Look at a world map and you’ll notice Israel is more or less in the centre.
In the centre of Israel is the capital Jerusalem and at the heart of the capital is the Temple Mount.
The Temple Mount is without doubt the most contentious and perhaps most holy site (if you believe such things exist) in the world.
Two magnificent Jewish temples have stood on what is now a large raised platform containing the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock buildings.
Today Orthodox Jews wear black to mourn the loss of a temple which was destroyed nearly 2000 years ago. The Temple Institute – who are seeking to build a third temple on the Mount (and already have many of the artifacts ready to go into it!) – believe every generation which fails to build God a house, sins.
And yet the Jews – who have freedom to walk anywhere in Jerusalem – are forbidden from praying on their most holy site! They must instead pray at the Western wall (the closest they can get to what was the Holy of Holies).
The reason for this restriction is twofold. Firstly the Israelis have given control of the Temple Mount to the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf. The Temple Mount’s rulers wasted no time in decreeing that Jewish prayer on the Mount would be forbidden. (You cannot even take a Bible let alone a Jewish prayer book onto the Mount) Perhaps the Waqf worried the prayers of some Jews – that the earthquake fault-line which runs under the Mount would awaken and knock down the Islamic sites, preparing the way for a third Temple to be built – would be answered?
The second reason why Jews do not typically seek to ascend the Temple Mount is this:
Although please also see this moving blog on one Jewish lady’s first trip up the Temple Mount.
I’d visited Israel twice in the past but had never made it up onto the Mount. I was determined that this time would be different.
I’d taken three first-timers on a whistle stop tour of the land (see pics here) and Monday was our final day in Jerusalem. There had been violent clashes between young Muslims and the Israeli police on the Mount all week. As we passed through security and walked up I noticed riot shields piled up ready to be used at a moment’s notice.
We approached Al Aqsa Mosque but were swiftly turned away from entering.
“No! Muslims only” the guard said.
The night before visiting I’d read that an Israeli official had predicted the police would soon have to storm the Mosque because Arabs had been stockpiling rocks inside the Mosque, ready for battle. Clearly there would be no way for me to verify such a claim!
Turning left we approached the Dome of the Rock – one of Islam’s oldest structures (691 CE). It’s a magnificent building, much larger than I imagined it. On the walls of the Dome there is an inscription which contains the words, “It is not befitting to (the majesty of) Allah that He should beget a son.”
This is clearly a polemic against Christian belief, yet it is a little known fact that when the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem they had a cross placed on the top of the Dome. This historical fact is depicted in the Tower of David Museum a short walk away from the Temple Mount. There, a model has been built of the Dome with a cross on the top. But offended Muslim visitors have pulled the cross off the top of the model so many times that last time I checked the museum had given up fixing it!
Shortly after the visit to the Temple Mount our group went to the Garden Tomb. The site overlooks a hill which many believe Jesus was crucified at the foot of. On top of the hill there is a Muslim graveyard and on the wall that contains it, a large sign has recently been erected which says in Arabic “God has no son”.
The Christians who own the Garden have been encouraged by some to erect a reply of “Jesus is Lord” or similar, but thankfully they haven’t stooped to such petty levels.
Back to the Dome and my wife and I posed for a picture. As we put our arms around each other a short,
angry livid man marched toward us shouting “Oi! No hands!” We obliged.
The same guard would later catch another couple making the same error, only this time he would demand to look through their digital camera photos and check there weren’t similarly “offensive” photographs.
Looking East I gazed over to the Mount of Olives. Both Jews and Christians believe the Messiah will appear there (Zechariah 14:4).
It’s also believed that the Messiah will walk from the Mount of Olives down the valley and up through the Golden Gate toward the Temple. This Golden Gate was sealed off by the Ottomans who also built a cemetery in front of it, believing that the precursor to the Messiah, Elijah, would not be able to pass through the Golden Gate and thus the Messiah could never come. 1200 years later the gate is still sealed and the graves still sit outside it.
There’s something deeply spiritual taking place at the Centre of the World. Ultimately there is a battle over who will be worshiped on the Temple Mount. Will Allah be worshiped or will the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob be worshiped there?
If as some Muslims say, there was never a Jewish temple in Jerusalem, then Jewish/Christian history is based on lies and falsehoods.
The suggestion that the Jews will soon rebuild the Temple is politically speaking absurd and perhaps impossible. But the Jewish view is that a third temple is looking more likely than ever before. It’s an idea that fills me with sadness and excitement in equal measure.
Sadness because this idea would surely require lives to be lost and another war to be fought. No one wants that. As a Christian I share much more with the Jewish tradition than I do the Islamic one, but this doesn’t mean I want to see Islamic sites destroyed. The excitement only comes about because both the Temples were wonders of the world. They were places for people of all the nations to come and pray. And according to Jewish tradition, a third Temple would usher in a new atmosphere of peace and blessing. And who doesn’t want that?