The Temple of the Apostles’ Time
THE passover of the year 30 (A.D.) was drawing on apace as Jesus Christ “went up to Jerusalem. And he found in the temple those selling cattle and sheep and doves and the money-brokers in their seats. So, after making a whip of ropes, he drove all those with the sheep and cattle out of the temple and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. Therefore . . . the Jews said to him: ‘What sign have you to show us, since you are doing these things?’ In answer Jesus said to them: ‘Break down this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’”—John 2:13-15, 18, 19.
It may well be asked, What kind of building could this be that had room for all this traffic? The fact is that this temple was not just one building but a series of structures of which the temple sanctuary was the center. In the original tongue this is made quite clear, the Scripture writers distinguishing between the two by the use of the words hierón and naós. Hierón referred to the entire temple grounds, whereas naós applied to the temple structure itself, the successor of the tabernacle in the wilderness. Thus John tells that Jesus found all this traffic in the hieŕon. But when Jesus likened his body to a temple he used the word naós, meaning the temple “sanctuary,” as noted in the footnote of the New World Translation.
This series of structures of the apostles’ time was rebuilt by King Herod. That sensual and bloodthirsty Idumean ruler was loathed by his Jewish subjects as much for his outraging their religious susceptibilities as for his wanton murders, such as that of his wife Mariamne, a Hasmonaean princess. Wanting to ingratiate himself with them, and at the same time to feed his inordinate pride, he proposed the rebuilding of their temple, which, after about five hundred years, was showing signs of decay.
Ever distrustful of Herod, and not without good reason, the Jews insisted that he prove his good intentions by first providing all the needed materials, which he did. For the construction work he hired 10,000 skilled workmen as well as 1,000 priests who were specially trained for such work. That the Jews might not be without a temple, the razing of the old one was done piecemeal with the construction of the new. For this reason many speak of only two temples in Jerusalem, the first and the second, instead of three, Solomon’s, Zerubbabel’s and Herod’s. This, in particular, was the custom of the contemporary Jews who so hated Herod that, even though he had furnished all the materials and paid for the labor, none of them in their writings ever mentioned his name in connection with the temple.
Herod doubled the size of the temple area. To do this he both leveled off large areas of rock and with immense stones built up the sides of Mount Moriah as much as 160 feet. The temple sanctuary was completed in a year and a half, other main structures in eight years. However, extensive rebuilding continued to take place until within six years of its destruction A.D. 70. Josephus gives two conflicting dates as to when building began, but in view of the fact that in 30 (A.D.) the Jews stated that the temple had taken forty-six years to build, it follows that work on it must have begun 17 B.C.—John 2:20.
The temple structure was built due east and west and had seven degrees of sanctity from the lesser to the greater: (1) the Court of the Gentiles; (2) the Outer Court; (3) the Court of the Women; (4) the Court of Israel; (5) the Court of the Priests; (6) the Holy Place; (7) the Holy of Holies. Generally each succeeding place was on a higher elevation in keeping with its purported greater sanctity; each had its series of gates or entryways and associated buildings. All in all, there were twenty-four stations where priests and Levites kept watch over the temple.
THE COURT OF THE GENTILES
The entire temple area was surrounded by an immense wall that was topped with colonnades. The grounds within these walls were between fifteen and twenty acres in size and therefore may have been as large as New York’s Yankee Stadium and Polo Grounds combined.a The Court of the Gentiles was so named because Gentiles were permitted to enter it. It was from it that Jesus on two occasions, once near the beginning and once at the close of his earthly ministry, expelled those who had made the house of his Father a house of merchandise.—John 2:13-17; Matt. 21:12, 13.
There were eight or ten gates leading into the temple area: four or five on the west side, two or three on the south and one each on the east and the north. In his triumphal ride into Jerusalem Jesus doubtless entered the temple area by its northeast gate, and he was led away to Pilate through the one on the southwest. Because of these gates the Court of the Gentiles also served as a thoroughfare, travelers preferring to go through it instead of outside around the temple area.
Along its eastern side was the colonnade of Solomon, a covered passageway forty-five feet wide and forty feet high. It consisted of three columns of marble pillars, termed “Corinthian” because of their ornate decorations. Here Jesus ‘walked in the wintertime,’ and here early Christians met for worship. Like colonnades flanked the west and north sides. In these were seats where priests and others expounded the Law, and no doubt it was in one of these that Mary and Joseph found the inquiring twelve-year-old Jesus.—Luke 2:46-49.
Impressive as were the colonnades on the west, east and north, they were dwarfed by the Royal Colonnade on the south, named after Herod himself. It consisted of 162 Corinthian pillars whose circumference was so great that it took three men with outstretched arms to reach around one of them, and they were placed in four rows.
Out beyond the temple wall on the northwest stood the tower of Antonia on a high perch overlooking the temple area. In the days of Jesus and the apostles it housed Roman soldiers and had underground passages leading to the temple Court of the Gentiles. This enabled soldiers to rush out any time trouble brewed, as when a mob tried to kill the apostle Paul. This tower was named in honor of Herod’s friend Mark Antony.—Acts 21:31-40.
WITHIN THE OUTER COURT
Crossing the spacious Court of the Gentiles, we come to the Outer Court. Not far from its outer border was the low wall or Soreg, with openings. On it were placed immense stones bearing the warning: “No Gentile may enter within the railing around the Sanctuary and within the enclosure. Whosoever should be caught will render himself liable to the death penalty which will inevitably follow.” On the occasion that Paul was mobbed in the temple it was because the Jews rumored that he had brought a Gentile within this area. Knowledge of this dividing railing helps us the better to appreciate Paul’s reference to Jesus’ having ‘destroyed the wall that fenced off Jew from Gentile.’—Acts 21:20-32; Eph. 2:14.
Viewed from the east, in the forepart of the Outer Court was the Court of the Women. Except when they offered sacrifice, this was as near as women were permitted to approach to the sanctuary. Among other things the Court of the Women contained the treasure chests, at one of which Jesus stood when he commended the widow for giving her all. A large semicircular stairway led from the Court of the Women to the Court of Israel, which was entered through an immense gate known as the Gate of Nicanor. This stairway had fifteen steps, which were the “ascents” for which, it is supposed, the fifteen psalms of the ascents were composed. On festive occasions priests and Levites would repeat these psalms as they moved step by step up to the Court of Israel.—Luke 21:1-4; Pss. 120-134.
Within this Court of Israel were the remaining four degrees of sanctity: that of its own court, that of the Court of the Priests, that of the Holy Place and that of the Most Holy or Holy of Holies. To all appearances, the Court of Israel and the Court of the Priests were one and the same, being on the same level and marked off by but a low wall. This area contained not only many rooms for supplies and preparing the sacrifices but also “an amazing system of fountains and underground cisterns for storing water used in religious ceremonials and for flushing away debris from the sacrifices,” says Harper’s Bible Dictionary. It is believed that here also was located the Session Room of the Sánhedrin.
Within the Court of the Priests, which corresponded to the courtyard of the tabernacle arrangement, and directly before the temple sanctuary itself stood the great copper altar, whose height was fifteen feet and whose base measured fifty feet square. Far to the right was the gigantic “molten sea,” filled with water needed for the sacrifices. It rested on twelve colossal lions instead of on twelve bulls as did the sea of Solomon’s temple.
THE TEMPLE SANCTUARY
The floor of the temple sanctuary (naós) was twelve steps higher than the Court of the Priests, the main part of which was ninety feet high and ninety feet wide. Even as with Solomon’s temple, there were chambers on the sides, and in the center of it was the Holy Place, thirty feet wide and sixty high and long, and the Holy of Holies, a thirty-foot cube. The three stories of chambers around the sides and “attics” above account for the difference between the interior of the Holy and Most Holy and the outside measurements.
The Holy Place contained, among other things, one golden table for the loaves of presentation, one golden candlestick and the golden altar of incense. Separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies was a beautifully ornamented heavy double curtain inches thick. At Jesus’ death this curtain was rent in two.—Matt. 27:51.
In the Holy of Holies there was no ark of the covenant, a chest upon which rested two golden cherubs with outstretched wings, above which shone the supernatural Shekinah light, as in Solomon’s temple. In its place rested a stone slab upon which the high priest sprinkled the blood on the day of atonement. Research has established the location of the Holy of Holies of Herod’s temple, which is the very site where (according to tradition) Abraham was prepared to offer up Isaac and where the angel appeared to King David so that he purchased it from Ornan for the building of a temple to Jehovah. Today the Dome of the Rock, a Moslem mosque, rests on this very spot.
Concerning this temple Josephus wrote: “Its appearance had everything that could strike the mind and astonish the sight. For it was on every side covered with solid gold plates, so that when the sun rose upon it, it reflected such a strong and dazzling effulgence that the eye of the beholder was obliged to turn away from it, being no more able to sustain its radiance than the splendor of the sun.” And where it was not covered with gold its white shining marble reflected the sun’s rays. Of all Herod’s many architectural achievements, the temple at Jerusalem was his greatest.
No wonder Jesus’ disciples expressed admiration for its buildings. But Jesus, able to look into the future, could reply: “Do you behold these great buildings? By no means will a stone be left here upon a stone and not be thrown down.” And that doom did not delay. Solomon’s temple had stood for 420 years and Zerubbabel’s for about 500, but Herod’s was to last less than ninety. In the siege of A.D. 70, and against the wishes of General Titus, flames destroyed the temple. Its treasures were rescued and taken to Rome.—Mark 13:1, 2.
The foregoing description enables the Christian Bible lover the better to visualize the events recorded in the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.
With the resurrection and ascension of Jesus into heaven the spiritual temple, consisting of Jesus Christ and 144,000 body members, began to be built, he being at that time laid as the chief Cornerstone. Since then there has been no need for any literal temple. Today this temple is represented on earth by a small remnant, and to it are now flowing the choicest or most precious things (the people of good will) of all the nations. Together they are carrying on the pure worship of Jehovah God, bringing a glory to his name that exceeds that which any literal temple ever brought him.—1 Pet. 2:4-10; Hag. 2:7; Rev. 7:9; 14:1-3.
a The sources of information, Josephus, the Jewish Mishnah and archaeology, repeatedly contradict one another. However, a fairly good task of harmonizing these discrepancies has been done by Hollis in his book The Archaeology of Herod’s Temple. Among other things, he points out that the constant building may account for some of the differences, as well as the standpoint from which the temple was being viewed.
[Picture on page 493]
1. Court of the Gentiles
2. Outer court
3. Court of the women
4. Court of Israel
5. Court of the priests
6. Holy place
7. Holy of holies
8. Royal colonnade
9. Solomon’s porch or colonnade
10. Soreg, the wall of division
11. Tower of Antonia