Old Testament,  Theology

Does the Bible Say There will be a Future Temple in Israel?

One area of contention among those who argue about eschatological matters is whether there will be a future temple for Israel. Many think that the death of Jesus put an end to the sacrificial system (cf. Heb 10:18), so any rebuilt temple would be an attack on the all sufficient sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Does Scripture give any guidance on the issue of a future temple? Should Christians expect a temple to be rebuilt in Jerusalem?

Picture of the location of the future temple in Israel
The Western Wall and Temple Mount: The Location of the Solomon and Herod’s Temples

The answer to this question must be found by examining Scripture. One’s preconceived theological ideas should not influence the straightforward interpretation of Scripture. On that note, it may surprise some readers that the Old Testament prophets speak regularly about the concept of a rebuilt temple.

Ezekiel 40–48 and the Future Temple

The most well-known passage which talks about a future temple in Israel is Ezekiel 40–48. It is filled with detailed descriptions, not just of dimensions for the construction, but also of a regulated worship calendar, instructions for rulers, and allotment of land for the tribes of Israel.

In Ezekiel 43:7, God tells Ezekiel, “Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the people of Israel forever.” Ezekiel was to “make known to [Israel] the design of the temple, its arrangement, its exits and its entrances, that is, its whole design; and make known to them as well all its statutes and its whole design and all its laws, and write it down in their sight, so that they may observe all its laws and all its statutes and carry them out.”

It is difficult to avoid that purpose clause: “so that they may observe all its laws and all its statutes and carry them out.” A straightforward reading of the text means that Israel is supposed to understand and obey what is written in these chapters—from the design of the temple to the statutes and laws.

Most people are aware of Ezekiel 40–48, but some don’t realize the theme of a future temple is quite prevalent in the prophets.

Isaiah 2:2–4 and the Nations Coming to the Temple of God

Isaiah prophesies about a time that takes place “in the latter days” where Israel has supremacy and the nations flock to Israel. Part of this blessing includes the people saying:

Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.

Isaiah 2:3

The reference to the “house of the God of Jacob” has only one possible referent—the temple. Isaiah foretells a time when not just the Israelites, but also the surrounding nations will come and worship God at a temple. This seems to coincide well with Zechariah 14:16–19, which teaches the nations will come to worship God in Jerusalem, even partaking of the Feast of Booths.

Haggai 2:6–9 and the Glory of the Future Temple

Haggai is such a neglected prophet! But he had a powerful message for the people. He and his contemporary, Zechariah, prophesied so as to encourage the people of Israel to rebuild the temple of Israel during their return from exile (ca. 520 BC).

Obviously some of the people were very discouraged when they thought of the glory of Solomon’s temple compared to the measly temple they were attempting to build. One of the ways Haggai encouraged the people was to explain that the future of the temple would be far more glorious than the former temple.

For thus says the LORD of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the LORD of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts.

Haggai 2:6-9

Again, we note the common themes of earlier texts. The nations will come and bring tributes, the glory of the Lord will fill the temple (cf. Ezek 43:1-5), and there will be peace in the land.

Especially important is God’s promise, “The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former.” There remains a time in the future when the temple in Israel will be a great and marvelous display of God’s magnificence.

Zechariah 6:12–13 and the Messiah’s Building Orders

Zechariah perhaps delivers one of the clearest prophecies on the issue when he tells of a future where the Branch (i.e., the Messiah, cf. Isa 4:2) will come and combine the office of king and priest (cf. Ps 110:4). In this unprecedented combination of the kingly and priestly roles, the Branch stands unique. And in explaining this future, Zechariah prophesies the following:

Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD. It is he who shall build the temple of the LORD and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne. And there shall be a priest on his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.

Zechariah 6:12-13

It is difficult to explain away the straightforward meaning of, “It is he who shall build the temple of the LORD and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne.” Some may wish to argue that this is talking about the spiritual church, but there is no way the original author or audience would have agreed with that statement. They would have understood this to be a clear connection between the Messiah and his mission to rebuild a temple.

2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 and a Temple before the Messianic Temple?

An additional interesting passage to consider is 2 Thessalonians 2 and the man of lawlessness. Although a full discussion of 2 Thessalonians 2 would be quite fun and exciting, for our purposes I simply want to point out that Paul unequivocally states that the Day of the Lord would not come before the man of lawlessness takes his seat in the temple and proclaims himself to be God (2 Thess 2:4).

If Paul says this scenario has to take place before the Day of the Lord, and the Messiah rebuilds the temple after he returns, then this would seem to imply there was an apostate temple in use by Israel before the Day of the Lord. At least it seems a reasonable proposition.

What to do with All These Temple Prophecies?

There are other texts we could mention that discuss a future temple, but these should be sufficient to give a sampling of how the prophets discuss a future for Israel that coincides with a future temple. On the one hand, many interpreters today try to bypass these texts by appealing to typology, symbolism, shadows, or allegory. But what did the original author mean? Can a text change in meaning? If we allow the text to speak in accordance with the authorial intent, we are bound to acknowledge that it seems there is quite a bit in Scripture about a future temple for Israel.

Wouldn’t a Return to Sacrifices be an Abomination to Christ?

We have already used up our word count to adequately address this issue. However, I would point the reader to a great article by my friend and colleague, Matt Waymeyer, “The Millennial Sacrifices in Ezekiel 40-48.” He clearly articulates the issues and provides what are, in my opinion, satisfactory responses to the issues raised concerning sacrifices in a rebuilt temple.

It is Always about Hermeneutics

The issue of a future temple is often pictured as a theological issue, but we need to remember it is always a hermeneutical issue. What does the text say, and what did the original author intend for the reader to understand? Those are the driving questions that must shape our theology. If the prophets foretold of a future temple for Israel, then there will be a future temple for Israel.

Photo by Laura Siegal on Unsplash

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He loves studying the Bible and helping others understand it. He also runs the Bible Sojourner podcast.

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