Jeremy Gibson, Derby, England
One of Herod’s most ambitious projects, started in 20 BC, was rebuilding the Jewish temple at Jerusalem. Much to the relief of the Jews, within two years the House was finished, its bright marble walls being built upon a foundation of gigantic stones, weighing up to 600 tonnes. 1 The entire site took forty-six years to complete, John 2. 20, with enormous stones ranging from two to fifty tonnes forming great retaining walls to support the temple plateau which measured 140,000 square metres, or eleven football pitches. Upon this platform the surrounding temple complex, which could hold more than 200,000 people, was constructed.
Until AD 70, Herod’s temple was a central focus of the Jewish religion; a gathering point for the nation. When the Jews accused Stephen of speaking ‘blasphemous words against this holy place’, and then charged Paul with profaning the temple, they showed how much they had come to value it, Acts 6. 13; 24. 6. During its short life, both the Lord Jesus and the early Christians bore witness to Israel in the temple’s precincts, 5. 19-42. Christ predicted its destruction and viewed it as a picture of His own body, in which resided ‘all the fulness of the Godhead’. 2 Of course, He was infinitely greater than the temple, Matt. 12. 6.
In this article we shall move from the inner sanctuary outwards to the surrounding colonnaded porches and relevant surrounding areas, tracing references to Herod’s Temple in the New Testament. 3
As in the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple, a veil separated the holy place from the holy of holies. At the time of Christ’s crucifixion, God completely rent this veil. 4 This signalled free access into His presence, while at the same time exposing the absence of the Ark of the Covenant and the Shekinah glory. This glory, which had initially filled Solomon’s temple, 1 Kgs. 8. 10, 11, but later left it, Ezek. 10. 18, was never present in Herod’s holy of holies, although when at forty days of age Christ was presented to the Lord, the glory of the God of Israel had, in a sense, returned, Luke 2. 22.
Outside the veil, yet within the holy place and on the right side of the altar of incense, Gabriel appeared to Zacharias, 1. 8-21. Attached to the outside façade of the House were gold sheets that gleamed brightly. The Saviour referred to these when rebuking the Pharisees, ‘Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor’, Matt. 23. 16.
The Court of the Priests (1)
Immediately outside the House was the courtyard where priests daily sacrificed upon an altar of unhewn stones, Matt. 12. 5; Heb. 10. 11. The Pharisees wrongly assumed that this altar could be disassociated from its sacrifices, Matt. 23. 18. During the Feast of Tabernacles, Sukkot, when the morning sacrifice was being prepared, a priest brought water in a golden pitcher from the Pool of Siloam. Having passed through the Water Gate (2) to the sound of three trumpet blasts, the priest poured this water into a silver basin which channelled it downwards to the base of the altar. It was during the Feast of Tabernacles, ‘in the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink’, John 7. 37. As a baby, Christ may have been presented to the Lord at The Gate of Firstlings (3), Lev. 12; Luke 2. 22-24.
The Court of the Women (4)
Two steps downward from The Court of the Priests was a 16½ foot, narrow strip called The Court of Israel. This led to the Nicanor Gate (5), beyond which was a fifteen-step staircase to The Court of the Women. During the Feast of Tabernacles, Levites stood on these fifteen steps, singing the fifteen psalms of degrees,
Pss. 120-134. Jewish men and ritually clean Jewish women were permitted to enter The Court of the Women. At its four corners were four chambers, one of which was The Chamber of Lepers (6). When the Lord Jesus told a healed leper to show himself to the priest, the current policy, never having been enacted, was to wash in The Chamber of Lepers and then stand before The Nicanor Gate. 5
The walls of The Court of the Women had a colonnaded covered area within which were thirteen trumpet-shaped money chests; this was The Treasury. The Saviour probably alluded to the shape of these receptacles when He said, ‘Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men’, Matt. 6 .2. Into one of these chests the poor widow cast her two mites, Mark 12. 41-44; Luke 21. 1-4. Into another Mary placed the monetary value of two turtle doves, 2. 22, 24. It was during this visit to the temple, probably in The Court of the Women, that Simeon held Christ, and Anna prayed and spoke about Him, vv. 25-33, 36-38. The Court of the Women also contained four enormous candelabras. Standing there during the Feast of Tabernacles, the Saviour exclaimed, ‘I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life’, John 8. 12, 20. He was obviously comparing Himself to these great light sources.
The Court of the Gentiles (7)
The eastern entrance to The Court of the Women was The Beautiful Gate (8), where Peter and John healed the lame man, Acts 3. 2. This large brazen gate, which took twenty men to open and close, secured the temple from intruders. After descending a fourteen-step staircase there was a 4½-foot high marble balustrade (9), beyond which was The Court of the Gentiles. Gentiles were forbidden from crossing this partition towards the House. Paul probably had this barrier in mind when he wrote to the Ephesians that Christ ‘is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us’, Eph. 2. 14.
The Court of the Gentiles, with its variegated marble paving, was the largest area within the temple complex. It was here Jews and Gentiles freely mixed, the Lord Jesus delivered much of His teaching and, at the beginning and end of His public ministry, exposed the unashamed extortion of the money changers. 6, 7 Adjoining the north western corner of The Court of the Gentiles, and linked by a tunnel, was The Fort Antonia (10), named after Mark Antony, Herod’s Roman patron. The lack of military intervention on each occasion the Lord Jesus cleansed the temple, in contrast to the rapid response when Paul was apprehended as recorded in Acts chapter 21 verses 30 to 32, may indicate supernatural intervention.
Lining the Court of the Gentiles were colonnaded porticos, whose roofs were supported by massive Corinthian pillars. These porches became popular meeting places and it was probably in one of these covered areas that at the age of twelve, the Lord Jesus talked to the doctors, Luke 2. 46. Solomon’s Porch (11), ‘the only remnant of the Temple built by the wise King of Israel’, stretched the entire length of the eastern side of The Court of the Gentiles. 8 It was as Christ walked in Solomon’s Porch, the Jews challenged Him, ‘How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly’, John 10. 23. Solomon’s Porch is also where the early Christians met, and the apostles performed confirmatory miracles. 9
The most impressive porch was The Royal Portico (12). Running most of the length of the southern wall, it may have been built on the site of Solomon’s stables, 1 Kgs. 4. 26. 10 At the far eastern end of its roof, which was supported by 162, 50-foot high columns, there was a 450-foot drop to the Kedron Valley below. This may have been the wing of the temple from which Satan tempted the Son of God to cast Himself, Matt. 4. 5; Luke 4. 9. The pool of Bethesda (13), where the Lord Jesus healed the impotent man, lay by the sheep gate just beyond the northern end of the temple complex, John 5. 2, 14.
2 Matt. 23. 38; 24. 1, 2; Mark 13. 1-4; Luke 21. 5, 6; John 2. 19-21; Col. 2. 9.
3 Unless otherwise stated, historic details relating to the Temple and its Service are from A. Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, Updated Edition, Hendrickson Publishers, 1994.
4 Matt. 27. 51; Mark 15. 38; Luke 23. 45.
5 Matt. 8. 4; Mark 1. 44; Luke 5. 14.
6 Matt. 21. 23; 26. 55; Mark 11. 27; 14. 49; Luke 19. 47; 20. 1; 21. 37, 38; 22. 52, 53; John 18. 20.
7 Matt. 21. 12-16; Mark 11. 11, 15-18; Luke 19. 45, 46; John 2. 13-22.
8 A. Edersheim, op. cit., pg. 22.
9 Luke 24. 53; Acts 2. 46; 5. 12-18.
10 A. Edersheim, op. cit., pg. 21.