The gate commonly called the “Golden Gate” was a prominent architectural feature on the eastern side of the ancient Jerusalem Temple complex of the 1st century, and it was probably the gate through which Jesus entered Jerusalem and the Temple during the “Triumphal Entry” (Matthew 21:10-12; Mark 11:11; Luke 19:37-45). According to the Mishna, there were five external gates around the Temple complex, but only one on the east side, called the Eastern Gate, which had a picture of the city of Shushan/Susa and was used for access to and from the Mount of Olives (Middoth 1.3; cf. Nehemiah 3:29). This depiction of Susa on the gate is why it is often called the “Shushan Gate” rather than by its more ancient name of the Eastern Gate. Since this gate was the only gate on the eastern side of the Jerusalem Temple complex during the time of Jesus, and the prophet Ezekiel mentioned the “Eastern Gate” as the gate through which God enters the Temple, the geography and Divine association seem to point to the Golden Gate as the entry point which Jesus used (Ezekiel 44:1-3). The popular name “Golden Gate” goes back to a nickname that began to be used in the Byzantine Christian period. Because Latin aurea “golden” and Greek horaios “beautiful” sound similar, the Eastern Gate was often equated with the “Beautiful Gate” mentioned in Acts, but the Beautiful Gate was the Nicanor Gate, also called the Corinthian Gate, inside the actual Temple complex according to Josephus and the Mishnah (Acts 3:2; Josephus, Wars 5.201-206; Middoth 1.4). This was a massive gate between the Temple court and the court of the Women or court of the Nations rather than the Eastern Gate at the east side of the Temple Mount. Josephus described this Nicanor Gate as made of bronze, 75 feet high and 60 feet wide, which makes the description “Beautiful” appropriate.
Although the Golden Gate can be seen today, this is not the same Golden Gate or Eastern Gate that Jesus went through in 33 AD. The current gate was built in the 6th or 7th century AD (Chen, On the Golden Gate in Jerusalem and the Baptistery at Emmaus-Nicopolis”). The gate seems to be shown on the Madaba Map, suggesting that it had been rebuilt in the Byzantine period, perhaps before the Persians took Jerusalem in 614 AD or soon after. Supposedly, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius supposedly entered Jerusalem through the Golden Gate, although he could have used Stephen’s Gate instead, which is on the northeastern side of the city and would have provided more direct access to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The Eastern Gate was still in ruins in the 6th century, and then seems to have been rebuilt later in the 6th century or the 7th century, so perhaps the emperor walked through the ruins of the gate (Pilgrim of Piacenza). It has been sealed multiple times from the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD to a rebuilding and sealing of the gate by Sultan Suleiman in 1541 AD, and it remains in this state today. According to brief archaeological investigation, the current Golden Gate is built directly over the ruins of the ancient Eastern Gate or Golden Gate. By accident, what appear to be ruins of the ancient Eastern Gate were discovered about 8 feet below the base of the current Golden Gate, and underneath what is now an Islamic cemetery. In particular, part of an arch from an earlier gate was uncovered and a 1st century oil lamp discovered in front of the gate ruins, and it was suggested based on the discovery that there were probably two arches, a north and south, similar to the design of the currently visible gate structure (Fleming, “The Undiscovered Gate Beneath Jerusalem’s Golden Gate”; Giacumacis, “The Gate below the Golden Gate”). However, the original ground level of the Golden gate was probably more than 30 feet below the current ground level, as evidenced by the discovery of a wall just east of the gate (Tsafrir, “The ‘Massive Wall’ East of the Golden Gate”). A large wall, about 15 meters east of the Golden Gate, formed what was probably a wall for a road leading into the Golden Gate from the east, and may have been built in the 2nd or 1st century BC before the time of Herod the Great, although it could have been repaired during the Roman or Byzantine period.
Exactly what the Golden Gate looked like during the time of Jesus is primarily conjecture based upon limited architectural remains and parallels from other gates. The arched stones, which may have been above a horizontal lintel, appear to have been smooth, as was probably also the case with the 1st century Double Gate on the southern side of the Temple complex (http://www.ritmeyer.com/2010/12/14/the-beautiful-gate-of-the-temple/). Herod occasionally used smoothed stones in his construction projects, such as the mausoleum at the Herodium, as well as the commonly known bosse technique (margins or frame around the edge of the face of the stone), and various others. The 1st century AD Herod Agrippa II gate at the northern wall of Jerusalem also utilizes a similar architectural structure and smoothed stones as those seen in photographs of the underground remains at the Golden Gate. Inside the current Golden Gate, two massive stone gate posts may have originally been part of the Eastern Gate from the 1st century. While the exact form and size of the Eastern Gate from the time of Jesus is not known, the gate existed approximately where the current Golden Gate is today, and it served as the entry point into Jerusalem and the Temple complex from the east, which Jesus would have used at the conclusion of the Triumphal Entry.