We are going to give an example where a knowledge of the Temple and its services will help interpret the Scriptures. We are going to be working in Luke 1. The gospels were written in the “sub-language” of the Temple. In Luke 1.5 we learn that the father of John the Baptist was a priest named Zecahriah (God remembers). We also learn that he was a member of the mishmar (course) Abijah. The priests were divided into 24 courses to serve one week in the Temple. The “course” Abijah is the eighth course listed in 1 Chr 24.1-18. The number eight is the number of “new beginning” and that is what is going to happen for the world. Each course would serve in the Temple for one week and these courses changed on the Sabbath (2 Kings 11.4-8). The first course would begin in Nisan. On all the festivals, all the courses came to Jerusalem for the service in the Temple.
Luke 1.9 says that while he was there in the Temple performing his priestly duties, he was chosen by lot to go into the house of the Lord to burn incense. Now, to be chosen by lot was a ceremony in and of itself. Priests who were eligible and ready, having immersed themselves and are dressed, stood in a circle. There will be several lots everyday. The official stands in the middle of the circle and takes off the hat of a priest, and he had a small hat under it so he was always covered. Everyone in the circle raised one or two fingers. The official has a number in his head which he believes was given by God. He starts counting the fingers of the priest with the hat off. So, if he had the number “24” in his mind, he counted fingers to 24, and the priest who had the 24th finger was chosen “by lot.” For the burning of the incense, only priests who have never done it before are eligible for the lot. It says that Zechariah was an old man, so he had waited all his life to do this. In this case, where he stood, the number in the official’s head and so on was given by God because Zechariah was ordained by the Lord to burn incense that day.
Another lot was done to select priests to bake bread offerings in a bakery on the southwest corner building, and another group was chosen to prepare the Altar. Along with burning the incense, Zechariah will pray at the incense altar in the Ha Kodesh (Holy Place) called the Amidah, or standing prayer. It has 18 prayers, also called the Shemoneh Esrai, and these prayers are still being prayed today. Coals were taken from a special fire on the Altar for burning the incense. Another priest will go in with him until the coals are placed on the Altar of Incense, then he backs out. When this priest comes out of the outer veil, called the “heavens” an instrument blows called a “magrepha” and it was like a small pipe organ. It was used for signal purposes. Everyone knows now that the kohen is about to burn the incense and to begin praying the Amidah. So, Zechariah was doing this in Luke 1.10. We know what prayers he was praying when the angel appeared to him on the right side of the Altar of Incense (north side). It is possible that he was praying the 14th prayer of the 18 when this happened.
We learn from Malachi 3.1 and 4.5 that Elijah was coming before the coming of the Messiah. Zechariah will have a son, according to this angel, that will fulfill this prophecy (Matt 11.11-14). After Zechariah comes out of the Temple, the people are waiting for him to pray the Priestly Blessing over them (Luke 1.21-22). The “multitude” mentioned there was called the “Ma’Amad” or standing men.” This “Ma’Amad” were non-priestly Israelites who came to the services with the priestly courses to participate in prayer. The word “Amad” is related to “Amidah” (the prayer Zechariah prayed) and means “standing.” The angel was identified as Gabriel and he gave the message to Zechariah, but because he was “old” he didn’t believe the angel. As a result, Gabriel said he would not be able to speak. So, when he came out of the Sanctuary he couldn’t bless the people because he couldn’t speak. Now, the course of Abijah served around June. Yeshua was conceived 6 months later, around the time of Chanukah. John was born around Passover. There is a cup at Passover that is called “Elijah’s Cup” and it is remembering the prophecy of the coming of Elijah and the covenant. John will be the messenger of the covenant. If Yeshua was conceived around Chanukah, that means he was born around the festival of Sukkot. Now, you can glean all of this from just one chapter if you know the sub-language of the Temple.
In Luke 2.67-79, Zechariah has his speech return when John is born, and he gives a prophecy. In Luke 2.68 he says that the Lord “has visited his people” and this alludes to what Joseph said in Gen 50.24, where Joseph uses the term “pakod yifkod” or “visit, visit (two times).” Exo 3.16 uses the Hebrew “pakodti” for “visited you” and in Exo 13.18 “yifkod” for visit is used. So, the concept of the Lord “visiting” his people is being taught here. In Luke 19.41-44 Yeshua weeps over the city and says they did not know the “time of their visitation” which was a concept associated with Passover. John may have been born on Passover, and circumcised on the 7th day of Unleavened Bread.
Luke 2.68 uses the term “raised up a horn of salvation.” This statement is taken out of the Amidah prayer (#15), which is a prayer for the Messiah. The word “salvation” there is the word “yeshua” and the actual name of the Messiah. John the Apostle is a kohen, and his books are written in the sub-language of the Temple. We know about the time that Yeshua went into the wilderness. This may have been Elul 1, and he goes for 40 days. That means he comes back in John 1.29 on Yom Kippur. John uses the term “lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” but to a Jewish ear that does not make sense. On Yom Kippur, sins are taken away by a goat, not a lamb. This goat is called “Azazel” which is a name for a demon, and symbolic of satan and the false messiah. Why doesn’t it say “goat of God?” The people would have understood that, but a “lamb” who took away the sins of the world is not a concept they would have understood, and this concept came from what God gave in the Temple.
Many Jewish scholars have said this doesn’t make sense. Now, the Scriptures were written in Hebrew, with some Aramaic loan words. If you translated “lamb” from Hebrew there is an Aramaic word “servant” that can also mean “lamb” and the translator chose the wrong word in Greek. The word “servant” makes more sense because of the “servant” passages in Isa chapters 40 through 55. There was a well developed concept in the first century about the “servant” Messiah based on these chapters and “servant” is a title for the Messiah. A knowledge of the sub-language of the Temple would have cleared all this up in John 1.29.
In Luke 1.78 the “sunrise from on high shall visit us” is the Messiah and this phrase is also alluding to the Temple. Long before the services began, the priests were very active. They had to get up, use the facilities, do an immersion and get dressed. We already discussed the various lots, and gathered for prayers in the Chamber of Hewn Stone. An official asks if “the whole east was light” as far as Hebron. Why? There is a concept that when the Messiah came there would be a resurrection, and it would start at the Cave of Machpelah where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are buried in Hebron. Sleep is a picture of death, and when you arise it is a rehearsal for the resurrection. So, the term “sunrise from on high shall visit us” is alluding to the messianic resurrection.
The Temple, the services and the liturgy is everywhere in the Scriptures and it plays a central role in the coming of Yeshua. We are commanded to understand these things (Ezek 43.10-12). 1 Chr 28 has a list for all the 24 courses. 1 Chr 28.13 says that these courses, called mishmarot, are for the “work of the service of the house.” The word “work” is “melakah” and it is related to the word “malak” which means a messenger or angel. The word for service is “avodah” and is related to the word “ovadyah” which means “servant of the Lord.” One of the prophets was named “Obadiah” or “Ovad’yah.” So, the Lord has a message in 1 Chr 28.13 which says that there is a “message (melakah) for the servant of the Lord (ovad’yah) in the services (avodah).”
In the conclusion, we will pick up here and discuss more concepts related to the Temple and why it is important to us today.