This is the 5th blog in the series. The previous blog is The Temple Envisioned Anew and the 1st blog in the series Is Envisioning the Temple (I).
“The temples of the New Testament are places where Christians are initiated into the grace of the Holy Spirit through Baptism, Chrismation and Holy Communion. They build up the Christian people who form Christ’s holy and mystical Body in which they work out their common salvation. At the same time, the Holy Spirit makes every Christian a temple of God not made by hands.” (Archimandrite Zacharias, REMEMBER THY FIRST LOVE, p 213)
The notion of the Temple as we have seen in the past blogs is complex for it is both a divine and human reality. The Temple is the place where God dwells with His people and yet it does not contain Him. The Temple is a reality of place and yet from its earliest conception in the Tent of the Meeting, it exists wherever God is with His people, wherever His people may move. By the time of Christ these complex ideas of the Temple were incarnate in unexpected ways in Christ Himself. Christ was seen as making the Temple fulfill all of its intended purposes, as revealing the nature of the true Temple, and as even superseding the Temple. St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107AD) writes:
“As stones of the Father’s temple you have been prepared to be God the Father’s building, lifted up to the heights through the crane of Jesus Christ, which is the cross, as you use the Holy Spirit for a rope. Your faith is your guide; love is the way that carries you up to God. You are all fellow travelers, God-bearers, temple-bearers, Christ-bearers, bearers of holiness, ordered well in every way in the commands of Jesus Christ.” (Ignatius Of Antioch & Polycarp Of Smyrna: A New Translation and Theological Commentary, Kenneth J. Howell, Kindle Loc. 1452-55)
The New Testament, as we have seen in the previous blogs, conceives of Christ as Temple, the Church (the people of God) as Temple as well as each person being a Temple of the Holy Spirit. The “Temple” thus continues to be a rich theological concept in the New Testament: reality and symbol, sign of God and transforming people individually and collectively. The author of Hebrews draws together those texts of the Old Testament related to the Temple with Christ who enters not the earthly copy of the Temple, but enters the true archetypal Temple (emphases in the text is mine and not in the original):
“Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent which is set up not by man but by the Lord. . . . They offer worship in a sanctuary that is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly one; for Moses, when he was about to erect the tent, was warned, ‘See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.’ But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises. . . . 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 8:1-2,5-6 and 9:23-24)
Hebrews tells us the Jerusalem Temple is not the real Temple but merely a copy of the real thing. The Temple in Jerusalem is a Temple made by human hands, like any idol. It is a sign and symbol of the reality and thus participates in the reality, yet it is not the full reality of the true Temple made by God and not by human hands. It is Christ through His death, resurrection and ascension who enters THE Temple of God and unites earth to earth to heaven, humanity to divinity. When Christ entered the true Temple of God He also revealed the Jerusalem Temple to be a mere copy of the original, a shadow and type of the real thing. When we have access to the real Temple, we no longer need the model of it. This same thinking is how the Patristic Writers often thought of the scriptures: the scriptures as prototypes of the reality are no longer needed once we have the type, the reality. The scriptures point to Christ, and so are essential to us, but once we have Christ, we are no longer need the sketches and models which helped us to recognize Christ. But once we have the reality, the sketches and plans which were drawn up are no longer as valuable to us.
St. John of Kronstadt (d. 1908AD) writes about the temple in Christian thinking:
“Lord! Grant that Thy temple may communicate to all who enter into it with faith, piety and fear of God, the enlightenment of their souls, the cleansing from their sins, sanctification, peace health, tranquility of soul – that it may strengthen their faith, hope and love; that it may further the amendment of their lives, success in all their good beginnings and works, mutual love, pure Christian life, the softening of their hearts, and the cessation of self-love, hard-heartedness, covetousness, greediness, envy, malice, gluttony, drunkenness, dissoluteness – of these vices, which are so prejudicial to social life, sapping its very foundation. Grant this, grant it, Lord, to all those who love to frequent Thy Temple, and incline those also who do not love it, to love it, and to amend their lives and works: for the time is near and the judgment is at the door for all, of every calling and position, of either sex and every age, and a work of infinite importance stands before all – to give an answer at the terrible Judgment of Christ.” (MY LIFE IN CHRIST V 2, pp 161-162)
Because the Body of Christ is identified with the Temple, the Temple in all its new manifestations becomes identified with both the Incarnation of God and the deification of humanity. St. Maximos the Confessor (d. 662AD) expresses the thought in his own mystical language:
“The way of truth is love. The Logos of God called Himself the way (cf. John 14:6, 1 John 4:8); and those who travel on this way He presents, purified from every stain, to God the Father. This is the door through which a man enters into the Holy of Holies and is brought to the vision of the unapproachable beauty of the Holy and Royal Trinity.” (The Philokalia, Kindle Loc. 16076-80)
Christ is the door to the true Temple, the way into the Holy of Holies. This is yet another of the many images and metaphors of the Temple. And as we already saw in Revelation God the Father and the Lamb of God are the Temple of the New Jerusalem.
“And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:22)
The Temple whose plan was revealed to Moses and David turns out to be God Himself. The relationship between God, Temple, humanity and creation is indeed a mystical unity: an image of the incarnation of the Word. The Temple was to make God present on earth in a most unexpected way which is fulfilled in Christ. The Temple on earth was to be an image of God Himself to help us recognize the Christ who in turn is the Temple. And then there is the miracle that the Temple is Christ’s Body which we turn out to be. The Temple turns out to be the place where God and humanity are united. Salvation as theosis is Temple theology.
Next: Christ, the Theotokos and the Temple