Does God Need A Temple? by Lambert Dolphin
The word which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:1-4)
Why a Temple?
Primitive religions are replete with examples of buildings and shrines as a house or shrine to an idol or a god. Animistic religionists believe that spirits live in trees, rocks, caves, or sacred groves. The Egyptians deified crocodiles, cats, cows, birds and beetles. The Greeks and Romans assigned to their gods splendid mansions and palaces as their dwelling places.
But the God revealed in the Bible is fundamentally different than the gods of the nations. He does not need houses or temples to dwell in---the entire universe is God's house, "the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him" and His infinite Spirit can not apparently be confined in any way to man-made dwelling places:
Thus says the LORD: "Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool; what is the house which you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things are mine, says the LORD. But this is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word." (Isaiah 66:1)
"Am I a God at hand, says the LORD, and not a God afar off? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? says the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:23, 24)
Disturbed in his spirit by the profusion of false gods, images and shrines when he visited Athens, the Apostle Paul boldly reasserted that God assuredly did not dwell in buildings made by men:
...while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the market place every day with those who chanced to be there. Some also of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers met him. And some said, "What would this babbler say?" Others said, "He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities "--because he preached Jesus and the resurrection. And they took hold of him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new teaching is which you present? For you bring some strange things to our ears; we wish to know therefore what these things mean." Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. So Paul, standing in the middle of the Areopagus, said:
"Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, `To an unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything.
And he made from one (man, i.e., Adam) every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, for `In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your poets have said, `For we are indeed his offspring.' Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, a representation by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man (Jesus) whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead." (Acts 17:16-31)
The Tabernacle of Moses
Yet in spite of these clear teachings throughout the Bible that God does not live in man-made buildings there is an apparent paradox the moment we join the Jews in the wilderness at Mount Sinai: God Himself, at Mount Sinai gave Moses specific instructions concerning the building of a remarkable tent, or tabernacle, in which, He, the Most High God would dwell:
And let them make me a sanctuary [Hebrew, miqdosh, sanctuary, i.e., a holy place], that I may dwell in their midst. According to all that I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle [mishkan, dwelling-place. This word gives rise to the Hebrew Shekinah which denotes the personal presence of the Divine God], and of all its furniture, so you shall make it...And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain. (Exodus 25:8,9; 40)
The tabernacle, mishkan, is referred to 139 times in the Old Testament, primarily in Exodus and Numbers. 100 times it is referred to as the "dwelling place" of God! Incidentally, in the New Testament (1 Cor. 10, Hebrews 3,4) may be found specific references concerning the personal presence of Yeshua, the Son of God with His people in the wilderness. The Tabernacle gave tangible evidence that God was with His people as did the Pillar or Cloud by Day and the Pillar of Fire by Night (the Shekinah).
And I will make my abode among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the LORD your God, who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves; and I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect. (Leviticus 26:11-13)
The First Jewish Temple
Whereas the tabernacle was mobile, and served Israel for forty years in the wilderness, during the conquest of the land, and for nearly 400 years at Shiloh during the time of the Judges, the temple was anchored to bedrock at a fixed, specific spot on Mount Moriah, the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem,
Now when the king (David) dwelt in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies round about, the king said to Nathan the prophet, "See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent." And Nathan said to the king, "Go, do all that is in your heart; for the LORD is with you." But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, "Go and tell my servant David, `Thus says the LORD: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?"'
Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David, `Thus says the LORD of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He (Messiah) shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. (2 Samuel 7:1-13)
David desired to build a temple in Jerusalem after the unsettled years of the Exodus, the conquest, and the period of the Judges. His son Solomon was given the actual task. Yet even Solomon recognized that God could scarcely be contained in a stone building:
"But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built!" (1 Kings 8:27, cp. 2 Chron. 2:6, 6:18)
The First Temple, usually called Solomon's Temple, was finished after a construction period of seven years, employing some 30,000 workmen in the task. That God approved of this building and accepted it as his house is more than evident from the record of the temple dedication service recorded in 2 Chronicles:
When Solomon had ended his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD's house. When all the children of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the LORD upon the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the earth on the pavement, and worshipped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures for ever." Then the king and all the people offered sacrifice before the LORD. King Solomon offered as a sacrifice twenty-two thousand oxen and a hundred and twenty thousand sheep. So the king and all the people dedicated the house of God. The priests stood at their posts; the Levites also, with the instruments for music to the LORD which King David had made for giving thanks to the LORD ---for his steadfast love endures for ever---whenever David offered praises by their ministry; opposite them the priests sounded trumpets; and all Israel stood.
And Solomon consecrated the middle of the court that was before the house of the LORD; for there he offered the burnt offering and the fat of the peace offerings, because the bronze altar Solomon had made could not hold the burnt offering and the cereal offering and the fat. At that time Solomon held the feast for seven days, and all Israel with him, a very great congregation, from the entrance of Hamath to the Brook of Egypt. And on the eighth day they held a solemn assembly; for they had kept the dedication of the altar seven days and the feast seven days. On the twenty-third day of the seventh month he sent the people away to their homes, joyful and glad of heart for the goodness that the LORD had shown to David and to Solomon and to Israel his people. Thus Solomon finished the house of the LORD and the king's house; all that Solomon had planned to do in the house of the LORD and in his own house he successfully accomplished.
Then the LORD appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: "I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there for ever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time. (2 Chronicles 7:1-16)
The downward course of spiritual and national life in ancient Israel from the time of Solomon to the Babylonian captivity is thoroughly described in the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, as well as by the prophets, both major and minor.
A vivid summary of the Lord's displeasure with both the whole house of Israel was recorded about the time of the captivity of the ten northern tribes:
...Then the king of Assyria invaded all the land and came to Samaria, and for three years he besieged it. In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria, and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. And this was so, because the people of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs which the kings of Israel had introduced.
And the people of Israel did secretly against the LORD their God things that were not right. They built for themselves high places at all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city; they set up for themselves pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree; and there they burned incense on all the high places, as the nations did whom the LORD carried away before them. And they did wicked things, provoking the LORD to anger, and they served idols, of which the LORD had said to them, "You shall not do this." Yet the LORD warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, "Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets."
But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the LORD their God. They despised his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and the warnings which he gave them. They went after false idols, and became false, and they followed the nations that were round about them, concerning whom the LORD had commanded them that they should not do like them. And they forsook all the commandments of the LORD their God, and made for themselves molten images of two calves; and they made an Asherah, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal. And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings, and used divination and sorcery, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger. Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight; none was left but the tribe of Judah only.
Judah also did not keep the commandments of the LORD their God, but walked in the customs which Israel had introduced. And the LORD rejected all the descendants of Israel, and afflicted them, and gave them into the hand of spoilers, until he had cast them out of his sight. (2 Kings 17:5-20)
Some of the events leading to the destruction of the Second Temple and the fall of Jerusalem on the 9th of Av in the year 586 BC are known from secular sources. The Assyrians who plundered and pillaged the ten Northern tribes, finally capturing the capital of Samaria in 722, had disappeared from power by 586 BC, (136 years later) exactly as foretold by prophets such as Isaiah who warned that the threat to Jerusalem would come from the rise of the new power known as Babylon.
Solomon's temple was not only magnificently beautiful but adorned within with many billions of dollars in gold and silver, to say nothing of the monies and temple treasures stored in underground rooms beneath (See separate essay on the Temple Treasures). The Babylonians had waited covetously more than a hundred years, for the opportunity to plunder the temple:
At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah; for he heard that Hezekiah had been sick. And Hezekiah welcomed them, and he showed them all his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his armory, all that was found in his storehouses; there was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them.
Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah, and said to him, "What did these men say? And whence did they come to you?" And Hezekiah said, "They have come from a far country, from Babylon." He said, "What have they seen in your house?" And Hezekiah answered, "They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them." Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, "Hear the word of the LORD: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left, says the LORD. And some of your own sons, who are born to you, shall be taken away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon." (2 Kings 20:12-18)
The Second Temple
So modest was the Second Temple compared to the First that some of the old-timers who had left Jerusalem at the time of the captivity were deeply disappointed at the unimpressive, small, and unimportant temple the returning exiles were building. Encouraging them that their efforts would be blessed beyond all their expectations the prophet Haggai urged the people to finish the building and put it into service. In an amazing and far reaching prosperity the Lord declared that this Second Temple would not only come to be filled with gold and silver, but receive a higher honor than mere riches. It was into this Second Temple, enlarged and expanded by King Herod, that the Messiah himself, Jesus, Son of David would appear.
In the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, "Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to all the remnant of the people, and say, `Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the LORD; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the LORD; work, for I am with you, says the LORD of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit abides among you; fear not.
For thus says the LORD of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the LORD of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD of hosts. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the LORD of hosts.'" (Haggai 2:1-9)
Closing the canon of the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi spoke of Messiah's forerunner, John the Baptist and also announced that the Lord Himself, Israel's true Messiah would himself visit the Second Temple:
"Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? "For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the LORD. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years. "Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts. "For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 3:1-7)
God "Tabernacling" Among Men
The New Testament opens with a four-fold announcement that the long-awaited Messiah has come.
It was in the Second Jewish Temple that the month-old infant Jesus was dedicated by his parents (Luke 2:22-38). At the age of 12 at Passover, Jesus remained alone in the Temple apart from his parents in what was probably the equivalent of a Bar Mitzvah dedication to the Lord. It may have been at this age of accountability that Jesus first realized He was the promised messiah with a specific mission and calling to fulfill (Luke 2:39-52).
At the beginning of his three-year ministry (John 2:13-17), and again at the end, following his entry on Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:12-13), Jesus drove out the money-changers. On the second occasion Mark's gospel (11:15,16) records that He would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. It is likely, therefore, that he stopped the temple sacrifices (at least temporarily) on this second occasion, giving notice to all that they were no longer valid and had been set aside by God. Jesus, the Paschal Lamb of God was about to offer himself as the once-for-all-time perfect sacrifice for all sin. In weeping over the fate of Jerusalem he declared "See your house (the temple) is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall not see Me again until you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.'" (Matthew 23:37-38)
That same week Jesus presented his disciples with a sweeping prophecy of the next two thousand years of history. He began by speaking of the approaching total destruction of the Second Temple, "Do you not see all these things? Assuredly I say to you, not one stone will be left here upon one another, that not be thrown down."
Fulfilled literally and in detail by the total destruction of the temple during the siege of Titus in A.D. 70, this prophecy of Jesus has long since come to pass. No Jewish Temple has stood on the Temple Mount to this day. The emphasis in the New Testament after brief accounts of the early history of the church in Jerusalem in the Book of Acts shifts abruptly away from Jerusalem and Jewish community life. The temple in Jerusalem is no longer the central focus point for God's presence in the world.
In comparing Jesus and Moses and the Exodus, the writer of the Epistle of Hebrews in the New Testament comments:
Therefore, holy brethren, who share in a heavenly call, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession. He was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in God's house. Yet Jesus has been counted worthy of as much more glory than Moses as the builder of a house has more honor than the house. (For every house is built by some one, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ was faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house if we hold fast our confidence and pride in our hope. (Hebrews 3)
A New Meaning for God's Temple in the New Testament
The house of God in this, and similar passages now refers both to the tabernacle (or the temple) and the people of God. Stephen the first martyr of the Christian church comments as follows:
"Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, even as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen. Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations which God thrust out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, who found favor in the sight of God and asked leave to find a habitation for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands; as the prophet says, `Heaven is my throne, and earth my footstool. What house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?'" (Acts 7:44-50)
These discussions pave the way for the New Testament teaching that church buildings are never to be called "the house of God." The New Testament does refer to a "temple of God," but following the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem the only temple of God is a group of people---never a building. During the entire present era of the outcalling of the church, God lives in individuals who live in a personal, covenantal relationship with Him through Yeshua the Messiah. This era of Biblical, redemptive history extends from Pentecost to the Rapture. This time period when Israel would have neither temple nor sacrifice nor national homeland was predicted by the prophet Hosea:
For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or teraphim. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God, and David their king; and they shall come in fear to the LORD and to his goodness in the latter days. (Hosea 3:4-5)
The New Testament's bold assertion that man is the dwelling place---the temple---of God begins with the announcement of the Apostle John that the Second Person of the godhead had now become a man and come down to earth as Immanuel---"God with us."
And the Word became flesh and dwelt (Greek: eskenosen = tabernacled) among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John 1:14)
Shortly after at Passover in Jerusalem Jesus confirmed that He was in some special sense the actual temple of God, greater and more important that the Second Temple he was visiting:
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade." His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for thy house will consume me." The Jews then said to him, "What sign have you to show us for doing this?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he spoke of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken. (John 2:13-22)
Paul the Apostle in his clear reaffirmations of the moral demands of Torah and their applications to Christians of the present era teaches that the Shekinah---the Holy Spirit---of the living God now makes His sanctuary in the body of all those who believe in Jesus and who subject themselves to his Lordship:
Our normal, reasonable, daily service, he says, is to present our bodies, as temples to God's service:
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1, 2)
Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and that temple you are. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, "The two shall become one flesh." But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:15-20)
In his Second Letter to the Corinthians the Apostle again speaks of God's people as a collective temple,
Do not be mismated with unbelievers. For what partnership have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)
The New Testament also teaches that God corporately in the midst of the gathered community of his people. Each believer, a living stone, has been fitted into an invisible building which constitutes a dwelling place for God in the Spirit:
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands---remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit." (Ephesians 2:11-22)
The Jewish Temple and its Future
The New Testament does not negate the re-establishment of stone and cedar temples in Jerusalem in the days to come. Indeed the existence of an actual, operating, consecrated and legitimate Jewish temple in Jerusalem is clearly implied by at least three passages of scripture in the New Testament.
The Coming Temple in Jerusalem---The Third Temple---soon to be built is not the last word in temples. The Bible teaches that Messiah will Himself build a temple in Israel, though not actually in city of Jerusalem. This edifice is most likely the temple described in great detail in the closing chapters of Ezekiel. Quite likely Ezekiel's Temple will follow the destruction of the Third Temple in a great earthquake that closes the tribulation period. If so it can be properly called the "Fourth Temple."
But the New Testament also sheds further light on the statements of Exodus that the tabernacle built by Moses, and the holy utensils and furnishings were patterned after another, invisible, eternal temple of God existing in the heavens. This subject is cloaked in mystery. Why a heavenly temple? What is its purpose? The major references to this eternal temple are in the last book of the Bible, the Book of the Revelation:
He who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God; never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. (Revelation 3:12)
Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night within his temple; and he who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence. (Revelation 7:15)
Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. (Revelation 11:19, cp. 14:15,17; 15:5, 8; 16:1, 17)
Revelation also speaks of a New Jerusalem, a great satellite city measuring 1500 miles on a side, which God has prepared as a dwelling place for his people. That heavenly Jerusalem has no temple:
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. (Revelation 21:22)
Many Bible scholars believe that the city of New Jerusalem is already in existence, though it does not physically come down to earth until the end of the millennium (Revelation 21). This magnificent city may well be the special place prepared for us by Jesus when He announced to his disciples,
"In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." (John 14:2, 3)
During the millennial reign of Messiah upon the earth, Yeshua will rule (Greek: shepherdize) the nations with a rod of iron. Believers will rule and reign with him. Yet sinners will continue to be born on the earth, and will each need to make a choice during their lifetimes to chose or reject God's rule in their hearts. During this thousand year reign of Christ on earth, believing Jews and Gentiles who have already received their resurrection bodies will be free to come and go upon the earth, though their home will likely be the New Jerusalem.
Jewish Bible scholars at the Temple Institute in Jerusalem believe, even today, that the new temple(s) yet to be built in Jerusalem will not only be houses of worship and fellowship with the living God---the Holy One of Israel---but portals or gates into the heavenly realm.
The Ultimate Meaning of the Temple
There remains yet much mystery as to the meaning of the Jewish tabernacle and temples with their precise measurements, strange appliances and rituals, all given by God according to a precise set of divine blueprints. What does God wish us to learn from all this?
Some things are clear. Sinful men can not approach a holy God without a suitable sacrifice. The shedding of blood is somehow necessary to make atonement for human evil. Even forgiven sinners need washing and regular cleansing in order to enjoy fellowship with their Creator. No man can approach God directly without a proper Mediator. Men are weak and need not only a Savior, Kinsman-Redeemer (Goel), but a priest to intercede for them. The problem of human sin is deep, troublesome and persistent. Men sin against one another, against nature and above all against God. Yet God in His love wishes to teach us the depths of his love and forgiveness and mercy through the symbolism of the temple.
The temple, therefore, is a picture for all time of man as in relationship with God, a picture of God as man intended him to be.
"Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away." And he who sat upon the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true." And he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment. He who conquers shall have this heritage, and I will be his God and he shall be my son. (Revelation 21:3, 7)
Note Added: Josephus, Antiquities Book III, 6:4. "As for the inside, Moses parted its length into three partitions. At the distance of ten cubits from the most secret end, Moses placed four pillars, the workmanship of which was the very same with that of the rest; and they stood upon the like bases with them, each a small matter distant from his fellow. Now the room within those pillars was the most holy place; but the rest of the room was the tabernacle, which was open for the priests. However, this proportion of the measures of the tabernacle proved to be an imitation of the system of the world; for that third part thereof which was within the four pillars, to which the priests were not admitted, is, as it were, a heaven peculiar to God. But the space of the twenty cubits, is, as it were, sea and land, on which men live, and so this part is peculiar to the priests only. But at the front, where the entrance was made, they placed pillars of gold, that stood on bases of brass, in number seven; but then they spread over the tabernacle veils of fine linen and purple, and blue, and scarlet colors, embroidered. The first veil was ten cubits every way, and this they spread over the pillars which parted the temple, and kept the most holy place concealed within; and this veil was that which made this part not visible to any. Now the whole temple was called The Holy Place: but that part which was within the four pillars, and to which none were admitted, was called The Holy of Holies. This veil was very ornamental, and embroidered with all sorts of flowers which the earth produces; and there were interwoven into it all sorts of variety that might be an ornament, excepting the forms of animals. Another veil there was which covered the five pillars that were at the entrance. It was like the former in its magnitude, and texture, and color; and at the corner of every pillar a ring retained it from the top downwards half the depth of the pillars, the other half affording an entrance for the priests, who crept under it. Over this there was a veil of linen, of the same largeness with the former: it was to be drawn this way or that way by cords, the rings of which, fixed to the texture of the veil, and to the cords also, were subservient to the drawing and undrawing of the veil, and to the fastening it at the corner, that then it might be no hinderance to the view of the sanctuary, especially on solemn days; but that on other days, and especially when the weather was inclined to snow, it might be expanded, and afford a covering to the veil of divers colors. Whence that custom of ours is derived, of having a fine linen veil, after the temple has been built, to be drawn over the entrances. But the ten other curtains were four cubits in breadth, and twenty-eight in length; and had golden clasps, in order to join the one curtain to the other, which was done so exactly that they seemed to be one entire curtain. These were spread over the temple, and covered all the top and parts of the walls, on the sides and behind, so far as within one cubit of the ground. There were other curtains of the same breadth with these, but one more in number, and longer, for they were thirty cubits long; but these were woven of hair, with the like subtilty as those of wool were made, and were extended loosely down to the ground, appearing like a triangular front and elevation at the gates, the eleventh curtain being used for this very purpose. There were also other curtains made of skins above these, which afforded covering and protection to those that were woven both in hot weather and when it rained. And great was the surprise of those who viewed these curtains at a distance, for they seemed not at all to differ from the color of the sky. But those that were made of hair and of skins, reached down in the same manner as did the veil at the gates, and kept off the heat of the sun, and what injury the rains might do. And after this manner was the tabernacle reared.
Book III, 7: 7. "Now here one may wonder at the ill-will which men bear to us, and which they profess to bear on account of our despising that Deity which they pretend to honor; for if any one do but consider the fabric of the tabernacle, and take a view of the garments of the high priest, and of those vessels which we make use of in our sacred ministration, he will find that our legislator was a divine man, and that we are unjustly reproached by others; for if any one do without prejudice, and with judgment, look upon these things, he will find they were every one made in way of imitation and representation of the universe. When Moses distinguished the tabernacle into three parts, and allowed two of them to the priests, as a place accessible and common, he denoted the land and the sea, these being of general access to all; but he set apart the third division for God, because heaven is inaccessible to men. And when he ordered twelve loaves to be set on the table, he denoted the year, as distinguished into so many months. By branching out the candlestick into seventy parts, he secretly intimated the Decani, or seventy divisions of the planets; and as to the seven lamps upon the candlesticks, they referred to the course of the planets, of which that is the number. The veils, too, which were composed of four things, they declared the four elements; for the fine linen was proper to signify the earth, because the flax grows out of the earth; the purple signified the sea, because that color is dyed by the blood of a sea shell-fish; the blue is fit to signify the air; and the scarlet will naturally be an indication of fire. Now the vestment of the high priest being made of linen, signified the earth; the blue denoted the sky, being like lightning in its pomegranates, and in the noise of the bells resembling thunder. And for the ephod, it showed that God had made the universe of four elements; and as for the gold interwoven, I suppose it related to the splendor by which all things are enlightened. He also appointed the breastplate to be placed in the middle of the ephod, to resemble the earth, for that has the very middle place of the world. And the girdle which encompassed the high priest round, signified the ocean, for that goes round about and includes the universe. Each of the sardonyxes declares to us the sun and the moon; those, I mean, that were in the nature of buttons on the high priest's shoulders. And for the twelve stones, whether we understand by them the months, or whether we understand the like number of the signs of that circle which the Greeks call the Zodiac, we shall not be mistaken in their meaning. And for the mitre, which was of a blue color, it seems to me to mean heaven; for how otherwise could the name of God be inscribed upon it? That it was also illustrated with a crown, and that of gold also, is because of that splendor with which God is pleased. Let this explication suffice at present, since the course of my narration will often, and on many occasions, afford me the opportunity of enlarging upon the virtue of our legislator." (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/josephus/works/files/works.html)
For a related study: Nancy Missler, The Way of Agape, a study of the symbolism of the temple and the nature of man, available from Koinonia House
Does God Need A Temple? by Lambert Dolphin
Web Pages: http://ldolphin.org/
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