Ashes of the Red Heifer

Stephen M. Yulish Ph.D.

According to an article in The Mid-East Dispatch, issue 237, the 16th of March 1997, the birth of a red heifer in Israel is being hailed by religious Jews as a sign from God that work can soon begin on building the Third temple in Jerusalem.

The report stated that a team of Rabbinical experts confirmed that the animal, born six months ago on a religious kibbutz, Kfar Hassidim, near the northern Israeli port of Haifa, meets the Biblical criteria for the red heifer needed for purification of those who wish to rebuild the temple.

As stated in the fourth book of the Torah, Numbers Chapter 19, an unblemished red heifer in which there is no defect and on which a yoke has never been placed, is to be slaughtered and burned and its ashes made into a liquid paste used in the ceremony for purification from sin.

Since Herod's Temple was destroyed by the Roman emperor Titus in AD 70, no flawless red heifer has been born within the Biblical land of Israel according to Rabbinical sources. Besides, the Jewish people did not see the re-creation of the State of Israel until 1948, nor the recapturing of Jerusalem until 1967.

The birth of the animal to a black and white mother and a dun colored bull is being hailed as a miracle by Jewish activists who want to rebuild the temple and prepare the way for the Jewish Messiah's entry into Jerusalem. "We have been waiting for 2000 years for a sign from God", one of them said. "and now he has provided us with a red heifer."

Christians also view the rebuilding of the Temple as an important sign of the return of the Messiah. In Matthew 24:2, Jesus accurately predicted that Herod's Temple would be destroyed. When He was asked by His Disciples what would be the sign of His return and the end of the age, Jesus responded that when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of by the prophet Daniel standing in the Holy place (Temple). This could not take place in Herod's Temple because it would be destroyed and it was ( in 70 A.D.). One cannot have a desolation of the Temple as in the days of Antiochus Epiphanies without a Temple. The red heifer is but another piece in the prophetic timetable which is moving closer to the end of the age and the return of Messiah.

Muslims are incensed by this notion of rebuilding the temple on one of Islam's holiest sites. The current fight for Jerusalem as capital of a new Palestinian state as opposed to being the capital of Israel, the Temple rebuilding notwithstanding, is all over the evening news. Just as the prophet Zechariah said that it would be 2500 years ago, Jerusalem is a cup that causes reeling to all peoples and is a heavy stone for all peoples who lift it (Zechariah 12:2-3). The Mid-East Dispatch stated that the Faithful will have to wait until the heifer is at least three years old ( 2000 A.D.) before it can be used in a ritual sacrifice.

Jesus, in speaking of His return said in Matthew 24:33-34 that "when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door...truly I say to you this generation will not pass away until all these things take place." Biblical prophecy is fulfilling itself right before our eyes.

Editor: Mr. Yulish's remark that the abomination of desolation "could not take place in Herod's Temple because it would be destroyed and it was (in 70 A.D.)" is incorrect. The word translated "place" in the expression "holy place" in Matthew's account is topos (Strong's Concordance, #5117). It simply means a locality -- words such as topical and topography are derived from it. It is used in such scriptural expressions as "a desert place," "dry places," etc. It is NOT the same term as used to describe the Holy of Holies within the Temple.

What is called the holy place is explained by Luke as the area that would be occupied by armies surrounding Jerusalem. The Matthew Henry Commentary has well put it: "Jerusalem was the holy city, Canaan the holy land, the Mt. Moriah, which lay about Jerusalem, for its nearness to the temple was, they thought, in a particular manner holy ground; on the country lying round about Jerusalem the Roman army was encamped, that was THE ABOMINATION THAT MADE DESOLATE."

The prophecy indicates that the "abomination" would destroy Jerusalem and the Temple -- would make desolate. This is exactly what the Roman armies did. But with the teaching that the "abomination" will be an idol set up in the Temple, there is a major contradiction. How could the abomination be an idol set up in the Temple, when the Temple was to be destroyed BY the abomination?

The "Abomination" that would make desolate was to be something that could be seen by the inhabitants of Judea and Jerusalem. "When you see the abomination"; that is, "when you see Jerusalem compassed with armies," then, "let them that are in Judea flee into the mountains." It is evident that the Messiah was NOT talking about an idol in the Holy of Holies, for such could not be seen by the population of Jerusalem and Judea. Only the high priest entered the Holy of Holies. None of the ordinary Jews would dare enter there.

The futurist interpretation regarding the abomination of desolation requires a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem. Some, in fact, even offer this as proof that the Temple will be rebuilt. This, of course, is circular reasoning! The reasoning goes something like this: Since the "abomination of desolation" will involve the inner sanctum of the Temple, "it is certain that the Temple will be rebuilt. Prophecy demands it." However, there is no demand for such. In fact, the Bible itself makes it clear that the Temple will not be rebuilt until AFTER the Messiah returns! Notice Zechariah 6:12-13:

Thus says the LORD of hosts [YEHOVAH God], saying: Behold the MAN whose name is the Branch! from his place he shall branch out, and he shall BUILD THE TEMPLE OF THE LORD [YEHOVAH]; yes, he shall build the Temple of the LORD. He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and RULE ON HIS THRONE, so he shall be a PRIEST on his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both [YEHOVAH God and the Messiah] (NKJV).

The "Branch" here referred to by Zechariah is none other than the Messiah -- see Jeremiah 23:5-6 and Isaiah 11:1-2.

The only legitimate reason for building a Temple is to house the Shekinah Glory of YEHOVAH God, and YEHOVAH will not descend to this earth until AFTER the Messiah has returned and commissioned the construction of a new Temple.

Since the Red Heifer represents the Messiah, there will be no need for the ashes of the Red Heifer to purify the Temple since the Messiah Himself, in his glorified form, will be present to "purify" the finished construction.

Whether the Jewish people will build another Temple in Jerusalem is not the issue. The point is that the Messiah was speaking of the Temple OF HIS DAY and it was that Temple which was to be destroyed by heathen armies -- a prophecy that was fulfilled in A.D. 70. The prophecy of Matthew 24 and the parallel accounts never mention a future Temple at the time of the Messiah's return.

Stephen M. Yulish Ph.D. was a professor at the University of Arizona for 7 years. His Ph.D. is in History of American education from the University of Illinois and his BA was in Human paleontology-Human Evolution. At age 22 he published a paper in the journal Primates in 1970. After leaving the University of Arizona he became director of the Jewish national fund and later the Endowment fund of the Jewish federation of Phoenix.
Today he leads a Messianic fellowship, Chayim Chadashim.

References :

-- The Mid-East Dispatch, issue 237, the 16th of March 1997

-- SUNDAY TELEGRAPH (London) 3/16/1997