What’s so remarkable about the Temple in Jerusalem?
I was recently interviewed by Vic Batista, senior pastor of the Miami-based Calvary Chapel Aventura on his radio program “The Truth Will Set You Free” via TWave Radio. “Pastor Vic” (as he likes to be called) was born in the Dominican Republic and is as active in planting churches and helping orphans there as he is in southern Florida, reaching out with the Good News of Jesus Christ to both the English and Spanish speaking audiences.
In this “The Truth Will Set You Free” episode, we’ll marvel at Jesus’ prophecy concerning the destruction of the Temple.
The First Temple
Vic: Our subject matter today will be about the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem talked about in the Bible in Matthew 24. Nathan, would you read Matthew 24:1-2?
Nathan: Sure. I’ll be reading out of the New King James Version. Matthew 24:1 says, “Then Jesus went out and departed from the Temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the Temple. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.'”
Vic: That’s an amazingly specific prophecy! Nathan, would you take us back through history regarding the Temples that were built in Israel, even all the way back to the time of Solomon?
Nathan: Certainly. The Temple in Israel was considered the centerpiece of Jewish life. It was located in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, the place where Abraham was going to sacrifice his son, Isaac. It was called Beth Elohim, which means “the house of Yahweh.” That’s where God’s glory lived in a particular room called the Holy of Holies, deep within the Temple.
King David around 1000 BC wanted to build a temple for God because he felt the tent called the Tabernacle was not glorious enough for God. But, God told David that he was a man of blood with blood on his hands due all the wars he fought. God wanted a man of peace to build His house. David’s son Solomon was chosen to build the Temple instead. David did though collect all the materials to build the Temple, leaving them for his son Solomon to built it. That was about 3,000 years ago.
Inside the Temple housed the Shekinah Glory of God which rested on the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant was what the Israelites would carry around with them along with the tablets of the Law, Aaron’s rod that budded, and a pot of Manna. The Israelites would bring the Ark of the Covenant with them into the battle and God would use His power to defeat their enemies. While in the Temple, it rested inside the Holy of Holies.
Before the Temple was built, the Israelites had what was called the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was a tent version of the Temple. Because it was portable, the Israelites were able to travel around with it as they wondered around the wilderness for those 40 years. Like I said, King David had the passion for making the Temple, but it was up to his son Solomon to handle that.
The Second Temple
The Temple lasted a little over four hundred years, for as the Israelites began to sin and pull away from God, God pulled back His protection and more judgment came upon them. By 586, the Babylonians came down and destroyed Judah and the Temple in Jerusalem. The Jews were exiled up over into the Babylonian area, which is present day Iraq. Only the poorest of people were left in the Holy Land.
About 50 years later, Zerubbabel was sent back by an edict from the Persian King Cyrus, who actually was prophesied to do so 160 years earlier according to Isaiah 4:28. Isaiah prophesied that a man named Cyrus would make an edict to have Israel (through Ezra) go back and start rebuilding the Temple. About 50 years later, between 538 and 515 BC, Zerubbabel rebuilt what’s called the Second Temple. It wasn’t as impressive as Solomon’s Temple because Israel didn’t have a lot of money at the time.
Later in about 20 BC, the great builder King Herod restored the Temple. He’s the king who ordered all the babies killed in Bethlehem. He made the Temple magnificent again. He brought a lot of wealth into the Temple. That became the Temple of Jesus’ time, also called the Second Temple or Herod’s Temple.
Vic: The Temple was considered one of the wonders of the world, right?
Nathan: Yes, it was one of the biblical wonders of the world, depending on whose list you’re looking at. It was an architectural wonder really. The dimensions of it were parallel of what God’s throne room looks like.
The original Temple was paneled with cedar wood. The floors were made of cyprus. The whole thing was inlaid with gold. There were all sorts of decorations like floral designs, pomegranates, flowers and palm trees etched into the walls. It also had these huge carved doors made of wood and gold.
The Temple was filled with furnishings. Of course, the Ark of the Covenant wasn’t there as it had been taken, hidden or destroyed at the First Exile. But, it’s place was left in the Holy of Holies. If anyone has ever watched Indiana Jones in the movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, they know pretty well what the Ark looks like. Inside the Holy of Holies were two 15 foot tall cherubim statues with wings that spanned 15 feet, and two giant pillars.
Outside it had a bronze alter that was 30 foot square by 15 feet tall, which held something called the Molten Sea, which was like a giant tub. It held over 10,000 gallons of water! It rested on the backs of 12 bronze oxen. On each side were three oxen. It had ten washing utensils called the Lavers.
Herod made a great veil which stretched across the Holy of Holies, preventing anyone who shouldn’t be there from entering. Except for the High Priest periodically, nobody else was allowed in the Holy of Holies. The Temple contained a seven-branch lamp stand which we call the Menorah today.
There were porches and courts to contain the worshipers. All of Israel would come to Jerusalem to worship. They would bring their money there to donate and purchase sacrifices, so the Temple was quite wealthy. This was the great wealth of the Temple that the disciples were seeing when they were with Jesus up at the Temple Mount in Matthew 24, with parallel passages in Luke 21 and Mark 13.
Temple in Jesus’ Day
In Luke 21:37, it tells us that each day Jesus was teaching at the Temple and each evening He went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives. The people came out early in the morning to hear him teaching in the Temple.
Luke 21 tells us this famous story of the widow. While Jesus was preaching in the Temple one day, He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the Temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. Jesus proclaimed, “I tell you the truth, this woman has put in more than all the others. All these people gave out of their wealth, but she gave out of her poverty, all she had to live on.” This was to be a great lesson about the true value of money to the disciples.
Remember that many of Jesus’ disciples were very poor people. Most were lowly fisherman who basically lived in huts. So, for them to get to see the Temple would be like us getting to see the Taj Mahal or Congress. The Temple was a building beyond belief to them. In Luke 21:5 it says, “Some of His disciples were remarking about how the Temple was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God.”
That’s the background of this story as we get into Matthew 24. The Temple was an amazing place. Clearly Jesus’ disciples were amazed at the great wealth that came through it. But, what Jesus had to say to His disciples was to become to them even more amazing.
In the second part of this discussion with Pastor Vic on the prophesied destruction of the Temple, we’ll find out what the amazing thing Jesus stated that stopped His disciples right in their tracks.