After clearing the Temple Courtyard of moneychangers and salesmen, Jesus was confronted by those who were in charge of the Temple. Jesus told them, “destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19).
What a powerful statement to make once we understand the earthly temple compared to the spiritual temple of Jesus Christ! With the sacrifice that Christ made there is no comparison. Notice also that Jesus was the only one who was able to rebuild at all! The Second Temple in Jerusalem was completely destroyed in 70 A.D. and still lays in ruins to this day
The crowning achievement of King Solomon’s reign was the erection of the magnificent Temple (Hebrew-Beit haMikdash) in the capital city of ancient Israel – Jerusalem. His father, King David had wanted to build the great Temple a generation earlier, as a permanent dwelling for the their God. A divine edict, however, had forbidden him from doing so. “You will not build a house for My name,” God said to David “for you are a man of battles and have shed blood” (1 Chronicles 28:3)
The Bible’s description of Solomon’s Temple (The First Temple) suggests that Solomon spared no expenses for the building’s expense for the building’s creation. When the Temple was completed, Solomon inaugurated it with prayer and sacrifice, and even invited non-Jews to come and pray there. He urged God to pay heed to their prayers: “Thus all the peoples of the earth will know Your name and revere You, as does Your people Israel; and they will recognize that Your name is attached to this House that I have built”.
Join me now as your guide to walk through this wondrous structure that the Israelites built to worship God.
In Solomon’s Temple in the Courtyard of Priests
The first station will be in the Outer Courtyard of the temple, also known as the Courtyard of Priests (2 Chron 4:9). As we enter, we see Solomon’s Temple towering over two large structures in front of it. On the left is what looks like a huge bronze pot. It sits on the backs of twelve bronze cows. There are priests taking water out of this huge container, which was known as the Bronze Sea, and transferring it to some of the smaller, more mobile washbasins. Everywhere you look, groups of priests work to serve the many needs of Israel at this single Temple. The people are lined up outside, waiting to present their offerings to God. Priests work hard; some grab supplies from the storehouses built around the outside wall of the Temple, others are consulting with people outside the gate, instructing them on the kinds of sacrifices that are acceptable, and others are performing a ritual cleansing of priests, people, and even the tools that will be entering the Temple courts.
The first thing we noticed, though, even before we entered the Temple gates, was the smell of cooking meat. A priest works feverishly at a what appears to be a huge fire-pit in between us and the Temple and to our right. As we approach this structure, we notice that priests are working down below to kill and prepare animals for sacrifice, and then bringing up the parts to the priest at the altar. Some of the meat is being prepared as a meal to be eaten (like a fellowship offering). Other parts clearly smell over-cooked; these offerings are burnt offerings (which will be cooked until they are burnt down to nothing; a complete and full offering to God).
Every once in a while, you will also notice priests putting grain offerings (which look like pieces of flatbread) and pouring out cups of wine (or drink offerings) into the altar. It reminds us that Jesus was sacrificed for us: Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Jesus, though is always compared sacrificially to the passover lamb, which was not offered here at the temple, but rather in each individual home of the Israelites.
Sacrifice was the predominant mode of divine service in the Temple until it was destroyed by the Babylonians some four hundred years later, in 586 BCE. Seventy years later a number of Jews returned to Israel-led by the prophets Ezra and Nehemiah- and the Second Temple was built on the same site. Sacrifices to God were once again resumed.
What is the temple today? (Ephesians 2:14-21)
How do New Testament authors want us to think of Jesus as a sacrifice? (Hebrews 10, 1 Peter 2)
Entering the Inner Court, The Holy Place:
We now move towards this dominating structure, which is almost 20 stories tall. The massive doors are covered with gold. As we enter, all around us we see dazzling gold covered items and artwork that remind us of God’s original, perfect garden; pomegranates seem to be the most prominent image. We have entered a vast room. The inside ceiling is 180 feet long, 90 feet wide, and 50 feet high. Illuminating the entire room are 12 golden lampstands with seven flames from olive oil each that are never to go out. The room also has recessed windows built high into the walls, which let light in during the day.
Table of Showbread
Immediately in front of us, we see a priest laying out the bread of His presence on a wooden table overlaid with pure gold. These twelve pieces of bread are replaced weekly. After they are removed, they would be what the priests serving at the temple would eat. King David and his men ate the showbread once when they were hungry and on the run. The showbread is unleavened and is just like we take during the Lord’s Supper today.
Altar of Incense
The biggest differences between the courtyard and this holy place are the smells and the activity. This is a place of quiet and it smells like frankincense; a woody, elegant, and clean smell. Outside there was a constant frenzy of priests moving about, making sacrifices, preparations, disposing of other animals. As we approach God, though, things seem to slow down. At the end of the room is another altar. A priest is attending the incense burning there. Pure frankincense burns on this altar day and night before the Lord.
What is the difference between this place and the courtyard outside?
Who is allowed into this place? For what purpose do they come in here?
We are generally much more relaxed in our worship attitudes toward God. How would this be different from the Israelites? How would it be similar?
Entering the Holy of Holies
Of course, we would never enter the final room unless we were the designated High Priest. Only once a year, on Yom Kippur (or the Day of Atonement), the High Priest would enter this room and pray to God on behalf of the Israelite nation and make atonement for their sins.
There are many frightful stories of people approaching God and suffering terrible consequences because they were not supposed to be in his holy presence. When referring to the holiness of God, the definition of Holy takes on a much richer meaning. God’s holiness is his defining characteristic. The holiness of God is a term used in the Bible to describe both His goodness and His power. It is completely unique, and utterly all-powerful, radiating out from God like energy. In fact, God’s holiness is so overwhelming, that it can actually be dangerous to approach. Like the sun, it shines on us and all earthly creation needs it for life but, it’s dangerous to get to close to the sun, it will burn you up.
As glorious as the Temple was, its most important room contained almost no furniture at all. Known as the Holy of Holies (Kodesh Kodashim), it housed the Ark of Covenant underneath the vast wings of two large, imposing statues of other-worldly creatures called cherubim. It is unknown what became of the ark of the covenant. It is possible that it was destroyed or captured during any one of the many desecrations of the Temple following the first Temple’s destruction.
Being a part of the Temple of Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a sacrifice for us all, we no longer need to worry about these rituals, though. We know that Jesus’ sacrifice tore down the dividing curtain and gave us free access to God.
As the writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19-22). Since Christ came down, we have only one Temple to worship at and that’s the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. We no longer need to depend on the priest to go in some man-built, magnificent Temple to pray on our behalf to ask God to forgive us of our sin. Jesus Christ has made it so that we can pray direct to Him. We don’t have to sacrifice any animal, just believe and put on Christ in baptism.
As magnificent as Solomon’s temple was it’s no comparison to the temple that we have to today, Jesus Christ. We cannot take it lightly nor for granted the temple that Jesus sacrificed and gave his life for us.
Just as the Israelites were urged to bring the best of their animals and harvest therefore we should give God nothing but our best. Christ took his temple to the cross for us, nothing spared. Chris gave us his best and he gave himself for us!
What is the difference in how the Israelites accessed God and we access God?
Could you and I even expect to make it to the first station of our journey in Solomon's day?
If you and I make up the Temple, how should we act and speak each day? Does God care about his Temples? In what way?