Envisioning the Temple

“For great is the distance and many are the levels of knowledge through which the soul must pass before it reaches ‘the place of the miraculous tabernacle, the house of God itself, with the voice of exultation and thanksgiving, and the sound of feasting’ (Ps. 42:4. LXX). It advances continually from one hymn of praise to another, from one level of divine contemplation to another, full of joy and thankfulness for what it has already seen. For all those who have received the Spirit of grace into their hearts celebrate in this festive manner, crying ‘Abba, Father’ (Gal. 4:6).”   (St. Maximos the Confessor, The Philokalia, Kindle Loc. 15491-98)

The words above from St. Maximos (d. 662AD) offer a vision of moving toward and into the heavenly and mystical Temple of God.  This “miraculous tabernacle” is the goal of the soul moving through the heavens towards God.  And as creature we encounter God in a Place, heaven, the house of God, the Temple which God had created His world to be.  The original Temple fell with Adam and Eve when they were expelled from Paradise and they lost that Place where God dwelt with His human creatures.   In time, the Israelites would be given a glimpse of that Temple, that Holy Place.  In Exodus 24 we read (emphases is mine and not in the original text):

“After this, Moses went up, along with Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and the seventy of the elders of Israel; and they saw the place where the God of Israel stood. Under His feet was, as it were, a paved work of sapphire stone and the appearance of heaven’s firmament in its purity.  And of Israel’s chosen men not one was missing. So they saw the place of God, and ate and drank.”  (Exodus 24:9-11, OSB)

And what they glimpsed, God commanded Moses to remember and to build:

“And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.  According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern (Greek: paradigm) of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it.”  (Exodus 25:8-9)

Moses is given the pattern, paradigm or blueprint for building the exact temple which God desires.  So it is easy for us to understand what the Temple meant for the Israelites.  It was the Place that God commanded them to build so that He could have a space to be with His people.  “God does not need space in order to exist…  Human beings, however, need physical space to move around in, to live in.”  (Adolfo Roitman, ENVISIONING THE TEMPLE: SCROLLS, STONES, AND SYMBOLS, p 11).  God does not need space to exist, but if He is going to dwell with His people, He must enter into space and have that Place where He can be with them.  Humans need space to exist and place so they can be with God.


David, King and Prophet, gave his son Solomon the plan (design,pattern) to build the place for God as recorded in 1 Chronicles 28:19:

“All this he made clear by the writing from the hand of the LORD concerning it, all the work to be done according to the plan (Greek: paradigm).”

The Temple built on earth was thus a copy of the true prototype which exists in God’s heaven.

“…it was in the Tabernacle – the ‘Tent of Meeting’ – that the Divine Presence revealed itself to Moses (Exod 25:22; 30:6).   . . . Significantly, David like Moses at Sinai (cf. Exod 25:9), was said to have received a ‘blueprint’ in God’s own hand (1 Chron 28:19).”  (Roitman, ENVISIONING THE TEMPLE, p 50) [For further reflection on the above points see my blog Dead Sea Scrolls: Alive to Us  In which Bishop Alexander comments on the significance of the temple in spirituality.]

And yet as David knew, God does not live in houses built by men.  There would exist in Judaism a tension regarding exactly what the Temple represented and how exactly it connected the chosen people with the God who chose them.  This tension becomes more pronounced in Jewish history at the time of the Qumran community and with the rise of Christianity.

“‘The tent of witness in the wilderness’, made by Moses in accordance to God’s direction, ‘according to the pattern that he had seen’ (Ex 25:9, 40), had been brought in to the promised land, and remained the focus and medium of Israel’s worship right up to and throughout the reign of David, ‘who found favour in the sight of God’, Israel’s golden age (Acts 7:44-46).  But David had not been permitted to build a temple; it was Solomon who did so (Acts 7:46-47).

‘Yet the Most High’ does not dwell in houses made with hands (Acts 7:48).  That was the word used by Hellenistic Jews to condemn idolatry; Gentile gods were human artifacts, ‘made by hands’.  The idol was by definition to cheiropoiēton, ‘the thing made by human hands’; an implication which any Greek speaking Jew, and Luke too, could not mistake, since the word had already been used with this disparaging overtone in 7:41.  For just that word to be used of the Temple would certainly have sent shock waves through any Jewish audience or readership—the Temple itself a breach of that most fundamental axiom of Israelite/Jewish religion, that God’s presence cannot be encapsulated or represented by any physical or man-made entity!—the Temple itself an idol!”  (Dunn, James D G, The Partings of the Ways, 89)

“Thus it was necessary for the sketches of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves need better sacrifices than these.  For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.”   (Hebrews 9:23-24)

Next: Envisioning the Temple (II)

8 thoughts on “Envisioning the Temple

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