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What Yeshua Would Have Seen on a Normal Day at the Temple

All of the people of Israel are descended from the twelve sons of Jacob. Jacob's third son was Levi, and Aaron was a fourth generation descendant of Levi. The first kohen, the founder of the priestly clan, was Aaron, brother of Moses, of the tribe of Levi. Aaron and his four sons were designated as the first priests; Aaron served as the first High Priest. All of his male descendants were chosen by God to be priests forever; it is an eternal covenant.[1]

The daily Temple ritual was performed mainly by the priests, who had sole access to the altar and the sanctuary. They offered both communal and individual sacrifices, burned incense and kindled the candelabrum in the sanctuary, and bestowed the priestly benediction on the people.[2] The Levites officiated alongside the priests. But, in the first century the Levites were removed from all contact with the altar and sacrifices. They are mentioned in sources as singers and gatekeepers. As gatekeepers they were responsible for opening and closing the gates, guarding the Temple area by day and night, and ensuring that no visitors were ritually unclean.[3]

The Levites didn’t just guard the entrances to the Temple – they served as guard of honor as well. They were stationed in twenty-four places:

(1) at the five Temple gates

(2) at the four inner corners

(3) at the five gates of the Temple court

(4) at the Temple court’s four exterior corners

(5) behind the holy of holies

(6) in five chambers[4]

According to Josephus, at least two hundred gate-keepers closed the Temple gates, and it appears that afterwards they remained at their posts. [5] The Israelites came to the Temple for various reasons:

(1) to fulfil their obligations (offering of first fruits, tithes, wave-offerings, and obligatory sacrifices

(2) to worship and pray during the liturgy

(3) to pose questions on legal tradition

(4) to study the Torah

(5) to participate in Temple worship alongside the priests for special offerings [6]

Ritual purity was a major concern of the people and ritual cleansing was an important function of the Temple -- for example, the need to cleanse themselves of severe impurities such as defilement by the dead. This required sprinkling with `cleansing water” on the fourth and seventh day. [7]

Keep in mind that the Levites were responsible for protecting the ritual purity of the Temple and they required everyone – priest or layman – to go through the ritual immersion complex before allowing them to enter the Temples. It was customary for visitors to the Temple to wear white rather than colored clothing. White was held to indicate modesty and piety. Before entering the Temple courts they removed their shoes, and laid aside their staffs, their money belts, their cloaks and bundles. [8]

The Temple was also a house of prayer for all nations of the world.  Tradition and practice rendered Gentile sacrifices acceptable. They came to prostrate themselves before God, to hear the Torah, and to bring their offerings. [9]

Daily worship in the Temple began and ended with the whole-offering. A lamb was offered to open the morning service and in the afternoon another lamb was offered to close the service. Between the above offerings, free-will offerings and obligatory offerings were offered.

Free-will offerings were:

(1) burnt-offerings

(2) peace-offerings

(3) thanks-offerings

(4) various categories of meal-offerings

Obligatory offerings were:

(1) sin-offerings

(2) guilt-offerings

(3) purification-offerings [10]

During the services there were also periods for prayer and Torah readings. In addition, the Levites sung psalms and hymns daily. [11] As you can see, the Temple in Jerusalem was a very busy place. He would have been surrounded by the above activities on every visit. Keep in mind that the above are the routine things that took place every day, except Shabbat. Things were less busy then. But, activities increased dramatically on the three major feasts – Passover, Pentecost and Sukkot. [12] In the next The Real Yeshua Blog I will discuss what it would be like at the Temple on Passover.

Shalom,
Jim Myers

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[2] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two: Historical Geography, Political History, Social Culture and Religious Life and Institutions; Edited by S. Safrai and M. Stern in co-operation with D. Flusser and E. C. van Unnik; © 1976 By Stichting Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum Testamentum; Fprtress Press, Philadelphia, PA;p.870.
[3] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two; p. 872
[4] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two; p. 872
[5] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two; p. 872
[6] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two; p. 876
[7] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two; p. 876
[8] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two; p. 877
[9] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two; p. 878
[10] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two; p. 889
[11] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two; p. 889
[12] The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two; p. 891

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