Like most things in life, to grasp a sense of the whole is to understand the big picture from which everything else make sense. The Bible is no exception to this. That’s why appreciating the Garden of Eden, the first story in Genesis as a metaphor for a temple is important. It’s the place where heaven touches earth – where divinity walks with humanity.
So it should come as no surprise to see many such images through the scriptures. The story of Jacob is such an example. In Genesis 28 we read…
Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it…. When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.’ Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.
Broken down, the word Bethel means, Beth – House; El – God. Put together Bethel is the house of God – the place where humanity and divinity meet. It’s a picture of the temple.
As is the Tabernacle
Of which the writer of Hebrews speaks in this way…
They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.’
And the first Temple
Which was built by King Solomon after his father, David had been disqualified on the grounds of spilling too much blood in battle.
And the second Temple
Otherwise known as Herod’s Temple.
It was built in the years after the Exile from Babylon, starting around 538 BC and Herod began an extensive rebuilding project around 20 BC that lasted about 40 years. It was this temple that existed during the time of Jesus.
As you can see its all about temples because it’s all about heaven coming to earth. And we need temples to act as the conduit of the divine presence.
Creation itself (heaven and earth) is the ultimate temple – and this is what Jesus comes to save, as we are reminded by the words of Christ himself, ‘For God so loved the world (Cosmos) that he gave….’
The Temple – Garden, Tabernacle, Solomon’s, Herod’s are small working models of God’s ultimate intention. It is a microcosmos – a picture of something much, much bigger.
And so, as NT Wright notes, ‘The Israelites become the pilot project - as a sign to show what he will do for the rest of the world.
And then Jesus is born
Jesus is the new temple in person. He doesn’t offer the sacrifice – he is the sacrifice.
Where before heaven and earth is held together by the Torah and the Temple – it is now held together by Jesus and Spirt.
Again, Wright notes, ‘The ascension of Christ and the descending of the Spirit is temple imagery – when he ascends this is heaven and earth uniting – it is the joining of heaven and earth in his body. When the Holy Spirit descends - this is heaven coming down to earth.’
Which is referenced in places like here…
This is what the Lord says:
‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
Where will my resting-place be?
And then Stephen picks up on this in the book of Acts ….
‘Our ancestors had the tabernacle of the covenant law with them in the wilderness. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. After receiving the tabernacle, our ancestors under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David, who enjoyed God’s favour and asked that he might provide a dwelling-place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for him.
‘However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:
‘“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?
says the Lord.
Or where will my resting place be?
Has not my hand made all these things?”
Indeed – what kind of house? What sort of temple is God looking for? So enter the church.
The church is the place where heaven and earth are meant to come together as microcosms of God’s divine intention and from there to colonize the earth.
And from where the reality of Christ’s mission unfolds – like here in Ephesians 1
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
And again here….
1 Corinthians 6
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honour God with your bodies.
And finally, the pinnacle of the divine intention unfolds with these words.
And then back to Ephesians.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Ephesians 2
Until ultimately the story arrives at its final destination.
Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’
He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’
So, there we have it – the trustworthy and true climax of the divine story where heaven and earth become one – just like it was always intended to be.
And that’s what the Bible testifies to.