Second Temple Times

Psalm 137

Lament over the Destruction of Jerusalem

By the rivers of Babylon—
   there we sat down and there we wept
   when we remembered Zion. 
On the willows there
   we hung up our harps. 
For there our captors
   asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
   ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ 
How could we sing the Lord’s song
   in a foreign land? 
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
   let my right hand wither! 
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
   if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
   above my highest joy. 

Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
   the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, ‘Tear it down! Tear it down!
   Down to its foundations!’ 
O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
   Happy shall they be who pay you back
   what you have done to us! 
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!

Israel in Exile

Taken from Jerusalem to Babylon in 605 B.C.E. when he was not yet 20, perhaps only 15 or 16, Daniel served his God faithfully under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Evil-Merodach, Labashi-Marduk, Nabonidus, Belshazzar, Cambyses, Smerdis, Darius I, and Cyrus. He served each regime with fidelity and godliness so that he remained a respected statesman in all these regimes for nearly seven decades. The "times of the gentiles" spoken of by Yeshua in Luke 21:24 date from the fall of Jersualem on the 9th of Av, 586 and continue into our own day.

Daniel was late in life during the beginning of the reign of Darius the Mede. The prophet happened to be reading the great scroll of his contemporary Jeremiah (Jeremiah was about 25 years older than Daniel). There, in Chapter 25 of Jeremiah, he came upon the prophecy concerning the predicted return from captivity:

In the first year of Darius, the son of Ahasuerus, of the lineage of the Medes, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans in the first year of his reign I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years specified by the word of the Lord, given through Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. (Daniel 9:1-2).

Realizing the captivity was about to be complete, Daniel began to pray. Though there was no doubt his own godliness and unblemished life, he acknowledged in his prayer the sins of all of Israel as if they were all his own:

Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and supplications with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and made confession, saying, "O Lord, the great and terrible God, who keepest covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from thy commandments and ordinances; we have not listened to thy servants the prophets, who spoke in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.

To thee, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us confusion of face, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those that are near and those that are far away, in all the lands to which thou hast driven them, because of the treachery which they have committed against thee. To us, O Lord, belongs confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness; because we have rebelled against him, and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God by following his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed thy law and turned aside, refusing to obey thy voice. And the curse and oath which are written in the law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity; for under the whole heaven there has not been done the like of what has been done against Jerusalem.

As it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us, yet we have not entreated the favor of the LORD our God, turning from our iniquities and giving heed to thy truth. Therefore the LORD has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in all the works which he has done, and we have not obeyed-his voice. And now, O Lord our God, who didst bring thy people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and hast made thee a name, as at this day, we have sinned, we have done wickedly. O Lord, according to all thy righteous acts, let thy anger and thy wrath turn away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy hill; because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people have become a byword among all who are round about us. Now therefore, O our God, hearken to the prayer of thy servant and to his supplications, and for thy own sake, O Lord, cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline thy ear and hear; open thy eyes and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name; for we do not present our supplications before thee on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of thy great mercy. O LORD, hear; O LORD, forgive; O LORD, give heed and act; delay not, for thy own sake, O my God, because thy city and thy people are called by thy name." (Daniel 9:3-19)

God was about to move to return the Jews from their long exile, and Daniel was God's instrument in prayer for this great work to begin. Incidentally, another part of the answer to Daniel's' prayer was an immediate revelation from the angel Gabriel (Daniel 9:24-27) which we now call the Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks. All subsequent Jewish history - until the final coming of Messiah and His kingdom - was to be accomplished in but 490 years of prophetic history, Daniel was told. We now know how all details of 69 of those 70 weeks have come to pass with complete accuracy in every detail.

Why Seventy Years?

God can be exacting in the details of his work and in the fulfillment of specific prophecies. Israel had forgotten to allow the land to rest every seventh year as God had clearly ordained to Moses at Sinai

"Say to the people of Israel, When you come into the land which I give you, the land shall keep a sabbath to the LORD. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in its fruits; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to the LORD; you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. What grows of itself in your harvest you shall not reap, and the grapes of your undressed vine you shall not gather; it shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. The sabbath of the land shall provide food for you, for yourself and for your male and female slaves and for your hired servant and the sojourner who lives with you; for your cattle also and for the beasts that are in your land all its yield shall be for food." (Leviticus 25:2-7)

Israel had forgotten to rest the land every seventh year, for 490 years, so God collected on behalf of the land,

He (Nebuchadnezzar) took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfil the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept sabbath, to fulfil seventy years. (2 Chron. 36:20-21)

And this whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then it will come to pass, when seventy years are completed, that I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity,' says the Lord: 'and I will make it a perpetual desolation. (Jeremiah 25:10-12)

A Strange Prophecy Concerning Cyrus

One of the most amazing prophecies in the entire Bible concerns the return of the Jews from captivity and the building of the Second Temple. Isaiah the prophet, writing in 700 B.C.E. records the Lord as saying:

Sing, O heavens, for the LORD has done it; shout, O depths of the earth; break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the LORD has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel. Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: "I am the LORD, who made all things, who stretched out the heavens alone, who spread out the earth Who was with me? who frustrates the omens of liars, and makes fools of diviners; who turns wise men back, and makes their knowledge foolish; who confirms the word of his servant, and performs the counsel of his messengers, who says of Jerusalem, 'She shall be inhabited,' and of the cities of Judah, 'They shall be built, and I will raise up their ruins'; who says to the deep, 'Be dry, I will dry up your rivers'; who says of Cyrus, 'He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfil all my purpose'; saying of Jerusalem, 'She shall be built,' and of the temple, 'Your foundation shall be laid."'

Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and ungird the loins of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed: "I will go before you and level the mountains, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut asunder the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is 1, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I gird you, though you do not know me, that men may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. If form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe, I am the LORD, who do all these things. "Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation may sprout forth, and let it cause righteousness to spring up also; I the LORD have created it.

"Woe to him who strives with his Maker, an earthen vessel with the potter! Does the clay say to him who fashions it 'What are you making'? or 'Your work has no handles'? Woe to him who says to a father, 'What are you begetting?' or to a woman, 'With what are you in travail?"' Thus says the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker "Will you question me about my children, or command me concerning the work of my hands? I made the earth, and created man upon it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host. I have aroused him (Cyrus) in righteousness, and I will make straight all his ways; he shall build my city and set my exiles free, not for price or reward," says the LORD of hosts. (Isaiah 44:23-45:13).

Cyrus the Great, Cyrus the Persian, father of Cambyses of Media, would later conquer the mighty city of Babylon (at age 62) on the night of Belshazzar's feast (Daniel 5) in 539 B.C.E., by diverting the Euphrates River and sending troops through the river channels under the walls. When Isaiah wrote of him, Cyrus had not been born by a good twenty years! Yet Isaiah named him by name and commissioned him - a gentile no less - to play a major role in the restoration of the Jews to their homeland. (Isaiah 48:14ff also talks about Cyrus as foreordained of God to conquer Babylon).

Rulers of Babylon and Persia
Ruler Dates of Rule Biblical Significance
Merodach-Baladan II

721-689 B.C.E. 2 Kings 20: 12: Isa. 39: 1

Hezekiah's Illness
Nabopolassar 625-605 B.C.E. -
Nebuchadnezar II

(Nebuchadressar II)
605-562 B.C.E. 2 Kings 24-25. Dan. 1-4

Conquered Israel

562-560 B.C.E. 2 Kings 25:27-30: Jer. 52:31-34

Liberated Jehoiachin from prison

560-556 B.C.E. Jer. 39:3.13

A royal prince in Babylon
Labashl-Marduk 556 B.C.E. -

556-539 B.C.E. -

556-539 B.C.E.

(co-regent Nabonidus)
Dan. 5: 7:1

Belshazzar's feast. Fall of Babylon
- Persian Rulers -
Cyrus 539-530 B.C.E. 2 Chr. 36:22-23: Ezra 1. Isa. 44:28ff. Dan. 1:21, 10:1

Permitted Jews to rebuild temple. First return of 49,897 exiles under Zerubbabel. Altar built, temple foundation laid, 536, Ezra 3:1-4:5
Cambyses 530-522 B.C.E. -
Darius I

522-486 B.C.E. Haggai preaches, 520. Ezra 4-6; Neh. 12:22; Hag. 1-1, Zechariah's visions and prophecies. Temple finished, 515 B.C.E.
Xerxes I (Ahasuerus)

(wife: Esther?)
486-465 B.C.E. Accusations against Judah, 486. Ezra 4:3-6

The time of the book of Esther, Esther 2:17
Artaxerxes I (Artashasta)

464-423 B.C.E. Ezra 4:7-23: 7: 8:1, Neh. 2:1-8

Temporarily halts rebuilding of Jerusalem, ca. 464-458, Ezra 4:7-23. Ezra goes to Jerusalem, second return of 4000-5000 exiles, 458, Ezra 7-10. Nehemiah, third return builds walls in 52 days, 445. Neheiah governor 12 years. Malachi, 450-430?
Darius II

423-404 B.C.E. -
Artaxerxes II

404-359 B.C.E. -
Artaxerxes III

359-338 B.C.E. -
Arses 338-335 B.C.E. -
Darius III

335-331 B.C.E. -
Alexander the Great 331 B.C.E. Beginning of World Dominion of Greece

When the prophecy of Isaiah was given the First Temple, that of Solomon, was still standing, the city of Jerusalem had not been destroyed and would not be for at least another hundred years, and the people were not in exile. Yet all these multiple predictions were to be literally fulfilled as Isaiah prophesied.

The Response of Cyrus

There is extra-biblical evidence that Cyrus was aware of the prophecies. The first-century Jewish writer Flavius Josephus wrote: reading the book which left behind of his prophecies; for this prophet said that God had spoken thus to him in a secret vision "My will is, that Cyrus, whom I have appointed to be king over many and great nations, send back my people to their own land, and build my temple." Accordingly, when Cyrus read this, and admired the divine power, an earnest desire and ambition seized upon him to fulfil what was so written. (Flavius Josephus, Antiquities, xi, Chapt. 1-2)

Most of what is known about the history of the Jews between the Fall of Babylon in 538 B.C.E., when Cyrus conquered Babylon and 457 B.C.E. when Ezra came to Jerusalem, is known from the book of Ezra the scribe. (Ezra was probably the author of I, II Chronicles as well as the book of Ezra). Ezra records Cyrus' decree of 538 which allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple:

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: "Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel he is the God who is in Jerusalem; and let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem." (Ezra 1:14)

Added details of the decree of Cyrus, evidently not part of his public proclamation but added to the official record are given in Ezra 6:3-5:

In the first year of Cyrus the king, Cyrus the king issued a decree: Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, "let the house be rebuilt, the place where sacrifices are offered and burnt offerings are brought; its height shall be sixty cubits and its breadth sixty cubits, with three courses of great stones and one course of timber, let the cost be paid from the royal treasury. And also let the gold and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple that is in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, be restored and brought back to the temple which is in Jerusalem, each to its place; you shall put them in the house of God."

The majority of Jews living in Babylon were prosperous and assimilated and unwilling to undertake the hardship and danger of moving back to their ruined homeland. Ezra tells us that 42,360 Jews chose to return plus 7,3000 servants, and 200 singers; 736 horses, 245 mules, 435 camels, and 6,720 donkeys. (2:64-66). With them went some of the sacred temple vessels, 1000 basins of gold, 1000 basins of silver, 29 censers, 30 bowls of gold, 2,410 bowls of silver, and a thousand other (major) vessels - totaling 5,469 in all (1:9-11).

According to their ability the Jews contributed to the treasury 277,550 ounces of silver and 6,250 pounds of silver (2:69) for the treasury. This would be about $5-80 million at today's prices.

The journey is 530 direct miles, but about 900 miles by road and took about 4 months, (7:8-9). The route was dangerous because of robbers and marauding groups. After the Jews arrived in Jerusalem they "gathered as one man" And,

Then arose Jeshua (the high priest) the son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel with his kinsmen, and they built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings upon it, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God. They set the altar in its place, for fear was upon them because of the peoples of the lands, and they offered burnt offerings upon it to the LORD, burnt offerings morning and evening. And they kept the feast of booths (the 15th to the 22nd day of the seventh month), as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the ordinance, as each day required, and after that the continual burnt offerings, the offerings at the new moon and at all the appointed feasts of the LORD, and the offerings of every one who made a freewill offering to the LORD. From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the LORD.

But the foundation of the temple of the LORD was not yet laid. So they gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant which they had from Cyrus king of Persia. (Ezra 3:2-7)

The altar was erected on the first day of the seventh month which is the beginning of the Feast of Trumpets (Numbers 29:1-6), an interesting foreshadowing of Israel's final regathering.

The temple foundation was laid some months later:

Now in the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak made a beginning, together with the rest of their brethren, the priests and the Levites and all who had come to Jerusalem from the captivity. They appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to have the oversight of the work of the house of the LORD. And Jeshua with his sons and his kinsmen, and Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together took the oversight of the workmen in the house of God, along with the sons of Henadad and the Levites, their sons and kinsmen.

And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD, according to the directions of David king of Israel; and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures for ever toward Israel." And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers' houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy; so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people's weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard afar. (Ezra 3:8-13)

As is always the case, the work of God in the world always meets with opposition from the Enemy, no matter what form it takes, or the period of history. Ezra recorded four different attempts originating in the counsels of Satan to stop the work. First, Samaritan enemies of Benjamin and Judah tried to join the work force and to undermine the efforts. When this attempt failed, these enemies mounted a campaign of discouragement. Next the enemies of Israel wrote letters to Xerxes I (Ahasuerus) and his successor Artaxerxes I Longimanus (who later followed Cyrus, Cambyses and Darius I Hystaspes as successors to the throne of Persia). Finally force was even used. Work on the temple was stopped for 16 years (until 520 B.C.E.).

Stirred up and encouraged by the prophet Haggai, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, the elders of the Jews were able to obtain a written reversal of the order to stop work, and in fact a new decree from Darius allowing the work to proceed and in fact providing the Jews with tax revenues for their work:

...Moreover I make a decree regarding what you shall do for these elders of the Jews for the rebuilding of this house of God; the cost is to be paid to these men in full and without delay from the royal revenue, the tribute of the province from Beyond the River. And whatever is needed young bulls, rams, or sheep for burnt offerings to the God of heaven wheat, salt, wine, or oil, as the priests at Jerusalem require--let that be given to them day by day without fail, that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king and his sons. Also I make a decree that if any one alters this edict, a beam shall be pulled out of his house, and he shall be impaled upon it, and his house shall be made a dunghill. May the God who has caused his name to dwell there overthrow any king or people that shall put forth a hand to alter this, or to destroy this house of God which is in Jerusalem. I Darius make a decree; let it be done with all diligence." (Ezra 6:8-12)

Haggai's exhortations delivered between August and December, 520 B.C.E. challenged the people to put the building of the temple above their own home building:

Thus says the LORD of hosts: "This people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD." Then the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, "Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now therefore thus says the LORD of hosts: "Consider how you have fared. You have sown much, and harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages earns wages to put them into a bag with holes." Thus says the LORD of hosts: "Consider how you have fared. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may appear in my glory, says the LORD. You have looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away.

"Why?" says the LORD of hosts. "Because of my house that lies in ruins, while you busy yourselves each with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought upon the land and the hills, upon the grain, the new wine, the oil, upon what the ground brings forth, upon men and cattle, and upon all their labors."

Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him; and the people feared before the LORD. Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke to the people with the LORD's message, "I am with you, says the LORD." And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the LORD of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month. (Haggai 1:2-15).

The Greater Glory of the Second Temple

In his second of four messages to the people Haggai that assured that the very modest temple they were building would enjoy a greater glory and importance than the splendid Temple of Solomon which preceded it:

"Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to all the remnant of the people, and say, 'Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?' Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the LORD; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the LORD; work, for I am with you, says the LORD of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit abides among you; fear not.

For thus says the LORD of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in (or, "the one desired by all the nations," referring to the Messiah), and I will fill this house with splendor, says the LORD of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD of hosts. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the LORD of hosts."' (Haggai 2:2-9).

Malachi the prophet, a contemporary of Haggai, predicted that the Messiah of Israel would come into this very temple bringing it honor and glory beyond the wealth that can be measured in gold or silver. Christians believe that Malachi's prophecy has a double fulfillment the first of which took place when Jesus led by his forerunner John the Baptist came to this temple:

"Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming," says the LORD of hosts. "But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; he (Messiah) will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the LORD. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years." (Malachi 3:14)

The temple was completed four years later, in 515. God was pleased with the newly built Second Temple in spite of its modest size and beauty. Once again He again took up His abode with His people. However this Temple was without the Ark of the Covenant. A seven branched Menorah stood in the Holy place instead of the ten lamp stands in Solomon's Temple.

Artist's sketch of Herod's Temple looking Northwest (from an old Bible).
Fortress Antonia is immediately to the right ot the Temple compound.

The apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees provides some details of its furnishing:

They renewed the sacred vessels and the lamp-stand, and brought the altar of incense, and the table to the temple. They burnt incense on the altar and lit the lamps on the lamp-stand to shine within the temple. When they put the Bread of the Presence on the table and hung the curtain their work was completed. (1 Maccabees 4:49,50).

But in general, of the Temple built by Zerubbabel little is known. Israeli archaeologist Benjamin Mazar writes:

It is most difficult to determine, even in general outlines, the stages in the historical development of the Temple Mount and its fortifications during the long era of the Second Temple, from Zerubbabel at the end of the sixth century B.C.E. up to the commencement of Herod's building project at the end of the first century B.C.E. The literary sources are insufficiently clear, and archaeological data are very few and problematic.

No Kings in Israel

Israel's exile for seventy years in Babylon marked a new era of government for God's chosen people. They had entered what Jesus would later call "the times of the gentiles," (Luke 21:24). Since the last King (Jeconiah) sat on the throne of Israel, that people have had no king over them to the present day. Israel has been subject to foreign control as vassals. Jerusalem has been "trodden down by the gentiles" with more yet to come. After the Babylonians came the Persians, then the Greeks, followed the Romans.

One legitimate king, doubly heir to the throne of Israel, rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on the foal of a donkey. Acclaimed by the people, this Man was rejected by the leaders and put to death. Israel would wait at least 20 centuries for their rightful king's return.

After the Romans came the Arabs, the Turks, the French and British. In spite of national independence and statehood in 1948 Israel has no central authority figure in charge. This situation will soon change! A king and a priest in the line of David is due to return to the throne of a united, restored Israel in the near future. All the prophets speak of this event:

But there will be no gloom for her that was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined...For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9: l-7)

Haggai's fourth message to the people, brought to them in October of 520 B.C.E., was brief,

"Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms - I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders - and the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his fellow. On that day, says the LORD of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, says the LORD, and make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you, says the LORD of hosts." (Haggai 2:23)

This message promised Israel final overthrow of all her enemies and a special royal blessing (symbolized by the king's signet ring) for Zerubbabel. Earlier God had sworn that no king in the blood line of Jeconiah would sit upon the throne of Israel:

"As I live says the LORD, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, were the signet ring on my right hand, yet I would tear you off and give you into the hand of those who seek your life, into the hand of those of whom you are afraid, even into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon and into the hand of the Chaldeans. I will hurl you and the mother who bore you into another country, where you were not born, and there you shall die. But to the land to which they will long to return, there they shall not return." Is this man Coniah a despised, broken pot, a vessel no one cares for? Why are he and his children hurled and cast into a land which they do not know?

O land, land, land, hear the word of the LORD! Thus says the LORD: "Write this man down as childless (without a royal heir), a man who shall not succeed in his days; for none of his offspring shall succeed in sitting on the throne of David, and ruling again in Judah." (Jeremiah 22:24-30)

Joseph, husband of Mary was of the line of Jeconiah (Matthew 1:12,16), but not the biological father of Jesus. The blood line or genetic heir was in the line of Mary. Jerubbabel (Luke 3:27) was a descendant of David and in the line that would lead to Mary.

Zechariah the prophet lived and wrote during early Second Temple times. One of his most interesting prophecies concerning Messiah centers around the future re-unification of the offices of King and Priest in Israel. Messiah, the Branch, would not only be the priestly king in the line of Joshua, he would be given the task of building a final temple in Israel (see Chapter 14):

And the word of the LORD carne to me (Zechariah): "Take from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah, and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon; and go the same day to the house of Josiah, the son of Zephaniah. Take from them silver and gold, and make a crown, and set it upon the head of Joshua, the son of Jehozadak (a descendant of Zadok, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron), the high priest; and say to him, 'Thus says the LORD of hosts, "Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall grow up in his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD.

"It is he who shall build the temple of the LORD, and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule upon his throne. And there shall be a priest by his throne, and peaceful understanding shall be between them both."' And the crown shall be in the temple of the LORD as a reminder to Heldai, Tobijah, Jedaiah, and Josiah the son of Zephaniah.

"And those who are far off shall come and help to build the temple of the LORD - and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. And this shall come to pass, if you will diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God." (Zechariah 6:9-15)

Nehemiah and the Walls of Jerusalem

Nehemiah held the office of cupbearer to King Artaxerxes I in the Persian capital of Susa. A relative from Jerusalem visited him and gave a report of the ruined condition of the city. He told him how vulnerable the city was to attack because the walls were still debris. This disturbed Nehemiah to such a degree that he made a personal visit to Jerusalem. The King gave him permission to leave and even provided him with an armed escort. Nehemiah also had royal letters ordering the provincial authorities to provide him with timber and other materials he required (Nehemiah 1:1-2:8).

He arrived in Jerusalem in 445 B.C.E., 70 years after the temple had been completed and placed in service. By moonlight he began to inspect the walls and gates. Nehemiah then called the leading and produced the letters from the king. Based upon this they accepted him as their governor. Nehemiah then outlined his plans for the urgent task of rebuilding the fortifications and securing the city. Work was done on a voluntary basis.

Nehemiah's arrival provided a new enthusiasm to the those in Jerusalem but it also caused intense, hostile reaction from the enemies of God's people. The main adversaries were Sanballat, the local governor of Samaria, Geshem, leader of the Edomites, and a wealthy apostate Jew named Tobiah.

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These opponents began by verbally attacking the project but when the walls were half way complete they resorted to force. Nehemiah countered by providing full-time armed patrols. Each worker was given a weapon to defend himself. Nehemiah 2-6). In spite of the intense opposition the walls were built in 52 days by the united labor force.

When the walls around Jerusalem had been finished, Nehemiah and Ezra instructed the people from the Scriptures, reviewing their national history in detail in a great prayer (Neh. 9:6-38) which ended by the Jews making a new covenant with God. This was signed and sealed by the priests, nobles, and leaders of the people. The people took responsibility for the support and upkeep of the temple also, ending with the promise "We will not neglect the house of our God." (10:32-39). The closing chapters of Nehemiah tell of the dedication of the walls and gates and give us important clues concerning life in Jerusalem immediately after the end of the Babylonian exile.

Alexander the Great and His Successors

Daniel's detailed predictions about a long line of rulers in the Middle East, especially those of Daniel Chapter 11, have been fulfilled in such incredible detail that critics of the Bible have long attempted to assign a late date to this book. If that were the case, Daniel would have been merely a historian, not a prophet of God. Yet it is very clear from a careful study of history that Daniel lived nearly 300 years before Alexander the Great and his successors, about whom he wrote these words given to him by the angel Gabriel:

" the first year of Darius the Mede, I (Gabriel) stood up...And now I will show you the truth. Behold, three more kings shall arise in Persia (see Table) - and a fourth (Xerxes the Great) shall be far richer than all of them - and when he has become strong through his riches he shall stir up all against the kingdom of Greece. Then a mighty king (Alexander) shall arise, who shall rule with great dominion and do according to his will. And when he has arisen, his kingdom shall be broken and divided toward the four winds of heaven, but not to his posterity, nor according to the dominion with which he ruled; for his kingdom shall be plucked up and go to others besides these. (Daniel 11:14)

As God had foreordained, Alexander conquered the Persians by defeating the Persian armies at the Battle of Arbela in 331. He extended his territory as far as India and Egypt. Trained under Aristotle, this son of Phillip of Macedon sought to indoctrinate all of his empire with Greek culture, philosophy and religion. This effort is referred to as "Hellenization," and has had far-reaching consequences. Even our New Testament was not to be written in Hebrew but in the Greek language.

Alexander died in a Babylon in a drunken stupor at the age of 33, disillusioned, it is said, because he had no more worlds left to conquer. His body was taken to Alexandria, Egypt and buried there in a casket of glass and gold. The site of Alexander's tomb the subject of ongoing searches today.

Upon his death, Alexander's empire was divided among his five generals (diadochoi). Seleucus received Babylon, Ptolemy Lagi was given Egypt, Antigonus took Phrygia, Lysimachus inherited Thrace and Bythinia, and Cassander assumed control of Greece proper, and Macedonia. As far as biblical history related to the Jews is concerned, only Seleucus and Ptolemy are of importance. These men and their heirs squabbled back and forth for the next 150 years and Israel just happened to be on the paths of their armies, caught in the middle as it were. Seleucus added Syria and Phoenicia to his territory. Ptolemy Lagi annexed Palestine to Egypt. Little Judah was caught in the middle.

The first century of rule by the Ptolemies was a golden age of peace for the Jews it was an era of peace and prosperity for them. The great library of Alexandria was established in this period and Jewish scholars favorably treated in Egypt began to translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek resulting in the Septuagint.

After a season of tranquillity for the Jews, the Selucids of Syria grew envious, and in 198 B.C.E. took control of Palestine. This brought the Jews under the rule of Antiochus the Great. Thus begun one of the most oppressive periods of Jewish history in the on-going "times of the gentiles." Selucid sovereignty was to give way to the Romans in 63 B.C.E. but not before great damage was done to the Jews in Israel.

The Desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes

In 175 B.C.E. the Selucid throne was assumed through treachery by an 8th king, Antiochus IV, a son of Antiochus the Great. He took upon himself the title Epiphanes (the illustrious one). But because he was so corrupt, he was popularly known as Antiochus Epimanes (the madman). Sometimes erratic, sometimes eccentric he was wantonly cruel and brutal to the Jews. This man is responsible for the most vile outrages against the Jews ever perpetrated. For this reason Daniel (and later Jesus, referring to Daniel) spoke of him as "the abomination that makes desolate."

Prior to his reign the Jews had lived peaceably with Greek culture and customs, however Antiochus determined to force Greek polytheistic religion upon the strictly monotheistic Jews. The Jews actively resisted. Angered at the Jews for some insult they had given him, Antiochus defied the high priests in Jerusalem and entered into the sacred temple. (See Appendix D for details). Antiochus actually erected a pagan altar in the temple at Jerusalem and offered upon it a sow in sacrifice, an unclean animal. He took the broth of the sow and sprinkled it throughout the sanctuary, thus defiling the whole sanctuary. Then, as a final insult, he erected a statue of Jupiter in the holy place.

This, of course, brought to an end the twice-daily sacrifice called "the continual burnt offering," which Daniel had predicted was to be taken away for a definite period of time. The apocryphal Book of the Maccabees records that the offering was taken away for a period of a little over three years. Finally Judas Maccabaeus and his sons rose in revolt and led the people of Israel to retake Jerusalem, cleansed the sanctuary and restored the offerings at the end of eleven-hundred and fifty days, exactly as predicted by Daniel.

The Book of 1 Maccabees records some of Antiochus' deeds:

On his return from the conquest of Egypt, in the year 143 (169 B.C.E.), Antiochus marched with a strong force against Israel and Jerusalem. In his arrogance he entered the temple and carried off the golden altar, the lamp-stand with all its equipment, the table for the Bread of the Presence, the sacred cups and bowls, the golden censers, the curtain and the crowns. He stripped off the gold plating from the Temple front. He seized the silver, gold, and precious vessels, and whatever secret treasures he found, and took them all with him when he left for his own country. (1 Maccabees 1:21)

Alexander the Great and Jerusalem

A fascinating aside regarding the conquests of Alexander the Great is the account of how Jerusalem was spared. During his long siege of Tyre, Alexander sought the help of neighboring peoples. The Samaritans accepted, but the Jews refused because of previous oaths to their Persian overlords. The Samaritans, long rivals of the Jews, sought Alexander's permission to destroy the temple in Jerusalem.

Jaddua, the high priest in Jerusalem donned his priestly garments and together with notables from the city set out to meet Alexander and his generals. According to Josephus (Antiq. VIII, p l40-146), Jaddua showed Alexander the scroll of Daniel and read for him the predictions that he, Alexander, was to overwhelm the Persians and rule the world. Not only was the city and temple spared, but the flattered Alexander showed favor the Jews and added three Samaritan districts to their precincts.

Maccabean Revolt

Daniel the prophet had also predicted the deeds and exploits of the Maccabees which brought about the restoration of temple worship,

...but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action. And those among the people who are wise shall make many understand, though they shall fall by sword and flame, by captivity and plunder, for some days. When they fall, they shall receive a little help. And many shall join themselves to them with flattery; and some of those who are wise shall fall, to refine and to cleanse them and to make them white, until the time of the end, for it is yet for the time appointed. (Daniel 11:32-35)

In 168 B.C.E. the Jewish war of independence, also known as the Maccabbean revolt, broke out in Israel. (The Maccabee family line is usually referred to as the "Hasmonean" period from references in Josephus and the Mishnah). A godly priest, Mattathias, withdrew to Modein (near Lod) with his five sons to avoid the persecutions of Antiochus. Pursued by his Hellenizing enemies, he killed a traitorous Jew thus precipitating a war of revolt. Mattathias did not live much longer, but the cause of freedom for the Jews was taken up by his third son, Judas Maccabaeus.

    The Selucid Kings
    The Maccabees
    Seleucus I (Nicator)

    321-281 B.C.E.
    Mattathias 166
    Ptolemy I Satrap of Egypt

    323-305/4 BC
    Antiochus I (Soter)

    Judas Maccabeus 166-160

    Ptolemy I (Soter I)


    Antiochus II (Theos)


    Ptolemy II (Philadelphus)

    Seleucus II (Callinicus)

    Ptolemy III (Euergetes)

    Seleucus III (Soter)

    John Hyrcanus

    Ptolemy IV (Philopater)

    Antiochus III (The Great)



    Ptolemy V (Epiphanes)


    Seleucus IV (Philopater)

    Alexander Janneus

    Ptolemy VI (Philometor)

    Antiochus IV (Epiphanes)

    Salome Alexandra

    Ptolemy VII (Neos Philopater)

    Antiochus V (Eupater)

    Hyrcanus II

    67 (3 months)

    Ptolemy VIII (Euergetes II or Physcon) restored


    Demetrius I (Soter)


    Cleopatra III and Ptolemy IX (Soter II or Lathyrus)

    Alexander Balas

    Cleopatra III and (Alexander I)

    Demetrius II (Nicator)


    Ptolemy X (Alexander I) and Cleopatra Berenice


    (Antiochus VI [Epiphanes


    Ptolemy IX (Philometor Soter II "Lathyrus"), restored (2nd reign)


    Antiochus VII (Sidetes)


    Cleopatra Berenice and Ptolemy XI (Alexander II)


    Demetrius II (Nicator)

    Ptolemy XII (Neos Dionysus "Auletes")

    Antiochus VIII (Grypus)


    Bernice IV (at first with Cleopatra Tryphaena)


    Antiochus IX (Philopater


    Berenice IV and Archelus


    Antiochus VIII (Grypus)


Ptolemy XII (Neos Dionysus "Auletes") restored.


    Seleucus VI


Cleopatra VII (Philopator Nea Thea)


    Antiochus X (Eusebes)


Ptolemy XV (Caesar Philopator Philometor "Caesarion")

30 BC

    Tigranes, King of Armenia



    Antiochus XIII (Asiaticus)

- -
- -

Initially the Jewish revolt under Judas met with great success. The Syrians were defeated at Emmaus, at Hebron and at Jerusalem. Jerusalem was taken and the temple was cleansed and rededicated in 165 on the 25th day of Kislev. The rededication of the temple is celebrated to this day by the Jews as the Feast of Lights, or Hanukkah, which falls in December. Antiochus died the next year bringing great rejoicing in Israel (and in Syria). Peacemaking attempts by the Lysias, successor to Antiochus, were rejected by Judas. However Judas was killed soon after at the Battle of Adasa in 160 B.C.E.

Jonathan, another son of Mattathias assumed leadership over the movement but intrigue and treachery resulted in his capture. Another son, Simon, took over declaring independence in 142, however Simon was assassinated in 135. Israel knew a brief period of independence however the Romans had been drawn in to the latter day politics of the revolt (Dan. 11:35). Simon was followed by John Hyrcanus who assumed the office of high priest and took over control of the military as well. After Hyrcanus came Alexander Jannaeus, his son, who in his rage against the Pharisees enlisted the help of foreign troops. Six thousand Jews were killed and a civil broke out which was to last six years and cost 50,000 lives. Both internal factions of the Jews finally appealed to Rome to arbitrate the dispute. Pompey came, in 63 B.C.E. killing 12,000 Jews and bringing an end to the Hasmonean Dynasty and ushering in the Roman Empire as the appointed steward of the Holy Land. The Romans entered the Holy of Holies, but Pompey did not touch the temple treasures.

Aristobolus I, son of Hyrcanus, was the first of the Maccabean rulers to take the title "King of the Jews." After a short reign his brother Alexander Janneus succeeded him. However the precedent set by Aristobolus gave precedent for Herod the Great to claim to be a legitimate king of the Jews.

There is much interest today in modifications to the Second Temple and changes on the Temple Mount during the 100-year Hasmonean period. Tuvia Sagiv's studies are especially helpful in recovering for us this lost period of the history of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.

Herod the Great

Herod the Great was the son of Antipater, governor of Idumea. Herod married Marianne, granddaughter of Hyrcanus thus linking himself with the Jews. In reality he can be considered the one of the last descendants of Esau, brother and rival of Jacob.

After Augustus confirmed Herod as king, Herod began a frenzy of construction. He built whole cities, temples, gymnasiums, and palaces. The money came from all kinds of taxes imposed upon the people. Josephus says in The Jewish Wars,

The people of Judea, who at the beginning of his rule were in a good economic condition, were humbled to the ground and turned into miserable paupers. he had the leaders killed, in order to confiscate their property.

Herod's Jerusalem main palace the seat of his government is what is now the Citadel at the Jaffa Gate. North of the Temple Mount he enlarged a fortress built by Hyrcanus, renaming it the Fortress Antonia in honor of his Roman benefactor.

He built a palace at Masada, another at Jericho, and the Herodium at Bethlehem. The large coastal city, Caesarea, popular with tourists today, was another of his works, dedicated to Augustus Caesar (Octavian) who was invited to its dedication. Herod built a great building over the cave of Abraham at Hebron. To this day many Herodian ruins are extant in Israel.

Nearly all of Herod's grandiose building programs were intended to impress foreigners in and around Israel. His ambitious building program on the Temple Mount was the one exception to the rule. Nearly 600 years after Second Temple had been dedicated, Herod determined to impart the splendor of Solomon's Temple to the existing edifice--to his own honor and glory of course. The Talmud (Bava Basra 3b-4a) tells how this came about:

Herod learned that the Torah requires that a Jewish king may be only a person "from among your brethren" (Deut. 17:15), which implies that a non-Jewish slave like Herod could not become king of Israel. Not surprisingly, Herod became furious at this interpretation that disqualified him from the monarchy. "Who taught this?" he demanded. When he heard that it was the Sages, he ordered that they be killed. Hardly a sage was left by the time his rage had stilled...

Josephus reports (Josephus, Antiq. 15:38-425; Wars,5:184-247) that many Jews who heard of Herod's plans were shocked; they feared he would destroy the old building and not build a new one. Herod was sincere, however. He prepared all the building materials in advance before beginning the work in 19 or 20 B.C.E. (see John 2:20). Some 10,000 (to 18,000) workmen were employed, plus 1000 priests, since only priests were allowed to work on the sanctuary proper. The major work occurred in the first three years although the workers continued improvements there for many years, well beyond Herod's death in 4 B.C.E. to 64 C.E., just four years before it was to be destroyed by Titus. Herod's work more than doubled the size of the Temple building and the Temple Mount itself was greatly expanded to a plaza area measuring about 2,575 by 985 feet, with eight gates. Most of the enlargement was to the South by means of fill and underground vaults and supports. Josephus has much to say about Herod and his building program. When finished the new temple itself had a portal 65 feet high and a terraced roof 165 feet above the ground. Golden needles were emplaced around the edges of the roof to ward off birds and their droppings, and a vine of gold was placed in front of the now-imposing edifice.

When the Temple had been enlarged and decorated Herod offended the people by mounting a Roman golden eagle over the gate. When Herod lay dying some years later two fearless sages and their followers tore down the eagle. The men were dragged to Herod's deathbed where the tyrant gave orders for them to be burned alive. (The records of the long reign of cruelty and violence of King Herod are enough to fill several books).

Herod's enlargement of the Second Temple (Encyclopedia Judaica)

Herod's enlargements to the Temple Mount are the subject of vigorous discussion and debate in Israel in our time. The following notes by Prof. George Knight of Hardin-Simmons University, Abilene, Texas are helpful:

"...the complex constructed under the instigation of Herod the Great was an entirely different, larger and grander structure than the previous one. As a part of his campaign to impress and obligate folk to him, Herod the Great undertook many enormous building projects, including the port of Caesarea Maritima and the fortress of Masada. However, nothing else approached the undertaking of building a new temple for the Jews in Jerusalem beginning in 20 B.C. In order for the structure to achieve Herod's purposes, it had to be large. To accomplish that primary goal, the entire mountain was extended. (The major primary source for this information is the first-century writer Flavius Josephus. He devoted a portion of Antiquities 8:3:6-9 and Wars of the Jews 1:7:6 to a detailed description of the temple and its construction. Josephus is accused of exaggeration in some of his descriptions, but his overall reports are of value in understanding the temple of Jesus' day).

The expansion of the area was achieved by building huge retaining walls to the east over the slopes of the Kidron and to the west into the Tyropoeon Valley. These walls were, in places, more than 80 feet high and sat on foundations some 50 feet deep. The area was then filled in and paved over, making an area of more than 35 acres upon which to build the new complex.

The plan of the new complex had the "temple" proper located to the western part of the area facing the east and enclosed in a series of terraces and walls. The interior dimensions of the building appear to have been left much as the previous structures with the hekal being 60 feet long and 30 feet wide while the debir remained 30 feet by 30 feet, although it appears that the height increased to 90 feet. The porch was described by Josephus as measuring 150 feet high and 150 feet wide, all covered with gold that reflected the sun so brightly that a person could not look directly upon it. The furniture of the holy place was the same as Zerubbabel's and the holy of holies remained empty, still separated by a veil. Directly in front of the building was now an altar of burnt sacrifice measuring 75 feet square.

Several different plans of the arrangement of the courts in the temple have been suggested over the last century because the sources are unclear and at points contradictory. (See for example W. F. Steinspring, "Temple, Jerusalem," Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, George A. Buttrick, ed. Nashville: [Abingdon Press, 1962], 4:534-560. See 4:556 for the suggestion by Vincent-Steve and page 558 for the attempt by Schick. Another possibility is given in Alfred Edersheim, The Temple, [ rev. and ill, with introduction by John J. Bimson Grand Rapids: Kregel, 19971,31]. Although the details are difficult to explicate, the overall understanding of the relationship of the courts to the temple proper is rather clear. Mound the sanctuary and in front was the court of the priests. Beyond that was the court of Israel, which was limited to Jewish men. A semicircular set of stairs led down to another level that was occupied by the court of women, as close to the sanctuary and altar as Jewish women could go. From this terrace apparently there were stairs that led down to the next level. Entry to these stairs and thus the court was protected by a stone partition four and one-half feet high that had inscribed on it warnings in Greek and Latin prohibiting Gentiles from entering. Beyond this partition was the court of Gentiles, which was a large part of the temple enclosure and was accessible to all people. In Mark 11 Jesus referred to this area as having become used as a marketplace and otherwise unsuitable for worship. By Jesus' time the rest of the temple platform included many other structures that added to the impressive complex. Inside the walls there were porticoes with colonnaded walkways, the best known of which is the Royal Porch or Portico of Solomon. It was located on the southern side and apparently served many purposes, including a business center, a place for exchange, and perhaps the meeting place for the Sanhedrin. Many gates were located in the walls and archaeological investigation has established a magnificent entry from the south up a monumental staircase that led into the two Huldah gates through underground passages that brought visitors into the temple court from below. One gate led through the western wall over a viaduct into the upper city, and another led through the southwestern part of the wall down a huge staircase that turned into the Tyropoean Valley. Another famous gate was the main gate in the eastern wall that led into the Kidron Valley and thus to Bethany. One other feature requiring mention was the Antonia fortress at the northwest corner of the temple that housed Roman soldiers and some Roman government offices. The entire complex was destroyed along with the city by the Roman general Titus in A.D 70.

Herod's temple, the temple of Jesus' day, was a huge and magnificent structure, a wonder of the ancient world. It was an architectural marvel of overwhelming proportions that called attention not only to Jerusalem as the place where the Jewish people carried out their rituals of sacrifice but also to Herod the Great as the builder. In Mark 11 Jesus called for the temple to be a place of worship and a place for all nations because He came to seek and save those who were lost. While He began in Jerusalem and Judea, He pointed the disciples to the ends of the earth." (Biblical Illustrator, Vol. 25. No. 2 Winter 1998-99).

Model of Jerusalem and the Second Temple (Roman Period). At the Holyland Hotel in Jerusalem. Looking Southwest.

The Christian Era

Important events in the life of Jesus Christ took place in the Temple area. Jesus was brought to the Temple to be dedicated at the age of eight days (Luke 2:27). When He was twelve Luke records that Jesus confounded the elders with His wisdom. (Luke 2:41-50)

Several of the most famous incidents in the life and ministry of Jesus took place in the Temple area. His public teachings often took place there when he was in Jerusalem several times each year, and his white-hot polemic denunciation of the Pharisees took place in the Courts.

Many people think of Jesus as someone meek and mild who would never raise His voice or be upset at anything. Consequently, they have a hard time understanding the Gospel accounts of Him going into the temple on two different occasions and disrupting the activities of the moneychangers. John records what occurred on the first occasion, at the beginning of his ministry:

Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, "Take these things away! Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!" (John 2:13-16).

Three years later, during Passion Week just after entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus again cleansed the temple, this time temporarily halting the sacrifices:

And Jesus entered the temple of God and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer'; but you make it a den of robbers." (Matthew 21:12,13. Compare Mark 11:15-19, Luke 19:4548)

Second Temple Destruction Predicted by Jesus

During his final week in Jerusalem Jesus wept over Jerusalem,

At that very hour some Pharisees came, and said to him, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." And Jesus said to them, "Go and tell that fox, 'Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.'

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken.
And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"' (Luke 13:31-35)

Luke's account adds details about the coming destruction of the city and the temple:

And when he drew near (on Palm Sunday) and saw the city he wept over it, saying, "Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation." (Luke 19:41-44)

As the Shekinah glory left the First Temple as recorded by Ezekiel, Jesus as God's prophet announced at this time that the Second Temple was from that point on to be left desolate, until He returned. Soon, the Second Temple would also be destroyed as the First had been.

In the last week of His life, Jesus pronounced judgment upon the nation and spoke of the coming destruction of this Second Temple.

Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came to Him to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down." (Matthew 24: 1-2)

According to Jesus, not one stone would be left upon another when the Temple was destroyed. Jesus also predicted the destruction of the city of Jerusalem:

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart and let not those who are in the country enter her. (Luke 21:20-22).

The prophet Daniel had also predicted the destruction of the Second Temple:

And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; and the people of the prince who is to come (the Romans) shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. (Daniel 9:26)

Daniel's prediction said that the Messiah would come to Jerusalem and be cut off (put to death) followed by yet another destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

And so there was to be a Second 9th of Av catastrophe on the Temple Mount. It was to come 655 years after the first.


An excellent book on the Second Temple period adapted by Rabbi Hersh Goldwurm is History of the Jewish People: The Second Temple Era, Artscroll History Series, Mesorah Publications. Ltd., Brooklyn, 1982. The early period dates given in this book are, however, incorrect.

Second Temple Times

by Lambert Dolphin
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Revised July 6, 1997. August 29, 2004. July 17, 2021

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