Reading about the temple in the Bible often causes one of two problems. Either people assume it’s just a church in the Old Testament and essentially the same as the building that we go to on Sunday or they think it’s so foreign to their experience that they can’t relate to it at all. The temple is the focus of today’s e100 reading, but it’s such a prominent theme, having a sense of what it means and why it’s so significant helps in understanding the Bible's message.
In the garden of Eden, there was no temple – in fact, there was no need of one! Humanity, unstained by sin, walked in fellowship with God with no barriers or intermediaries. But when Adam and Eve sinned, they were cast out of the garden and banished to a life separated from God’s presence. After the fall, we see humanity continuing to relate to God, but doing so through sacrifices. There was a distance in the relationship now. People no longer spoke with God as freely or openly. When God did reveal Himself in some way, people often built altars to mark the location and the event. But people longed to be close to God again, to walk with Him as they had been created to do.
When God delivered Israel from Egypt, He established them as a nation and He set up a tent, called a tabernacle, in the middle of their tents, as they travelled through the wilderness. For a holy God to dwell in the midst of a sinful people required sacrifices to cleanse and purify the people, but the tabernacle was like a travelling garden of Eden. The people couldn’t wander in and out freely the way Adam and Eve had, but God lived among them and through their representative priests, they could seek God and hear His voice.
Once Israel was established in the land, the people exchanged their tents for houses. It was natural, then, that the tent-like tabernacle would be replaced with a more permanent structure, the temple. But the purpose was the same: a place for God to dwell in the midst of His people – a taste of the garden of Eden that was lost through human sin. Israel had their highs and their lows, spiritually, but the knowledge that God dwelt in their midst through the temple brought hope and encouragement. That’s why it was so devastating when the Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem and eventually destroyed the temple in 586 BC. The hope of Eden seemed lost. It was as if God had moved out of the neighbourhood. Even still, God spoke words of comfort through His prophets and re-established the people in the land. They rebuilt Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple but when they did, many who had seen the former temple’s majesty wept in disappointment.
When Jesus came to this earth, He was the culmination of all that the tabernacle and temple had pointed toward. When John describes Jesus in John 1:14 he says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The word “dwelt” here is actually the word for staying in a tent – Jesus was the tabernacle in the midst of His people. Later in John 2:18-22, Jesus gets into a discussion with the Jews and He refers to his own body as the temple. Jesus was called Emmanuel which means “God with us,” and He was the presence of God among in this world. As He spoke words of grace and truth, and performed miracles of healing and mercy, He brought a taste of Eden to a world broken in sin. And He was the meeting place of God, the bridge between a sinful world and a holy God.
When Jesus is raised from the dead and ascends to the Father, He sends the Spirit. Now He entrusts the role of the temple to gathered believers. 1 Corinthians 3:16 says, “Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?” God doesn’t dwell in a building anymore. He dwells in our midst by His Spirit. Believers gathered as the church become the new meeting place between God and humanity. We become a taste of Eden in this world as we live out the values of the kingdom of God. And God is pleased to reveal His glory in and through us as we represent Him before the nations. Even our role as a temple is temporary, however.
While believers represent God in this world throughout our lifetime, God has promised that a new age is coming. He will bring an end to this world that we’ve ruined through sin and create a new heaven and a new earth. All who believe in Jesus Christ will be restored to the paradise of a new Eden. Revelation 21:22 describes the scene, “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” In the new heavens and the new earth, there is no need for a temple, because we will walk with God the way Adam and Eve did – unhindered and free through the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Surely, we have a great hope, and we serve a great God!
In awe of Him,