Here is an intriguing question: What did Jesus know about His ministry, and when did He know it? The following is an imaginary account of Jesus’ conscious recognition of the Temple during His first Passover celebration as a “son of the law” in Jerusalem. It is based upon Ellen White’s description of the Temple, Jewish writings of the period, and current research into Temple architecture. Just follow along the road from Nazareth to Jerusalem and discover, with Jesus, not only the beauty but the significance of the Temple. —Editors
The boy Jesus is on the five-day trek from Nazareth to Jerusalem. The 12-year-old is now a “son of the law.” More than a rite of passage, this is His first Passover celebration in Jerusalem! As He is maturing He is beginning to sense that His ultimate responsibility is obedience to the law and to His heavenly Father.
The group stops at places familiar to their ancestors: Dothan, Sychar, Bethel—everywhere stories. At times they find shelter in inns. Sometimes they sleep under the stars. The lad enjoys the night air, the smell of wild mustard, the cooing of a dove.
On the fifth day the pilgrims finally approach the metropolis. Jesus is eager to see Jerusalem. “Not today,” says Joseph. “We’ll stay the night with kinsmen at Emmaus.”
“Yes,” adds Mary. “We must bathe and wash our clothes.”
Emmaus is full of pilgrims. Some have spent weeks trekking or sailing. They have come from neighboring nations, from Egypt, and even from Rome to see the “world’s most beautiful building.” The holy Temple at Jerusalem! “Did not Gaius, the Roman, describe it thus?” observes Joseph.
As the pilgrims ascend the Mount of Olives, a woman breaks into song: “Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem! … Peace be within your walls, prosperity within your palaces” (Ps. 122:2-7). Everyone joins in the psalm.
Not much of a mountain, but what a sight! Towering above the city is an incredibly tall wonder, its gold-clad walls reflecting the rising sun. A crown of dazzling white marble reaches into the sky. It’s awesome! Jesus has grown up hearing about the Temple. Jews everywhere take pride in its beauty. A great rabbi describes it as “the light of the world”! But even the most extravagant language fails to prepare the pilgrims for the sight.
The group is met by an old priest who enjoys talking about the Temple. “King Herod doubled the size of the Temple mount,” he explains. “He wished to restore the Temple—as it was in Solomon’s day. He increased its height from the 60 cubits specified by Cyrus to 100 cubits,1added rooms around and above the sanctuary, and new courts and buildings for Gentiles. He used 10,000 stonemasons and carpenters. Herod wished Judaism to be a world religion. When Messiah comes, shall we not rule the world? But follow me: from this point we can see the place where incense is burned each day, the holy place.” “The Temple’s so tall!” exclaims the lad to His mother. “And look at the pillars! And is that the golden vine you told Me about?”
“Yes,” interrupts the priest. “Each bunch of grapes is the size of a man. It’s a gift from King Herod, but individuals from around the empire contributed a leaf or grape. Look carefully. You might just see the holy veil. It’s 40 cubits in length and 20 cubits wide. There are actually two veils, a cubit apart. On the Day of Atonement the high priest enters through the first, walks between the veils to the other side, and only then enters the Most Holy Place. New veils are made each year by 82 virgins, carefully chosen for the task. Three hundred priests are needed to wash them!”
“Look!” cries a pilgrim. “Is that the altar? It is huge!”2
“Indeed!” says the priest. “That way, all can see the sacrifices. And notice the fires. Two burn constantly, four on high days.” People from every direction are converging on the broad steps before magnificent twin gates, low on the south wall.
“It’s the morning sacrifice,” says Mary. “We must hurry!”
Entering the right-hand gate, they ascend through a lighted and beautifully decorated tunnel, and emerge on the Temple mount.
While Jewish believers press toward the Temple, Gentile visitors turn toward the Royal Stoa. There’s a low wall, the soreg, surrounding the inner court. Signs in three languages warn non-Jews not to enter—“on pain of death.”
As they walk by Solomon’s Porch the family comes to the treasury, also known as the Court of Women. Stepping up into the vast enclosure, they see a choir of Levites, supported by an orchestra, forming on a rank of 15 semicircular steps. From a tower of the Temple men with silver trumpets call worshippers to celebrate the morning sacrifice. The choir and orchestra offer the psalm selected for the first day. “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1).
The court, with raised balconies for women on three sides, is lined with trumpet-shaped boxes. Men remain on the ground floor. Through a beautiful gate they step into the Court of the Israelites, where lambs are slain as sin offerings. With his father’s hand on His shoulder, the lad watches as the blood of a lamb is caught in a bowl and handed to a priest. A line of barefoot priests passes the bowls of shed blood along, exchanging the stream of filled bowls for empty bowls as they are returned for succeeding sacrifices. When the priest nearest the altar receives the offering, a trumpet sounds as he throws it against its side. The lad weeps. Does he think of Himself as God’s Lamb?
There’s the great laver supported by 12 huge lions. Priests need the water to cleanse themselves and the court of the priests from blood. It is filled with abundant fresh water, supplied each day by a magnificent Roman aqueduct.
A priest, who will preside at the altar of incense only once in his lifetime, ascends 12 steps to the Temple and solemnly lights the incense. “The prayers of God’s people,” whispers Joseph. The lad is astonished at the 60-foot-high (c. 20-meter-high) entrance to the holy place. He examines everything. Scriptural passages wash through His mind.
He learns that priests and rabbis gather on the Temple terrace to talk about the Scriptures. Pharisees match wits with Sadducees. Joining them, He listens carefully and asks questions, some of them evoking serious thought or head-scratching.
Following the evening sacrifice, a group of priests, with raised hands, pronounce the age-old blessing: “The Lord lift up His countenance upon you …” (Num. 6:24-26).
On Passover Sabbath thousands are on the Temple mount. The trumpets herald the Sabbath, the choir sings, people worship.
And so for one exciting week the family from Nazareth enjoys the majesty and inspiration of the holy Temple. So many things to see and hear! Passover supper is celebrated with kinsfolk in Emmaus; then it’s back to the Temple mount, where thousands fill the courts and the Royal Stoa. They hear many foreign languages. When hungry, they purchase dates, and bread from markets under the outer wall with Temple currency. Jesus, seeking to be alone, does not remain with His parents, and lingers in the Temple courts.
Passover is over, and worshippers head home. Joseph and Mary expect their Son to join them at nightfall. But He’s not among the Nazareth company. Anxiously they hurry back to Jerusalem. For three days they search the Temple mount. Finally they find Him surrounded by scholars! He’s engaged in theological discussion!
With joy and tears Mary cries, “Son! How could You do this to us? We’ve been looking for You these three days!”
“Why did you search for Me?” says the lad, standing straight. “Don’t you know that I must be about My Father’s business?” His parents are puzzled, but Mary will not forget this reply. Jesus knows that He is indeed a “Son of the law” and that there is much to be done about His “Father’s business.”
1 Scholars put the cubit between 17.58 and 20.67 inches (c. 45-52 centimeters).
2 Roughly 50’ x 50’ (or c. 15 meters x 15 meters) and 24 feet (c. 7.3 meters) high.
Oliver Jacques, now retired, lives in Fallbrook, California, U.S.A. He served as a pastor, evangelist, overseas missionary, and administrator.