The central sanctuary. Plans for a permanent site for national worship in Jerusalem were mooted by David and executed by his son Solomon (2 Sam. 24: 18 ff.; 1 Kgs. 6–7). The Temple was rectangular in shape and it had two courtyards: the inner one contained a bronze altar (2 Chron. 4: 1). There was an immense basin, or laver, for ritual washings; two detached pillars called Jachin and Boaz stood at the entrance to the building itself. The inmost part of the building was the ‘holy of holies’. Treasure accumulated in the Temple, and it was raided by foreigners (1 Kgs. 14: 26) and by the kings of Judah themselves (2 Kgs. 16: 8). Josiah repaired the building; the Babylonians destroyed it (586 BCE). Ezekiel (40–42) had a vision of a new Temple (571 BCE) based on the plan of Solomon's Temple, but it was never built. The exiles who returned to Jerusalem did manage to build the second Temple, which was smaller than Solomon's but lasted for 500 years, though it was controversial from the start in that Jews in the city who had never been exiled to Babylon and assimilated the religious developments there were now excluded. What Herod began to do in 19 BCE was a grandiose development of the site during which the second Temple was not destroyed and sacrifices were never interrupted. The reconstruction was still in process during the life of Jesus. It was finished in 64 CE only to be destroyed at the end of the Jewish Revolt, in 70 CE. (The foundations alone were left, since these could have been useful if the Romans had decided to erect a pagan temple on the site.)

Herod's Temple was enclosed by massive walls. An outer court was open for teachers, for public debate, and for the business of the money changers (for the Temple coinage, Matt. 21: 12). The Temple treasury was kept in the coinage of Tyre, which was one of the most stable currencies of the time. (See temple coins). Notices in Latin and Greek warned Gentiles not to venture beyond this outer court on pain of summary execution. For it was the Temple which gave the tributary nation the experience of itself as a distinctive and historic community.

The next court was the Court of Women (Mark 12: 41), then the Court of Israel (for men) and the Priests' Court, with an altar. Inside the Temple building itself a curtain (Mark 15: 38) separated the holy place from the ‘Holy of Holies’ which the high priests entered alone on the Day of Atonement. The whole building complex occupied no less than a quarter of the area of the city.

In the infancy narratives Jesus was brought to the Temple as a child (Luke 2: 22) and again in adolescence (Luke 2: 42). At the end of his ministry, he cleansed the outer court of commercial activities, thereby removing from it obstructions that made prayer and worship impossible for Gentiles (Mark 11: 15–19). This was in the prophetic tradition of symbolic actions, and John (2: 19–22) regards the cleansing as a ‘sign’ of Jesus' coming death. Jesus' prophecy of the destruction of the Temple (Mark 13: 2) seems to be accurately reported, since in the event the Temple was destroyed by the Romans by fire, and there are still many stones remaining on one another. The prophecy (also Matt. 24: 2) has not therefore been influenced by what happened. The destruction of the Temple would open the way for the revelation of God to all nations, and the Jewish Temple would be replaced by the Church as the new Temple (1 Cor. 3: 16 f.; Eph. 2: 19 ff.) The Church is a sanctuary and those who worship as Christians could be called its ‘priests’ (1 Pet. 2: 4 ff.).

The Jewish War and the destruction of the Temple (70 CE) foreshadowed the inevitable separation of Jews and Christians, and the loss of influence within the Church of Jewish Christians. The Church was to be now essentially Gentile, and the four gospels re-orientated the Church to accord with this situation. Only the splinter group of Ebionites continued to observe the regulations of the Torah.

An attempt to rebuild the Temple was encouraged by the emperor Julian in 363 CE shortly before his death; but after an earthquake the project was abandoned.

Temple imagery was drawn on by the early Christians both in their worship and in their tradings. They thought of themselves as the living stones of the spiritual Temple (1 Pet. 2: 5; cf. Eph. 2: 19–22 and John 4: 23). Paul's description of the parts of the body is another comparison as the living stones of the Temple. Themes that characterize early Christian liturgy, as in the Didache's Eucharistic prayer, echo ideas from the Day of Atonement: the Lord is both priest and victim, and references to love, light, life, knowledge, and healing may have their basis in the Temple ritual of the Day of Atonement.

Early Christians may have arranged their seating for worship as in a synagogue (James 2: 2), but it was the worship of the Temple that was more significant liturgically (perhaps reflected in Rev. 22).