The outermost area of the temple in Jerusalem was called the court of the Gentiles because it could be entered by all people. It was the most exterior and, by far, the largest of all the courts. This location, along with Solomon's Porch (which was a covered area that existed on either side of the court's eastern entrance) was frequented by Jerusalem's sick and the poor seeking help (Acts 3:11, 5:12, 15).
The "soreg" at Jerusalem's temple was a fence that separated the court of the Gentiles from the rest of the temple mount complex. Gentiles (non-Israelites) and ritually unclean Israelites were forbidden, on pain of death, from passing through its gates to the interior areas.
The Jews in Jerusalem were so zealous in keeping the "purity" of the majority of the temple area that they placed stones along the soreg fence, written in Greek, which threatened death to any Gentile who would dare enter. The Apostle Paul, when writing to converted Gentiles in Ephesus, referred to this fence when he stated the following.
Therefore, remember that you were once Gentiles in the flesh . . . And that you were without Christ at that time, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel . . . But now in Christ Jesus, you who were once far off are made near by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace, Who has made both one, and has broken down THE MIDDLE WALL OF PARTITION (located in Jerusalem's temple, Ephesians 2:11 - 14, HBFV)
Paul, at the end of his third missionary journey in 58 A.D., visited Jerusalem's temple with four Jewish converts to Christianity. Zealous Jews, who thought he brought Greeks (Gentiles) through the soreg, started a riot that almost got the apostle killed (see Acts 21).
The outer court
The main entrance to the court of women (also known as the outer court or women's hall) was through the "beautiful gate" mentioned in the Bible (Acts 3:2, 10). It was considered beautiful because it was made with Corinthian brass that was richly ornamented. The doors of the gate were so massive that it took the strength of twenty men to open and close them!
The outer court was considered the place where Israelite women could worship God in Jerusalem. Females could not go beyond this point into the court of Israel unless they were bringing a sacrifice. At the time of Jesus, a market was allowed to reside in it. It was the place where sacrificial animals were bought, foreign currency was exchanged for sacred money, and where sacrificial doves could be purchased by the poor.
The court was also the place where Christ, at the beginning and near the end of his ministry, drove out the "money changers" and others from the temple (John 2:13 - 16, Matthew 21:12).
The women's large court contained several chambers or places where special activities took place. The chamber of Nazarites was the location where those at the end of their Nazarite vows cooked their peace offerings and burned their cut hair (during the vow period no hair could be cut from a person's head). The purpose of the wood chamber was to select wood for the altar and hearth.
A chamber for lepers existed where those healed of the disease and purified remained prior to being admitted to the inner court. There was also an oil and wine chamber to store these staples for the temple's use. Scattered around the court area was at least thirteen trumpet shaped boxes for receiving monetary offerings from the people (see Mark 12:41, Luke 21:1). On the western side of the women's court was a magnificent entrance known as the Nicanor Gate. This gate led to the Jerusalem temple area known as the inner court.
The inner court
Within the inner court of Jerusalem's house of prayer is the hall of Israel. This is the place where Israelites waited in reverent silence as their sacrifices to God were being burned. Dividing the hall of Israel with that of the priests is a set of three steps called the dukan. The dukan was the place where the priests blessed the people.
The area between the priest's hall and the temple proper (sometimes referred to as the court of the priests) is the place where sacrifices to God were prepared and offered. Near the northern end of this court were four rows of posts where sacrificed animals were hung and flayed. Next to these (going south) were four rows of tables on which the sacrifices were washed.
The abattoir was an area that contained rings that secured the head of animals so that they could be killed and their blood collected. Next to the abattoir was the brazen altar (also called the altar of burnt offerings) where not only animals but also grain-based and liquid offerings were burned before God (Exodus 29:38 - 42, Leviticus 6:14 - 15, etc.). On the southern end of the altar was the kebesh, which were planks (a bridge) leading up to the altar.
The Holiest Places
The two main areas of Jerusalem's temple proper are the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The Holy Place contained a seven-branched candlestick, a golden altar on which to burn incense and a table on which showbread (shewbread) was placed. It also had five tables along both the north and south walls of the area.
The Holy of Holies, when originally constructed by King Solomon, contained the Ark of the Covenant, a flask of manna and Aaron's budded rod (2Chronicles 5:10, Hebrews 9:4). At the time of King Herod's rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, however, this area was empty.