This article is not intended to give a comprehensive, encyclopaedic coverage of the Temple in Jerusalem; there are many other excellent websites for that purpose. This article covers rather the place that the Temple holds for the spirituality of Followers of the Way.
How the Temple was regarded by ancient Followers
We are told in ‘Acts’ and the ‘Ascents of James’, that Jacob the Pious and Yeshua`’s Emissaries (‘Apostles’) attended the Temple daily. The place was held in high regard by the Emissarians (the sect based on the teachings of the Emissaries). Although they had respect for the Temple, they often criticised the priesthood, particularly the chief priests, for their corrupt practises. However, the Hellenicists (of whom the martyr Stephen was a member), not content with criticising the priests, also condemned the Temple itself, and were persecuted by the High Priest’s police as a result.
The Essenes also condemned the Temple itself, as well as the priesthood, and betook themselves off to live in purity in the desert instead. Neither the Hellenicist school of Followers nor the Essenes are with us today; in the Talmidi work, ‘The Book of Jacob the Pious’, the belief is expressed that the ‘sin’ of the Essenes was that they cursed the House of God’s Sanctuary; presumably, this was also the ‘sin’ of the Hellenicists, and as a result, they did not survive the destruction of Jerusalem.
Why the Temple was destroyed
In the Talmidi book, ‘Lamentations for Jerusalem’, the view is expressed that the Temple was destroyed because the Zealots had polluted it with human blood; they fought there, they brought weapons into the Temple, and they killed there. The place of that was supposed to be representative of God’s holiness thereby became defiled by the blood of humans. Such a polluted edifice had to be destroyed, it could not remain standing.
This might be an interesting point to note here; the theology of Paul of Tarsus holds human blood as a cleansing thing (that of J-s-s Chr-st), but Jewish theology says that human blood pollutes a holy place.
Not a house for sacrifices, but a place of the Presence of God
"And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them" (Exodus 25:8).
After king Solomon completed the spectacular temple building in Jerusalem, he dedicated it with a very moving speech. This lengthy and very beautiful speech can be read in the books of 1 Kings 8 and II Chronicles 6. Notice, however, that Solomon doesn't speak about sacrifices at all! If sacrifices were the focal point of the temple, this omission would be very curious. Rather, the focus of the Temple was shown to be the Ark, containing the Laws which our Creator wanted us to live by. The Temple was first and foremost a symbol of the Sh’khinah, or Living Presence of the God of Israel.
"I have surely built You a house to dwell in, a settled place for You to abide in for ever. (1Kings 8:13)
Praying towards the Temple
Toward the end of the speech, Solomon addresses the subject of the Israelite people being denied access to the temple; it incidentally gives us the tradition indicating in which direction we are to pray when we are dispersed abroad:
"If they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies who have taken them captive, and pray to You toward their land which You have given to their fathers, to the city which You have chosen, and to the house which I have built for Your name; then hear their prayer and their supplication in heaven Your dwelling place, and maintain their cause, and forgive Your people who have sinned against You and all their transgressions which they have transgressed against You..." (I Kings 8:46-50)
This passage also helps us understand Leviticus 17:11 properly. The Bible clearly teaches that blood sacrifices were not necessary in order to atone for sins. Prayer and repentance are shown to be the effective means of atonement. King Solomon asked God to forgive us even when we could not offer sacrifices; hr fully expected God to be able to forgive people even without sacrifices.
The Temple has not stood for nearly 2,000 years, but it still has a hold on our souls. We may criticise the running of the Temple, but we should not defame the holiness of the Temple itself; it is a symbol of the Presence of our God among us.