Thursday, June 26, 2008

A rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem?

Every now and again I get a visit from my father-in-law (God bless him) who is what could be termed an evangelical fundamentalist. Like many evangelicals, one of his big sticking points concerns the political nation of Israel, which he believes to be of some salvific or prophetic significance in God's plan. For him, the secular state of Israel has all of the same divine perogatives (and the same mission) that Old Testament Israel had after possessing the Promised Land. You could call him a Zionist, even more of a Zionist than many Zionist Jews, because he attaches much theological importance to the current presence of Jews in Israel. A particular element of this evangelical Zionism is the belief that (a) the Jerusalem Temple will be rebuilt, and that (b) this is a good and worthy thing and Christians ought to support Jews in their efforts to rebuild a Temple.

This brings up a wide range of issues that cannot all be dealt with here. How are Christians to relate to the modern state of Israel? Will there be a rebuilt Temple? If so, should the effort be lauded or denounced? Is there any further "prophetic" or salvific role for the people of Israel in the Church age?

Let's look just as this issue of a rebuilt Temple. First of all, if you don't believe me that many evangelicals are actively seeking to fund the rebuilding of the Temple, check out this article on the connection between evangelicalism and radical Zionism. But we ought to ask ourselves: will there be a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem? Evangelicals base this belief largely on some prophecies in Ezekiel 40-47 in which a new Temple is described to the prophet. Evangelicals (mainly dispensationalists) have argued that this prophecy refers to a literal third Temple to be built at the end of time, which will be defiled by the Antichrist.

Two things are worth pointing out: the Catholic and Orthodox Churches have always viewed this prophecy as relating to the Church, just as the heavenly city with twelve gates mentioned in Revelation describes not a literal city to be built, but the Bride of Christ. This is a no brainer, but then again, Protestant dispensationalists are not known for accepting typological intepretations of Scripture, especially ones that glorify the Church. Second, we ought to realize that not even the rabbis who lived in New Testament times and read Ezekiel in its original language understood this Temple in a literal sense. Even they realized it was not a literal Temple.

Some Fathers, like Chrysostom and Jerome, agreed and asserted that there would be no rebuilt Temple.

But, there is no doctrinal reason why there could not be a Third Temple. A symbolic interpretation does not rule out a literal fulfillment. Some of the Church Fathers believed that the Jews would one day rebuild their temple. However, Catholic Tradition has always identified a rebuilt temple as a sign of antichrist. Hippolytus, writing in 200 and drawing on earlier commentary from St. Irenaeus, wrote:

"The Savior rose up and showed His holy flesh like a temple, and he [the Antichrist] will raise a temple of stone in Jerusalem " (On the Antichrist, 6)

Origen also (Contra Celsus, 6:46) is of the opinion that the Antichrist would raise a stone temple for the purpose of claiming divine worship.

Look at this extended quotation from Cyril of Jerusalem, who believes that the Antichrist rebuild the Temple for the purpose of convincing the Jews that he is the Messiah:

"And again he says, Who opposes and exalts himself against all that is called God, or that is worshipped; (against every God; Antichrist forsooth will abhor the idols,) so that he seats himself in the temple of God . What temple then? He means, the Temple of the Jews which has been destroyed. For God forbid that it should be the one in which we are! Why say we this? That we may not be supposed to favour ourselves. For if he comes to the Jews as Christ, and desires to be worshipped by the Jews, he will make great account of the Temple, that he may more completely beguile them; making it supposed that he is the man of the race of David, who shall build up the Temple which was erected by Solomon . And Antichrist will come at the time when there shall not be left one stone upon another in the Temple of the Jews, according to the doom pronounced by our Saviour ; for when, either decay of time, or demolition ensuing on pretence of new buildings, or from any other causes, shall have overthrown all the stones, I mean not merely of the outer circuit, but of the inner shrine also, where the Cherubim were, then shall he come with all signs and lying wonders, exalting himself against all idols; at first indeed making a pretence of benevolence, but afterwards displaying his relentless temper, and that chiefly against the Saints of God. For he says, I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints ; and again elsewhere, there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation upon earth, even to that same time . Dreadful is that beast, a mighty dragon, unconquerable by man, ready to devour; concerning whom though we have more things to speak out of the divine Scriptures, yet we will content ourselves at present with thus much, in order to keep within compass" (Catechetical Lectures, 15:15).
St. John Damascene says that the Antichrist will come a deify himself in a Jewish temple, and that this temple will have nothing to do with the true faith: "not our temple, but the old Jewish temple . For he will come not to us but to the Jews: not for Christ or the things of Christ: wherefore he is called Antichrist" (De Fide Orth. 4:26).

Furthermore, we ought to recall the famous passage from Ammianus Marcellinus (a pagan historian) who recouted the attempt of Julian the Apostate to rebuild the temple. The work had to be abandoned after a few attempts due to flames that miraculously shot out from under the stones of the ruined temple and burned the workers.

Well, of course none of this has any merit with dispensationalists, who frequently "dispense" with the Fathers as if their opinions were no weightier than any other shmuck. Nevertheless, it is good to know what the Fathers taught on this matter of the Antichrist and the rebuilt temple, which is very obscure and confusing to many Catholics. There will probably be no rebuilt temple, andif there is, it is a sign of Antichrist. How can it be otherwise? For a rebuilt temple means a resumption of sacrifices, which means that the blood of the Son of God was insufficient, and that goats and bulls are needed instead. Don't get sucked into this dispensationalist-evangelical agenda about supporting the rebuilding of a new temple. It's blasphemous and redundant, period.


japhy said...

If the world (and even members of the Church) have trouble accepting the unbloody re-presentation of the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary at every Mass... imagine how the world (and some Jews!) would react to the resumption of animal sacrifices daily in the Temple!

Anselm said...

Thanks for the source on that story regarding Julain the Apostate. I'd been wondering about that lately.

Kent said...

Catholics need to open up the Bible. Daniel said it would occur and so did Jesus Christ when it comes to the Third Temple being rebuilt.

BONIFACE said...


Please elaborate where Jesus said there would be a rebuilt physical temple in Jerusalem.