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THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW - Chapter 21 - Verse 12
Verse 12. And Jesus went into the temple of God, etc. From Mr 11:11-15, it is probable that this cleansing of the temple did not take place on the day that he entered Jerusalem in triumph, but on the day following. He came and looked round upon all things, Mark says, and went out to Bethany with the twelve. On the day following, returning from Bethany, he saw the fig-tree. Entering into the temple, he purified it on that day; or, perhaps, he finished the work of purifying it on that day, which he commenced the day before. Matthew has mentioned the purifying of the temple, which was performed probably on two successive days; or has stated the fact, without being particular as to the order of events. Mark has stated them more particularly, and has divided what Matthew mentions together.
The temple of God, or the temple dedicated and devoted to the service of God, was built on Mount Moriah. The first temple was built by Solomon, about 1006 years before Christ, 1 Ki 6:1. He was seven years in building it, 1 Ki 6:38. David, his father, had contemplated the design of building it, and had prepared many materials for it, but was prevented, because he had been a man of war, 1 Ch 22:1-9; 1 Ki 5:5. This temple, erected with great magnificence, remained till it was destroyed by the Chaldeans under Nebuchadnezzar, five hundred and eighty-four years before Christ, 2 Ch 36:6,7,19.
After the Babylonish captivity, the temple was rebuilt by Zerubbabel, but with vastly inferior and diminished beauty. The aged men wept when they compared it with the glory of the former temple, Ezr 3:8,12. This was called the second temple. This temple was often defiled in the wars before the time of Christ. It had become much decayed and impaired. Herod the Great, being exceedingly unpopular among the Jews, on account of his cruelties, was desirous of doing something to obtain the favour of the people, and accordingly, about sixteen years before Christ, and in the eighteenth year of his reign, he commenced the work of repairing it. This he did, not by taking it down entirely at once, but by removing one part after another till it had become in fact a new temple, greatly surpassing the former in magnificence. It was still called by the Jews the second temple; and by Christ's coming to this temple thus repaired, was fulfilled the prophecy in Hag 2:9. On this building Herod employed eighteen thousand men, and completed it so as to be fit for use in nine years, or about eight years before Christ. But additions continued to be made to it, and it continued increasing in splendour and magnificence, till ANNO DOMINI 64. John says, Joh 2:20, "forty and six years was this temple in building." Christ was then thirty years of age, which, added to the sixteen years occupied in repairing it before his birth, makes forty-six years.
The word temple was given, not merely to the sacred edifice, or house itself, but to all the numerous chambers, courts, and rooms connected with it, on the top of Mount Moriah. The temple itself was a small edifice, and was surrounded by courts and chambers half a mile in circumference. Into the sacred edifice itself our Saviour never went. The high priest only went into the holy of holies, and that but once a year; and none but priests were permitted to enter the holy place. Our Saviour was neither. He was of the tribe of Judah, and he consequently was allowed to enter no farther than the other Israelites into the temple. The works that he is said to have performed in the temple, therefore, are to be understood as having been performed in the courts surrounding the sacred edifice. These courts will now be described. The temple was erected on Mount Moriah. The space on the summit of the mount was not, however, large enough for the buildings necessary to be erected. It was therefore enlarged by building high walls, from the valley below, and filling up the space within. One of these walls was six hundred feet in height. The ascent to the temple was by high flights of steps. The entrance to the temple, or to the courts on the top of the mount, was by nine gates, all of them extremely splendid. On every side they were thickly coated with gold and silver. But there was one gate of peculiar magnificence. This was called the beautiful gate, Ac 3:2. It was on the east side, and was made of Corinthian brass, one of the most precious metals in ancient times. See the Introduction to 1 Corinthians, 1. This gate was fifty cubits, or seventy-five feet in height. The whole temple, with all its courts, was surrounded by a wall about twenty-five feet in height. This was built on the wall raised from the base to the top of the mountain; so that from the top of it to the bottom, in a perpendicular descent, was in some places not far from six hundred feet. This was particularly the case on the south-east corner; and it was here, probably, that Satan wished our Saviour to cast himself down. See Barnes "Mt 4:6".
On the inside of this wall, between the gates, were piazzas, or covered porches. On the eastern, northern, and western sides there were two rows of these porches; on the south, three. These porches were covered walks, about twenty feet in width, paved with marble of different colours, with a flat roof of costly cedar, which was supported by pillars of solid marble, so large that three men could scarcely stretch their arms so as to meet around them. These walks or porches afforded a grateful shade and protection to the people in hot or stormy weather. The one on the east side was distinguished for its beauty, and was called Solomon's porch, Joh 10:23; Ac 3:11. It stood over the vast terrace or wall which Solomon had raised from the valley beneath, and which was the only thing of his work that remained in the sacred temple.
When a person entered any of the gates into this space within the wall, he saw the temple rising before him with great magnificence. But the space was not clear all the way up to it. Going forward, he came to another wall, inclosing considerable ground, considered more holy than the rest of the hill. The space between this first and second wall was called the court of the Gentiles. It was so called because Gentiles might come into it, but they could proceed no farther. On the second wall, and on the gates, were inscriptions in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, forbidding any Gentile or unclean person from proceeding farther on pain of death: This court was not of equal dimensions all the way round the temple. On the east, north, and west, it was quite narrow. On the south it was wide, occupying nearly half of the whole surface of the hill. In this court the Gentiles might come. Here was the place where much secular business was transacted. This was the place occupied by the buyers, and sellers, and the money-changers, and which Jesus purified by casting them out.
The inclosure within the second wall was nearly twice as long from east to west as from north to south. This inclosure was also divided. The eastern part of it was called the court of the women; so called because women might advance thus far, but no farther. This court was square. It was entered by three gates: one on the north, one on the east directly opposite to the beautiful gate, and one on the south. In passing from the court of the Gentiles to that of the women, it was necessary to ascend about nine feet by steps. This court of the women was inclosed with a double wall, with a space between the walls about fifteen feet in width, paved with marble. The inner of these two walls was much higher than the one outside. The court of the women was paved with marble. In the corners of that court were different structures for the various uses of the temple. It was in this court that the Jews commonly worshipped. Here, probably, Peter and John, with others, went up to pray, Ac 3:1. Here, too, the Pharisee and publican prayed: the Pharisee near the gate that led forward to the temple, the publican standing far off on the other side or the court, Lu 18:9-14. Paul also was seized here, and charged with defiling the temple, by bringing the Gentiles into that holy place, Ac 21:26-30.
A high wall on the west side of the court of the women divided it from the court of the Israelites; so called because all the males of the Jews might advance there. To this court there was an ascent of fifteen steps. These steps were in the form of a half circle. The great gate to which these steps led was called the gate Nicanor. Besides this, there were three gates on each side, leading from the court of the women to the court of the Israelites.
Within the court of the Israelites was the court of the priests, separated by a wall about a foot and a half in height. Within that court was the altar of burnt offering, and the laver standing in front of it. Here the priests performed the daily service of the temple. In this place, also, were accommodations for the priests, when not engaged in conducting the service of the temple; and for the Levites, who conducted the music of the sanctuary.
The following is a view of the temple and its courts, as here described:
The temple, properly so called, stood within the court. It surpassed in splendour all the other buildings of the holy city; perhaps in magnificence unequalled in the world. It fronted the east, looking down through the gates Nicanor and the beautiful gate, and onward to the Mount of Olives. From the Mount of Olives on the east there was a beautiful and commanding view of the whole sacred edifice. It was there that our Saviour sat, when the disciples directed his attention to the goodly stones with which the temple was built, Mr 13:1. The entrance into the temple itself was from the court of the priests, by an ascent of twelve steps. The porch in front of the temple was a hundred and fifty feet high, and as many broad. The open space in this porch, through which the temple was entered, was one hundred and fifteen feet high, and thirty-seven broad, without doors of any sort. The appearance of this, built as it was with white marble, and decorated with plates of silver, from the Mount of Olives was exceedingly dazzling and splendid. Josephus says, that in the rising of the sun it reflected so strong and dazzling an effulgence, that the eye of the spectator was obliged to turn away. To strangers at a distance it appeared like a mountain covered with snow; for where it was not decorated with plates of silver, it was extremely white and glistening.
The temple itself was divided into two parts: the first, called the sanctuary or holy place, was sixty feet in length, sixty feet in height, and thirty feet in width. In this was the golden candlestick, the table of shew-bread, and the a]tar of incense. The holy of holies, or the most holy place, was thirty feet each way. In the first temple, this contained the ark of the covenant, the tables of the law, and over the ark was the mercy-seat and the cherubim. Into this place no person entered but the high priest, and he but once in the year. These two apartments were separated only by a vail, very costly and curiously wrought. It was this rail which was rent from the top to the bottom when the Saviour died, Mt 27:51. Around the walls of the temple, properly so called, was a structure three stories high, containing chambers for the use of the officers of the temple. The temple was wholly rased to the ground by the Romans under Titus and Vespasian, and was wholly destroyed, according to the predictions of the Saviour. See Barnes "Mt 24:2".
The site of it was made like a ploughed field. Julian the apostate attempted to rebuild it, but the workmen, according to his own historian, Ammianus Marcellinus, were prevented by balls of fire breaking out from the ground. See Warburton's Divine Legation of Moses. Its site is now occupied by the mosque of Omar, one of the most splendid specimens of Saracenic architecture in the World.
And cast out them that bought and sold in the temple. The place where this was done was not the temple itself, but the outer court, or the court of the Gentiles. This was esteemed the least sacred part of the temple; and the Jews, it seems, did not consider it profanation to appropriate this to any business in any way connected with the temple service. The things which they bought and sold were, at first, those pertaining to the sacrifices. It is not improbable, however, that the traffic afterwards extended to all kinds of merchandise. It gave rise to much confusion, noise, contention, and fraud, and was exceedingly improper in the temple of the Lord.
The tables of the money changers. Judea was subject to the Romans. The money hi current use was Roman coin. Yet the Jewish law required that every man should pay a tribute to the service of the sanctuary of half a shekel, Ex 30:11-16. This was a Jewish coin; and it was required o herald in that coin. It became therefore a matter of convenience to have a place where the Roman coin might be exchanged for the Jewish half-shekel. This was the professed business of these men. Of course they would demand a small sum for the exchange; and among so many thousands as came up to the great feasts, it would be a very profitable employment, and one easily giving rise to much fraud and oppression.
The seats of them that sold doves. Doves were required to be offered in sacrifice, Le 14:22; Lu 2:24. Yet it was difficult to bring them from the distant parts of Judea. It was found much easier to purchase them in Jerusalem. Hence it became a business to keep them to sell to those who were required to offer them.
Mark adds, Mr 11:16 that he would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. That is, probably, any of the vessels or implements connected with the traffic in oil, incense, wine, etc., that were kept for sale in the temple.
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