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Temple of Jerusalem


The Temple of Jerusalem was the only place of sacrifice for the Israelites. It was the last resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. David acquired the land and materials for it. However, God allowed his son Solomon to construct the Temple in the tenth century B.C.


King Solomon built the first temple in 950 B.C. (1 Kgs 6:1). Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, destroyed it in 586 B.C. (2 Ks 24-25, 2 Chr 36). After the Babylonian exile, Cyrus II who conquered Babylonia, issued an order in 538 B.C., allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their Temple. Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, built the second Temple with the decree from the then Persian King Darius. The construction started in 536 B.C. and took twenty-one years to complete. Its dedication was in 515 B.C. (Ezr 6:15-18). It was also known as Zerubbabel’s Temple or the Second Temple.

The older Jews who could recollect the First Temple were disappointed at the dedication of the Second Temple. Compared to Solomon’s Temple, the new one was ninety feet less and had fewer resources. The most precious and holy items, like the Ark of the Covenant and God’s glorious presence or Shekinah cloud, were missing.

King Herod the Great rebuilt the Second Temple, enlarging it and making it magnificent, like that of Solomon’s Temple. The construction of the Temple started before the incarnation of Jesus in 19 B.C. and continued even after his resurrection until A.D. 63 without interruption to the sacrifices. Though King Herod the Great could complete the major portion of the Temple before his death in 4 B.C., the construction of the Temple continued. According to Jewish historian Josephus, 10,000 skilled laborers were at work. Since only priests could enter the holy places, 1,000 Levites, who were specially trained as builders and masons, worked in the Holy Place. Wealthy Jews in diaspora contributed costly offering to beautify the Temple. Jesus prayed and preached at this Temple. The Romans destroyed this Temple in 70 A.D.


The temple of Jerusalem had different sections. The most sacred place was the Holy of Holies, a dark place where only the high priest entered once a year on the feast day of atonement with a lamp to incense. This was the location of the Ark of the Covenant in the first temple Solomon built. However, the Prophet Jeremiah had removed it before the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians (2 Macc 2:4-8). No one could recover the Ark for the second temple Ezra built, or the third temple reconstructed by King Herod the Great.

The next section after the Holy of Holies was the Holy Place. At the entrance of the Holy of Holies within the Holy Place was the golden altar of incense, where priests burned the incense daily before the morning sacrifice and after the evening sacrifice. Only priests entered the Holy Place where there were also the menorah lamps and the table of showbread on which there were twelve pieces of bread representing the twelve tribes of Israel. The priests replaced the bread with fresh ones on every sabbath. Ordinary people would pray outside the entrance of the Holy Place, waiting for the priest to come and bless them. They could not see what was happening inside the Holy Place of the temple because of the veil that was separating them from the Holy Place. It was in the Holy Place that the Angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah while he was incensing the altar.

Another section was the Court of Israel, where the Jewish men would gather for prayer. Next to it was the Court of the Women, where Jewish women used to pray. Then was the Court of the Gentiles, where the non-Jews could come to pray.


The “treasury” in the temple was trumpet-shaped brazen chests in the court of the women for offerings. They were thirteen, each with an inscription on the purpose of the offering. People gathered there to deposit the offering. The menorahs were lighted there.


The cleansing of the Temple by Jesus was an unusual physical protest of Jesus against the Jewish authorities for defiling the Temple. This is a reminder of the Maccabean Revolt from 167 to 160 B.C. led by the Maccabees against the misuse of the temple by Seleucid rulers and the corrupt Jewish priests under the Hellenistic influence. After victory over the Seleucid rulers and Hellenized Jews by rebellion and guerrilla wars against worship of Greek gods, the Maccabees entered Jerusalem in triumph and cleansed the Temple and reestablished the traditional Jewish worship.

Cleansing of the Temple by Jesus was also a revolt against the Jewish religious leaders who desecrated the premises of the Holy Temple for allowing trade at the Court of the Gentiles and financially exploiting the pilgrims. Like the priests during the Maccabean revolt were corrupted by bribery given to Seleucid rulers for their position, the clergy during Jesus’ public ministry were dishonest and unjust by bribery given to the Roman authorities. They also received bribery for the unjust merchants in the Temple. That made Jesus furious, and he took strong action against them.


(1) The shift of merchandise from the Mount of Olives to the place of prayer for gentiles, making it a noisy and congested place.

(2) Exploitation of merchants with the cooperation of the high priests who were charging a high margin for the exchange of money.

(3) Merchants exploiting pilgrims by charging high price for sacrificial animals and birds.

(4) Priests unreasonably rejecting animals that the pilgrims brought from outside for sacrifice to favor the animal salespersons in the temple.

So, the genuine spirit of prayer and selfless service lacked that made Jesus furious and function as a rebellious leader.


Out of the four courts in the Temple of Jerusalem, the outer court of the gentiles was the only space in the Temple where the non-Jews could enter and pray. They had no admission in any of the inner courts and anyone violating it was put to death (Acts 21:27-32). All kinds of business and exploitation related to temple worship and offerings were taking place in the Court of Gentiles. So, that place of worship became unfit for the intended purpose. Formerly, the money exchange and sales of animals for sacrifice were taking place on the Mount of Olives. Later, the merchants bribed the temple authorities and shifted their business to the Court of Gentiles, making it unholy, noisy, and unjust.

Animal Sales at the Temple

The business at the Court of Gentiles was not for selling and buying of general merchandise but a necessary service for the pilgrims coming for the feast of Passover from different countries around the world. They usually offer five kinds of sacrifices: the burned offering, the meal offering, the peace offering, the sin offering, and the trespass offering. The description of these offerings is in Leviticus chapters 1 to 7.

The pilgrims coming from faraway places found it convenient to buy sacrificial animals or doves somewhere near the temple area. They were buying animals and birds for sacrifice and exchanging foreign currency to the acceptable temple money. Bible scholars believe that such business started in the temple area after the return of Jews from Babylonian captivity. By that time, the Israelites were dispersed and came to the Temple from foreign countries. So, availability of sacrificial items near the temple was a blessing for the pilgrims, provided the merchants did it justly and without disturbance to the temple worship.

Money Changers at the Temple

Adult pilgrims were supposed to offer half a shekel for the service of the temple. “Everyone who is enrolled, of twenty years or more, must give the contribution to the LORD. The rich need not give more, nor shall the poor give less, than a half-shekel in this contribution to the LORD to pay the ransom for their lives” (Ex 30:14-15). Coins with images were unacceptable for the offering in the Temple. Pilgrims were coming from different countries with Syrian, Egyptian, or Greek coins. Such coins had symbols or images of pagan monarchs. So, they were not acceptable to the Temple treasury. The pilgrims had to exchange them for acceptable coins. Though it could be a service, great exploitation of the pilgrims was taking place by charging an enormous amount as an exchange fee.

Jesus could not tolerate that exploitation and acted against the money changers. “He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace” (Jn 2:15-16).


After Jesus cleansed the Temple, the Jews questioned him, saying, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” (Jn 2:18). Jesus’ reply was: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2:19). The Jews and even the disciples could not grasp what Jesus meant when he said about the destruction and rebuilding of the Temple in three days. The Jews were taking in a physical sense on the Temple reconstructed by King Herod the Great. So they said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” (Jn 2:20).

During the public ministry of Jesus, the construction was still going on. The phrase Jesus used for “raise up” could mean either reconstructing a building or raising from the dead. The evangelist reports: “But he was speaking about the temple of his body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the scripture and the word Jesus had spoken” (Jn 2:21-22).


During the Old Testament times, God dwelt among the people in the Temple. The destruction of the Temple happened when the people committed sin and went after other gods. In the New Testament, those who received baptism are the dwelling places of God. Paul asks: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy” (1 Cor 3:16-17).


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