I’ve been conducting a personal study of the Old Testament Temple, and I inevitably came across people’s notions that there will be a third temple built. I found this most peculiar because they all seem to reference Old Testament prophesy to justify a rebuilt temple, but there is never a direct reference to a “thus saith the Lord, There will be a third temple.” I have literally searched for two hours trying to track down a reference that I could use to either justify this or deny it, but any direct reference is mysteriously missing. People like referencing Daniel 9, or Ezekiel chapters 40-48. Daniel 9, at least in my opinion, has nothing to do with a third temple. It doesn’t mention temple, rebuilt, third, tabernacle, priest, temple mountain, Zion, or anything that any person could associate with God’s Temple. With that, I have to eliminate it as an option for prophesy in regards to the Third Temple.
Ezekiel, however, does have some relevance, but I’m not sure it has enough evidence to support a Third Temple. The particularly interesting piece that probably is part of the support for a third temple is specifically Ezekiel 43:1-12, where Ezekiel’s vision reveals God’s glory returning to the temple (specifically the temple in the vision, not necessarily the first or second temple). This verse has a few interpretations. 1) It could be a Third Temple (held by some dispensationists, conservative Jews, and Christians who are “futurists”). 2) This could be a spiritual truth, and maybe what heaven looks like (held by some preterists, and Christians that see future prophesy as spiritual truths, but not necessarily literally). 3) Could be a variant of #2, where this is the spiritual truth as Christian/followers of God’s body as a temple. 4) This is God/Ezekiel’s way to give a memory of the Old Temple, or to describe the “ideal” temple.
If you believe in a Third Temple, support can be found in Ezekiel 44:6-31, which outlines the priest’s duties, and specifically, duties for the tribe of Levi. If you don’t believe in this, the counter argument would be that Hebrews calls followers of God a “priestly nation,” and further, that Jesus seems to have abolished the temple, and thus, the need to sacrifice. Both of these arguments hold certain biblical truths together, since there is never a definitive statement saying there is no more need to sacrifice.
If you interpret things as a spiritual truth, whether option 2 or 3, you would want to cite Ezekiel 47:1-14, where there is a description to a life-giving water and flows from the temple; people who believe in a literal temple have to believe that this is literal description, but from other references in the bible, a “river of life” always refers to God, not necessarily a literal river. In this case, however, the river is measured, which can be enough to cause doubt for a spiritual truth.
Lastly, if you interpret this as “the ideal” temple, or a sort of memory of Solomon’s temple, the biggest evidence would be that the second temple (built after this vision) did not live up to the standards that Ezekiel prophesied (when Israelites who lived through the exile came back to Jerusalem and the temple was rebuilt, they were saddened that it did not have the majesty that Solomon’s temple had, nor did it seem to be what Ezekiel prophesied, meanwhile, people who were born in exile were excited because they didn’t have the memory of Solomon’s Temple). This, of course, can be countered that the language used seems to speak of a future temple, and seems to be instruction, not just a description.
So, at this point, I probably sound like I’m sitting on the fence. Personally, I have to eliminate the fourth interpretation that it is the “ideal Temple” because it does sound like a set instructions. I can’t believe it was the second temple, because there is an obvious tension between the Israelites who knew this prophesy and saw the majesty of the Solomon’s Temple and what the second temple looked like. Because there are measurements and geographical locations mentioned, I have to take this new temple literally, but there doesn’t seem to be any other scriptures that support a third temple, so I am forced to take a spiritual standpoint. But is there another option to believe?
This may be completely wrong, but what if I suggested that Jesus was the third temple? Jesus brings life, Jesus is imaged as the high priest, and Jesus said He was the fulfilment of the temple-system. This does seem to ignore some data though, such as the literal measurements used in Ezekiel’s vision, and geographical references, but what if those were symbols for something? I know it is easy to “spiritualize” because it is a bit of a cop-out to other options, and it can easily lead to bad interpretation, so this is definitely something I wouldn’t preach from the pulpit. The bigger idea, though, of this interpretation is that the Old Testament, although it is literal, can represent a full life of spiritual battles, struggles, victories, learning, and growing. It doesn’t mean that things in the Old Testament didn’t happen, because history shows us that there are many events (and counting) in the Old Testament that line up with history from other cultures, but what it does mean is the big picture of the Old Testament shows a love story between God and His people (could even be generic for people that follow the Christian/Judeo God, not necessarily people classified as ‘Christian’ or ‘Jewish’).
Thoughts? Opinions? Do you have scripture that destroys or builds my argument?