Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool, Where is the house that you will build for me?” – Isaiah 66:1
Much has been said in organic/house church circles regarding Israel’s demand for a king in 1 Samuel chapter 8 where the people rejected God in favor of being ruled over by a man (see verse 7). Many have likened it to how the church has fallen into the same trap by establishing a clergy/laity system in which the majority live out their faith passively through a priest or pastor who is elevated (willingly or not) above everyone else in their gatherings. In this post I would like to draw a similar illustration by focusing on Israel’s temple (as well as modern church buildings) and how they miss what God had originally intended for His people. I should start by giving credit where it is due; the idea for this post and some of the scriptures below are found in Keith Giles book “This is my body” which I am currently reading, it is a really good read and I highly recommend checking it out (you can download it for free by clicking over here).
The temple that men built
Okay; let’s start off here by stating that it was always Gods desire to dwell amongst His people. He is not some disinterested deity with His feet up sitting in a couch somewhere on the other side of the universe. Rather, He is a loving Creator who is actively involved with His creation. We see this in the Garden of Eden where God walked around in the cool of the day. After things turned South in Eden and people strayed further and further away from God. We read His request in Exodus 25:8 for His people to build Him a Sanctuary that He may “dwell among them”. It is worth mentioning that God desired a mobile home where He could always be among His people. Wherever they went, ho would go with them. The tabernacle came with very specific design instructions which are beyond the scope of this article (okay and often beyond the understanding of the articles author). But the bottom line here is that the tabernacle is filled with types and shadows of greater things that were to come in Christ.
So how did we go from tabernacle to temple to Christ? It may surprise you to learn that it was never Gods intention to build a temple, the idea originated with King David:-
Now it came to pass when the king was dwelling in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around, that the king said to Nathan the prophet. “See now, I dwell in a house made of cedar, but the ark of God dwells inside tent curtains”. – 2 Samuel 7:1-2
Nathans first impulse seems to have been to affirm David’s idea (see verse 4) to build a permanent home for God to dwell in but later that night God gave Nathan a message for David:-
“Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Would you build a house for me to dwell in? 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. Wherever I have moved about with the children of Israel, have I ever spoken a word to anyone from the tribes of Israel, whom I have commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’” - 2 Samuel 7:5-7
As the dialogue continues God reveals to David that He Himself will build a house and adds to that that He will establish an everlasting kingdom from one of David’s seed to reign over it.
…Also, the Lord tells you that He will make you a house… I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish His kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of His kingdom forever. I will be His Father and He shall be my Son. - 2 Samuel 7:12-14
Most people (including David and Solomon) apparently believe that God was saying that because David had too much blood on his hands; the temple building duty would fall to one of his sons (Solomon). I think that they all assumed incorrectly as the text specifically says that the Lord Himself would make the house (see Acts 7:47-51 as well for confirmation of Solomon’s blunder). Neither Solomon’s temple nor his kingdom lasted forever. So surely 2 Samuel 7:5-7 must be pointing to Christ and a temple that He would build. Nevertheless, I am getting ahead of myself, so Solomon picks up the baton from his father and builds a temple for God. Notice his words in 1 Kings 5:3-5
You know how my father David could not build a house for the name of the Lord his God because of the wars which were fought against him on every side, until the Lord put his foes under the soles of his feet. But now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side; there is neither adversary nor evil occurrence. And behold, I propose to build a house for the name of the Lord my God, as the Lord spoke to my father David, saying, “Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, he shall build the house for My name.”
That Solomon missed the fact that it was the lord who would build Himself a house is further highlighted by his declaration in 1 Kings 8:13:-
I have surely built You an exalted house, And a place for you to dwell in forever.
Fast forward another chapter and you finally get to see what God’s response was regarding Solomon’s temple. It gives the impression that, like Israel’s request for a king, God endures with, rather than ordains or endorses this new house. In a warning to Solomon about what will happen if his sons would fail to follow Him; God directly addressed the temple which Solomon temple
“And as for this house, which is exalted, everyone who passes by it will be astonished and will hiss, and say, ‘Why has the Lord done this to this land and to this house?’ Then they will answer, ‘Because they forsook the Lord their God, who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, and worshipped them and served them, therefore the Lord has brought all this calamity on them.”
Sure enough, Israel turned its back on God and the temple was eventually destroyed. Fast forward a little bit again to when the second temple was about to be built, we see some interesting insights as God uses the opportunity to reveal His plans for the true temple that was still on its way. The second temple would be a sign pointing to the true temple which God had previously promised to build Himself. Even the name Joshua in the following verses is significant because it is the same Hebrew word used for Jesus’ name. The bible initially made the distinction between Joshua and Jesus purely to avoid confusion for its readers and hearers. Here are the key texts from Zechariah which highlight what I am saying:-
‘Hear , O Joshua, the high priest, You and your companions that sit before you, For they are a wondrous sign; For I am bringing forth My Servant the BRANCH. – Zechariah 3:8
Then the word of the Lord came to me saying: …“Behold the man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, And He shall build the temple of the Lord; Yes, He shall build the temple of the Lord and He shall bear the glory. – Zechariah 6:9-12
The physical temple along with the sacrifices and priesthood was never going to be a permanent deal. Jeremiah says in chapter 3, verses 16 and 17 (in the book of Jeremiah):-
“Then it shall come to pass, when you are multiplied and increased in those days,” says the Lord, “that they will say no more, ‘the ark of the covenant of the Lord.’ It shall not come to mind, nor shall they remember it, nor shall they visit it, nor shall it be made anymore.”At that time Jerusalem shall be called The Throne of the Lord, and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem.”
Wow! The Ark of the Covenant was central to Jewish worship. It represented the presence of God as dwelling among His people. Without it, the temple, the priesthood and sacrifices would be meaningless. It is also significant that Jerusalem is identified in this passage as where God reigns as we will see in the New Testament which brings us to part 2 of this article...
The true temple of God
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up again in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. – John 2:19-21
In the New Testament the true temple of God is finally revealed in Jesus. In Revelation 21 John writes that the New Jerusalem will be the Lamb’s wife (verses 9 & 10) but that there will be no physical temple in her, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (verse 22). We have being invited into communion with the Godhead as He has made the church the temple of the Holy Spirit.
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.” – 2 Corinthians 6:16
But Christ (is) as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end. – Hebrews 3:6
Coming to Him as a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Christ. – 1 Peter 2:4-5
Consider for a moment that the church is the only house that God ever built (Matthew 16:18) and the only temple that God ever sanctioned. Yes, He was and is willing to meet people where they were and work with them through the consequences of their decisions. God still worked through the kings of Israel and Judah, He still showed up in the temple and He still used it but it was only a shadow of what Christ would do later on. But just because we can still see the fingerprints of God in something it does not necessarily mean that it was His ideal.
Consider that the purpose of the temple was that it would be a place where people could be in the presence of God and offer sacrifices, it is a holy place where the Spirit dwells. Isn't this a definition of the church? The place where the Spirit dwells; where the people offer their bodies as living sacrifices, their reasonable act of service. She is the true house of God.
Church was never meant to be that building you attend once a week, God dwells in us 24/7 and where two or three gather in His name He is there in the midst of us. The temple Jesus is building looks nothing like the cathedrals that surround us. The brick walls that we may or may not assemble between are just that. They are not necessarily bad or wrong. The early church would gather at Solomon’s Porch and Paul reasoned with the Greeks in the school of Tyrannus for two years so that all who dwelt there would hear the word of the Lord. Once again, brick walls are not bad; they are just that, brick walls. Do not make the same mistake as Solomon did, let God build His church. So if you want to put any funds and energy into a church building project, consider doing so by investing directly into the lives of the living stones which make up that glorious temple. When we take food off a widow’s plate so we can buy a better sound system we are not building the church. When missions are sacrificed for a new coat of paint we are not building the church. When church buildings are built we are not building the church! The church is built only where Christ touches the lives of people in a way that furthers the Gospel of the Kingdom. Where members are added to His body, where disciples are made and where the ekklesia is edified. This may happen through His people but unless it is He who builds the house, we labor in vain.
Other posts in this series
Gathering to Christ
Two kinds of church
The Lords supper
A church without tithing
On authority, submission, coverings and accountability