HISTORY OF THE TEMPLE MOUNT
It is believed by both Jews and Muslims that the first of all God’s magnificent creation was the Foundation Stone. This massive rock today is embedded beneath the Temple Mount located in present day Jerusalem. It is further believed that all of earth was created from this one stone and that the first sacrifice of all time was made upon it.
The Temple Mount is unarguably the most sacred, the most coveted, and the most valuable piece of real estate on planet earth. Battles have raged, blood has been shed, and martyrs have died over this piece of property which was originally blessed by the Lord as the meeting place between God and man. It was here that God Almighty descended in the form of Shekinah fire and spoke directly to mankind. The Foundation Stone, which sets upon the Mount, is said to be the place where the Ark of the Covenant once sat and the very spot where Elohim himself appeared once a year on the Day of Atonement.
In reality the Temple Mount is simply a walled off section of the larger Mount Moriah located in present day Jerusalem. The Foundation Stone is actually a large mass of bedrock running the entire length of Mount Moriah (from the city of David to Gordon’s Mount Calvary) and outcrops in two different places on top of the Mount (under the Dome of the Rock and under the Dome of Tablets). It was on the Temple Mount where the first two Jewish Temples were built and where the third temple is anticipated being built.
Let us now review persons and times in history which were most significant to the Temple Mount.
The ancient King-Priest Melchizedek was called “King of Salem” which, as we will discover below, is an old word for Jerusalem. Although the Mount itself is not specifically mentioned during this period, we find that, even at this very early date, “Salem” was a meeting place between man and the Most High God.
God spoke to the patriarch Abraham instructing him to take his only son Isaac upon Mount Moriah where he was to take his life through a sacrificial offering. It is believed that Isaac was laid upon the Foundation Stone which served Abraham as an alter to the Most High. As Abraham prepared to sacrifice the fruit of his loins an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared and stopped him. The angelic being informed him that this was but a test and God had prepared himself a sacrifice. Abraham then turned to see a ram whose horns were caught in the thickets. This drama unfolded upon Mount Moriah which we today refer to as the Temple Mount.
Abraham’s grandson, the patriarch Jacob, was traveling and one day and came upon a certain place where he chose to stay for the night. Taking up one of the stones of the place he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. In a dream of spiritual dimensions he beheld a flight of steps rising from earth, till it reached high Heaven. Upon this ladder God’s angels were ascending and descending. The voice of Almighty God spoke to him from Heaven saying,”I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants.”
When Jacob awoke from his sleep he exclaimed, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it.” He was afraid, and said, “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Gen 28:19. Jacob then anoints the stone on which his slept and called the place “Bethel” which means “The House of God.”
The place at which Jacob stopped for the night was in reality Mount Moriah, the future home of the Temple in Jerusalem (Jacob called Jerusalem Bethel – Pesahim 88a). He named the place “Bethel or House of God intuitively anticipating the future Temple that would be built upon that very place. One prophet wrote “come let us go to the mountain of God to the house of Jacob.” Isa.2:4. Many believe the ladder signified the “bridge” between Heaven and earth, as prayers and sacrifices offered in the Holy Temple soldered a connection between God and the Jewish people. The stone on which he slept is believed to have been carried by Moses through the wilderness and placed again later in Solomons Temple where the King was coronated beside of it. Today there exists in Westminster Abby a stone encased in a royal throne which is believed to be the very stone anointed by Jacob. Upon this stone every English sovereign, from King Edward I to Victoria, has been coronated and crowned.
The charismatic Moses led the children of Israel for forty years through the treacherous wilderness. God had instructed Moses to build a tabernacle out of skins and acacia wood. Within the Tabernacle was a esoteric room of great sanctity called the Holy of Holies. The great Ark of the Covenant was the only furnishing adorning this cubicle. Once a year on the day of atonement God himself would descend in a flame of shekinah fire and set upon the mercy seat of the Ark. There God himself would commune and speak with man.
The Tabernacle was in actuality a moving “portable temple.” When the children of Israel broke camp to journey forward, they would fold up the Tabernacle and carry it with them. Arriving at the next place of encampment they would unpack the Tabernacle, set it back up, and once again sacrifices were made and the Most High communed with man. It is believed that the rock from Mount Moriah was carried with them throughout their sojourn through the wilderness (not the large Foundation Stone of course, but a loose rock that Jacob found lying near or on the Foundation Stone and used for his pillow). They were to carry this rock and the Tabernacle for forty years until the children of Israel would at last enter into the land of promise and ultimately rediscover Mount Moriah.
Mount Moriah was located in a city called Urusalim, a word probably of Semitic origin that apparently means ‘Foundation of Shalem’ or ‘Foundation of God’. The town was inhabited by a mixed population known as Jebusites. About 1000 BC, Urusalim was captured by David and was renamed Jerusalem. Scriptures tell us that King David purchased a threshing floor owned by Aravnah the Jebusite (2 Samuel, 24:18-25) overlooking Jerusalem with the intention of erecting an altar. He wanted to construct a permanent temple there, but as his hands were “bloodied” from war, he was forbidden to do so himself. The Tabernacle, the portable sanctuary carried through the wilderness, was erected upon this spot but the Temple itself was not built until c. 950 BC by David’s son Solomon.
Solomon built upon the Temple Mount the most beautiful edifice that has ever adorned planet earth. It was a temple par excellent. The lavish beauty of it’s detail and symmetry, the opulence of it furnishings, and the holiness that permeated the atmosphere surrounding it, was a grandeur the likes of which may never again be recreated in our world. The Kings of the earth marveled at its beauty and nations were blinded by its majesty. It was a shining gem among kingdoms of darkness. It was floored and wainscoted with the wood from the mighty cedars of Lebanon. It’s floors and walls were overlaid with gold. Two cherubim of olive-wood , each more than fifteen feet tall were set within it. Their outspread wings measured fifteen feet from tip to tip, so that, since they were standing side by side, the wings would touch the wall on either side and meet in the middle of the room. A two-leaved door overlaid with gold stood between this area and the holy place; also a veil of heavenly blue, royal purple, crimson red, and fine linen. In the Holy of Holies sat the Ark of the Covenant adorned with cheribims and a mercy seat of pure gold. Inside the Ark was the tablets of stone which God himself had written upon with his own divine finger. The Ark also contained the manna which miraculously fell from Heaven, and the rod of Aaron which had miraculously blossomed. Scripture tells us that when Solomon had finished praying, holy fire descended from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices. Solomon looked on with a holy awe and reverence as God manifested his majesty and the glory of the LORD filled the temple II Chron 7:1. The priests ministered and worshiped before the Lord as the glory rose in the temple. This glory of the Divine King of all Kings fell in the Temple upon Mount Moriah which today we refer to as the Temple Mount and the great Ark of the Covenant sat upon the Foundation Stone which ran the length of the mount.
After standing for 410 years, the First Temple in all its splendor and glory was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians in 586 BC.
Reconstruction of the Temple began after the exile to Babylonia. The Hebrew people had been in exile for more than seventy years. Upon return to their homeland they had no idea where the exact spot was where the Temple stood on the Mount. Three prophets came and chose the spot where they believed it had stood. New foundations had to be laid for the new temple.
The rebuilding of the Temple began under Cyrus when the Persians first took over the Babylonian empire, and was then interrupted for 18 years. It resumed with blessing of Darius II, the Persian king whom it is believe was the son of Esther. Honor is given to Ezra for the rebuilding of the Temple, the spiritual rebuilding of the Jewish people and his efforts to reinstate Torah law in the land. A scribe, scholar and a Hebrew community leader in Persia, Ezra, a cohen (descendant of Aaron and Moses), took with him 1,496 well-chosen men with leadership abilities. Ezra’s impact upon the Hebrew nation is so dramatic that in the Talmud it is written of him that “the Torah could have been given to Israel through Ezra, if not that Moses preceded him” (Sanhedrin 21b).
However, the new temple was but a faint image of the splendor of the former temple of old and the people wept.
HEROD THE GREAT
King Herod the Great completely renovated the Temple Mount creating a massive expansion of the Temple Mount platform and a major expansion of the Temple around 19 BC. Mount Moriah had a plateau at the northern end, and steeply declined on the southern slope. Herod had planned for the entire mountain to be developed into a giant square platform. The Temple Mount was originally intended to be 1600 feet wide by 900 feet deep by 9 stories high with walls up to 16 feet deep, however it was never finished according to this original plan. As it turned out the Platform and the Temple was still greatly expanded and was a grand architectural achievement of the day.
It was in this temple (which we refer to as the second temple, that Jesus had taught many times including the episode when he was twelve years old. At the beginning of his ministry he read from the book of Isaiah upon this spot. It was here that he ran out the money changers and it was this same temple that he prophesied would be destroyed and that not one stone would be left sitting upon another. This foreboding prophesy was destined to be fulfilled in just a very few short decades
It was in 70 AD that the Jewish people experienced one of the most tragic events in their history. Just 40 years after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ the Roman army burned down Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem. It was a stunning loss. This event took place on the 10th day of Loos (August 29th), the exact same day the Babylonians had burned down Solomon’s temple 657 years earlier. The Jewish people were dispersed throughout the world without a country or king. However, one of the most amazing notes in history is the fact that throughout almost two thousand years of dispersion they never lost their identity, religion, or language.
CHRISTIAN OCCUPATION OF THE MOUNT
Around 325 AD Saint Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine, built the Church of St. Cyrus and Saint John on the Mount. This structure was later enlarged and named the Church of Holy Wisdom (the church was later destroyed and the Dome of the Rock was built upon its ruins).
In 363 AD, Emperor Julian II ordered the Jewish Temple to be rebuilt. An ancient historian writes of this attempt:
“Julian thought to rebuild at an extravagant expense the proud Temple once at Jerusalem, and committed this task to Alypius of Antioch. Alypius set vigorously to work, and was seconded by the governor of the province; when fearful balls of fire, breaking out near the foundations, continued their attacks, till the workmen, after repeated scorchings, could approach no more: and he gave up the attempt.”
Was the failure to rebuild the temple due to the Galilee earthquake of 363 AD? If so, the timing was extraordinarily eerie.
DOME OF THE ROCK
After the Muslim conquest of this region, they renamed the Temple Mount as the AL-Haram AL-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary).
The Muslims revered the Mount as the place of longstanding worship of God by the Jewish prophets as well as the site of the Prophet Muhammad’s night journey to heaven. They soon began to regard the Temple Mount as the third most important holy site, after Mecca and Medina.
In 690 CE, after the Islamic conquest of Palestine, an octagonal shrine (not a mosque) was built around one of the outcroppings of the Foundation Stone, which became known as the Dome of the Rock (Qubbat as-Sakhra). The Dome of the Rock was built from the remains of local Christian Churches as well as the remains of the Church of Holy Wisdom which had set upon this same exact spot. Some believed material in the new structure also included some of the remains of the old Jewish Temple. It was built by Jews, Byzantine Christians, and Muslim workers under the leadership of Abd el-Malik. It was built not as a mosque for public worship but rather a mashhad, a shrine for pilgrims.
Building the Dome of the Rock provided at least four strategic purposes for Abd el-Malik :
- It temporarily satisfied and won the moral support of Jewish residents (who wished for the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple) by providing them a place of prayer and worship.
- It brought unity to Jerusalem by providing a structure that could also be used as a place of pilgrimage by the Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike.
- It redirected his Muslim residents away from pilgrimaging to Mecca which was in the province of his enemies.
- It provided a structure meant to rival the over-dominating Christian structures in Jerusalem.
The Dome of the Rock is not, and has never been, a Mosque or a place for Islam but, as mentioned above, it was built as a mashhad, a shrine for pilgrims.
In 715 AD the Al-Aqsa Mosque was built on the far southern end of the Temple Mount where the ancient chanuyot (storage house for the priests) once sat. When the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD the chanuyot were destroyed along with the Temple. Yet unlike the Temple, which was destroyed completely, a significant portion of the chanuyot survived the destructing forces. The current mosque includes rows of ancient Corinthian columns which clearly predate the Islamic architecture. Evidence also exists that a Byzantine church once sat on this spot. The mosque has been destroyed several times in earthquakes; the current version dates from the first half of the 11th century.
CHRISTIAN ORDER OF THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR
The Poor Knights of the Temple of King Solomon, which later became abbreviated to “Knights Templar,” was a Christian religious order which occupied the Temple Mount for many years. Their history occupies about two centuries during the time of the Middle Ages. They rose from humble beginnings to become the wealthiest of all the Christian orders. They eventually garnered the favor of the Church and the collective European monarchs. It was the Knights Templar who invented the banking system used by all of the civilized world today. They believed it was their duty to protect the Temple Mount and all of Jerusalem from non-Christian invaders. After many victories they, in the end, lost the Temple Mount to the Muslims and in 1312 were disbanded due to a plot devised by King Phillip. Deeply in debt King Phillip IV of France plotted to get the riches of the Knights Templar for himself. Templar members were arrested, tortured into giving false confessions, and then burned at the stake. Any remaining Templars merged with the Order of Hospitallers. Templar Jacques De Molay recanted the false confessions that he and other Templars had been previously tortured into giving. As Molay was burning at the stake he spoke forth a prophecy proclaiming that King Phillip and Pope Clement would account for their actions before God’s court within the year. It is a chilling record of history that within one month Pope Clement was dead. By the end of the year King Phillip had died.
MUSLIM OCCUPATION OF THE MOUNT
From the time of the Templar crusaders to the present twenty first century the Temple Mount has remained under Muslim occupation.
In 1948 Israel once again became a nation. The Temple Mount and all of east Jerusalem was captured by the Israelis during the six day war of 1967. The Chief Rabbi of Defense Forces led Israeli soldiers in religious celebrations on the Mount. More than 200,000 Jews flocked to the Mount and the Western Wall in the very first mass Jewish pilgrimage for the first time in two thousand years. The Israeli flag was hoisted high into the air from the site of the Dome of the Rock. Shofars were blown. Shouts rang out in joyous celebration. General Mordechai Gur shouted, “The Temple Mount is in our hands! I repeat, the Temple Mount is in our hands!”
Then an unexpected turn of events took place. In order to keep peace between the Jews and the Muslims the Israeli government made a decision. To the dismay of the religious Jews of Israel, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan handed the custodial keys of the Temple Mount to the Muslim Waqf. Although today Israel has sovereignty over the Mount the Waqf are the custodians of the site, empowered to decide who is permitted entry and who is forbidden.
WHY THIS IS THE FIRST TIME IN HISTORY THAT THE TEMPLE COULD BE REBUILT
(Article to be continued)
By Dr. Curtis Ward, DD, MHC History of the Temple Mount
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