The Temple was a recreation of the Garden of Eden and it was a continuation of the expetience at Sinai. It wad also a symbol for God’s rule in the world. It was a social, educational and justice center. It was also the religious centrr for the people and so we are going to take a basic look at how the Temple functioned, using the Feast of Passover as an example. We are going to look at some basic concepts first. You will need a good floor-plan of the Temple located on many websites to see just where you are going. Coming up to the Temple Mount you would first go through a tevilah, an immersion in one of the many “mikvahs” (immersion baths) located around the Temple. You would come to the stairway into the Court of the Israelites, always “going up” in what is called “aliyah.”
The Altar was white plaster and very large. The blood was jerked against the Altar. The worshipper killed the lamb and a priest held a vessel called a mizrach. It had a pointed bottom so that it could not be set down because you did not want the blood to coagulate. It had a handle and a small lip so that the priest could stir it to keep it from coagulating. The Altar would turn red from the blood that was “jerked” against it during Passover. The pieces of the lamb were “rightly divided” according to the ceremony given in the Torah. The “semichah” is the laying on of hands to signify that the lamb met all the requirements and that you certify that it is qualified, that this animal comes from you and offered in your name. It is not a “magical” gesture establishing a “point of contact” with God like you see on TV or that the animal is a substitute for the worshipper. That is a quick overview of the procedure, but how was it done and how did it fit together.
First, you purchased a lamb at the Royal Stoa. It had to be unblemished and meet the age requirements. An “unkosher” animal could defile the Altar, the priests and cause a lot of problems so it was important to have an animal you knew was correct. You would register where you were going to eat the Passover meal. Ten was required but no more than twenty would eat from the lamb. The lambs were to be killed “between the evenings” according to Lev 23.5-8.
The day was divided like this. The morning was divided between “minor time” (6-9 am) and “major” (9-noon) and the evening was “minor” (12-3pm) and “major” (3-6pm). So 3 pm was “between the evenings.” You were to take from the flock and the herd (Deut 16.1-2). If you had 10 people, you had only the lamb. If you had 20 people, an additional offering from the herd was eaten called the “chaggigah” because the commandment was that you were to be full. You could designate representatives to go to the Temple to make the sacrifice.
So, as mentioned before, you went to the Royal Stoa which was located at the south end of the Temple Mount. It was here that Yeshua threw out the moneychangers and let the birds go free when he cleansed the Temple. Once purchased, you went through the tunnels that led to the outer court and you come to what is called the Soreg. It was a fence around the courts. A plaque has been found that said no unauthorized people can go beyond it, or death would be the result.
Once you were at the Temple itself, the people were divided into 3 groups. Remember, this was a major festival with all Israel participating so the crowds were enormous. A priest would come out and lead the first group through the Court of the Women through the Nicanor Gate into the court inner courts. The gate was closed and a shofar blast was sounded.
The Levites would start singing the Hallel (Psa 113-118) and you would go into the slaying area. The lamb’s head would be placed into one of the rings provided and you placed you hands on the head in what is called “semicha” and with a very sharp knife you killed the lamb so that it felt no pain. A priest held the mizrach and catches the blood and passes it on to a priest next to him. The blood passes along a line of priests to the Altar where it is “jerked” against the Altar. This was very fast and all this needs to be done before the Levites finished singing the Hallel.
Once this is done, the first group leaves and the second group comes in and it is all done again. The third group was called “the group of the lazy” because they came last. As you enter, just think of all that you would be experiencing. You heard the choir singing, you heard the people and all the sounds. You could smell the bakeries in the Temple where bread was made, you could hear the animals, the shofars and you could see the Temple itself, the very structure God had commanded to build. You could see the slain animals, the priests moving around, the sun glistening off the mizrachim as they were passed, the smoke, the incense and the throngs of people waiting.
What does all this mean? Every person knows his place and his role in the body. They were rightly dividing the things of God. Yes, the term Paul used in 2 Tim 2.15 (“rightly dividing the Word of Truth”) comes from the sacrifices. You had to “rightly divide” the animal or offering and make sure it went to the right place, the right people or the Word of God was invalidated the offering rejected.
The problem today is that people cannot rightly divide the Word of God and that is why we have so many false prophets and false teachers today. Another thing to remember is this. As Yeshua is on the cross, he could hear all of this going on in the Temple. He could hear the Psalms being sung, he could hear the animals and the people and he was fulfilling everything they were doing. Do you think that the next Passover had deeper meaning to the believers? Those that saw Yeshua and the proceedings from the year before had a perspective that few people would ever have. It was different every time they kept Passover after that.
This was the Temple and how it functioned during one festival. What do you think they thought after Yeshua fulfilled the first four biblical festivals on the very day they were being celebrated in the Temple. That is why we need to know the Temple and its services and why they are essential in understanding the Scriptures.
The writers drew on their experiences there to give deeper meaning to what they were writing, and all of that was inspired by the Holy Spirit. No wonder we don’t have the perspective they did. We have not been taught these things since childhood (2 Tim 3.15-16). We have been taught the exact opposite in many cases but the Lord is bringing back this knowledge to those that will listen.