In the year 63BC the Romans entered Jerusalem, beginning the Roman occupation of Israel. When the Romans took control of Jerusalem, their General Pompey entered the Temple and went right into the Holy of Holies, thus causing great offence to the Jewish people. It was thought that he might be struck dead for committing this act of desecration, but he was not.
What was surprising was what he found there. The Roman historian Tacitus tells us that when Pompey and his troops entered the Holy of Holies in the Temple, they found it empty. There was no image of any god, no objects of worship. Tacitus describes it as being ‘unoccupied’. The Jewish historian Josephus tells us, “In the sanctuary stood nothing whatever”. So what was the problem about entering an empty room?
The Holy of Holies was the place of the greatest sanctity in the world, considered to be the place where the presence of God dwelt. The First Temple, built in the days of Solomon in around 957 BC, was modelled on the earlier Tabernacle made in the days of Israel’s journeying through the wilderness in the book of Exodus. At its heart was the Holy of Holies, the most holy place, where the ark of the covenant was placed, along with the presence of the Lord, known as the Shekinah, was to be found. It could only be entered once a year, on the Day of Atonement, by the High Priest, who offered the sacrifice for the day of Atonement in that place.
In around 537 BC the Babylonians captured Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and took the Jewish people into captivity in Babylon. The prophet Jeremiah told them this was a judgement of God for their sins, but also that they would return and rebuild the Temple after a period of 70 years of captivity.
Jeremiah’s prophecy was fulfilled and the Jews returned from Babylon with an edict from Cyrus, the Persian Emperor who defeated the Babylonians, to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 1.1-4). The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah describe the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple, which became known as the Second Temple.
According to Jewish teaching, the Second Temple lacked five things present in the First Temple：
- The Ark of Covenant,
- Sacred fire falling from heaven on the sacrifices,
- The Shekinah, the glory cloud,
- The Urim and Thummim (on High Priest’s garments, by which the will of God was discerned),
- The spirit of prophecy.
The Shekinah or the glory cloud is most significant of these five things. The word Shekinah is a noun formed from the Hebrew verb ‘shachen’ to dwell. It was a sign of the Lord dwelling with Israel. The Lord was present with Israel in the glory cloud that led the children of Israel through the wilderness in Exodus 13.21-22. The glory cloud was manifested in the dedication of the Tabernacle by Moses (Exodus 40.34-37):
The glory cloud also filled the First Temple, when it was dedicated by Solomon (1 Kings 8.10-13):
Ezekiel 10-11 describes the departure of the glory cloud from the Temple as a result of the sin of the people of Israel. This happened before its destruction by the Babylonians:
There is no mention of the glory cloud returning after the Jewish people came back from Babylon and rebuilt the Second Temple. The Holy of holies in the Second Temple never contained the Shekinah glory that came into the first temple or the Ark of the Covenant.
The prophecy of Haggai is all about the rebuilding of the Temple after the Jews’ return from Babylon. He prophesied:
So the ‘glory of the latter house’ (Second Temple) would be greater than the glory of the former (First Temple). The use of the word glory here does not mean it would be a more beautiful building than Solomon’s temple, but that the glory of God would come into it in a greater way. But the glory cloud never came into the Second Temple as it did into the First Temple.
So is this a false prophecy? Or was this prophecy fulfilled in a completely different way?
In the Gospel of Luke chapter 2, we read how Joseph and Mary brought the baby Jesus into the temple for the Jewish ceremony of pidyon ha ben (the redemption of the first born). They were met by the elderly priest Simeon, who had been told by the Lord that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah. He greeted them with these words:
He saw the glory of God coming into the Temple in this child, whom he correctly recognised to be the Messiah of Israel, as the Holy Spirit revealed this to him. So the greater glory came into the Temple in the person of the Messiah, which was present even in this tiny baby.
When He was fully grown and began His ministry, John wrote about the glory of God present in the Person of the Messiah Jesus / Yeshua:
The New Testament records many times that Jesus came into the Temple – Matthew 21.12-15, Luke 2.41-50, Luke 20, John 5, John 7-10 for example. There He manifested the glory of God. He also said that:
In this He was referring to Himself.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem in His triumphal entry, He went into the Temple to cleanse it from the corrupt dealings of the money changers. He also performed signs and wonders, showing His glory and divine power:
He also prophesied the coming destruction of the Temple:
The time of your visitation which ‘you did not know’ refers to the Messiah coming into Jerusalem and the Temple. He was rejected by the religious leaders (although He was accepted by many of the common people). This rejection led to His arrest, trial and crucifixion, in fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah 53:
Jesus fulfilled this prophecy by His death on the cross, shedding His blood as the sacrifice for the sin of the world. When He had finished this task, something very significant happened in the Temple:
The veil of the temple was a very heavy curtain which sealed off the Holy of Holies from the other parts of the Temple. The only time when anyone could go past this veil was when the High Priest went in once a year into the presence of God, to offer the sacrifice for the Day of Atonement. It was forbidden for anyone else to go into this place on pain of death, because of its sanctity.
The tearing of the veil symbolised the fact that the Messiah had paid the price for the sins of the world and now the way is open for anyone, Jew or Gentile, male or female, to come into the presence of the Lord, because the Messiah Yeshua has shed His blood as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.
After this the Temple building became spiritually desolate as Jesus said in Matthew 23.39:
It no longer had any purpose for the offering of sacrifices acceptable to the Lord. The sacrifices given in Leviticus 16-17 for the day of atonement were no longer needed to atone for our sins and have now been replaced by the better sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah (see Hebrews 8-9). Forty years later it would become physically desolate when the Romans destroyed it in AD70.
Remarkably there is a passage in the Talmud (Jewish commentaries and teaching), which records that forty years before the destruction of the Temple, something unusual happened to show a change had happened.
At the time of the Second Temple the practice on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, was to take two goats and sacrifice them to the Lord according to Leviticus 16. The first goat was ‘for the Lord’ and the second goat was the scapegoat. The first goat was sacrificed in the Holy of Holies, and the second goat, the scapegoat, was sent out into the wilderness, after having the sins of the people placed upon it in accordance with Leviticus 16.21. A scarlet sash was tied around its neck and it was then taken to a precipice in the wilderness about 12 miles from Jerusalem. A portion of this sash was also tied to the door of the Temple before the goat departed into the wilderness. When the goat finally arrived at the precipice, the attending priest removed the red sash from its head and divided it, returning half to the animal’s horns and tying the other half to a protrusion on the cliff. He then pushed the animal backwards over the cliff to its death.
In his book ‘The Fall Feasts of Israel’, Mitch Glaser writes:
The final sacrifice had come and the temple sacrifices were no longer effective in covering sin. The Temple no longer had any purpose and God allowed its destruction in 70CE. The desolations of Jerusalem began and will end with the return of Jesus – As He said:
The present return of the Jewish people to Jerusalem and Israel is a sign of this process beginning and the soon return of Jesus (see Zechariah 12-14). Jesus told His disciples that at His return He will come in the glory clouds of heaven:
After this He will sit on His throne of glory and judge the nations:
He will also restore the kingdom to Israel, reigning in power from Jerusalem as the long expected Messianic King. The temple will again be restored in Jerusalem to be the seat of power of the Messiah. At that time the glory will return and Haggai’s prophecy of the glory of the latter house will reach its final fulfilment.
Ezekiel, who described the departure of the glory from the first Temple in chapter 10-11 of his prophecy, describes the return of the glory to the temple in the coming Messianic kingdom (see Ezekiel 40-48).
When the Messiah comes into the Holy of holies of the rebuilt temple in His millennial reign, the glory of God will fill the house and the whole earth will be filled with His glory.
He will rule over the earth as Messiah ben David (son of David) bringing peace and justice to the world (Isaiah 2.1-4) as the earth is full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isaías 11.9). Something to look forward to as we see the current darkness covering the earth.
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