And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Hebrews 13, verse 12.
Yesterday I mentioned that Jesus was killed, buried, and rose outside the city walls of Jerusalem. That happened to fulfill Scriptural prophecy. Being criminally punished outside the city was a common practice in ancient days for a number of reasons. It dishonored the accused and it accorded them unique, public status to be despised. It sent a message to the public: don’t mess with the authorities. Burying bodies outside the city limits also was a health issue; it still is. Indeed, removing decomposing corpses from the places where we live is still our practice today; it’s why cemeteries are usually found at or outside the original boundaries of most towns. But most of all, it happened because God used the lowest among us to perform the highest function.
It gave God “street cred.” We give great honor, glory, and social status to the pretty things. That’s the foundation of street credibility. It’s all about being perceived as “legit,” about being respected, about being able to walk the walk and talk the talk. On the streets, honor and status are (supposedly) earned, and glory is taken. In the way Jesus died, He earned real street cred.
So did His house. The Jewish Temple was one of the great marvels of antiquity. The Second Temple, renovated by Herod, rivaled any building in Rome, Thebes, Athens, or Babylon for its beauty, architectural wonder, and impact. The original Temple of Solomon had been the actual “house of God:” the place where His presence physically resided. Its location was on the very spot where Abraham had bound Isaac, where Jacob had his famous dream, and where David purchased the threshing floor. Tradition held that it was even the spot where God first touched earth after creation. Solomon’s First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians but was rebuilt as the Second Temple by Zerubabbel. This Second Temple, however, lacked God’s presence as well as many of the original artifacts (like the Ark of the Covenant) that traced their origin back to Moses. Those have been lost to the ages. Still, the Second Temple stood for nearly 600 years, and had been greatly renovated and expanded by Herod the Great just before the time of Jesus. You would have been able to see it for miles around as it was the tallest building in the city and stood at the top of Mount Moriah (later called Mount Zion). It’s massive size, glistening gold, and snow white stone would have made it shine brilliantly in both sun and night.
By the time Jesus arrived, the Temple had become the focal point of the Middle East. It was the focus of Jewish life, the singular place to which Jews made annual pilgrimage. Jesus Himself would spend much time in the Temple as the building represented God’s promise to His people and His continuing magnificence. As mentioned, it was the most prominent building in the city, more visible and ostentatious than any of the city’s palaces or government buildings. Great glory and honor was accorded to being in the Temple and especially to those who worked there and maintained the religion there.
For Jesus to have worshipped and taught in the Temple gave credence to His status as Messiah. In our time, it would have meant He earned that ‘street cred.’ All through His life, Christ honored the practices and traditions of God’s people, including honoring the Temple. Repeatedly during His ministry Christ taught at the Temple and challenged the political and ecclesiastical authority of the men who ran it. Immediately after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus went to the Temple and cleared out the merchants who had set up shop. He did this to cleanse out God’s home.
And when the conspirators of the Jewish Sanhedrin determined to murder Him, they wanted to do so in a way that would both reinforce their status and power AND consign him to the lowest place in society. That meant Jesus would die outside the city. He would be tried inside Jerusalem, but when it came to His actually killing, that was to take place away from the honored Temple Mount. Christ was crucified on Golgotha, which ancient tradition (even then) held was the burial spot of Adam, the original man; how ironic is that? How ironic it was, too, that, at the moment of Jesus’ death, the veil on the Holy of Holies was miraculously torn asunder.
What’s the point in all this history? It’s a sign for us. It’s interesting that God used human history to give His story honor and credibility but getting wrapped around the archaeology of it misses the central point. It’s not where God performed His salvation of us but WHAT He did that matters. The focal point of all human history is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s the real street cred. That happened in the places we’ve discussed and was made credible to humanity by the fact that it happened where it did. Yet it is the resurrection itself – God’s saving atonement of our sins – that matters and not the place where God did it. We study the history of the location to help us better understand the context of the time and place for the life of Jesus. Yet it is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that is the ultimate street cred on which we all can and should depend.
For further reading: John 19:17, Ephesians 5:26, Romans 3:25.
Lord, thank You for using these places and events in history to point to Your Son.