Walking to the Temple

Atonement, The Temple, and Tisha B’Av

Animal offerings aided the atonement process, as they drove home the point that really the person deserved to be slaughtered, but an animal was being used in his/her place. The offering also helped atonement in many mystical ways. But we should not mistake the animal offering for more than what it is. It was an aid to atonement; it did not cause atonement.

“Atonement Today”
from the Ask the Rabbi column

One of the questions Christians sometimes have about Judaism is how religious Jews expect to make atonement for sins without the Temple. The traditional narrative goes that God allowed the Temple to be destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE because He had annulled the system of animal sacrifices, the system of Levitical priests, and all of the promises and commands about them that God previously said were eternal.

Christians tend to believe that God sent Jesus to replace the Temple sacrifices and to be our permanent, once in a lifetime atonement, as opposed to having to make an animal sacrifice every time a Jew committed a sin.

I can only believe Christians imagine that there was a perpetual line of Jews in front of the Temple waiting their turn to make a sacrifice. If that were the case, if every time a Jew committed a sin of any kind they had to make the journey to the Temple, they wouldn’t be able to go anyplace else.

Praying ChildIn contrast, for a Christian, every time he or she sins, they can pray to God in Christ’s name where ever they are and whatever they’re doing, and it’s all good.

Well, that’s not how it worked.

First of all, not all sacrifices had to do with sin and even those that did were specifically for unintentional sins, that is, an act someone committed they didn’t know what a sin. When they discovered that they had sinned unintentionally, then they offered the appropriate sacrifices at the Temple.

That probably wasn’t all that common.

But the quote above speaks of the animal being a substitute for the person offering up the animal, that the person knew he or she should be the one to die instead. What about that?

The verse says: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit” (Psalms 51:19). This teaches us that a person who does teshuva is regarded as if he had ascended to Jerusalem, built the Temple, erected the Altar, and offered all the offerings upon it. (Midrash – Vayikra Rabba 7:2)

When a person transgresses a mitzvah in the Torah, he destroys some of his inner holiness. He cuts himself off from the Godliness that lies at the essence of his soul. When a person does teshuva — “spiritual return” — he renews and rebuilds the inner world that he has destroyed. On one level, he is rebuilding his personal “Temple” so that God’s presence (so to speak) will return there to dwell.


If we can understand not only the Psalmist David but the Rabbi correctly, it would seem that teshuvah, or sincere repentance is what draws us nearer to God on a spiritual level. That’s as true today as it was thousands of years ago when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, and further back still when the Mishkan or Tabernacle went with the Children of Israel through the wilderness.

So why make animal sacrifices at all if the true sacrifice is a broken spirit?

What inhabited the Tabernacle and later the Temple?

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

Exodus 40:34-35 (NASB)

It happened that when the priests came from the holy place, the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.

1 Kings 8:10-11

shekhinaThe Shekinah, often referred to in Christianity as the “Glory of God,” filled and inhabited the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle and later Solomon’s Temple.

Prayer and true repentance brought any Jew, no matter where he or she was, spiritually closer to God. An animal sacrifice was required to allow the Jew to come nearer to where the Shekinah dwelt physically.

The Aish Rabbi doesn’t say that exactly, and I must admit the idea isn’t my own. I simply can’t remember where I learned it. If it was from anyone reading this, I’m not trying to rip you off, I really can’t recall the source of this information.

This year, Tisha B’Av or the Ninth day of the month of Av, the solemn commemoration of the many disasters that have befallen the Jewish people, begins this coming Saturday at sundown and continues through Sunday.

Jews all over the world will fast, and pray, and turn their hearts to God. I don’t mean to say that the Temple isn’t important, even vital to the lives of the Jewish people. Jews will weep over the destruction of the Temple on Tisha B’Av as well as for many other tragedies.

The Jewish people long for the coming of Messiah who will rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and restore the sacrifices and the Priesthood.

So am I saying that Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus Christ) is irrelevant to Jews, that they can pray to God and be forgiven of sins without acknowledging Yeshua?

That’s complicated.

For we non-Jews, our access to the God of Israel is the direct result of our faith in Yeshua and all he accomplished, but I don’t believe for a second that he replaced anything. We non-Jewish disciples of our Master require our Rav in order to benefit from any of the blessings of the New Covenant.

The advent of Messiah was the next logical extension of the all the promises of God to Israel we find in the Tanakh (Old Testament), and then to the rest of the world. Yeshua came the first time as the forerunner of how God would fulfill the New Covenant promises. That includes his being the forerunner of the total and permanent forgiveness of all Israel’s sins as it states in the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:34; Romans 11:27) When he comes again, it won’t be as a preview but the main event.

I can’t believe that God out of hand rejects all Jewish people who didn’t convert to Christianity and believe in the Goyishe King. That would include the vast majority of Jews who have lived and died over the past two thousand years. God would never abandon His people Israel this way, nor expect them to violate the Torah mitzvot for the sake of eating a baked ham on Easter.

Tisha B'Av
photo credit: Alex Levin http://www.artlevin.com

I do believe that a Jew who acknowledges Yeshua as the sent Messiah, the Jewish King, Rav Yeshua, not to draw them away from Jewish praxis but to intensify it, crystallize it, bring that practice into sharper focus relative to the entry of the New Covenant into our world a bit at a time, is acknowledging Yeshua’s role as the mediator of that covenant, the living representation of the permanent forgiveness of sins, and the one who will rebuild the Temple at the end of these “birthpangs of Messiah” we currently experience.

Starting at sundown this Saturday, after the conclusion of Shabbat, there will be many tears shed by the Jewish people in their homes and their synagogues for all they have lost. But there will come a day when He shall wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4) and return joy and fulfillment to His people Israel through Messiah.

And when God has restored Israel, then the nations will be healed as well.

Afterword: I’m fully aware that I’m no expert on the Temple or the sacrifices, and I wrote this blog post on the fly rather than doing a lot of research (as I probably should have), so if you find any errors I’ve made, let me know. Thanks.

8 thoughts on “Atonement, The Temple, and Tisha B’Av”

  1. James … you have blessed me greatly this morning with the above Meditation. Perhaps Christians fail to realize (and this is only MY humble opinion).. Jews DO pray to G-d.. I will share with you a post by a young lady who lives in Petah Tiqva, Israel. I cannot be convinced that Hashem has not heard her prayer and that He will not respond because she did not end it with :’in Jesus name’
    “A Letter To My Beloved

    My Dear Beloved,

    I miss you. Every summer, as the weather warms, I feel a loneliness deep in my heart. I think back to the days when we used to be together in one home. We were so close. You would protect me and look out for my every need. When I needed to feel your love or seek your guidance, I knew exactly where to turn. You allowed me to give to you in a way that brought us closeness. I sacrificed for you and you knew it. There was an unbreakable trust between us. Knowing you were with me brought me great joy.

    But over time I disappointed you and I let you down. What was important to you was not important to me. I became self-centered and distant. You lost your trust in me and I lost my trust in you. Eventually you had me leave our home, so I could not return and life has never been the same. I felt your anger towards me. It has been a very painful struggle. The love and clarity I once had has vanished. Each time I walk by the site of our old home, I am flooded with memories of a different life.

    I want you to know that I have not for one second forgotten about our relationship, and I am trying to change. I have worked on opening myself up and learning how to have a real relationship. I want to be better, even though the dark world I now inhabit sometimes obscures my vision and makes this effort so very hard. At the same time, it has allowed me to become stronger and in made me realize I can be who you believe I can be.

    I am trying… and I am crying out to you again. I desperately yearn for the day we can reconcile and rebuild our home.
    Please know I have changed. I am not the same as I was before. Please give me another chance. Please rebuild Your Temple so we can dwell there together again, forever.

    Your Beloved,
    The Jewish People
    Tisha B’Av “

    1. That is so touching, Pat. It brings the relationship between the Jewish people and Hashem down to a very personal level. It is the heart crying out to God and making teshuvah. God is among His people Israel as well as those of us who also cry out to Him. May the Messiah come soon and in our days.

  2. James wrote:
    “Prayer and true repentance brought any Jew, no matter where he or she was, spiritually closer to God. An animal sacrifice was required to allow the Jew to come nearer to where the Shekinah dwelt physically.
    The Aish Rabbi doesn’t say that exactly, and I must admit the idea isn’t my own. I simply can’t remember where I learned it. If it was from anyone reading this, I’m not trying to rip you off, I really can’t recall the source of this information.”

    I think I remember learning something like this in Lancaster’s sermons on the book of Hebrews.

  3. James, hoping you are finding joy in watching your grandchildren grow and play.
    Thanks because you have given us something for Tisha B’av…I cannot fault what you have already pointed out. I remember linking to Lancaster from you, as well as to Derek Leman on his blog site about Atonement and the purposes of the sacrifices had been an eye opener for me. A big “Aha!” Had no idea the sin offerings were for unintentional sin.
    Keeping the sacred space purified so that G-d’s Presence could draw near seems to have been the biggest issue and we can see it from how the blood was mostly applied to the altar and once a year taken into the Holy of Holies…the exceptions were on the priest to sanctify them ready for work (ordination). It was also applied to the man/woman who had been healed of Tzaraat for reinstatement into the community, following the procedure of anointing of a priest. This following the fact that all Israel were to be priests and kings to the nations.
    Some were for enabling a person to draw near before G-d’s Presence for a time of prayer/communion with G-d, thankfulness for Shalom in their homes and lives, some were for ritual purification – for the ordinary people from impurity that came through no fault of their own but came through in the natural course of family and life – e.g a death in the family, bodily emissions, child birth etc.
    What about stealing, murder and adultery – the big moral issues? I ended up reading Leviticus and realised the remedy was given for those instances of moral failings which involved pre-meditation…it was very serious stuff. Sobering. Deliberate sin had no place in the sacrificial system. Why would you commit such sin if one was in a community that had Covenant relationship with G-d and loved His laws and pledged allegiance to him and believed in Him?!
    So it appears the object lesson here was quite positive – it was all about G-d – He was/is good – but not safe to put it in the C S Lewis way; it was about sacred spaces and G-d’s holiness and otherness and the need to be able to draw near Him safely and for Him to be able to be close to His people without danger of offense – the object lesson being quite painful for Aharon and all Israel.
    Unfortunately the takeaway lesson we have had over the years in general was quite negative due to a poor understanding of the issues without the Jewish vantage of understanding (Israelites also sometimes misconstrued the purposes of the sacrifices so it was not just us!)
    As G-d is the source and giver of Life hence the nature of the prohibitions about what was not allowed near the sacred space.
    I believe our Master, Yeshua will definitely rebuild one day – having already started with cleansing of His people (both Jew and Gentile) as sacred space. It is not just one or the other – I do believe it may be both. The sacred building and the people should be ready for each other.
    Like you I believe Messianic followers have a role in drawing Israel closer in unity by holding firmly and respectfully to a form of praxis in keeping with Judaism, I firmly believe G-d has not abandoned His own people preserved within Judaism.
    Back to you…Hope I have not gone off the track…I already have in the long comment.

  4. Thank you, James, for this post and thank you, Pat Irving, for sharing this “letter to my beloved”, it touches my heart. Yes, I do believe God will always hear such an honest cry to God. But must we not all the more show the Jewish people and all people who Yeshua is – in love and humility, not in a superior manner – for He is the One, who brings the reconciliation they long for?
    Thinking about the suffering of the Jewish people it makes me really sad and I, too, long to see Israel restored and all tears wiped away!

    “Then the angel of the Lord said, ‘O Lord of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?’
    13 And the Lord answered gracious and comforting words to the angel who talked with me.
    14 So the angel who talked with me said to me, ‘Cry out, Thus says the Lord of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion.
    15 And I am exceedingly angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was angry but a little, they furthered the disaster.
    16 Therefore, thus says the Lord, I have returned to Jerusalem with mercy; my house shall be built in it, declares the Lord of hosts, and the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem.
    17 Cry out again, Thus says the Lord of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.’”(Sach.1,12f.)
    God bless you all,

  5. Good morning from Africa, James…just a quiet day for me here. Reading about the Evangelical Lutheran Church and its decision to side with the BDS narrative.
    Saddened about the fact we do not just try to learn and unlearn our doctrinal and dogmatic issues. These are self sufficient in themselves and may still need adjusting. So much for being biblical.
    It has been a long journey for me when I decided to explore what was the world view that Israelites themselves held in order to understand the words we call Scripture. And it was amazing – and a humbling experience. And I cannot say I have arrived. It will take a lifetime of learning. And by the time my life is over, there would still be a lot more to discover,
    What of the unfulfilled texts on a Temple towards which the world’s riches will flow to, an everlasting line of Levitical priests will serve forever, nations will flock to for Shavuot etc.?
    Hoping Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles close the gaps on misunderstood biblical texts. By utilising real learning as well as vigorous debate.
    Hope your day (?night!) is going well.

  6. Hi Margareth,

    Doing well so far.

    I think those of us with a Messianic perspective are a voice, but I don’t know that we’ll be a predominant voice among Jews and Christians until the Messiah returns. There are a great many prejudices against our interpretation of scripture, although I still maintain that the way we see things, for the most part, is more consistent with the overarching message of the Bible.

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