The Jewish Temple at the Time of Jesus
The Jewish temple at the time of Jesus was one of Herod the Great’s finest building accomplishments. In order to gain popularity with the Jews, Herod gave the temple grandeur and beauty. The Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus writes, “And now Herod, in the eighteenth year of his reign, and after the acts already mentioned, undertook a very great work, that is, to build of himself the temple of God, and make it larger in compass, and to raise it to a most magnificent altitude, as esteeming it to be the most glorious of all his actions, as it really was, to bring it to perfection…” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XV, 11, i)
As I studied the historical records of this great architectural feat, I was impressed by the luxury and extravagance of the structure. If it were not destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., I believe it would have become one of the seven wonders of the world. The temple mount (the plaza that you see the people entering) was the size of 20 football fields. It was surrounded by nearly a thousand columns, each 30 feet high, six feet in diameter, and each topped by a Corinthian sculpture called a “capital.” Josephus was so impressed that he wrote that these columns “caused an amazement to the spectators, by reason of the grandeur of the whole.” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XV, 11, v) The entire structure took over 46 years to build.
No wonder why the Jews fell into disbelief when Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” He was a lone voice speaking out against the established religion of the day. The impressiveness of buildings often lead us to place our confidence in our own human efforts, rather than in God Himself. Jesus, therefore, spoke of a new temple, more magnificent than the temple of Herod, that is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:20-22) In other words, each of us actually become part of the this new “temple,” where God dwells, when we become believers.
The picture above is a view of one corner of the temple mount. Because the temple itself is in the middle of this elevated plaza, you can only see the top half of it. It is the building with gold at the top of its columns. A few soldiers stand around the perimeter of the temple mount, to prevent rioting.
This is a view of the temple itself in the midst of the plaza, or temple mount. The tall structure is called the “The Holy Place,” in which only priest were allowed to enter. In the back of the “Holy Place” was the “Most Holy Place,” in which only the High Priest was allowed to enter once a year. In front of the tall structure was the altar, where animal sacrifices were killed and burned (hence, the smoke). In front of the altar and Holy Place was a square courtyard for the Jewish women. Women were not allowed to enter the altar area. Non-Jews, i.e. Gentiles, were not allowed pass through the temple walls at all, upon pain of death.
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