Jesus Loved the Temple Mount

 

Whatever Christian tradition of interpretation one subscribes to, one thing is clear: Jesus loved the Temple Mount—Mt Zion—where the holy House of God stood. It is well known that Jesus called it his “Father’s House.” His disciples even said that zeal for God’s Temple consumed him, and, like the weeping prophet Jeremiah, Jesus wept when he foresaw its destruction.

“For Christians, as for Jews, the ‘status quo’ which forbids them to pray on the Temple Mount, is rooted in the [Palestinian] notion that no Jewish Temple ever existed on the Temple Mount in the first place.

“In 2000, during the controversial Camp David Accords, late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat declared that there never was a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount. Since then, Islamists have declared that the Jewish people have no claim to the Temple Mount or Israel at all.”[1]

Former Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, is right when he says, “Temple denial is also denial of the Gospels.” On this issue, Jews and Christians find common ground.

From beginning to end of the Gospel accounts, Jesus was constantly connected with the Temple—even as an infant. Not only was Jesus connected with the Mountain of God’s House, he was absolutely passionate about it!

Redemption in the Temple

The New Testament relates how, after his birth, Jesus parents brought him to the Temple at the first opportunity. The Gospel of Luke says,

“And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord” (Luke 2:22–24).[2]

Since he was their firstborn, according to God’s commandments, Joseph and Mary needed to redeem him with five shekels from a Cohen, a Levitical priest (see Numbers 18). The redemption ceremony did not have to be done at the Temple—or even right away—but it was the most prestigious place to do so, and his parents seemed zealous to have things done properly.

Though not explicitly stated, the story suggests that the old righteous man Simeon was the priest who performed the ancient redemption ceremony and took the infant Jesus into his arms.

“And he [Simeon] came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God” (Luke 2:27–28).

This event would have taken place in the Court of the Women, just a stones throw east of where the Dome of the Rock stands today on the Temple Mount.

Pilgrimage to the Mount

Throughout his life, Jesus was continually visiting the Temple, celebrating the festivals there, and teaching in its holy courts.

God’s Law required all Jewish men who lived close enough, to be at the Temple in Jerusalem at least three times a year at the pilgrimage festivals: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 16:16). Thus, Jesus would have been at the Temple continually, throughout the year.

The Gospels bear witness to this fact, as we often read phrases such as, “And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem … After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. … About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the Temple and began teaching.” (Matthew 20:17, John 5:1, 7:14).

A short note in the Gospel of John (10:22–23) even reveals that Jesus was in the Temple in the winter, at the Feast of Dedication—that is, Hanukkah. Hanukkah was a feast celebrated in honor of the Temple, how it had been miraculously recaptured from the Greeks, cleansed, and rededicated from having been terribly desecrated. Making the journey by foot from Galilee to Jerusalem at that freezing and rainy time of year would not have been easy.

My Father’s House

The ascents to the holy Mountain began at an early age, as Luke writes, “Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom” (Luke 2:41–42).

In the story that follows, the beginning of Jesus’ lifelong passion for the Temple is revealed.

On that Passover in Jerusalem, the twelve year old son of Joseph found himself in the Temple courts. It was a seven day festival. On the first day, he had already accompanied his father to select a lamb, purchase it, and stand in line for the sacrifice. Together with parents, siblings, and relatives he had already celebrated the Passover meal in the city.

The days required for men to be present at the holiday, were already over. Joseph, with his wife and children, joined a caravan of relatives headed for home. But in the hustle and bustle, they forgot their oldest boy who—still in the Jerusalem—was absolutely enthralled with the holy Place on the Temple Mount!

At the festivals, the great scholars and rabbis of the generation would assemble, sitting by the steps outside the inner courts, and teach the Scriptures to the masses. Jewish teaching is filled with parables and proverbs, discussions and—most of all—lots of questions.

Twelve year old Jesus spent three days in the Temple, “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” ( Luke 2:46–47). These and other discussions played an important part in Jesus’ later teaching, especially the Sermon on the Mount. His words are filled with parallels and similarities to the great Jewish scholars of the generations before him.

When his exasperated parents finally found him in the Temple courts, the young scholar seemed genuinely surprised that they did not know that he would be there on the Temple Mount, in what he famously called “My Father’s House.”

“And he said to them, ‘“Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’” (Luke 2:49).

Later, after he began his public ministry, the Gospels relate how Jesus himself continually taught the masses in the Temple. As he said, “Day after day I sat in the Temple teaching” (Matthew 26:55).

Cleaning House

One of Jesus’ visits to the Temple Mount is perhaps the most famous.

Jewish and Christian records agree that some of the Sadduceean leaders who controlled the Temple at the time were exceptionally corrupt.

The scholars and rabbis had set fair prices and fees for the sacrificial market, and the proceeds should have gone to the Temple.[3] The corrupt Sadduceean leaders did not feel the need to stick by these rules and apparently pocketed money.

According to Jewish records, inflated fees reached a point where the price of a dove rose as high as a gold dinar.[4] This may have been one of the reasons Jesus’ parents could not afford more than a poor man’s sacrifice (Luke 2:24, Leviticus 12:8).

One Passover, Jesus ascended the Mount to find that not only were the Sadducees pocketing money as usual, but they had now set up the market in the Royal Stoa of the southern court—on the Holy Mount itself! This is the area where the black-domed Al-Aqsa mosque is located today.

The sacrificial market was a necessity for the Temple. What bothered Jesus was the commercial market’s corruption and relocation onto the Temple Mount itself. It was a blemish on God’s honor and stirred up pure, holy anger in him.

Consumed With Zeal

As his disciples watched in amazement, their Master calmly took some cords.

“And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the Temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, ‘Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade’” (John 2:15–16).

Like a Jewish mother cleaning her house of leaven for Passover, the Prophet from Nazareth swept through the Temple court, removing corruption and cleaning house!

Contrary to some Christian supersessionist theology (replacement theology), Jesus’ zeal demonstrated his great love, respect, and passion for the Temple. As they watched the chaos, his disciples remembered that it was written in Psalm 69:9,

“Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:17).

Though Christians may apply these words in many ways, there is no doubt what the disciples originally referred to: God’s physical Temple in Jerusalem.

Jesus’ zeal even extended to the point that he refused to “allow anyone to carry anything through the Temple”! (Mark 11:14). This is in concert with the Jewish view of the Temple Mount’s supreme holiness, to not treat it like city streets.[5]

One can only wonder what he would have thought of the poor Jew who was recently arrested for asking the police to stop the ad hoc soccer games on the Temple areas.[6]

A House of Prayer for All Nations

The commercial market may have been in the outer Court of the Gentiles, but Jesus still considered the Court of the Gentiles sacred ground. He appealed to the words of the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah,

“Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.’” (Mark 11:17).

The Jewish people loved him for it, but whoever was corrupt among the Sadduceean authorities, feared him (Mark 11:18).

The Weeping Prophet

Anyone who doubts Jesus’ great love for Mt Zion and the Temple, has only to consider his last journey to Jerusalem. As he stopped at the overlook from the Mount of Olives, the Prophet from Nazareth foresaw the terrible siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Lord’s Temple—and he wept over it.

Like the weeping prophet Jeremiah who had the difficult task of warning of the first Temple’s destruction, Jesus wept.

Luke describes how “when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you’” (Luke 19:41–44).

Weeping, Jesus cried, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem … See, your house is left to you desolate (Matthew 23:37,38).

The Gospels make it clear that Jesus had great respect, love, and even holy zeal for the Temple Mount. His disciples after him continued in the footsteps of their Teacher. After the ascension,

“[they] returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the Temple blessing God.” (Luke 24:52–53).

What Would the Jewish Carpenter from Nazareth Do?

There is no question about the fact that Jesus loved the Temple Mount and considered it the holiest place on earth. Michael Oren is right. Temple denial is a denial of the Gospels. On the Holy Mount, Jews and Christians find common ground.

Although Israel holds full legal rights to the Temple Mount as of 1967, it has relinquished guardianship of the compound to the Jordanian Islamic supervisors called the Waqf.

At present, all non-Muslims are discriminated against, routinely harassed and abused, forbidden from bringing a Bible or a prayer book. Access to non-Muslims is severely restricted and they are not even allowed to move their lips in silent prayer, contrary to numerous supreme court orders.

The fact that Jews cannot pray on the Temple Mount means that Jesus himself would not be able to pray there. This anti-Semitic discrimination is an affront to Christians. Jesus’ life story alone should guarantee Jewish religious rights on the Temple Mount.

The question is, will Christians show the same affection and reverence as their Master? Who will have the same passion he had? Who will say with Jesus that the Temple Mount must be “a house of prayer for all nations”?

At the Western Wall, which is under full Jewish sovereignty, anyone is free to respectfully worship. It’s time to cry for Zion and speak out for Jewish sovereignty on the Temple Mount!

John Enarson
Christian Relations & Creative Director
CRY FOR ZION


Footnotes

[1] Leila Gilbert, The Jerusalem Post, 11/23/2014, “Temple Mount: Common ground between Jews and Christians,” http://www.jpost.com/Christian-News/Christians-Jews-and-the-Holy-Mountain-382585.

[2] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. (In this article, the word Temple has been capitalized out of respect.)

[3] Samuel Lachs, A Rabbinic Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospels of Mathew, Mark, and Luke (Hoboken, NJ: Ktav Publishing House, 1987), 347, cited by D.T. Lancaster, Torah Club Vol. 4: Chronicles of the Messiah, Parashat Balak (Marshfield, MI: First Fruits of Zion, 2011), 1036.

[4] m.Keritot 1.7.

[5] m.Berachot 9:5; Josephus, Against Apion 2:106/viii.

[6] Uzi Baruch, Ari Yashar, Israel National News, 12/2/2014, “Police Arrest Jew for Asking to Stop Temple Mount Soccer Game,” http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/188146.

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