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The Temple and Synagogues
When Jesus was alive on Earth, he visited the Temple in Jerusalem and attended synagogue meetings. We know this from Scripture: Matthew 21:12 and Luke 2:46 mention Jesus at the Temple (or in the Temple courts) and Mark 1:21 and John 6:59 mention Jesus attending synagogue. These two worked together to provide the Jews places to worship God. Yet, even though they functioned in tandem, the original purpose of each was to work as an individual institution. As a matter of fact, when each was built or created the other one didn’t exist. So this summary will show how the Jews ended up with one Temple and many synagogues in the time of Jesus.
First the Temple. Yet before a discussion of the Temple, another structure needs to be mentioned: the Tabernacle. After the Jews had escaped from the Egyptians, and they were wandering in the desert, God gave them the Law (found in Exodus through Deuteronomy). Part of the Law discusses the building of a large tent known as the Tabernacle. The Jews were to offer their sacrifices at the Tabernacle, and did so well into the time that they had conquered and settled in the Promised Land (present-day Israel).
Once David became king, he made Jerusalem the capital city. He wanted to build a permanent structure for God, but was not allowed to do so; yet his son, Solomon, was charged to build what would become known as the Temple. (I Chronicles 22:6-10) After David died, Solomon did build the Temple; this occurred around the year 950 BC.
After Solomon died, the kingdom of Israel was split into two smaller kingdoms: the northern kingdom was known as Israel and the southern kingdom was known as Judah. Eventually the northern kingdom was defeated around the year 732 BC; eventually the southern kingdom was defeated around the year 586 BC. Jerusalem was located in the southern kingdom: when that kingdom was defeated and Jerusalem was captured, the Temple was destroyed.
Most of the Jews in the southern kingdom were relocated to the country which had defeated them: Babylonia. While there, with the Temple destroyed, the Jews decided to develop an alternative place where they could gather to worship God. They did not build one location, such as a Temple, but instead chose to gather in small groups called “synagogues.” As time passed they built buildings where they could meet and called the buildings "synagogues."
Then the Persians defeated the Babylonians. The Persian king decided to let the Jews in Babylonia go back to their homeland and rebuild the Temple. (II Chronicles 36:23) Many Jews did go back and eventually rebuilt the Temple in the same spot as the previous Temple. They also decided to maintain the practice of gathering in synagogues.
Therefore, when Jesus was alive he was able to go to both the Temple and synagogues. In biblical and archaeological studies, the two Temples are known as the First Temple Period and the Second Temple Period.
Today Jews only use synagogues. The reason: When Jesus was alive, the Romans controlled Israel. In the year AD 66, some Jews rebelled against the Romans and took the land back. The Romans reconquered the Jews and destroyed the Temple in the year AD 70. It has not been rebuilt because the third most holy site for many Muslims today occupies that spot: the Dome of the Rock. And the Muslims are not going to move their Dome so the Jews can rebuild their Temple.
©2011 Mark Nickens
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