must hold on to this land. Otherwise, they shall drive us into the sea. The Lord has promised the land to our people and there is no power on earth that can gainsay the Lord’s will. In the meantime, I give my testimony concerning our Messiah and savior to as many people as possible. I have visited many friends, witnessing to them because we do not know what the next day will bring.

Last Thursday, I was on patrol in the main street of former-Arab Jerusalem. Around three o’clock in the morning, I noticed a group of people coming my way. They were fully dressed in black robes. I thought that they were priests, but when they came close, I realized they were students at an Orthodox Jewish school. Because it was my duty to do so, I stopped them and asked what they were doing out so early in the morning. They answered in unison “We’re going to the West Wall to recite selichot,” penitential prayers usually recited before New Year and the Day of Atonement. At first, they were frightened, but when they saw that I was an Israeli soldier, they took courage.

I ask “When do you think the temple will be rebuilt?” One of them said “Only when the Messiah comes will the temple be rebuilt.” “And where is the Messiah,” I asked. He answered “He is already here, but He is waiting to make himself manifest. He will build the temple and all the dead shall rise from the graves.” The leader who was a rabbi asked “What do you think of the Messiah, the son of David, soldier?” I answered “The Messiah, the son of David has come and is coming again. I know Him and many other people know Him and have received Him as their Messiah and Savior. He laid down His life for our sins and made full atonement for us according to Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22.”

They stood there amazed, hearing things that apparently they did not know. The Lord Himself put the words into my mouth. Whatever the question, I gave them a scriptural answer. Usually, Orthodox Jews do not talk to anyone who confesses Jesus as Messiah, but they were most thrilled and impressed by the fact that I was a soldier guarding their safety while they were asleep or when they go to the Wailing Wall to pray. After I gave them my testimony, I asked “Do you think I should have the same rights as any other Jewish person here in Israel? Or don’t I deserve such rights?” The rabbi said “You have asked a hard question. If all the Jewish Christians were like you, we would have no difficulty at all.” Instead of going on to the Wailing Wall, they lingered around me and discussed the Messiah and messianic prophecies until nearly six o’clock in the morning. We hardly realized that the night had passed and the morning had arrived.

Chris Katulka: The impact of Zvi’s life and ministry in Israel continues to inspire. Zvi’s ministry in Israel lives on through his family today and has encouraged many of our Friends of Israel workers around the world to continue ministering to the Jewish community. When you give to the Friends of Israel, your donation allows us to advance the gospel of our Messiah Jesus.

Steve Conover: Chris, you spent a lot of time talking about the desire of many to see a rebuilding of the temple, but as followers of Jesus, is that where our focus should be?

Chris Katulka: When I go to Israel, [I] go to the Temple Institute and it’s amazing to see what the Jewish people are rebuilding for the third temple. It’s amazing, but can I tell you something? That is not where our focus should be. We live in amazing times where God is moving in Israel, but our focus should remain on the return of Jesus Christ when He sits in His temple that He’ll establish in Jerusalem, not the third temple. So I say keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.

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