03.03 Second Temple Period (515 B.C. – A.D. 70)

03.03 Second Temple Period

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Unit 03

Historical Background


Chapter 03

Second Temple Period (515 B.C. – A.D. 70)


03.03.00.A. THE REBUILDING OF THE TEMPLE by Gustave Dore’, 1866. (2)

 03.03.00.A. THE REBUILDING OF THE TEMPLE by Gustave Dore’, 1866. The second temple was constructed with limited resources and was, in fact, a very simple structure in comparison to the famous predecessor, Solomon’s temple. However, while Solomon’s temple was built with slave labor and high taxes, the second temple was built with offerings and sacrifices of the people. Hence, the rabbis said it was more beautiful than the first.

03.03.01 Exiles Return to Judah; Temple Reconstruction Begins

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03.03.01 538 – 444 B.C. Exiles Return to Judah; Temple Reconstruction Begins

A new chapter of Jewish history began when the Medo-Persian (a/k/a Persian) Empire defeated the Babylonians. This created one of the most peaceful times in Jewish history. They had self-government and religious liberty as they desired; a joyful period of history that they seldom experienced.  It began with the fulfillment of Daniel’s unique prophecy.  And while they clearly understood it, the prophecy is seen by modern scholars as having two possible interpretations.

  1. From the first invasion of Nebuchadnezzar in 605 to the issuing of the edict of Cyrus[1] was a period of seventy years.
  1. From the destruction of Solomon’s temple and Jerusalem to the rebuilding of the second temple was also seventy years.

In essence, the interval from the beginning of the captivity to the beginning of the restoration was the same time as that from the completion of the captivity to the completion of the restoration – seventy years.  The significance is that since Daniel’s short term prophecies were literally fulfilled, then it can be assumed that his long term prophecies concerning the Messiah would also be literally fulfilled.[2]

The ten northern tribes appear to have remained lost in unknown areas far to the east. However, the two tribes of Benjamin and Judah in Babylon were granted permission to return in three migrations.  In the history of their restoration to their homeland, three distinguished leaders as well as three Persian kings appear.  Most significant was Zerubbabel, a descendent of King David who returned to Judah with about fifty thousand followers. They were only a small portion of the exiles that chose to return while others either stayed in Babylon or relocated elsewhere throughout Asia.  By relocating in foreign nations, they helped distribute the knowledge of the one true God, the promise of a coming messiah, and thus prepare the way for the gospel that would follow centuries later.  The “missionary era” was actually begun by the Jews, but it would be catapulted by Christians who would later travel into distant lands to spread the gospel as they fled from persecution.[3]

Zerubbabel, who was a descendant of King David, was instrumental in the construction of a new temple and served briefly as governor, but not as king.  He and the prophets continued to anticipate a Messiah who would personally fulfill the eternal requirements of the Davidic Covenant.[4]

[1]. See 03.02.14.A.


[2]. For the historical trail of the Davidic Covenant from David to Jesus, see the blue “Mystery Unveiled” boxes in 03.02.01, 03.02.03, 03.02.06, 03.03.01, 04.02.02, and 13.04.05.

[3]. Some scholars believe Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem in 440 B.C.; See Rousseau and Arav, Jesus and His World. 345.

[4].  Dan. 9:24-27; Zech. 9:9; 14:3-9; Mal. 2:1; 3:1-3.


03.03.02 Second Temple Completed

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03.03.02 515 B.C. Second Temple Completed

As the result of the gracious King Cyrus II, Zerubbabel was the principal builder of the second temple at the exact same location of the previous Solomon’s temple (Ezra 3:1-13; 5:1-17; 6:14-18).  The first segment rebuilt was the altar for sacrificial worship and completed on October 5, 537 B.C.  This was followed by the construction of the rest of the temple which began on April 23, 536 B.C. and was finished twenty years later (Ezra 6:19-22).  On March 12, 515 B.C., the long awaited temple was completed and dedicated, although it was a very humble structure in comparison to the majestic structure of King Solomon.[1] The new temple was dedicated with great celebration on the Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread.

It was not a shadow of King Solomon’s glory, but God encouraged His people that one day the modest temple would have Someone greater than Solomon.  And in the fullness of time, the Prince of Peace came and glorified the temple of God.

“The final glory of this house will be greater than the first,” says the Lord of Hosts. “I will provide peace in this place”— this is the declaration of the Lord of Hosts.

 Haggai 2:9


Solomon walked in the first temple, but the Greater than Solomon walked the second temple.

The second temple remained unchanged until 20/19 B.C. when Herod the Great undertook a massive remodeling work that took more than eight decades to complete.  The reconstructed temple provided an identity for the people of God.  It was the religious center, the place where God lived (Ps. 68:18), the place for sacrifice and forgiveness, and the focal point for Jewish festivals (which had religious significance); not only for Jews, but for Gentiles who converted to the Jewish faith. It was simple, and famed more for its sacredness than for its architecture. Nearly five centuries later Herod the Great would enlarge it.[2] Detailed descriptions of Herod’s temple can be found in the first century writings of Josephus and in the second century Jewish book of the Mishnah.[3]

The second temple was now completed, but there were some significant differences between it and the earlier one.[4]  This one did not have,

  1. The sacred Ark of the Covenant (Ex. 25:10-16)
  1. The Holy Fire on the altar (Lev. 1:7)
  1. The Glory of God (Shekinah Glory)
  1. The tables of stone upon which the finger of God had written the Commandments.
  1. The Urim and Thummin no longer shown mysteriously from the breast of the high priest, but by the Second Temple Period, the Scriptures were used to determine the will of God.[5]

Of these six differences, most commentators focus on the highly prized Ark of the Covenant which for centuries was in the Holy of Holies.[6] It was not there during the time of Jesus,[7] since according to the Mishnah only a stone was in its place upon which the Ark once stood.[8] The location of these missing objects has given rise to many legends and fanciful stories. Only God knows where they are and what will become of them, if anything.


[1]. For further study, see Ritmeyer, “Locating the Original Temple Mount.” 24-45, 64-65; and Ritmeyer, The Quest: Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

[2]. It should be noted that some scholars believe that there have been three temples in Jewish history: 1) Solomon’s temple; 2.) Zerubbabel’s temple completed in 515 B.C., and 3) Herod’s temple. However, most scholars do not count these as three temples, because Herod’s temple was an enlargement of Zerubbabel’s temple.

[3]. Josephus, Antiquities 15.11 and Wars 5.5; Mishnah, Middoth.

[4]. Geikie, The Life and Words of Christ. 1:87.

[5]. Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 21b; and Moed 3:94; Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 5, Session 2.

[6]. See also Ritmeyer, “Where the Ark of the Covenant Stood in Solomon’s Temple. 46-55, 70-72.

[7]. As of this writing, the location of the Ark of the Covenant remains a mystery. According to 2 Kings 24:13, King Nebuchadnezzar cut into pieces all of the golden temple articles. The possibility does exist that the Ark escaped his capture.  However, it is not mentioned in the future third temple (Ezek. 40-43) and, therefore, it is possible that God’s purpose for it has terminated.

[8]. Mishnah, Joma. 5.2.


03.03.03 Ezra and Nehemiah

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03.03.03 459 – 445 B.C. Ezra and Nehemiah           


Eighty years after Zerubbabel, during the reign of the Persian King Artaxerxes Longimanus, who was the son of Xerxes, Ezra left Babylon (c. 458) with a small delegation of six thousand.  His mission was to restore the institutions of Moses to a people who had been dramatically affected by their stay in Babylon. The Bible depicts him as a priest-scribe-scholar as well as a governor and reformer. For this, the Jews of Judah became deeply indebted to him and often refer to him as the “Second Moses.”[1] In fact, according to tradition, Ezra would have been considered their most distinguished prophet if Moses had not come a thousand years earlier.[2] His genealogical record was very impressive: His great grandfather, Hilkiah,[3]  had discovered the Book of the Law during the days of King Josiah.[4]  Hilkiah read it to Josiah and the people and brought about a religious awakening. As captives, Ezra’s ancestors carried the Law to Babylon.[5]  Therefore, when he spoke, the people listened.  Ezra read the Covenant of God, and it became the constitution of the people and the nation.[6]  His public reading of the Torah was explained by the scribes as to how it would be relevant to life (cf. Neh. 8).

He was given credit for changing the ancient Hebrew alphabet to the so-called Hebrew (Aramaic) square script. He is also believed to have instituted the scribal class, the synagogues and community centers, and expanded the Oral Tradition (some scholars believe he originated the Oral Tradition). While the Oral Tradition was established originally for a good purpose, unfortunately, by the time of Christ, its authority had superseded that of the Bible; which in turn, was foundational for the conflicts between Jesus and the religious leaders.

In summary, under Ezra’s leadership, the two most important traditions developed that directly impacted the ministry of Jesus.

  1. A new class of religious leaders, known as scribes (02.01.20) was established.
  1. The Oral Law (02.02.18) was established. Some scholars believe that the Oral Law existed since the days of Moses, but it did not have a powerful influence until Ezra.

Finally, Nehemiah returned as governor, or pacha,[7] of Judah in 445 B.C. to rebuild the walls, gates, and city of Jerusalem (Neh. 6:15) and to institute additional reforms (Neh. 7-8).[8]  One of these reforms was to lead the Israelite people (now called “Jewish”) in a prayer of confession of their sins and iniquities as well as the sins of their ancestors (Neh. 9:2). Another was to re-establish temple worship according to the laws of Moses. He insured that all priests and Levites had the genealogical records,[9] and that no impersonators infiltrated temple ranks. When three families, Hobaiah, Hakkoz and Barzillai, claimed to be of priestly stock, he denied them the privilege as no record was found of them (Ezra 2:61-62). Another group of 652 people, probably pure Babylonians, wanted to go to Jerusalem but could not prove they were descendants of Israel (Ezra 2:59).  They too were denied the privilege.[10]  Just as genealogical records were important in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, so likewise they were important in the days of Jesus, Matthew, and Luke.


03.03.03 (2)



03.03.03.A. AN EXCAVATED SECTION OF NEHEMIAH”S WALL.  Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem after the return from Babylonian exile. Archaeologists uncovered the lower section of his wall although it appears like a road.  Photograph by the author.

[1]. Scott, Jr. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. 166.


[2]. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 7.

[3].  Hilkiah is among fifty biblical names whose existence has been verified by archaeological studies in a published article by Lawrence Mykytiuk titled, “Archaeology Confirms 50 Real People in the Bible.” Biblical Archaeology Review. March/April, 2014 (40:2), pages 42-50, 68.  This archaeological evidence confirms the historical accuracy of the biblical timeline.  For further study, see the website for Associates for Biblical Research, as well as Grisanti, “Recent Archaeological Discoveries that Lend Credence to the Historicity of the Scriptures.” 475-98.


[4]. Mould, Essentials of Bible History. 359-61, 379.


[5]. Golub, In the Days. 31-33.


[6]. Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 5, Session 1.


[7]. Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:137.


[8]. See 03.03.03.A.


[9]. Dalman, Jesus Christ in the Talmud. 31; Jerusalem Talmud, J’bamoth. 49b.


[10]. Golub, In the Days. 41.


03.03.04 Prophecy concerning Jesus and His Ministry

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03.03.04 444 B.C. Prophecy concerning Jesus and His Ministry

Previously the prophet Daniel gave a messianic prophecy related to “sixty-nine weeks” of years or 176,295 days until the coming of the Messiah.[1]  Many scholars believe the beginning time of the prophecy was with a decree given in 445 B.C. by King Artxerses.[2] However, there were several decrees issued about this time and the difficulty scholars have is to determine from which decree should they begin to count the years.[3]

[1]. Some scholars reckon the number of days to be 173,880. For an exhaustive study to support this conclusion, see Gleason Archer’s study in “Daniel” in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 111-21.


[2]. See 03.02.14 and Appendix 15 concerning Daniel’s prophecy.


[3]. See last section of 03.02.14.


03.03.05 Malachi

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03.03.05 443 B.C. +/- Malachi

Malachi is generally considered to have been the last prophet who wrote in the Old Testament era.  He criticized Judah for her many sins and foresaw that a day of judgment would come.  He said that a forerunner would announce the coming of the messiah who would usher in a new covenant for the Jewish people and the entire world.  That forerunner would be John the Baptist and the Messiah would be Jesus, the Christ (meaning the “Anointed One”).

03.03.06 Hebrew Bible is “Canonized”

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03.03.06 400 B.C. +/- Hebrew Bible is “Canonized” 

A growing number of scholars believe that under Ezra and his contemporaries, the books of the Old Testament were gathered and made into the “official canonized” Hebrew Bible. They selected those books they felt were inspired by God.[1]  Other scholars believe that the Council of Jamnia in A.D. 90 was the closing date of the Hebrew Scriptures.  Nonetheless, by the first century the Pharisees and other religious leaders had a solid concept of what books comprised their Bible.

The Old Testament closed with the Persian Empire’s rule of Judah and the New Testament opens with the Roman Empire in domination.  Between these two periods was the Inter-Testamental Period when the Greeks with their Hellenistic way of life greatly influenced the Jewish people. This caldron of cultural tension was intensified by conflicts between Jews and Samaritans.  The world was getting ready to receive the long awaited messiah, but not in the manner of anyone’s preconceived ideas. No one believed He would be the Messiah, the manifestation of God and man.

[1]. Blizzard, “Judaism: Part 1” Yavo Digest. 1:5, 6.

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