In recent months, there has been a lot of talk about some red heifers that are being raised in Israel. The reason they have generated a lot of interest is because one of the last obstacles to rebuilding a Jewish temple on the Temple Mount is a need for the ashes of a red heifer for purification purposes. And some people have wondered: 

Does the fact there are red heifers in Israel now mean the rapture is near, and that the third temple will soon be rebuilt?

The red heifers now at the center of attention were born at a ranch in Texas and transported to Tel Aviv, Israel, in September of 2022. They were privately acquired with the hope they will eventually make it possible to ritually purify the priests who will serve in a future Jewish temple on the Temple Mount.

In Old Testament Israel, God required that the priests who offered sacrifices at the temple be ceremonially pure. This ritual cleansing required water that was mixed with the ashes of a perfect red heifer that had no blemishes. In Numbers 19:2, God gave these specifications for the red heifer: It must be “without defect, in which there is no blemish, and on which a yoke has never come.”

Evidently these requirements were able to be met during the times of the first and second temples. But after the second temple was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70, and after the Jewish people were scattered for the next 1,900 years, there was no reason to look for red heifers. The temple no longer existed, and sacrifices could no longer be made.

But in 1948, the nation of Israel was reborn. And in recent decades, Orthodox Jews have expressed a desire to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Right now, it’s impossible for them to do so because the Temple Mount is under Islamic occupation. This 35-acre platform is supervised by Muslim authorities, and there are sacred Islamic structures on the mount—including mosques and the Dome of the Rock.

Even so, there are Orthodox Jewish groups that have dedicated themselves to making it possible to rebuild the temple. The most prominent of these groups is The Temple Institute. They have already created the furniture and implements that will be used in the next temple. A large gold menorah—which took several years to build according to Mosaic specifications—is now on display in the Old City of Jerusalem. There is now a new generation of priests being trained to carry out their sacred functions. Special garments have been made for them. The architectural plans for this new temple have been drawn up. For all practical purposes, nearly everything is in place for the third temple to be built and made functional. But nothing can be done as long as the Temple Mount remains under Muslim supervision.

A Key Obstacle

Up to this point, one key obstacle for the rebuilding effort is the fact there is no way to ritually purify the priests who will serve in the temple. It is also necessary to purify the area on which the temple will be built. To accomplish either of those goals, the ashes of a perfect red heifer are needed. As it stands now, all the Jewish people since AD 70 have been ceremonially unclean, and the Temple Mount itself is unclean. In Numbers 9:5-7, we read that the biblical requirement for cleanliness is that the Jewish people must avoid any contact with a dead creature or person. This also includes avoiding contact with anyone who has been in contact with dead people. Once such contact takes place, a person must be cleansed by sprinkling them with water that is mixed with the ashes of a red heifer.

Ever since the destruction of the temple in AD 70, there has been no such mixture available to carry out this ceremonial cleansing. This means that all the Jewish people around the world are ritually unclean. Without the ashes of a red heifer, there is no way to make anyone ceremonially clean—and that includes today’s priests who are being trained to serve in the next temple.

Before the temple services can be restored, it’s necessary to obtain the ashes of a red heifer. And that has been one of the main goals of The Temple Institute ever since it was founded in 1987.

A Strict Standard

Jewish rabbis have long taught that in order for a red heifer to qualify as unblemished, its hairs must be all red. Even one single hair of a different color disqualifies the animal from use.

Back in 1997, and then again in 2002, red heifers were born in Israel. At first, these two red heifers met the strict requirements. But both ended up sprouting white hairs as they matured—and that disqualified them from use.

Fast-forward to September 15, 2022, and all of a sudden, five young red heifers were brought into Israel from Texas. The Temple Institute is hoping that one of these heifers will make it possible to secure the ashes that are necessary for the ritual cleansing ceremony.

At the time of this writing, one of those heifers has been disqualified, and the other four are still qualified.

Another requirement is that the red heifer must be sacrificed at the proper age. Once a heifer has reached two years and one month of age, it can be sacrificed anytime during its third year of age. Because these heifers were born in October 2021, that means they became qualified for sacrifice in November of 2023.

So according to rabbinic specifications, the heifers are now in the window of time during which one of them could be slaughtered for the purpose of obtaining its ashes.

However, a major difficulty has come up—the war in Gaza. It’s hard to say how that might affect any plans that might be in place to sacrifice one of the red heifers. The Temple Institute has been secretive about what it is doing.

One hundred days after Hamas carried out its brutal massacre of 1,200 Israelis on October 7, 2023, a spokesman for Hamas gave a speech in which Hamas objected to the presence of the red heifers in Israel. Hamas claims that Israel’s possession of the red heifers is act of aggression. For decades, Palestinians have feared that Israel will attempt to take over the Temple Mount and destroy the Muslim structures on it. Most likely, the spokesman for Hamas was trying to stir up anger among the Palestinians. We know the red heifers were not the reason Hamas began the war, because Hamas has been attacking Israel constantly for more than two decades. Hamas has always wanted to destroy Israel.

No matter what happens with the war, we are now in the window of time during which one of the heifers could be slain and burned. Once that happens, then The Temple Institute will be able to mix the ashes in water. And that mixture will be able to help make the priests and the temple grounds ritually pure.

The Questions

All of this raises two big questions:

 Does the presence of these red heifers in Israel mean the rapture is near? And does it mean the third temple is about to be built?

Nowhere in the Bible do we find a passage that makes a connection between the ashes of a red heifer and the rapture. There is nothing about the preparations for the third temple that is tied to the rapture in any way.

Keep in mind that The Temple Institute has been preparing for the building of the third temple for more than 35 years. For all we know, after the ashes of a red heifer have been obtained, several more years—or even a decade or more—could go by before the rapture happens. We simply don’t know.

No one knows the day or hour when the rapture will occur. And one of the most important truths about the rapture is that it will not be preceded by any specific signs. The Bible does not mention any prophetic signs or events that must be fulfilled before the rapture can take place. This means the rapture could happen at any time. There’s simply no way to know when it will happen.

While the ashes of a red heifer have great significance, we don’t want to speculate that those ashes may be a sign that the rapture is imminent. Because the Bible doesn’t make any connection between the developments relating to the third temple and the rapture of believers up to heaven, we shouldn’t attempt to make such a connection.

However, we can legitimately say the existence of the red heifers is a major development. For the Jews who are eager to build the third temple, this brings them another step closer. We know from Scripture that a temple will be built again on the Temple Mount. Daniel 9:27, Matthew 24:15-18, and 2 Thessalonians 2:4 all make it clear that at the midpoint of the tribulation, the antichrist will enter the temple, sit in the Holy of Holies, and declare himself to be God. These passages confirm there is coming a day when a temple will stand on the Temple Mount.

When and how that will happen, we don’t know. So far, many of the pieces for the future temple have been brought together. Once The Temple Institute has the ashes of a red heifer, that’s a significant piece of the puzzle. But the biggest obstacle of all is the fact that the Temple Mount is still in Muslim hands. As long as that is the case, it will be impossible for the third temple to be built.

We can rightly say that we are getting closer to the end times. But we don’t know how much closer. We shouldn’t speculate that the rapture might be right around the corner. But we can rejoice that God is setting the stage. Things are coming together. Anything that contributes to making the third temple a reality is prophetically significant.

The Most Important Sacrifice

As we wait to see what happens, we can be grateful that the most important sacrifice of all has already been made. All the sacrifices in the Old Testament were foreshadows that pointed to the ultimate sacrifice Christ would make on the cross. Jesus was the substance that the shadows pointed to.

Hebrews 10:1 tells us that the Old Testament animal sacrifices made year after year could not cleanse anyone. Verse 4 goes on to say that “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.” Not until Jesus died on the cross was it possible for our sins to be cleansed. Hebrews 10:14 says that by “one offering, [Christ] has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” Never again is a sacrifice needed on our behalf.

Because of what Christ did at the cross, God says in Hebrews 10:17, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” Because Jesus paid the penalty for our sins and grants His righteousness to us, we can now enter God’s presence. As Hebrews 10:22 says, we can “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.”

For that, we can be forever grateful!