From the Exodus under the leadership of Moses through the earthly ministry of Christ there was first the tabernacle, and then the temple on the earth, uniquely sanctioned by God. The New Testament also affirms the on-going and eternal importance of the temple under the new covenant established by Christ.
The singular temple
of God has existed among the plural temples of the world. Nowadays the Hindus, the Buddhists, the Bahá’í,
the Masons, and many other groups have multiple temple buildings per group. Many ancient societies had temples also, including the
Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, and so forth.
"For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true
one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence." (Heb 9:24)
He "serves in the
sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man." (Heb 8:2)
During most of the Savior's earthly ministry the Jews were still living under the old covenant, and Jesus recognized
the temple as part of that covenant: " My house will be called a house of prayer,
but you are making it a den of robbers." (Matthew 21:13) However, when his ministry
was coming to an end, and the leaders of the Jews had generally rejected him, He began to withdraw his recognition
of the temple: " Look, your house is left to you desolate." (Matthew
23:38) At the moment that Jesus yielded up the ghost, the temple ceased to have purpose, and the old covenant
was fulfilled: " At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to
bottom." (Matthew 27:51) Since the tearing of the curtain that veiled the holy place was not done by
people and since the tearing was from the top to the bottom, this is recognized as
withdrawal of God from his temple.
...God's household, which is the church of
the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
(1 Tim 3:15b)
Note the word you is plural and temple is singular. This verse does not say that "you (individually) are God's temple." Nor does it say that "you (plural) are God's temples (plural)." It states that "you (collectively, meaning the church) are God's temple (singular)."
For we are the temple of the living God. (2 Corinthians 6:16)
For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. (1 Cor 3:9)
On the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people... (2 Thes 1:10)
The temple is the church, which is the body of Christ.
For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. (Eph 5:23) (See also Eph. 4:12, 5:29-30)
Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. (Col 1:24)
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Cor 12:27)
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Rom 12:4-5)
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. (John 2:19-21)
"Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God." (Heb. 10:19-21)
At one unique point in the Bible, the apostle Paul also refers to the body of an individual
Christian as a kind of temple:
Jesus gave another prophecy regarding the temple when talking to a Samaritan woman at Jacob's well. The woman said to Jesus "'Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.' (The woman was comparing the Samaritan temple building there at Mt. Gerizim with the Jewish temple building in Jerusalem.) Jesus declared, 'Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.'" (John 4:20-24) Jesus was explaining that from that time forward, true worship of God would no longer be in physical temple buildings, but in the true form of worship, which is in spirit.
For a short time the members of the early church in Jerusalem met in the courts of Herod's temple. "Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts." (Acts 2:46) However, it is important to realize that the newly baptized Jewish Christians in the early church would not have been authorized to enter the temple building itself to participate in the temple ordinances of the day, which would have been animal sacrifices and burning of incense. The people were meeting together in the outer courts of the temple, which was a popular meeting place for the Jews in Jerusalem. It was an open area of courts that would have been particularly well suited for group meetings.
The old covenant is a temporal earthly covenant; the new covenant is a spiritual heavenly covenant. In the new covenant the earthly temple, made with hands, has been replaced with the church, a spiritual temple, not of this world, made without hands (Heb 9:11). For this reason the eternal kingdom of God in the prophet Daniel's vision is a stone cut "without hands". (Dan. 2:45)
*In order to see why Jesus often taught in ways that only believers would understand, but in which doubters would be confounded, see Interpreting the Bible.
© 2011 William C. Hamer