The temple of God

Scripture Reading

Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.

John 2:19

Transition of the temple

In the New Testament, there is frequent reference of the temple throughout all four gospel accounts. This was the place for Jews to assemble from a religious perspective since it served as their place of worship. After the ascension of Jesus to heaven, there is still frequent mention of the temple during the book of Acts because the early apostles were known to have preached to the Jews in the same place. Interestingly thereafter, the temple is only mentioned eight more times in the letters written by Paul and Peter, likely an indication that the early church became more composed of small, fragmented, often hidden gatherings to avoid persecution from either the Romans or the Jews. The resulting effect was the diminished importance of the temple as a formal gathering place of assembly or worship for what were now Christians under Roman rule. In most cases, Paul’s letters were written to the dispersed churches throughout that part of the world since the former temple more accurately represented Judaism and the former Mosaic covenant.

As this transition from the temple to church materialized, the book of Acts documents two notable early believers in Christ named Priscilla and Aquila and Paul refers to them as “my helpers in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 16:3). Then shortly thereafter, Paul makes note to  “greet the church that is in their house.” (Rom. 16:5). These were hardly the beginnings of the modern mega churches where attendance now averages in the tens of thousands. The early churches were far more personal and intimate gatherings since Paul gives reference to twenty seven early believers by name and highlights their work in the Lord in chapter sixteen. In other words, he knew all of them personally and deemed it worthy to record their unwavering commitment and dedication to the Lord’s work. Paul describes them as saints and servants, fellow prisoners, kinsmen, household, labourers in the Lord, brethren and sisters.

…greet the church that is in their house.

Rom. 16:5b

The early church

The descriptions Paul used of the early believers and of the small, dispersed churches throughout Asia were aptly described by him as a temple where he writes, “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. 2:21-22] In this verse, Paul is describing how early believers became the church of God not by building lavish temples or churches but that they formed the church themselves as a holy temple from a spiritual sense. This is because believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit as they come to saving faith in the Lord and are born again or born from above. Paul articulates this spiritual indwelling in yet another letter to the early church located in Corinth, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” [1 Cor. 3:16-17]

This indwelling of God’s Spirit by faith is further described by Paul as he writes to the early church and believers in Galatia, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” [Gal. 2:20] The key point Paul is highlighting here is the premise that the Lord Jesus Christ lives in believers spiritually and that he works through us as believers in him. This is where and how his love for us plays out through a life of faith in him since we are now the temple of the living God. Paul notes this further on and jumping back to his letter to the Corinthians helps to illustrate this point, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” [1 Cor. 6:19-20]

“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

1 Cor. 3:16

The temple of God

With that very long opening, this now brings us to this weeks’ scripture reading from Jesus when he gives a prophetic implication of his crucifixion. In it he refers to himself as “this temple” and rightly so since he was God manifest in the flesh (1 Tim. 3:16). Jesus was indeed the temple of the living God here on earth during his ministry to the multitudes but the foolish Jews mistook his words for the ornate and no doubt pretentiously prideful temple built by Herod. Here it was where the religious leaders paraded themselves before the multitudes presenting themselves above the heathen in their traditions of men instead of  focusing on the weightier matters of God such as mercy, justice and truth.

In their corrupt and hypocritical ways, the religious leaders saw Jesus as a threat out of envy and distorted his message about the temple as shown in this verse, “Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death; But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses, And said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.” [Matt. 26:59-61] This relentless persecution of Jesus from them continued right to the cross with people trying to use his words of the temple against him during his dying moments, “And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days,” [Mark 15:29]

The temple unveiled

One of the most interesting events that took place when Jesus died on the cross was the significance of  his last words, “It is finished,” followed by the complete tearing open of the veil to the holiest of holies inside the temple, “Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;”  [Matt. 27:51] Rent is an archaic word that means to tear apart. This symbolized the end of the old covenant and heralded the new covenant introduced by Jesus through faith in his name as the saviour of the world. Returning now back to this week’s scripture reading, the apostle John accurately documented in his gospel account that Jesus was speaking of the temple of his body (John 2:21). Further to this, John noted how the disciples of Jesus realized exactly what he was talking about after his resurrection, “When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.” [John 2:22]

In summary, where does this leave us as believers in Christ? We now know that Jesus referred to his body as a temple. We also know that as believers in him we are to consider our own bodies as the temple of the living God as previously noted {1 Cor. 6:19-20}. This is why Paul wrote in one of his letters to the early church the importance of offering ourselves to God as shown in this passage, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” [Rom. 12:1-2] Paul calls this our reasonable service, meaning this should be at the base level of our faith and commitment to God as a reasonable expectation for what he has done for us on the cross as the sacrificial atonement for our sins.

…your reasonable service,

Rom 12:1b

We are the temple

Let us close off this Bible study by highlighting this point further from the scriptures. During one of Paul’s letters to the early church, he contrasted the incompatibility of people believing in Christ and yet still believing in pagan like deities, “And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” [2 Cor. 6:16] Once again Paul is driving home the importance of realizing that as believers we are now the temple of the living God and this has applications not only as individual believers but also corporately when gathered together as a church of believers.

Upon the second coming of Jesus, we will see him in all his glory and humanity will indeed realize that the true temple will be the one in heaven as John recorded from the revelation of Jesus, “And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.” [Rev. 21:22] This is where believers will rejoice in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ and no greater joy will be had than having lived a life presenting our own bodies as a living sacrifice for him. This is indeed a reflection of our reasonable service for his love that he bestowed upon us (John 3:16). Will you come to him today and make this your reasonable service for him? Did you know God is not willing that any of you should perish?

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

[2 Peter 3:9-10]

Bible Study Questions

  1. Can you name three ways Paul describes fellow believers in the Lord from his writings?
  2. True or false, the Jewish temple was the place where Christians worshipped God. Hint Rom. 16:5
  3. In the verses 1 Cor. 3:16-17, what do you think it means when Paul tells us that we are the temple of God?
  4. Can you recall the verse that describes Jesus as being God manifest in the flesh, Hint, 1 Timothy 3…
  5. What does Paul mean when we present our bodies as a living sacrifice in Rom 12:1-2?
  6. Can you identify at least one thing in your life you can do to present your body as a living sacrifice to God?
  7. If you made a decision to follow Jesus and believe in his saving grace, please consider sharing this study with a friend.

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