Why the Temple Mount matters

October 30th, 2014

Psalm 122:6 instructs us to “Pray that Jerusalem has peace.” Well, now would definitely be a good time to pray, because Jerusalem is currently at a boiling point. And it’s largely over what might be the most contested piece of real estate in history: the Temple Mount.

The Temple Mount is in the Old City of Jerusalem. It’s approximately 37 acres, and it’s the holiest site in Judaism. According to Jewish tradition, the site is where Abraham almost sacrificed his son. It’s also where Solomon constructed the first Jewish temple, which was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.

The Second Temple was consecrated in 516 B.C., and was reconstructed on a grander scale by Herod the Great in 20 B.C. The Temple Mount underwent massive expansion at this time.

Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem / Francesco Hayez, 1867

The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70 during the Siege of Jerusalem.

The Temple Mount is currently home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, and the Dome of the Chain, all Islamic structures built in the late 7th century. The Al-Aqsa Mosque is considered to be the third holiest site in Islam (after Mecca and Medina.) Muslims believe that Mohammed was carried from Mecca to Al-Aqsa during his Night Journey. The Dome of the Rock is a shrine built where many Muslims believe Mohammed ascended into heaven and met all the prophets who had preceded him. The Dome of the Chain is a much smaller structure used for prayer.

When Israel first gained control of the site in 1967, all faiths were welcome, but after control was passed to an Islamic trust administration (due to international pressure), everything changed.

The Dome of the Rock

Under current rules, the Temple Mount is freely accessible to Muslims at most times from any of ten gates. Jews and tourists are required to use a separate gate, and prayers from Jews are not allowed at the site. Jews are also restricted to visiting during certain hours. (It should be pointed out that some rabbis believe that Jews should not visit the Temple Mount at all, because the Holy of Holies stood near the center of the site.)

In recent weeks, more Jews have been visiting the Temple Mount for the Jewish holidays. This has angered many Palestinians, who see this as a sign that Jews are trying to take back the holy site. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has added fuel to the fire by saying that Jews should be barred from the Temple Mount “by any means.” He also referred to Jews as a “a herd of cattle.”

The Al-Aqsa Mosque

Early in October, during Sukkot (the Festival of Booths), some young Palestinians started a riot against Jews, other non-Muslim visitors, and police. They threw rocks, firebombs, metal pipes, and other objects. Police chased them into the Al-Aqsa mosque, where the rioters barricaded themselves. This allowed visitors to continue touring the Temple Mount for the remainder of the designated time window. Nine Palestinians were eventually arrested. (See video below.)

Last week, Jewish activist Rabbi Yehuda Glick was shot three times in Jerusalem by a gunman on a motorcycle. The suspected shooter, a Palestinian linked to the Islamic Jihad terror group, was shot dead by police when they attempted to arrest him and came under fire. Rabbi Glick has long advocated for Jewish prayer rights at the Temple Mount.

After the shooting, Israeli police closed off the Temple Mount to all visitors for the first time in years. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the action “a declaration of war.”

The site reopened last Friday (October 31) to everyone except men under 50, presumably to avoid potential conflict around the noon prayer.

The Dome of the Chain / Photo: Andrew Shiva

Many Jews and Christians believe that there will be a Third Temple rebuilt on the Temple Mount site at some point in the future. But there is much disagreement about who will do the building and how it will take place. And the current religious structures on the site present no small obstacle to any rebuilding plans.

Some Orthodox Jewish groups want to rebuild the temple and reinstate the practice of animal sacrifice. One such group, the Temple Institute, has been preparing ritual objects and has even been searching for a red heifer for temple purification that meets the requirements found in Numbers 19.

Some Christians read and watch news about Jerusalem and the Temple Mount with much interest, because they interpret these events as possible signs of the end times. 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, for example, predicts the rise of an antichrist figure who will “sit in God’s temple, displaying himself to show that he is God.” This will precede the return of Christ, and one could logically conclude that for such a figure to enter the temple, it has to be rebuilt first.

How everything falls into place to allow this to happen is anyone’s guess.

For now, we simply watch the headlines as we pray for peace.

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