Yeshua the Temple
Yeshua considered that he and his disciples were exempt from the half-shekel Temple tax because he was the Temple and his disciples were the new spiritual authority, but they paid the tax anyway to avoid offence. Yeshua is the Temple described at the end of the book of Revelation. There will also be a physical Temple of the Anti-Messiah, built by religious and political leaders with the assistance of the Freemasons.
The Half-Shekel Tax
During the days of Moses, every Israelite from twenty years old and above was required to pay a half-shekel tax towards the upkeep of the tabernacle. Everybody paid the same amount, whether rich or poor. (Exodus 30:11-16). The half-shekel tax was levied throughout the history of Israel and was used for the upkeep of the priests and the Temple.
In Matthew 17:24-27, Yeshua claims that he and his disciples should be exempt from the Temple tax, comparing himself to a king who raises tax from others but not from his sons. The clear implication is that Yeshua considers himself to be an authority who is higher than all the priests, and his disciples are his administrators and interpreters of the law. Then he paid the tax anyway to avoid causing offence. He told his disciples to go to the lake, catch a fish, and they would find a shekel in it's mouth. This unusual way of paying the tax demonstrates that God owns all the money anyway, so asking the Messiah to pay the Temple tax was a matter of trivial irrelevance.
Who Is The Greatest?
The disciples obviously liked their new position of importance, and immediately wanted to know which of them would be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 18:1). Yeshua called a child to him and said:
... Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 18:3-4)
He went on to talk about how they should welcome children in his name, and should not set traps for them. If someone sets a trap for a child, it is better that a millstone is hung around his neck and he is drowned in the sea. Then he said if your hand is a trap for you, cut it off, and if your eye is a trap for you, gouge it out, all in the context of their reluctance to welcome children. (Matt. 18:5-10). Then he goes into the parable of the lost sheep, obviously a description of what happens when one of these children falls into a trap that has been set. Yeshua, the Good Shepherd, goes and rescues him, because he does not want any of them to be lost. (Matt. 18:12-14). Then he discusses what to do if someone sins against you. First you talk to him privately, then take one or two others as supporting witnesses, then if he still doesn't listen, you tell it to the whole congregation. The objective is restoration rather than punitive justice, giving the offender every possible opportunity to repent and return to the fold. (Matt. 18:15-17).
This discussion has to be seen in the light of Yeshua's ministry so far and his relationship with the established religious leaders of Israel. By this time they had already rejected him and denounced him as a servant of the devil. (Matt. 9:34, 10:25, 12:24-27). By rejecting the Messiah they had forfeited their position as the spiritual leaders of Israel and would bring about the eventual destruction of the Temple and the nation. They were continually following Yeshua, trying to catch him out with trick questions. He never fell for any of them, but always turned their questions back on them. Yeshua was clever, articulate and knew the Torah perfectly, so nobody could catch him out with anything. He was, however, concerned about his followers who were not as articulate as he was. Compared with Yeshua, they were like children and could easily fall into traps. He was also concerned that some of his disciples would become proud and follow the example of the Pharisees, setting traps for others.
Clearly, if they had to be like children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and then they set traps for other children, it would become a self-inflicting wound. They would be stuck in a religious-political system, similar to the one that existed already, where everybody tries to out-smart each other and they all fall into hell together.
The Messianic Sanhedrin
Having dealt with the question of "Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven" and all it's implications, Yeshua returns to his original topic, about the authority that is given to the disciples. After he has finished telling them how to restore a member of the congregation who gone astray, he now tells them they can respond to people's questions, with authority to decide what is permitted and what is prohibited.
Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matt. 18:18-20)
This is commonly misinterpreted to mean that we can bind demons and then throw them out. It is also sometimes taken to mean that all our intercessory prayers will be answered as long as there are two people who agree. The latter, we know must be erroneous because some prayers don't get answered regardless of how many people are in agreement about it.
The real meaning of this passage is that Yeshua wanted his disciples to set up a ruling council that would be able to make decisions on the interpretation of the Torah. They were to have their own Messianic Sanhedrin that would replace the one that had rejected him. The terms "binding" and "loosing" were to do with prohibition and permission. If something was "bound", it was "prohibited on earth", and since the Sanhedrin was representing God it was also "prohibited in heaven". The same is true of "loosing". Anything that is "permitted on earth" is also "permitted in heaven".
The requirement that "two or three are gathered together in my name" refers to the quorum that is needed to make a decision. It wasn't necessary to have the whole council together to make minor decisions, but there had to be a minimum of two.
This was not the first time Yeshua had spoken about binding and loosing. He had already discussed it in Matthew 16:18-19 and on this occasion he told Peter he would give him the "keys of the kingdom of heaven". This is a reference to the authority of the Sanhedrin, and Yeshua was appointing Peter as one of the members. There is only one set of keys, and if the new Messianic Sanhedrin had them, it means the existing Sanhedrin had lost them. No wonder Yeshua told his disciples to keep quiet about it! (Matt. 16:20).
In the days of the early church, they did have a Messianic Sanhedrin, based in Jerusalem, capable of making decisions on behalf of all the churches in Israel and in the Diaspora. We see this council in action when Paul and Barnabas went to them to resolve the Judaising Controversy (Acts 15). It consisted of the "apostles and elders" in Jerusalem, and on this occasion, because it was a matter of great importance, they appear to have consulted the entire Jerusalem church. They reached a decision that the Gentiles should observe a few basic rules, some of which are derived from the covenant with Noah, but they did not have to observe the whole Torah in the same way as the Jews. The ruling was sent out to all the churches and they were happy with it.
When Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70, the Jerusalem church was scattered and there was no longer a Messianic Sanhedrin. The Roman Catholic Church claims to have taken up the mantle of authority, with their doctrine of Apostolic Succession, but they have departed so much from the original Messianic faith that they cannot be taken seriously. The Protestant Church is divided into many denominations, each with their own administrative authority, so that they are incapable of making any universal decisions that would affect all Christians. The growing Messianic Movement is also divided into a number of rival factions, each claiming some degree of authority, but lacking the unity that existed in the early church. Since the Jerusalem Council was scattered, there has never been anything like it, and there probably never will be until Yeshua returns and establishes his authority.
How Many Times Should I Forgive?
Returning to the passage in Matthew 18, we see that as soon as Yeshua had finished telling his disciples about the new Messianic Sanhedrin, Peter asks him:
... Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
The Sanhedrin had two main functions, to resolve questions about how to observe the Torah, and to resolve disputes between opposing parties. Peter's question was not just a personal one, about how many times he would have to forgive someone, but about how he could resolve disputes where someone needed to forgive someone else. The phrase "seventy times seven" is not just a large number. It refers to the Messianic expectation, and this phrase must have been on everybody's lips at the time of Yeshua because they knew they had reached the end of the "seventy weeks" that were prophesied by Daniel, meaning seventy weeks of years, or 490 years (Dan. 9:24-27). Forgiving someone "seventy times seven" means continuing to forgive until Messiah comes.
Continuing on the question of forgiveness, Yeshua told a parable about a king who wanted to settle his accounts with his servants (Matt. 18:23-35). Any Jew listening to this parable would immediately associate it with the so-called "days of awe" between Rosh Hashana (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), when we have to settle our accounts with God. These are the days when God opens a book containing all our deeds and we have the opportunity to be reconciled with our brother and anything bad can be erased. At the end of Yom Kippur the book is closed and if we haven't sorted everything out we have to wait till next year. Obviously the sacrificial death and resurrection of Yeshua means that we can always come and have our sins forgiven, but this does not give us an excuse to be casual about it. The parable still has to be taken seriously.
The king called his servants together to settle his accounts with them, and one of them begged for patience because he had a huge debt he could not pay. The king had compassion on him and forgave his debt. Then the servant went out and got hold of one of his fellow servants who owed him a small sum, and had him thrown in jail because he could not pay. Then the other servants became distressed and told the king what had happened. The king was angry with the servant who he had forgiven, and threw him in jail until he paid back everything he owed.
The king appears twice in this story. First he is the compassionate king who forgives those who repent. Then he is the king who administers justice and punishes those who despise his compassion and forgiveness. So it is with Messiah who came to give us forgiveness of our sins, but will come again to judge between the righteous and the wicked, i.e. those who have accepted forgiveness and those who have not. In between the two appearances of the king, there is a group of servants who are distressed about an injustice that has occurred, but they have no power of their own to do anything about it. Instead they have to go and see the king and get it sorted out. I hope I am not stretching the parable too far by suggesting that this group of powerless servants represents the church throughout most of its history, without a Sanhedrin or any united authority that can make decisions on behalf of others. All we can do, with our divided and disunited church councils, is wait for Messiah to come, and then we can tell him about all the injustices we have seen.
The Physical and Spiritual Temple
There are two Temples, the physical one in that was built of stone in Jerusalem and the spiritual one that is Yeshua the Messiah. The physical Temple is just an earthly representation of the heavenly one.
Yeshua was right to claim exemption from the Temple tax because he was the spiritual Temple and was greater than the physical one. He had already claimed to be greater than the Temple during a discussion about plucking and eating ears of corn on the sabbath (Matt. 12:6). He also said "Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up", speaking of the Temple of his body (John 2:19-21).
There are two Temples in the book of Revelation, the physical Temple and the spiritual one. The physical Temple is as follows:
And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months. (Rev. 11:1-2).
The spiritual Temple is in a city called the New Jerusalem, but is not any kind of recognisable building.
And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. (Rev. 21:22).
Ezekiel's Temple is sometimes thought to be either a set of instructions about how to build the Third Temple in Jerusalem, or else some kind of spiritual Temple representing the Church. However, there are problems with both of these:
Ezekiel was one of the captives, taken into Babylon, and he was describing his aspirations for the rebuilding of the Temple in his own time, an event that took place during the days of Ezra. He was describing how it would be done under a set of ideal conditions, with the tribes united and occupying all the land that God had given them. The description of the city with twelve gates, one for each tribe, is a theme taken up by John in the book of Revelation, to describe the New Jerusalem. (Compare Ezek. 48:30-35 with Rev. 21:12-14). Ezekiel's aspirations for the city will eventually be realised, but the city will have no Temple because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the Temple.
As for the physical Temple of Revelation 11, this is the Third Temple that will eventually be rebuilt, but it will cause some problems because, although it is built to worship God and is called the "Temple of God", it is not what God wants. When it is measured, the outer court is left out, because in this area there is not even the pretence of worshiping the true God of Israel. Instead there will be mosques, and maybe a few other buildings to promote inter-faith worship. The two witnesses, rather than being happy about the rebuilding of the Third Temple, are clothed in sackcloth and ashes. They are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth, meaning Moses and Elijah. They are unpopular because they do not participate in all the partying and celebrations that will go on when the Third Temple is rebuilt on the Interfaith Temple Mount. They will denounce it as the Temple of the Anti-Messiah, and fire will come out of their mouths to devour their enemies.
Jerusalem is close to the heart of every Jew. More than anything else, they want the Temple to be rebuilt. They will make compromises if they have to, even to the extent of making it just a component of a larger centre of inter-faith worship. Although the current political situation does not favour the rebuilding of the Temple, it could be done with the cooperation of the Roman Catholic Church and the Freemasons. These two groups, in collaboration, could come to an agreement with the Muslims to establish the Temple Mount as an inter-faith worship centre. A Jewish group called the Temple Mount Faithful is already putting together some of the furniture and artefacts to be used in the Third Temple. They deny all involvement with the Masons but I'm not sure I believe them. One of their associated groups, called Beged Ivri, has issued a commemorative half-shekel coin to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Israel. This coin has a design that looks very much like Royal Arch Freemasonry.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. All these religious and political groups will not be able to cobble together a solution that brings real peace. Yeshua is the Temple, and only he is capable of bringing peace to Israel.