History of the Jewish Temple

 Tabernacle of Moses

The history of the Jewish Temple is as old as the wandering days of the Israel in the desert. Israelites were marching from Egyptian slavery towards freedom and the land of Canaan. On the way, Moses went up the Mount Sinai to meet God. The incident is recorded in Exodus 25. On the Mount Sinai, Moses received the two Tables of the Law. He also received instructions to construct the Tabernacle. Chapters 35 to 40 of the same book record the execution of the work and at its completion.

Tabernacle is called in Hebrew Mishkan, meaning “dwelling”. The Tabernacle of Moses was a simple tent within which, God manifested his presence and communicated his will. It was considered to be the earthly dwelling place of God; a visible emblem of God's presence in the midst of Israel. It represented God's throne on the earth and typified God dwelling in His people. Wherever the people went, the Tabernacle went with them. It was dismantled as they moved and re-erected at the new camp.

The Moses’ Temple had an area about 150 feet long and 75 feet wide. There was a curtain around this area made with fine linen. This was an open area like a football court. It was called the outer court. The Tabernacle itself stood at the West end of the court and was a wooden structure 45 feet long and 15 feet wide. This structure was divided into two parts by a heavy curtain. The bigger part at the west end was 30 feet long and 15 feet wide. It is called the Holy place. It contained three golden articles of furniture. "The table of showbread," "the golden candlestick," and "the golden altar" of incense.

The smaller part was 15 feet long and 15 feet wide. It was "the holy of holies". It contained only "the ark of the covenant." It was a box about four feet long, covered by gold, inside and outside. The top gold lid was the “mercy seat”. There were the two solid gold figures of winged cherubim on the top lid. Once in every year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest sprinkled the blood of a sacrificed animal, on the "mercy seat”. This was the place where the High Priest met with God. Hebrews 9:4 states that the Ark contained "the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant." The glory of the Lord would be the only light in the room.

As we said before, the surrounding area is the outer court. It mainly spread at the east side of the Tabernacle. There are some area at the back and the two sides of the Tabernacle. Within the outer court there were the great "bronze altar of burnt offering" (Exodus 27) used for sacrifices and offerings, and the "bronze laver" (Exodus 30) used for the cleansing and purifications of the priests.

The Tabernacle in the Promised Land

After the 40 years of wandering in the desert, Israelites reached the Promised Land and erected the Tabernacle in a place called Gilgal (Joshua 4: 19-20). It became the center for meetings of the tribes.

The Tabernacle remained at Gilgal about seven years. Then it was moved to the territory of the tribe of Ephraim. They named the place where the tabernacle was erected as Shiloh. (Joshua 18.1). Here the Tabernacle remained for about 350 years, until the disastrous time of Eli the High Priest in the days of Samuel.

During the time of the Eli, the High Priest, the warriors of Israel decided to take the sacred Ark of the Covenant into the battle against the Philistines. They thought that that God would never allow it to fall into the hands of the uncircumcised and so victory would be assured. But God was angry at this act of sacrilege. In the war, the Philistines captured the Ark and the Israelites were defeated. When the news of the Ark’s capture was brought to him, the High Priest Eli fell off his seat and died. (I Samuel 4). Philistines came to Shiloh and destroyed it thoroughly and it never recovered. Shiloh was erased from the face of the earth.

But it is believed that the Tabernacle escaped. Before the Philistines reached Shiloh, Samuel the prophet and those with him succeeded in dismantling the structure and transporting it out of harm. Later Samuel re-erected the Tabernacle on its original site at Gilgal. But the Ark of Covenant was missing. Here it remained for about fifty years into the reign of Saul. Because of the absence of the Ark, the Day of Atonement rituals could not be performed.

The Philistines took the Ark to Ashdod, their capital city. Then they moved it to some other places like Gath and Ekron in their country. But wherever the Ark was kept, the inhabitants were struck with plague. So after seven months, the Philistines decided to send the Ark back to the Israelites, accompanied it with expensive gifts. Levites received the ark at Beth Shemesh. (1 Samuel 6:15). From there the Ark was transported to Kiryat Yearim, where it remained for twenty years.

During the reign of King Saul, he moved the Tabernacle, without the Ark, from Gilgal to his own home town of Gibeon (1 Samuel 22.9‑23). This is an inference. Later on, when David became king of Israel, the Tabernacle, without the Ark, was at Gibeon. Here it stood throughout the reign of David and until the accession of Solomon (1 Kings 3.4; 2 Chron.1.3-15).

King David decided to move the Ark from Kiryat Yearim to Jerusalem. However, on the way the Ark was left at the home of Obed-edom the Gittite. Three months later, about the twelfth year of his reign, David moved it to Jerusalem, the capital city of his kingdom.

To keep the Ark, David erected a structure there. It was a replica of the Tabernacle at Gibeon. But the Tabernacle at Gibeon continued to be there without the Ark of the Covenant. Thus for another thirty years there were two Tabernacles in Israel, and two High Priests.

The Ark remained in the Tabernacle of David until the construction of the First Temple by David's son Solomon (I Samuel 5-6). The Temple was completed and dedicated in the fourth year of his reign. King Solomon unified the Tabernacles at Gibeon and that erected by David and brought the Ark into the new temple.

The First Temple

Thus after 500 years of its first construction in the desert, the first permanent Temple was built at Jerusalem by King Solomon. It replaced the Tabernacle of Moses. The temple was situated on Mount Moriah, which is also called the Temple Mount. Abraham built the altar on which to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mount Moriah. And later David erected a sacrificial altar after purchasing a former threshing floor from Araunah the Jebusite on the same site.

Historically, the first temple period starts from 1200 BC and continued to 586 BC. In 1000 B.C., King David conquered Jerusalem and made it the capital of the Jewish kingdom. After that, David wanted to build the great Temple as a permanent resting place for the Ark of the Covenant. But God forbade him to build the Temple, because David was a warrior and had shed the blood of humans. (I Chronicles 28:3). Before his death, King David provided materials in great abundance for the building of the Temple. (1 Chronicles 22:14; 29:4; 2 Chronicles 3:1). King Solomon prepared additional materials for the building. Thus David’s son, Solomon, built the first holy Temple about 40 years later. The construction was completed in 957 BC.

The Temple was the national center of Israelite religious, cultural and intellectual life. Its architecture and rich furnishings, golden carvings and decorations are described elaborately in the Old Testament of the Bible. The legendary Ark of the Covenant was the most famous artifact in Solomon's Temple. During the time of Solomon, Judah and Israel or Samaria were one nation. The Temple was declared as the only legitimate place for sacrificial offering to God in the Kingdom. It stood as a national religious symbol for more than 400 years. The Temple was called in Hebrew, Beit haMikdash.

The building is described as 60 cubits (27 meters) long, 20 cubits (9 meters) wide, and 25 or 30 cubits high. The First Temple was built as an abode for the Ark and as a place of assembly for the entire people. The building itself, therefore, was not large, but the courtyard was extensive. The Temple building faced eastward. It was oblong and consisted of three rooms of equal width: the porch, or vestibule (ʾulam); the main room of religious service, or Holy Place (hekhal); and the Holy of Holies (devir), the sacred room in which the Ark rested. A storehouse (yaẓiʿa) surrounded the Temple except on its front (east) side.

It took seven and a half years to complete the construction. Finally in the eleventh year of his reign, Solomon's Temple was completed. The dedication of the Temple did not take place for several additional years. Then, the Ark of the Covenant was solemnly brought from the tent in which David had deposited it, to the place prepared in the Holy of Holies.

When the Temple was completed, Solomon inaugurated it with prayer and sacrifice, and even invited non-Jews to come and pray there.It is said that Solomon ascended a platform and, lifting up his hands to heaven, poured out his heart to God in one of the Bible's most memorable prayers (1 Kings 8; 2 Chronicles 6-7). He urged God to pay particular heed to their prayers:

I Kings 8:43 "hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, that all peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this temple which I have built is called by Your name. (NKJV)

The huge Feast of Dedication, which lasted seven days, marked a new era in the history of Israel.

King Solomon died between 926 and 922 BC. After his death, during the reign of his son, Rehoboam, the kingdom split into two. The northern kingdom retained the name Israel and the southern kingdom was called Judah. The Israelites formed their capital in the city of Samaria, and the Judeans kept their capital in Jerusalem. These Kingdoms remained for over 200 years. But the Assyrians conquered Israel in 722 BC. The ten tribes lived there were taken into their kingdom and were scattered throughout the nation. Thus the ten tribes disappeared from the history.

The Kingdom of Judah barely escaped the Assyrian conquest, but when the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians in 605 BC, Judah became a tribute state to Babylon. Finally Babylon conquered Judah in 586 BC. Thus ended the Hebrew kingdom, which was started with such promise and glory by David. And it did not reappear before the 2 century BC.

The Temple was plundered by the Babylonian Empire king Nebuchadnezzar II more than once, in 604 BC, 598 BC and 597 BC (2 Kings 24:13). The Babylonians destroyed the Temple totally in 587 or 586 BC, four hundred years after its completion. And the Jews went into exile to Babylon.

The Second Temple

Later the Babylonian empire was conquered by Cyrus II, founder of the Achaemenian dynasty of Persia. In 538 BC, about 50 years after the destruction of the first Temple by the Babylonians, the Persian King Cyrus proclaimed a decree permitting the Jews living in exile, to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. Some 50,000 Jews returned to Israel led by Zerubbabel, a descendant of the House of David. Less than a century later, the second return was led by Ezra the Scribe and Nehemiah. They rebuilt the Temple in stages and completed by 515 BC. It was a modest version of the original building. But the Ark of Covenant was lost. The Ark was mysteriously disappeared. No trace of it is available even to this day.

Alexander the Great took control of Jerusalem in 332 B.C. After the death of Alexander, the Macedonian Empire or the Greek empire was divided mainly into three. The Judah came under the Syrian based Seleucid rulers. In the early days under them, the Jews enjoyed their theocratic freedom. But in 175 B.C Antiochus IV Epiphanes ascended to the throne and followed a policy of Hellenization. Religious observances of Sabbath and circumcision were outlawed, and a statue of Zeus was erected in the temple and Jews were commanded to offer sacrifices to it. So in 167 B.C the Jews rose up against Seleucid authority and they purified the Temple in 164 BC. It is known as the Hasmonean revolt. Judah Maccabee re-dedicated the temple. The Jews celebrate this event to this day as the central theme of the festival of Hannukah.

Seleucid kingdom collapsed in 129 BC and the Jews became independent. Hasmonean dynasty in Judah lasted for about 80 years, from 142-63 BCE. The kingdom regained boundaries not far short of Solomon’s realm, political consolidation under Jewish rule was attained and Jewish life flourished.

Romans came to Judah in 63 BC and ruled over till 324 AD. And Pompey, the Roman general, entered into the Holy of Holies and thus desecrated it. But he left the Temple intact. In 54 BC Crassus, another Roman general, plundered the Temple treasury.

Herod’s Temple

The time of the Second Temple is divided into three different periods: the Persian period (586-332 BC); the Hellenistic period (332-63 BC); and the Roman period (63 BC-AD 324).

In first century BC, during the Roman period King Herod was appointed as head of the province of Judea. In 37 BC, King Herod enlarged the Temple Mount and rebuilt the Second Temple with the consent of the public. This Temple project was begun in about 20 BC. It took 80 years to complete the whole works. It was entirely finished in 63 AD only. It was destroyed by the Romans after 7 years in AD 70.

By custom, Herod's Temple is not called the "Third Temple" because the second Temple existed at that time. The priesthood, animal sacrifices and other ceremonials continued without interruption during the entire reconstruction project. Herod’s Temple is the second Temple, enlarged and beatified.

The Herodian Temple was again the centre of Israelite life. It was the focus of religious rituals.  Holy Scriptures and other national literature were kept safe in the Temple. It also functioned as the meeting place of the Sanhedrin, the highest court of Jewish law.

The Second Temple, however, met the same fate as the first. It was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70, by Roman troops under General Titus, following the failure of the Great Jewish Revolt. Jesus was crucified about 40 years before the destruction of the city.

After the death of Herod in 4 BC, Judea came under direct Roman administration. Jews were angry against the Roman suppression of Jewish life and conducted sporadic violence. The rebellion escalated into a full-scale revolt in 66 CE. So Rome sent forces led by Titus to suppress the revolt. In AD 70 they defeated the Jewish revolt and set fire to the Temple. In AD 73, they defeated the last Jewish outpost at Masada. The Romans unleashed huge persecution over Jews, scattering them to different nations. But not all Jews fled from the land.

The destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple was catastrophic for the Jewish people. They were disappointed at the fate of their warriors who fought for the freedom of their Promised Land. But the religious crisis was even worse. God’s own sanctuary, the symbol of the unbroken covenant of Israel and God, was destroyed. It seemed that, the relationship of Jews with their God is broken for ever. It is felt that God had rejected the covenant with Israel?

But without a state and the Temple, the small remaining Jewish community gradually recovered. They were strengthened from time to time by others returning from exiles. Institutional and communal life was renewed, priests were replaced by rabbis and the synagogue became the focus of the Jewish communities. Halakhah, the Jewish religious law, served as the common bond among the Jews and was passed on from generation to generation.

Thus the second temple lasted for a total of 585 years, from 516 BC to 70 AD. The Temple Mount platform still exists and currently supports the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosques. They are two sacred places for Muslims. The "Wailing Wall," is the sacred place for the Jews. It is the only remains of the Western wall surrounding the Temple Mount. And to this day, traditional Jews pray three times a day for the Temple's restoration.

The two major remaining sects among the Jews, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, wished to re-build the Temple. The Sadducees were particularly unable to envision Judaism without a Temple. So in between 132-135 AD the remaining population of Judea again revolted. The revolt was led by Simon Bar Kochba. But again the Romans defeated the revolt. The Roman government banned the Jews from Jerusalem. Many scattered into other provinces and nations. The remaining population of Judea was deported. With this defeat, hopes for an immediate restoration of the Temple were set back indefinitely.

Historians say that, after the destruction of the Jewish Temple, a Roman temple was built on the site. But, later it was abandoned. In 636 or 637, Rashidun Caliphate, a Muslim regime captured Jerusalem from the Byzantine Empire or the Eastern Roman Empire. In 685 Umayyad caliph, built the Dome of Rock on the Temple Mount. The Dome of Rock was not intended as a mosque but as a monument. The Muslims believe that the great Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from the Temple Mount. Thus the Temple Mount, the site of the Jewish Temple went under the control of Muslim regimes. The fourth Caliphate, the Ottoman Empire ruled Jerusalem from about 1516 to 1917. 

Rebuilding of the Third Temple

As I said before, the Second Temple, modified by King Herod was destroyed totally by the Romans in AD 70. After that the Jews have been praying, thrice daily, for the rebuilding of the Temple. But there are different opinions about the rebuilding of the Temple among Jews themselves. Some even doubt whether it is necessary to rebuild the Temple at all. Traditionally the orthodox Jews believe that the Temple will be rebuild and animal sacrifices according to the Levitical rules would resume. There is another opinion that began with Maimonides, the medieval Jewish scholar. According to him, God has deliberately moved Jews away from sacrifices toward prayer. Prayer is a higher form of worship. Different groups of Jews maintain different opinions about the realization of the Third Temple.

Orthodox Judaism believes and prays that the Temple will be rebuilt and that the sacrificial services, will once again be practiced with the rebuilding of a Third Temple. But a few among them, believe that during the Messianic era, the Messiah will reign victorious and He will rebuild the Temple. He will restore the priesthood to the Temple, and the traditional sacrifices will be reinstated. So they need not rebuild the Temple themselves.

Conservative Judaism prays for the restoration of Temple, but does not pray for resumption of animal sacrifices. They believe that deeds of loving kindness now atone for their sins.

Reform Judaism does not call for any animal sacrifices or for the rebuilding of the Temple. However some new groups among them wish for a new Temple.

In fact, Israeli government is not in favor of rebuilding the Temple. Because the Muslims’ Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque are situated in the place where the Temple was once situated. It is not practical to dismantle the Muslim mosque or shrine for the construction of the Temple. It would create enormously hostile reaction from the Muslim countries.

Christians and the Third Temple

Though Christians have nothing to do with the reconstruction of the Temple, they have great concern about it. Evangelical Christian groups advocate constructing a Third Temple during these days. They believe that restoring the Temple is a precursor to the Second Coming of Christ. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant churches believe that animal sacrifices within the Temple were fore shadowing the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The death of Jesus was the shedding of innocent blood on the first day of Passover for an atonement for the sins of the world. So all kinds of animal sacrifices for the atonement of sin is cancelled forever.

Now we have a High Priest forever in Christ and there cannot be another High Priest at the same time. In the present New Covenant period, the Holy Spirit has been indwelling in the believer and thus every believer’s body and the gathering of believers comprise the Temple. So they see the need for a Third Temple as diminished, redundant, foreclosed and superseded.

Still there are another group of scholars who think that the reconstruction of the Temple has a significance in Christian eschatology. The basic principle is the two covenants, the Mosaic and the New Covenants, are still in existence. Irenaeus and Hippolytus and early church writers saw the reconstruction as a sign of the imminent reign of the Antichrist. Some interpret a passage in the Book of Daniel 12:11, as a prophecy that the end of this age will occur shortly after sacrifices are ended in the newly rebuilt temple.


Daniel 12:11 "And from the time that the daily sacrifice is taken away, and the abomination of desolation is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days. (NKJV)


They believe that the New Testament prophecies associated with the Jewish Temple such as Matthew 24 and 25, 2 Thessalonians 2 were only partially fulfilled in the Roman destruction of the Temple. These prophecies refer to a future Third Temple.


Dispensationalists believe that Jews remain God's chosen people. According to them, the Third Temple will be rebuilt when the Antichrist secures a peace treaty between the modern nation of Israel and its neighbors following a global war. They often identify Antichrist as a political leader having global influence. The Antichrist will later proclaim himself as God and the Jewish Messiah. He may demand the whole humanity to worship him. So they believe that temple will be rebuilt only in the times of the Antichrist.

The Temple Institute

The Temple Institute and the Temple Mount Eretz Yisrael Faithful Movement are two main organizations that aims to build a Third Temple on the Temple Mount on Mount Moriah. Since 1987 the Temple Movement began preparations for the rebuilding of the Third Temple. The Temple Movement leaders believe that the Jewish people are not living on the spiritual level God intended because of the absence of the Shekinah or the Divine Presence.


As I said before, today, two Muslim holy buildings are situated on the Temple Mount, the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. It is believed by the orthodox Jews that Solomon’s Temple once stood where now the Dome of Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque is situated. So no Jewish Temple can be built there without dismantling these buildings. But almost all the nations in the world do not agree to any construction on the Temple Mount. So to avoid communal riots, at present, Jews are banned by Israeli law from praying at the site of the destructed Temple. And the Islamic authorities officially deny that a Temple ever existed at the site.


However, archaeologists have discovered that the site of the Al-Aqsa mosque was once a place for Jewish ritual preparation for entering the Temple. The British archaeologist Robert Hamilton has gathered some proofs for the remains of a Jewish miqveh (ritual pool used for purification) beneath the floor of the mosque. It is dated to the time of the Second Temple. These evidences are kept as secret by the British government. It is sufficient proof that Solomon’s Temple stood on the Temple Mount.


It is reported that the Sanhedrin which is the apex Jewish legal body, has started some preparations for the reconstruction and Temple service. One project of the group has been the planting of the Biblical Temple forest which will serve the agricultural needs of the Third Temple. Rabbi Richman, a member of the Sanhedrin, has been heading a project to restore the sacred Red Heifer to Israel. According to Numbers 19, Levites cannot perform any service in the Temple without purifying themselves with water mixed with ashes of a burned sacrificed Red Heifer. In between the First and Second Temples, for about 1,000 years, only nine Red Heifers were sacrificed. According to Jewish traditional beliefs, the tenth one will be sacrificed by or for the Messiah.


Again it is reported that the Sanhedrin and the Temple Movement used to practice the Temple ceremonies for training the priestly class. This training involves learning the duties of the priests, the use of ritual vessels in the Third Temple and practice on a newly constructed altar of burnt offering.


Another recent rediscovery of the Temple Institute has been the production of the biblical crimson. This dye was used in the garments of the High Priest and the massive curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place in the Temple. It is claimed that the eggs of the tola’at shani (crimson worm) found in modern Israel would produce the particular crimson dye. They have prepared detailed architectural plans and necessary equipment like, lyres, horns, an altar, priestly garments, a menorah, a washbasin etc. The knives for animal sacrifice have been sharpened. The priests trained.  The artifacts they’ve fashioned are impressively faithful to history.


They are also aware that a political solution to the crisis about the Temple Mount must happen before they could reconstruct the Temple. They prefer a political and not a legal action. And some Christian Biblical scholars believe that the Antichrist will one day make a deceptive covenant with the Jewish leaders, leading to the rebuilding of the Third Temple.


Why not a third temple

There are many among the Jews who do not stand for a Third Temple. The orthodox Jews believes that no Temple must be rebuilt during our time. The Jewish Messiah should come first and regain and unite the Israel Kingdom. His kingship is the Messianic Age. He will rebuild the Temple during his kingship. Another argument is that it is immoral and impossible to dismantle the Muslim shrine and mosque which are now at the Temple Mount. The Sanhedrin have certain doubts about the exact dimensions of the Sanctuary. The Old Testament “cubit” may not be equivalent to any modern measurements. Only a prophet like Messiah would be able to interpret the measurements into modern units.

Also there are different opinions about the exact place of the original Temple. Some scholars consider the place where the Muslim’s Dome of the Rock is situated now as the actual place of the Second Temple. But some others disagree with this. They argue that the Temple was located either north of the Dome of the Rock, or about 200 meters south of it, with access to the Gihon fresh water spring. Some others have the opinion that the second Temple stood somewhere in between the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque. However, many religious Jews today do not support the idea of a new Temple. They accept the present political situation of the Temple Mount that is occupied by the Muslims.


It is exciting to see these developments unfold in the Land of Israel regarding the building of a Third Temple as we eagerly watch for the second coming of our Messiah!

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