About 2800 years ago, King Solomon of Israel built a Temple in Jerusalem. Its purpose was to provide a place where the Jewish people would worship YHWH, better known today as God.
The Jewish kingdom came to an end when Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon conquered Jerusalem, about 597 B.C.E., and occupied the city. The Temple was looted and sacked. Most of the influential Jews were hauled off to Babylon to be imprisoned or to serve Nebuchadnezzar.
About sixty years after the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem, a small number of the Jewish people were allowed to return. Two prophets of that period, Haggai and Zechariah, addressed their exhortations to leaders named Zerubbabel and Joshua, regarding a rebuilding of the Temple.
So within the fledgeling Jewish community of post-exile Jerusalem, work was begun to restore, in whatever way possible, a new Temple. According to Eerdmans New Bible Dictionary, 1970 edition :
“The exiles who returned (c.537 B.C.) took with them the vessels looted by Nebuchadnezzar, and the authorization of Cyrus for the rebuilding of the Temple. Apparently the site was cleared of rubble and an altar built and the laying of the foundation commenced (Ezr. i, iii. 2, 3, 8-10). When eventually finished it was 60 cubits long and 60 cubits high, but even the foundations showed that it would be inferior to Solomon’s temple.”
But the people of Israel were in perpetual trouble, as they are today, with the larger, stronger political and military forces that surrounded– and sought to dominate– them, during the next five hundred years.
Most especially, the Seleucid king of Syria, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who (Eerdmans New Bible Dictionary). . .
“. . . set up the ‘abomination of desolation’ (a pagan altar or statue) on 15 December 167 B.C (1 Macc. i.54). The triumphant Maccabees cleansed the Temple from this pollution and replaced the furniture late in 164 B.C (1 Macc. iv. 36-59). They also turned the enclosure into a fortress so strong that it resisted the siege of Pompey for three months (63 BC).”
But the Roman empire was too much for the independent Judeans, who refused to accept any god except their one, true YHWH. The Roman legions subdued them, and massacred over 12,000 on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Those who remained among the Jewish people of Israel were still yet to see a Temple built in Jerusalem.
In 37 B.C., the Roman Senate bequeathed the title “King of the Jews” upon a Jew of Idumaean descent, Herod, who became known as Herod the Great.
His “greatness” was apparent to his Roman superiors, including Emperor Octavian (Augustus), more-so than to his Judean subjects. Among his several attempts to reconcile with his people (although he was an Idumaean, or Edomite, Jew), was his construction of a new Temple!
Herod “the Great” began its construction in 19 B.C., and it was considered complete by 9 B.C. It was a grand structure, very impressive, and consistent with the Roman way of grandiose magnificence, if not true to the original Jewish plan and worshipful purpose as King David and Solomon had envisioned.
Nevertheless, on a certain day about forty years later, Jesus of Nazareth walked in the place and prophecied that it would be taken apart stone by stone.
And that is what happened in 70 A.D. when the Roman military leader (later Emperor) Titus conquered Judea, ransacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. Again. When Titus and his legions got done with the Temple and its environs, there wasn’t a stone left, except this retaining wall:
Titus, like Antiochus or Hitler, was quite proud of his conquest of the Jews. His father, the Emperor Vaspasian, agreed that the subjugation of those only-one-God-and-you’re-not-Him Jews was quite a feat. A few years later, in year 79, Titus followed his father into the highest office of the Roman Empire. But his time as Emperor was short. He died in 81 A.D.
The next year, 82 A.D., his conquest was commemorated in stone as the Arch of Titus, which still stands in the oldest part of Rome.
In his tour-guide book about Rome, Rick Steves published this explanation about the Arch of Titus:
“The Arch of Titus commemorated the Roman victory over the province of Judaea (Israel) in A.D. 70. The Romans had a reputation as benevolent conquerors who tolerated the local customs and rulers. All they required was allegiance to the empire, shown by worshipping the emperor as a god. No problem for most conquered people, who already had half a dozen gods on their prayer lists anyway. But Israelites believed in only one god, and it wasn’t the emperor. Israel revolted. After a short but bitter war, the Romans defeated the rebels, took Jerusalem, destroyed their temple (leaving only the foundation wall–today’s revered ‘Wailing Wall’), and brought home 50,000 Jewish slaves. . .who were forced to build this arch. . .”
A couple of weeks ago, I was in Rome, observing the Arch of Titus, when I noticed this detailed bas-relief on the underneath part of the arch:
And even though the Romans carried off (as is depicted in my photo) the Menorah from the Jerusalem Temple, the light of God’s presence has not been extinguished. It still shines.
According to the one who predicted the Temple’s destruction, the flame still burns.
It shines for Jews as a Channukah celebration, and a Next Year in Jerusalem Passover prayer, and hope for a long-awaited Meschiach.
It shines for me as the light of Christ within me, and within all those who believe in Him.