The Temple of God

temple

“Mishkan5 big” by Daniel Ventura – [1]. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Last night, I read two little verses that set me pondering for over an hour afterward:

Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are (1 Cor. 3:16-17, New King James Version).

I mean, just think about that for a minute. You are the temple of God. You.

Think about the Old Testament temple: its magnificence, its holiness. It had perfect dimensions. It had three separate rooms of increasing holiness, with the Most Holy Place being the dwelling place of God’s Presence Himself. That room was so holy, it was only entered once a year. The only person who could enter was the High Priest. And he could only enter after following specific purification rituals. To defile God’s temple was like the worst of sins.

Fast forward to the present day. There is no temple in Jerusalem any longer. Instead, God’s temple is found in us – the Church.

So what does that mean for us? What does it mean for us to be His holy temple? To have His pure, awesome, holy presence dwelling within us?

Does it mean that every time we sin, it’s as though we defile His temple? Does it mean that every time we put something else before God, it’s as though we were setting up an idol in the Most Holy Place? Does it mean that every time we act with the wrong motives, it’s as though we are offering an abominable sacrifice on His altar?

It can be a sobering thought to consider. Yet we can find comfort in the thought that our God is approachable. We know that He offers cleansing and forgiveness – not through ritual baths and animal sacrifice, but through the gift of His Son. And we also realize that our temple is a work in progress.

As Ephesians 2:20b-22 say, Jesus is the chief cornerstone, “in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”

This thought then sent me on a slightly different train of thought, focusing instead on God’s temple throughout history. It was amazing to me to see the progression.

In the very beginning of time, there was no temple. Instead, God literally walked with man in the Garden of Eden. He was with us. There was nothing to separate us from Him; all was perfect.

But when sin entered the world, it created a separation between God and mankind: a wall that we could never break down on our own.

Eventually, God’s temple was built – a sort of intermediary between God and mankind. But there was still a wall. The Most Holy Place was still blocked off from most of us, physically separated from the rest of the building with a veil. God’s Presence dwelt on earth, but in a place where we could not reach Him.

And then Jesus came. Emmanuel. God with us. God the Son walked with us, talked with us, ate with us, lived with us. And while the physical temple was still here, Jesus referred to Himself as a temple, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” John explains, “He was speaking of the temple of His body” (John 2:21).

And when He died, when His temple was destroyed – the veil in the physical temple was torn in two. The separation between us and the Most Holy Place was torn down. That physical temple was no longer needed. And the temple of Jesus’ body was raised up again on the third day. The Jerusalem temple was no longer needed as an intermediary; instead, Christ is our Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5).

But when Jesus returned to Heaven, and was no longer with us, He sent God the Spirit down to be with us instead. And the Church, as Jesus’ figurative body, became the temple. We became “the dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (1 Cor. 3:17).

Fast forward to the future, after Jesus returns and sets up His new kingdom on the New Earth. Where is the temple there? John says of New Jerusalem, “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev. 21:22). At the beginning of the chapter he tells us, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God” (Rev. 21:3).

It will be like a return to the garden of Eden. No temple. No veil. No wall. No barriers. God is with us once again, in the way that He was meant to be from the beginning. Not just dwelling here spiritually, but also physically.

John also tells us of the city, “Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” (Rev. 21:25-27).

We are in that Book of Life. We are the undefiled who will walk the streets of the New Jerusalem. So let us strive, even now, to walk worthy of the Lamb. Let us allow the Lord to continue His work in our lives, building us “together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”