The Apostles Loved the Temple Mount
We have established Jesus’ strong and deep affinity for Jerusalem and the Temple. However, maybe one of the strongest proofs of this holy bond is what we read about his disciples, after his ascension.
Luke ends his gospel by writing:
“Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the Temple blessing God” (Luke 24:50–53).
The disciples returned to Jerusalem, and were continually at the Temple. That is quite a testimony. They did not begin to collect money in order to lay the foundation to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. That was built hundreds of years later. They stayed continually in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, blessing God.
Before His departure into heaven, Jesus had told them,
“Thus it is written, that the Messiah should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:46–49).
We read that Jesus repeated the same command to His disciples to stay in Jerusalem also in the Book of Acts. “And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, ‘you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now’” (Acts 1:4–5).
True, He also gave them the Great Commission to go out into the whole world and proclaim the good news. But, the order was important. They must begin in Jerusalem.
“‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:8–9).
It was crucial for the gospel that the apostolic community be established in Jerusalem. This is the geographical foundation and center for belief in Messiah. The Book of Acts tells us about the early disciples,
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the Temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42–47).
Here, it once again says that the disciples attended the Temple together every day. It also states that they had favor with all the people, i.e. the Jewish people. In other words, they did not start a new religion. They continued to be Jews, living as Jews and worshipping as Jews. And the Jewish people in Jerusalem looked up to them. Luke repeats this again in Acts 5.
“Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed” (Acts 5:12–16).
The believers had a special place in the Temple, where they used to meet. It was called Solomon’s Portico, which we also read about in Acts 3, in connection with the healing of the lame man. “While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s” (Acts 3:11).
Solomon’s Portico was located along the eastern wall of Herod’s Temple Mount Plaza. It was probably called Solomon’s Portico because the eastern retaining wall was the only original wall that remained from the Temple of Solomon. King Herod had extended the plaza in all directions except to the east, because of the steep Kidron Valley. This was obviously the meeting place for the first followers of Jesus—in the Temple.
But they did not stay there, just keeping to themselves. Luke wrote that they “were continually in the Temple blessing God” (Luke 24:53). They participated with the other Jews in the Temple’s daily worship services in the mornings and in the afternoons, as we see in Acts 3:1, “Now Peter and John were going up to the Temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.”
“The hour of prayer, the ninth hour” was the daily worship service that was conducted in the Temple at approximately 3:00 in the afternoon, in connection with the afternoon sacrifice. The height of the morning service was at about 9:00 a.m. We read about such a prayer service in Luke 1, where it talks about the father of John the Baptist.
“In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the Temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense” (Luke 1:5–10).
Here, the hour of prayer is called “the hour of incense.” David likened prayer to the burning of incense. “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!” (Psalm 141:2). The priests in the Temple burned incense before the LORD twice a day, in connection with the daily sacrifice (see Numbers 28:1–8). They also tended the lamps on the menorah. Meanwhile, the people were outside the building, praying in the Temple courts. King David had written the main script for these worship services, in the Psalms.
Mighty Rushing Wind
It was during such a morning hour of prayer in the Temple that the most dramatic event in the Book of Acts took place. Christian readers often assume the apostles were in the “upper room” on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out. While Luke does not explicitly state it, everything points toward the events of Acts chapter 2 having taken place on the Temple Mount.
Consider the following:
God’s Law commands all Jewish men who were not too far away to be present in the Temple on the Festival of Weeks (Shavuot, or Pentecost).
According to Acts 2:15, the Spirit came upon the disciples around the third hour. This was the morning hour of prayer in the Temple and we know from Acts 3:1 that the apostles attended these services.
Luke has already told us they were “continually in the Temple blessing God.” How much more so on this Festival morning?
The Apostle Peter preached to thousands of Jews from all over the world. Such crowds could only be found in the Temple courts during Shavuot in Jerusalem.
Three thousand people were ritually immersed in response to Peter’s message. The countless ritual mikvaot baptismals surrounding the Temple Mount are the natural place for so many to immerse in one day in Jerusalem.
The Greek word oikos usually translated as the “house” where they were sitting (Acts 2:2) has a broader range of meaning and can refer to any building. Moreover, the Temple is often referred to as HaBait, “the House,” in Jewish tradition.
The disciples did spend time praying in the upper room, but our reading of Acts 1–2 is often overly truncated. We need to remember that, after Jesus’ ascension, Luke’s story covers a span of ten days, up to the fiftieth day (Pentecost).
Instead of what you may have been used to, imagine the disciples assembled in the Temple courts together with tens of thousands of Jews on the morning of Shavuot. They are together under Solomon’s Portico, looking directly at the front of the Holy Temple. The morning sacrifice and holiday sacrifices are being offered, the Levites are singing Psalms, the priests are giving the Aronitic Blessing. Incense is being brought before God and the customary morning prayers are being prayed. Then, right then—
“suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:2–4).
Paul and the Temple
In Acts 6:7, it says, “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” There is no reason to believe that these priests stopped serving in the Temple. If they had, the believers could hardly have been held in high esteem among the rest of the Jews in Jerusalem. These priests who believed in the Messiah Jesus continued to slaughter the sacrifices in the Temple.
What about the Apostle Paul? Did he also participate in these Temple services where they sacrificed animals, after he became a disciple? Absolutely! We can, for example, read from his testimony before the crowd in Jerusalem in Acts 22,
“When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the Temple, I fell into a trance and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me’” (Acts 22:17–18).
Here, we see that when he returned to Jerusalem after His encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, he immediately went to the Temple to pray, just as was his custom before he became a follower of the Messiah. The Temple was the obvious place to go and pray for all of the disciples.
When he came to Jerusalem for the last time, Paul was arrested and he testified before governor Felix about the reason he had come to Jerusalem in the first place: “Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings. While I was doing this, they found me purified in the Temple, without any crowd or tumult.” (Acts 24:17–18).
Paul said that he had come to Jerusalem in order to bring alms to his people, and to present offerings. We know what the first part was all about. Paul had written to the believers in Rome about his journey to Jerusalem:
“At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem” (Romans 15:25–26).
This is very clear. Paul had come to deliver aid to the disciples in Jerusalem from the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. But Paul also said to the Roman governor that he had come to Jerusalem to present offerings, and that those who had arrested him had found him purified in the Temple. What did he mean? Had the Apostle Paul come on his final journey to Jerusalem in order to offer animal sacrifices in the Temple? Yes, he had.
We can read about this in Acts 21. Luke described what happened when he came to Jerusalem, together with Paul, on his final visit to the holy city.
“When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified God” (Acts 21:17–20).
So far, everything was fine. However, Luke continues,
“And they said to him, ‘You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.” (21:20–21)
This was a problem. All the believers in Jerusalem were very zealous for the Law of God. They had learnt this from Jesus, who had taught them:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17–19).
The disciples in Jerusalem were therefore faithful to the Torah of Moses, down to the least of the commandments. But there was a rumour about Paul in Jerusalem that he had forsaken the Torah, or Law, of Moses and was teaching other Jews to do the same, contrary to what Jesus had taught them.
Sadly, this is a rumour that has persisted about Paul through the centuries, up to our time. But Jacob (James, Ya’akov in Hebrew) knew that this rumour about Paul was false. How? Because we can read in Galatians how Paul, after several years of ministry, traveled to Jerusalem to specifically talk to the leaders there, including Jacob (James), about the gospel that he preached. Paul wrote,
“Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.” (Galatians 2:1–2)
Paul presented to the leaders in Jerusalem the gospel that he preached among the Gentiles. He had been working for many years as an apostle and wanted to be sure that he “was not running or had not run in vain.” So he checked his message and teachings with the leaders in Jerusalem, who had been apostles before he was (Galatians 1:17). He explained what the result was,
“But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek … And from those who seemed to be influential … added nothing to me. On the contrary, when … James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (Galatians 2:3,6–7,9–10).
Paul was given the task of going to the Gentiles with the gospel and the message that the Gentiles did not have to get circumcised to become legally Jewish and keep the entire Law of Moses (see Acts 15). Yet, a false rumor about Paul had spread to the Jewish believers in Jerusalem, that Paul himself had forsaken the Law and taught other Jews to do the same. Jacob (James), the main apostolic leader in Jerusalem, and Jesus’ own brother, said that something had to be done about this rumor. He continued,
“‘What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law. But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.’ Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the Temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them” (Acts 21:22–26).
Nazirites in the Temple
Paul had come to Jerusalem in order to present offerings, because he had taken a Nazarite vow. We can read about this in Acts 18:18, “After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow.”
This is referring to a Nazarite vow, when the person was not allowed to cut his hair during the time he was under the vow. For this reason, the vow began and ended with the person cutting his hair. We can read more about this in the Torah (Numbers 6:1–5).
When a person was under a vow, he voluntarily chose to live under similar, strict laws as the High Priest. Some, like Samson, Samuel and John the Baptist, lived as Nazarites their whole lives. In order to end the vow, sacrifices had to be presented before the LORD. This could only be done at the Temple in Jerusalem. The Torah states,
“And this is the law for the Nazirite, when the time of his separation has been completed: he shall be brought to the entrance of the tent of meeting, and he shall bring his gift to the LORD, one male lamb a year old without blemish for a burnt offering, and one ewe lamb a year old without blemish as a sin offering, and one ram without blemish as a peace offering,” and so on (Numbers 6:13–21).
We see in Numbers that there were a lot of sacrifices that had to be presented before the LORD, in order to end such a vow. Scripture lists no less than eight specific offerings, altogether worth well over a thousand dollars in today’s currency, especially as the animals in the Temple were extra expensive:
One male lamb a year old without blemish for a burnt offering;
One ewe lamb a year old without blemish as a sin offering;
One ram without blemish as a peace offering;
A basket of unleavened bread;
Loaves of fine flour mixed with oil;
Unleavened wafers smeared with oil;
Grain offering and drink offerings;
An offering to the LORD above his Nazirite vow, as he can afford.
For this reason, it was a common problem in Paul’s time that people made Nazarite vows, but did not have the means the pay for all the sacrifices, in order to end the vow. Remember that Joseph and Mary could not afford to bring even a one year-old lamb when Mary’s days of purification were completed, but presented two turtledoves or two pigeons instead (see Leviticus 12:8 and Luke 2:24). That is why the Apostle Jacob (James) explained to Paul,
“We have four men who are under a vow; take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law” (Acts 21:23–24).
Actions always speak louder than words, especially if money is involved. Jacob asked Paul to pay for all the expenses for the four men to end their vows together with him. “Thus,” Jacob said, “all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law” (21:24).
Luke then continues to tell what happened,
“Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the Temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them. When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the Temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, ‘Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the Temple and has defiled this holy place.’ For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the Temple.” (21:26–29).
They came with false charges. Paul had not brought Gentiles with him into the Temple and desecrated it, and he was not teaching against the Law of Moses or the Temple. Luke devotes major portions of the remaining chapters in the Book of Acts to cover Paul’s defenses against these accusations, in no less than five trials. Paul told Felix, “they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the Temple or in the synagogues or in the city. Neither can they prove to you what they now bring up against me.” (24:12–13). And he summarized his position before the Jewish leaders in Rome, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans” (28:17).
In summary, we find that all of the apostles continued to see the Temple in Jerusalem as the natural and obvious focal point in their devotion to God, just like all other Jews. They had nothing against the sacrifices in the Temple, but even participated in them. And this is the way it continued, almost up to the destruction of the Temple. Jacob, the brother of Jesus, who was the leader of the community in Jerusalem, is even praised by the Jewish historian Josephus as a tzaddik, a righteous man. Later, when Jacob was murdered by the politically corrupt Sadducees, Josephus remarks that the rabbis were greatly upset over his murder.
Epicenter of the First Generation
The apostolic community was born in Jerusalem. Until shortly before the destruction of the Temple, that community of Jewish disciples in Jerusalem was the self-evident headquarters for all the followers of Jesus. And since they met daily in the Temple at Solomon’s Portico, it is no exaggeration to say that the Temple was their physical headquarters, corresponding to what the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica are for the Roman Catholic Church today. Jesus’ brother Jacob, the leader of the community in Jerusalem, practically corresponded to the Pope.
Jesus had told them in his final address, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
After Jerusalem and all Judea, Samaria was next to receive the message. When this was accomplished through Philip the Evangelist, the apostles in Jerusalem sent Peter and John there to give further guidance and instructions to the new believers (8:14–17).
When the first Gentile, Cornelius, came to faith with his entire household, through the preaching of Peter, news about what had happened reached the leaders in Jerusalem. They had the responsibility to investigate this new development and soon recognized that a door had opened also for Gentiles to come to repentance and salvation (11:17–18).
When more Gentiles came to faith in Jesus in Antioch, the leaders in Jerusalem sent Barnabas there. The mother community in Jerusalem took responsibility for the developments in Antioch. Barnabas took charge and organized the work so that it would continue in a healthy way. He recruited Paul, and together they stayed in Antioch for a whole year, to establish all the disciples (11:20–26).
Eventually, Antioch became the outpost for outreach to the Gentile world. Paul, or Saul of Tarsus, as he was also known, was the main instrument that God used. Paul, in fact, later on referred to himself as “the apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13 KJV). Though Paul was originally from Tarsus, he was definitely a Jerusalemite, educated in Jerusalem under Gamliel, the most well-known rabbi in the holy city at that time. Paul submitted his ministry and what he taught to the leaders in Jerusalem, “to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain” (Galatians 2:2). The apostles in Jerusalem told Paul that he should continue to remember the poor in Jerusalem, which Paul said was “the very thing I was eager to do” (2:10). It was important that Paul, as the apostle to the Gentiles, taught the Gentile believers their special responsibility for the poor among the Jews in Jerusalem. Paul wrote to the believers in Rome,
“At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings” (Romans 15:25–27).
The financial support for the disciples in Jerusalem became a custom and tradition among all the Gentile churches, and continued for several generations, until the bishop of Rome finally abolished it for purely political reasons. He wanted the church in Rome, and not Jerusalem, to be the leader among all the churches in the world. However, in the beginning and during the entire Apostolic Era, Jerusalem was the unchallenged center for all followers of Jesus.
When the controversy arose at Antioch, about whether or not Gentile believers had to be circumcised and become legally Jewish, they had to take the matter before the leaders in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1–2). The resulting decision by the elders in Jerusalem was then communicated to all the communities that Paul started.
A Garbage Dump?
Things changed after the Apostolic Era. Over the past two millennia, the anti-Jewishness that the later church fathers introduced into the church has deeply coloured the way that many Christians view the Temple and the Temple Mount, the heart of the holy city. They see absolutely no value in it. When the Christian Byzantine Empire took over Jerusalem in the fourth century, the Emperor Constantine began to build his “New Jerusalem” around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Temple Mount, the most holy place to God, represented something that was old, and gone forever. It was eventually even transformed into a garbage dump!
The story goes that when the Muslims conquered Jerusalem in the year 638, the Caliph Omar came to Jerusalem, and he wanted to know where the Jewish Temples had stood. When the Jews showed him the Temple Mount, he found a Christian woman, who had walked all the way from Bethlehem in order to throw her garbage there. When Omar asked her why, she answered that her priests had taught her that it brought good luck if one could throw one’s garbage on the Temple Mount. That is how deeply the Christian community in the seventh century despised and resented the most holy place on earth in God’s eyes—of which it is written,
“For the LORD has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling place: ‘This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.’ … There I will make a horn to sprout for David; I have prepared a lamp for my anointed” (Psalm 132:13–14,17). “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill” (Psalm 2:6).
It is time for Christians to deeply repent of all contempt for the Temple and the Temple Mount, and for all complacency and lack of passion for God’s holy hill. How can we say that we love Him, if we do not share His heart for the resting place of His glory?
The fear of everything “Jewish” runs deep in Christian thinking today. We have inherited it with the mother’s milk of Christian tradition. It is far from the heart of the first disciples in Jerusalem, and it is far from the heart of David, the man after God’s own heart, who said, “I will not enter my house or get into my bed, I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for the LORD, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob” (Psalm 132:3–5).
It is time for reflection and repentance among the followers of Jesus.
Adapted from Lars Enarson's The Joy of the Whole Earth: Jerusalem and the Future of the World (Ariel Media, 2015). Lars Enarson, a native of Sweden, is an internationally recognised Christian Bible teacher, author, and TV personality. He resides with his wife in Israel, where he reports on the current situation in the Middle East and produces television shows aired around the world in both English and Swedish. He is the author of several books.
 The biblical hours consisted of dividing daylight into 12 hours, hence the “third hour” or the “ninth hour” from sunrise would fluctuate somewhat, from winter to summer, depending on the amount of daylight.
 See Deuteronomy 16:16; Exodus 23:17; 34:23.
 Josephus, Antiquities 20.197–201, Eusebius, Ecclesiastical Histories 2.23.4,10–18.