Saturday, July 30, 2016

THERE WAS NO TEMPLE

(A Continuation from the pervious post - Here Comes the Bride)
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It was then that John noticed something else unusual about the city. This time it was not for what the city had, but for what it did not have. “I saw no temple in it,” John says. The absence of a temple indeed would be unusual for John, since the temple of the New Testament times was almost synonymous with the city of Jerusalem. To travel to Jerusalem was to go to the temple.

However, it was immediately quite clear to John why there was no temple in the New Jerusalem. In the same breath he says, “For the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.”

This is understandable to us in a spiritual sense, since the temple in the Old and the New Testament was a place where Jews would go to worship God. God was unseen to the people, and intangible, except for the times early in their history when he revealed himself as a blazing fire or as a cloud. The Jews had been taught that the temple was the dwelling of God. Even God himself had indicated this. At Solomon’s dedication of the temple that he had made in Jerusalem, the glory of the Lord came and filled the temple to such an extent that even the priests could not enter it (2 Chronicles 7:1-2). 

Two Words

It is significant to know that there are two different Greek words in the New Testament that are both translated simply as temple in the English. The first is the word hieron, which has at its root a word to indicate something that is set apart or sacred, as an actual temple building made of wood and stone would be. It was not a multipurpose building. It was set apart and dedicated to use for worship. The other word is naos (from naiō – to inhabit). This is a word that refers to an inner but unseen spiritual life that is within a person or even an object, such as the life that is within the buildings of the temple.

These two words often seemed to be used interchangeably in the New Testament. It may be much the same as when we use the word church. When we commonly speak of the church, such as, “This morning we are going to church,” we mean it in terms of the church building. However, we also know that any building made of bricks, wood and glass is not the true church, as when the Bible speaks of the church.

The true inner life of the church is the lives of the believers in Jesus. Sometimes people refer to this as the invisible church, since it is the true church which cannot be seen and is in other ways mostly intangible. However, this is the true inner life of the church of Jesus Christ which does not depend upon a building. The actual life of the church resides in the believers, not in the building.
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Speaking again of the word temple as used in the New Testament, when Jesus told the Jews, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” he meant it as referring to his body, which is the inner life of God. He was, in fact, referring to when he would be crucified and his body would be destroyed for three days, before he would rise from the dead.

However, the Jews did not get his meaning. They thought that he was talking about the temple building in which they were standing at that time. The Jews responded to him, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, how can you say that you will raise it up in three days?”

Throughout the book of Revelation, whenever John speaks of a temple, in no case does he use the word hieron, the word that indicates a building or a structure. He always uses the word naos, the word used to indicate the inner life of the church. However, even John seemed to use the word to indicate both, since here in chapter twenty-one he said that he saw no temple (naos) in the city, saying that he saw no structure that would be called that. Then he quickly adds that the inner life of God was still very present in the New Jerusalem, since “the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (naos).

The life of God was present throughout the city. This was the naos of the New Jerusalem.

I would like to take a few moments and consider this phrase of John’s, “The Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple,” and relate it to God’s instructions in constructing the temple in the Old Testament.
 
History of the Temple

The Old Testament temple has an ancient and interesting history. It is a lengthy history and I do not intend to go deeply into it, except to point out one main aspect. That aspect is the precision in the measurements and even the material that the people were to use in constructing it.

The beginnings of the temple were first seen in the tabernacle that God instructed Moses and the people to make while they were in the wilderness for forty years. Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle. “See to it,” God told Moses, “that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain” (Hebrews 8:5b)
 
The Tabernacle in the Wilderness

I have wondered why, in the construction of the tabernacle, God made such a point of insisting that Moses follow, with very meticulous specificity, every one of the very detailed instructions in the design. God did not simply give Moses a general plan of how the tabernacle should be constructed; with a courtyard, Holy Place, and Holy of Holies. The plans given to Moses were very specific.

As one example, two types of curtains were specified to cover the tabernacle, ten of one type and eleven of the other. The ten of the first type of curtains were to be made of “fine, twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet material…with cherubim” embroidered in them. Then the eleven curtains of the second type were made of coarse goat’s hair that were meant to cover the first set of curtains. God directed Moses not only to the exact measurement of each of the curtains, but also as to the exact number of loops and clasps, either of gold or bronze—depending upon their application.

Every detail was ordered, along with every measurement. Would not it have been enough simply to tell Moses the dimensions of the tabernacle and to make curtains to provide adequate covering? God, instead, was very thorough and minutely precise in giving these directions to Moses for making the tabernacle. Certainly some of the reason for the detailed instructions may have been for practical purpose, but that does not answer all the questions about the almost fastidious directives in building.  Why such detail?

Of course, those Bible students fascinated by typology find all kinds of spiritual applications to each of these details, and many of their points may have some validity. However, I believe that most of the teaching still escapes us. Do we really understand why the sockets for the wall boards were to be made of silver and the sockets for the pillars were to be of bronze? Is it really clear to us why the various rings and hooks were to be made of gold, silver or bronze—each for their specific application? Nevertheless, it should be said that even though the exact meaning of all of this escapes us, it was of great importance to God

Ezekiel’s Temple

This was not only true of the tabernacle in the wilderness. In a vision to the prophet Ezekiel, this man was shown another temple that is yet to be constructed—a temple of some future date. Ezekiel may have understood more than we do of the meanings of the specifics that were revealed to him, but much of this whole vision remains a deep mystery for us. We are still today discussing even the question if this was a vision of a literal temple or if it in some way is a representation of something else. Various theologians say that Ezekiel was not describing an actual building of wood and stone, but that it was a description of a place of worship fulfilled in the person of Christ (according to some) or in the church of Christ (according to others).

We shall not enter into that discussion here, but simply make the point that Ezekiel describes this temple as if it were an actual building. In the fortieth chapter of his book, the prophet tells how he was set upon a very high mountain in the land of Israel. On the south side of the mountain was a structure he said was “like a city.” Ezekiel was provided with a guide to the area, “a man whose appearance was like the appearance of bronze.” This man had brought with him a line of flax, and also a measuring rod of about ten and a half feet long (Ezekiel 40:3).

The guide then takes Ezekiel around this structure, which we refer to as “Ezekiel’s temple.” They measure the wall around the temple, the thickness and height of the wall, the porch of the gates, the guardrooms of the gate, and the gate itself. They then proceeded to the outer courtyard, where they measured everything that they could find inside. The two measured how far it was from the outer gates to the gates that led into the inner courtyard, and after sufficiently measuring every aspect of the inner gates and counting how many steps led into each gate, they entered into the inner courtyard itself. There, the man and the prophet continued to measure almost anything that could be measured.

As Ezekiel and his companion enter into the temple itself, beginning with the outer sanctuary or nave, we learn that this part of the building was lined with pillars and measured about seventy feet long and about half that in width. They then measured the inner sanctuary, or Most Holy Place, making many more measurements in that area. Then the two exited that area, going toward the rooms for the priests, measuring everything else as they went along. The whole tour of the temple was one great measuring marathon. Ezekiel must have been taking notes, because there are so many details given that it is astounding to think that he could just remember them.

Here God spoke to Ezekiel. The Lord told him that it was in that temple where his throne would be and that this would be “the place for the soles of His feet” (Ezekiel 43:7), where He would dwell forever. This statement by God is indeed enigmatic, for another prophet, Isaiah, writes: “Thus says the Lord, Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest?” (Isaiah 66:1, NAS).

It is because of statements like this one and other things about the temple that Ezekiel describes that it is difficult for us to understand just where and how it fits into the complete picture of the revelation of God. But God speaks further. He tells Ezekiel that this temple will not be like former ones to which the people brought defilement and which he had consumed with his anger. “Now,” God said, “let them put away their harlotry and the corpses of their kings far from Me; and I will dwell among them forever (Ezekiel 43:9).”

Then, after the exhaustive description of the detailed dimensions of the temple, God tells Ezekiel the purpose for his extended tour of the temple and all of the measurements. It may have less to do with typology than many may think. God tells the prophet that he is to describe the great detail of the temple to the house of Israel so that the people would be ashamed of their own iniquities. “Let them measure the plan,” he says. 

And if they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the design of the house, its structure, its exits, its entrances, all its designs, all its statutes, and all its laws. And write it in their sight, so that they may observe its whole design and all its statutes, and do them (Ezekiel 43:10-11, NAS)

Just as the tabernacle in the wilderness, Ezekiel’s temple was constructed with very particular specifications. The reason for these meticulous details largely escapes us, but it seems to be in some way intimately connected to the fact that these structures were representations of a spiritual reality that we do not yet understand. Going back to the theme of the book of Hebrews, which teaches us that the whole Law and everything connected with worship in the Old Testament “serve as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5a, NAS), Ezekiel’s temple also seems to have a significance beyond what we can now comprehend.

Among the many other things, what is interesting to me is that in both the tabernacle and in this temple, God placed such a high value on the exactness of the construction and that by considering that precision, he said that his people would be admonished to lead a life of righteousness. 

Other Temples of Worship to God

The Bible describes other temples that were built for the worship of God, but it is the tabernacle in the wilderness and Ezekiel’s temple for which we have the most detail written for us. However, that does not mean that the other temples were built in any less of an exacting manner.

The temple that was made during King Solomon’s reign was built according to the instructions left to him by his father King David. David told his son Solomon to “be courageous and act” (1 Chronicles 28:10) in regards to the building of it. David then gave his son the entire plan for the temple, “a plan of all that the Spirit had put in his mind” (vs. 12, NIV).

This was not a building plan that David had developed according to his own sense of design for, he said, “All this the Lord made me understand in writing by His hand upon me, all the details of this pattern” (1 Chronicles 28:19, NAS). Whatever else David may have meant by saying God gave him understanding in writing by placing His hand upon him, it is clear that the design and pattern for the temple came not from David himself, but from the Lord.

Of Zerubbabel’s temple, built at the time of the restoration and repatriation of the Israelites from Babylon, we have even less information. However, according to Haggai, who spoke as a prophet of God during that time, the building of the temple also came as a direct command of God. In a time when the people were saying that the time had not yet come to build the house of the Lord, Haggai said to them, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple that I may be pleased with it and be glorified’” (Haggai 1:7-8, NAS). 

A Representation of the Eternal

Is it not interesting that God placed so much emphasis on the exact details and measurements of his tabernacle and his temples? One reason, made evident by what he spoke though Haggai, is that he may be pleased and glorified by it, but another reason was for the people’s own sakes.

I mentioned before that the writer of the book of Hebrews tells us that the Old Testament teachings of the Law “serve as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (8:5). Considering this, it becomes somewhat clearer why God was so particular. We can perhaps see why, as God told Ezekiel, observing the design of the temple would cause the people to follow the statutes of God.

At present, we can know very little about just how our earthly experiences correspond to the heavenly. This is because we are still limited in our understanding of eternal things by our finite and very inadequate knowledge. However, one thing that we are able to see is that God acts in great detail and with great order in all that he does and that he is eager to preserve the purity of his dwelling. 

The Heavenly Temple

 And now we come to the eternal city of the New Jerusalem. Once again, the guide takes out a measuring stick and begins the task of measuring the city. The length is measured, the depth, the height – we are not given so many dimensions as we are for Ezekiel’s temple, which he also said was “like a city,” but it is still interesting to me that the very first thing that the angel did with John was to make all of these measurements.

At the moment, on our farm I am constructing a little cabin made from logs. If you come to see it, I would show you around and talk about it, but it would not even enter my mind to take out my tape measure and have you hold one end so that we could measure its exact dimensions. That is just not something that I would do.

Yet, in each of these cases of the temple of God, and even the New Jerusalem of which the entirety of the city is the temple of God, measuring it seemed to be important. Why was this so? It is a little puzzling to me, but let me give you some thoughts to mull over. To do that, I need to give you six scripture passages that come to mind.

Six Scriptures

First of all, remember what the God was very meticulous when he gave the instructions both for the tabernacle in the wilderness and for the temple. He said to Ezekiel, after the prophet had the very thorough measuring tour of the temple, “As for you, son of man, describe the temple to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the plan.”

Next, the prophet Haggai said to the people in relation to the building of the temple, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Consider your ways!” (Haggai 1:7-8, NAS).

In the days of the Old Testament, God meant for the temple to be more than just place to go and worship and to fulfill ones sense of religious duties. That is why Jesus became so angered when he saw people buying and selling in the temple (Matthew 21:12).

With those thoughts in your head, now consider a few things that the Apostle Paul said. The first one is a very astounding statement. It is this: “Do you not know that you are a temple (naos) of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16 NAS).

In ways that I do not think that we understand, the Spirit of God now abides in us, and we have become a temple of God. This is truly an astonishing concept.

Follow that thought with another of Paul’s. Paul was speaking on subject of husbands and brides, and said this about that subject, “This mystery is great, but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32, NAS). Even marriage of a groom to his bride is meant to be a copy and a shadow of heavenly things.

Now we have come to the revelation of John, where he is told that he would be shown the bride of Christ. However, instead of seeing a bride in a white gown, he is shown a city, a city in which there was no visible temple. This was because “the Lord God and the Almighty are its temple.” Remember now, this is the bride of Christ that John is talking about (see previous post), the same bride that Paul referred to. 

Measure the Plan of Our Lives

What does all of this mean? These are all thoughts that can make our heads swim, and if we try to wrest too much meaning out of them they are ones that can lead us into some pretty serious error. This is all very much what Paul called a mystery, something for which we do not yet have all of the information or all of the answers.

What we do have, however, is that which we need to know for right now. As we see the great importance in all of this to God, we can see why Paul also admonishes us, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2 Corinthians 13:5a NAS)

When we read John’s account of the things that he saw in the New Heavens and the New Earth, it should mean more to us than simply reading about a city that is separate from ourselves, like reading about the city of Minneapolis. There is something about it more intimate to us than that. There is so much that we do not now see, but there is something reserved for those who believe in the words and the works of Christ.

Of that heavenly city, he says, “nothing unclean, and no one who practices abominations and lying shall ever come in to it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27).

(Next week - No More Night)

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