Are Sacrifices Legitimate Without the Temple?
Today, there is great deal of debate in Judaism whether the Third Temple in Jerusalem should be built, who shall build it, and when. While all these are legitimate issues for the future Sanhedrin (the supreme judicial and ecclesiastical council in Judaism) to debate, all according to the last nine chapters in the Book of Ezekiel, what is left for us is to explain the matter whether sacrifices are legitimate without the Temple set in place.
The Torah is very clear on the issue where the sacrifices are to be brought to. Israel was to keep the appointed times of YHVH with sacrificial gifts, which everyone was able to bring to rejoice before the Lord at the place where His Name dwelt.
Moreover, Israel was commanded to seek the place which YHVH has chosen out of their tribes to put His Name there for His Dwelling Place (Deu 12:5).
Guard yourself that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every place that you see, except in the place which Yehovah chooses, in one of your tribes, there you are to offer your burnt offerings, and there you are to do all that I command you. (Deu 12:13-14)
This supposes that even Mosheh did not know what place among the territories of the twelve tribes YHVH Elohim had chosen for Himself as a Dwelling Place.
But it was not so in the beginning.
In Egypt, the slaughtering and eating of the Passover lambs was done in the Israelites’ houses. Then, the second Passover was performed at the Tabernacle at Sinai (Num 9:1-5).
The Torah requires all males to appear before YHVH three times a year for the three festivals just mentioned with the added clause, “at the place which YHVH shall choose” with sacrificial gifts, as much as everyone could offer, according to the blessing which he had received from YHVH.
When Israel conquered the Land, Shiloh was the place where the tabernacle was set up (Jos 18:1), and there it stood during the whole period of the judges.
It was not until David who set up a tent for the ark of the Covenant in the city of Yerushalayim (Jerusalem), which he had chosen as the capital of his kingdom and erected an altar for sacrifices there (2Sa 6:17, 1Ch 16:1). The Tabernacle and later the first Temple became the Dwelling Place of the Name of YHVH. The central point of the sacrificial service was the altar in the Temple and its location was exactly defined in the Torah.
We will have something to say regarding this later on. At present, however, we are interested in the “the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel” and how it relates to our subject.
The abomination of desolation Daniel spoke of
There is an interpretation by the Christian theologians of certain words of Yeshua that after three and a half years of false peace, the “antichrist” will appear in Jerusalem and from the Temple, he will proclaim himself to be [as] god. This act of defiance of the “antichrist” is believed to be what gospel refers to as “the abomination of desolation”. Upon witnessing it, the Christians are to flee to the mountains, because the tribulation of three and a half years has already come.
This “interpretation” of Yeshua’s words is enforced in the minds of the western Christians by the numerous movies on the subject. But can we rethink this?
These are the words which Yeshua gave to his disciples for remembrance,
So, when you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, set up in the set-apart place, he who reads let him understand, then let those who are in Yehudah flee to the mountains.
Then continuing with giving the disciples details as to what to do and not to do, Yeshua concluded thus,
For then there shall be great distress, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. (Mat 24:15-21)
Most evidently, here the Messiah was referring to the last and great war: the war of Gog of Magog.
It is not coincidental that Yeshua started the end time prophecy with the warning of “the abomination of desolation” when asked by his disciples,
Say to us, when shall this be, and what is the sign of your coming and of the end of the age? (Mat 24:3)
Concerning the signs of Yeshua’s coming, we expressed our opinion on the matter in Chapter Signs of the Coming of the Messiah – Time of Reckoning Ministry. But here we will be more concerned on the abomination of desolation Daniel and Yeshua spoke of.
“The abomination of desolation” is explained in the parallel account in Luk 21:20-25 with a subtle addition, which is not in the account of Matthew. We read thus,
And when you see Yerushalayim surrounded by armies, then know that the desolation* is near. … (Luk 21:20) *also “despoliation”.
In Mat 24:15, the Messiah, prophesying about the end time, reveals that the reader of this prophecy will see the abomination of desolation, thus quoting from the Book of Daniel (Dan 9:27, Dan 11:31 and Dan 12:11). Both accounts read in parallel equates “the abomination of desolation” with “Jerusalem surrounded by armies”.
Since Yeshua quoted Daniel, so will we,
And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off and have naught. And the people of a coming prince shall destroy the city and the set-apart place. And the end of it is with a flood. And desolations are decreed and fighting until the end. And he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week. And in the middle of the week he shall put an end to slaughtering and meal offering. And on the wing of abominations he shall devastate, even until the complete end and that which is decreed is poured out on the one who devastates. (Dan 9:26-27)
“The prince that shall come” in Dan 9:26 seems to refer to the Roman emperor Vespasian whose son Titus destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. The Christians believe that Dan 9:27 refers to an antichrist, but we interpreted this prophecy in Daniel according to what we explained in Chapter Daniel’s Prophecy of the 70 Weeks of the present author’s book The Reckoning of Time.
This prophecy was indeed fulfilled the first time during the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, who profaned the Temple, cancelled the daily sacrifice, and set up an idol; later the Romans did exactly the same.
But here the Messiah was warning of something that will happen in the end time, when he said, “when you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, set up in the set-apart place”. Saying this he was not referring to someone who would blaspheme at the Temple, but to the siege of “the city and the set-apart place” by the hostile armies of Gog of Magog; the war already spoken of by the prophets Ezekiel and Zechariah.
As we studied in the book The Reckoning of Time and in the related articles on the subject, there are three scenarios of the war of Gog of Magog which determine whether the object of the siege will be the Land of Israel or the city of Jerusalem.
The matter of the “abomination of desolation” can best be understood in connection with …
The building of the altar and the restoration of the sacrifices
King Koresh (Cyrus), in the first year of his reign, issued the decree concerning the return of the Jews to Jerusalem to rebuilt it: the city and the Temple.
When the seventh month came, the children of Israel gathered as one man to Jerusalem. Yeshua the High Priest and Zerubbavel the governor arose to build the altar of YHVH to offer the offerings on it, as it is written in the Torah. And they performed the Festival of Sukkot in the seventh month and offered afterward the daily offerings and the offerings for all the festivals (Ezr 3:1-5).
From the first day of the seventh month, they began to offer burnt offerings unto Yehovah; but the foundation of the Temple of Yehovah was not yet laid. (Ezr 3:6)
According to this account, the sacrificial system was restored on the first day of the seventh month; hence the altar was by this day already built.
Preparations were also made for the rebuilding of the Temple; money was collected for food and to bring cedar trees from Lebanon, as was formerly done by King Shlomoh, according to the permission given to them by Koresh to rebuild the Temple (Ezr 3:7).
It will take eight more months however until the foundations of the Temple were laid in the second month of the following year of their return (Ezr 3:8).
The foundation of the Temple laid
And in the second month of the second year of their coming to the House of Elohim, to Yerushalayim, Zerubbavel son of Shealtiel, and Yeshua son of Yotsadak, and the rest of their brothers the priests and the Levites, and all those who had come out of the captivity to Yerushalayim, began, and they appointed the Levites from twenty years old and above to oversee the work of the House of Yehovah. (Ezr 3:8)
They began the work on the Temple by appointing the Levites to oversee the building of the Temple.
When the builders laid the foundation of the Temple, the appointed priests and Levites praised YHVH with trumpets and cymbals after the ordinance of David. And all the people raised a loud shout of joy to YHVH (Ezr 3:10-11).
But many of the old men who had seen the former glory of the Temple wept with a loud voice, when they saw the foundation of this house laid. But the shouting for joy of the multitude was so loud, that the sounds of rejoicing and weeping could not be distinguished from each other.
Sacrifices without Temple
We will have more to say upon this point presently.
The king of Babylon, after he destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, took with him the people who were left alive in order to fulfil the decree of YHVH that the Land must have its due rest of seventy years for all those sabbatical and jubilee years the people did not let it rest.
But not all people were taken in exile. The king of Babylon appointed Governor Gedaliah to rule over the remnant in the Land.
Only two months after the destruction of Jerusalem, in the seventh month, a certain Israelite Ishmael, the son of Nethaniah, the son of Elishama, of the royal seed, came with ten men to Gedaliah while he was eating and killed all with him.
Then eighty men came to bring their offerings on the still sacred place where they used to be offered to YHVH,
And it came to be, on the second day after he had killed Gedalyahu, when no one yet knew it, that men came from Shechem, from Shiloh, and from Shomeron, eighty men with their beards shaved and their garments torn, having cut themselves, with offerings and incense in their hand, to bring them to the House of Yehovah. (Jer 41:4-5)
When they had entered the city, Ishmael killed them and cast their corpses into a pit that evidently remained there after the destruction of Jerusalem.
The Temple had already been destroyed, but we are told that they came to bring their sacrifices “to the House of YHVH”. Did they not know that the Temple was destroyed? They did and for that reason we are also told that they came “with their beards shaved, cuttings on their bodies, and their garments torn”, all the signs of deep grief for the destruction of the sacred place, because this could only be done on the ruins of what had once been the sanctuary.
This teaches us that the prophet Jeremiah equated the ruined place, where once the Temple stood, with “the House of YHVH”. Jerusalem as the place of YHVH on the earth does not become unsacred because the Temple is destroyed.
In other words, the altar service to YHVH came first, then the Temple.
The reason we reflected on this peculiar story is to demonstrate that the service of YHVH was independent even of the existence of the Temple.
A careful reading of Ezr 3:1-6 and Jer 41:4-5, already presuppose an altar, and the references to the priests and sacrifices go further to suggest that. For indeed it was Shlomoh who built the Temple, but it was his father David, who built the first altar to YHVH in Jerusalem and offered sacrifices, as seen in 2Sa 24:18 and 1Ch 21:22.
Is a temple necessary for Daniels’ prophecy?
Today Jerusalem is wanting the altar and the Temple. Prayers are seen as a substitute for the altar service, as they once were in Babylon, but they are also at the center of the conflict on the Temple Mount where the Temple of YHVH once stood.
According to the secular State of Israel, praying on the Temple Mount is considered violation of the status quo established in 1967, when the Temple Mount was liberated but the secular Zionists quickly returned it to the Arabs.
Jerusalem today cannot have the Third Temple built, because there are still debates who will build it and when. But what Jerusalem needs for the sacrifices to resume is an altar built on the Temple Mount and the first corner stone of the Temple set in the ground. The construction of the Temple then can continue or wait for the Messiah. Either way he will set all things right and render justice to all enemies of the Temple.
When we reflect on what we have written above, what is left for us to say is that there is a commonly-held tradition that the place where David built the altar, on the threshing floor of Arona, is the very place where Avraham built an altar and bound Yitschak upon it. This is where Noach built an altar, when he came out from the ark. This is where Kayin and Chevel brought their offerings, and this is where Adam offered his offering when he was created. This is the Temple Mount; it is still sacred and a Dwelling Place of YHVH.
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May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days!