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Tisha B’Av: The Greatest Tragedy in Jewish History

Ancient ruins next to the Temple Mount.

Ancient ruins next to the Temple Mount.

“On the seventh day of the fifth month, in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan … came to Jerusalem.  He set fire to the temple of the Lord, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem.  Every important building he burned down.”   (2 Kings 25:8–9)

Tonight, as the sun sets and the holy day of Tisha B’Av (the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av) begins, the Jewish People will commemorate the greatest tragedy in Jewish history—the destruction of the First and Second Temples.

Some rabbis consider this day of fasting and mourning to be as significant to the Jewish People as Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement)—the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.

And just like on Yom Kippur, a total fast will be observed with no eating or drinking, not even water.  Observant Jews will also refrain from bathing, wearing make-up and leather shoes, and sexual relations.

Selichot-Jewish man-Prays-Western Wall-Jerusalem

A Jewish man prays at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

Religious Jews will gather together to mourn the destruction of the Temples and to read the Book of Lamentations aloud in synagogues around the world, as well as at the Kotel (Wailing Wall).

The Kotel (the western wall of the Temple Mount platform) is Judaism’s holiest accessible site, since it is not far from the ancient location of the Holy of Holies that once stood on the Temple Mount.

Tonight, the Aron Kodesh (cabinet for storing the Torah) will be draped in black instead of the usual lavishly embroidered curtain; smiling, laughter, idle chit chat and cheery greetings will be avoided.  As a sign of mourning, many will sit on the floor or low stools instead of on seats.

“Jerusalem staggers, Judah is falling; their words and deeds are against the LORD, defying his glorious presence….  The gates of Zion will lament and mourn; destitute, she will sit on the ground.”  (Isaiah 3:8, 26)

God Dwelling in the Midst of Israel

“Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.”  (Exodus 25:8)

There is great reason to mourn the destruction of the Temple.

At Mount Sinai, God instructed the Israelites to build for Him the Mishkan (Tabernacle), which He would inhabit.

Moses created this portable sanctuary in the wilderness according to the exact specifications that God gave to him.  When it was inaugurated, the Divine Presence filled it.

For the first time in history, God was dwelling in the midst of a nation.

Tabernacle-Timna Park-Israel

A model of the Tabernacle in Timna Park, Israel

The Tabernacle accompanied the Israelites throughout their wilderness wanderings and into the Promised Land some 40 years later.  Once inside Israel, the Tabernacle remained in Gilgal for 14 years while the Israelites took the land and then at Shiloh for essentially 369 years.  (Chabad)

When David became King, he yearned to build for God a glorious, permanent structure.

King Solomon -Temple-James Tissot

Solomon Dedicates the Temple at Jerusalem, by James Tissot

Although he wanted the Temple to fill Jerusalem’s skyline and be a magnificent place of worship to the Lord, God said he was not the one to do it.  His son Solomon would build it.

“I had it in my heart to build a house as a place of rest for the ark of the covenant of the LORD, for the footstool of our God, and I made plans to build it.  But God said to me, ‘You are not to build a house for My Name, because you are a warrior and have shed blood.’…  He said to me: ‘Solomon your son is the one who will build My house.'”  (1 Chronicles 28:2–3, 6)

When Solomon completed the Temple on Mount Moriah based on the plans that God gave to his father, King David, he praised God for His faithfulness before the people, humbly kneeling in prayer to dedicate the Temple.  

Just as the Divine Presence filled the Tabernacle in the wilderness, He also filled Solomon’s Temple.

“When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple.  The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it.”  (2 Chronicles 7:1–2)

Tisha B'Av Kotel-Megillat Eicha-Lamentations

Tisha B’Av at the Western Wall in Jerusalem: Some communities read the Megillat Eicha (Lamentations) from a scroll on Tisha B’Av.

The Consequence of Sin

Israel was torn into two kingdoms when Solomon died: the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah.

The kings of the Kingdom of Israel and many of the kings of Judah practiced idolatry.  And although God sent the prophets to lead the Jewish People into repentance, warning them of impending punishment, they did not change their ways.

Solomon’s Temple, therefore, was destroyed in 586 BC on Tisha B’Av by King Nebuchadnezzar, who took the Jews captive to Babylon.

The Bible makes it clear that this happened because the Jewish People refused to turn from sin and idol worship.

The Prophet Jeremiah-Michelangelo-Sistine Chapel ceiling-The Book of Lamentations

The Prophet Jeremiah, by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel ceiling.  The Book of Lamentations, which will be read tonight in synagogues around the world, is traditionally thought to be authored by Jeremiah.

About 150 years before the Temple was destroyed, the prophets Isaiah and Micah actually prophesied that it would happen.

Isaiah was very specific, even prophesying WHO would help rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple, even though that person (King Cyrus of Persia) had not yet been born!

“The Lord says to Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd, and he shall perform all My pleasure, even saying to Jerusalem, “You shall be built,” and to the Temple, “Your foundation shall be laid.”‘”  (Isaiah 44:28)

Under the leadership of Nehemiah and Ezra, construction began on the Second Temple 70 years after the destruction of Solomon’s Temple.

Jewish man-Tefillin-Phylacteries-Mincha-Western Wall-Jerusalem-Tisha B'Av

A Jewish man wears tefillin (phylacteries) for Mincha (afternoon prayer service) at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Tisha B’Av

Temple Prophecy 

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!  See!  Your house is left to you desolate.”  (Matthew 23:37–38)

Yeshua (Jesus) foresaw the destruction of the Second Temple and the disaster that would come upon Israel, and He wept with compassion.

He knew that not even one stone of the magnificent Temple would be left untouched.  All would be thrown down.

“I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”  (Matthew 24:2)

Yeshua knew, too, that He was destined to fulfill Daniel’s Messianic prophecy that the Messiah would be cut off before the destruction of the Second Temple.

Reconstruction of Jerusalem-Temple of Herod-James Tissot

Reconstruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of Herod, by James Tissot

“After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing.  The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.”  (Daniel 9:26)

He would pay the price for sin, but because He was sinless, death would not be able to hold Him.  Referring to His own body as the place where the Divine Presence dwelt, He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  (John 2:19)

Indeed, three days after His execution, Yeshua was raised from the dead, becoming the Firstfruit from the dead of all those who would follow Him and be filled with God’s Spirit, empowered to live holy lives.  (1 Corinthians 15:20–24)

As Yeshua and Daniel prophesied, Herod’s Temple (the Second Temple) was destroyed in AD 70 also on Tisha B’Av, this time by the Romans, 656 years after the destruction of the First Temple.

Judea Capta-Coin-Roman coins-AD 71-Vespasian-Jewish woman mourning

The Judea Capta (he captured Judea) coin was a series of celebratory Roman coins struck in AD 71 by Vespasian (left) after the destruction of the Temple.  The reverse side of the coin (right) reading “Judea Capta” depicts a Jewish woman mourning, seated beneath the palm tree, and a captive Jewish man with his hands tied behind back.

Tisha B’Av: A Day of Hope

As much as Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning, it is also a day of hope.

There is a Jewish tradition that the Messiah will be born on this day and that God Himself will build a Temple that will stand for eternity.

In fact, every day millions of Orthodox Jewish men recite prayers from the Siddur (Jewish prayer book) that petition God for the coming of the Messiah and the re-establishment of the Temple.

Many Jewish People have gone beyond just prayer, believing that it is the duty of the Jewish People to rebuild the Temple.

Copper vessels-Third Temple-Abuv-Tiered stand-Roasting -Omer on Passover

Copper vessels for the Third Temple: On the left is the Abuv, a three-tiered stand used for roasting the Omer on Passover.  The middle tier contains coal for roasting the barley.  On the far right toward the back is the copper vessel used in preparing the meal offering.

To that end, the Temple Institute in Jerusalem has prepared the Temple vessels and furnishings in anticipation of the rebuilding of the Third Temple.

The priestly garments have been woven, Jewish priests have been identified through DNA testing, and a Yeshiva (seminary) has been set up for their training.

The hope for another Temple is entirely Biblical.  Ezekiel 40–48 describes it in detail.  But will the next Temple be Ezekiel’s Temple?  And when a Third Temple is built, what will be its function on earth?

The Brit Hadashah (New Testament) prophesies that in the end times, the Temple will be rebuilt and that within it “the man of sin, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, … will sit in the Temple of God, showing himself that he is God.”  (2 Thessalonians 2:4)

Garments-Incense Altar-Pure Gold

The priestly garments and the Incense Altar, which is made of wood and overlaid with pure gold, have already been created for the Third Temple by the Temple Institute and are on display in Jerusalem at the Treasures of the Temple.

Although the Temple will be rebuilt, perhaps in our day, the Land of Israel is still far from being the “Holy Land” it is destined to be.

In Israel today, there is a great divide between those who believe in the Word of God and those who don’t.

Contrary to appearances and popular belief, however, God has not forsaken Israel.

“For Israel is not forsaken, nor Judah, by his God, the Lord of hosts, though their land was filled with sin against the Holy One of Israel.”  (Jeremiah 51:5)

The destruction of the First and Second Temples where the Divine Presence dwelled among the nation of Israel is considered the greatest tragedy in Jewish history.

The magnitude of this should never be understated.

An even greater tragedy, however, is that the vast majority of the Jewish People do not know that Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah) is Immanuel—God With Us.

The day is soon coming when the Messianic-era Temple will be rebuilt and the Jewish People will embrace Yeshua.

Praying Above the Western Wall