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Allusions to the Temple in New Testament
There is a marked peculiarity and also a special charm about the allusions of the 'beloved disciple' to the 'Temple and its services.' The other New Testament writers refer to them in their narratives, or else explain their types, in such language as any well-informed worshipper at Jerusalem might have employed. But John writes not like an ordinary Israelite. He has eyes and ears for details which others would have left unnoticed. As, according to a Jewish tradition, the high-priest read the Divine answer of the Urim and Thummim by a heavenly light cast upon special letters in the names of the tribes grave upon his breast-plate, so to John the presence and the words of Jesus seem to render luminous the well-remembered services of the Temple. This, as we shall have frequent occasion to show, appears in his Gospel, but much more in the Book of Revelation. Indeed, the Apocalypse, as a whole, may be likened to the Temple services in its mingling of prophetic symbols with worship and praise. But it is specially remarkable, that the Temple-references with which the Book of Revelation abounds are generally to minutiae, which a writer who had not been as familiar with such details, as only personal contact and engagement with them could have rendered him, would scarcely have even noticed, certainly not employed as part of his imagery. They come in naturally, spontaneously, and so unexpectedly, that the reader is occasionally in danger of overlooking them altogether; and in language such as a professional man would employ, which would come to him from the previous exercise of his calling. Indeed, some of the most striking of these references could not have been understood at all without the professional treatises of the Rabbis on the Temple and its services. Only the studied minuteness of Rabbinical descriptions, derived from the tradition of eye-witnesses, does not leave the same impression as the unstudied illustrations of St. John.
These naturally suggest the twofold inference that the Book of Revelation and the Fourth Gospel must have been written before the Temple services had actually ceased, and by one who had not merely been intimately acquainted with, but probably at one time an actor in them. *
* This is not the place for further critical discussions. Though the arguments in support of our view are only inferential, they seem to us none the less conclusive. It is not only that the name of John (given also to the son of the priest Zacharias) reappears among the kindred of the high-priest (Acts 4:6), nor that his priestly descent would account for that acquaintance with the high-priest (John 18:15,16) which gave him access apparently into the council-chamber itself, while Peter, for whom he had gained admittance to the palace, was in 'the porch'; nor yet that, though residing in Galilee, the house of 'his own' to which he took the mother of Jesus (John 19:27) was probably at Jerusalem, like that of other priests--notably of the Levite family of Barnabas (Acts 12:12)--a supposition confirmed by his apparent entertainment of Peter, when Mary Magdalene found them together on the morning of the resurrection (John 20:2). But it seems highly improbable that a book so full of liturgical allusions as the Book of Revelation--and these, many of them, not to great or important points, but to minutia-- could have been written by any other than a priest, and one who had at one time been in actual service in the Temple itself, and thus become so intimately conversant with its details, that they came to him naturally, as part of the imagery he employed.
The argument may be illustrated by an analogous case. Quite lately, they who have dug under the ruins of the Temple have discovered one of those tablets in the Court of the Temple which warned Gentiles, on pain of death, not to advance farther into the sanctuary. The tablet answers exactly to the description of Josephus, and its inscription is almost literally as he gives it. This tablet seems like a witness suddenly appearing, after eighteen centuries, to bear testimony to the narrative of Josephus as that of a contemporary writer. Much the same instantaneous conviction, only greatly stronger, is carried to our minds, when, in the midst of some dry account of what went on in the Temple, we suddenly come upon the very words which St. John had employed to describe heavenly realities. Perhaps one of the most striking instances of this kind is afforded by the words quoted at the head of this chapter--'Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments.' They literally describe, as we learn from the Rabbis, the punishment awarded to the Temple-guards if found asleep at their posts; and the Rabbinical account of it is curiously confirmed by the somewhat naive confession of one of their number, * that on a certain occasion his own maternal uncle had actually undergone the punishment of having his clothes set on fire by the captain of the Temple as he went his rounds at night.
For the service of the officiating ministers was not only by day, but also 'at night in the Temple.' From Scripture we know that the ordinary services of the sanctuary consisted of the morning and evening sacrifices. To these the Rabbis add another evening service, probably to account for their own transference of the evening service to a much later hour than that of the sacrifice. *
* The Rabbinical statement about a correspondence between that service and 'the burning of the yet unconsumed fat and flesh' of the sacrifices (which must have lasted all night) is so far-fetched that we wonder to see it in Kitto's Cyclopaedia, third edition (art. Synagogue), while Gratz's assertion that it corresponded to the closing of the Temple gates (Gesch, vol. iii. p. 97) is quite unsupported.
There is, however, some difficulty about the exact time when each of the sacrifices was offered. According to general agreement, the morning sacrifice was brought at the 'third hour,' corresponding to our nine o'clock. But the preparations for it must have commenced more than two hours earlier. Few, if any, worshippers could have witnessed the actual slaying of the lamb, which took place immediately on opening the great Temple-gate. Possibly they may have gathered chiefly to join in the prayer 'at the time of incense' (Luke 1:10). In the modified sense, then, of understanding by the morning sacrifice the whole service, it no doubt coincided with the third hour of the day, or 9 a.m. This may explain how on the day of Pentecost such a multitude could so readily 'come together,' to hear in their various tongues 'the wonderful works of God'--seeing it was the third hour (Acts 2:15), when they would all be in the Temple. The evening sacrifice was fixed by the Law (Num 28:4,8) as 'between the evenings,' that is, between the darkness of the gloaming and that of the night. *
* Sunset was calculated as on an average at 6 o'clock p.m. For a full discussion and many speculations on the whole subject, see Herzfeld, Gesch. d. V. Is, vol, iii. Excurs< xxiv. par. 2.