Herod's Temple

Day 28 – Destroying the Wall of Hostility

The Jewish temple in the time of Jesus was a sight to behold. The massive complex, which was perched on a prominent hill in the city, had been renovated by the wicked King Herod at great expense. Massive stones had been quarried, and the historian Jesephus writes of gold plating over the facade. Everyone was impressed—including one of Jesus’ disciples who exclaimed, “Teacher, look! What massive stones! What impressive buildings!” (Mark 13:1b, HCSB)

Herod’s motives in rebuilding the temple were suspect. It is likely that he wanted to appease the Jews and impress the Romans. Of course, leaving a legacy of himself would have been typical of just about any ancient ruler. Jesus, for His part, was not impressed. As is usually the case with worldly endeavors, the glory of the temple missed the mark of the glory of God.

The Temple Design

The overall design of the temple—only part of which had been commanded by God—was also characterized by a kind of religious elitism.

The thinking of the day was that the closer one got to God, the more pure that individual had to be, allowing only a select few to reach the highest standards of spirituality. This line of thought had long been embedded into the ancient Jewish mind, which saw its favored status as an opportunity for exaltation rather than outreach.

Sitting at the outskirts of the temple complex was the Court of the Gentiles—a public area to which anyone was welcome. It was here that both Jewish pilgrims and foreigners congregated, and where sacrificial animals were sold—often at exorbitant prices.

The Dividing Wall

Moving closer to the temple, however, there was a short wall, called the “Soreg, that denied entrance to those who were ritually impure. Especially despised were the Gentiles—a large group that pretty much consisted of all non-Jews. Inscribed in the Soreg were strategically placed stones containing a dire warning for all who transgressed its boundaries:

No foreigner may enter within the balustrade around the sanctuary and the enclosure. Whoever is caught, on himself shall he put blame for the death which will ensue.

This “dividing wall of hostility” was taken so seriously that even Roman soldiers heeded its warning. Not until the destruction of both the temple and Jerusalem in 70 A.D. was the physical Soreg forever destroyed.

The Wall of Hostility

Writing about Christian unity in his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul made reference the soreg:

But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah. For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, He made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it. Ephesians 2:13-16 (HCSB)

This powerful passage speaks of a spiritual wall of separation and hostility. That wall, according to Paul, was the Mosaic law with all its commands and regulations. At the same time, a broader application refers to a concept that we alluded to in our previous chapter: seeking righteousness by law.

When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, their eyes were opened. In other words, they became acutely aware of God’s standards of glorious perfection—and of how far they fell short. Still, their compulsive quest to be like God apart from God could not be abandoned.

Living by Law

Living by law involves striving to live up to standards of all kinds so that we can see ourselves as being good or righteous. In a religious sense, we can speak of our human efforts toward what I call “kingdom righteousness” (Paul’s focus in his letter to the Ephesians). By meeting perceived standards of religious ritual and moral obligation, people believe that they can please God enough to gain His favor. “Salvation by works” is term often used to describe this erroneous mindset.

In a similar vein, we can also speak of “social righteousness,” which involves the attempt to gain favor and status with people by living up to a vast array of cultural standards. The standards can be very different than those involved with seeking kingdom righteousness, but the basic concept remains the same. Both spheres are characterized by the innate quest to usurp God’s glory and take up residence on His royal throne.

Not only does the pursuit of righteousness by law create unrest within us, it also creates unrest between us. The spiritual Soreg—the wall of hostility—proclaims that some people are better than others. This mindset has fostered endless conflicts throughout the course of human history. And I refer not simply to arguments or disagreements, but to physical violence that has killed and maimed millions. Throughout human history, our world has been a conflicted mess because one group of people has seen itself as better than another. In between those conflicts, peace has often been fragile.

Destroying the Wall of Hostility

Once again, the Lord provides the solution to our problem of unrest through His gospel of grace. Using the Mosaic law as a standard, the Bible declares every human to be equally unrighteous. One need break only a single law to be deemed a lawbreaker, and all of us have violated far more than a single tenet of the the Ten Commandments.

Because the eternal Passover Lamb of God was sacrificed on a wooden cross two thousand years ago, all who have been condemned as unrighteous by the law can now be declared righteous by the blood of Jesus. The dividing wall of hostility has been abolished because, in heaven’s eyes, all Christians are now equally glorious. Furthermore, not only has the King of Glory forgiven our treasonous transgressions, He has also seated us at His royal table as the cherished sons and daughters of His royal family (Ephesians 2:4-7).

We find rest and peace in the design of the gospel. The quest to overthrow the King has been forgiven. The impetus to seek glory has been removed. And the dividing wall has been destroyed. 

Do you see yourself as being a little above or below the cross? As a little better or worse than others? If so, the essence of the gospel has yet to be revealed in your heart.

Through His perfect life and sacrificial death, Jesus has fulfilled every requirement of the law and forever destroyed the wall of hostility!

Photo by Ariely – CC BY 3.0

*Bob Santos has authored several books, and this post is drawn from an upcoming work titled The Search for Rest.