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    The Jewish Second Temple was an important shrine which stood in Jerusalem between 516 BCE and 70 CE. It replaced the First Temple which was destroyed in 586 BCE, when the Jewish nation was exiled to Babylon.


    Solomon's Temple, also known as the First Temple, was destroyed in 586 BCE when the Jews were exiled into Babylonian Captivity. The Second Temple was the reconstructed Temple in Jerusalem which stood between 516 BCE and 70 CE. During this time, it was the center of Jewish worship, which focused on the sacrifices known as the korbanot. The Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its Second Temple about 70 CE, ending the Great Jewish Revolt that began in 66 CE.

    Cyrus the Great (founder of the Persian Empire), ordered and declared the rebuilding of the temple. After the return of the exiled Jews from captivity, under Zerubbabel, arrangements were almost immediately made to reorganize the desolated Kingdom of Judah after its demise seventy years earlier. The body of pilgrims, forming a band of 42,360 including children, (besides their male and female servants, who numbered 7,337, and 200 singing men and women (Ezra 2:65); having completed the long and dreary journey of some four months, from the banks of the Euphrates to Jerusalem, were animated in all their proceedings by a strong religious impulse, and therefore one of their first concerns was to restore their ancient house of worship by rebuilding their destroyed temple and reinstituting the sacrificial rituals known as the korbanot ("sacrifices" in Hebrew).

    The people poured their precious possessions, like jewelry and money, into the sacred treasury with great enthusiasm (Ezra 2: 69). First they erected and dedicated the altar of God on the exact spot where it had formerly stood, and they then cleared away the charred heaps of debris which occupied the site of the old temple; and in the second month of the second year (535 BCE), amid great public excitement and rejoicing, the foundations of the second temple were laid. A wide interest was felt in this great movement, although it was regarded with mingled feelings by the spectators (Haggai 2:3; Zechariah 4:10).

    The Samaritans made proposals for co-operation in the work. Zerubbabel and the elders, however, declined all such cooperation, feeling that Judea must build the temple without help. Immediately evil reports were spread regarding the Jews. According to Ezra 4:5, the Samaritans sought to "frustrate their purpose" and sent messengers to Ecbatana and Susa, with the result that the work was suspended.

    In the second year of Darius I of Persia (521 BCE) the work of rebuilding the temple was resumed and carried forward to its completion (Ezra 5:6-6:15), under the stimulus of the earnest counsels and admonitions of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. It was ready for consecration in the spring of 516 BCE, more than twenty years after the return from captivity. The temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius. (Ezra 6:15)

    This second temple was missing the Ark of the Covenant, the Urim and Thummim, the holy oil, the sacred fire, the Ten Commandments, the pot of manna, and Aaron's rod. The Kodesh Hakodashim was separated by curtains rather than a wall as in the first Temple. As in the Tabernacle, there was in it only one golden lamp for the holy place, one table of showbread, and the incense altar, with golden censers, and many of the vessels of gold that had belonged to Solomon's Temple that had been carried to Babylon but restored by Cyrus (Ezra 1:7-11).

    This second temple also differed from the first in that, while in the latter there were numerous "trees planted in the courts of the Lord," there were none in the former. The second temple also had for the first time a space, being a part of the outer court, provided for proselytes who were worshippers of God, although not subject to the laws of Judaism.

    This temple was adorned with gold and it was the holiest site in Judaism.

    The temple, when completed, was consecrated and the sacrificial observances known as the korbanot were commenced once again, amid great rejoicings on the part of all the people (Ezra 6:16), although it was evident that the Jews were no longer an independent people, but were subject to a foreign power. The Book of Haggai records a prediction (2:9) that the glory of the second temple would be greater than that of the first. This temple, during the different periods of its existence, is often regarded by believers as but one house, the one only house of God.

    Many Christians argue that the glory here predicted is spiritual glory and not material splendor, in that Jesus would be present during his life at the second temple.

    Other Christians read the prophecy quite differently. In Haggai 2:3, the "former glory" of the house is clearly referring to the temple that Solomon had built. Thus, since the former glory of the place identified as "this house" in verse 9 is not the glory of the second temple but of the first one, there is no reason to necessarily say that the latter glory of it is a reference to the glory of the second temple either, but that it could be referring to the glory of the third temple, the one that Ezekiel prophesied. As such, this prophecy is seen as referring to the future temple to be built during the Messianic Kingdom. This explanation is common among those who hold to the dispensationalist and other premillennial models, but those who hold to amillennialism and postmillennialism repudiate it.

    Around 19 BCE, Herod the Great began a massive renovation and expansion of the Second Temple Complex. The Temple itself was torn down and a new one built in its place. The resulting structure is sometimes referred to as Herod's Temple, but it's still called the Second Temple because the sacrificial rituals continued unabated throughout the construction process.

    According to the Gospels, at age 12 Jesus made a visit with his parents to Jerusalem during the feast of the Passover and suddenly he disappeared and eventually his parents found him in the Temple (Herod's Temple) where, to their great astonishment he was holding a serious conversation with learned men that were astonished by his wisdom (Luke 2:41-48).

    In 66 CE, the Jewish population rebelled against the Roman Empire. Four years later, in 70 CE, Roman legions under Titus reconquered and subsequently destroyed all of Jerusalem, including the Second Temple.

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    Last updated: June 2013
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