Second Temple Period

The Temples

Southern wall of the temple mount enclosure ("second temple").

Many religions had multiple temples, but God revealed a different standard: He only permitted one central sanctuary. Deuteronomy 12:5 (ESV) states, “But you shall seek the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there. There you shall go.” In contrast, an altar was to be built wherever God made an appearance (Exodus 20:24), but not a building. Only certain types of sacrifices could be made upon these local altars.

Although there are many physical and spiritual aspects to the Temple (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, for example), we must limit our focus.

Preventing Confusion: The Temple vs. the Synagogue

Modern Judaism does not use the term “temple” in the same way the Bible does. Jewish congregations often name their synagogues (meeting places) with the title “temple.” Temple Shalom would be an example. In actuality, these synagogues are not temples in the Biblical sense. In the Biblical sense, the Jewish people have not had their Temple since 70 AD.

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Josephus: Jewish War Correspondent

As Bible readers move from Malachi to Matthew, they encounter many new ideas, movements, and institutions never mentioned in the Old Testament. In the Gospels, for example, they read about synagogues, Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and Romans. These words and many others never appeared before in the Old Testament. Readers also may learn that the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, while the New Testament was written in Greek. They may wonder how such new ideas and changes took place.

The answers to these questions lie in an understanding of what Christians call the “Intertestamental Period,” while Jews generally refer to it as the “Second Temple Period.” It is that very important time from approximately 400 BC to AD 1. A popular book on this period by H. A. Ironside is titled The Four Hundred Silent Years. However, the period was anything but “silent,” since an enormous number of events took place giving birth to many movements, all of which serve as a rich background to the later events of New Testament times. The word “silent” refers to the fact that the prophetic voice was silent during this period—a fact recognized even by Jewish writers.

How can we discover what happened during these tumultuous yet fascinating years? Most the answer to that question lies in the most thorough source for information about this period of time—the writings of the Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus.

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