1. Great buildings, great temple?
Last year there was a competition held to decide the ‘new 7 wonders of the world’? The results were announced on 7.7.07. And the winners were, not in any particular order – the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Brasil; and ironically the Colosseum in Rome where so many Christians were killed; another reminder of death – the Taj Mahal in India; the Great Wall of China; the buildings at Petra in Jordan; the Inca city of Machu Picchu in Peru; and the pyramid at Chichen Itza in Mexico, which is actually a Mayan temple.
Temples; religious buildings fascinate people. Go to Asia and you’ll probably visit a temple. Go to England or Europe and you’ll probably visit a cathedral or church.
Why? Maybe because of what they represent – here are where people worship their gods. And we know that God has put in everyone a need to know and relate to God. So Eccles 3:11-14 - God has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom n what God has done from beginning to end….. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.
We are made to revere God, for eternity. Made to worship him as his people, and our hearts are restless until we find him. Temples suggest here is where I can worship God, here is the dwelling place of God. But is that right? Does God dwell in a building? Where does God dwell now? Where do I go to worship God?
We’ll answer those questions by looking at what the Bible says about temples, and then think about ourselves, and you can find an outline of it in your Bulletin (references at home).
2. The ‘old’ temples of God
a) The Patriarchs
Let’s go back to Genesis 12. God called Abraham to leave his home, and go to the land God would show him. And God was with Abraham wherever he went. God wasn’t confined to a particular place.
And throughout the history of the patriarchs God revealed himself to them as and where he pleased. And often in those places people set up an altar or shrine or pillar – so in Gen 28 after Jacob has his dream of the stairway up to heaven and God at the top, we read – v16 - When Jacob awoke from his sleep, b he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” Ge 28:17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! c This is none other than the house of God; d this is the gate of heaven.” Ge 28:18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head e and set it up as a pillar f and poured oil on top of it. g
No temples for the patriarchs, but God was with them wherever they travelled.
b) After Egypt
We skip ahead to the Exodus. After Israel had been rescued out of slavery in Egypt by God, they were a very large group of people. They needed a gathering point, a central shrine, a symbol of their unity under God and in worship of him.
And so God instructed a tent of meeting to be made - Ex 33:7-9 – Ex 33:7 Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the “tent of meeting.” p Anyone inquiring q of the LORD would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. Ex 33:8 And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, r watching Moses until he entered the tent. Ex 33:9 As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud s would come down and stay at the entrance, while the LORD spoke t with Moses.
The tent of meeting was however a temporary structure until the tabernacle was completed. And the tabernacle was set up right in the middle of the Israelite camp, to show that God was central to their life as a people. So we read in Ex 40:34-35 - Then the cloud k covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory l of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory m of the LORD filled the tabernacle. n
God was present among his people in a real and visible way. And the tabernacle remained the central place of worship even when the people were in the Promised Land during the times of the judges, although it was moved around from time to time - from Shiloh, to Nob and then to Gibeon.
After David had become king, and conquered Jerusalem, and built his palace, he wanted to build a temple. A house for God to dwell in. And when the temple was finally built the tabernacle was brought up into it. Here was finally a more permanent and stable meeting place between God and his people; the dwelling place of God on earth.
c) Solomon’s temple
But it wasn’t David who built the temple, but his son Solomon. 1 Kings 6 tells us
- The foundation of the temple of the LORD was laid in the fourth year, in the month of Ziv. 1Ki 6:38 In the eleventh year in the month of Bul, the eighth month, the temple was finished in all its details z according to its specifications. a He had spent seven years building it.
And by all accounts it was a magnificent structure. And God dwelt there. So we read in 1 Kings 8:10-11 that after the ark had been placed in the temple - When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud d filled the temple of the LORD. And the priests could not perform their service e because of the cloud, for the glory f of the LORD filled his temple.
Solomon’s temple lasted several centuries before it was looted and sacked by King Nebuchadnezzar in 587BC. So we read in 2 Ki 25:9 - He set fire u to the temple of the LORD, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down. And in vv13-15 The Babylonians broke a up the bronze pillars, the movable stands and the bronze Sea that were at the temple of the LORD and they carried the bronze to Babylon.
2Ki 25:14 They also took away the pots, shovels, wick trimmers, dishes b and all the bronze articles c used in the temple service. 2Ki 25:15 The commander of the imperial guard took away the censers and sprinkling bowls—all that were made of pure gold or silver. d
The people were taken into exile, the temple destroyed. God had been defeated by the Babylonian gods, or had forsaken his people. It was a time of profound grief for Israel.
c) Ezekiel’s vision of the temple
But God hadn’t finished with his people. During the exile Ezekiel has visions of temples.
In chs 10-11 he sees the glory of God leaving the temple, a precursor to the exile. So in 11:22-23 - Then the cherubim, with the wheels beside them, spread their wings, and the glory s of the God of Israel was above them. The glory of the LORD went up from within the city and stopped above the mountain east of it.
But in chs 40-48 Ezekiel has another vision. A vision showing God had neither been defeated nor forsaken his people completely. It is a vision of the glory of God returning to the temple.
So in Ez 43:4-5 – The glory u of the LORD entered the temple through the gate facing east. Then the Spirit w lifted me up x and brought me into the inner court, and the glory y of the LORD filled the temple. z
Not the old temple – but a new one, an even more glorious one.
d) Zerubbabel’s temple
Well, on their return from exile, about 537BC the Israelites, under Zerubbabel the governor of Judah, set about re-building the temple. You can read about it in Ezra.
But those who were there, and had seen the beauty of Solomon’s temple wept, because it wasn’t anywhere near as splendid as Solomon’s. And we never read of the glory of the Lord returning to it. Rather the prophets look forward to that day when God’s glory will return, and fill the whole earth.
As for Zerubbabel’s temple - it lasted until about 19BC, when Herod the Great essentially dismantled and re-constructed it.
e) Herod’s temple
Herod started his expansion project around 19BC; essentially in an attempt to reconcile the people to himself as their king. It was a huge project – the main part of the work took about 10 years, but the whole project wasn’t really finished until about 63/4AD. And then it was destroyed by Romans in 70AD. A sign of God’s judgement on Judaism for their rejection of Jesus.
f) Jesus and the ‘old’ temple
Before then of course Jesus had come on the scene. And John tells us in John 1:14b - The Word became flesh u and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, v the glory of the One and Only, 4 who came from the Father, full of grace w and truth. x
God dwells on earth in Jesus. God’s glory comes to earth, comes to Jerusalem in Jesus. Now with the coming of Jesus the old temple is set aside, for something better. Jesus says in Matt 12:6 – I tell you that one 45 greater than the temple is here. c
God still wants all people to come to know him and worship him – but now it is through Jesus. In Christ God himself has come and so we need no building in which to meet him. When Jesus died what happened to the curtain in the temple? It was torn in two from top to bottom. Access to God was no longer by the old temple ministry, but through Jesus and his death for us. The temple as such, and temple ministry, is no longer needed.
As Jesus said to the woman at the well in John 4:21-24 he says - “Believe me, woman, a time is coming s when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. t You Samaritans worship what you do not know; u we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. v Jn 4:23 Yet a time is coming and has now come w when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit x and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. Jn 4:24 God is spirit, y and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
3. The new temple of God
Does the idea of a temple then stop in the New Testament? Yes and no. We no longer need a physical building in which to worship God; there is no physical building which is the sole dwelling place of God. But the physical gives way to the spiritual – there is a spiritual temple – Jesus and his people.
Jesus implies that in John’s gospel – John 2:19-21 - Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” s Jn 2:20 The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” Jn 2:21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. t
And Christ’s body, his metaphorical body, is his people. Us. We are the body of Christ. Every Christian has the Holy Spirit – he dwells in us. We are God’s temple, the dwelling place of God himself. Jesus says in John 14:23 - “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. g My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. h
The writings of the apostles reaffirm that the new temple is not a building of stone, but a community of living stones, of people. Of Christians. With Jesus as the foundation.
So 1 Pe 2:4-6 - As you come to him, the living Stone z —rejected by men but chosen by God a and precious to him— 1Pe 2:5 you also, like living stones, are being built b into a spiritual house c to be a holy priesthood, d offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. e 1Pe 2:6 For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, f and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
We are the new spiritual house, the spiritual house of God not a physical building.
Paul writes in Eph 2:19-22 - Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, w but fellow citizens x with God’s people and members of God’s household, y Eph 2:20 built z on the foundation a of the apostles and prophets, b with Christ Jesus himself c as the chief cornerstone. d Eph 2:21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple e in the Lord. Eph 2:22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. f
The temple signified how we can have a relationship to God. It is now in Christ. And so the temple significance is transferred to the image of Christ’s community. Amongst his church the risen Christ dwells, by His Spirit. So we are his temple.
Finally we come to Revelation, and the consummation of all things. We see there that the temple imagery has really been a symbol of heaven.
So Rev 7:15 - Therefore, “they are before the throne of God n and serve him o day and night in his temple; p and he who sits on the throne q will spread his tent over them. r
Rev 16:17 - The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, d and out of the temple e came a loud voice f from the throne, saying, “It is done!” g
The temple location is now the eternal presence of God on his throne. That is where God resides. And so as we come to Rev 21:22 - I did not see a temple h in the city, because the Lord God Almighty i and the Lamb j are its temple. Rev 21:23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God k gives it light, l and the Lamb m is its lamp.
At the consummation of all things – there is no more temple. The new Jerusalem has no temple, God and the Lamb are the temple, because nothing remains to hide God from his people. Rev 22:3-4 - The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. b Rev 22:4 They will see his face, c and his name will be on their foreheads. d
- be holy as the temple was; since we are the realization of the temple we ought to live holy lives, just as the temple was considered holy. 1 Cor 6:19-20 - Do you not know that your body is a temple h of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; i you were bought at a price. j Therefore honor God with your body. k
2 Cor 6:16-7:1 - What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? a For we are the temple b of the living God. c As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” 9 d 2Co 6:17 “Therefore come out from them e and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” 10 f 2Co 6:18 “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, g says the Lord Almighty.” 11 h 2Co 7:1 Since we have these promises, i dear friends, j let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness k out of reverence for God.
- seek unity, since there is only one God there can only be one people in which he dwells, and so we need to try to avoid schism. 11 Cor 3:16 - Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple k and that God’s Spirit lives in you? l If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.
- the temple is to be used for the ingathering of Israel and the nations (Eph 2); and in Rev grows as the number of Christians grows
- our attitude to buildings: helpful but not holy
We are the temple of the Holy Spirit – the dwelling place of God himself – let us live it out! PRAY