A Dwelling Place For God
People are prone to make holy places.
As Christians, we consider it special to walk in the places where Jesus walked. Places like Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth and Cana of Galilee could be considered our holy places.
According to Wikipedia, the Buddha is said to have identified four sites most worthy of pilgrimage, and that visiting such sites would produce a feeling of spiritual urgency.[i]
The religion of Islam has as its most holy place the well-known city of Mecca. Google had this to say about Mecca:
Mecca, in a desert valley in western Saudi Arabia, is Islam’s holiest city, as it’s the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and the faith itself. Only Muslims are allowed in the city, with millions arriving for the annual Hajj (pilgrimage). Dating from the 7th century, the central Masjid al-Haram (Sacred Mosque) surrounds the Kaaba, the cloth-covered cubic structure that’s Islam’s most sacred shrine.[ii]
This human fascination with holy places is seen in almost all religions. However, what does God have to say about holy places and the place of His dwelling? Is there a place where God dwells? Is he more present in one place as compared to another?
Where do we go to meet God?
When King David was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, it was his desire to build a temple for the Lord. However, the Lord told David that David's son that would build the Temple. 2 Samuel 7:13 says, "He is the one who will build a house--a Temple -- for my name." Notice God says "A Temple for my name."
This introduces us to the idea that it is not a dwelling place for God as much as it is a place for God's people to honor God's name.
1 Kings 8:12-13 records Solomon's words, "O LORD, you have said that you would live in a thick cloud of darkness. Now I have built a glorious Temple for you, a place where you can live forever!” These are the opening remarks of Solomon's address at the dedication of the Temple. However, as he prays Solomon makes it clear that he understands that no Temple can contain God. He says, "But will God really live on earth? Why, even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built!" (1 Kings 8:27)[iii]
This message is consistent throughout God's Word. Acts 17:24 says, "He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn't live in man-made temples."
As we consider the dwelling place of God, we must consider the question the psalmist asked. "Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?" (Psalm 139:7) Jeremiah says it this way, "Can anyone hide from me in a secret place? Am I not everywhere in all the heavens and earth?" says the LORD." (Jeremiah 23:24)
The Tabernacle and then the Temple in the Old Testament played an important role. These were the only places authorized by God where people could offer sacrifices to him.
Enclosed in the Temple, in the holiest of holy places, was the Ark of the Covenant. On the top of the Ark was the Mercy Seat. It represented the very presence of God. The high priest entered the Holiest of Holies only once a year to offer sacrifices and burn incense.
The people could pray, read Scripture and seek God whenever and wherever they wanted, but they could only offer sacrifices at the Temple. The reason for this was that the Temple prefigured Christ. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) Jesus is the only way to God and the only sacrifice for sins. Therefore, it was important that the Temple be the only place for sacrifices to take place.
Since Jesus has come and made his sacrifice, paying the price for our sins once for all, the physical Temple and the Mercy Seat are no longer necessary. Hebrews 10:10 says, “For God's will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time.”
When Jesus died on the Cross, the veil closing off the Holiest of Holies was torn from top to bottom. This is why Ephesians 3:12 says, “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God's presence.” Jesus opened the way for free access to God. Any person can come into God’s presence at any time.
The Temple was built to honor God’s name, and all of the Temple’s regulations and sacrifices and even its structure pointed to Christ.
Now we are living in a new dispensation and the New Testament tells us, “Don't you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) In addition, it says, “Don't you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself.” (1 Corinthians 6:19)
Since God does not dwell in a temple built by hands, what was the purpose of the Temple?
With the Temple that Solomon built, it was clear that its purpose was to honor God’s name. In his prayer of dedication, in 1 Kings 8, Solomon says several times that this Temple was built for the honor of God's name.
The structure itself was awe-inspiring. However, I do not think that this is what honors God's name. It was the acknowledgment that God was Israel's Redeemer. God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt. God fed Israel with manna in the wilderness for 40 years. God defeated the Canaanites before Israel as they entered the land. It was God who parted the waters of the Red Sea and drowned the armies of Pharaoh. God led Israel across the Jordan River on dry ground and brought down the walls of Jericho. God gave Israel His covenant of peace and His promise of friendship represented by the Ark of the Covenant housed in the Temple. The Temple was a great big, visible reminder that this was God's nation, God's people.
In the same way, we individually and as a whole are visible reminders of what God has done for His people. Each one of us has a story of how God has brought us to a saving knowledge of His son Jesus Christ. Each one of us has a story of slavery and deliverance. The Church as a whole also has a story. There is the story of the Acts of the Apostles, the story of the Reformation, the story of the Great Awakening and the story of the preservation and transmission of the Bible.
These reminders of the great and glorious works of God honor His name.
When the Ark of the Covenant was finally placed in the Temple, the glory of the Lord filled the Temple as a cloud. The priests were not able to continue their service in the Temple because of the presence of the Lord. By housing the Ark of the Covenant with the Mercy Seat, the Temple was the symbol of the Lord’s presence among His people.
At the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came down and rested as tongues of fire on each of the believers gathered in the upper room. (Acts 2:1-3) From that time, to the present, believers are all baptized by that same Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ, the Church. 1 Corinthians 12:13 says, “Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.” As part of this baptizing into the Body of Christ, the Spirit of God lives in each individual believer. This is why Romans 8:11 says, "The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you."
The church is more than a symbolic representation of the Lord's presence. He is actually present in us. In 2 Thessalonians 2, the coming of the “Man of Lawlessness” is explained. In verse 6 and 7, it says, “And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.” The One that restrains the mystery of lawlessness is the Holy Spirit working in and through the Church. When the Church is taken out of the way by the Rapture, the Man of Lawlessness will be revealed.
Besides being a place for the honor of God's name and the place of God's presence, the Temple had another purpose. It was to be the place where people met with God. It was the only place where sins could be addressed by the sacrifices made to atone for those sins. It was the place where daily intercession was made for both the well-being and forgiveness of God's people. It was the place where God's priests were, the mediators between God and the nation. If anyone wanted to be right with God, they had to go to the Temple. In fact, it was required of all Israelite men that they go to the Temple at least three times a year.
We are now the Temple. We are not the place where people meet with God but we carry God to people. According to 2 Corinthians 5:20, we are God's ambassadors and we plead with people on behalf of God to be reconciled to Him. There is the one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. The priesthood that served in Solomon's Temple no longer serves because we have the perfect High Priest. Hebrews 11:12 tells us, "Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins. But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time." For reasons beyond our comprehension, God has chosen to entrust to us this ministry of reconciliation. We have become a royal priesthood, a holy nation a people for God's own possession. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Solomon built a temple of stone, cedar and gold. God has used us to build a Temple of living stones for the honor of His name, His dwelling place and to reconcile man to Himself.
Are we walking in a manner worthy of this glorious calling?
[iii] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.