What is the difference between a tabernacle, temple, and synagogue?
The Tabernacle, Temple, and Synagogue are all places of worship central to the Jewish faith in Bible times. Each was distinctive and held a special purpose and nature.
When God gave Moses the law, after leading the Israelites out of Egypt, he gave instructions for building the Tabernacle. It was to be the centerpiece of Israel and would move wherever they camped in their journey to the Promised Land. The tents of all of the tribes were arranged in a circle around the Tabernacle (Numbers 2:1-31).
The Tabernacle was not like churches today. It was not merely a place where people worshiped. Instead, it was a place where God visited the people and made his glory known (Exodus 40:34-35).
As Israel settled into the Promised Land, the Tabernacle did not have to be as mobile. When David was king of Israel, he wanted to create a permanent building in which God could dwell, but God told David through the prophet, Nathan, that he was not to do so (2 Samuel 7:4-17).
When David passed the throne to his son, Solomon, he passed the vision for building a temple on to him (1 Kings 5:3-5). Solomon built a majestic, gold-adorned temple to honor the God of his father (1 Kings 6).
Solomon’s temple stood through the division of the kingdom and the long line of kings in Judah. But when Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, invaded the Southern kingdom, he plundered Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and carried captives into exile in Babylon. Around the same time, the Assyrians invaded the Northern kingdom.
The Temple was rebuilt around 536 B.C. when some of the captives returned to Jerusalem. Most of this work was done by the Levites, the priestly line of Levi, son of Jacob. Although not much is known about this Temple, it withstood damage, but remained through the days of Roman rule.
Around 20 B.C. King Herod had the Jewish Temple rebuilt. The sanctuary was finished in about one and a half years, but construction of the outer courts continued through 64 A.D.
Herod’s temple was destroyed around 70 A.D., when the Romans, under Titus, invaded Jerusalem. Since then, the Temple has not been rebuilt, although it is prophesied that it will be before Christ’s second coming (2 Thessalonians 3:3-4).
After the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, the Jews were scattered and cut off from Jerusalem. Wherever they went, they tried to reestablish their religious traditions by setting up synagogues. These existed at the same time as Herod’s Temple, but served the Jews who became established in the surrounding countries. While they no longer performed sacrifices in them, worship in synagogues focused on the law, personal piety, and prayer.
Even after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., synagogues helped preserve the faith of the Jews, as they continue to do today.