In a memorable section of the New Testament, Jesus endures a series of trials and temptations from the devil (Matthew 4:1-11).
Jesus is tempted to turn rocks to bread, the temptation to use His power for personal fulfillment.
Jesus is tempted to worship satan, the ultimate lie of a grand bargain that you can obtain the world by losing your soul.
And Jesus is tempted to jump from the pinnacle of the temple and be saved by angels, the temptation to use His power for fame.
[Related Article: How Matthew Is Like Moses and What that Reveals about Jesus]
Where is the pinnacle of the temple?
Herod the Great is called “Great” because of the incredible building spree he initiated throughout the Holy Land during his rule over the Jewish people. Visitors today who want to experience something of the times of Jesus in the Holy Land would have to thank Herod for his megalomaniacal building program.
Herod’s buildings included a massive expansion of the Jewish temple. Incredibly, when Herod’s expansion and refurbishment of the temple was complete, the Jewish temple was the largest religious structure anywhere in the Roman empire.
To the south of the temple was an expansive plaza that bordered the main north/south road through Jerusalem and was a gathering place for thousands of Jews. Directly above this meeting point of plaza and road was the pinnacle of the temple.
What is the pinnacle of the temple?
The pinnacle was a platform at the top of the southwestern corner of the temple mount. This is the location where at regular intervals each day a Jewish priest would blow a loud horn to capture everyone’s attention in the city to remind them to engage in worshipful prayer.
This was the location from where Jews would receive regular reminders of their dependence on God, of His saving mercy.
This “Place of Trumpeting” was a very visual, very public, very well-known, and significant place for marking the religious rhythms of the spiritual life of the Jews.
What did the pinnacle of the temple look like?
From where the Jewish priest stood to blow his horn, the plaza below may have been a drop of more than 164 feet, more than 15 stories tall! For comparison, that is a bit higher than the Kimball Tower on the Brigham Young University campus, which is 162 feet tall.
Any priest with vertigo would have requested a reassignment.
Let’s visualize how this would look from the street level. I take this image from a project I worked on with the Brigham Young University Virtual Scriptures Team and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (For clarity, this is a static image. In the interactive program, the filled circle within a larger circle is an information dot identifying the temple pinnacle. Any circle containing the eye symbol identifies a location on the screen you can move to. A compass is at the bottom left. However, none of these features work in this static image.)
If you find this static image useful, enhance your visual engagement with New Testament Jerusalem by downloading the free, 3D, interactive program at http://virtualscriptures.org/ (available on Android, iOS, and desktops).
Why does knowing the location of the pinnacle matter?
I’m pretty confident that Peter won’t be asking any of us at the pearly gates to identify the location of the pinnacle of the ancient Jewish temple. Still, knowing its location can enhance our understanding and appreciation for why the adversary tempted Jesus to jump from this location. Imagine the viral story telling that would have ripped through the Jewish society if Jesus had jumped from the most public and visible location anywhere in the Holy Land, the very location where each day Jews were called to remember the saving acts of God.
Since we know that no one can be saved without confessing that Jesus is the Christ, what more rapid and stunning approach could Jesus have taken to ensure that everyone in His nation knew Him than to jump from the pinnacle of the temple?
We live in a day when our lives seem to be dominated by yet another viral video of someone doing something foolhardy. We live in a day of instant celebrities for trivial and meaningless reasons.
Shouldn’t Jesus have sped up His campaign to build awareness about who He is by jumping for the thronging crowd of thousands or tens of thousands?
Jesus is the master of His soul.
Instead of instant, yet meaningless fame, Jesus took the exceedingly slow approach of trudging through the dusty streets of poor little Galilean villages seeking out the meek one heart at a time.
Jesus knew that the only way to truly invite people to come to Him was through humble love, service, and teaching, not through “flash-in-the-pan” theatrics that fill no one with hope, faith, or saving truths.
Learning at the Feet of the Savior
I hope you found these insights valuable and empowering. If so, you may find more such insights in one of my recent books.
Together with my co-author David Ridges, we wrote Learning at the Feet of the Savior: Additional Insights from New Testament Background, Culture, and Setting to encourage people to ask questions and to use the scriptures and the example of Jesus to learn how to learn and to better understand how the scriptures apply to their lives.