The Temple in Jerusalem or Holy Temple (Hebrew: בֵּית־הַמִּקְדָּשׁ) was one of a series of structures which were historically located at the current site of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. These successive temples functioned as the centre of ancient Israelite and later Jewish worship. The Jews believed the Temple acted as the figurative “footstool” of God’s presence on earth. Also, it was believed that a Third Temple will be built in that location in the future.
When the Israelites wandered in the desert, they had a portable sanctuary – The Tabernacle (Hebrew: משכן, mishkan, “residence” or “dwelling place”) for the divine presence. Moses built it according to the specifications revealed to him by God (Yahweh) at Mount Sinai. The Tabernacle accompanied the Israelites on their wanderings in the wilderness, from the time of the Exodus from Egypt through the conquering of the Promised Land of Canaan. It housed the Ark of the Covenant which was eventually placed in the First Temple in Jerusalem.
King David, after unifying all Israel, brought the Ark of the Covenant to his new capital, Jerusalem, intending to build there a temple to house the Ark in a permanent place. David purchased a threshing-floor for the site of the Temple.
The Oracle of Nathan – 2 Samuel 7:1-17
After the king [David] had taken up residence in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from his enemies on every side, the king said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent!”
Nathan answered the king, “Whatever is in your heart, go and do, for the LORD is with you.”
But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan: Go and tell David my servant, Thus says the LORD: Is it you who would build me a house to dwell in?
I have never dwelt in a house from the day I brought Israel up from Egypt to this day, but I have been going about in a tent or a tabernacle.
As long as I have wandered about among the Israelites, did I ever say a word to any of the judges whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel: Why have you not built me a house of cedar?
Now then, speak thus to my servant David, Thus says the LORD of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the flock, to become ruler over my people Israel.
I was with you wherever you went, and I cut down all your enemies before you. And I will make your name like that of the greatest on earth.
I will assign a place for my people Israel and I will plant them in it to dwell there; they will never again be disturbed, nor shall the wicked ever again oppress them, as they did at the beginning, and from the day when I appointed judges over my people Israel. I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD also declares to you that the LORD will make a house for you: when your days have been completed and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, sprung from your loins, and I will establish his kingdom.
He it is who shall build a house for my name, and I will establish his royal throne forever.
I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. If he does wrong, I will reprove him with a human rod and with human punishments; but I will not withdraw my favor from him as I withdrew it from Saul who was before you.
Your house and your kingdom are firm forever before me; your throne shall be firmly established forever.
In accordance with all these words and this whole vision Nathan spoke to David.
But King David was a man of war and Yahweh told him that he would not be permitted to build a temple but promised that his son Solomon would build it.
After David’s death his son Solomon built the Temple. He followed the plan revealed to Moses by God, incorporating all the elements of the Tabernacle. However, the Book of Chronicles says:
All this he wrote down, by the hand of the LORD, to make him understand it—the working out of the whole design. (1 Chronicles 28:19)
that the LORD himself gave the plans for the temple to David and he wrote them down “under the hand of the LORD.”
1 Kings Chapters 6 to 8 describe the construction and dedication of the Temple under Solomon.
So, according to The Bible, the First Temple was built in c. 957 BCE by King Solomon who is believed to have reigned between c. 970 to c. 930 BCE. This solid Temple in Jerusalem superseded the portable Tabernacle as the dwelling-place of God among the Israelites. The Temple replaced the portable sanctuary constructed in the Sinai Desert under the auspices of Moses, as well as local sanctuaries and altars in the hills, as the sole place of Jewish sacrifice.
This temple was however sacked a few decades later by Sheshonk I, Pharaoh of Egypt.
From time to time, efforts were made at partial reconstruction of the Temple.
In 835 BCE Jehoash, King of Judah in the second year of his reign invested considerable sums of his wealth in reconstruction. But his efforts were thwarted c700 BCE by Sennacherib, King of Assyria in c700 BCE.
The First Temple was totally destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE when they sacked the city of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation was exiled to Babylon.
There is no further mention of the Tabernacle after this destruction.
The Second Temple
The Second Temple replaced the First Temple which was destroyed in 586 BCE, when the Jewish nation was exiled to Babylon. It stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem between 516 BCE and 70 CE and was an important Jewish shrine.
In 538 BCE, when Cyrus the Great of Persia allowed the Jews to return to their homeland and re-establish Jerusalem, the rebuilding of the Temple became possible. We read in Ezra and 2 Chronicles as follows:
The Decree of Cyrus – Ezra 1:1-4
In the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia to issue a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom, both by word of mouth and in writing:
“Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia: ‘All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD, the God of heaven, has given to me, and he has charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.
Those among you who belong to any part of his people, may their God be with them! Let them go up to Jerusalem in Judah to build the house of the LORD the God of Israel, that is, the God who is in Jerusalem.
Let all those who have survived, in whatever place they may have lived, be assisted by the people of that place with silver, gold, goods, and livestock, together with voluntary offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem.’”
Decree of Cyrus – 2 Chronicles 36:22-23
In the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia, in order to realize the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD roused the spirit of Cyrus, King of Persia, to spread this proclamation throughout his kingdom, both by word of mouth and in writing:
“Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given to me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has also charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. All among you, therefore, who belong to his people, may their God be with them; let them go up.”
Construction of the second Temple started at the original site of Solomon’s Temple, which had remained devastated during the approximately 70 years of captivity.
Seven years later, Cyrus the Great, died and was succeeded by his son Cambyses II.
Now for a slight diversion.
According to the traditional view based on the majority of ancient sources, such as Darius the Great’s Behistun inscription, as well as Herodotus, Justin, and Ctesias, although there are minor differences between them, Bardiya is the Persian name of Smerdis who possibly died in 522 BCE, and was a son of Cyrus the Great and the younger full or half-brother of Cambyses II.
According to Ctesias, on his deathbed, Cyrus appointed Bardiya as satrap (or governor) of some of the far eastern provinces.
According to Darius the Great, Cambyses II, after becoming king of Persia but before setting out for Egypt, killed Bardiya and kept this secret.
However, according to Herodotus who gives two detailed stories, Bardiya went to Egypt with Cambyses and was there for some time but later Cambyses sent him back to Susa out of envy, because “Bardiya alone could draw the bow brought from the Ethiopian king.” Herodotus then states that “Cambyses had a dream in which he saw his brother sitting on the royal throne. As a result of this dream Cambyses sent his trusted counselor Prexaspes from Egypt to Susa with the order to kill Smerdis” (i.e. Bardiya).
Since Bardiya’s death was not known to the people, in the spring of 522 BCE a usurper pretended to be him and proclaimed himself king on a mountain near the Persian town of Paishiyauvada. Darius claimed that the real name of the usurper was Gaumata, a Magian priest from Media. According to Herodotus, the name of the Magian usurper was Oropastes, but according to Ctesias, it was Sphendadates.
In Daniel, we read,
It was the first year that Darius, son of Ahasuerus, of the race of the Medes, reigned over the kingdom of the Chaldeans; in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years the LORD had decreed to the prophet Jeremiah: Jerusalem was to lie in ruins for seventy years. (Daniel 9:1-2)
In the second year of Darius’ rule, the work of rebuilding the temple was resumed and carried forward to its completion.
It was ready for consecration in the spring of 516 BCE, more than twenty years after the return from captivity. The Temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius, amid great rejoicings on the part of all the people although it was evident that the Jews were no longer an independent people, but were subject to a foreign power.
According to the biblical account, some of the original artifacts were lost after the destruction of the First Temple. And so, the Second Temple lacked the following holy articles:
The Second Temple also included many of the original vessels of gold that had been taken by the Babylonians but restored by Cyrus the Great. According to Jewish tradition, however, the Temple lacked the Shekinah / Ruach HaKodesh, the dwelling or settling divine presence of God, present in the first.
Around 19 BC, Herod the Great renovated the Temple of Jerusalem, which became known as Herod’s Temple.
The temple area that John writes of (John 2:14) is not the sanctuary, the holy of holies, that contained the tabernacle, but the Court of the Gentiles – a part of the nineteen acres of space that surrounded the sanctuary. This space was divided into four courts, and as one walked toward the sanctuary from the east, he had to pass successively through the following courts: Court of the Gentiles; Court of the women; Court of Israel; and finally the Court of the priests.
The Court of the Gentiles was primarily a bazaar, for the convenience of the people, with vendors selling sacrificial animals such oxen, sheep and doves, food, souvenirs, etc. Oxen and doves were abundantly needed for sacrificial purposes. Also, every family required a lamb to be eaten during the Passover, and so, the sheep were found in large flocks in the market. Also, as Passover was nearing, the number of vendors had increased.
There were money changers, exchanging Roman coins such as the aureus (gold), the denarius (silver), the sestertius (brass), the dupondius (brass), and the as (copper) for money from other regions outside the Roman Empire since the Romans did not allow Jews to coin their own money.
Guides that provided tours of the premises were also available since Jewish males had the unique opportunity to be shown inside the temple itself.
And there were the omnipresent priests, wearing white linen robes and tubular hats, directing pilgrims and advising them what kinds of sacrifices were to be offered.
All the evangelists have written about the cleansing of the Temple because they all concur on the one reason for Jesus’ fury – for Jesus, there was far too much commercialization in the Temple of worship whereby the Pharisees amassed wealth.