The Third Temple and the Temple Institute

Fredi Winkler

The Temple Institute in Jerusalem investigates how the Temple was once constructed and how everything within it functioned back then. Does this mean there are concrete plans underway to rebuild the Temple?

Many Christians hold to the interpretation of Scriptural prophecies such as 2 Thessalonians 2:4 and others, that the Temple will have to be rebuilt. This brings to mind an important question: how real are such intentions on the part of Israeli and Jewish officials? Does the Temple Institute have the support of the religious establishment and the government? One can say that Orthodox Jews do not basically reject the building of a temple; however, they believe that the Third Temple may only be built by the Messiah Himself. Their thinking is founded in Zechariah 6:12-13: “…Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is THE BRANCH; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD: Even he shall build the temple of the LORD; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”    

That this Scripture quotation is speaking of the Messiah is agreed upon by Jews as well as Christians. But exactly how the Temple construction will come about is a matter of diverse opinions among the Jews. The Temple Institute—directed by Orthodox Jews, who generally hold to the dictates of the religious leadership—maintains that only the Messiah is entitled to build the Temple when He comes. The research and planning activities of the Institute are carried out in preparation of the Messiah’s appearing, so that building of the Temple can begin immediately.

Of course, there are also some extreme elements that want to begin building the Temple now. But these are small minorities, who do not have the support of either the religious leadership or of any influential political party. Then there are others who believe that the future Temple will not be built according to any human planning and preparation, but that the Messiah will accomplish everything through divine inspiration and direction. Yet another view holds that the Third Temple will come down from heaven when the Messiah appears, and will not be constructed by human hands at all.

Meanwhile, What Happens Before the Messiah Comes?

Conflict about sovereignty over the Temple Mount not only exists between Jews and Muslims, but also, ironically, among Jews themselves—mainly between those who want to go up on the Temple Mount, and others who believe it is contrary to Jewish religious statutes (Halacha). To this day, at the start of the ascent to the Temple Mount, a sign proclaims an edict from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, prohibiting Jews from setting foot on the Temple Mount. However, this is not a government regulation and, despite the warning, nobody who walks up the Temple Mount is penalized. In fact, according to government regulations, Jews are expressly invited to visit the Temple Mount. But one thing that is not allowed is prayer or any other kind of religious activity while there.

For a long time, religious Jews followed the mandate of the Chief Rabbinate. Yet for the past few years, there are more and more Jews—especially those of the national-religious faction—who still go up the Mount. Even Knesset representatives repeatedly join in these visits. However, they are strictly controlled and accompanied by Israeli Secret Service members, to prevent any friction with Muslims. They visit the Temple Mount despite the Jewish religious prohibition, although they do not go as far as the upper plateau where the Dome of the Rock stands, which is under the control of the Islamic Council (Waqf). They stay on the level below, which circles the highest point where once the Temple stood, enshrining the Holy of Holies.

After the takeover of East Jerusalem, it was Rabbi Shlomo Goren who was first to blow the shofar horn at the Wailing Wall. He asked Menachem Begin, the newly elected prime minister after the political turnaround of 1975, “Why are we Jews not allowed to pray on the Temple Mount?” The answer was: “Because the Rabbinate doesn’t approve.” The Chief Rabbinate did concern itself with questions regarding celebrations upon the liberation of Jerusalem or setting foot on the Temple Mount, but never, not even theoretically, with the building of the Temple. This shows that the topic was of no concern to the religious leadership.

Years ago, when activists of various Jewish religious groups began to encourage their followers to visit the lower plateau without advancing to the higher holy level, the Rabbinate reacted by pointing out that nothing had changed. Once again, Jews were forbidden from setting foot on any part of the Temple Mount terrain. And when a member of the Knesset started a debate about permitting Jews to pray on the Temple Mount, Prime Minister Netanyahu declared: “The government has no intention to change the policies regarding the Temple Mount.” The status quo was thus maintained.

Keeping all this in mind, the question arises: what kind of Messiah are the Jews expecting? Not surprisingly, the Jewish people do not have a clear or unified idea on this issue. Especially since the coming of Jesus and the spread of Christianity, the Jewish perspective regarding the Messiah has undergone fundamental change. According to the general understanding of today’s Jews, they are expecting a Messiah who will be a human being like all others. However, He must fulfill three things which will distinguish Him as the Messiah. First, He must bring back the Jewish people into the land of their fathers. Second, He must bring about peace. And third, He must rebuild the Temple. He who meets these three parameters should be the Messiah, according to the widely held opinion.

This theory, of course, contradicts the thinking that only the Messiah may build the Temple if, to be acknowledged as Messiah, He needs to have met these three identifying tests. This logically presumes that He would have to prove to be the Messiah before building the Temple. The final conclusion of all this? There is no clear or uniform idea about either the Messiah or the building of the Third Temple.

News from Israel - 08/2020

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