The Second Temple, the Ark of the Covenant, and the Glory of God


According to Jewish teaching, the 2nd temple lacked 5 things present in the first temple.

  1. Ark of covenant,
  2. Sacred fire falling from heaven on the sacrifices,
  3. The Shekinah, the glory cloud,
  4. The Urim and Thummim (on High Priest’s garments, by which the will of God was discerned)
  5. The spirit of prophecy.

So the Holy of Holies in the second temple period lacked these things which were present in the first temple. The most important were the Ark of the Covenant and the Shekinah (the glory cloud that represented the presence of the Lord).

The whereabouts of the Ark of the Covenant is unknown, with various claims which cannot be substantiated. One is that it was hidden by Jeremiah under the Temple where it will one day be found. Another, that it is located in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Axum.

In my opinion, ‘Raiders of the lost ark’ will never find anything because the most likely explanation of its whereabouts is that it was destroyed with the fall of the Temple by the Babylonians and does not exist today.  The Ethiopian ark at Axum is most likely a copy of the original.

Representation of the Ark of the Covenant

The issue of the Shekinah is more relevant to us today.  The cloud known as the Shekinah (from the Hebrew verb ‘shachen’ to dwell) was a sign of the Lord dwelling with Israel.

The glory cloud led Israel through the wilderness in the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day (Exodus 13.21-22).  It was manifested in the dedication of the Tabernacle by Moses (Exodus 40.34-37): Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

The Bible tells us that the Shekinah, the glory cloud, which was the manifestation of the presence of the Lord, filled the first Temple, when it was dedicated by Solomon (1 Kings 8.10-13):

And it came to pass, when the priests came out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.

1 Kings 8.10-13

Then Solomon spoke: The Lord said He would dwell in the dark cloud. I have surely built You an exalted house, And a place for You to dwell in forever.

Ezekiel 10-11 describes the departure of the glory cloud from the Temple as a result of the sin of the people of Israel, in particular its leaders, who brought abominations to God into the Temple.  This happened just before its destruction by the Babylonians. 

‘Then the glory of the Lord departed from the threshold of the temple … And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain, which is on the east side of the city (this is the Mount of Olives).’

Ezekiel 10.18, 11.23

There is no mention of the glory cloud returning after the Jewish people came back from Babylon and rebuilt the Second Temple. The Holy of holies in the Second Temple never contained the Shekinah glory that came into the first temple or the Ark of the Covenant.

However the prophet Haggai prophesied concerning the rebuilding of the Temple after the Jews’ return from Babylon.  He wrote:

The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘And in this place I will give peace,’ says the Lord of hosts.”

Haggai 2.9

So the ‘glory of the latter house’ (second Temple) would be greater than the glory of the former (first Temple). The use of the word glory here does not mean it would be a more beautiful building than Solomon’s temple, but that the glory of God would come into the second Temple in a greater way than the glory that came into the first Temple. But everyone agrees that the glory cloud never come into the second Temple as it did into the first Temple.

So is this a false prophecy?  Was Haggai a false prophet?  Or was this prophecy fulfilled in a completely different way when Jesus / Yeshua the Messiah came into the Temple? 

When Joseph and Mary brought the baby Jesus into the temple for the ceremony of pidyon ha ben (the redemption of the first born) in Luke 2.22-24, the elderly priest Simeon, who had been told by the Lord that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah, greeted them with these words: 

“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your words For my eyes have seen Your salvation (your Yeshua / salvation / Jesus) Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.”

Luke 2.29-32

He saw the glory of God coming into the Temple in this tiny baby, whom he correctly recognised to be the Messiah of Israel, as the Holy Spirit revealed this to him. So the greater glory came into the Temple in the person of the Messiah. 

Concerning Him John wrote:

 ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth … And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.’

John 1.14-16

When John speaks of ‘the Word’ he means God:

‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.’ 

John 1.1-3

The New Testament records many times when Jesus went into the Temple – Matthew 21.12-15, Luke 2.41-50, Luke 20, John 5, John 7-10 for example.  There, He manifested the glory of God.  He also said that Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple.’ Matthew 12.6. In this He was referring to Himself. 

He also prophesied the coming destruction of the Temple under the Romans:

‘Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

Luke 19.41-44

The time of your visitation which ‘you did not know’ refers to the Messiah coming into Jerusalem and the Temple.  He was rejected by the religious leaders (although He was accepted by many of the common people). This rejection led to His arrest, trial, and crucifixion, in fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah 53:

‘He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.  Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.’

Isaiah 53.3-6

This was in the will of God so that the Lord Jesus would fulfil the prophecy of the Suffering Servant Messiah, and bear the sins of the world so that, those who repent of sin and believe the Gospel, could be born again of the Holy Spirit and have God dwelling in them by the Spirit. As a result, the believer now becomes the ‘Temple of God’ as Paul wrote to the Corinthians: Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  1 Corinthians 3.16, see also 1 Corinthians 6.19-20.

Coming back to the physical Temple in Jerusalem, something very significant happened there at the time of the crucifixion.

When Jesus died on the cross the veil in the Temple was torn from top to bottom.

Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split.

Matthew 27.51

This was a very heavy curtain which sealed off the Holy of Holies from the holy place and the other parts of the Temple where the people could go. 

The only time when anyone could go past this veil was when the High Priest went in once a year to offer the Yom Kippur / Day of Atonement sacrifice.

Anyone who went in without offering the appropriate sacrifice or anyone other than the High Priest would die, because the presence of the Lord dwelt in the Holy of Holies (although the visible cloud was absent from the second Temple).

This event symbolised the fact that now that the Messiah had paid the price for the sins of the world, the way was now open for anyone, Jew or Gentile, male or female, to come into the presence of the Lord through the sacrifice of the Messiah who shed His blood when He died for our sins and rose from the dead.  

After this, the Temple became desolate as Jesus said in Matthew 23.39:

See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ 

Matthew 23.39

It no longer had any purpose for the offering of sacrifices acceptable to the Lord.  The sacrifices given in Leviticus 16-17 for the day of atonement were no longer needed to atone for our sins and had now been replaced by the better sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah (see Hebrews 8-9).

22 And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission. 23 Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us;

Hebrews 9.22-24

Remarkably, this is shown in a passage in the Talmud, which records that for forty years before its destruction there were visible signs that God no longer accepted the Yom Kippur sacrifice.

At the time of the Second Temple, the practice on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, was to take two goats and sacrifice them to the Lord according to Leviticus 16. The first goat was ‘for the Lord’ and the second goat was ‘l’azazel’ for the scapegoat. The first goat was sacrificed in the Holy of Holies, and the second goat was sent out into the wilderness, after having the sins of the people placed upon it in accordance with Leviticus 16.21. A scarlet sash was tied around the neck of the scapegoat and it was then taken to a precipice in the wilderness about 12 miles from Jerusalem.

When the goat finally arrived at the precipice, the attending priest removed the red sash from its head and divided it, returning half to the animal’s horns and tying the other half to a protrusion on the cliff. He then pushed the animal backwards over the cliff to its death.

In connection with this ceremony an interesting tradition arose, which is mentioned in the Mishna.  A portion of the crimson sash was attached to the door of the Temple before the goat was sent into the wilderness.  The sash would turn from red to white as the goat met its end signalling to the people that God had accepted their sacrifice and their sins were forgiven.  This was based on the verse in Isaiah where the prophet declared: ‘Come now, and let us reason together says the Lord, though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool’ (Isaiah 1.18).  The Mishna tells us that forty years before the destruction of the Temple, the sash stopped turning white. That of course was approximately the year that Christ died.’ 

Mitch Glaser, The Fall Feasts of Israel

The Temple no longer had any purpose and God allowed its destruction in 70CE.  The desolations of Jerusalem began then and will end with the return of Jesus – As He said ‘Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.’ Luke 21.24

The present return of the Jewish people to Jerusalem and Israel is a sign of this process beginning and the soon return of Jesus (see Zechariah 12-14). This passage shows us that the final war of this age will take place over the issue of who should rule Jerusalem. It will cause the return of the Messiah as the Lord coming to the Mount of Olives to set up His Millennial kingdom as described in Zechariah 14 and Revelation 19-20.

pre-Tribulation Rapture (interpretation) and Second Coming of Jesus – Timeline

After His return, the final Temple will be restored in the Millennial kingdom when the glory will return. Ezekiel, who described the departure of the glory from the first Temple in chapters 10-11 of his prophecy, describes the return of the glory to the Temple in the coming Messianic kingdom (see Ezekiel 40-48).

Afterward he brought me to the gate, the gate that faces toward the east. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east. His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory. It was like the appearance of the vision which I saw—like the vision which I saw when I came to destroy the city. The visions were like the vision which I saw by the River Chebar; and I fell on my face. And the glory of the Lord came into the temple by way of the gate which faces toward the east. The Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple.

Ezekiel 43.1-5

Jesus, the Lord, will rule over the earth as Messiah ben David (son of David) bringing peace and justice to the world (Isaiah 2.1-4) as the earth is full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11.9).

The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the mountain of the Lord’s house Shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, And rebuke many people; They shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war anymore.

Isaiah 2.1-4

Something to look forward to in today’s sick and dying world.

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