This is the 4th blog in this series exploring the complex and changing ideas which the Temple represents in our Scriptures. The previous blog is The Temple and a New Vision and the first blog in the series is Envisioning the Temple (I).
The idea of the Temple as we have seen originated with God Himself who revealed the archetypal heavenly Temple which Moses and David were told to copy. God provided them the plan/ design/ blueprint (Greek: paradigm) for the Temple. The Temple itself was something of God. The copy of that Temple which the Israelites were to build and maintain so that God could have a place to be with His people also required that the people themselves be holy so God could dwell in their midst. Place or space is not something God needs to exist, but something we humans need to exist. We need space or a place to be with God. Whatever the Temple is mystically or spiritually, it also by necessity occupies space dimensionally in order to serve human need.
But whatever that Temple was to be – a sign of God’s presence – it could not protect either the people or the building from the events which overtook the Jews. The Temple was an idea conceived and planned by the eternal and omnipresent Creator of heaven and earth. As such it always meant something more than a building occupying a particular piece of real estate. It mystically represented God and was never meant to be like all other temples built on the planet. It could represent God by being the Place and symbol of His presence but it could never contain God as the Jews recognized from the time it was built as Solomon proclaimed (1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chronicles 6:18).
In the New Testament we see Christ speaking of the temple of His body replacing the temple made of stone in Jerusalem (John 2:19-22). The Cross became the throne for Christ, the place where he rested his feet. The New Testament authors saw a new Temple emerging, and expressed this vision in several ways.
“Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and he who believes in him will not be put to shame.’” (1 Peter 2:4-6)
“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 2:19-22)
Christ is portrayed as the cornerstone of the new Temple which God is building for Himself. Perhaps the Temple He always intended. The notion that Jesus is the cornerstone rejected by the builders is one of the most quoted ideas from the Old Testament found in the New. St. Paul interprets the Temple imagery to apply to each Christian and to the all of us together collectively as the Church.
“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 body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19)
“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 6:16-18)
The Temple of God is not a building limited by being permanently fixed to a particular location but perhaps better represented by the Tent of the Meeting for the Temple of God moves wherever God’s people are. (And like the Rock which followed the Israelites – 1 Corinthians 10:4)
“We ARE THE TEMPLE OF THE LIVING GOD” (St. Paul, 2 Corinthians 6:16)
In Paul’s own letters…the implication is clearly that the Temple no longer functioned for him as the focus of God’s presence and as providing the means whereby a positive relation with him can be maintained. Thus he transposes the category of the Temple from a geographical place to persons and their immediate relationship with God through the Spirit; ‘Do you not know that you are God’s temple…?’ ‘Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?’; ‘We are the temple of the living God…’ (1 Cor. 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16) …. More striking still is the way in which the focus of divine presence (in ‘structural terms’) was located for Paul not so much in the Temple as a sacred building, but in the body of Christ. … To the bulk of his first readers the significance of this body imagery would be clear… In fact, we need look no further than the quite common comparison in Greek thought between the polis (city) and the human body… The point, then, which Paul’s first readers would readily have appreciated, is that the Christian communities of the diaspora could be said to have a corporate identity, as that of any city or corporation. … This means that Paul saw the small group of Christians meeting in a member’s home as the body of Christ come together as church (1 Cor. 11:18). To be noted, then, is the fact that it was this coming and worshipping together, rather than the place where they met, which made them Christ’s body.” (James D. G. Dunn, The Partings of the Ways)
Next: The Temple Realized