Temple

Preaching and Worship Resources about Temple

God's ultimate desire — echoed in Scripture from God's leisurely stroll with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to God's pervasive presence in the New Jerusalem — is to dwell among his people. The temple is the primary symbol of that abiding presence. "I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. . . . I will dwell among the Israelites, and I will be their God" (Ex. 29:44 - 45). The temple, therefore, is not merely a place for worship; it symbolizes the very goal of creation and redemption and serves as one of the primary themes that gives the biblical story its amazing coherence.

In Scripture

"And have them make me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them. In accordance with all that I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle and of all its furniture, so you shall make it" (Ex. 25:8 - 10).

"Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle" (Ex. 40:34).

"I have not lived 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 and a tabernacle" (2 Sam. 7:6).

"Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion" (1 Kings 8:1).

"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. When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the Lord on the temple, they bowed down on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord" (2 Chronicles 7:1, 3).

"But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house, I will bow down toward your holy temple in awe of you" (Ps. 5:7).

"Happy are those whom you choose and bring near to live in your courts. We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, your holy temple" (Ps. 65:4).

"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple" (Isa. 6:1).

"Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: "This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord" (Jer. 7:3 - 4).

"Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and the water was coming out on the south side" (Ezek. 47:1 - 2).

"Thus says the Lord of hosts: Here is a man whose name is Branch: for he shall branch out in his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord. [13 ]It is he that shall build the temple of the Lord; he shall bear royal honor, and shall sit upon his throne and rule. There shall be a priest by his throne, with peaceful understanding between the two of them" (Zech. 6:12 - 13).

"See, I am sending 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 — indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts" (Mal. 3:1).

"I tell you, something greater than the temple is here" (Matt. 12:6).

"Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, `It is written, "My house shall be called a house of prayer"; but you are making it a den of robbers'" (Matt. 21:12 - 13).

"As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, `Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!' Then Jesus asked him, `Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down'" (Mark 13:1 - 2).

"The Jews then said to him, `What sign can you show us for doing this?' Jesus answered them, `Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' The Jews then said, `This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?'[ ]But he was speaking of the temple of his body" (John 2:18 - 21).

"At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom" (Matt. 27:51).

"Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts" (Acts 2:46).

"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?" (1 Cor. 6:19).

"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, `See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them'" (Rev. 21:3).

"I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb" (Rev. 21:22).

Points to Ponder

The best way to grasp the full meaning of the temple is to see how the term develops through the biblical story. The following points will trace that illuminating trajectory.

Temple and Creation In recent decades biblical scholars have increasingly recognized how the story of creation in Genesis 1 - 3 can best be understood through other ancient Near East (ANE) writings. This has led scholars like G. K. Beale (The Temple and the Church's Mission) and John Walton (The Lost World of Scripture) to recognize the creation story as the building of a temple for God to dwell with God's creation. In this light, an especially striking feature is that in all temples there is an image or icon of the god who dwells there. In Genesis 1 the temple image of God is human beings, who are made in God's image and likeness. This emphasizes that humans represent God as vice-regents in God's creation and have God-like powers and responsibilities. This becomes especially important in looking forward to Christ, the new and perfect human perfectly united with God. In Christ, God takes his rightful place in the temple of creation, and becomes that temple.

Christ the Temple of God The fundamental issue surrounding the temple in Scripture is God's stared desire to dwell with his people. The problem, of course, is that God is holy and his people are marred with sin. How can holiness dwell in the midst of unholiness? The temple, all aspects of its architecture, and worship are God's answer to that divide. The tabernacle's (or temple's) placement in the center of the Israelite encampment at Sinai, the design of its architectural movement from the camp to the Holy of Holies, and sacrificial worship displays how God can and will live among unholy people. In this way, we see how the temple points directly to Christ, the temple of God.

True Purpose of the Temple One of the dangers the temple poses for Israel is that it can become a symbol of national pride by which God's people assume God is with them. That is the point of the temple sermon in Jeremiah 7, in which Jeremiah castigates Israel for saying with pride of ownership, "This is the temple the Lord" while they practice injustice and sin. Ezekiel has a grand vision of the magnificent temple in the midst of Jerusalem, with four rivers flowing from the altar alongside which plants and trees grow in abundance (Ezek. 43 - 47). This vision wonderfully anticipates the New Jerusalem in Revelation, where God finally and fully dwells with God's people and from which the "river of the water of life" flows: "On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations" (Rev. 22:2).

Jesus, the divine and human true image of God, spends a great deal of his time in and around the temple in Jerusalem. Already as a boy he calls it "my Father's house" (Luke 2:49). He is deeply disturbed by the atmosphere of business there and drives out the money changers: "`My house shall be called a house of prayer'; but you are making it a den of robbers" (Matt. 21:13). Jesus even prophesies that he will be destroyed and rebuilt in three days (John 2:18 - 21), referring both to its destruction in 70 a.d. and to his own death and resurrection. Jesus will become the new temple, and by his perfect sacrifice he will make sinful people holy so they may dwell with God.

At the moment of Jesus's death, the curtain of the temple rips apart from top to bottom, exposing the Holy of Holies to view (Matt. 27:51). In this epochal moment the fulfillment of the temple's purpose is also exposed. In Jesus's sacrificial death for sin, all humanity can now be made holy through the forgiveness of sins. Now the holy God and sinful humanity can dwell together in peace through the blood of the cross.

Not only is Christ the new temple by which we can dwell with God, but those who are in Christ by faith are temples of the Holy Spirit, with God dwelling in them (1 Cor. 6:19 - 20). Christ's sacrifice makes us holy; now we are called to live as holy temples of God. The church is also a holy temple in which we are like living stones: "Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 2:5).

The Bible closes with the picture of God having accomplished his purpose: "`See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away'" (Rev. 21:3 - 4). And there is no need of a temple there, "for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb" Rev. 21:22 - 23)


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.