According to Jewish teaching, the 2nd temple lacked 5 things present in the first temple.
- 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.
So the Holy of Holies in the second temple period lacked these things which were present in the first temple. The most important were the Ark of the Covenant and the Shekinah (the glory cloud that represented the presence of the Lord).
The whereabouts of the Ark of the Covenant is unknown, with various claims which cannot be substantiated. One is that it was hidden by Jeremiah under the Temple where it will one day be found. Another, that it is located in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Axum.
In my opinion, ‘Raiders of the lost ark’ will never find anything because the most likely explanation of its whereabouts is that it was destroyed with the fall of the Temple by the Babylonians and does not exist today. The Ethiopian ark at Axum is most likely a copy of the original.
The issue of the Shekinah is more relevant to us today. The cloud known as the Shekinah (from the Hebrew verb ‘shachen’ to dwell) was a sign of the Lord dwelling with Israel.
The glory cloud led Israel through the wilderness in the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day (Exodus 13.21-22). It was manifested in the dedication of the Tabernacle by Moses (Exodus 40.34-37): Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
The Bible tells us that the Shekinah, the glory cloud, which was the manifestation of the presence of the Lord, filled the first Temple, when it was dedicated by Solomon (1 Kings 8.10-13):
Then Solomon spoke: The Lord said He would dwell in the dark cloud. I have surely built You an exalted house, And a place for You to dwell in forever.
Ezekiel 10-11 describes the departure of the glory cloud from the Temple as a result of the sin of the people of Israel, in particular its leaders, who brought abominations to God into the Temple. This happened just 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.
However the prophet Haggai prophesied concerning the rebuilding of the Temple after the Jews’ return from Babylon. He wrote:
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 the second Temple in a greater way than the glory that came into the first Temple. But everyone agrees that the glory cloud never come into the second Temple as it did into the first Temple.
So is this a false prophecy? Was Haggai a false prophet? Or was this prophecy fulfilled in a completely different way when Jesus / Yeshua the Messiah came into the Temple?
When Joseph and Mary brought the baby Jesus into the temple for the ceremony of pidyon ha ben (the redemption of the first born) in Luke 2.22-24, the elderly priest Simeon, who had been told by the Lord that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah, greeted them with these words:
He saw the glory of God coming into the Temple in this tiny baby, 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.
Concerning Him John wrote:
When John speaks of ‘the Word’ he means God:
The New Testament records many times when Jesus went 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 Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple.’ Matthew 12.6. In this He was referring to Himself.
He also prophesied the coming destruction of the Temple under the Romans:
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:
This was in the will of God so that the Lord Jesus would fulfil the prophecy of the Suffering Servant Messiah, and bear the sins of the world so that, those who repent of sin and believe the Gospel, could be born again of the Holy Spirit and have God dwelling in them by the Spirit. As a result, the believer now becomes the ‘Temple of God’ as Paul wrote to the Corinthians: Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 1 Corinthians 3.16, see also 1 Corinthians 6.19-20.
Coming back to the physical Temple in Jerusalem, something very significant happened there at the time of the crucifixion.
When Jesus died on the cross the veil in the Temple was torn from top to bottom.
This was a very heavy curtain which sealed off the Holy of Holies from the holy place and the other parts of the Temple where the people could go.
The only time when anyone could go past this veil was when the High Priest went in once a year to offer the Yom Kippur / Day of Atonement sacrifice.
Anyone who went in without offering the appropriate sacrifice or anyone other than the High Priest would die, because the presence of the Lord dwelt in the Holy of Holies (although the visible cloud was absent from the second Temple).
This event symbolised the fact that now that the Messiah had paid the price for the sins of the world, the way was now open for anyone, Jew or Gentile, male or female, to come into the presence of the Lord through the sacrifice of the Messiah who shed His blood when He died for our sins and rose from the dead.
After this, the Temple became 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 had now been replaced by the better sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah (see Hebrews 8-9).
Remarkably, this is shown in a passage in the Talmud, which records that for forty years before its destruction there were visible signs that God no longer accepted the Yom Kippur sacrifice.
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 ‘l’azazel’ for the scapegoat. The first goat was sacrificed in the Holy of Holies, and the second goat 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 the neck of the scapegoat and it was then taken to a precipice in the wilderness about 12 miles from Jerusalem.
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.
The Temple no longer had any purpose and God allowed its destruction in 70CE. The desolations of Jerusalem began then and will end with the return of Jesus – As He said ‘Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.’ Luc 21.24.
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). This passage shows us that the final war of this age will take place over the issue of who should rule Jerusalem. It will cause the return of the Messiah as the Lord coming to the Mount of Olives to set up His Millennial kingdom as described in Zechariah 14 and Revelation 19-20.
After His return, the final Temple will be restored in the Millennial kingdom when the glory will return. Ezekiel, who described the departure of the glory from the first Temple in chapters 10-11 of his prophecy, describes the return of the glory to the Temple in the coming Messianic kingdom (see Ezekiel 40-48).
Jesus, the Lord, 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 (Ésaïe 11.9).
Something to look forward to in today’s sick and dying world.
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