Opening the Golden Gate

In the various Facebook Archaeological groups that I frequent, there are often discussions about the Eastern, or “Golden Gate”, on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Most tourists are probably introduced to the Mount by way of the overlook on the Mount of Olives. From that viewpoint, you get a wonderful, panoramic view of the eastern wall. The first three features of that wall that you notice are the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque on top and the grand gate in the wall—The Golden Gate. Oddly, it turns out that almost everybody is hugely impressed by the gate, but almost nobody comes away from Jerusalem understanding its history or its prophesied future.

Golden Gate, eastern wall of the Temple Mount, Jerusalem. ©Ron Thompson 2008

The mythology of the Golden Gate has several common features that I think are confusing to some people:

  • Some equate the Golden Gate with the Beautiful Gate of the Gospels.
  • It is said that Muslims sealed the gate and established the cemetery in front of it in order to prevent the Jewish Messiah from entering through it.
  • Many people believe that Jesus entered Jerusalem through this gate on the first Palm Sunday.
  • It is commonly believed that this is the “Eastern Gate” through which the Divine Presence left the Temple before the Exile
  • It is further believed that Jesus will one day triumphantly enter the Temple through this same Eastern Gate.

A brief overview of the Temple, past and future

By one way of thinking, there have been four Jewish Temples on Mt. Moriah, with two more coming in the future. Two of the historical Temples have simply been extensive upgrades due to declining physical condition, so they aren’t considered to be separate new Temples.

Although there are important variations in the construction from one Temple to the next, many important details are the same for all, because the specifications for those are either Biblical or were unalterably decided by the rabbis and codified in Jewish law.

The “First Temple”

Solomon’s original Temple complex, shown below, was ornate, but relatively small. The Temple itself was built on a small platform erected on the threshing floor purchased by King David from Araunah the Jebusite. Solomon built a large palace for himself adjacent to the Temple platform and connected to it by a stairway.

First Temple, and Palace of King Solomon, Jerusalem. ©Leen Ritmeyer

Over the following 400 years, both edifices crumbled from age. Various kings made repairs and upgrades. Hezekiah in particular, demolished much of what remained and built a new Temple on the site, much as Herod did in Second Temple days. Hezekiah’s Temple, shown in the next diagram, was built on a much larger platform, a square, 500 cubits (around 875′) on each side. As with all renditions of the Temple, the doors leading to the Temple porch and antechambers faced east towards the Mount of Olives. A separate eastern gate named, appropriately, the East Gate was set into the eastern retaining wall, near the northeast corner and recessed below the level of the platform.

First Temple as Rebuilt by King Hezekiah, Jerusalem. ©Leen Ritmeyer
The “Second Temple”

In 586 BC, Hezekiah’s Temple was destroyed by the Babylonian army, and the 3rd and final deportation of Judeans into captivity began. The retaining walls were damaged, but not totally destroyed. When Jews returned decades later to rebuild the temple, the East Gate was repaired. It was renamed the Shushan Gate, because a memorial picture of the Palace of Shushan was portrayed on it.

As for Zerubbabel’s “Second Temple” itself, it was built along similar lines as before, but it was a pale imitation of what Solomon’s craftsmen had produced. In Intertestamental Times, under Hasmonean rule, it was upgraded, and the platform extended to the south. Then after the Romans conquered Judea, their appointed puppet ruler, King Herod, gutted the entire edifice, rebuilt the structures (but again based on the same general plan), and again extended the platform, this time to the north, south and west. The Shushan Gate remained in its previous location.

Herod’s Temple, in Jesus’ time. ©Leen Ritmeyer. Mr. Ritmeyer is widely regarded as the ultimate authority on the architecture of everything associated with the Temple Mount, and I believe that he has definitively established that the Dome of the Rock is sitting where the Holy of Holies should be.
The “Tribulation Temple”?

Of course, there has been no Jewish Temple in Jerusalem since Herod’s Temple was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. I believe that some time before the Tribulation period, the Gog and Magog war prophesied in Ezek 38 and 39 will result in the complete incapacitation of the Israeli and Arab militaries, setting the stage for a peace agreement to be administered by the Antichrist. I believe that part of the agreement will enable Israel to hastily build a very short-lived Temple that will function during the first half of the Tribulation; but this is only my opinion, and beyond the scope of this post.

Ezekiel’s “Millennial Temple”

In 573 BC, Ezekiel was given a vision of a new Temple to be built in Jerusalem. He records that vision in great detail in chapters 40 and following of his prophetic book. In an excellent book entitled Messiah’s Coming Temple, John W. Schmitt and J. Carl Laney, analyze both the design of this temple and the use to which it will be put. It bears a superficial resemblance to previous Temples, but is by far the largest, and in even some of the “essential characteristics”, it differs from them in ways that do not correspond to Jewish law. This is because its purpose will be different in many respects, as outlined in the Schmitt/Laney book. The three outer gates on the model pictured below are, from the right, the north, east and south gates. By the time this Temple is built, I believe there will be no trace left of the present Temple platform or the Golden Gate.

Model of the Millennial Temple, ©John W. Schmitt
The “Golden Gate”

All versions of the Temple faced east, with an eastern door, or gate. All were surrounded by one or more courtyards, and each of those had an east-facing gate. The preexilic East Gate, the postexilic Shushan Gate, and the present Golden Gate are all apparently at the same location. The “monolithic gate posts” shown in Ritmeyer’s diagram, below, were most likely the lentils of the Shushan Gate so, though somewhat elevated, the Golden Gate, probably built in the 7th Century under Umayyad rule, incorporates the earlier gates. An arch covering a mass grave was discovered below the gate in 1969, and for a time it was thought to be the actual Shushan Gate arch. Instead, it appears that it was part of a staircase connecting the elevated gate with the ground level below.

The Golden Gate, architectural drawing. ©Leen Ritmeyer
The back side of the Golden Gate, from the Temple Mount platform. The doors lead into a quadruple-domed chamber. ©Ron Thompson 2008

Questions and answers about the Golden Gate

To the best of my ability, I will now respond to the list of questions mentioned at the top of this post.

Is the Eastern Gate the same as the Beautiful Gate of the Gospels?

And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple.
—Acts 3:2 ESV

It is not credible that beggars would seek alms at a gate that was used only by priests, and that only rarely. Nor is it likely that the Beautiful Gate was the ornate, nearby Gate of the Pure and Just, the eastern gate of the Court of Women; that gate was only for VIPs, and we know that they tended to be stingy. I believe, along with many, that it is the Double Gate on the south side of the Mount, with its beautiful domed passage through to the interior Hulda Gate. That gate would see not only the largest crowd, but probably the most generous.

Is it true that Muslims sealed the gate and established the cemetery in front of it in order to prevent the Jewish Messiah from entering through it?

More or less. When the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman I, learned that Jews and Christians expected the Jewish Messiah to be led onto the Temple Mount by the Prophet Elijah, he ordered that it be permanently sealed, in AD 1541. Knowing that Elijah would not defile himself by passing through a cemetery, he ordered that one be established outside the Gate. Later, plague victims were buried in a mass grave at the foot of the Gate.

Is it true that Jesus entered Jerusalem through this gate on the first Palm Sunday?

The answer is, no, in part because the Shushan (Susa) Gate was never open to the general public. The sages of the Mishnah pretty much ignored Herod’s extensions to the Temple Mount, so when they wrote about the gates, they were referring only to the gates giving access to the 500-cubit square platform. According to them, the Temple Mount gates were used as follows:

A. Five gates were in the [wall of the] Temple mount:
B. two Hulda gates at the south, serving for entry and exit;
C. Qiponos [Kiponus] gate on the west, serving for entry and exit;
D. Tadi gate on the north, serving no purpose at all;
E. the Eastern Gate—
F. on it is a picture of the Walled City of Shushan—
G. through which the high priest who burns the red cow, and the cow, and all who assist in its rite, go forth to the Mount of Olives
[M. Par. 4:11.]
—Middot 1:3 MISH-N

Another Mishnah tractate indicates that the scapegoat, Azazel, was also led through this gate each year on Yom Kippur.

Most Internet maps showing Jerusalem in Jesus’ day indicate a switchback road from the Kidron Wadi, ascending to the eastern gate. If that road existed at all, I think it would have been for ceremonial use only. Yet another tractate indicates that an arched causeway crossed the Kidron from the gate to the Mount of Olives where the red heifer ceremony was conducted. In any case, the Shushan Gate would have been inappropriate for access to the city, because pack animals would have to be led up the stairway to the gate, and once on the Temple Mount, they would have to pass through the outer courts and exit through another Temple gate to get to the city.

How, then, did Jesus enter the city? There were probably two routes in from Bethany. The map below shows the dubious switchback road, and a road to Jericho that may or may not be correct. Other maps say that Jericho travelers came in through Bethany on the road shown here. The exact location of Bethphage is unknown, but it was probably somewhere on the east slope of the Mount of Olives, roughly east of Gethsemane. I believe that another, more tortuous road, probably came around the south slope of the Mount of Offense, at the southeast corner of the map (not shown), and divided, with a branch going up the Kidron Valley to connect with the other road, and other branches leading to the southern gates to the city. If Jesus came in past Gethsemane, He would have most likely entered through the gate north of the Temple mount and passed the Pool of Bethesda and the Antonia Fortress. City streets are not shown on this map, so He would have had multiple choices once in the city. When He entered the Temple, He could have gone through the Sheep Gate on the north side or used the more traditional route of the Double Gate on the south side of the Mount.

First Century roads and gates around Jerusalem. I don’t know the source of this map, but I have little confidence in the accuracy of the roads on any similar map that I have. However, other features on this map correspond well with my understanding of the city at that time.

Whichever road He took from Bethany to Jerusalem, I think He was expected by the populace, and the crowd was alerted and waiting for Him on the west slope of the Olivet chain of hills.

Many prophecy enthusiasts point to the sealed Golden Gate as proof that Jesus entered the city by that route:

Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east. And it was shut.
And the LORD said to me, “This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it, for the LORD, the God of Israel, has entered by it.
—Ezekiel 44:1–2 ESV

But this prophesy refers to the eastern gate of Ezekiel’s Temple, described in Ezek 40 and following. That Temple has not been built yet and will not be built until the Millennium. More to the point, that prophecy does not point to Jesus (see below). Also, the Shushan Gate was destroyed or at least damaged in 586 BC, and the Golden Gate not built on top of it until hundreds of years later. Once built, it was later sealed, then opened, then sealed permanently, but not until 1541 BC!

Is it true that this is the “Eastern Gate” through which the Divine Presence left the Temple, as prophesied in Ezekiel chapters 10 and 11?

Then the glory of the LORD went out from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim.
And the cherubim lifted up their wings and mounted up from the earth before my eyes as they went out, with the wheels beside them. And they stood at the entrance of the east gate of the house of the LORD, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them.
—Ezekiel 10:18–19 ESV

Then the cherubim lifted up their wings, with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them.
And the glory of the LORD went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city.
—Ezekiel 11:22–23 ESV

God is omnipresent, both in space and in time. As our infinite, Almighty God, He can’t be contained in a tent or a building. But because He chose to deal with humanity, as represented by the primitive Israelites, He picked a form in which to appear to them. In the desert, it was “a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.” In the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, His “Divine Presence” was in the Holy of Holies, above the Mercy Seat of the Ark.

Chapters 8 through 11 of Ezekiel record a vision that came to him while he was sitting in his house with “the leaders of Judah”. In the vision, he was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem and shown men in leadership positions performing “disgusting” idolatrous religious rites in the Temple precincts. God then ordered a scribe to pass through the city and put a seal on the foreheads of innocents, while six other presumably angelic beings followed him and executed anyone not so sealed. The six beings were then told to set fire to the city. After the return of the scribe, God’s Sh’kinah Presence left the Temple, rose above its threshold, paused for a bit over the “east gate of the Lord’s house” (this could be the gate of an interior courtyard, or it could be the Shushan Gate), and then “stood” over the mountain on the east side of the city (no doubt the Mount of Olives).

It doesn’t matter what gate, or what mountain, because it was a vision. It was not real, and the Divine Presence left by air, not through any gate. Yet it was prophecy of something that was real, which came very soon thereafter. God withdrew His protection from the city and the Temple, and both were sacked and burned by Nebuchadrezzar’s army.

Is it true that Jesus will one day enter the Temple through this same Eastern Gate, per Ezekiel chapters 43 and 44?

Then he led me to the gate, the gate facing east.
And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory.
And the vision I saw was just like the vision that I had seen when he came to destroy the city, and just like the vision that I had seen by the Chebar canal. And I fell on my face.
As the glory of the LORD entered the temple by the gate facing east,
the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the temple.
—Ezekiel 43:1–5 ESV

Beginning in chapter 40, Ezekiel has been once again taken to Jerusalem in a vision, but this was to show him events far in the future, at the start of the Millennial Reign. The vision shows him a new Temple, to be built presumably at the start of the Reign. In chapter 43, suddenly God’s Glory returns to the Temple, but this time through the gate facing east, not above it. The assumption that many people make is that “God’s Glory” here refers to Jesus. That is possible, but the parallels between this and the earlier vision indicate it is God’s Sh’kinah returning. The Father, not the son.

The sequence in chapter 43 is as follows: God’s Glory returns, through the “gate facing east.” God goes into the Temple itself and fills it with His Glory. Ezekiel is standing outside the Temple with the angel who has been showing him around. God calls out from inside, saying that He will now dwell with His people forever, and never again will they defile His house.

So, if it wasn’t Messiah entering through the eastern gate, was Jesus “the prince“, who is mentioned several times in the prophecy. Clearly it is not! The prince, whoever he is and whatever his function, has sins to atone for, and evidently, he has children.

We know from other prophecies that Jesus will reign from Zion. But nowhere does scripture seem to say he entered through the eastern gate. And incidentally, there does not seem to be a throne room in Ezekiel’s Temple.

Author: Ron Thompson

Retired President of R. L Thompson Engineering, Inc.

2 thoughts on “Opening the Golden Gate”

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