On the ancient Temple Mount in Jerusalem there stands a mosque.
Observant Jews see a profaning of their most holy place and plead with YHWH to remove their disgrace. Observant Muslims see Allah’s favor, a sign that the true religion sits in ascendency.
The world sees a centuries-old religious/political drama being played out on the edge of a knife, with diplomats delicately working like a bomb squad to avoid a bloody explosion.
But most miss the real significance of the mosque on the mount.
When the Temple Occupied the Mount
When the temple stood on the mount it was the very heart of Judaism. More accurately, the temple housed the Heart of Judaism. The temple was the place where the presence of the one holy God dwelt among his people and where sacrifices were offered nearly continually to atone for his people’s sins.
But the presence remained inside the temple, in the Most Holy Place (Hebrews 9:3), mercifully separated from the people that God might not break out in judgment upon them because of their unholy sinfulness. No one was allowed to enter there except the high priest, “and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offer[ed] for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people” (Hebrews 9:7).
But that all changed “when the fullness of time had come” (Galatians 4:4) and Messiah appeared, just as God had promised in the Law and Prophets.
Why the Temple Was Removed
And Messiah “appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26). Having accomplished that, he “entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself . . . to appear in the presence of God” on behalf of all who would believe in him (Hebrews 9:24).
Jesus became the one final sacrifice and the one final undying high priest (Hebrews 7:24). He opened a “new and living way” (Hebrews 10:19–20) into the Most Holy Place in heaven for all who would “draw near to God through him” (Hebrews 7:25). He became the mediator of the new covenant God had promised (Jeremiah 31:31–34).
At this point the presence of God moved out of the temple’s Holy Place into his people, whom Messiah had made holy. And he began to move his people to take the gospel of the new covenant to all the peoples of the world. The Presence was moving to the peoples.
The age of the temple was over. The “copy and shadow” was obsolete (Hebrews 8:5, 13). Therefore Jesus prophesied: “Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here [on the Temple Mount] one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2). This was fulfilled in AD 70 and the temple has never been rebuilt.
The Unwitting Guardian of the New Covenant
For the past 13 centuries the Al Aqsa Mosque has occupied the temple’s former site. It is not a sign of God’s endorsement on Islam. Rather, the mosque is an unwitting guardian of the new covenant reality.
God wants the temple gone, not because Judaism is destroyed, but because in Jesus it is fulfilled. The final sacrifice has been made. The eternal High Priest has assumed his intercessory office. The copy and shadow is no longer needed. The Presence now resides in the temple of his holy people (1 Corinthians 3:17).
So when you see the Al Aqsa Mosque, or its beautiful golden Temple Mount neighbor, the Dome of the Rock, or the ancient Western Wall of Jewish weeping, pray for both Jews and Muslims.
Pray that both Jews and Muslims will hear and believe the best news in all the world: The age of the new covenant has come and in Jesus they can be reconciled to God and become living stones in the true and holy house of God: his worshiping people, redeemed and made holy by the blood of the Lamb (1 Peter 2:4–5, John 1:29).
And pray that because of Jesus, Jews would cease grieving the absence of their ancient temple and that Muslims would cease rejoicing in the presence of the ancient mosque. For “the hour [has come] when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will [they] worship the Father” (John 4:21).