Many who monitor current events for signs that we are close to the start of the seven-year tribulation pay attention to news about the potential arrival of a red heifer. They believe its coming is a sign that the tribulation is near.
End time talk soars when a candidate turns up. In fact, several people asked for my reaction to the news that five prime candidates arrived in Israel from Texas in 2022.
The interest is so high that I believe it is fruitful to write about. In this article, I will describe the significance of the red heifer in end time prophecy, including its role in the end time Third Temple.
The Red Heifer
The red heifer is a female cow of at least three years of age that meets very strict standards. Here are some criteria that it must meet:
- Have the color red throughout its body
- Have no blemishes (not even one or two off-colored hairs)
- Never worn a yoke (never put to work)
- Never sustain an injury
- Never given birth
Numbers 19:1-22 give us details about the role it plays in temple activities. The heifer was to be slaughtered and burned. As the heifer burns, a priest was to cast cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet material into the fire:
“(5) And one shall burn the heifer in his sight; her skin, and her flesh, and her blood, with her dung, shall he burn: (6) And the priest shall take cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet, and cast it into the midst of the burning of the heifer.” (Numbers 19:5-6)
The ashes of the heifer were recovered for later use. The ashes were used with spring water to purify those who come in contact directly or indirectly with a dead body or object (Numbers 19:9-22). Priests would sprinkle water on impure people to purify them.
How Many Have There Been?
Jewish tradition states that the ashes of nine red heifers have been used so far in Israel’s history. Tradition also suggests that the tenth one will be the final one and will help to usher in the coming of the Messiah and the Messianic age.
The Future Third Temple
The Third Temple is the name of a future worship building in Jerusalem. Its construction will be a huge development since there has not been a Jewish temple on the Temple Mount since 70 A.D. after the destruction of the Second Temple. The building of the temple on the Temple Mount means that the seven-year tribulation is near or is underway.
The temple will be the site where the Antichrist will call for the world to worship him at the midpoint of the tribulation (Daniel 9:27, 2 Thessalonians 2:4). Many other end time prophecies refer to the existence of the temple in the tribulation. Here are some of them:
- Daniel 8:13-18: A prophecy about the daily sacrifice in the temple, the defilement of the temple, and the cleansing of the temple.
- Matthew 24:15: The defiling of the temple at the midpoint of the tribulation.
- Joel 1:13-15: Refers to extreme damage to the temple while the nations attack Jerusalem.
- Revelation 11:1-2: Refers to the Gentile domination of Jerusalem, including the temple in the second half of the tribulation.
The temple is necessary for many end time events to unfold. Its arrival will be crucial. It is difficult to say that we are close to the tribulation without the presence of the temple.
Must One Arrive Before the Third Temple Is Built?
Many who are working to bring the Third Temple in Jerusalem believe that having one is essential. In fact, The Temple Institute, one of the key groups working to make the temple a reality on the Temple Mount, believes that temple service cannot start without one.
The host of a recent episode of Temple Talk Radio, the podcast of The Temple Institute, explained why priests could not fully serve their roles without the purifying effects of the heifer:
“…if we are able to raise a Red Heifer that is not disqualified and prepare it and make the ashes, then we will be in a whole new era, a whole new world. It’s a whole new ballgame when Israel has the ability to become purified, because as it stands now, nobody is taught tahor, which is a Hebrew word for pure. Nobody is tahor in terms of this particular type of impurity. And so even the Kohanim, even the temple priests that were teaching how to conduct a service in the holy temple, even they couldn’t enter into the areas of the temple even if we were to build a temple tomorrow.” 
In other words, temple service cannot take place since:
- The priests conducting the service won’t be pure from the effects of being directly or indirectly in contact with dead bodies or objects.
- This impurity would make priests of all levels ineligible to access key parts of the temple.
- The priests’ lack of access to key parts of the temple means they cannot run a temple service.
- The building of the temple won’t solve this issue. The groups believe that the ashes of the red heifer are the solution.
The perceived need for the ashes is so great that groups like The Temple Institute have worked for decades to produce a red heifer. The recent announcement of five prime candidates from Texas is a product of their work with ranchers across the world.
In theory, the building of the Third Temple can take place without the ashes found. But, the belief in the need for the ashes is so strong among many groups working to bring the Third Temple that it seems unlikely that the temple will come first.
Is the Discovery of the Red Heifer a Sign of the End Times?
Daniel indicates that the daily sacrifice in the Third Temple will be in place in the first half of the tribulation (also known as the 70th Week of Daniel). The Antichrist will halt the daily sacrifice at the midpoint of the tribulation:
“And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.” (Daniel 9:27)
Many of the groups that are working to bring the temple in Jerusalem believe daily sacrifice cannot take place without the red heifer. Therefore, its arrival and the obtaining of its ashes removes a major obstacle to the coming of the temple for these groups. It is a big deal.
Also, these animals are very rare. Its coming would be a big sign that the start of the tribulation is approaching. However, it is not necessarily a sign that the tribulation is about to start. The biggest obstacle for the start of the tribulation would still be the building of the Third Temple.
The construction of the temple is likely going to take a lot of negotiation before it starts. Israel likely needs to make a deal with the Palestinians and neighboring countries to permit its building. Right now, a deal is not imminent, and it may take a long time before a deal comes.
However, we would likely see renew pressure within Israel to negotiate a deal to bring the Third Temple when the ashes are obtained. The pressure would likely be great, but it’s hard to say that it will be enough to compel Israel to make enough concessions to reach a deal. It will probably take the Antichrist to broker the deal.
I consider the obtainment of the red heifer ashes to be on par with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and the capture of East Jerusalem in 1967. Each of these events clear obstacles that are blocking the start of the tribulation, but they do not signal that the tribulation is imminent:
- It’s been over 70 years since the creation of the state of Israel.
- It’s been over 55 years since Israel captured East Jerusalem.
- The ashes of the red heifer can last indefinitely. In theory, Israel could put the ashes to use a century from now if the Third Temple does not arise for another hundred years from now.
A Word on the Candidates from Texas
The five candidates from Texas were less than a year of old when they arrived in Israel in 2022. There’s still plenty of time for imperfections to develop in each of these heifers, which would disqualify them. Therefore, I would not get too excited about these animals just yet.
The Lord is in charge of all creation. He will determine when another red heifer will arise in Israel. Man can try all it wants to produce one, but the efforts have to comply with the Lord’s timing. Also, even if Israel can get the ashes it needs, other events still need to unfold in the Lord’s timing. This may involve us waiting awhile for the building of the Third Temple, one of the key signposts of the tribulation.
We live in exciting times, but we need to keep events and developments in proper perspective. The arrival of a red heifer would be a big deal, but does not mean that the tribulation will start tomorrow or start later in the year. It would mean that another obstacle has been cleared on the road to the start of the tribulation.
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- “Temple Talk Radio: Red Heifer Update!” uploaded by The Temple Institute. 22 March, 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzfVJaSVatc.
- There is not unanimity between the groups working to bring a red heifer. Some claim that the red heifer will need to be slaughtered on the Mount of Olives, which Israel does not control right now. Others claim that the ashes from previous red heifers would need to be mixed with the ashes of the future red heifer. In all practicality, both of these objections are likely to be dismissed when a red heifer is ready for slaughter.