Proposition: The location and timing and design of the Temple speaks of a God Who provides, He provides Himself for our salvation.
He was an older man, not so old that he couldn’t work but too old to change, too old to begin again and certainly too old to ever have children. It’s not that he and his wife hadn’t wanted to have a family but now that time was behind them, life had other joys and mysteries to be discovered. In fact he had just won a lottery, a job lottery. Out of more than 20,000 priests he had been the one that was assigned to burn incense in the Temple this day. It was a once in a life time privilege, his duty to light the incense and to offer prayer for the entire nation of Israel. So things were looking up, his wife was as excited as he and today was the day. Zacharias went into the Temple early, at sun rise, two other priests went with him. One would set the coals on fire on the golden altar of incense, the other would ready the incense. Once done, they left and it was only Zacharias alone in the Holy place. To his left was the golden lampstand, the table for the shew bread was over on the right. In front of him was the veil, a curtain that went up 60 feet high, 30 feet wide and was layered so that it was four inches thick. As Zacharias’ eyes adjusted to the light he looked forwards at the curtain knowing behind it was the place called the Holy of Holies where only the high priest could go just once a year on the Day of Atonement. Zacharias knew that behind the curtain in the Holy of Holies was a completely empty room. Gone was the ark of the covenant, gone was the gold lid that covered it called the mercy seat, gone were the contents of manna, tablets of stone and the staff of Aaron. All that was in the Holy of Holies was an empty room that had been that way for more than 500 years ever since Zerubbabel rebuilt this second Temple. And Zacharias bowed his head and began to pray…
This morning I’d like to talk with you about the Temple, I want to trace its location, its various designs and its eternal message. From the creation of Adam and Eve God has taught us about how to approach Him with sacrifice. When they chose to disobey Him sin and death entered into our being influencing the way of sacrifice. From Cain and Abel in 4000BC the importance of sacrifice began to be pictured but it wasn’t until about 1940BC that the location of the Temple was first unveiled. That was the approximate date when God tested Abraham, telling him to take his only son Isaac to a distant mountain called Moriah and offer him there. The account of this recorded in Genesis 22 tells us that the Angel of the Lord stopped Abraham at the last minute and provided a ram for the sacrifice. Abraham named that mountain Jehovah-Jireh, the Lord Will Provide. It was about 500 years later that Moses led the nation of Israel out of Egypt and God instructed Moses on how to make the Tabernacle, a place where He would meet with man. This large portable tent had the features of a Holy place and a Holy of Holies. The ark of the covenant was made and placed in the Tabernacle when they were at Sinai. The ark was a small wood chest overlaid with gold with a lid on it that had two gold angels arching over it. Inside it were three things that would seem strange to us, three things that would remind Israel of their sin. A jar of manna, the staff of Aaron and copies of the stone tablets with the ten commandments. Each of these were a response to some act of failure on Israels part, grumbling over food, grumbling over leadership or grumbling over God’s absence. Covering these was the lid of the ark, a place called the mercy seat, a place where the failures could not be seen because of the blood of a sacrifice. This was the ark of the covenant and it was kept in the holy of holies in the Tabernacle tent. For the next 500 years this would be their portable Temple. Then In 1010BC King David bought the rocky hill top where Abraham had brought his son, that hill top called Mount Moriah which Abraham renamed Jehovah-jireh. David intended to use it as the place to build the Temple but it would not be until 997BC that King Solomon his son would actually build it into one of the marvels of the world. All that Moses had instructed in how to build the Tabernacle was now used as a design in how to build the first Temple called Solomon’s Temple. Israel worshipped at this Temple for the next 400 years and then in things fell into chaos. Idolatry and schism tore Israel into a two state nation, civil war ravaged them and so did an increasing godlessness. In a series of prophecies God warned Israel to humble themselves, to return to Him or He would take away from them their land, their Temple and their freedom. The godlessness increased and God sent two waves of invasion to displace the people. It was with the Assyrian armies in 722BC that the northern half of Israel fell. Then 136 years later in 586BC Nebuchadnezzer took the southern portion of Israel and he destroyed Jerusalem and completely destroyed the Temple taking only the golden cups and candlesticks from it as trophies. He carried the nation away to Babylon as captives, just as Jeremiah had prophesied in Jer. 25:1-11. It has been asked, ‘What happened to the ark of the covenant?’, surely the Levicial priests knowing that an invasion was coming would not have let the Babylonians destroy it too? Some have conjectured that the ark was hidden underneath in tunnels below in the Temple mount. In fact two rabbis’, Rabbi Shlomo Goren and Rabbi Yehuda Getz, tried to excavate to the spot they thought it could be in 1982 but were halted by a Muslim riot over the dig which went under the Dome of the Rock. The tunnel was filled in and remains blocked to this day. Perhaps the words of Jeremiah 3:16, like the other 3:16 passages of Scripture leaves us the answer, take the time to read that for yourself. After the Babylonian captivity of Judah in 586BC the Temple was destroyed and Jerusalem was made into rubble. Then, seventy years later, just as Jeremiah had foretold and Daniel acknowledged in Daniel 9, the nation of Israel was released to return to their land, to rebuild the Temple and the city walls. In 520BC a governor of Israel named Zerubbabel under the protection of Cyrus the Persian king that had taken over Babylon rebuilt the Second Temple. It was but a shadow of what it had been but it was the Temple where God would meet with man. Some 350 years a Greek General known as Antiochus Ephiphanes would come into this Temple and desecrate it by putting a statue of Jupiter in it and sacrificing a pig there spreading its blood all around the Temple defiling it. It was referred to as the desolation of Israel, the abomination of desolation that sparked a rebellion of Jews led by Judas Maccabees. On December 25, 165BC they rededicated the Temple and it is remembered even today as the Feast of Lights or Hanukah. In approximately 146BC the Romans defeated the Greeks and in 63BC Rome occupied Jerusalem. They appointed a governor over the land, a man who proclaimed himself king of the Jews though he actually was an Edomite. His name was Herod and 18BC Herod renovated the Second Temple which Zerubbabel had built, a renovation that lasted for the next 46 years. It was in this Temple that Zacharias, the priest who had won the lottery now stood and with head bowed prayed for the nation.
We know that the Temple renovations by Herod were completed in about 28AD but the finishing work went on until about 63AD. Seven years later the Romans in response to a Jewish revolt completely destroyed the Temple in 70AD. In the ensuing resistance against the Romans the persecutions became more and more intense until in 135AD the Romans ploughed salt into the Temple mount and drove the Jews out of Israel and renamed the land Palestine. For the next 1813 years Israel would be a people without a land and without a temple and without the ark of the covenant, until 1948. Now they have a land and God is returning the Jewish people to that land in the thousands and millions. Yet still there is no Temple and no Ark of the Covenant.
What does this have to do with Christmas? Just five miles from where the Temple stood a tiny baby was born. This child was the fulfillment of what Abraham had heard on Mount Moriah, God Himself will provide the sacrifice. Perhaps better put, God will provide Himself as the sacrifice. Jesus is that sacrifice. Everything that was pictured in the Ark of the Covenant Jesus responded to. The golden jar of manna that questioned if God could actually take care of them Jesus used to teach the people that He was the bread of life pictured in that manna. Everything in the budding staff of Aaron which was a testament to the superiority of Aaron as the priest to lead them Jesus fulfilled as our High Priest. Even the tablets of the Law Jesus fulfilled completely, perfectly, without sin proclaiming the perfect way to the Father through the Son.
The Temple Jesus said could be torn down because in three days He would raise it again! The Temple now is His body given for us, now He is our meeting place, He is place where we like Zacharias did, offer prayers like fragrant incense to our holy heavenly Father.
“This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing
Haste, haste to bring him laud The Babe, the Son of Mary” …