Datafile: TemplesBy Nathan Mates
In the Old Testament, after the flight from Egypt, God commanded that a place be built for the Ark of the Covenant, as well as a portable place for sacrifices and worship of God. This was the Tabernacle. Centuries later, after the Israelites entered their promised land, and their line of kings was established, Solomon built a formal temple to house the Ark and be a more permanent place of worship. After the Babylonians razed Solomon's Temple in 586BC, and the Babylonian captivity, a second temple was finally completed in 516BC. This temple was never really destroyed, but it was rebuilt and upgraded in pieces until it became Herod's temple built in 20BC. Just a few decades later in AD 70, the Romans destroyed that temple when they laid siege and conquered Jerusalem.
While the list above is that of formal, physical, Temples to God in the Bible, it's not complete. Two other 'physical' temples are mentioned, one in Ezekiel, and the other in Revelation; that's where some of the more perplexing issues arise.
Going back to the oldest proto-Temple, the Tabernacle, plans for it were given to Moses on Mount Sinai, in the book of Exodus, chapters 25-31, roughly 1446BC. The first thing God gave plans for in that was the most Holy of articles within it-- the Ark of the Covenant. This was never to be touched by human hands, only carried on poles. Other articles were also built for the Tabernacle-- tables and lampstands, altars and incense burning altars. The Ark was to be in the Most Holy Place, a cubical room 10 cubits (15 feet) on a side. There was a curtain separating that from the Holy place holding the tables, lampstands, and altar of incense; the Holy place was 10 cubits wide by 20 long and covered from the sky just like the Most Holy Place. This was enclosed in a larger area of 50 by 100 cubits (75x150 feet; without a ceiling) that held the bronze altar for sacrificial offerings and the like.
From this, note some of the basics: God gave a very simple and rectangular plan for everything. Squares, cubes, and rectangles abound in his plans; we'll see more of that later. Another detail that comes up with this and subsequent temples is that the entrance always faces east. Next, all of the walls were a set of curtains and poles were very portable. When the Israelites would have to make a trip from Mount Sinai to their promised land (and a 40 year detour because they refused to stop and ask for directions from God), this portability would be very useful.
The Most Holy Place was only to be entered by the High Priest once a year to make sacrifices; if he had not prepared himself according to God's commandments, they would die. [Exodus 28:43 and other places.] This was to impress on the High Priests their duties to obey the full law of the Lord-- that was their job, and they had no excuse not to follow it. If the High Priest could die while alone in the Most Holy Place, how were the others to retrieve him? A rope around the ankle leading out to the Holy Place was used to retrieve the body if necessary. God was serious-- the wages of sin in his presence were immediate death.
4 centuries later, King David brought the Ark of the Covenant to a Jerusalem shortly after becoming King and establishing Jerusalem as the center of his Kingdom. [2 Samuel chapters 5 & 6] David himself commented that "he had a palace made of cedar, while the ark remained in a tent." [2 Samuel 7:2] God's response to that in verses 5-7 are very telling: "Go and tell my servant David, 'This is what the LORD says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?"'
In short, God hadn't asked for an upgrade from the tent. God continues on in that passage (2 Samuel 7:5-16) to say that he will establish David's royal line forever, but David would not get to build the Temple-- his son would. And that King Solomon did, beginning in 966BC. 1 Kings chapters 6 and 7 is a record of that; seven years later, that temple was finished. [And 1 Kings 7:1 notes, almost with a sense of disapproval that "It took Solomon thirteen years, however, to complete the construction of his palace." David's cedar palace wasn't good enough for his kids, apparently.]
Once again, Solomon's Temple was quite rectangular, faced east, but had the main plan scaled up double over the Tabernacle. While the Tabernacle's Most Holy place for the ark had been a cube 10 cubits on a side, Solomon's Temple was 20 on a side. The Tabernacle's Holy Place was 20x10 cubits; Solomon's was 40x20, and 30 cubits high. Around the north, west, and south sides of the Holy & Most Holy places, there's a set of 3 floors of side rooms. This Temple's structure was quarried stone, but on the inside of the temple, the stone was paneled with cedar and pine; "no stone was to be seen." (1 Kings 6:18b)
One of the more interesting details comes up in 1 Kings 6:6, where for the "The lowest floor was five cubits wide, the middle floor six cubits and the third floor seven. He made offset ledges around the outside of the temple so that nothing would be inserted into the temple walls." In other words, the rooms on the each floor were smaller than those above them, and their ceiling rested on part of the wall, not inserted into it. For a crude diagram, things looked roughly like this:
X X X______X XX XX XX XX XX____XXWhere the X's are the walls, and the _'s are the floors. The author of 1 Kings notes that this would be so that nothing would be inserted into the Temple walls-- I (and Biblical cross-references) can find no real reason why this is the case, but it certainly is recorded as being done on purpose.
Solomon's Temple stood for some centuries, enduring desecration as the later King Manasseh (among others) put pagan worship symbols in God's Temple, such as pagan altars and Asherah poles. [2 Kings 21:1-9] Finally, after many warnings from God to turn and repent given through many prophets, God allowed the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar to capture and destroy Jerusalem. [2 Kings 25] The temple was looted, and the city-- including the royal palaces and the temple-- were burnt. The city walls were destroyed, along with the temple and palaces.
But, God was faithful to his promises to deliver the Israelites from the Babylonians, and they were allowed to return and rebuild Jerusalem and their Temple as recorded in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Not as much is known about the initial plans of this Temple; work started under Babylonian emperor Cyrus in 536BC, and ended under Darius in 516BC. It was built on the same site as Solomon's temple, still facing East, with a rectangular design separating off the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place.
Instead of being funded by two victorious Israelite kings (David and Solomon), this one was paid for by the Babylonian king, unwilling to fund as much. As recorded in Ezra 6:3-5: "In the first year of King Cyrus, the king issued a decree concerning the temple of God in Jerusalem: Let the temple be rebuilt as a place to present sacrifices, and let its foundations be laid. It is to be ninety feet high and ninety feet wide, with three courses of large stones and one of timbers. The costs are to be paid by the royal treasury. Also, the gold and silver articles of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, are to be returned to their places in the temple in Jerusalem; they are to be deposited in the house of God."
What is known that those who had seen Solomon's temple decades earlier wept (Ezra 3:12) at the comparison of the new to the old, inferring that this was a slightly smaller and inferior one. In fact, the prophet Haggai comments on this, quoting God as saying "Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?" [Haggai 2:3]
And yet, there is hope for this Temple. "This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the LORD Almighty. 'The silver is mine and the gold is mine,' declares the LORD Almighty. 'The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,' says the LORD Almighty. 'And in this place I will grant peace,' declares the LORD Almighty." [Haggai 2:6-9] This will be the place that Jesus will visit, this place will be glorified.
Jesus did visit this temple, even though it underwent severe renovation and upgrading by Herod the Great just before Jesus arrived. [Yes, same Herod who tried to kill Jesus as an infant after the wise men told him what had happened.] In 20-18BC, Herod expanded on the floor plan of Solomon's Temple, mostly expanding it vertically. The Most Holy Place was still a 20 cubit cube, and the Holy Place was 20 cubits wide and 40 long, but was 60 cubits high. On top of that, another 40 cubits of height were added on top, making it 100 cubits (150 feet) high, and the front was widened into a facade that was 100 cubits wide and 100 high. Outside, there were outer courts with rooms and colonnades for the women and gentiles. [Gentiles were allowed up to a point, female Jews a bit beyond that, male Jews beyond that, and Priests beyond that.]
There still was the curtain separating the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place, as the High Priest could only enter once a year to be in the presence of God. But, things were about to change. This curtain, 20 cubits (30 feet) wide and high, was very thick, and ornate. As Mark records it, at the end of the crucifixion, "With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom." [Mark 15:37-38] No human hands could rip such a thing apart, and they wouldn't start from the top of that. God had that curtain ripped apart to show the new covenant that we can approach God with confidence: "Therefore, brothers, 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," [Hebrews 10:19-20; Hebrews chapters 9 & 10 touch on this much more detail.]
Even after Jesus had appeared at the Temple, preached the gospel, was crucified and resurrected in AD 33, and his disciples took up the evangelism, the Jews of the era didn't all believe the gospel. Jesus himself commented on the sins of the people at the time, saying that their punishment would soon come due: "And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation." [Matthew 23:35-36] and "Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. "Do you see all these things?" he asked. "I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." [Matthew 24:1-2]
So, in 70 AD, after the Jews revolted against Roman rule, the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem, just as the Babylonians had done centuries before, and when they succeeded in conquering the city, the Temple was destroyed, just as Jesus had prophesied. According to some end times scholars, the Temple will be rebuilt before/during the tribulations, using Daniel 9:27 and Isaiah 66:1 (among other places) as references for that. [I'm not really going to get into all that in this writing which is long enough already; maybe later.]
After all of this discussion of Temples, there's still two more big ones mentioned in the Bible. Flip back from the New Testament to Ezekiel 40-48. While in the middle of the Babylonian captivity (573BC, 13 years after Solomon's Temple was destroyed), Ezekiel was shown a vision of a new Temple area. It has the same floor plans for the Most Holy Place & Holy Place (20x20 and 20x40) as Solomon's temple, but Ezekiel's "royal" cubits mentioned in Ezekiel 40:5 were roughly 116% the size of the standard cubits. (20.4 inches vs 17.6 inches). In addition, there's a large number of covered priest's rooms outside the temple (Ezekiel 42:1-10), and an outer court (40:17), ovens & kitchens (46:19-24) and other details never found in the floor plans of the other Temples in Jerusalem. In addition, the heights of things in Ezekiel's temple are never mentioned for buildings, only altars.
In addition to this, there is another detail found in Ezekiel's Temple not found in the others: a river coming out of it. [Ezekiel 47:1-12] This river was coming from under the south side of the temple, and as it flowed east (towards the Dead Sea), it got deeper without being fed by tributaries. As noted, "Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing." [Ezekiel 47:12]
Fast forward to the end of Revelation, where another 'Temple' is mentioned in Revelation 21 through Revelation 22:19. A huge city came down out of Heaven to the new Earth-- roughly 1400 miles square in its dimensions, and 1400 miles high. [Digression to Science Fiction fans: think Borg ship. But far cooler and from God.] If you do the math, that's 2.7 billion cubic miles of volume, but what's changed is the Temple compared to all other mentions of a physical Temple: "I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life. [Rev 21:22-27] Just like the Most Holy Place was traditionally a cube, so this entire city is that, taken to huge extremes.
Once again, in this heavenly temple, there's a river of life, just as in Ezekiel: "Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations." [Rev 22:1-2]
The question remains as to Ezekiel's temple: what's it there for? There's a number of parallels between it and the Revelation "temple" -- river of life, shown in a vision of Heaven, yet Ezekiel's is in the plans of a traditional Old Testament-built Temple. There's still a Most Holy Place for only the High Priest to go once a year, something that Jesus would abolish. Ezekiel's plans for a temple were never built, and there's never been a river of life associated with Jerusalem Temples on this earth-- it only existed in heaven.
So, did God do some heavenly redecorating after Jesus's breaking of the separation between God and Man, and make a temple-city worthy of the new covenant? Can Jesus's words be saying he's doing that? "In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you." [John 14:2] You can fit a whole lot of rooms into 2.7 billion cubic miles, but for the one who created the Earth in 6 days, such a thing wouldn't take long often. When we get to Heaven, hopefully this and many other questions will be resolved.