(Photo: AP Images / Bernat Armangue)
While talk today about Rapture predictions are increasing in regularity, some biblical prophecies affecting Christians, Muslims and Jews have stood in place for millenniums.
One such prophecy concerns the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Israel, which is said to be the site where all the nations will gather to worship when the Messiah returns.
The Temple Mount has been one of the most hotly disputed religious sites of worship for the past few centuries and has been one of the main points of tension between Israel and Palestine, as both Jewish and Muslim authorities have been locked in a stalemate over what to do with what is believed to be a temple visited by the presence of God.
In Judaism and Christian Zionism, the ancient site was the location of two previous temples and prophecies suggest a third temple will be built there, which will unite people from all nations, serving as a major religious center when Jesus returns. For Muslims, the temple is referred to as the Noble Sanctuary and is where it is believed the Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven.
Dr. Randall Price, a distinguished research professor at Liberty University and executive director at the Center for Judaic Studies, explained at length to The Christian Post that the Temple Mount is of prime significance to the current political and religious stalemate gripping the region.
He described it as "the most volatile acreage on earth," and shared how a deal proposed by former U.S. President Bill Clinton was the closest the issue has ever come to being resolved.
"The temple is tied with Jewish destiny," he said. "God's presence was once at the mount. It left, but it has promised to return – but it needs a temple to return to. The temple is mentioned in the Biblical prophecies as the place where all the nations will come together – even Jesus said that the temple will be a house of prayer for all people."
"If we look at the Jewish scriptures, the last nine chapters of the Book of Ezekiel say clearly that a temple will stand again in the future. They even give a description of the dimensions and give directions for rebuilding the Temple. It really can not be spiritualized away – it is a literal temple that was destroyed, and the prophecy says it will be rebuilt."
The temple had been under the control of Muslims for more than 1,000 years, but when Israel defeated its Muslim neighbors in the Six-Day War in 1967, it took back control of the holy place.
The Israeli government is allegedly not interested in changing the status quo on the Temple because it wants to preserve the peace, according to the professor. It was decided back in 1967 that Islamic authorities will have jurisdiction over the religious sites – but the deal was that they would allow people from other religions who had reverence for that place to come as tourists.
"The Muslims did not allow any sort of show of faith – you can not pray, or take out a Bible (at the temple.) Since 2000 they have restricted access to the principle buildings there. They do not allow anyone other than Muslims to go into the structure – while previously it was allowed. This is a violation to the status quo that was agreed to in '67," the professor explained.
The Muslim authorities had previously acknowledged the Jewish claim that the Temple Mount was where the Temple of Solomon, also known as the First Temple, was built. Recently, however, those same authorities began to revise that history and said that no temple ever existed there.
"They said that not a single stone in the whole city of Jerusalem indicated a Jewish presence. As a result, they began their own work to enlarge the 35-acre platform and put a new Mosque on the platform, which was agreed to by the Israeli government," the professor said.
However, another part of the agreement was that an ancient tunnel discovered beneath the Temple Mount, which had been there for hundreds of years, would be open for tourism. The problem was that an exit needed to be built, which would have led the tourists right onto the Muslim section of the city. Although this project was initially agreed to, Yasser Arafat, the (then) President of Palestine, warned that the tunnel could destroy the holy Muslim sites above it.
"Riots occurred in the area and 80 people died because they just didn't have the right information," he shared.
The Islamic authorities also made other decisions that did not sit well with the Jewish population. Beginning in 1996, they began removing 20,000 tons of debris from the sides of the Temple Mount. Allegedly, this dirt has been salvaged and examined by archeologists, who found in it pottery dating back to the First and Second Temple periods.
"Israeli authorities did not want to cause a provocation, so they allowed this to happen," Dr. Price explained.
He also shared that he was there at the Mount when he witnessed a group of Israelis trying to force their way onto the site, saying it was their country and they had the right to be there – however, the Jerusalem police stopped them. This caused a great public reaction, and the stalemate continued – the Israelis said the site must be opened to tourist as agreed upon, but the Muslim authorities refused to allow anyone but Muslims on their holy site – even though they had been earning a good amount of money from admission fees.
According to the professor, a number of Jewish groups believe the Temple should be rebuilt, and they have blueprints of how it would look like and what vessels will be used – but everyone is simply waiting for the political climate to change so that they can get these projects started.
"Some groups say that the Temple should be rebuilt next to the Muslim shrine – however, both Jewish and Muslim traditions dictate that they can not have an affront to their religion by allowing a pagan (foreign religion) next to their place of worship. A Jewish group, called the Temple Mount Faithful, have offered to dismantle the Temple and rebuilt it in Mecca – but that is not the consideration of Muslims," Dr. Price elaborated on the question of how the conflict may possibly be resolved one day
"If Muslims in the region suffered a decisive defeat in a war, and lost all control over the region, the problem might also be resolved – but most Israelis simply want to live their lives in peace and do not want such a war," he continued.
"Some are saying that we need to force this to happen; we need to build the Temple now. Others are saying God has his own time and we need to wait. A third are saying that the Messiah needs to come first and that the Temple has already been rebuilt – in heaven, and it will simply float down (to its Earthly place.) Yet others believe that God will move the hearts of the Muslims and they will all convert to Judaism, and help rebuild the temple," he said, noting that the current situation does not allow the Temple to be rebuilt.
"The one unified Hope is that the Temple will be rebuilt and it will be for the good of the entire world, rather than something that brings about further conflict," Dr. Price alleged, speaking about the ultimate vision for both Jews and Muslims.
Going deeper into the current issue, the professor explained how the conflict had both escalated and gotten close to being resolved:
"Another major problem is that the Palestinians have gone to the UN demanding they be recognized as their own state with Jerusalem as their capital. They want to remove Jewish presence and history from the city, which is what is infuriating the Jewish people."
He said that Jews are arguing against claims that the Temple never existed by pointing to the very steps around the city leading to it – not only that, but the dirt removed by the Muslim authorities in preparation for the Mosque has been found to contain over 5,000 Jewish coins with Jewish inscriptions from the First or Second temple period. The professor described the Muslim allegation that the Temple was never there as "ridiculous" and going against all evidence.
An attempt was made to resolve the issue when Clinton proposed that Israel and Palestine would share sovereignty over the Temple Mount. The Israelis said they would agree to the deal and even hand full reign of the area to the Palestinian authorities – as long as the Muslims acknowledged that the Jewish temples once stood at that site. Arafat, however, walked away from the agreement and said that he could not admit to such a claim – reportedly saying that if he had done so, his own people would have killed him.
The professor concluded that that is the closest the conflict has ever come to being resolved and currently no one sees how the stalemate might end.
In his "Rose Guide To the Temple" picture book, Dr. Price draws from 30 years examining the Temple Mount and presents - with diagrams, photos, illustrations and descriptions - how the temple would have looked like as it once stood.