“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. … This will be a lasting ordinance both for the Israelites and for the aliens living among them.” (Numbers 19:1–2, 10)
Throughout almost 1,900 years of exile, the Jewish people yearned to return to Israel, build the Third Temple in Jerusalem and restore the Temple service.
Three times a day, observant Jews pray, “May the Holy Temple be rebuilt speedily and in our day.”
Although Jewish people have always lived in the Holy Land, after the Holocaust the Jews began returning to Israel en masse. In 1948, the Jewish nation was prophetically reborn (Isaiah 66:7–8) as the State of Israel, and ever since Jews have been streaming back to the Land from all four corners of the earth.
Since 1967, there has been a movement in Israel to rebuild the Holy Temple; however, the main obstacle is that the Temple Mount is currently occupied by the Dome of the Rock.
Just as the regathering of the Jewish People is fulfillment of Bible prophecy, so too is the building of the Third Holy Temple.
“He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth.” (Isaiah 11:12; see also Jeremiah 23:3, 8; Ezekiel 28:25; Ezekiel 11:17; Zechariah 10:6–12; Psalm 147:2)
“‘The glory of this present [acharon—last] house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD [YHVH] Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD [YHVH] Almighty.” (Haggai 2:9)
Today, many of the preparations for the Third Temple have already been completed, including the sacred worship vessels and priestly garments to be worn by the Levites in Temple services.
As well, over 500 young Jewish men, descended from the tribe of Levi, have been trained as Temple Priests to fulfill their duties of worship and sacrifice in the Temple.
But the Temple service can’t begin without the parah adumah (red heifer).
What does a cow have to do with the rebuilding of the Holy Temple? How could a simple animal play a vital role in the success or failure of such a monumental event?
God’s word states that only the red heifer can restore the Biblical purity needed to rebuild the Temple.
“Then Eleazar the priest is to take some of its [red heifer] blood on his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the Tent of Meeting.” (Numbers 19:4)
An unblemished, pure red heifer is the key ingredient to Temple worship (Numbers 19:1–2, 10).
The Ashes of the Red Heifer and Ritual Purity
“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)
According to The Temple Institute, the organization dedicated to preparing for the construction of the Third Temple in Jerusalem, these cleansing waters are necessary to ritually purify the Temple Mount area, the sacred vessels, and the entire Levitical priesthood that are all being prepared for service today.
The waters of sanctification were also sprinkled onto all those who were impure, and many were first purified in this process before entering the courts of the Temple.
“‘You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them.'” (Leviticus 15:31)
Many conditions may cause ritual impurity or defilement, but one of the most severe comes through exposure to death. Defilement from contact with death is called tumas meis. This state of uncleanness lasted seven days and prevented a person from participating in the community or Temple worship.
Although various methods may be employed to cleanse a person from other forms of defilement, such as ritual water immersion (mikvah), the ashes of the red heifer is the only remedy for the defilement that results from contact with a corpse.
Although some Jews and Christians think that the red heifer is something from the past, never to be seen again, Ezekiel, who prophecies about the rebuilt Third Temple, also mentions these waters of purification in conjunction with the regathering of Israel, linking the red heifer to the end times and the coming Messianic Era:
For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back to your own land.
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:24–26; see also Daniel 12:10; Isaiah 1:18)
The Mystery of the Red Heifer
The rabbis consider the red heifer one of the greatest mysteries of the Torah. Even they wonder how it’s possible that the ashes of the sacrificial animal can purify from sin and defilement.
Furthermore, in an apparent paradox, these same ashes that purified also made anyone involved in the red heifer preparations—from the person who gathered the ashes to the person who sprinkled the water—unclean until evening.
The commandment regarding the red heifer is such a mystery that the rabbis place it in the category of chukkim—divine decrees that cannot be understood by our limited human understanding. Kosher and dietary laws also fit into this category.
Some Jewish sages believe the ordinance of the red heifer to be connected to the sin of the golden calf.
The red heifer is believed to serve in some way as atonement for the terrible consequences of the Israelites worshiping the golden calf when they were brought out of Egypt.
Ultimately, however, understanding the reasons behind the red heifer and the mechanism of this purification process is beyond our intellectual capacity.
Nevertheless, there are those Orthodox Jews who are willing to humble themselves and be obedient in performing it because they love and fear God.
“Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, ‘We will do everything the LORD [YHVH] has said; we will obey.’” (Exodus 24:7)
The Third Temple: Finding the Red Heifer
In order for a cow to qualify as a red heifer for this holy purpose of purification, it must meet the following requirements, as outlined in Numbers 19, and also in the writings of the oral tradition of the Talmud:
1. The red heifer must be absolutely perfect in its redness. Even two hairs of any other color will disqualify it. Even its hooves must be red.
2. It was to be three or four years old. Although older animals could be used, younger could not.
3. It must be free of any kind of internal or external defect or blemish.
4. It must not have been used for any type of physical labor and never have been placed under a yoke – not even once!
Only an animal that meets all these requirements may be used to provide the ashes of the purification process in fulfillment of the commandment.
The animal was not technically a sacrifice, since it was not slaughtered and burned in Temple; rather, it was slaughtered on the Mount of Olives, outside the camp (Numbers 19:3).
The Temple Institute, which has already prepared the sacred Temple vessels, has in the past identified two possible red heifer candidates—one in 1997 and then again in 2002. Although both were initially thought to be kosher, they were later found to be unsuitable.
Even Christian Zionist ranchers in Texas have tried to produce a red heifer that they hoped could be transported to Israel.
Still, efforts to produce the Parah Adumah are ongoing, and rumors abound that this rare red heifer does exist today.
But rare is the operative word. Such a perfect creature is so elusive that its ceremonial burning has seldom happened in all of Jewish history.
The Mishnah, which is an authoritative, written embodiment of Jewish oral tradition, teaches that only nine red heifers were sacrificed from the time of Tabernacle worship until the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 AD on Tisha B’Av [begins on the evening July 28, this year].
The Jewish sage Maimonides believed that the tenth animal would only be found and sacrificed when King Messiah was ready to appear.
And this is one reason why many Jews and Christians wait in anticipation for the discovery of that perfect, unblemished red heifer capable of inaugurating the service of the Third Temple, which the Bible seems to indicate will play a central role in the spiritual life of all mankind.
“Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7)
The Jewish sages believe that when the Messiah comes, He will stand on top of the roof of the Temple and proclaim, “Humble Ones! The time of your redemption has arrived! (The Temple Institute)”
Yeshua and the Red Heifer
Despite the willingness of many Jewish people to rebuild the Temple and reinstitute the Temple service, including the slaughter of the red heifer, the Jewish people have been left without a Temple in Jerusalem to perform the animal blood sacrifices that make atonement for sin. Because of this, blood atonement is no longer a focal point in Judaism.
The focus has been put on doing charity, good deeds, and prayer for about 1942 years! That’s a long time! And that’s why the concept of blood atonement is far from the Jewish People.
This is one of the reasons why it’s difficult for Jewish people to connect the Messianic Prophecy of Isaiah 53 and the concept of the blood atonement for the forgiveness of sin with Messiah Yeshua’s death on the execution stake.
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, … he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:10, 12)
The red heifer itself prophetically points to Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah and His death on the execution stake. He who was perfect, unblemished and sinless took upon Himself the sins of the world so that we could become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Just as the red heifer was slaughtered outside the camp, so was Yeshua slaughtered outside the City of Jerusalem (Hebrews 13:12).
The Book of Hebrews confirms that it’s through the blood of Yeshua the Messiah that we may be purified from all of our sins.
The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:14)