Saturday, May 30th, 2020
Temple. This blog post considers the theme of temple and how it relates to the Book of Revelation.
In a previous post, I explained how I was once an angel in Los Angeles. In the original Greek, from which English eventually inherited the word, angelos really just means messenger. A messenger can be a glorious heavenly being or an unimpressive, ordinary earthling. For a while, I worked for a successful county-line law firm as a courier, driving around the greater LA area. As a courier, I had navigate my way through traffic to various court houses and hand-deliver important legal documents and time-sensitive messages. Thus, in my mind, I officially qualify. I can claim that I was briefly an angelos in Los Angeles.
A few years after I drove and delivered messages for the law firm, someone from my school asked if I would be willing to drive a van for them. A delegation of English-speaking scholars from across the Muslim world was about to come to Los Angeles. Was I available and would I be willing to drive them around? Yes, I was available. And yes, I would drive them around LA.
The year was 2002. September 11th was a very recent and raw memory. The United States State Department, in cooperation with some institutions of higher learning, had arranged for a delegation of English-speaking Muslim scholars to tour the United States. I believe that the US State Department and the American schools hoped that the scholars would return to their respective countries and speak positively about what they saw and experienced in the USA. The tour was an attempt at academic and religious diplomacy. Good PR was surely the goal. I’m not sure if that’s what happened, though. Still, it was eye-opening to be their driver.
One of the destinations to which I drove the scholars was Wilshire Boulevard Temple. As the name indicates, Wilshire Boulevard Temple is located on Wilshire Boulevard, a road that runs right through downtown Los Angeles. You may have heard of it before. The Temple, which I will abbreviate from hence as WBT, is an impressive historic building that belongs to a Jewish congregation. From an artistic standpoint, WBT visually wows a visitor. It has a big central rotunda, much like most capitol state buildings. If you stand underneath the rotunda and look upward, as I did, golden gilded Hebrew letters and words go around the inside of it. To my surprise and delight, I could read it. I knew exactly what it said. It was the Shema.
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” That would be Deuteronomy 6:4; and that is the Shema.
For me, it was an electrifying moment. Not long before that, I had taken Hebrew. I stood there, looking upward, and actually read what it said, with ease. And I was struck by the weight and the serendipity of that moment. Representatives of the three religions that lay claim to the monotheism proclaimed in that verse were all gathered there. However, we were hardly in harmony. For one thing, we disagreed about the identity of the temple.
The Jewish temple that once stood in Jerusalem — will it be rebuilt someday? For centuries now, the temple’s former location has been a Muslim sacred site. The Dome of the Rock was constructed where the temple once stood. It is there to this day. The site is under the jurisdiction of Muslim authorities. They are determined to hold it. If the Israelis attempt to take control of the location, a regional war will probably immediately ensue.
With all that in consideration, hear what one of the Muslim scholars asked the head rabbi at WBT. While we all stood around in the office of the rabbi, a visiting Muslim scholar asked him, “Do you want the temple to be rebuilt in Jerusalem?” It was a loaded question. The rabbi’s answer surprised me. It probably surprised the Muslim scholars, too.
The rabbi said, “No, I don’t, because if the temple were rebuilt we would need to resume the whole sacrificial system. I don’t want that to happen.”
Alternatively, there are other Jewish religious authorities who do want the temple in Jerusalem rebuilt. That was not discussed with the visiting Muslim scholars at WBT that day, though.
A lot of Christians have been taught and believe that the Jewish temple in Jerusalem must be rebuilt before Jesus returns. The Book of Revelation briefly mentions “the temple of God” in the first two verses of chapter eleven. Interpreters have to decide which temple is referenced. Is it a rebuilt Jewish temple in Jerusalem, or something else? That is a super-important question. If it is understood to be a rebuilt Jewish temple in Jerusalem, then we ought to intently watch what happens at that contested location in Jerusalem. However, if it is not a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, then fixating on events in Jerusalem is unnecessary. Again, interpretively, a lot hangs the identity of the temple in Revelation 11:1-2.
The temple mentioned in Revelation 11:1-2 is actually the Church, not a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. That is how I read it. We are mistaken to expect a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, which might never happen, anyway. Here, the Rabbi at WBT, along with the Muslim scholars, may have their collective way. There may never be a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, at least, not prior to the parousia of Jesus, that is, prior to the second coming.
The New Testament repeatedly says that the Church is now the temple of God. We ought to believe it. The Church really is the temple of God now. God’s presence is no longer to be found in a brick-and-mortar building or a stone-and-mortar temple, but in a living temple, in and among the corporate people of God. Ephesians 2:19-22 says as much, and is worth a quick read.
All of this said, the land and the people of Israel are not irrelevant. On the contrary, the nation of Israel is still relevant to Revelation and will be important in The End. After all these centuries of time, God continues to be faithful to the Jewish people for the sake of their ancestors; and they still do have a role to play in the fulfillment of prophecy. Explaining that will have to wait for another day and another blog post, though.