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A temple was a house for a god, a place where the god dwelt and was worshipped. This was so in the case of the false gods that Israel’s neighbours worshipped (1 Samuel 5:2; 1 Samuel 31:10; 1 Kings 16:32; 2 Kings 5:18), and in the case of the one and only true God whom Israel worshipped (Psalms 5:7; Psalms 134:1; Haggai 1:8-9; Matthew 12:4; John 2:16; cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19; Revelation 11:19).

However, the true God, who is the eternal one and the creator of all things, cannot be contained in a building. The Israelite temple, like the tabernacle before it, was only a symbol of God’s presence. It symbolized that he dwelt among his people (Exodus 25:8; 1 Kings 8:10-13; Acts 7:48-50). God’s original plan for such a dwelling place was the tabernacle, which, being a tent, was a movable shrine that could be set up anywhere. This demonstrated to the people that God was not limited to one locality. The people were to remember this when they built their permanent temple in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 7:5-7; Acts 7:44-46).

The site of the temple in Jerusalem was a piece of land that David had bought from a local farmer on the hill of Zion (Moriah) (2 Samuel 24:18; 2 Samuel 24:22-25; 2 Chronicles 3:1; Psalms 74:2; Psalms 78:68-69; cf. Genesis 22:2). Each of the later temples was built on the same site, on top of the ruins of the previous temple. All three temples were based on the plan of the tabernacle, though they were larger and they included additional features.

Solomon’s temple


Simply described, the temple built by Solomon was a rectangular stone building with a porch added to the front, and three storeys of storerooms added to the sides and rear (1 Kings 6:1-10). Two huge bronze pillars stood in front of the porch. They did not support the roof, but were purely ornamental (1 Kings 7:15-22). Entrance from the porch into the temple was through decorated folding doors (1 Kings 6:33-35). All stonework inside the building was covered with lavishly carved wood panelling, which in turn was overlaid with beaten gold (1 Kings 6:1-10; 1 Kings 6:15; 1 Kings 6:21-22; 1 Kings 6:29).

An internal partition divided the main temple into two rooms. The larger front room was called the nave or Holy Place, the smaller rear room the inner sanctuary or Most Holy Place. The front room had windows, but not the rear room. This rear room contained the gold-covered ark of the covenant (covenant box), which symbolized the presence of God, and two winged creatures of gold (cherubim), which were symbolic guardians of the ark (1 Kings 6:31-32; 2 Chronicles 3:14; see ARK; CHERUBIM). The front room contained two pieces of gold-covered furniture, the altar of incense and the table of ‘presence bread’. In addition there were ten golden lampstands, five on each of the two side walls (1 Kings 7:48-49; see LAMP).

In the open courtyard outside the building (1 Kings 6:36) stood a huge bronze altar of sacrifice (2 Chronicles 4:1). Also in the courtyard was a bronze laver, or tank, which held water for cleansing rites (1 Kings 7:23-26). There were also ten mobile lavers, each consisting of a bronze basin set in a trolley, the four sides of which were enclosed with decorative panels (1 Kings 7:27-39).

The wealth of the temple’s decorations and furnishings made it a target for enemy plunderers. At times the Judean kings themselves plundered it, usually to obtain funds to pay foreign overlords or invaders (1 Kings 14:25-26; 1 Kings 15:18; 2 Kings 16:8; 2 Kings 18:15). Some of Judah’s more ungodly kings brought idols and other articles of foreign religion into the temple, and even introduced heathen practices (2 Kings 16:10-18; 2 Kings 21:4; 2 Chronicles 25:14).


As a result of Judah’s unfaithfulness to God, the temple was frequently damaged or allowed to deteriorate. On a number of occasions godly kings repaired the temple and introduced reforms to restore it to its proper use (2 Kings 12:4-16; 2 Chronicles 29:3-11; 2 Chronicles 34:8-13). When the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 587 BC, they stripped everything of value from the temple, then smashed or burnt what remained and took the people into captivity (2 Kings 25:8-17; cf. Psalms 74:3-7).

Visions of Ezekiel

The captivity in Babylon would last no longer than seventy years, and the prophet Ezekiel wanted to prepare the people to return to their homeland. He therefore presented to them a plan for life in the rebuilt nation.

This plan, based on visions that Ezekiel saw, included a temple where God dwelt among his people in an ideal religious and political order. In this order the temple was not in the city, but in a large portion of land marked out for the priests (Ezekiel 45:1-4). The main building (the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place) was only one part of a huge complex of buildings, courtyards and various facilities for priests and worshippers (Ezekiel 40; Ezekiel 41; Ezekiel 42:1-14; Ezekiel 43:13-17; Ezekiel 46:19-24). Whatever symbolic value Ezekiel’s visions may have had, his ideal temple was never built.

Zerubbabel’s temple

When Persia conquered Babylon in 539 BC, the Persian king gave permission for the captive Jews to return to their land. Under the joint leadership of the governor Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua, those who returned promptly began to rebuild the temple. They soon set up the altar, and in the second year they laid the foundation of the temple, but when local people opposed the builders, the work stopped (Ezra 3:1-3; Ezra 3:8-10; Ezra 4:1-5; Ezra 4:24). For sixteen years nobody worked on the temple. When the prophets Haggai and Zechariah roused the people to action, work restarted and within four years the temple was finished (Ezra 5:1-2; Ezra 6:15).

Little is known about this temple. It was not as large or as splendid as the former temple (Ezra 6:3-5; Haggai 2:3; Zechariah 4:10), though like the former temple, it had storerooms for the people’s offerings (Nehemiah 13:4-9; Malachi 3:10).

The best known events connected with this temple occurred in the second century BC. The leader of the Syrian sector of the former Greek Empire, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, being violently opposed to the Jews, found an excuse to invade and defile the temple. He set up an idolatrous altar, then took animals that the Jews considered unclean and offered them as sacrifices to the Greek gods. This led to a Jewish uprising under the leadership of a group known as the Maccabees. After three years of fighting, the Jews regained religious freedom and rededicated the temple (165 BC).

A century later, when the Romans invaded Palestine, the Jews converted the temple into a fortress that was strong enough to withstand the enemy for three months. Finally, in 63 BC, the Romans destroyed it.

Herod’s temple


When Herod, who was not a genuine Jew, won Rome’s appointment as ‘king’ of Judea, he tried to win the Jews’ favour by building them a magnificent new temple. The main building took ten years to build and was finished about 9 BC, but builders were still working on the rest of the huge complex during the time of Jesus’ public ministry (John 2:20). They finished the project in AD 64.

The main building consisted of two rooms, the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place, divided by a curtain (Matthew 27:51). This building and its associated altar of burnt offering were set in a walled courtyard, which normally only the priests could enter (Luke 1:8-10).

Outside the Court of the Priests was another walled courtyard, known as the Court of Israel. Men could enter this courtyard, but not women. Beyond this was yet another walled courtyard, this one known as the Court of the Women, for it marked the limit beyond which women could not go. Entrance to this court was through the Beautiful gate (Acts 3:10), and inside the court were collection boxes for the temple offerings (Mark 12:41-44). No Gentiles were allowed into any of these courts, and any who attempted to do so risked death (Acts 21:28-31).

This fully enclosed area was set within a large open court called the Court of the Gentiles, for it was the only area open to Gentiles. Around the perimeter of this court was a covered area where the teachers of the law taught (Luke 2:46; Luke 19:47; John 10:23-24), where temple merchants carried out their business (John 2:14-16) and where the poor and the sick begged for help (Matthew 21:14; Acts 3:11; Acts 5:12; Acts 5:16).

In the north-eastern corner of the Court of the Gentiles was the Tower of Antonia. This was probably the praetorium, the palace where the Roman governor stayed when he came to Jerusalem to control the crowds at festival times (Matthew 27:27; Mark 15:16; Acts 21:30-37). (Normally the governor lived at Caesarea; Acts 23:33.) The entire temple complex was surrounded by a wall made of huge stones (Mark 13:1).

The new temple

Jesus, being zealous for the true worship of God, condemned the Jews for their misuse of the temple. As a result the Jews became increasingly hostile towards him (John 2:13-22; Mark 11:15-19; cf. Malachi 3:1). He condemned their religion as they practised it, and forecast that one of God’s judgments on it would be the destruction of the temple (Mark 13:1-2).

Through Jesus, God was now building a new temple. This was not a building made of stones, but a community of people, the Christian church. This is a living temple, a community where God dwells, where his people worship him and where they maintain true holiness (John 4:21-24; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 2 Corinthians 6:16-18; Ephesians 2:21-22; 1 Peter 2:4-5; cf. Revelation 21:22; Revelation 22:1-4).

It seems that many of the early Christians did not immediately understand that with the death and resurrection of Jesus, the temple had no further use in God’s purposes for his people. They continued to go to the temple daily, worshipping, praying and witnessing to the resurrection life of Jesus (Luke 24:52-53; Acts 2:46-47; Acts 3:1; Acts 5:12; Acts 5:42).

Stephen, however, pointed out that if people thought Christianity was still part of the old temple-based religion, they were mistaken. The temple was in fact a hindrance to a proper understanding of Christianity (Acts 6:13; Acts 7:44-50). The Jews reacted violently to Stephen’s preaching and killed him; but at least there was now a clear distinction between the old temple-based religion and Christianity. The Christians’ association with the temple was gone for ever (Acts 7:54-60; Acts 8:1-3).

Within forty years the Jews also had lost their association with the temple; for in AD 70 the armies of Rome destroyed it (Mark 13:2; Luke 19:41-44). Since then, the Jews have had no temple.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Temple'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, June 26th, 2017
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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