Today there is no Jewish temple in Jerusalem – a striking anomaly in the modern state of Israel after almost 70 years of independence. The buildings that presently occupy the temple mount and dominate the skyline of the Old City are all Islamic. Although little remains of the magnificent structure that once stood there, Jews still describe their history in terms of the temple: they speak of the first temple period under Solomon (960-586 BC); and the second temple period under Zerubbabel (516 BC - AD 70). In the time of the Lord Jesus, the second temple had been renovated and extended by Herod the Great. However, within a relatively short period of time it was no more, after being burned and reduced to rubble. The history of the Jews has often been troubled and turbulent, with the fortunes of the temple reflecting this. Today, we as Christians are meant to take heed and learn lessons from the past (Rom 15.4; 1 Cor 10.11).
God’s Temple Today
God has always delighted to dwell in the midst of His people. However, His dwelling place today is not a physical entity, but a spiritual reality known as ‘the Church’. The Church began on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), and will be completed at the Rapture, when Christ returns to the air and calls His waiting people Home (1 Thess 4). The Church in this age of grace is described as being “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph 2.20-22). We note the involvement of all three persons of the Godhead, and the emphasis on unity and holiness. Every Christian is part of this spiritual temple. Despite our view of a fractured and divided Church today, God sees His Church as one.
Each local assembly of Christians is to manifest a “house of God” character as part of the greater whole (1 Tim 3.15). We rightly claim the promise of the Saviour: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18.20). His presence means that we should avoid becoming careless and casual, but should instead draw near with reverence and godly fear: “Thy testimonies are very sure: holiness becometh thine house, O Lord, for ever” (Ps 93.5). In addition, the calls in the New Testament for us to love one another are too frequent for us to overlook. Pride and pettiness can so easily destroy the unity of saints and that is why Paul wrote as he did: “That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another” (1 Cor 12.25).
The believer’s body is also described as being the temple of God in which the Spirit of God resides. It is not to be defiled by sin, but preserved in holiness (1 Cor 3.16-17). We are to glorify God in our bodies because a great price was paid to redeem us, and we should always remember that we are not our own (6.19-20).
The challenge comes to us all to faithfully reverence God’s presence, and to follow after holiness, love and unity. Our many blessings in Christ, whether personal or corporate, are spiritual riches that should not only be enjoyed, but also valued and protected. Future articles will show us how easy it is to squander or forfeit the treasures of “the house of God”. So, may we never disregard the truth that God dwells in us and among us – we are His temple today – and may it also be true of us as it was of our Lord: “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up” (Jn 2.17).
The first reference in our Bibles to “the house of God” is in Genesis 28, and its inherent spiritual character is shown. Jacob, having woken from his wonderful dream, was lost in awe, and declared that the place where he stood was “none other but the house of God” (Gen 28.17). There was no physical structure, no priesthood, no liturgy: nothing except a few scattered stones. What constituted Bethel as the house of God was the presence of God: “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not” (v 16). That is the abiding principle of God’s house throughout the ages, no matter what form the house might take: God is there! The first physical representation of God’s house was the tabernacle which, later, was replaced by Solomon’s temple. In our studies on the temple, we shall look at its construction, its destruction, and its reconstruction.
The Construction of the Temple
Following the nation of Israel’s redemption and exodus from the bondage of Egypt, God gave instructions to Moses for the construction of the tabernacle. This was a portable tented structure appropriate for journeying through the wilderness on the way to Canaan. God’s express desire was that He might dwell in the midst of His people (Ex 25.8). The innermost compartment of the sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, was where God’s presence was known. He was said to dwell above the mercy seat and between the golden cherubims (Ex 25.22; 1 Sam 4.4). Access was granted only to the high priest on one day of the year; the Day of Atonement.
It was the wish of David, Israel’s second king, to build a more permanent dwelling place for God, given the nation’s settled occupation in the land of Canaan (2 Sam 7.2). However, David himself was not granted permission to carry this out because he had been a man of war who had shed blood (1 Chr 28.3). Was God teaching that men accustomed to strife are not suited to building for His glory? Nevertheless, the spoils won in battle were dedicated to maintain the house of the Lord (26.27). David humbly bowed to the will of God, and gave his son, Solomon, every help and encouragement in the project of constructing the temple (22.1-19; 28.9-21).
This first magnificent temple was attributed to Solomon. The designated site was the threshing floor of Ornan (also known as Araunah), where David had been instructed earlier to raise up an altar of burnt offering (1 Chr 21.18). It was also connected with Mount Moriah, where Abraham was commanded to offer up his son, Isaac (2 Chr 3.1). The general configuration of the temple was patterned on the tabernacle, but with additional features such as two large ornate pillars and ten additional lavers. David gave Solomon all these necessary details. In addition, the people gave generously to fund the construction, and the whole building was completed in just over seven years (1 Kgs 6.38). The original ark of the covenant and the other holy vessels had been preserved with one exception: the chronicler noted that there was nothing in the ark except the two tables of the law of Moses (2 Chr 5.10). Where were Aaron’s rod and the golden pot of manna? Sadly, it must be concluded that along the way these had been removed from the sacred ark of the covenant, either through deliberate theft or careless disregard for holy things.
On the positive side, the generosity involved in providing for the house of God stands as an example to us all. The weight of the brass used in construction “could not be found out” (2 Chr 4.18), and the number of sacrificial animals offered “could not be told” (5.6). When David challenged the people “Who then is willing to consecrate his service this day unto the Lord?”, all the people rejoiced, and offered willingly with perfect hearts (1 Chr 29.5-9). Kindness and generosity have always been distinctive features of God’s children. Coming to New Testament times, we read of the Macedonian believers who, out of their affliction and poverty, gave so joyfully and liberally to help others. The secret was that they had first given themselves to the Lord (2 Cor 8.5).
When the completed temple was dedicated to God, a cloud filled the house. The priests could not stand in the sanctuary because of this resplendent divine glory. When Solomon went to present the many offerings, it was found that the altar of burnt offering was too small to receive them all (1 Kgs 8.64; 2 Chr 7.7). Furthermore, in his prayer of dedication, he acknowledged that the temple itself was too small to house such a great God: “Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built!” (2 Chr 6.18).
(To be continued …)