Messianic Good News has posted a wonderful teaching by Peter Cohen,
“The second destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., along with the loss of the second temple, marks a watershed in Jewish history, even if not everyone saw it that way at the time … at this point Jews and the nascent Christians each began to develop a religion without the central focus of a temple and the ritual of worship that surround it.” (Leo Dupree Sandgren – Vines Intertwined).
In an article entitled “The Temple of Messiah”, Peter Cohen investigates the development and divergence of Church and Synagogue in response to the tumultuous events of the first century which culminated in the loss of the Temple as the focal point of Jewish religion.
The Centrality of the Temple under the Old Covenant
The importance of the temple to the religion of the Old Covenant cannot be overstated. As ancient maps reveal, Jerusalem was regarded as the navel of the world, the temple its focal point. This was the connecting point between heaven and earth, the unique place that God had chosen for His dwelling place among His people.
Apart from its religious and spiritual significance to the people of Israel the temple was famous throughout the civilised world for its sheer magnificence and splendour. People travelled from all over the world to Jerusalem to see with their own eyes the glorious House of the LORD on Mount Zion that Solomon had built. The second temple, though humble in comparison, later earned its own reputation for grandeur after Herod undertook a massive renovation with the intent of gaining favour with the Jews while at the same time creating a lasting legacy for his name. The result was by all accounts impressive, its gleaming white marble edifice, adorned with gold, dominating the landscape, its magnificence attested to even by the disciples of the Lord.
Nevertheless, despite representing God’s dwelling place with His people, at the same time the temple visibly represented the barrier that separated sinful man from a holy God as well as barriers between God’s chosen nation and all other peoples. This was evident in the very design and construction of the temple. From the outer courts inwards to the Most Holy Place where only the High Priest could enter once a year, the courts were designed to restrict access at various points, symbolizing the division between different categories of men (Gentiles, Jews, men and women, Priests and Levites etc.) and prohibition against entering the Most Holy Place. As the writer to the Hebrews noted, while the earthly tabernacle was still standing it signified that the way into the Most Holy place had not yet been revealed (Heb 9:8).
The Second Temple
After seventy years in Babylon the Jews were permitted to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the temple which had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. The Lord moved King Cyrus, the great king of Persia, to issue a royal decree to all the nations within his domain, that no-one should hinder the Jews from going up to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and the temple, and that they should be given whatever assistance and materials they needed. However, this did not mean that non-Jews could participate in actually building the temple. When some of the enemies of Judah and Benjamin came to Zerubabbel the priest and the heads of the families saying, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here”, Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the LORD, the God of Israel ( Ezra 4:1-5).
When the building was completed many people who had seen the glory of the former temple were bitterly disappointed (Ezra 3:12). The Ark of the Covenant was never recovered and the Shekinah, the glorious presence of the Lord that had been visibly manifest at the dedication of the first temple, did not return. However, the prophet Haggai predicted that although this temple appeared unimpressive in comparison to the former temple built by Solomon, the glory of that house would exceed the glory of the former house and in that place the Lord Almighty would eventually grant peace (see Haggai 2:1-9). During this period the LORD also spoke through the prophet Zechariah saying that the Messiah, whose name is the Branch, will branch out from his place and he will build the temple of the Lord.
Thus, one of the expectations of the Messianic era was that when the Messiah came, he would build the temple whose glory would far exceed that of any former temple. That temple would be so perfectly consecrated (made clean and holy for the LORD) that the glorious presence of the Lord would again fill the temple.
“It is He (the Messiah) who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two” (Zechariah 6:13).
The building of the Lord’s temple by the Messiah would be evidence to the whole world that he is the Kingly high-priest who sits upon the throne. Furthermore;
” those who are far off shall come and help to build the temple of the LORD. And you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. And this shall come to pass, if you will diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God” (Zechariah 6:15).
The Origin and Development of Synagogue and Church
It is thought that the synagogue had its origin in the Babylonian exile. There are two Greek words, ekklesia and synagogue, which have basically the same original meaning, but in common usage synagogue came to be associated specifically with the assembly of Jews for worship and study and for the administration of local government by the elders according to the Word of God.
While the Temple remained the focal point of national identity, representing as it did the place of God’s presence with His people and the only acceptable place where sacrifices could be offered, as well as the place where millions of pilgrims would converge to celebrate the great feast days of the LORD, the people who lived in the towns and villages gathered in the synagogue on the Sabbath day. The building designated as the place of meeting, which traditionally faced towards Jerusalem, also came to be called a synagogue, in the same way that buildings built for Christian worship are often called churches.
The Greek words related to the concept of both church and synagogue are:
ekklesia – which means a called out assembly or congregation – this in time came to represent the assembly of believers in Jesus i.e. the church of Jesus Christ.
synagogue – which also means an assembly or congregation – this eventually came to represent the assembly of Jews who did not accept Jesus as Messiah.
basileia – which means kingly rule, kingship, sovereignty.
Thus, although the two words have essentially the same original meaning they came to represent two distinct religious assemblies, divided over the claims of Jesus.
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