THE TEMPLE: A Place of Worship
(Adapted from the Living Way STUDENT WORKBOOK)
Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48; and John 2:13-22
Many years ago, before Christ came into the world, God provided more things for people to see when they worshiped Him. Burnt offerings, priests with beautiful clothing, the Ark of the Covenant, tables of stone with the Ten Commandments written on them, and other things helped people worship God. When the time came that Israel was called out of slavery and was, therefore, God’s chosen people, they also had a special place of worship.
In the early years of the nation of Israel, they were traveling around in the wilderness so they needed a place of worship that could be carried from one place to another. This was the tabernacle that you study about in the Old Testament. When the Jews reached the Promised Land and got a king, David prepared and Solomon built a beautiful temple.
Solomon’s temple was planned somewhat like the tabernacle. There was an outer court divided into two parts. The upper court for the priests and other worshippers had a brass altar and a brass sea standing on four groups of three oxen each and ten lavers of brass.
The temple was twice as long, broad, and high as the tabernacle. It was built of stones and roofed and lined with cedar. The cedar of the whole house of both holy places was (1 Kings 6:21-22; 30; 2 Chr 3:7-8) overlaid with gold. The temple was divided into two rooms, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies.
The Holy Place had candlesticks, and tables. In the Holy of Holies were the altar of incense and two cherubim with wings about seven and one-half feet long over the Ark of the Covenant. It was separated from the Holy Place by a curtain and by chains of gold and two doors of olive wood (1 Kings 6:31).
This very beautiful temple was burned by Nebuchadnezzar’s general. Under Zerubbabel, the Jews erected another temple after they came back from captivity. Herod renovated the temple so completely that it was called Herod’s temple. This was the one in existence when Jesus was on earth. The Ark of the Covenant was lost when Israel went into Babylonian captivity and so was not mentioned as being in any of the temples after Solomon’s temple.
The temple was a beautiful place—the most wonderful building in Israel and probably (according to Josephus and the Roman Emperor, Valentinus’ son, Titus) in the whole world. Columns, gates, roof of cedar, floor of beautifully laid gold, precious stones (2 Chron. 3:6), and fine workmanship all combined to make it truly magnificent. Over the gates from the outer court of the Gentiles was inscribed, “Beyond this point none of the uncircumcised may pass, on pain of death.”
Jesus told the woman of Samaria at the well that we are to worship in spirit and truth and not in a special place (John 4:20-24). Under Christ, we do not depend on a physical building and there are only two things necessary that we see with our physical eyes. We can see people baptized and we see the emblems of the Lord’s Supper. The spiritual temple today is one of several descriptions of the life of a Christian. Paul said Christians are the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16). We are God’s building (1 Corinthians 3:9-14; Ephesians 2:21, 22). Jesus confused his enemies by referring to His body as a temple they would destroy and that He would raise it in three days (John 2:19, 20).
One of the first events in the life of Christ was His presentation in the temple (Luke 2:22, 39). When He was 12, He stayed in the temple when His parents started home (Luke 2:41-50). Twice He showed His zeal for God’s temple against the people who did not respect it and were using it to make money from worshipers. He drove out the cattle and overturned the tables of the money-changers (Matt 21:12: Mark 11:15).
- 1 Kings 6:21–So Solomon overlaid the house within with pure gold: and he made a partition by the chains of gold before the oracle; and he overlaid it with gold.
- 1 Kings 6:22 –And the whole house he overlaid with gold, until he had finished all the house: also, the whole altar that was by the oracle he overlaid with gold.
- 1 Kings 6:30 –And the floor of the house he overlaid with gold, within and without.
- 2 Chro. 3:7 7–He overlaid also the house, the beams, the posts, and the walls thereof, and the doors thereof, with gold; and graved cherubims on the walls.
- 2 Chron 3:8 8–And he made the most holy house, the length whereof was according to the breadth of the house, twenty cubits, and the breadth thereof twenty cubits: and he overlaid it with fine gold, amounting to six hundred talents.
I remember reading about the Gentile partition wall and the women’s partition in the Antiquities book of Josephus. But as far as it being in the Bible, I am pretty sure I don’t remember ever reading about it there.
According to the historian, Josephus, the Gentiles were never allowed into the temple itself. They could only go up to a certain point in the courtyard. Josephus reported that when Titus Vespasian (70 A.D.) finally breached the wall and entered Jerusalem, many of the last Jewish survivors were hiding in the Temple because they didn’t think any Gentile would dare go past the “Gentile” wall. (They were mistaken, of course, as Titus and his men not only swarmed into the temple but burnt it to the ground later.) No stones were left on top of the other.
Book of Josephus describes the temple of Herod and the building of it:
The middle was much higher than the rest, and the wall of the front was adorned with beams, resting upon pillars, that were interwoven into it, and the front was all of polished stone, insomuch that its fineness, to such as had not seen it, was incredible, and to such as had seen it, was greatly amazing. Thus was the first enclosure. In the midst of which, and not far from it, was the second, to be gone up to by a few steps: this was encompassed by a stone wall for a partition, with an inscription, which forbade any foreigner to go in under pain of death.
Now this inner enclosure had on its southern and northern quarters three gates [equally] distant one from another; but on the east quarter, towards the sun-rising, there was one large gate, through which such as were pure came in, together with their wives; but the temple further inward in that gate was not allowed to the women; but still more inward was there a third [court of the] temple, where into it was not lawful for any but the priests alone to enter.
The following information is taken from Bible History online:
Court of the Gentiles (Herod’s Temple)
The central sanctuary was approached through a series of spacious outer courts, each court progressively more exclusive. The outermost was the COURT OF THE GENTILES, a huge rectangular area about 35 acres in size. It was paved with colored stones and enclosed by tall, stately columns. Visitors entered through a number of immense double and triple gates, which stood at intervals along the outer court. As its name suggests, the Court of the Gentiles was open to Gentiles as well as Jews, and it was usually crowded with people from many backgrounds and walks of life. On a typical day a visitor would encounter Jewish pilgrims from all over Palestine and the Roman Empire; merchants selling doves, young sheep and cattle for sacrifice; moneychangers converting foreign currency into Jewish shekels; Jewish scribes and rabbis discussing points of Mosaic law; and others simply passing the time of day. At the center of the Court of the Gentiles stood a second enclosed compound, posted with signs in Greek and Latin warning: “No foreigner is allowed within the balustrades and embankment about the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will be personally responsible for his ensuing death.” It was, therefore, a serious accusation that was brought by the Jews of Asia Minor against Paul that he had brought Greeks into the Temple and had polluted the Holy Place (Acts 21:28)
One last thought about the temple and those who worshiped there:
Volume 11 number 36
Gathering the Outcasts
Under the Old Law there were some people that were not allowed to enter the Temple. Anyone with certain physical deformities could not enter. Eunuchs were not allowed in the Temple. Those who had not physically converted to Judaism and were of a foreign nation could not enter the Temple. Anyone who had become unclean by touching something dead was not allowed in the Temple. These people were allowed to have private worship to God but they could not join the congregation in the Temple. They were considered outcasts.
In Isaiah 56:8, we read, “The Lord God which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him.” Earlier in the chapter God had said that the son of the stranger and the eunuch would be included in the new covenant he would bring.
When the New Covenant was instituted, any former outcast was immediately included if he obeyed God. Anyone who obeys God today can join in congregational worship. The key is that one must obey God. One must do what is necessary to enter the kingdom. Today the only outcasts are those who refuse to obey.
I am glad that God is willing to allow anyone to worship him. It does not matter what nationality, sex, physical condition, or former life one has. If a person will obey God, he can join in worship.
Study your Bible. Learn what is necessary to obey God. And if any of this is hard to understand, ask an adult to help you.