What is a temple?
Let’s start with a dictionary definition.
Google had this definition:
a building devoted to the worship, or regarded as the dwelling place, of a god or gods or other objects of religious worship
I want us to focus on this statement, “regarded as the dwelling place of a god or gods.”
Other religions have temples and may define the meaning of temple in some other way, but my purpose is to understand the Bible’s use of the term temple. How does God treat the word temple?
The ancient Jews thought of the temple Solomon built as the dwelling place of God and treated it as if it were a means of salvation. Some assumed that the Temple provided a way of salvation. They believed that God had made His dwelling place amongst them and counted on this to save them. However, they lived in a godless manner. Therefore, God rebuked them. Jeremiah 7:1-11 is the introduction to a sermon that Jeremiah gave on this subject. It goes like this:
“The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: "Stand in the gate of the Lord 's house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: 'This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.' "For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. "Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, 'We are delivered!'—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 7:1-11 ESV)
By these verses, we can understand that the people had misunderstood the significance of the Temple and were counting on the Temple to save them.
This is significant for us today because many seem to count on the church to save them. Some seem to treat going to church as if they are doing God a favor. It is as if going to church is some sort of good deed like helping an old lady to cross the street. In such a world, if one helps enough old ladies and attends church enough times, then that person will be good enough to go to heaven.
God questions this kind of thinking in Isaiah 66:1 when He says:
Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?” (Isaiah 66:1 ESV)
It is impossible that God, who fills all in all, could be contained in a building. And yet, it is significant that in Jeremiah God calls the Temple “This house, which is called by My Name.”
Temples are supposed to be sacred places, set apart for special use and of unique importance. The Temple in Jerusalem was a consecrated space, although it could not contain God as if it could be His dwelling place, it was set aside for God. When Solomon prayed and dedicated the Temple he had built, God responded saying:
“I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you have made before me. I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time.” (1 Kings 9:3 ESV)
This is perhaps the best definition of what a temple is meant to be. It is consecrated, dedicated specifically for sacred purposes. It is a place where God has put His name. It is a place where God’s heart and eyes are focused. The Temple was never meant to be a means or way of salvation. It was meant to be a central place of worship, set apart for sacred purposes. It is significant for us as the Church that God is building us into a temple. Ephesians 2:19-22 says:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22 ESV)
In these verses, we see that God is building a temple with us serving as the building materials. 1 Peter 2:15 describes us as living stones. In the New Testament, we move away from physical structures to a spiritual or living structure. In Ephesians 2:19-22, the foundation, structure and function of this new temple are given to us. For us, the physical place of gathering and worship is not near as important as this living temple. Great houses of worship are of some benefit, but they must never replace or become more important than the building of the living temple.
There are four things necessary to the building of the living temple that we must never lose sight of.
First, and most important, is the foundation.
Ephesians 2:20 speaks of this foundation when it says:
built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, (Ephesians 2:20 ESV)
The New Testament Temple starts with Jesus. He is the cornerstone. God promised through the prophets to lay a cornerstone upon which His Temple would be built. Isaiah 28:16 says:
Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “Look! I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem, a firm and tested stone. It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on. Whoever believes need never be shaken.” (Isaiah 28:16 NLT)
Our understanding of the person and work of Jesus Christ is crucial to our identity, work and existence as a church. The rock that the Church is built on is “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” He is the anointed One (Christ), the heir to the throne of David, the Prince of Peace. He is the Son of God. He was with God in the beginning and He is God. These truths are essential and must not, cannot be compromised in any way.
Along with this cornerstone, Ephesians 2:20 mentions the foundation of the apostles and prophets. The apostles are those through whom we received the New Testament Scriptures and the prophets are those through whom we received the Old Testament Scriptures. The Scriptures form the foundation.
The Bible has been attacked, criticized and examined more than any other book. In spite of this, honest, unbiased examination of the history and content of the Bible has convinced more people of its truth than has any other book or study. It has proven to be a solid foundation upon which to build.
In addition to the foundation, the second thing necessary to build the living temple is the structure.
Ephesians 2:21 points out the necessity of the structure when it says:
in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 2:21 ESV)
There are problems with organized religion, and there are problems with individual churches. These problems sprang up as soon as there were churches. There were problems with the church in Corinth. There were problems with the church in Galatia. And, because there were problems, we have letters written to these churches giving us examples of how to deal with these problems and providing answers to questions. We also have letters to Timothy and Titus providing instructions on how to shepherd and care for local bodies of believers, instructions on how to be a pastor. These letters and instructions teach us about the structure of the temple. There are pastors, teachers, administrators, elders and deacons.
These offices of the church are not modern inventions. They are found in the pages of the New Testament. Some, having been fed up with the abuses and failings of organized religion, have given up gathering together with other believers. This is a mistake. Not one of us can go it alone. Each believer must find a local church to fellowship with, but this must be done prayerfully and with constant attention to whether or not the structure one is joining is faithful to the foundation. The Scriptures are clear:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV)
We are not to neglect gathering together. This is an essential part of our being a temple fit for God’s purposes. As we encourage each other and build each other up, we add to the structure and grow into the next thing necessary to building the living temple.
The third thing necessary to the living temple is unity.
Ephesians 2:21 points this out when it says:
in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 2:21 ESV)
This is where the church is compared to a body, the well-being of each member being important to the well-being of the whole. Hebrews 10:24 says: “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” And, Galatians 6 says:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. (Galatians 6:1-3 ESV)
Philippians 2 also says:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4 ESV)
These two passages show us what it means to be unified.
This leads us to the fourth thing that is necessary for the building of the living temple. We find it in Ephesians 2:22.
In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:22 ESV)
The thing that is necessary to building the temple is the Spirit. He is doing the building.
However, oftentimes we grieve the Holy Spirit by our disobedience and unyielding hearts. Each one is given the Spirit when he or she accepts Christ. We are baptized into the body by the Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13 tells us:
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13 ESV)
Even though we all were made to drink of one Spirit, we do not always walk by the Spirit. As final instructions, let me leave you with the words of Ephesians 4:29-31.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. (Ephesians 4:29-31 ESV)
As the temple of the living God, we carry His Name. To do so, we must have these four things.