The ark of the covenant and the third temple

There is a movement afoot among orthodox Jews to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem and to this end they have been looking for a red heifer without blemish to dedicate the temple.  Although there have been discredited claims in recent decades, yet there are rumours that a suitable red heifer has been found and that the lost ‘ark of the covenant’ has been discovered.

This raises hopes among some religious Jews, but it can be damaging to raise false hopes only to have them dashed.  So let us bring some biblical perspective to the subject.

The problems

There are several problems with these hopes and reports.  1. the ark of the covenant was destroyed during the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians in Jeremiah’s day Jer 3:16.  If it had been hidden since king Josiah’s day, as claimed by some, why was it not returned to the second temple after the Babylonian captivity?  Jeremiah gives us the reason; it had been destroyed.  2. the same biblical verse says that it will not ‘be made again’, not only showing that it was destroyed but there will be no need for a replacement.  Indeed, the second temple did not contain a replacement ark, according to the Jewish Talmud, and the Jewish Mishnah indicates that its absence was replaced in the popular mind by the presence of ‘the foundation stone’ now located in the ‘Dome of the Rock’, the prominent landmark of the old city of Jerusalem, towards which orthodox Jews throughout the world pray, a practice the muslims imitate in praying towards Mecca.

2. this introduces the second problem –  that the muslims have their Dome of the Rock (not a mosque) located over this very spot that is so revered by Jew and muslim alike.  This ‘temple mount’ is a tinderbox of religious fervour, implicated in second islamic intifada in 2000 in Israel.  A third temple is unlikely to be built any time soon.

3. rather, the third temple is the temple that the Lord Jesus Christ is building Jn 2:19,23. As the  Head of His body the Church, He began the process by His resurrection from the dead and ascension to heaven from where He is building His church Mat 16:18, to which the apostle Paul referred when he wrote to believers in the Christian church at Corinth:

‘What? do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost in you, Whom you have from God?’ 1Cor 6:19.

Ezekiel’s temple-house and its lessons

4. Ezekiel’s temple-house described in Ezk 40-47 is a symbolical description of Christ’s temple, which He is building for the biblical Millennium.  It has no high priest nor bloody sacrifices for He is its High Priest Heb 3:1 having offered once and completely Heb 10:18 the only sacrifice that can atone for human sin.  Besides, this temple-house is located in a symbolic and idealised distribution of the tribes of Israel in the land of Israel laid out in Ezk 48, showing us that we are expected to draw spiritual lessons from this spiritual temple.

1. The primary lesson from Ezk 40-47 is that the Lord’s temple must and will be built on Earth.  The concluding verse of the prophecy of Ezekiel Ezk 48:35 tells us God will dwell in this new settlement, corresponding to the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven Rev 21:2 as ‘the tabernacle of God with men, and He will dwell with them’ Rev 21:3.

It is not a place to offer blood sacrifices.  So what is the relevance of Jerusalem in this global scene?  The building of Christ’s temple is completed when the Jews recognise Jesus the Messiah and this will be a life-giving injection to the Christian church Rom 11:15.  The extraordinary return of the Jews to their own land after the Babylonian exile Ezk 36-37 was symbolical of what we now witness in the extraordinary return of the Jews to the land of Israel after almost 2000 years of exile.  The modern Israelis have not only revivalised the land of Israel in the 20th century but this is a precursor to their spiritual revival, a further fulfilment of Ezk 36:25-28, seen in those earlier times in the building of the second temple and the rise of the zealous Maccabees Dan 11:32 and seen now in greater fulness.  These historical events in Israel’s history are symbolical of their final fulfilment in the Jewish spiritual revival in acknowledging Yeshua Messiah Zec 12:10.  This will not only bless themselves but it will be a blessing to the nations of the world Rom 11:15.

However, meanwhile, the kings and rulers of the Earth have been resisting the Lord’s desire expressed in Psalm 2, and throughout Scripture, to deliver the nations from the ungodly sway that prevails throughout the world, so that He might dwell among them.

‘Thus says the LORD; I am returned to Zion, and I will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth; and the mountain of the LORD of hosts the holy mountain’ Zec 8:3.

The purpose of this divine action is global and not simply local:

‘And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth’ Zec 9:10.

2. This points to another principal lesson from Ezekiel’s temple-house – the need to recover the Establishment Principle.  This is that biblical principle which states that God is sovereign over secular and ecclesiastical affairs, and that He has established a relationship between these two sovereign spheres in which the state and the church are to acknowledge each other as divinely-appointed institutions, to mutually support and encourage each other, but not to interfere in each other’s God-given province.  Instead of earthly rulers resisting Christ and His church, they should be supporting it.

This principle has been misunderstood and abused through millennia, but the biblical doctrine was recovered and established during the 16th-century European Reformation and developed most fully in Scotland.  However, it has fallen upon hard times during the past 150 years with the rise of voluntaryism and pre-millennialism so that it is barely recognisable now, and it is being replaced with an establishment of secular religion in the UK, which is even worse.

However, Ezekiel’s temple-house teaches us that the Establishment Principle will be recovered and will prevail throughout the biblical Millennium.

3. Another key biblical principle that was recovered during the 16th-century European Reformation and which Ezekiel’s temple-house teaches us is the Regulative Principle of worship.  The worship of God is the highest activity of the human spirit and only God can tell us how to do it properly.

Jesus said: ‘God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth’ Jn 4:24.

The Regulative Principle is that principle which requires us to regulate all the affairs of Christ’s kingdom by, and according to, the Word of God; or, in other words, it is the principle which recognises ‘the regulative authority of the Scriptures’ in the kingdom of Christ.

The Regulative Principle was expounded from Scripture by John Calvin, the theologian of the European Reformation, but it was not embraced by the Lutheran Reformers on the European Continent nor in the Anglican Church of England, although many English Puritans embraced it and were expelled from the Church of England at the Great Ejection in 1662.  The Pilgrim Fathers had already sailed to Holland several decades before, and then to America to find the ecclesiastical freedom that the Church of England would not allow them.  The result was that the greatest development and expression of the biblical Regulative Principle was found in the Calvinistic Presbyterianism of the Church of Scotland, which was then exported from Scotland with the Scottish Presbyterian Diaspora over the succeeding centuries.

However, the Regulative Principle has also fallen upon hard times as God-centred worship has been replaced by man-centred worship.  Instead of taking our lead how to worship God from God Himself, the modern church takes its lead from the latest ‘praise-leader’ in each congregation.

Ezekiel’s temple-house not only teaches us the importance of the Regulative Principle of worship but it teaches us that it will be central to the worship of the Christian church during the biblical Millennium.  There will be a recovery of biblical worship as well as a change in attitude by civil governments during the biblical Millennium.

These two great biblical principles, the Establishment Principle and the Regulative Principle have been ignored and largely abandoned over the past two hundred years and they need to be recovered before the biblical Millennium will take off.

The means to this end is closely allied to the conversion of the Jews Rom 11:15 and the exposure of the man of sin for what he is 2Th 2:3-12.

Christ is building His church as the Temple of the Holy Ghost.  It is growing and it will fill the whole Earth Dan 2:35 and Dan 7:27, so that the stage is set for the Millennial Advent in which Christ’s premillennial judgment puts down Satanic opposition Rev 20:1-3 and ushers in the Jewish Pleroma Rom 11:12.  When the Jews convert to Christianity and Babylon is destroyed Rev 18:10, it will be manifest for all to see that Christ’s reign as King of kings has triumphed in the Earth Rev 11:15.  This is not the end of human history – it is the beginning of the biblical Millennium Rev 20:2-6.

This biblical Millennium Rev 20:2-6 is depicted as the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven Rev 21:2 as ‘the tabernacle of God with men, and He will dwell with them’, in a period of Earth-history so transformative that it is called ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ Rev 21:1.  ‘God Himself shall be with them, and be their God’ Rev 21:3.  God will dwell in this new Jerusalem – the last verse of Ezekiel’s prophecy, as the completion of the vision of Ezekiel’s temple-house, a house where God dwells because He is worshipped and served according to His will.

The bibilical Millennium, the new Jerusalem, the new heaven and new earth Rev 20:2-Rev 21:2

This is what Ezekiel’s temple-house depicts, something much grander and more God-honouring and meaningful than a physical building in earthly Jerusalem. Having built His temple-house through 2000 years of ungodly opposition, truly a lengthy and “great tribulation” Mat 24:21, its completion secures that God will dwell in it for the even longer biblical Millennium.

As the biblical Millennium unfolds, the ungodly will find themselves belonging to a minority of losers, on the wrong side of history, and on the wrong side of eternity, to their everlasting shame and dismay, while the godly will inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world Mat 25:34.

Come and welcome to Jesus Christ.

The future is bright for the godly.

2 thoughts on “The ark of the covenant and the third temple

  1. Stuart R Findlay

    Quite good but too much millennial chat for my liking! I think my developing eschatology is definitely going the way of NT Wright and I imagine Walter Bruegemann also. However I very much agree with you re 3rd temple i.e. Christians hearts. I like that we can be Christians with different ideas about stuff… you with an FP background( baggage!) .. me a Baptist with somewhat progressive leanings. I would be less literalistic probably but hey it wouldn’t half be boring if we all thought the same stuff! Keep up the good work. Stuart (Moray’s former practice partner)


    1. Donald

      Thanks, Stuart.

      I wonder if I will meet Moray at our meeting this weekend of the 40th-anniversary of our medical graduation from Glasgow University in 1978 – so long ago!

      The subject inevitably involves the biblical Millennium, which is a very encouraging subject.


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