March 29, 2024

The Tomb of Jesus Explained

For hundreds of years, the tomb of Jesus has been depicted in paintings, sculptures, film, and other visual media. But how accurate are these depictions? What secrets might still be revealed to better represent how the Savior’s tomb would have appeared at the time of his death and resurrection? 

Over 900 tombs have been discovered in Jerusalem dating to the time of Jesus. [1] This research allows us to capture a picture of His tomb better than any previous depiction. By carefully examining statements from the four gospels and archeological remains, we will attempt to recreate, with the magic of 3D modeling, one of the most detailed and accurate renderings ever presented of the tomb of Jesus. 

What kinds of tombs existed at the time of Jesus?

First, we need to understand some of the key characteristics of the three primary types of tomb designs in Jerusalem during the first century AD: Shaft tombs, loculus tombs, and arcosolium tombs.

Three main types of First Century tombs: Arcosolium, Loculus, and Shaft tombs

Shaft Tombs

Shaft tombs were similar to what we observe in many modern in-ground burials. A shaft was excavated deep into the ground where the wrapped body would be lowered to the bottom. Stone slabs would then be placed over the top of the body and the shaft was filled with dirt or rocks. A simple gravestone often would mark its location.

This method only describes about 5% of the tombs in ancient Jerusalem. The Gospels indicate that the tomb of Jesus was cut into the rock (see Matthew 27:60, Mark 15:46). This eliminates the idea of a shaft tomb and indicates one of the two remaining varieties where tombs were either carved directly into existing bedrock or fashioned from natural caves. 

Before we explain those two styles of tombs, let’s first dig into some of the common features among these carved rock tombs.


Commonly, ancient tombs were established in abandoned rock quarries where stonemasons once cut large blocks for the construction of buildings and walls. An abandoned quarry presented an opportunity for an ideal location for family tombs. Because of the hard work of the quarrymen, the shear vertical walls for digging individual chambers was already complete. [2]

In modern-day Jerusalem, beneath what is now the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a massive quarry once existed. This quarry dates as far back as the 8th century BC, but was abandoned as a quarry by the time of Jesus. Most scholars agree that somewhere within this quarry was Golgotha, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and nearby tomb. Over the centuries, heavy spring rains flushed down soil from higher elevations filling in sections of the abandoned quarry. At the time of Jesus, this fresh soil made the location an excellent place for terraced gardens. The nearby Tower’s Pool likely provided ample water for these gardens. The Gospel of John, in particular, connects the site of Jesus’s crucifixion and tomb with that of a garden (see John 19:41). Such unique details are important as we seek to more accurately recreate the tomb of Jesus.

Tomb Courtyards

Many tombs carved directly from the bedrock included outer areas called courtyards. These provided families with a proper place to mourn during the burial process. [3]

Because so many tombs were cut from old quarries, it is also common to find rock-cut benches around the courtyard where mourners could sit. Matthew comments that some of the women sat at the entrance of the tomb of Jesus, suggesting just such stone benches (see Matthew 27:61).

Often tombs featured a stone overhang in front of the entrance. Cyril of Jerusalem, who recorded a visit to Jesus’s actual tomb, describes a ‘rock shelter’ at the entryway. [4] Thus, the tomb of Jesus was likely established within an abandoned quarry that had a garden nearby. The tomb having a small courtyard with rock-cut benches, perhaps unused quarry stones, and an overhang or porch for the entrance of the tomb.

3D model of the tomb of Jesus with a courtyard and overhang over the entrance

Rolling Stones

Now let’s focus on the tomb’s actual entrance. A common feature used to recreate scenes depicting Jesus’s tomb is a large, round rolling stone, often called the blocking stone. However, could this image be completely wrong? What if the rolling stone was actually square?

Square vs. round "rolling stones" typical of First Century Jewish tombs

Blocking stones came in two primary shapes and sizes. Rectangular, perhaps with a slightly rounded bottom that would be ‘rolled’ into place by turning it from one edge to the next. This kind of blocking stone fits into the tomb’s opening like a plug, designed and sized specifically for the purpose of sealing the entrance. Entrances with rectangular stones were generally smaller and could be turned or “rolled” into place with only a few men. These openings were typically about two feet tall or just over half a meter in height. A visitor was then required to enter by crawling on hands and knees. Rectangular blocking stones are by far the most common among first-century Jerusalem tombs. [5]

Square "rolling" stone entrance requiring someone to enter on hands and knees

The second type of rolling stone had the round shape with which we are most familiar. However, only four examples of the round stone type have been identified among the 900 first-century tombs found in Jerusalem. Rounded stones were set into a track, allowing the stone to be rolled to open or close the tomb. This track usually slanted towards the entrance, allowing gravity to make it easier to close and more difficult to open. In addition, they often featured a parallel wall built outside the primary wall to prevent the rounded stone from toppling over. As a body was interred, a round blocking stone could be held in place by a stone or wooden wedge. To seal the tomb, this wedge was removed and the blocking stone naturally rolled into place. This design might explain why the women who arrived at the tomb on the morning of the resurrection expressed concern that they did not know who would help to roll away the stone (see Mark 16:3).

Rounded stones could be extremely heavy, weighing hundreds of kilograms. However, most modern depictions of this scene in paintings and films feature stones that are much larger than reality. In fact, peering inside such tombs would require someone to stoop down before entering.

So what type of stone was used to seal the tomb of Jesus? With only four known examples in Jerusalem, many scholars suggest it would have actually been square. We’ll return to this question later. For now let’s discuss the tomb’s interior, which may provide us with some answers. 

Loculus Tombs

The two remaining styles of tombs are the loculi and arcosolia. Both of these styles of tombs were found in rock-cut chambers, and often both styles were found within the same chamber. Jesus’ tomb would very likely be one of these two styles. But which one?

The Loculus tomb or sometimes called a Kokhim tomb was the most common style for Jerusalem tombs of the first century. loculi were long, narrow shafts cut into the wall of the main chamber, measuring about 2 meters deep, and about half a meter wide. They were generally designed for a single corpse. The body was wrapped in shrouds and laid on its back with the head at the back of the shaft. With the body in position a stone slab sealed the opening. Decay was accelerated by a combination of limestone, oxygen, high temperature, and humidity. 

loculi were the most common style of tombs, as they could be opened or closed conveniently by removing the stone slab. The placement of the slab helped contain the stench of decay. Because loculus shafts were closer together, more bodies could be entombed in a single room, making them more common and economical.

Since death was very prevalent in ancient times, families would have started with a small, one room chamber for their tomb. As their wealth increased, and more family members died, new shafts could be carved into the walls of the main room. Over time, family tombs could become quite elaborate and complex. It’s significant that several gospels mention that the tomb of Jesus was a “new tomb” where “no one had yet been laid” hinting that the tomb of Jesus would have only had space for one body at the time of his burial.

Arcosolium Tombs

The third type of tomb was the arcosolium. This style cut a flat bench parallel to one of the walls of the main chamber, usually with an archway carved at the top of the space. It was generally a little more than 2 meters in length. Arcosolium tombs required more space along the walls and were thus less common. Only about 15% of Jerusalem’s first-century tombs featured this characteristic. 

3D model of the tomb of Jesus showing a arcosolium

How does the Bible help us pinpoint the most likely option? 

Let’s return to the question of the tomb’s entrance and figure out what type of rolling stone was likely used. Although rectangular stones were far more common than rounded stones–with only 4 known round examples from archeology–the Gospels are very specific in their descriptions of it being an “extremely large stone” or “a great stone” (see Mark 16:4 and Matthew 27:60). Luke and John also describe the detail that those who entered the tomb had to bend down or stoop to enter (see Luke 24:12John 20:5; 11). As mentioned, square or rectangular blocking stone entrances were shorter requiring someone to enter on their hands and knees. Merely bending down to enter seems to imply a tomb with a round rolling stone, allowing for an entrance that was larger.

3D model of the tomb of Jesus showing the round rolling stone entrance

The next piece of evidence helps us to pinpoint whether Jesus was laid to rest in a loculi or arcosolia. John mentions that when Mary entered the tomb, she saw two angels “sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and the other at the feet” (John 20:12 BSB). Unless these angels were very short, the arcosolium is the most likely tomb style that fits the description. Mark adds that the angel sat on the right side of the inner chamber, indicating that the arcosolium “bench” where Jesus was laid was on the right side of the tomb (see Mark 16:5).

Luke mentions that when Peter looked into the tomb, he could clearly see the linen clothes on the bench where the body had laid, despite the early morning hour (see Luke 24:12). It is likely that the tomb faced east, because only an east-facing tomb would have illuminated the kind of details that the Gospel writers provided. If the entrance was too small from a square blocking stone, the angle would become more difficult for Peter and the second disciple to see the linen clothes on the bench. An arcosolium bench was generally cut into the upper half of the wall, whereas loculi were most often at ground level. The doorway had to be large enough to illuminate the main chamber and tall enough for them to clearly see the bench of the arcosolium. A smaller entrance, with a square stone, would not allow for this.

The Most Likely Appearance of Jesus’s Tomb

So what would the tomb of Jesus have looked like? First, we know it was located in a garden, likely within a quarry and surrounded by unfinished cut stones near the tomb’s entrance where Mary and the other women could sit in a courtyard and mourn Jesus’s death. The front of the tomb included an overhang or porch. The entrance had a short, but not TOO short, doorway that could be sealed by a round blocking stone. Entering or looking inside required a person to bend over. Witnesses would see an unfinished tomb with an arcosolium bench on the right side of the main chamber.

3D model of the tomb of Jesus with the morning rays of the sun entering from the east

By combining all these details we can finally visualize the place where the most significant event in human history took place. This is where the Savior arose from the tomb, overcoming both sin and death. While knowing what the tomb looked like is not critical to one’s faith, the beauty that accompanies better understanding and confirms the reliability of the ancient texts is deeply significant! After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, Jewish tombs changed significantly. If the Gospels had been invented by later writers, even a few decades later, their descriptions would not match the tombs of the period. Only a genuine eyewitness could have included these details. While only the Spirit of the Lord can confirm the truthfulness of Christ’s resurrection, the Gospel writers have stood the test of time. Their witness testifies of the truthfulness of these events, even after two thousand years.

Because Jesus Christ broke the bands of death, it means that we, too, will rise again. It is through His death and resurrection that as we repent we can be washed clean of our sins through the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ.

February 25, 2024

The Bread of Life Sermon

The Bread of Life Sermon, given by Jesus, was a turning point for many followers of Christ. The Savior’s words were considered highly controversial and caused many to no longer follow him. To eat the flesh and blood of another person, as Jesus taught, shocked his listeners to say the least. So what did Jesus mean when he declared himself the “bread of life” and that we must partake of him to receive the gift of eternal life? And how does this powerful sermon help us to partake of the atonement of Jesus Christ with greater clarity and understanding?

Before we examine the Bread of Life Sermon, let’s first set the stage. It was springtime, just before the season of Passover. Jesus was traveling in Galilee. Large crowds now followed him, having heard about his many miracles. “Is this the promised Messiah?” they asked. Would they see more miracles? They gathered around to find out.

According to John, Jesus saw the massive crowd and, without hesitation, asks his disciples “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (John 6:5 NIV). The disciples respond that even a half year’s wages will not buy enough food for such a multitude! Jesus simply asks for all they have. A young boy offers his own five barley loaves and two fishes. Jesus takes the loaves and fishes, offers thanks to heaven, breaks the bread, and instructs the disciples to distribute the food. Miraculously, the multitude is not only fed, but twelve baskets of food are left over!

The Miraculous Feeding by Jan van 't Hoff

Imagine what must have been going through the minds of not only the multitude, but the Savior’s disciples! For ancient people, bread was an essential part of every meal. It was readily available and inexpensive compared to other food, especially meat. Despite its low cost, women of the household spent many hours each day making bread for the family. This helps us understand why when Jesus offered the Lord’s prayer, he spoke of the need for “daily bread.” Witnessing this miracle, the people said among themselves, “Truly this is the Prophet who is to come into the world” (John 6:14 BSB).

When Israel was freed from Egyptian bondage, the Lord provided manna in the wilderness as they wandered for 40 years. The miracles Moses performed through God’s power, were foundational for their faith. At the end of Moses’ life, as he gathered the people to hear his final message, he prophesied, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brothers. You must listen to him.” (Deuteronomy 18:15 BSB). For hundreds of years, the people had been waiting for this chosen leader who would be like Moses. What more could they be waiting for? Moses had fed Israel manna and performed great miracles. Now Jesus had miraculously fed the multitude! This must be the promised Messiah, the anointed one!

That evening, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to the village of Capernaum. The following day the people gathered to hear Jesus in the synagogue in Capernaum. Ancient synagogues were generally rectangular in shape with stone benches along the sides. The roof was supported by large columns leaving the center open for the speaker or reader of the Torah scroll to stand. It is with this setting Jesus delivered a powerful discourse.

Jesus first began by rebuking the crowd, proclaiming that the only reason they came to hear him was because they wanted a free meal. Still, the Jews implored Jesus for a sign that would give them a reason to believe his message. If Moses could provide manna from heaven, what would Jesus do to show he was the great prophet of which Moses had foretold? They had seen him feed the multitude the day before, he could do the same today!

Jesus reminded them that it was not Moses who provided manna from heaven, but God the Father, and that only the Father can provide true, eternal bread. Hearing of this bread from heaven, the people exclaimed that they wanted to eat of this eternal bread!

Israelite family with their two baskets of manna from heaven

With the stage set, Jesus made this powerful claim, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35). While the Jews were only asking for bread, Jesus appears to harken back to another miracle, when the Lord commanded Moses to strike a rock to bring forth water to quench the thirst of ancient Israel. Not only is Jesus claiming the power to feed and nourish the Jews, but to give them drink.

At this point many of the Jews murmured at his claim to be manna from heaven. Jesus reminded them that ancient Israel did eat daily manna in the wilderness, but they were all dead. In the end, the miracle of manna from heaven could not give them eternal life. Ancient Israel only survived from day to day because of the manna.

With power and emotion, Jesus declared, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51). Jesus then continued adding even more clarity, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” (John 6:53). For ancient Jews, this was outrageous and appalling. The law of Moses forbade the drinking of blood, especially the blood of another human! And to eat the flesh of another person? For many, this was the breaking point. 

Before we continue with the sermon, let’s ask the question: Why would Jesus teach something like this? Eating another’s flesh to gain eternal life? The Savior’s audience well understood the law of sacrifice. Each year, Jews gathered at the temple for three annual feasts, and offered various sacrifices. As they brought their animal to the altar, they would lay their hands on the animal’s head, symbolically transferring their sins to the sacrifice. Most often it was the person seeking forgiveness that would slit the throat of the animal. The blood was caught in a dish and splashed on various parts of the altar while the meat was burned. Of the five types of sacrifices, only the burnt offering was entirely consumed in the flames. For Peace, Sin, and Trespass offerings, only a portion of the animal was offered to God, while the remainder was eaten by the priests or the family who brought the offering.

The Tabernacle of Moses 3D model

Before we continue, it will be helpful to first understand why eating the flesh of the sacrifice was such an important part of the temple ritual. In ancient times, when two enemies sought to establish peace, it was not by signing a peace treaty like today. Instead it was by breaking bread together and sharing a meal. This symbolic act of inviting one's enemy into the home demonstrated that a former enemy had been forgiven. Mutual feelings of friendship, trust, and peace were established.

This same theme of healing applies to God and his people. As ancient Israel came to the Tabernacle or temple, they came as enemies to God, because of their sins. Paul wrote that “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The Lord wanted his people to understand that only after repentance and the sacrifice of an innocent animal could reconciliation with God be achieved. As the Lord invited his covenant people into his house, the Tabernacle or temple, forgiveness was shown through a symbolic meal. Part of the meat was burned on the altar for God while the remainder of the meat was shared with Israel. This sharing of a meal in the temple symbolized that God’s forgiveness and peace was renewed.

Every Sabbath we have the opportunity to enter the Lord’s house of worship and partake of the sacrament or communion of the Lord’s supper. We enter as enemies of God because of our sins. Yet, God teaches us a powerful lesson each week. As the priest breaks the bread, we are asked to ponder the broken flesh and blood of Christ. We remember that it is only through his eternal sacrifice that we can be at-one with God again. As we receive of the bread, everyone shares in a communal meal in remembrance of his infinite sacrifice.

The disciples gathering the uneaten loaves of bread

So we might ask, why would the Savior use bread to symbolize his flesh? As mentioned, for ancient people, bread was a critical part of every meal–their daily source of sustenance, nourishment and strength. Whatever we consume becomes part of our very being. Similarly, as we partake of the sacrament or communion, we have the opportunity to allow the Savior to become a part of us, to daily nourish and strengthen us. In addition, as we internalize the sacrifice of Jesus’ flesh and the shedding of his blood, we are given new life. We become a new person. We experience a mighty change of heart and receive his image in our countenance (see Alma 5:12, 14). His actions become our actions.

At the end of the Savior’s powerful discourse on the bread of life, many no longer followed him. His teachings were too hard. They came to be fed, but failed to see beyond the idea of physical nourishment. Jesus wanted them to understand that the way to have eternal life was through daily partaking of his sacrificial Atonement. Just as the Israelites under Moses had relied upon daily manna, we must rely upon the daily nourishment of the good word of God through Jesus, the Bread of Life. By so doing, as God has promised, we receive salvation and eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

December 21, 2023

Who Were the Wise Men?

Almost every Nativity scene features three wise men, each wearing a golden crown, and arriving from the east riding heavy-laden camels. But what do we really know about the wise men? Were there really even three? What was the significance of their gifts and what does their story teach us about our own journey to seek the Savior?

For centuries Christians have sought to learn more about the wise men. Some traditions even give them names, for example Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. While we often picture three wise men, the scriptures don’t actually tell us how many came. The only reason there so often are three magi is because they brought three gifts. Because of the dangers of traveling for long distances in a caravan, it is likely that there were more than just three wise men.

We also don’t know where they even came from, only that they came from the east. While there are many theories on their origin, some scholars have suggested they came from Babylon and were of Jewish descent. In 587 BC the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and carried away many Jews into slavery. Seventy years later, the Jews were allowed to return to their homeland. However, tens of thousands remained behind, creating in Babylon a thriving Jewish community.

The wise men being of Jewish descent living in Babylon makes logical sense because who more likely would be studying ancient Israelite prophecies about the coming Messiah? We can envision faithful Jews whose ancestors remained in Babylon, continuing to search and celebrate God’s sacred word. When a star appeared in the night sky revealing that prophecies of the coming Messiah were about to be fulfilled, they left everything and traveled to Jerusalem.

So what about the wise men being kings wearing crowns and adorned in royal robes of wealth? It seems later Christians, in an effort to fill in the missing details, went searching in the Old Testament. Isaiah prophesied, “And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising…. The multitude of camels shall cover thee … they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall show forth the praises of the Lord.” (Isaiah 60:3, 6). From these verses later Christians presumed the wise men must be gentile kings arriving on camels from faraway lands. While these verses may have partial fulfillment in the story of the wise men, the primary context of this prophecy seems to describe the last days and is yet to be fulfilled. This means our wise men were almost certainly not wearing crowns!

After traveling a long distance from their homeland, the magi arrived in Jerusalem in search of a new born king. They first thought to visit the palace of King Herod, but this visit greatly “troubled” him. Herod had been placed upon the Jewish throne by Rome shortly after he had conquered Jerusalem around thirty years earlier. Because Herod was not of the royal family of King David, and wasn’t considered of true Jewish lineage, most Jews simply saw him as a Roman puppet king whom the Lord would someday overthrow. Because of this, Herod often went to extreme measures to retain his power.

Remarkably, when Herod consults his chief priests and scribes about the sign of the star, they are able to confirm the prophecies. It appears they took two prophecies, one from Numbers and another from Micah, to identify where the infant king would be born: “There shall come a Star out of Jacob, And a Scepter shall rise out of Israel.” (Number 24:17). “But thou, Bethlehem … out of thee shall he come forth … to be ruler in Israel.” (Micah 5:2). While Herod’s scribes and chief priests were able to correctly interpret the ancient prophecies, they themselves were not even looking for the Messiah! The wise men had possibly journeyed for more than a thousand miles to find the newborn king of Kings. Yet Jerusalem’s priests and scribes seemed unwilling to even travel the short distance of approximately six miles, or ten kilometers, to the village of Bethlehem. This story reminds us that it isn’t enough to just know and understand the scriptures. We must be willing to go the distance to find the Savior so that we too can kneel before him and worship him.

Herod sends the wise men to Bethlehem, imploring them to report to him after finding the infant King, supposedly so he too can worship him. Imagine the scene as these foreign visitors from distant lands began asking around the neighborhood to find the birthplace of the young king. Many locals might have laughed and scorned the visitors for their peculiar request. We are not told how long they had to search, but eventually they did manage to find Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. Matthew records that by this time, Jesus was a “young child,” suggesting that they had been on their journey for several months, if not longer.

It would have been a breathtaking moment for these faithful visitors who had traveled so far to find the young child. As they fell to the ground to worship him, they laid at his feet their precious gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But why these particular items? What is the significance of these gifts? Obviously such things would not be at the top of any child’s gift-list today. Powerfully, all three gifts were connected to temple worship, seeming to foreshadow the redemptive and sacrificial mission of Christ.

While jewelry, coins, and gold bars might come to our minds today when we think of gold, an ancient Jew would likely first think of God’s Tabernacle and Holy Temple. The Lord commanded Moses to cover much of the Tabernacle, including its walls, and all of its interior furniture with gold. During the time of Jesus, King Herod was in the process of renovating the temple and he had plated the entire facade and interior with large sheets of gold. If indeed these wise men were of Jewish origin, they would have seen gold as a most fitting and appropriate gift for Israel’s Messiah King who would be enthroned in the heavenly Temple.

Anciently, frankincense was more valuable by weight even than gold! The odors of human sweat, spoiling food, dung, smoke, and death would have dominated virtually every setting of daily life! Because of this, spices and incense like frankincense and myrrh were highly prized and quite valuable as they helped in masking unpleasant odors. Both of these incenses came from certain trees that mostly grow in southern Arabia. The incense is actually just tree sap, and is harvested by gouging the bark and letting the sap bleed out. After the sap dried, it was collected and brought by caravan to areas such as Jerusalem. The difficulty in harvesting and the long distance required in transport made the product extremely valuable.

During the morning and evening prayers, frankincense was burned on the altar of incense at the Temple. The smoke rising to heaven before the veil represented the prayers of the saints ascending to God. The gift of frankincense is an appropriate gift for the Savior, for it is because of his sacrifice that our prayers can be answered by God. 

Myrrh was similarly used to mask unpleasant odors and was often used as part of the burial process. John records that Nicodemus provided large quantities of myrrh which were used for the burial of the Savior. Myrrh was also melted down and added to the anointing oil for Aaron and his sons and all future priests before they could serve at the Temple (see Exodus 30:23). Myrrh is a fitting gift for the Savior who would die yet rise with healing in his wings, and as the Great High Priest who intercedes on our behalf!

Perhaps we cannot afford precious gifts like gold and incense. Still as we celebrate this Christmas season, what are some gifts that we might give to parallel the gifts of the wise men in significance and meaning? Like the wise men, let us give the Lord the gift of our time in studying and understanding His sacred word. Not just so we can understand the prophecies and revelations, but so that we can then go the distance, leaving behind every worldly thing to find the true king of Kings. Let us give to our Savior the gift of temple worship, laying our sins and self-serving desires on the altar of sacrifice, allowing the atonement of Christ to take effect in our lives. Let us give Jesus the gift of frankincense in the form of offering humble and meaningful prayers morning and evening. As we kneel, let us pray for the strength and courage to serve others. Then let us rise to our feet and do the works of Christ.

Perhaps most importantly, let us remember that the most significant gift ever given is the gift of our Father in Heaven. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). Let us remember this gift, and accept it from the Father by repenting of our sins and embracing the Savior’s example in all we do. This is the best Christmas gift we can give this season and throughout the year! The gift of Jesus Christ!

December 7, 2023

Jesus and Hanukkah

Every year, Jewish families around the world celebrate Hanukkah, the joyous festival of lights. Children light the menorah and for eight nights families remember the remarkable story of deliverance that Hanukkah commemorates. With all the conflicts, not only in Israel, but around the world, we long for true deliverance–light that can bring peace to a world darkened by war, hatred, and conflict. Many Christians are familiar with Hanukkah, but did you know that Jesus celebrated Hanukkah? In fact, the Savior gave a powerful sermon during this festival of lights helping us better understand his divine role as Messiah, Deliverer, and Redeemer!

The story of Jesus and Hanukkah begins shortly after He traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast Tabernacles–or Sukkot (see John 7:2). Tabernacles celebrates the final harvest at the end of each year and clearly foreshadows the final harvest of God and the coming Messiah. Jesus appears to have afterwards remained in Jerusalem until the time of Hanukkah which, depending on the lunar calendar, occurs anywhere from late November to the end of December. [1] During this period Jesus often taught in the temple, declaring to listeners, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved.” (John 10:9). and “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep.” (John 10:14). “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, … and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” (John 10:16). Why so many metaphors about sheep? Well, we’ll get to that later.

John’s Gospel records that shortly after the Savior made these powerful statements, Jesus was worshiping within the temple complex at a place called Solomon’s porch (John 10:22-23). Jerusalem’s majestic temple was undergoing a massive renovation started four decades earlier under Herod the Great (see John 2:20)--yes, the same Herod who’d tried to slay Jesus as an infant. This project doubled the area of the Temple grounds, [2] adding three expansive porches or colonnades, and many other impressive changes.

Solomon's Porch in Herod's Temple looking towards the south east

The easternmost colonnade, however, or Solomon’s porch, remained mostly unaltered because of the steep valley upon which it was built. It was so named likely because this porch dated to the original Solomonic Temple. Compared to a grand new porch like the imposing Royal Stoa with its coffered ceilings and large apse where the priestly counsel, or Sanhedren could meet, Solomon’s porch was far simpler in design. [3] Nevertheless, it provided ample shade and also would have served as a windbreak against the cold easterly winds coming off the Kidron valley. [4] Jerusalem only receives snow every few years, but winter conditions could still be harsh and this porch likely gave Jesus and his listeners welcome protection. 

The Royal Stoa with the apse where the Sanhedrin met

This location also featured a stunning view of the whole temple grounds with the gold-covered facade of the temple and the intricately carved stone of the surrounding courts and chambers. From this vantage point, Jesus and His listeners likely would have observed the many sheep being led through various gates of the court of the women, providing a fitting backdrop for His timeless metaphors wherein He declared Himself the gate and the Good Shepherd.

Hanukkah was a time for Jews to commemorate the dramatic events of almost two centuries earlier. About 170 BC, the Greeks under Antiochus IV captured Jerusalem and desecrated God’s temple. A statue of Zeus was erected inside its precincts and pigs sacrificed on the altar. Jews were understandably furious. Under the leadership of  a priestly family known as the Maccabees, Jerusalem and God’s temple were recaptured in 164 BC. Both temple and altar were rededicated and sacrifices to the Lord renewed. For this reason, the Gospel of John calls Hanukkah the “feast of dedication” (see John 10:22).

Priest lighting menorah

According to later tradition, as priests tried to relight the temple menorah, only enough consecrated oil remained for the lamps to burn for a single day. Yet, its flames lasted eight days, enough time to consecrate new oil. Even into modern times, Jews celebrate this miracle by lighting the menorah for eight nights. We don’t know exactly when this tradition started, but the most significant and celebrated Hanukkah event in Jesus’s day would have been the rededication of the temple and altar.

Knowing this background, let’s review the story of Jesus and His Hanukkah message. As He taught at Solomon’s porch, the people started inquiring in earnest, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (John 10:24 NIV). Especially at Hanukkah, the Jewish people would have yearned for a messianic figure who would free them from Roman oppression. The Hebrew word Messiah, like the Greek word Christ, means “anointed one.” In the Bible three main groups were viewed as messiah-like: prophets, priests, and kings. Jews saw these select individuals as sent from God. Anointing them with oil physically symbolized the authority God had poured down upon them. Figures such as King David, Solomon, and Aaron the high priest became inseparably connected with ideas of power and deliverance. So we can understand why during the festival of Hanukkah, the people were again seeking a new messiah.

Jesus teaching in Solomon's Porch

Notably, Jesus does not respond to their question directly. According to John’s Gospel, He replies, “I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.” (John 10:25-26). In other words, Jesus doesn’t offer a simple yes or no if He was the promised Messiah. Instead, He tells His listeners that they ought to already know the answer because His works done in His Father’s name already bear witness of this fact. He then states, “I and my Father are one.” (John 10:30). This was more than many listeners could take and they took up stones–perhaps rubble from ongoing construction–to kill him. Jesus then asked why they wanted to stone him? The answer was quite simple. He had claimed to be one with God. It was one thing to claim he was the anointed one, similar to kings  and priests of the past. But Jesus was claiming to be the son of God, and one with the Father!

Jesus’s next words bring it all back to Hanukkah. He announces that He is the one “sanctified” or “consecrated” by the Father (John 10:36). The word used in this instance is the same Greek word that is used when referring to the dedication of the Tabernacle of Moses. [5] In essence, because Hanukkah was a feast commemorating the rededication of the desecrated temple, Jesus had announced, “God has dedicated me!” The scriptures tell us that the ancient Tabernacle and later temples were the literal dwelling place of God’s presence. At these holy sites, Israel communed with and became “at-one” with God. Jesus had boldly asserted that He was now that consecrated place! He was the Anointed One where people could come to become one with God.

Throughout this interchange Jesus repeatedly insists that He does His Father’s works to show that He truly is the anointed Messiah, having God’s authority. His works and the Father’s are the same, much as the servant of a landowner is authorized to act in the landowner’s name as a demonstration of unity, power, and authority. By doing His Father’s works, Jesus represents the exact same unity, power, and authority. 

It might have been easier if Jesus had simply declared Himself the Messiah. But, in this instance, He chose to teach by example–reinforcing over and over that he was one with God because he did His Father’s works! In essence, Jesus declares, “I’ll tell you who I am by how I live, not by just what I say!” 

How can we follow the Savior’s supreme example of oneness with the Father? Just as Jesus said, it is by doing God’s works. Christ’s unity with His Father doesn’t seem to mean a physical unity as much as a unity in purpose. His example powerfully emphasizes that we, too, must strive to become one with God by humbly doing God’s works.

As we ponder these sacred lessons from Hanukkah, let us look past the labels of Catholic, Baptist, Mormon, Evangelical, or any other label we might give and focus on the all-encompassing title of being a true Christian. One anointed by His Holy Spirit to act, not just in name, but also in deed. Let us do the works of the Father by serving our neighbor, feeding the poor, empowering the powerless, and lifting the widow and orphan. Doing the works of the Father brings power into our daily lives. Power that helps us overcome all things, bringing light into our lives, through Christ Jesus.

November 19, 2023

What Jesus taught about Thanksgiving and Gratitude

Many cultures around the world have a day of Thanksgiving where families gather together, often at the end of harvest season, to thank the Lord for their bounteous blessings. Thanksgiving is a time for us to remember how gracious God has been to us—an opportunity to acknowledge that all we have comes from the Lord. Giving gratitude, obviously, should not be limited to just once a year. The Savior taught by example that giving gratitude should be a part of our everyday lives and that significant power can come to us through giving thanks.

To better understand how to give true thanks, let’s review a few memorable moments from the Savior’s ministry. It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t often talk about giving thanks. Not directly. Instead, He seemed to prefer to teach this principle through example. Here are five stories that exemplify His approach.

The disciples feeding the multitude by James Tissot

First we’ll examine the account of the feeding of the 4000 as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark (see Matthew 15:29-39 and Mark 8:1-10). Jesus had been teaching a multitude near the shores of the Sea of Galilee for several days. As he looked out upon the people, he had compassion on them and asked his disciples to feed them. The disciples, of course, hesitated, reminding Jesus that they lacked any means to purchase a sufficient amount of bread to feed this large multitude. The Savior then asked for all that the disciples had, which was a mere seven loaves and a few small fishes.

Here is where the Lord, by example, demonstrated the sacred power of gratitude. Matthew records: “Taking the seven loaves and the fish, He gave thanks and broke them” (Matthew 15:36 BSB). After He offered this prayer of thanksgiving, the hungry multitude was miraculously fed. The Gospels do not mention if Jesus also blessed the bread. Perhaps He did. But in both Gospel accounts of feeding the 4000, the core idea emphasized is the Lord giving thanks. Jesus seemed so confident this miracle would occur, that instead of requesting a blessing, he simply offered thanks! The Savior’s example appears to stress the idea that instead of focusing all of our energies asking for blessings, we ought to express gratitude for our blessings, including for blessings we may have not yet even received!

Jesus and the ten lepers by Gebhard Fugel

Next, let’s examine the account of the Savior’s healing of the ten lepers (see Luke 17:11-19). As Jesus journeyed with his disciples from Galilee to Jerusalem, they encountered ten lepers who cried unto the Lord to heal them. Jesus instructed them to show themselves to the priests at the temple. As they went, they were all healed of their infirmity. One of the ten who had been healed hurried back to the Savior, fell to the ground and expressed sincere thanksgiving. Christ then gave these potent words: “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18 NIV).

Note that Jesus, who performed the miracle, does not condemn the other nine for not expressing humble thanks to Him or for acknowledging the Savior’s divine power. Instead, he rebukes the other lepers for not giving praise and thanks to God! Jesus might have easily drawn the focus to himself for the miracle he had wrought, but instead he pointed to the Father as the true source of that power. From this we can learn that we should always give praise and glory to God for all he does, instead of seeking praise for even the great things that we might think we have done.

Our third example of giving thanks is found after Jesus had been teaching in Galilee. Perceiving that his disciples and the people were understanding his words, he stops, seemingly in mid-thought, to declare, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes” (Matthew 11:25). It’s as if the Savior could not even contain his gratitude and felt he should immediately give thanks to God for revealing his message to the hearts and minds of those who were listening. [1] Likewise, we should also be quick to give glory to God whenever his words penetrate the understanding of those we teach and minister. We should recognize that, while we may be his instruments in conveying his word, it is ultimately the Spirit of God that reveals truth.

Raising Lazarus from the dead by Anton Robert Leinweber

Fourth, let’s turn to the miraculous account of the Savior raising Lazarus from the dead. As Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem for the last time prior to his final week in mortality, he had been informed that his friend Lazarus was very sick. Still, he delayed his coming for several days. At last when the Savior arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had already been dead and lying in the grave for four days. Lazarus’s devout sisters, Mary and Martha, were deep in mourning, telling Jesus that if only he had arrived sooner, their brother, Lazarus, would have been healed.

Here again Jesus uses this moment to emphasize the eternal significance of gratitude. After arriving at the tomb, the Savior asked them to roll away the stone. John records, “Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’” (John 11:41-43 NIV). Did you catch that? Again, Jesus didn’t request this miracle. Rather, he offered thanks because, as he says, God had already heard him. It was as if the miracle had already transpired. This is how certain the Lord was that Lazarus would, indeed, be raised!

The Last Supper by Andrei Mironov

The final story is from the Last Supper. Only days after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus sat down with his disciples to celebrate the Passover. As part of the meal, the Gospel of Luke declares, “And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves…. And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them.” (Luke 22:17-19). This must be regarded as the most meaningful, consequential moment of gratitude from any of the four Gospels. 

Here is our Savior Jesus Christ, fully aware of the heart wrenching events that await him over the next 24 hours. In his moment of greatest trial and hardship, Jesus does not turn to bitterness, but instead he turns to gratitude! Even in these very tokens, the bread and wine, which foreshadow his coming suffering and death, he thanks God for his blessings! While we can only speculate on why the Savior gave these words, it would seem that through gratitude, Jesus received the additional strength and power he needed to overcome all things. As we gather each Sabbath to remember the emblems of his sacrifice, let us follow Christ’s example in giving gratitude to God for the extraordinary gift of his son, even Jesus Christ!

Everything we have, all that we are, and everything we may become, is in direct consequence of our Heavenly Father, whose greatest joy is reflected in the reality that he so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son here to earth. Why did he send him? To save us. To perform the ultimate sacrifice that forever bridges the impassable gulf of death and hell so that we can be received into his kingdom and inherit his eternal glory, if we will just receive the Savior.

This season, and all the year round, let us follow the example of the Savior, who on so many occasions, instead of seeking blessings, chose to express gratitude. Who recognized God in all things. And who, even in his darkest moments of life, gave thanks for the blessings he had been given. As we follow the Savior, may we learn to “seek and expect miracles” [2] knowing that the Father also always hears our prayers because of his son, Jesus Christ!

Script written by Daniel Smith and Chris Heimerdinger

November 12, 2023

Finding Christ in the Ark of the Covenant


The Ark of the Covenant is perhaps one of the most sacred and well-known artifacts from the pages of the Bible. Countless movies and documentaries have been made discussing its mystical power and supposed whereabouts. While we won’t attempt to answer what may have happened to the Ark over the centuries, we will discuss why this holy object was so significant and how it can teach us about the atoning power of Jesus Christ.

First, it may be helpful to give a bit of context about the ancient Israelite Tabernacle, where the ark was first placed. While Moses was on Mount Sinai, the Lord appeared to him and gave him tablets of stone, upon which were engraved the Ten Commandments. These essential laws represented God’s covenant with Israel. If the people would obey God, he would provide for them, give them his priesthood power, and allow all who were worthy to enter his presence. They would become a “kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).

Moses with the Ten Commandments (photo by Appian Media)

However, seeing the thunderings and lightning on Mount Sinai, the people were fearful and instead asked that Moses speak with the Lord on their behalf (Exodus 20:18–21). In other words, because of doubt and fear, they rejected the opportunity to enter God’s presence. As a temporary solution, the Lord commanded that Aaron, the high priest, would go on their behalf, acting as a mediator between the people and their God.

To facilitate this process, the Lord commanded Moses to build a Tabernacle in the wilderness. It served as a prototype for returning to God’s presence, showing Israel how to symbolically enter into sacred space through the mediation of God’s appointed priests. As worshipers approached the Tabernacle, they could only enter through the colorful gate on the east side. It taught Israel that there was only one entrance to begin their journey back to God. Next was found the altar of sacrifice, where Israel was taught that it was only through the shedding of blood that they could become reconciled with God. In front of the altar was the bronze laver, where the priests ritually washed their hands and feet before entering the Tabernacle, symbolizing the need for spiritual purity.

Upon entering the main structure into the room called the holy place, the priests encountered the beautiful golden menorah, the table of showbread with its twelve loaves of bread, and the golden altar of incense. These objects represented light, nourishment, and the ability to pray and address God before the veil. At the far end of the room was a large veil embroidered with cherubim, or angelic beings, who guarded the presence of God. Only the high priest could go beyond the veil, and only on one day a year, called the Day of Atonement.

 After passing through the veil, the high priest encountered the Ark of the Covenant at the center of a room called the Holy of Holies. This most sacred space is where the Lord would commune with his people, and where the high priest would ritually intercede on their behalf. 

The high priest entering the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement

With this background, let’s now talk about the actual Ark itself. The Ark of the Covenant was a wooden box made from acacia (or shittim wood) overlaid with gold. The acacia tree is one of the few trees that grow in the deserts where the children of Israel wandered for 40 years. Because of the harsh climate with little moisture and scorching heat, the acacia wood is extremely durable and is an excellent choice for such a precious piece of furniture. Some writers have suggested that the durable desert acacia wood overlaid with gold could be a symbol of the Savior, who was raised in the dry land of Israel (see Isaiah 53:2) yet overlaid with the divinity of God. (David Levy, The Tabernacle, 26).

The box was rectangular in shape and around the size of a hope chest or seaman’s chest. On the top was the mercy seat, a solid gold lid that had two beautiful cherubim hammered and shaped from the gold. On the sides were four gold rings where two poles could be inserted to carry the ark. These staves, unlike the poles for the other Tabernacle furniture, were never to be removed from the rings (Exodus 25:15).

The Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle

The placement of the Ark at the center of the Holy of Holies hints at its supreme importance. As part of the sacred ritual for the Day of Atonement, the high priest would select two goats, and draw lots on each of them. One, called the scapegoat, would have all the sins of Israel symbolically placed on its head, and then the goat would be driven into the wilderness to die. The other goat was sacrificed, and its blood was taken into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant seven times. The word atonement comes from the Hebrew word, kaphar, which means to cover or blot out. The ritual taught Israel that it was only through the shedding of blood that one could enter the presence of God.

Inside the box was stored a bowl of manna, the stone tablets, and the rod of Aaron that had blossomed (Hebrews 9:4). It was called the Ark of the Covenant, because these three sacred relics reminded or commemorated the covenant made between the Lord and his people.

The tablets of stone, bowl of manna, and rod of Aaron inside the Ark of the Covenant

The bowl of manna symbolized God’s providence. It was a physical reminder that the Lord had given daily bread to Israel during their time in the desolate wilderness. The Savior, after feeding the 5000, taught that while God had provided manna for Israel, they all had died. He then identified himself as the true and eternally enduring manna from heaven, stating, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger.” (John 6:35). 

The two tablets of stone contained the Ten Commandments, as given to Moses by the Lord. As mentioned, God promised that if Israel would obey his laws, then he would protect them. Recall, however, that these laws—which everyone but Jesus Christ has broken to some degree or another—were covered by the mercy seat. It is almost as if the stone tablets are to remind us that while God’s laws of justice are enduring, they can be superseded or overpowered by his mercy. This was symbolized by the high priest sprinkling the blood of the sacrifice on the mercy seat, representing the blood of Christ which mercifully protects his true followers from the full punishment of the law. 

The rod of Aaron was placed inside the ark to remind Israel of the priesthood power that came through Aaron. When Israel had questioned the authority of Aaron and the tribe of Levi, God commanded that a staff from every tribe was to be brought to the Tabernacle. Each rod was placed before the ark, but only the rod of Aaron blossomed. It was a powerful witness, showing that only the tribe of Levi, who Aaron represented, was authorized to perform priesthood rituals on behalf of the people.

The rod of Aaron with the other tribal rods placed before the Ark of the Covenant

In a way, the Ark of the Covenant can almost be seen as a type of safety deposit box. It held some of the most significant historical relics of Israel’s past, providing an enduring testament of his covenantal promises. These physical objects, situated at the center of the Holy of Holies, reminded them of God’s law and teachings, of his appointed priesthood authority to govern his people, and of his promise to nourish and protect them if they would only keep their covenants. Perhaps most important of all is that these items were covered by the mercy seat, showing that God’s laws, ordinances, and blessings are all facilitated through the merciful and atoning blood of Jesus Christ—the true Lamb of God. 

In the book of Hebrews, the writer describes in great detail the Tabernacle and ancient rituals. He explains that the high priest had to enter the Holy of Holies each year to make atonement for sin. This showed that this ordnance was not permanent or final, but had to be repeated on a regular basis. He then explains how Jesus Christ is our Great High Priest, who only had to enter once and for all (see Hebrews 9:12). When the Savior gave his life, there was no more need for animal sacrifice. Atonement had been made and will cover all who repent of their sins and place their faith in Christ. The writer of Hebrews then gives these powerful words regarding entering the Holy of Holies, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

How grateful we all can be, that we have a Great High Priest, even Jesus Christ, who has taken the sins of the world upon him. Like the ancient high priest, the Savior mediates between us and God, and because of his blood that he shed in Gethsemane and on the cross, we can all return to the presence of the Father, purified and without fear!

May 21, 2023

The Widow's Mite

The story of the widow’s mite is widely viewed as a model of true and meaningful sacrifice. This woman’s example teaches us that it is far more important where our heart is when we give than the amount of our gift. If we give or serve out of love and devotion to God, then even a small gift can be a great sacrifice.

To more fully appreciate the significance of this widow’s donation, let’s explore its historical setting.[1] First, we’ll look at where the story took place: the temple in Jerusalem.

During the time of Christ, the temple was in the middle of an over 80-year reconstruction project that began under King Herod and was thus known as Herod’s Temple.[2] As one of the largest structures in the world at that time, its beauty and grandeur was beyond comparison. High on the hilltop of Mount Moriah it could be seen for miles round about Jerusalem. 

While the temple itself stood at a majestic 150 feet tall, the temple complex was also massive, totaling about 37 acres, or approximately the equivalent of 26 football fields. Understandably, a project this extensive was quite costly, requiring significant donations and taxes from the people. 

Court of the Women in the temple of Herod

Towards the center of the temple complex was the court of the women, also known as the treasury (see for example Mark 12:41 and John 8:20). Thirteen collection boxes were placed here, each chest labeled for the various types of offerings that could be given.[3] On top of each box was a trumpet-shaped receptacle where donations could be made. As one can imagine, the coins falling down the shaft of the trumpet made a noise loud enough for others to hear. The larger the donation, the louder the sound. When teaching his followers about almsgiving, Christ may have been referring to these money boxes when stating, “do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do ... that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” (Matthew 6:2).

The trumpet shaped donation boxes in the Court of the Women

The temple was meant to be a place where God’s people could come to worship, make sacrifices, and learn to serve others. Instead, it was being corrupted by pride and hypocrisy—especially among the wealthy and religious elite. 

With this temple setting in mind, let’s now consider when the widow’s donation occurred. 

The Savior’s observance of this woman took place during the last week of his life, now known as Holy Week. At this time, Jews from all over came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. And for many pilgrims, this involved paying taxes and making donations at the temple. 

While anyone could freely donate any amount into the designated boxes, all Jewish males were required to pay a half-shekel once each year. The temple authorities, however, required that inferior Jewish coins be exchanged for Roman coins which had a higher percentage of silver. In order to make an exchange, the people were charged about an 8% fee, which was most likely pocketed by the corrupt temple priests along with a portion of the collected donations.[4]

When Jesus encountered this type of corruption at the temple, he overturned the tables where the money was exchanged, proclaiming they had made his Father’s house into a den of thieves (Matthew 21:13). 

Yet this isn’t the only money-related teaching leading up to the story of the widow’s mite. There’s also the account of a rich man named Zacchæus (Luke 19:1-11), the parable of the pounds (Luke 19:12-26), and Christ’s teachings about taxes (Luke 20:20-26). And then just before the story of the widow’s mite, Jesus gives this powerful rebuke: “Beware of the scribes, which desire … the highest seats in the synagogues, … which devour widows’ houses, and for a shew make long prayers: the same shall receive greater damnation.” (Luke 20:46-47 KJV).

Together these teachings make it clear that Jesus wasn’t happy with the attitudes towards wealth and status that were being promoted by the religious leaders of the day. 

Decorative opus sectile floors under the porch of the Court of the Women

With this context in mind, let’s take a closer look at the story of the widow’s mite. As Jesus was teaching at the temple during his final week, he looked up and saw rich men casting their coins noisily into the donation boxes. But then he noticed another coming to make her own donation. She was a poor widow. Surrounded by the beautiful grandeur of the temple, she approached the court of the women and offered all that she had. But it was only two mites—what an average wage earner would receive for just about 12 minutes of labor.[5] Unlike the repeated and noisy clanking of larger coins made by wealthy patrons, her meager donation would have been almost imperceptible as it fell into the box below. 

Yet Jesus taught that this widow had put in more than all the others. For they “gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:3-4 NIV). In other words, it isn’t the worldly worth of a gift that matters, but rather the degree of personal sacrifice and devotion involved. Whether we are a poor widow or a rich young ruler, God wants us to be willing, if needed, to give up everything to follow him. The irony is that the law of Moses teaches that widows are to be cared for, but it is this woman who is freely giving to the very ones who should be caring for her. 

The widow giving her two mites in the temple treasury by Milo Winter

There’s more to the message, though, for Jesus knew that despite the efforts being made to renovate the temple, in only a few decades it would be destroyed. Directly following His teachings about the widow, He prophesied of the temple that “the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” (Luke 21:6 NIV).  

For his listeners who were marveling at that very moment at the beauty and splendor of the temple, this must have been a shocking and disturbing message. How could such devastation come to such a holy place? And why would God allow it? The answer, at least in part, may be that it wasn’t nearly as holy as the people thought. 

Unlike this widow, who humbly consecrated all she had towards establishing the house of the Lord, the Scribes and Pharisees were making unacceptable offerings. In their pride and greed, they were desecrating the temple and using it to their personal advantage. So, God would eventually take the temple from them, much like they were defrauding poor widows out of their property. This prophesied destruction took place nearly 40 years later by a Roman army, who indeed dismantled the temple block by block.

As typified by the destruction of the temple, attitudes of pride and greed have a tendency to destroy the very things they are trying to lift up. In the end, God is simply not impressed by those who loudly proclaim their generosity while ignoring those suffering nearby. 

The poor widow who cast in her two mites may not have thought much of her meager offering. Perhaps she thought no one noticed. But Jesus did. Our Father in Heaven sees every good thing we do. He knows our hearts and minds. He sees our sacrifices and efforts, no matter how small or unimportant they may outwardly seem. Buildings may be destroyed, legacies may be forgotten, leaders may fall, but our humble service rendered to others will always be seen and remembered by the Lord.

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack and edited by Ryan Dahle


[1] The terms “mite” and “farthing” are used in the King James Version as they are British terms to denote a coin with low value. During the time of Christ, the widow would have donated a lepton or two lepta, a small, crude coin used in Judea. 

[2] The construction of Herod’s temple began in 20 B.C. and was completed before the Jewish revolt in 66 A.D. It was destroyed by Romans in 70 A.D. 

[3] The boxes were used for various donations such as new shekel dues, wood, bird offering, frankincense, gold for the mercy seat, and six for free-will offerings. 

[4] Richard Neitzel Holzaphel, Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament, pg. 122.

[5] Lesson of the widow’s mite, Wikipedia.