Will the temple be rebuilt before the second coming?
The short answer is, “I don’t know.” There are many Bible prophecy teachers who are very confident that it will be rebuilt; but the passages they point to as proof really don’t speak to the issue. They actually refer to events that were fulfilled in the first century.
For instance, in Matthew 24, which many prophecy teachers say relates to the time of the second coming, Jesus mentions the temple being desecrated and destroyed. But it’s really quite clear from the context that he’s talking about the temple that existed in his own day, in the first century. When the disciples pointed out to him the magnificent construction of the temple, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be torn down” (Matt. 24:2). And when the disciples asked when it would happen, Jesus said, “This generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matt. 24:34). And sure enough, just as he said, within forty years the Romans came and sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. This happened in August in the year 70. This was a huge turning point in the history of the Jewish faith. The Jews have never had a temple since.
A number of other prophetic passages mentioning the temple, that many Bible teachers apply to the time of the second coming, likewise apply to the temple that existed in the first century. Daniel, for instance, in his prophecy of the 70 weeks, mentions the destruction of “the city and the sanctuary” (Dan. 9:26). But he, too, had first century events in mind. In fact, in Matthew 24, Jesus links Daniel’s prophecy with his own, which he said would be fulfilled in his generation, not in the last days (see Matt. 24:15).
We could say the same thing about other prophetic passages that speak of the temple—Second Thessalonians, for instance, which speaks of “the man of lawlessness…who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thess. 2:3-4). This is probably a reference to a certain John of Gischala who, in the days leading up to the fall of Jerusalem, partnered with the Zealots, captured the temple to use as a stronghold (thus desecrating it), and defied both the Romans one the one hand and the priests and the people on the other. Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, talks about these things at some length.
The book of Revelation also mentions the temple, but sometimes it’s a reference to the temple in the first century, and sometimes it’s a reference to a heavenly temple. But in no case is there a clear reference to a rebuilt temple in the days leading up to the second coming.
There is no passage in the Bible that I know of that speaks of a rebuilt, last days temple. So the question of whether or not the Jews will be successful in rebuilding it must be answered very tentatively.
I’m of the opinion that a rebuilding of the temple is very unlikely. This opinion is based on the fact that God’s purpose for the temple has been fulfilled. Jesus himself is the true temple, the true atoning sacrifice, and the true priesthood. When he accomplished our redemption through his death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and exaltation to the right hand of the Father, there was no further need for a temple in Jerusalem. A rebuilding of the temple, and the reinstitution of the priesthood and of animal sacrifices, it seems to me, would detract from the glory of the finished work of Christ.
In fact, we should consider the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 as God’s act. God destroyed the temple. He used the Romans to do it; but ultimately it was God who did it (cf. Acts 6:12-14). And ever since, he has providentially hindered its reconstruction. The biggest obstacle that lies in the way of its reconstruction is the Dome of the Rock mosque that was built on the site of the temple in the 7th century. The mosque is claimed to be the third holiest site in Islam, the most militant religion in the world. There are hundreds of millions of Muslims who would not hesitate to fight and die in defense of the mosque if the Jews should wish to tear it down in order to rebuild the temple there.
Perhaps, however, it is in the plan of God to use a rebuilt temple and its ministrations as an instrument to lead the Jews to faith in Jesus Christ. There is a very interesting statement in Acts 6. It says, “A great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” Those who were the most conversant with the law and who dealt on a daily basis with the temple and its sacrifices came to believe in Christ. Perhaps, God will permit the temple to be rebuilt and use it as a means to accomplish what Paul writes about in Romans when he says that after “the fullness of the Gentiles” has come in “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:25-26).
Perhaps. But we don’t know. There is no passage of Scripture that bears directly on the question of a rebuilt temple.