Is a red heifer a sign of the end times?

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By BibleAsk Team


The concept of the red heifer and the rebuilding of the Third Temple in Jerusalem is deeply rooted in Jewish tradition and has significant theological implications, particularly among certain evangelical Christian groups. However, the notion that these events are direct signs of the end times lacks biblical support. Here, we will explore the historical, theological, and scriptural aspects of the red heifer and the Third Temple to understand their significance and the basis for the claim that they are not unequivocally signs of the end times according to the Bible.

The Red Heifer in Jewish Tradition

The red heifer (Hebrew: פָּרָה אֲדֻמָּה, parah adumah) is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible in Numbers 19. According to this passage, the red heifer is to be slaughtered and its ashes used for ritual purification, particularly to cleanse those who have come into contact with a corpse:

“Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘This is the ordinance of the law which the Lord has commanded, saying: “Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which a yoke has never come. You shall give it to Eleazar the priest, that he may take it outside the camp, and it shall be slaughtered before him”'” (Numbers 19:1-3, NKJV).

The ritual of the red heifer is unique in the Torah and is considered a chok—a decree that is beyond human understanding. In Jewish tradition, the red heifer is essential for restoring ritual purity, which would be necessary for conducting sacrifices in a rebuilt Temple.

In 1997 and in 2002, red heifers were born in the land of Israel. These two incidents received publicity as people wondered if this has any spiritual meaning. Some modern Jews believe that the ritual of gathering the ashes of a heifer will be performed by the Messiah when he comes and thus this would be a sign of the end. But there is no reference in the scriptures that the ashes of a red heifer would be a sign of the end. And these existing red heifers had been disqualified as a sign by the Jews themselves.

Context and Background of the Third Temple

The First Temple, built by Solomon, and the Second Temple, rebuilt after the Babylonian Exile and later expanded by Herod, were central to Jewish worship. The vision of the third temple is found in the book of Ezekiel, chapters 40 to 48. This vision depicts a detailed layout and description of a magnificent temple not yet built during the prophet’s time.

To understand why God gave his prophet this vision of the third temple, we must first consider the historical context. The Jewish people were in exile in Babylon during the prophet’s ministry. The destruction of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BCE was a sad event for the Israelites. The temple held immense religious and national significance for them. Amidst this despair, the prophet received visions from God, offering hope and assurance of God’s continued presence and restoration of the nation.

Symbolic Representation

The vision of the third temple serves as a symbolic representation of God’s presence among His people and His promise of restoration. In the earlier chapters of the book, the prophet witnessed the departure of God’s glory from the temple (Ezekiel 10). The vision of the future temple symbolizes God’s return to dwell among His people (Ezekiel 43:1-5). It emphasizes God’s faithfulness to His covenant promises. The temple symbolized a future reality where God’s presence would be fully manifest, and His kingdom would be established in righteousness and peace.

Israel’s Apostasy

Unfortunately, the religious leaders of Israel didn’t repent of their sins. If Israel had any interest in God’s prophetic plans and showed a change of heart, the plan of rebuilding the temple with its specification would have come to pass. If Israel repented of their past record of transgression to the extent that they would, as a nation, go forward with His purpose for them, all that the prophet foretold would certainly have come to pass (Ez. 40:1).

The religious leaders of Israel publicly opposed Christ and blotted to kill Him. At the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:37-38, NKJV).

Israel’s rejection to God climaxed in their desire to kill His Son. They cried out to Pilate, “Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15, NKJV). And they added, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matthew 27:25, NKJV).

Therefore, the Lord respected their wishes and left them to the destiny they have chosen. After the crucifixion, the rent veil in the temple was a visible sign that God no longer accepted the meaningless ceremonies that were carried in the temple (Matthew 27:51). On 70 AD, Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. And after the Ascension of Christ, the apostles charged the leaders of the nation as murderers of Christ (Acts 2:23; 3:14, 15; 7:52),

Foreshadowing of Christ

Although the literal nation of Israel rejected God’s grace, His covenant didn’t fail but it was transferred to “spiritual Israel,” which is the New Testament Church which comprises of Jews and gentiles that believe in Christ. “There is neither Jew nor Greek… for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:28:29, NKJV). As heirs with Abraham to the covenant promises, all who emulate His example of faith will enter the “city which hath foundations,” to which He himself ever looked forward in faith (Heb. 11:10).

Thus, from a Christian perspective, the vision of the third temple is seen as foreshadowing the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus referred to Himself as the true temple (John 2:19-21), indicating that He is the ultimate dwelling place of God among humanity. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus inaugurated a new covenant and a spiritual temple composed of believers (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; Ephesians 2:19-22). The third temple vision thus ultimately points to the redemptive work of Christ and the establishment of His kingdom through spiritual Israel, which is the New Testament Church.

Selective Interpretation

Evangelical Christians sometimes cherry-pick verses from the Old Testament, including prophecies from books like Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, to construct a narrative that aligns with their support for the modern state of Israel. For instance, they may highlight passages about the restoration of Israel without considering the historical and contextual nuances of these prophecies. The sad truth is that the modern nation of Israel publicly still reject Christ and His truths.

Conclusion

While the red heifer and the Third Temple hold significant places in Jewish tradition and some Christian eschatological interpretations, they are not supported as signs of the end times in the Bible. The red heifer is a part of ritual purification laws, and the prophetic visions of a future temple were specific to the post-exilic people of Israel. They have no link to the end times. Therefore, the emphasis on these elements as signs of the end times lacks a firm biblical foundation.

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In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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