By Peter Thompson B.Theo Grad Dip Theology
Previously in Parts 1-3, we considered four passages where Paul mixes the temple metaphor with household or cultivated-field-vineyard metaphors to deal with certain issues in the specific churches addressed.
Now we will consider some more Old Testament insights concerning God’s temple, before concluding in Part 5 with how to address the current decline of the contemporary Western church by restructuring our Christian communities so that God can be free to effect real growth once again.
Comparing Creation with God’s Temple
The temple as God’s dwelling is also His resting place (Psalm 132:7-8, 13-14; 2 Chronicles 6:41; Isaiah 66:1; compare 1 Chronicles 28:2), and this provides an interesting comparison with God’s rest after creation. It is quite likely that the temple as God’s resting-place signifies the rest of the divine King who had defeated all His enemies as a sovereign display of His power so that He could reign freely with no further concerns about opposition, because:
- God rested after creation having sovereignly prevailed over chaos/emptiness (Genesis 1:1-2; 2:1-3; compare Job 26:6-14; Isaiah 45:18);
- God allowed Solomon to build the temple only after God brought Israel to such a place of rest that they no longer had any adversaries or enemies (1 Kings 4:24-25; 5:3-5; 1 Chronicles 22:9; 2 Samuel 7:10-13);
- the Sabbath was to be observed not just because of how God rested after creation (Exodus 20:8-11), but because Yahweh brought Israel out of Egypt with a strong hand and mighty arm to enter into His rest, demonstrating His sovereignty over the nations (Deuteronomy 5:12-15; 12:8-11; compare Hebrews 4:1-10; Psalm 95:7-11); and
- God demonstrated His sovereignty and power over His enemies, sin and death, through Christ’s death and resurrection, so that Christ is now seated enthroned at God’s right hand (1 Corinthians 15:22-26; Ephesians 1:17-23; Romans 6:5-6; 1 Peter 3:22; Psalm 110:1-7; compare Hebrews 1:3-4; Acts 2:32-36; 7:55-56; Mark 16:19-20; Romans 8:34-39; Colossians 3:1-4).
The Christian Rest
With the church of the living God being the end-time temple, the resting-place of God, the church must therefore be a place where the defeat of God’s enemies, sin and death, are established realities in the midst of their human frailties and weaknesses. This is the new creation in Christ where not only God rests from His work of salvation, but His people rest from their own works, holding fast to their confession (Hebrews 4:8-16; 2 Corinthians 5:14-17; compare Galatians 6:13-15). It is a holy place where sin does not belong, having been defeated in Christ (more on that another day).
The True Temple
It becomes clear that even though a visible, end-time temple comprising the Father’s children/people is being built upon Christ by the Spirit to reveal the risen Jesus as the embodiment of truth to the outside world, churches are not necessarily the true temple when:
- the foundation of that church is not the risen Christ, but some human leader over against another;
- what is being built upon that foundation is not equivalent to the imagery of gold, silver and precious stones, going beyond the insights (of truth, of the true Gospel) written down by the original apostles and prophets;
- uncleanness is permitted to defile the Christian community;
- churches fail to deal with sin (especially community-destroying behaviours) and human hubris/arrogant-pride within the church community;
- leaders fail to consider themselves one with all other leaders, and nothing in comparison to God; and
- leaders do not genuinely function as God’s assigned servants to effect His mind, will and purpose so that the Christian community can grow as a supernatural act of God.
This means that the contemporary Western church fails to be, in its current state, the true temple of the Spirit where God dwells, although the true temple is obviously still being built within its midst somewhere. No wonder the Western church has stopped growing and is in decline!
Planted in the House/Temple of Yahweh
Growing in God’s temple is a product of knowing Jesus (relationally) as the Word, the foundation of the temple, because:
- Jesus as God’s Word, Wisdom and Counsellor is much better than gold, silver or precious stones, the very materials to be built upon the end-time temple foundation (Psalm 119:72; Proverbs 3:13-18; 8:8-13; 16:16-18; Isaiah 9:6-7; compare Isaiah 28:29; 40:6-8);
- those meditating upon and keeping God’s law/word are like a flourishing fruitful tree planted beside permanent waters (Psalm 1:1-3; Jeremiah 17:5-10);
- the righteous man/woman, who implicitly keeps God’s word, will flourish fruitfully like the palm tree, and grow strong like a cedar of Lebanon, in the house of Yahweh, in the temple courts of God, with God (Jesus) being their (foundation) rock (Psalm 92:12-15; compare Psalm 52:6-8; Jeremiah 11:14-17; Hosea 14:4-7);
- being planted as oaks of righteousness by Yahweh (in His temple) so that righteousness will sprout up before all the nations requires a work of liberation and healing by the Spirit through Jesus Christ, the anointed One (Isaiah 61:1-3, 10-11; compare Luke 4:16-21; Isaiah 62:1-3);
- new believers are to put away all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander, and desire the pure spiritual milk of the Word in order to grow (1 Peter 2:1-3; Hebrews 5:11-14; 1 Corinthians 3:1-3; compare Luke 6:46-49; Matthew 7:24-27); and
- believers are purified by obeying the truth in self-giving, brotherly love (1 Peter 1:22-25).
Once again, keeping God’s word by obeying the risen Jesus, the living Word, the embodiment of truth, is the key to the Christian community being God’s temple, His dwelling place, the place of His abiding presence (John 14:15-17, 23; 15:10-17). No wonder then that this temple, the church of the living God, makes the risen Jesus evident to the outside world.
The Tearing Down of the Old Transient Temple to Raise Up a New Permanent Temple
Jesus made an outrageous claim that He would tear down and destroy the old physical temple in Jerusalem, and raise up a new temple in three days that was not made with hands (John 2:14-22; Mark 14:56-59; Matthew 26:59-61; see also Mark 15:29-30; Matthew 27:39-40). John reports that Jesus was speaking of His body being raised up in three days, but there is more going on here than just the resurrection of Jesus’ body, because:
- Stephen was accused of saying that Jesus would destroy the Jerusalem temple and change the customs that Moses delivered to the Jews (Acts 6:13-14);
- Jesus Himself claimed the divine prerogative of forgiving sins, signifying that the function of the temple sacrifices had been superseded in Him (Mark 2:5-12; Matthew 9:1-8; Luke 5:20-26; 7:48-50; note especially Matthew 12:1-8);
- Stephen just prior to his death recounted that God does not dwell in physical dwellings made by hands, for heaven is God’s throne, and the earth His footstool (Acts 7:45-50; Isaiah 66:1-2; compare Exodus 15:17; 1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chronicles 2:6; 6:18; Jeremiah 23:24; 2 Corinthians 5:1; Daniel 2:34-35);
- Paul added that God is not served by human hands as though He needed anything since He Himself gives to all humanity (Acts 17:24-25); and
- Jesus Himself was the Word become flesh who “tabernacled” among us (John 1:14).
Hence, Jesus, through His death and resurrection, would raise up a new temple, one that was not a physical building, where one could worship the Father in the sphere/realm of the Spirit and truth (John 4:21-26) — more on that another day. Once more “truth” features in providing the proper environment by the Spirit to experience the manifest presence of God.
Jesus as the Permanent Link Between Heaven & Earth
In John 1:51, Jesus told Nathaniel that he would see heaven opened, and angels ascending and descending upon Him as the Son of Man (compare Exodus 28:10-22, noting that Jacob built an altar/sanctuary there and called it “Bethel”, God’s house, the precursor to the Jerusalem temple — see also Genesis 31:13; 35:1-4, 13-15; Judges 20:18, 26-28; 21:2-4; 1 Samuel 10:3).
This meant that, as the Son of Man, the second Adam, Jesus Himself, not the physical temple in Jerusalem, forms the primary link between heaven and earth (1 Timothy 2:5-6) through His end-time temple of the Spirit, because:
- the veil in the temple between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies was torn in two from top to bottom upon Jesus’ death (Matthew 27:51-53; Luke 23:43-45), His fleshly body opening up the way to God’s presence (Hebrews 6:19-20; 9:2-4; 10:19-22); and
- the wilderness tabernacle, the two physical Jerusalem temples, and the end-time temple are all patterned after the heavenly temple (Hebrews 8:5; 9:11, 23-24; Exodus 25:9, 40; 26:30; 27:8; Numbers 8:4; Acts 7:44; 1 Chronicles 28:11, 19; compare Psalm 78:69; Isaiah 6:1-4; Ezekiel 1:22-28; Revelation 4:1-11) where Jesus has now entered to intercede for us (Hebrews 4:14-16; 6:19-20; 7:22-25; 9:24; Romans 8:34).
Once again, Jesus as the risen Lord is predominant in the temple imagery!
Finally, in Part 5, we will put all this household/temple/cultivated field imagery together to construct a better, more biblical way to do church than the typical hierarchical methodology of contemporary Christianity.
To review the studies included in the Framework and find out why we have concluded these things you can download the Framework and Notes here, free of charge.
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Peter “Thommo” Thompson was born in 1958 in the bulldust of south-western Queensland in the region around the township of Mitchell. He was converted outside of the church through a supernatural encounter with the living God in Mackay, North Queensland, in February 1979, and embarked upon a long and arduous journey of God dealing with the figurative bulldust in his life. In 2012, he completed a Bachelor of Ministry & Theology double degree, and in 2013, a Post-Graduate Diploma in Theology, all at Tabor Adelaide. He currently lives with his two adult daughters in Ipswich, Queensland, and is writing a series of academic novels with the intent of hopefully helping to facilitate a church unifying movement through an unbranded form of Christianity in Australia.
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