The Temple in Heaven
The tabernacle or temple of God is the place where God dwells. John saw this temple in heaven.
Reve 11:19 (NKJV) Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple. And there were lightnings, noises, thunderings, an earthquake, and great hail.
God’s primary dwelling place is in heaven. This is described as his temple.
After the Exodus, God gave his people instructions to build a tabernacle. The tabernacle was where God dwelled among his people.
Exod 40:34 (NKJV) Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of Yahweh filled the tabernacle.
35 And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of Yahweh filled the tabernacle.
The tabernacle was also the place of atonement. If God, the holy God, were to dwell in the midst of Israel, an unclean, unholy, and sinful people, atonement had to be made by sacrifice. God’s presence required cleansing from sin. Thus, the tabernacle was where God dwelled and where sacrifices were made.
A House for Whom?
David wanted to build a permanent residence, or a house, for God.
2Sam 7:1 (NKJV) Now it came to pass when the king was dwelling in his house, and Yahweh had given him rest from all his enemies all around,
2 that the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells inside tent curtains.”
However, God did not give David permission to build a “house” for God.
2Sam 7:5 (NKJV) “Go and tell My servant David, ‘Thus says Yahweh: “Would you build a house for Me to dwell in?
6 “For I have not dwelt in a house since the time that I brought the children of Israel up from Egypt, even to this day, but have moved about in a tent and in a tabernacle.
7 “Wherever I have moved about with all the children of Israel, have I ever spoken a word to anyone from the tribes of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd My people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built Me a house of cedar?’ “ ‘
God has never asked to dwell in a house. Instead, God is going to build a house for David.
11 “since the time that I commanded judges to be over My people Israel, and have caused you to rest from all your enemies. Also Yahweh tells you that He will make you a house.
12 “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.
13 “He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
God promised to build a house for David, and that one of David’s descendents would built a house for God’s name. Obviously, this is a long-term prophesy about Jesus.
The First Temple
In the meantime, David’s son, Solomon, builds a permanent house for God, the temple. The temple is patterned after the tabernacle and takes over its functions.
1Kin 8:10 (NKJV) And it came to pass, when the priests came out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of Yahweh,
11 so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of Yahweh filled the house of Yahweh.
Like the tabernacle, the temple was the place of God’s presence and also the place of atonement.
However, God warned that he would withdraw from the temple if Israel was unfaithful.
1Kin 9:6 (NKJV) “But if you or your sons at all turn from following Me, and do not keep My commandments and My statutes which I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them,
7 “then I will cut off Israel from the land which I have given them; and this house which I have consecrated for My name I will cast out of My sight. Israel will be a proverb and a byword among all peoples.
8 “And as for this house, which is exalted, everyone who passes by it will be astonished and will hiss, and say, ‘Why has Yahweh done thus to this land and to this house?’
This is precisely what happened. Israel misunderstood the temple. The people thought that God’s presence was automatically guaranteed by the temple in Jerusalem. They thought that the city and temple could never be destroyed. The temple had become a guarantee of safety, an idol.
Jeremiah warned against such an attitude.
Jere 7:4 (NKJV) “Do not trust in these lying words, saying, ‘The temple of Yahweh, the temple of Yahweh, the temple of Yahweh are these.’
Israel did not heed Jeremiah’s warnings. Ezekiel records what happened.
Ezek 10:18 (NKJV) Then the glory of Yahweh departed from the threshold of the temple and stood over the cherubim.
Ezek 11:22 (NKJV) So the cherubim lifted up their wings, with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel was high above them.
23 And the glory of Yahweh went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain, which is on the east side of the city.
Ichabod! The spirit of Yahweh departed, and then the Babylonians destroyed the temple and the city of Jerusalem.
The Second Temple
Ezra led the rebuilding of the temple. However, this paled in comparison to Solomon’s temple.
Ezra 3:12 (NKJV) But many of the priests and Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes. Yet many shouted aloud for joy,
In the NT era, Herod remodeled and greatly expanded the second temple. This was a beautiful and magnificent structure.
Jesus and the Temple
Jesus indicated that, in his day, the temple still retained significance as the place of the presence of God.
Luke 2:49 (NASB) And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?”
Matt 23:21 (NKJV) “He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it.
Jesus Cleanses the Temple
Nevertheless, Jesus indicates that the temple was not what it should be.
Mark 11:15 (NKJV) So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.
16 And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple.
17 Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ “
This passage is referred to as Jesus “cleansing” the temple. Usually, this is interpreted as Jesus protesting against the moneychangers who were ripping the people off. Actually, there was nothing wrong with having money changing and the selling of animals near the temple.
The sacrifices required animals that were pure. Most likely, those traveling to Jerusalem to make a sacrifice did not bring animals from their home. Instead, the travelers purchased such animals near the temple grounds. There’s nothing inherently wrong with such practices.
Now, there is something wrong with exploiting such situations, and perhaps some of Jesus’ actions were to correct this, but this was not his major intention.
Den of Thieves
Jesus says that the temple has been made into a “den of thieves.” “Den of thieves” is not necessarily a condemnation of the swindling of the moneychangers. The word for “thieves” is not the word for a swindler or an embezzler. The word is much more rogue. The word for “thieves” is a robber or a bandit.
Jesus is specifically referring to the leaders of the temple. They are thieves, robbers, and bandits. Remember, it will be the high priest that supported the release of Barabbas, the true criminal. Jesus was soon to be crucified between to robbers.
Certainly, Jesus is implicating the corrupt moneychangers, but the true guilt falls upon the leaders of Israel. They have turned the temple into a den of thieves.
House of Prayer for All Nations
Jesus says that the real purpose of the temple is that it would be a house of prayer for all nations. Jesus is quoting from Isaiah 56.
Isai 56:7 (NKJV) Even them I will bring to My holy mountain,
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
Will be accepted on My altar;
For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.”
Isaiah is prophesying what Israel will be like after the exile. Israel was supposed to fulfill this. Yet, here we find Jesus judging Jerusalem for falling from this standard. Jesus’ perspective seems to be that the foreigners were supposed to already be worshipping God on his holy mountain.
The Jewish leaders had restricted foreigners to the court of the Gentiles. Yet, believing foreigners were supposed to have the same access to the temple that Jews had. Leviticus 22 describes such a procedure.
However, at the time of Jesus, the Temple had a barrier that kept out the Gentile God-fearers. This barrier was an offense against God. Jesus is clear that the Temple was for all nations.
As Jesus explains the woman at the well, worship is no longer going to be local, in the city of Jerusalem, and at the temple.
John 4:19 (NKJV) The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.
20 “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”
21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.
22 “You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.
23 “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.
24 “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
After Jesus’ resurrection, true worship is not localized at the temple in Jerusalem. The temple will no longer be the dwelling place of God. Jesus is the new temple of God.
Jesus is the Temple
Jesus claims to be superior to the temple.
Matt 12:6 (NKJV) Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple.
How could Jesus be greater than the temple? Because Jesus is the true temple. He fulfills both functions of the temple:
1) God Dwells in Jesus
John 2:18 (NKJV) So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?”
19 Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
20 Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?”
21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body.
22 Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.
Jesus was not just speaking metaphorically. When He refers to his body as the temple, he is saying that God dwells in him. Jesus is challenging the Jews by saying that He is the true temple.
John describes the incarnation as God dwelling among us.
John 1:14 (NKJV) And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
When God took on humanity, this was a “tabernacling.” Jesus is the tabernacle and the temple because God dwells in him.
2) Jesus Forgives Sin
Jesus forgives sins directly, apart from temple sacrifice.
Mark 2:5 (NKJV) When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.”
6 And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts,
7 “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Jesus fulfills both functions of the temple. He contains the presence of God, and he forgives sins, through the sacrifice of himself. In Jesus, the temple becomes the sacrifice.
Ichabod – Part 2
At Jesus’ death, the temple ceased to be the dwelling place of God.
Mark 15:38 (NKJV) Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
The veil of the temple meant that God had departed from the temple. Icabod! Although the Jews continued to worship in the temple, God was not there. The temple was now a place of idolatry.
About forty years later, in ad 70, the temple was destroyed once and for all. It has never been rebuilt.
The Church and the Temple
After God left the temple in Jerusalem, God now dwells in his people.
1Cor 3:16 (NKJV) Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
Since God dwells in us, we are the temple of God.
1Cor 6:19 (NKJV) Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?
The church is being built into a living temple.
Ephe 2:19 (NKJV) Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,
20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone,
21 in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord,
22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
This is precisely what Jesus promised:
Matt 16:18 (NKJV) “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
Jesus used “building” imagery to describe the growth of the church. As we grow, we are being “built” into a temple of God.
1Pet 2:4 (NKJV) Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious,
5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
6 Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion
A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.”
7 Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone,”
8 and “A stone of stumbling And a rock of offense.” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.
9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.
Peter uses Israelite language to refer to the church. The church is now the temple of God.
The Church is the Temple of Ezekiel
In between the first and second temple, Ezekiel saw a vision of a new temple, which he recorded in Ezekiel 40-48. We do not have time to address the details of those nine chapters, but we can summarize this by saying that the church is the fulfillment of the temple that Ezekiel saw.
Ezekiel 37 is a glorious description of the rebirth of Israel, the dry bones being brought to life. This is generally interpreted as setting the stage for temple of chapters 40-48. Ezekiel makes this statement near the end of chapter 37:
Ezek 37:27 (NKJV) My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
The apostle Paul quotes this exact verse and applies this to the church.
2Cor 6:16 (NKJV) And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.”
Ezekiel saw a temple of glory in the midst of a new city and prophesied that God would dwell in the midst of his people. Now, in Jesus, God dwells with his people and creates out of the church a people who love one another. At the center of this community the glory of God becomes visible. Ezekiel’s temple is fulfilled in Jesus and his church.