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Are our church buildings the same as the Temple of the old covenant?
The first article of this three-part series focuses on the truth about the money changers in the Temple as recorded in John 2. We will now look more closely at the distinctions between the Temple and the church buildings we use today. The final article (to be posted tomorrow) will examine the functions of these places as it relates to worship. Each of these subjects affects the way we think about providing edifying Christian resources in our church buildings and gatherings there.
Since the Cross, the definition of the word “temple” for the church has drastically changed. When Jesus cried, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), the entire work of the substitutionary atonement for sin had been completed. Jesus had taken the full brunt of the wrath of God for our sin upon Himself. He had always planned to do this, and every aspect and activity of the tabernacle and Temple pointed to this event.
God’s presence in the midst of His people had changed. No longer did the Temple signify the dwelling place of God with His people. Our access to God had radically changed and the Temple was no longer necessary for sacrifice.
As a result of Christ’s work on the Cross, “the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38), which signified that our access to the Father had been directly given through the Son. The place of ongoing sacrifice of bulls and lambs had been replaced by the once-and-for-all sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus.
The book of Hebrews provides great confirmation that the Temple was a shadow or copy of the heavenly things. In other words, the Temple foreshadowed the true substance that we have in Jesus Christ. Through His work on the Cross, Jesus fulfilled and thus replaced the sacrificial system—the Temple system of worship and the very dwelling place of God.
But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:11–14)
Jesus was now once and for all our sacrifice and our access to the Father. The Temple is now fulfilled and out of commission for every believer in Christ. Not only this, the Apostle Paul has given wonderful news for every Christian. “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).
Every Christian is the dwelling place of the Spirit of God. Our life is His, and He dwells within us. This has intimidating consequences when we understand its significance. Look at what Paul tells us further about this:
And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said “I will dwell in them and walk among them and I will be their God and they shall be My people.” (2 Corinthians 6:16)
If Jesus has fulfilled the Temple function, and if the living God now dwells within us, and if the curtain has been torn and there is no more sacrifice required, then to treat our church buildings today as sacred places like the Jewish Temple is to effectively reject the work of the Cross and flirt with idolatry.
It is amazing to us that many people we meet in churches (and of different denominations), by the very terminology they use and by their actions, exhibit that they really view the church building as a Temple! Sadly, this has consequences concerning decisions that can greatly impinge on equipping the saints—for example (and as we mentioned in part one), by restricting access to powerful apologetics resources.
It is so important that God’s people have the right view of the church building to ensure they understand who Christ is and what He has done—and to ensure right decisions are being made to enable God’s people to be equipped to defend the faith as is so sorely needed.
The next article in this series will dive into this crucial issue in more detail as we explore the correlation between worship in the Temple of Old Testament times and the church gathering today.