The Temple Jesus knew was the Temple renovated, enlarged and beautified by Herod the Great. Architecturally it was new; religiously it was still Zerubbabel's Temple, rebuilt after the Jews returned from the Babylonian exile. The six centuries between the return from exile and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD are known in Jewish history as the age of the second Temple.

Even though the synagogue was the commonplace of local Jewish life and worship, the Jerusalem temple was the commonplace of national Jewish life and worship. The Jewish Temple in Jerusalem told the world the fact that there is only one God.

The synagogue was mainly a place of instruction, yet the Temple differed greatly, being a place of sacrifice. Jews within Israel, and those who lived outside Israel (the Diaspora), saw the Temple as the symbol of unity. Every year, Jews throughout the world send large contributions to the Temple, and most Jews longed for the opportunity to visit the Temple at least once in their lifetime.

The Temple courts were always crowded, and Temple worship and sacrifices happened every morning and every evening.

The Priests

The priests officiated at the altar of sacrifice. There were actually a multitude of priests from a long line of priestly families whose genealogies were recorded in the Torah. To be accepted into the priesthood strict measures were in order, since the Jews believed that true worship can only be conducted and led by properly qualified men. Only the descendants of the sons of Aaron could be priests, although the descendants of Levi can perform a limited number of functions.

At the head of the priesthood and head of the Jewish people was the High Priest who was also a political leader who negotiated with neighboring governments. From the beginning of Hebrew history the High Priest sprinkled the blood of sacrifice on the mercy seat at Yom Kippur and led the Jewish people in Temple worship. It is important to note that the high priest was different than the chief priests who were the heads of priestly families.