What About the Temple of Antichrist?
Christians sometimes object to the thought of the Jewish People having sovereignty over the Temple Mount because the Jewish People might rebuild the Temple. In some popular Christian thought, a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem is somehow the ”temple of antichrist” (God forbid). That, however, is not correct according to the New Testament and biblical teaching.
First of all, Cry For Zion is focused on Israel exercising its full, legal sovereignty and guaranteeing Jewish freedom on the Temple Mount. That said, how the Jewish people choose to justly administer and develop the site—including rebuilding the Temple—is their prerogative.
The misunderstanding about the so called ”temple of antichrist” comes mainly from two passages in the New Testament. The first is found in the book of Matthew, as Jesus is teaching on the Mount of Olives about the end of the age.
“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (Matthew 24:15–16).
The second passage is from the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians where he gives a short teaching about the day of the Lord and about the antichrist.
“Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the Temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3–4).
Both of these passages suggest that before the end of this age, an abomination, or the antichrist, will defile God’s Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Many Christians therefore want no part of a rebuilt Temple since the New Testament seems to predict that the antichrist will defile it. “Isn’t that the temple of antichrist?” they ask.
That, however, misses a very important point. Paul writes that it is God’s Temple—God’s holy place—that is defiled. He does not say that it is a temple of antichrist that will be built for the antichrist! The “man of lawlessness” can only defile something that is holy to God. Already in the second century, Irenaeus (the spiritual grandson of John the Apostle) tried to clear up this misunderstanding for Christian readers:
“[The Apostle Paul] has also pointed out this which I have shown in many ways, that the Temple in Jerusalem was made by the direction of the true God. For the apostle himself, speaking in his own person, distinctly called it the ‘Temple of God’ [in 2 Thessalonians 2:4]. Now I have shown in the third book, that no one is termed God by the apostles when speaking for themselves, except Him who truly is God, the Father of our Lord, by whose directions the Temple which is at Jerusalem was constructed for those purposes which I have already mentioned” (Against Heresies 5.25.2, written about 180 CE).
Bottom line: the "temple of antichrist" is a completely unbiblical term, both literally (it does not appear in the Bible) and figuratively (it is not the temple of antichrist, it is God's House).
The Hanukkah Backstory
In order to understand these passages from their real, historical context, we need some background information.
The New Testament was written by Jews and both of these passages have a lot to do with the Jewish story of Hanukkah. Ancient historical records, like the book of Maccabees, preserve the Hanukkah story for us.
Around 180 years before the time of Jesus, during the days of the Greek empire, the Greek king Antiochus Epiphanies began a great persecution of the Jewish people. He invaded Judea and sacked Jerusalem. He even stormed into the Holy Temple and defiled it.
Antiochus called himself Theos Epiphanes—“god manifest.” On God’s holy altar, he set up a an idol of Zeus with his own face on it. He sacrificed a pig on the altar and threw the blood into the Holy of Holies. He cut the sacred, biblical scrolls into strips and burned them. In short, Antiochus completely defiled the second Temple in Jerusalem.
However, the Jewish people revolted, and after a long and bitter war, the tiny Jewish army miraculously defeated the superpower of their day, sometimes winning battles against forces several times their size.
Exactly three years after the Temple was defiled, the priesthood returned to Jerusalem and cleansed God’s Temple. They tore down the defiled altar and built a new one. Eight days later they rededicated the second Temple to the Lord. That’s the miraculous story of Hanukkah!
Daniel's "Abomination of Desolation"
The prophet Daniel (in chapters 8 and 11) predicted the events surrounding Antiochus in great detail. Because of that, secular scholars even claim that the Book of Daniel must have been written much later, after the events of Hanukkah. Daniel’s description is that precise!
Daniel calls the idol that Antiochus set up in the Temple “the abomination that makes desolate.” For example,
“Forces from him shall appear and profane the Temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate.” (Daniel 11:31).
When Jesus mentioned “the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel,” his Jewish listeners easily understood the reference to when Antiochus Epiphanes defiled the Temple. Jews celebrated the cleansing and rededication of the Temple each year during the holiday of Hanukkah, as we see in the Book of John (10:22).
The unique part of Jesus’ statement, is that he said something similar would happen in the future. Someone else like Antiochus would come and defile God’s House. Daniel’s prophecy would have a second fulfilment.
The main point is this: the second Temple was not built for Antiochus Epiphanes and his idols. Despite Daniel’s prophecy, it was God’s clear desire that the Temple be rebuilt.
God moved on the heart of the Persian king Cyrus to decree that it should be rebuilt (Ezra 1:1–4; 2 Chronicles 36:22–23). It was godly men, like the governor Zerubbabel, who rebuilt it, spurred on by the strong encouragement of prophets like Haggai and Zechariah (see Haggai 1–2; Zechariah 1–8).
Finally, if we accept Daniel 11:31 as a reference to a future antichrist, it is important to note that he is the one who stops the Temple service, he is the enemy of the worship service to God. Some Christian theology can at times seem to side more with the enemy’s antagonism than with the worship of God in the Temple. Is that really a theological position we want to take?
Daniel’s prophecy that the evil king Antiochus would set up the abomination of desolation in God’s Temple, did not in any way conflict with God’s clear purpose that the Second Temple be rebuilt. It was built for God, not for an evil king.
How then could Jesus’ prediction that the history of Antiochus would repeat itself, be in conflict with the rebuilding of God’s Holy Temple? How would Jesus’ teaching make a rebuilt Third Temple into the “temple of antichrist?” That wouldn’t make sense. The same principle applies for Paul’s words in 2 Thessalonians 2, mentioned earlier.
It is well known that Jesus loved the Temple and called it his “Father’s House” (Luke 2:49). His disciples even said that zeal for God’s Temple consumed him (John 2:17). Like the weeping prophet Jeremiah, Jesus wept when he foresaw its destruction (Luke 19:41–44; 13:34–35), and all this despite the fact that the Temple of Jesus’ lifetime had been remodelled, from the ground up, by the notoriously wicked king—Herod!
John Enarson is the Christian Relations Director at Cry For Zion, helping Christians understand their history with the Temple Mount and how it relates to biblical theology and the Jewish people. John currently studies at the Scandinavian School of Theology.