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The TempleThe Temple According to Jewish tradition, the Temple originated in the 'Tabernacle' or 'Tent of Meeting'. This was a portable shrine said to have been made under the direction of Moses. It accompanied the Israelites in their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. It symbolized the presence of God in the midst of His people.
Although King David was responsible for the idea of a permanent Temple, it was his son, Solomon (c.970-930 BC) who actually built the first Temple in Jerusalem. This Temple became the central shrine of the Jewish religion. It was only in the Temple that sacrifices could be offered up. The Babylonians destroyed the first Temple in 586 BC, but it was rebuilt on the return of the Jews from exile in 520 BC. This Temple was desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanes in 167 BC and restored by Judas Maccabaeus. Herod the Great began a new and more splendid building in 20 BC. This was the Temple Jesus knew, and it was not completed until 64 AD, about 30 years after his death.
The Temple areasHerod greatly increased the Temple area by enlarging the platform on which it was built. The outer area was the Court of the Gentiles. This was a public place and a market where traders sold the sacrificial doves and animals. Here pilgrims could change ceremonially 'unclean' foreign currencies into the sacred Temple coinage for the payment of Temple dues. It would have been in this area where Jesus overturned the tables.
A curtain wall separated the Court of the Israelites from the Court of the Gentiles. On the entrances of this wall were placed notices in both Latin and Greek stating that it was forbidden for gentiles (non-Jews) to go beyond that point on pain of death. There was a separate Court of the Women on this level.
The most exclusive area was the Court of the Priests: here was the altar, a huge block of stone on which animals were sacrificed.
On the highest level was the Temple building. It was built as a dwelling of God. A porch and doorway led to the sanctuary which only the officiating priests had the right to enter. There stood the table for the Shew-Bread, the Seven Branched Candlestick and the Altar of Incense. A curtain covered the entrance to the innermost shrine, the Holy of Holies, which was completely empty, with no statue, no symbol, only the bare rock on which the High Priest stood on a single day in the year, the Day of Atonement.
Worship in the TempleAt the time of Jesus, the Temple was the most important place in Judaism. Central to its worship was sacrifice. Of special importance was the daily morning and evening sacrifice. These both took the form of the offering of incense, the sacrifice of a lamb without blemish, the meal offering made with flour mixed with oil, followed by prayer and praise. Private offerings were also made daily, (Herod offered 300 oxen on the occasion of the dedication of his Temple), and many thousands of offerings were made on feast days. Sacrifices, whether bloodless or bloody, were intended as a means of obtaining the forgiveness of God, though ideally they should have been a means by which the sinner expressed in a practical way his sorrow for his sins.
The most important day in the Temple calendar was the Day of Atonement. This was when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, the innermost sanctuary of the shrine, the symbolical dwelling of God, and offered the blood of sacrifice as atonement for all the sins of Israel, whether consciously or unconsciously committed.
Three times a year, at Pentecost, Tabernacles and particularly at Passover, vast multitudes of Jewish pilgrims came to Jerusalem from all over the world. Every Jew, even those who lived in distant lands, made a fixed yearly contribution to the maintenance of Temple worship. The Temple services and finances were controlled by the aristocratic priestly caste, the Sadducees, under the direction of the High Priest. A large number of priests were qualified to conduct services. Temple worship ceased after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. All that remains of Herod's Temple today are a course of huge stones known as the Wailing Wall where the Jews regularly meet for prayer.