Of all the Jewish prophets, Elijah is the most beloved. It’s Elijah who returns every Passover, in Jewish tradition. According to the Bible, he’s one of only two human beings to ascend to heaven without actually dying first. However, the Bible announces that Elijah will be back when the world as we know it is about to end. This is a terrifying time for Christians, because it means the Antichrist is coming. However, for Jews, Elijah’s return is a joyous occasion.
The Life of Elijah
With Israelites then divided into two kingdoms, the north was ruled by Ahab and his wife, Phoenician princess Jezebel. Her god was Baal, and she had the whole kingdom worshiping this false idol. Elijah came from Gilead in ancient Israel (today part of Jordan), where he’d already performed several miracles. When the king refused to renounce idolatry, Elijah cursed Israel with a three-year drought. He challenged Baal’s priests to a contest, to see whose God was real. When Elijah inevitably triumphed, he ordered all of Baal’s priests executed. He prophesied that Jezebel would be eaten by dogs. Indeed, she was. Having saved the Israelites, Elijah ascended to heaven in a flaming chariot. Later, prophet Malachi declared that Elijah will return to redeem the Jewish people.
History of the Temple
In 1050 B.C. the Israelites, no longer nomads, decided to construct a permanent Holy Temple. The Temple was completed during King Solomon’s reign, in 960 B.C., on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. This was now God’s earthly dwelling, the one place sacrifices could be conducted and the spiritual and physical center of Israelite religion. It remained so for 374 years until the Babylonians destroyed it and exiled the Israelites. Seventy years later, exiles returned and rebuilt the Temple. The Second Temple was a modest structure until 19 B.C. when King Herod undertook a massive expansion. Israel was then under Roman rule. By A.D. 70, Jewish resistance exploded into a full-scale war, ending with Rome razing Jerusalem and burning the Holy Temple to the ground.
Why Not Build the Third Temple?
After Rome’s victory, Jews scattered. Their former land passed through numerous occupying empires until 1948, when modern Israel was founded. Why haven’t the Israelis rebuilt the Temple? The reasons are both religious and political. The Temple’s location--where it must be reconstructed under Jewish law--has since the seventh century housed the Dome of the Rock, the third holiest place in Islam. Destroying the dome would mean war.
Even with no dome, it is still currently impossible to build the Third Temple. Religious requirements, such as placing the altar on its precise spot, cannot be met under today’s conditions. There’s also the matter of all the Jews in the world needing to return to Israel, including the 10 lost tribes.
The Return of Elijah
Other than the arrival of the messiah, the most important condition for rebuilding the Third Temple is the return of Elijah. How he returns remains mysterious, but he will resolve the religious issues that must be addressed before the Third Temple can be built. His return, in Judaism, heralds the Messianic Age, a utopian era in which all wars cease and the world unites under the one true God. Worship at the Temple will resume, though Jews are divided about whether animal sacrifices will be part of Third Temple rituals. In Christian prophecy, the Antichrist appears at this time and occupies the Temple, which of course must be rebuilt before it can be defiled by the Antichrist’s presence.
- Being Jewish: Why Don't We Rebuild the Holy Temple?
- Chabad.org: The Prophet Elijah
- Jeruslalem Post: Can Third Temple Be Built Without Destroying Dome of the Rock?
- Jewish Virtual Library: Frequently Asked Questions About Animal Sacrifices and the Messianic Period
- Jewish Virtual Library: Temple
- Bible Prophecy: The Third Elijah
- Charting the End Times; Tim F. LaHaye and Thomas Ice
- Middle East Forum: The Struggle for the Temple Mount
- Chabad.org: Elijah Heralding the Redemption
- My Jewish Learning: Elijah
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images