A common link among all religions of the world is an emphasis on the atmosphere of their worship. One need only to look at the magnificence of the world’s religious shrines or enter one of its magnificent sanctuaries, to sense the awe that they are designed to inspire. The temple of Jerusalem built by King Solomon would certainly be among the greatest shrines ever built. Despite its magnificence and the fact that Solomon spared no expense for the building’s creation, in 586 B.C. this structure was destroyed by the Babylonians some four hundred years after it was built.
Seventy years later, many Jews returned to Israel led by Ezra and Nehemiah and undertook the 20+ year project of building the Second Temple on the same site. Completed and rededicated in 515 B.C., this Temple building was made of hewn stone with wooden beams reinforcing the walls from within. The attention to detail and the extraordinary feats of engineering were matched only by its external beauty; so beautiful in fact, that it was said that the Roman generals hesitated before ordering its destruction in 70 A.D.
The sacred Temple was the object of legend in Israel. The building was described as: shining white marble and gold, with bronze entrance doors; it was said that one could not look at the Temple in daylight as it would blind you. In the words of the Rabbis, “the world is like unto an eye; … the pupil is Jerusalem;
but the image within the pupil is the temple.” The value and importance that the Jewish people placed on this physical building even bordered on the idolatrous. Imagine the shock of the disciples who, while marveling at the majesty of its hewn stones, were told by Jesus, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Mt 24:2). How could this be?
Well, in one of the most theologically significant conversations in all of Scripture, during a chance meeting with a Samaritan woman, Jesus explained why Jerusalem and its Temple would become superfluous. He said in John 4:21-24:
“Believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. … the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
And so, with the coming of the Messiah and inauguration of His new covenant, true worshippers from every tribe, tongue and nation, would begin offering greater spiritual worship, replacing the old order of worship that had been limited to a certain people in a single building in a specific city.