The first temple of Israel was built by their king Solomon on mount Moriah where the LORD had appeared to his father David, at the place that David had prepared on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite (2 Chronicles 3:1), traditionally known as the mount where Abraham had nearly sacrificed his son Isaac as an offering to the Lord (Genesis 22:2). It was solemnly inaugurated by Solomon in about 950 BC (1 Kings 7 and 8), but was completely burned down on 586 BC by Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard and servant of king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (2 Kings 25:8-17, 2 Chronicles 36:15-19).
The second temple was built by Zerubbabel, descendent of David and godly grandson of ungodly king Jeconiah (or Jehoakim) of Judah. The work was started on 525 BC by order of Cyrus, king of Persia (Ezra 1:2-4), at the same place where Solomon's temple had been built (Ezra 2:68), and was finished on 516 BC, when it was dedicated to the Lord (Ezra 6:15). Afterwards, in the course of time it was dilapidated by enemies and partially ruined from lack of upkeep.
Almost exactly five centuries later, a puppet king appointed by the Romans, called Herod the Great, son of an Idumean father and an Arabian mother, offered to restore the temple to please the people. His offer being accepted, he began restoration on 18 BC carrying out a highly pretentious and expensive project, on a much greater scale than that of the original temple. The main building was completed in ten years, but Herod and his successors considerably enlarged the circulating area with earthworks, stone walls and buildings, and the restoration was only considered to be completed 83 years later, in the year 65 AD. This was the temple existing at the time the Lord Jesus was on Earth, greatly admired by His disciples (Mark 13:1, Luke 21:5).
Only five years later, in 70 AD, the temple and the other buildings on the mount were totally destroyed by the Romans, together with the city of Jerusalem. The walls were damaged to a great extent at the time of the crusades. A part generally known as the "wailing wall" remained, where the Jews have been offering their prayers since long ago, and is today also a tourist attraction.
The Jews were scattered all over the world, having lost not only their capital, but also their land. Some families and small groups began to return towards the end of the 19th century, forming small agricultural colonies, the "kibbutzes". In 1948 Israel was recognised as a country by the United Nations, occupying a fraction of the land belonging to the kingdom of Israel at the time of king David. After much hostility from the neighbouring nations, and vanquishing them in a war of six days, Israel has had some stability until now.
Some Jews have been converted to Christ, and meet freely as assemblies in the country, but the majority of the people are far from God, being either atheists or followers of Judaism in synagogues of different sects. There is, however, a growing movement initiated by some rabbis, to unite them all within the observance of the law of Moses, adapted to modern circumstances.
A Sanhedrim was formed in October 2004 in Tiberias, where the old Sanhedrim met for the last time 16 centuries ago. It meets once a month in Jerusalem and has formed a committee of seven rabbis, one of whom is Meir Kahane, the rabbi of the Young Israel of Jerusalem's Old City. He heads an organised study of Temple rituals and ceremonies, as well as cataloguing all known kohanim (priests) in Israel (it is remarkable that, of all the tribes of Israel, the tribe which provides the priests, that of Levi, is the only one which remains perfectly identifiable by the surnames Levi, Levy, Levine, Leventhal, Levinson, Cohen and other similar ones).
It has been in the news recently that this sanhedrim decided to take up offerings for a fund with the purpose of building the third temple. "We have a deep desire to worship God in the Holy Temple again," said Rabbi Yoseph Elboim, co-initiator of the extraordinary Temple Summit in Jerusalem. "Three times a day we pray that God will let us worship on the holy Temple Mount again, as in Biblical times. We want to light the Menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple twice a day and burn incense to God. All these are divine commandments, and we want to prepare for them." About 1,000 people, among them rabbis, professors and Christians living in Israel, all pursuing the goal of erecting the Third Temple, took part in a festive dinner in Jerusalem.
With two mosques situated on the Temple Mount, which is Islam's third holiest site, rebuilding the Temple seems a long way from the political reality on the ground. "But when I see God gathering His people again after 2,000 years in the Diaspora and leading them home, the rebuilding of the Third Temple seems much closer," said Elboim. The precise location where the two previous temples were built on the Temple Mount isn't known, and there is divergence of opinion about this. It would be necessary to excavate below ground level to be absolutely sure, and this is not permitted at present.
Although the Holy Scriptures are silent as to the details of the third temple, we know that it will be in use with the sacrifice and meals offering before the middle of the period of seven years of tribulation, because on this occasion the prince who is to come who we know as the Antichrist shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. (Daniel 9:27). Other Bible texts also relating to the middle of the period of tribulation indicate that the third temple will be functioning at this time: Matthew 24:15, 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, Revelation 11:1-2.
Its construction will therefore take place some time before the middle of tribulation, and it will probably have been planned in all its detail before the beginning of tribulation. It should be noted that this temple is not the temple of the millennium which will follow after the end of tribulation: the temple of the millennium will be built by Christ, and will be the centre of world government (Isaiah 2:2-4, Ezekiel 43:7, 48:35, Daniel 2:44-45, 7:13-27, Zechariah 6:12-13,14:8-9, Revelation 11:15). All the territory occupied at present by Jerusalem will be raised to form a great mountain, which will become the highest in the world.
The third temple now desired by the Jews will not be accepted by God as being His: "Thus says the LORD: 'Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest? For all those things My hand has made, and all those things exist,' says the LORD. 'But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.'" Isaiah 66:1,2 (NKJV)
In this text the Lord is rejecting the building of a new temple by hands of men. He is not referring to the first two temples, for both had His approval, neither does He refer to the millennium temple as this will be built by His own Son. It can only be the third temple.
On the day when the Lord Jesus was crucified, the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom, a clear symbol that the only true Lamb which takes away the sin of the world had been sacrificed, eliminating the worth of the sacrifices and offerings made in the temple in anticipation of His coming. The destruction of the second temple by the Romans, prophesied by the Lord Jesus, did away with all its vestiges (Mark 13:2).
The temple at present being built up by God is the church of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:16), where worship is done is spirit and in truth (John 4:21-24) by the poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at the Word of God, in accordance with this prophecy of Isaiah.
It is encouraging to know that the construction of the third temple is expected to take place soon: it is another sign that the coming of the Lord to rapture His church is already quite near!