There is perhaps no more iconic a vision than the Old City walls of Jerusalem surrounding the golden-topped Dome of the Rock. People from around the world travel there to both connect with history and seek a religious experience. However, in recent years, there has been an amplification of “end-times” fervor associated with the spot. Increasing numbers of Christians and Jews believe the long prophesied “End of Days” will soon take place in Jerusalem, specifically on the Temple Mount, a place Time magazine has called “the most volatile 35 acres on Earth.”
They cite numerous ancient prophecies, all of which point to the imminent building of the Third Jewish Temple and appearance of the Messiah, the “Anointed One” in Hebrew. Their fulfillment, it’s claimed, will herald Judgment Day and the end of the current sinful age. Religious Jews pray daily: “May the Holy Temple be rebuilt speedily and in our day.” Christians, meanwhile, see the temple as necessary before the second coming of Jesus, their Messiah, and are eager to assist Jewish groups to serve their own ends. Muslims, meanwhile, are wary of any of these efforts, since they actively threaten their own shrines on the Mount.
King Solomon built the First Temple to Yahweh on the Mount 3,000 years ago. It was destroyed by the Babylonians 400 years later, but rebuilt seventy years after as the Second Temple. Centuries later, King Herod renovated the temple in the years before Jesus’ birth, greatly increasing its size. Only decades later, it was razed to the ground in 70 CE by the Romans during the First Jewish War. Ever since then, Jews hoped that a third temple would someday be built and that sacrifices might be resumed. Despite brief attempts at building this “Third Temple,” most notably during the Apostasy of Roman Emperor Julian in 360 CE, there has not yet been a concerted effort in modern history to build it, at least not until the last few decades.
Journalist Gershom Gorenberg sums up the unique role of the Temple Mount in end-times scenarios best, “What happens at that one spot, more than anywhere else, quickens expectations of the End in three religions. And at that spot, the dangers of provoking catastrophe are greatest.” It is perhaps the greatest flashpoint for war in the world and has in recent years become the focus of several Jewish movements and fervent Christian Messianism, all aimed at actively preparing the way for the Third Temple. Momentous events of recent years have caused many to renew their faith that the End of Days is finally at our collective doorstep.
The foremost prophecy regarding the End of Days was the “return of the exiles” to Israel after the Great Jewish Diaspora. The Zionists in the late nineteenth century were mostly secular and wanted to create a socialist and humanist nation. A small group of “religious” Zionists, however, saw the path to Israel as the path towards the temple, Messiah, and redemption. They celebrated the watershed year of 1948 and the Declaration of Israel as a sign that God’s Kingdom was at long last finally at hand. The exiles had been allowed to return home, fulfilling the words of Jeremiah: “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture.” (23:3), and Isaiah: “He will raise a banner for the nations, and gather the exiles of Israel.” (11:12).
This seemed to be just the beginning. During the Six-Day War, Israel seized back control of East Jerusalem from Arab forces. “The Temple Mount is in our hands!” exclaimed paratroop brigade commander Motti Gur on June 6, 1967. For the first time in 2,000 years the sacred space was back in direct control of Jewish forces, marking a fundamental regime change and prophetic realization. Many expected a miracle to occur that very day. Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren repeatedly blew the shofar horn and demanded the Dome of the Rock be demolished immediately. Fortunately, calmer heads prevailed and the Arab religious trust was allowed to continue administering the site, out of fear that if it didn’t, a regional war might erupt.
In the twelfth century CE, the great Jewish sage Maimonides wrote about the End of Days, claiming two things would precede it. First, the “Sanhedrin,” the ancient Jewish council of elders, would be reconvened—it had been dissolved in 425 CE. Then, in October 2004, after almost 1,700 years, it was miraculously revived, fulfilling the words of Isaiah: “I will restore your leaders as in days of old, your rulers as at the beginning.” (1:26).
Second, the “red heifer” must appear. In Jewish custom, the ashes of a completely red heifer were used to purify the priests. The last red heifer, the ninth since Moses’ time, died during the time of the Second Temple. It was prophesied by Maimonides that, “The tenth red heifer will be accomplished by the king, the Messiah; may he be revealed speedily, Amen.” That is why there was such excitement at the news that just such a pure red bovine had been born in Israel in September 2018.
Meanwhile, Biblical tailor Reuven Prager has been busy issuing silver half-shekel coins. They are meant for religious Jews to send to the future temple. The Sanhedrin and Mikdash Educational Center are also minting “third temple” coins. One features the Persian king Cyrus and Donald Trump, who has been likened to Cyrus for his role in assisting the Jewish people. He moved the US embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem in late 2017, precisely to fulfill the ancient prophecy: “But now I have chosen Jerusalem for my Name to be there.” (2 Chronicles 6:6). This greatly energized his Evangelical Christian base, roughly 700 million strong, that see it as preceding the return of Jesus.
To add to this messianic furor, there were several strange portents around the mount in 2018. In July, a large stone block fell from the Western Wall, the day after Tisha B’Av, which is the day of Jewish mourning for the temple. Then, in October, a large group of Jews praying on the Mount of Olives witnessed a white cloud rise up and surround the Dome of the Rock. This occurred just after sunrise, the time of highest religious focus, and lasted over twenty minutes. It took place on Hoshana Rabbah, the last day of the weeklong holiday of Sukkot, the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. This is important, because it is believed that on this day the Messiah will appear to the world.
Then, weeks later in November, a snake emerged from the Western Wall. Most saw it as a positive sign, since the numerical value of the Hebrew word for snake (nahash) is the same as Messiah (massiach). Meanwhile, a few days later, a sinkhole opened up near the Golden Gate on the eastern side of the mount. The Messiah is supposed to enter through this gate, which was sealed in 1541 CE specifically to prevent his return. While archaeologists point to the ground itself, packed with centuries of random debris, as the likely cause, others see it as a sign the gate may soon be opened. Yet others expect an earthquake to open the gate. In July 2018, geologist Ariel Heimann warned that “the threat of an earthquake is, in my eyes, the greatest threat facing the state of Israel.”
Don’t “Immanetize the Eschaton”
Traditional Judaism has always counseled patience concerning the End of Days, claiming the Messiah would build the Temple in his own time. Orthodox rabbis opposed the Zionists a century ago for trying to “force” God’s hand concerning the redemption, and even today, most Rabbis forbid Jews from visiting the Mount, out of fear of violating ancient purity laws. They argue that a natural act of God, a “miracle” such as an earthquake, should clear the way for the temple. As journalist Motti Inbari notes: “The conservative Jews prefers to remain within his own four walls and await the miracle that will transfer him from exile to redemption.”
That all changed in 1967, when the Mount returned to Israeli hands and building the temple finally became a tangible possibility. John Chambers wrote in Atlantis Rising (#119) that during this time, “a great host of apocalyptic yearnings that had lain dormant for centuries burst into the open.” Fundamentalist Jewish and Christian groups tried to “kick-start” the redemption, often provoking violent responses. German philosopher Eric Voegelin saw these attempts as trying to immanetize the eschaton, the final redemptive stage of human history—“rushing the end” so to speak.
Two of the paratroopers who expected a miracle that day on the Mount in 1967 did not abandon their beliefs when faced with failure but doubled down on them. They went on to found movements to reestablish the Temple—the Temple Mount Faithful and the Temple Institute. Both are still active, with the T.M.F. being the more incendiary. They sparked riots in 1990 when they tried to lay a cornerstone for a future temple.
The Temple Institute meanwhile has avoided clashes with police and focused instead on fashioning replicas of ancient temple implements and clothes. They have also trained over five hundred Levite priests for future services. If a new temple were to be built, they are now completely ready to outfit and staff it.
Other groups took a more violent path. When Israel surrendered the Sinai in 1979, several Jewish radicals formed the “Jewish Underground.” They plotted to blow up the Dome of the Rock to prepare the way for the Temple. Fortunately these plots were stopped before a war erupted. Sadly, such radical ideas have helped inspire a new crop of ‘right-wing’ politicians, such as Knesset Member Yehuda Glick. A contentious presence on the Mount through the 2010s, Glick has been leading groups of fellow Jews in prayer there. After pushing and pushing, Muslim forces pushed back, and he was shot four times by an Arab terrorist on October 29th, 2014.
Miraculously, Glick survived and continues, undeterred, with his push to the Mount. With his and many others’ vocal encouragement, Jews are ascending the Mount as never before. In 2006, the Council of Yeshiva Rabbis stunned the world by permitting Jews to enter the Mount, and by 2017, almost 26,000 Jews had visited there. With all this push comes the inevitable push back. When PM Ariel Sharon visited the mount in 2000, he unknowingly sparked the Al-Aqsa Intifada, which ultimately claimed the lives of over 4,000 people.
These fundamentalist Jewish groups, along with Christian Evangelicals, seek a return to the former monarchy, the Sanhedrin, and the sacrifices. That intention puts them on a collision course not only with the Muslim world but also mainstream Israeli society, which seeks a pluralistic social democracy modeled after similar European nations. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein reiterated the idea during Israel’s 70th birthday celebrations in May, 2018: “Together, we have developed a democratic oasis, a wonderful mosaic of tribes and colors, beliefs and opinions, countries of origin and ways of life, and together we have transformed our tiny country into a global technological power that is led by justice and morality.”
Problems with Prophecy and the Path to Peace
The first problem with prophecies, researchers argue, is their wildly variable interpretations. Dozens of prophets, spanning millennia of socio-political change, have spoken, and the people read into their messages whatever they have chosen. It is clear now that most were not speaking of events in our future but in their future, now long in the past. For example, despite the current push to reinstitute temple sacrifices, many point to prophets like Hosea, who long ago rejected the validity of burnt offerings: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” (6:6).
A far greater problem, it is argued, lies in prophecy’s ability to justify violence. It has time and again been used to inflame tensions and precipitate war. Zechariah warned us that God will: “gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle.” Jesus likewise cautioned his disciples of the end time tribulations to come: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” Most of these current zealots see a global conflagration as the only way towards a new age; they want a war. However, there are an equal number of verses that espouse peace. Isaiah once imagined the temple would be a “house of prayer for all nations” (56:7) and “the Messiah will be a banner of salvation to all the world.” (11:10).
Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism, believed something similar. In his novel Old New Land in 1902, Herzl laid out his vision for the future of the Jewish people. He foresaw an Israel full of technology, prosperity, equal rights for all its citizens, and a Temple Mount marked by peace and plurality. Most importantly, it did not require a global war to attain it. Listen to his dream for the future city: “Jerusalem and her hills were still sacred to all mankind, still bore the tokens of reverence bestowed upon her through the ages. But something had been added; new, vigorous, joyous life. The Holy Sepulcher, the Mosque of Omar, and other domes and towers had remained the same; but many splendid new structures had been added. That magnificent new edifice was the Peace Palace.”
Herzl’s utopian vision is not new; it was an old Jewish idea that originated with Moses. Long before even the First Temple, he had commanded Israel: “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the Israelite among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:34). Religious devotees stress that this idea of a peaceful “utopia” must necessarily involve the pluralistic views of Moses, Isaiah, and Herzl. They envision Herzl’s shimmering “Peace Palace” standing beside the golden Dome of the Rock, a “House of Prayer for all nations,” and suggest it would be the ultimate example of cooperation, in accordance with the teachings of Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, who likewise called for peace with Jews and Christians, the people of “the Book.”
Jonathon Perrin is the author of Moses Restored: The Oldest Religious Secret Never Told, available in print or as an e-book from Am