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It was the Passover, and both Jewish and non-Jewish pilgrims alike from all over the world would come to Jerusalem to seek after God at the Temple. They would come marching through the hills singing and rejoicing of the great things that God has done. It was a wonderful time of joy and festivity. Once they arrived, the foreigners would come to the Court of the Gentiles (or in its porch), and they would be confronted with the "moneychangers." When Jesus saw them He made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the Temple and said "Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!"The large outer court was called "the Court of the Gentiles" because it was devoted to the foreigners who had come to worship God at the Temple and they could proceed no further. It is interesting that Jesus chose to stop at this place to show forth His anger toward the moneychangers, the Court of the "Gentiles," and this was not the first time that He came to the aid of non-Jews.
The profanity and abuse of the moneychangers was no small thing. They treated the foreign guests with much contempt and even the Jewish authorities constantly scorned this place and abused the pilgrims who came to worship.The Money Changers
The word "moneychanger" means money-banker or money-broker. They would make large profits at the expense of the pilgrims. Every Israelite, rich or poor, who had reached the age of twenty was obligated to pay a half shekel as an offering to Jehovah into the sacred treasury. This tribute was in every case to be paid in the exact Hebrew half shekel. At Passover everyone in the world who was an adult male and wished to worship at the Temple would bring his "offering" or purchase a sacrificial animal at the Temple. Since there was no acceptance of foreign money with any foreign image the money changers would sell "Temple coinage" at a very high rate of exchange and assess a fixed charge for their services.The judges, who sat to inspect the offerings that were brought by the pilgrims, were quick to detect any blemish in them. This was expensive for the wealthy pilgrims, not to say how ruinous this was for the poor who could only offer their turtle-doves and pigeons. There was no defense for them or court of appeal, seeing that the priestly authorities took a large percentage on every transaction.
The House of God or the National TreasuryJesus referred to the Temple as the "House of God" and called it a "House of Prayer," not just for the Jews, but for all nations. When Jesus arrived with the mass of pilgrims, He overturned the tables and called it a den of thieves and a house of merchandise. The Temple was in some sense the national bank. It was a great public treasury with vaults containing immense stores of private wealth. These deposits never sat idle, but were loaned at high rates of interest. The Jewish historian Josephus wrote an account of the burning of the archives in Jerusalem and it gives an appalling picture of the incredible debts that were owed by the poor to the rich. It is believed that the intention of the burning was to 'destroy the money-lenders' tallies and to prevent the exaction of debts. After reading about how an infuriated mob (around 30 years later) robbed the Temple booths and dragged the sons of Annas to their death, it can only be imagined how much the Jewish authorities were hated by the humble commoners.
The Wealthy and the PoorThere was tremendous wealth in Jerusalem. Many of the rich publicans (tax-gatherers) and influential leaders resided in Jerusalem, not only in their houses, but their summer residences, their large parks, and their country estates. Their vast wealth reached unbelievable proportions in the days of Herod. These plutocratic families were powerful in government circles and "prided themselves in their excesses." The gulf between the rich and the poor was immense and the very poor families were often driven from their homes to become the slum-dwellers of Jerusalem.
By the time of Jesus Jerusalem had become a parasitic city, lying in wait for the multitudes of pilgrims who flocked into the city in their hundreds of thousands at each Festival. At the Passover there would be at least a million visitors, and Josephus multiplies this figure by four.Jesus promised the religious aristocracy that their "Temple would be left desolate," and not a single stone of the Temple would be left on top of another that would not be thrown down. Not even forty years passed when it all happened, for in 70 A.D. the legions of Rome came, led by Titus, and the Words of Christ were fulfilled.
Schematic Plan of the Temple
The Jewish Temple in the First Century A.D.It is interesting that in the Middle East certain places have remained holy throughout the centuries, even if another religion may have taken possession of them. Today the Moslem Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is the prominent building where the Jewish temple once stood. When Jesus came to Jerusalem, the Temple had just been marvelously rebuilt by Herod the Great. The Temple area had been enlarged to a size of about thirty-five acres. Around the Temple area were double colonnades. The Jewish historian Josephus describes the colonnades: "All the cloisters were double, and the pillars to them belonging were twenty-five cubits in height, and supported -the cloisters. These pillars were of one entire stone each of them, and that stone was white marble; and the roofs were adorned with cedar, curiously graven. The natural magnificence, and excellent polish, and the harmony of the joints in these cloisters, afforded a prospect that was very remarkable; nor was it on the outside adorned with any work of the painter or engraver. The cloisters -(of the outmost court) were in breadth thirty cubits, while the entire compass of it was by measure six furlongs, including the tower of Antonia; those entire courts that were exposed to the air were laid with stones of all sorts" (Jewish War 5. 5. 2). The eastern portico was named after King Solomon and the part to the south, which overlooked the Valley of Kidron, was called "Royal." On the east side the high corner was possibly the pinnacle of the temple, mentioned in the story of the temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:5). There were eight gates leading into the temple. There were the two Huldah Gates or "mole" Gates from the south, which passed underneath the Royal Porch. To the east was the Gate of Susa, still visible as the Golden Gate which was walled up by the Byzantines. In the western wall was the main gate named the Gate of Coponius after the first procurator; it was decorated with the golden eagle as a sign that the Temple had been placed under the protection of Rome. Anyone was allowed to enter the outer area, which was therefore called the Court of the Gentiles. The actual Temple was enclosed by a balustrade, and at the entrances to it were warning notices, one of them is now in a museum in Istanbul. It says that foreigners have freedom of access provided they do not go beyond the balustrade which went all around the central edifice and which no uncircumcised could cross without incurring the death penalty. Fourteen steps led through the Beautiful Gate to the Court of the women where the poor boxes were, into one of which the poor widow cast her two mites (Luke 21:1-4). Another fifteen steps led up to the famous Gate of Nicanor, to which Mary had brought the child at the time of his presentation; this led through the Court of the Men to that of the priests, which had in its center the altar for the burnt offerings and to the left of it a large basin called the Brazen Sea resting upon twelve bulls cast in bronze. Further steps led up to the actual temple, a comparatively small building. A priceless curtain, embroidered with a map of the known world, concealed from view what lay beyond, and none except the priest on duty was allowed to go farther. It contained the golden altar at which incense was offered and next to it the seven-branched candelabrum and the table with the twelve loaves of shewbread, which were replaced by fresh ones every sabbath. Beyond it, behind another large curtain, lay the Holy of Holies, which none except the high priest was allowed to enter, and he only on the Day of Atonement. A stone designated the place where once the Ark of the Covenant had stood. Jesus came to the Temple at a very young age and in Solomon's Porch the boy argued with the rabbis, astonishing them with his questions and with his answers. He remained behind when his parents left, and when his worried mother at last found him he said to her enigmatically: "'Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"' (Luke 2:49). It is one of the most original sayings of Jesus, in which he speaks of God for the first time as "avi" (My Father) which was an expression reserved for the Son of God. Today the Western Wall, the so-called Wailing Wall, is all that remains of the ancient walls of Herod's Temple; one can still see the pilaster and the beginning of Robinsonís Arch, which was part of a large viaduct leading to the upper city. Excavations in 1967, led by the well-known archaeologist Benjamin Mazar, revealed the cornerstone. Adjacent to it on the southern side remain traces of the road from which the pilgrims entered the gates. Archaeology
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Index of Topics
Rebuilding the Temple
Court of the Gentiles
Court of Israel
Court of the Priest's
Altar of Sacrifice
Holy of Holies
Jesus and the Temple