The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “This is a requirement of the law that the Lord has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke. Give it to Eleazar the priest; it is to be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence. Then Eleazar the priest is to take some of its blood on his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the tent of meeting. While he watches, the heifer is to be burned—its hide, flesh, blood and intestines. The priest is to take some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool and throw them onto the burning heifer” (Numbers 19:1-6).
For the first time in several years there has been a report of a red heifer being born. (Actually it’s a red calf, since a heifer is a young cow at least a year old who hasn’t had a calf of her own.) This has caused a stir in Orthodox Jewish circles as well as among prophecy conscious Christians. The reason being that the ashes of a pure red heifer are an essential ingredient in the purification water necessary to restore the Jewish people to ceremonial cleanliness. Unclean people cannot build and worship in a holy Temple, and a Temple is necessary to fulfill end times prophecy.
Therefore the appearance of a red heifer is a sign that one of the last requirements for the construction of a Temple could soon be met. Notice I said could be met. I’ve already seen several news reports and articles that act as if Temple construction could begin tomorrow. But the truth is that it will be three years before the heifer is old enough and during that time if it should sprout as few as two (2) non red hairs it will be disqualified.
A pure red heifer is a rare animal. Even its hooves have to be red. In all the history of Israel only nine red heifers have been sacrificed, the last one about 2,000 years ago in 15 AD. The Great Hebrew sage Maimonides (1135-1204 AD) claimed that the 10th red heifer would herald the coming of the Messiah.
After All This Time?
After 15 AD There’s no record of a potential red heifer being born until the mid 1990′s when one was born through a special program conducted jointly by breeders in the USA and the Temple Institute in Jerusalem. I remember the excitement it caused among students of prophecy and was blessed to be able to discuss this with both the American and the Jewish overseers of the breeding program at a meeting I hosted for them in 1994. It was one of a series of meetings they were conducting in the USA to increase awareness among Christians of their effort to raise a qualified red heifer.
I had first met Rabbi Chaim Richman, who was representing the Temple Institute, a few years earlier during my first trip to Israel. He is one of the world’s leading authorities on the red heifer, and much of the material that follows came from his book on the subject that he kindly gave to me during that visit to the US.
Excitement was running high until 4 white hairs were found in the heifer’s tail. Since then there have been a few other candidates, but all have been similarly disqualified. Like the others, this current calf will have to remain 100% red for 3 years to qualify.
All sacrifices to the Lord have to be free from any defect, spot, or blemish, but you might wonder why this heifer has to be 100% red. According to Rabbi Richman, it’s explained in Isaiah 1:18, “Come now let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet they shall be white as snow. Though they are red as crimson they shall be as wool.”
God is not approximate about anything. If the heifer is supposed to be red, it has to be 100% red, because that’s the way God sees things. For example, to be sin free we can’t just be pretty good, we have to be perfect. The presence of any sins in our life, even little ones, makes us sinners through and through. For sins no greater by comparison than a couple of non red hairs on a red cow we are excluded from the presence of God. James said the violation of even one law makes us guilty of all (James 2:10). Get the idea?
When the red heifer is completely burned its ashes are white. Being mixed together with pure water from a spring or a brook (called living water) and sprinkled on the people purifies them from their sins.
But like all the remedies for sin in the Old Covenant the ashes of the red heifer only cleansed them from the sins of the past. It gave them no protection going forward. Every time they sinned, the sacrifices and rituals had to be repeated. Since they could never stop sinning, they could never stop sacrificing.
This is one of the primary differences between the Old Covenant and our version of the the New Covenant. The writer of Hebrews explained that the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year could never make perfect those who drew near to worship (Hebrews 10:1). But when Jesus offered for all time one sacrifice for sin, He made perfect forever we who are being made holy (Hebrews 10:12-14).
Reading The Fine Print
“A man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and put them in a ceremonially clean place outside the camp. They are to be kept by the Israelite community for use in the water of cleansing; it is for purification from sin”(Numbers 19:9).
But the red heifer alone won’t guarantee that Temple construction can begin. The verse above tells us that in addition to the priest who supervises this, someone who is ritually clean has to be responsible for collecting and storing the ashes.
Normally ashes from previous red heifers would be used to qualify someone for this job. In Biblical times ashes from all of the previous heifers were stored at the Temple. These ashes were undoubtedly preserved in advance of the second Temple’s destruction because of their importance. But over the last 2,000 years the location of the preserved ashes has been lost. Most experts think they are probably in the same area of Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Over the years, numerous searches have been made there using the latest technology, but to date they remain undiscovered. If an unclean person gathers up the ashes, it would make the entire supply unclean, so they must find a way to purify a man to gather up the ashes of the new sacrifice and see that they are properly stored.
Then there’s the issue of obtaining pure water to mix with the ashes. Again, only someone who is ritually clean can collect the water. In Temple times the water was obtained at the spring that fed the pool of Siloam. An ingenious method was implemented to assure the water was not accidentally made unclean in the process of obtaining it.
Jewish people believe they can become unclean by coming in contact with a dead body. Since the creation so many people and animals have died and been buried or simply left to decay that to them the ground itself is a source of uncleanness. Because of this the Temple is built atop a foundation consisting of a series of alternating arches extending down to bedrock to insure it can’t ever become unclean.
The water from the spring comes out of the earth pure. To be sure it stayed that way, certain pregnant women were selected to give birth in a special facility built to guarantee there was no possibility that the children they brought into the world could inadvertently be made unclean. The children were raised in purity in this sequestered environment until they reached eight years of age when they were pronounced ready to obtain the water.
Riding on boards attached to oxen so as not to come into contact with the ground, they were taken down to the spring to collect the water and bring it back up to the temple. Arriving there they mixed the water with ashes from previous heifers and sprinkled the priest who would conduct the sacrifice of the next heifer. The priest would then walk across a special bridge that was built atop a series of arches from the Temple mount across the Kidron valley to the Mt. of Olives where the altar upon which the red heifer was sacrificed was located.
(The image at the top of this article is a fairly rare drawing of the Temple Mount showing the altar on the Mt. Of Olives where the red heifer was sacrificed in the upper right hand corner with the bridge that connected it to the East Gate of the Temple. Note the offset arches that prevented anything from the ground below from contaminating the pavement upon which the priest walked, allowing him to remain ritually pure.)
Of course, Temple Institute officials know all this, and are preparing to meet these requirements, even though they can’t do so today.
So in spite of the breathless headlines proclaiming that the requirements for building the third Temple have now been met, the facts tell a different story. Now don’t get me wrong, the appearance of another red heifer candidate is big news, and it could turn out to be one more of the many signs we see around us that we’re in the end of the end times. But it doesn’t mean that all the hurdles have been cleared for building the next Temple. Far from it.
Probably the biggest hurdle is the desire of the Jewish people themselves. Currently most of those who are pushing for a Temple are doing so for the wrong reason. They think building a Temple will prove to the world that the Palestinians are wrong when they insist the Jews have no historical connection to Jerusalem. To these people, having a Temple there would be a huge political victory. The problem is that alone wouldn’t bring the nation any closer to God. Those who want a Temple to renew their covenant with Him are still in the minority.
What’s It Gonna Take?
I believe it will take the Battle of Ezekiel 38 with the supernatural victory God will win for them to ignite a true national desire to come back to Him, and that’s when they will become serious about building a Temple. In Ezekiel 39:21-22 the Lord said,
“I will display my glory among the nations, and all the nations will see the punishment I inflict and the hand I lay on them. From that day forward the people of Israel will know that I am the Lord their God.”
And even then they’ll be fooled into thinking the anti-Christ is their Messiah, and will let him defile their new Temple. Daniel prophesied that this will happen.
“He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him” (Daniel 9:27)
Speaking of the same event, Paul said,
He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God (2 Thes. 2:4).
And when God returns to dwell in the Temple during the millennium one of His first statements will be to accuse Israel of letting this happen.
“In addition to all your other detestable practices, you brought foreigners uncircumcised in heart and flesh into my sanctuary, desecrating my temple while you offered me food, fat and blood, and you broke my covenant. Instead of carrying out your duty in regard to my holy things, you put others in charge of my sanctuary” (Ezekiel 44:7-8).
You’ve Got The Wrong Guy
As Christians we believe the construction of the Temple will precede the coming of the Messiah. Daniel (Daniel 9:27), Jesus (Matt. 24:15-21), Paul (2 Thes. 2:4), and John (Rev. 11:1) all confirm this. Therefore the one Israel will welcome as the Messiah who will help them build the Temple will in fact be the anti-Christ. Speaking to Israel, Jesus said, “I have come in my father’s name and you do not accept me. But if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him”(John 5:43). And so it will be.
Even so, the birth of a calf that could become the 10th red heifer is important news for Israel and for prophecy students everywhere. For Israel it could mean that the coming of the Messiah is close, although the time before He comes will include the Great Tribulation. For the Church it could be one more sign that the rapture is even closer.
More and more prophecy scholars are agreeing that what’s unique about our time is not that there are specific signs telling us we’re at the end of the age. What’s unique is that all the signs we were told to look for are here.