The Temple in Jerusalem – A Condensed History
The first Temple in Jerusalem was completed around 960 BC. King David chose the location, but it was his son, Solomon, who ordered its construction. The Hebrew Scriptures record that Solomon’s Temple was an incredible achievement, built through the labors of approximately 180,000 workers, artists, and craftsmen.
However, not long after completion, the Temple in Jerusalem suffered a series of assaults, with its treasures plundered over the years by the Egyptians and Assyrians. Then, in 587 BC, the Temple was totally destroyed by the Babylonians. About 70 years later, the Babylonians were defeated and Cyrus the Great of Persia allowed the Hebrew people to return home and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. This Temple was appropriately known as the “Second Temple.”
Alexander the Great conquered Judea in 332 BC. After his death, Jerusalem and the Second Temple became part of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt. Then, in about 200 BC, Judea came under the authority of the Seleucid Empire of Syria. In 167 BC, Antiochus IV of Syria committed the ultimate offense against the Judean people when he erected an altar to Zeus and slaughtered pigs there to defile the place. The Second Temple in Jerusalem was looted and its religious services stopped.
A Judean rebel group called the Maccabees rose up against the Seleucid Empire to reclaim the honor of Judaism. The Revolt was a series of battles over seven years, where the outnumbered Maccabees became known for their guerrilla warfare tactics. In 160 BC, the Maccabees finally reclaimed Jerusalem and ritually cleansed the Temple. The Temple again became the religious pillar of the Jewish people. This 103-year-period of relative independence was known as the Hasmonean dynasty. Herod the Great ended that dynasty by collaborating with the Romans to turn Judea into a client state kingdom of the Roman Empire.
In around 20 BC, Herod the Great began a massive rebuild of the Temple in Jerusalem to make it bigger and better than before.
The Temple in Jerusalem – Jesus Teaches for the First Time
Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem during the spectacle of the Passover feast must have been quite an experience for a 12-year-old boy from the small village of Nazareth. It turned out to be quite an experience for his parents as well, but not like they had planned.
And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him 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. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:41-52)
It seems Jesus had a normal Jewish childhood in Nazareth. He learned a trade from his father Joseph — most believe it was carpentry — and he attended synagogue. A couple times a year, he would make the trek with his family to Jerusalem. But, at the age of 12, Jesus started to show a new side. According to the Gospels, he had extraordinary insight beyond his years. He earned special respect from his elders at the Temple in Jerusalem.