Part 2 of this series of posts will be exploring the relationship between the presence of God, and the invitation of His people – what role, if any, the invitation for God to "show up" plays in God actually "showing up." But first, a quick-ish follow up to Part 1 is in order. The connection between the Old Testament Temple, Jesus Himself, and the Church is so significant that it's worth circling back around to approach from a different angle.
As I put forward in Part 1, a temple is a place where God's presence is most potently, most powerfully, and most predictably experienced by his people. Put another way, it's THE place humans go when they want to encounter God. It's the intersection point between heaven and earth. In a sense, you could say the Garden of Eden in Genesis was the first "temple" (though a case has been made that the creation account in Genesis frames all of creation as a "temple" for Yahweh), followed by the Tabernacle of Moses, the Temple of David/Solomon in Jerusalem, upon who's destruction in 587BC by Nebuchadnezzar, the glory of the Lord departed the temple mount, departed Jerusalem, and never returned**. For five centuries or so, there was essentially no "true temple." Though the temple building was rebuilt soon after the return from exile, the manifest presence of God never returned.
It is into the middle of this stark, long-term absence of the manifest presence of God that Jesus steps onto the scene. In John 2, moments after running the moneychangers and lenders out of the rebuilt temple, Jesus declares that "this temple" would be destroyed, but that he would "raise it again in three days." Being intentionally cagey with his critics, he says "this temple," knowing they would think he was talking about Herod's Temple, but John helps us out by explaining that "the temple he had spoken of was his body." What Jesus suggests here is nothing short of monumental. He's suggesting a tectonic shift in the theology of the presence of God. For the Hebrews for almost a millennium, the presence of God had, at least in theory, been indelibly tied to a building. How they made sense of the fact that the reconstructed temple building never brought back the shekinah glory of God, I do not know. But Jesus is here suggesting that he is the Temple. He is the intersection point between heaven and earth. He is the place where God's presence is most potently, most powerfully, and most predictably experienced by people. The significance of this idea can hardly be overstated.
It calls to mind Paul's words from Colossians: "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Jesus)," and "...In Christ all the fullness of the Deity dwells in bodily form." The Gospel writer John echoes this, too, with his "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" from John 1:14. The greek word translated "dwelt," eskenosen, could be more literally translated as "tabernacled." The manifest presence, the glory of God was back on earth, but not in the Holy of Holies in a magnificent cloud of light, but in a man. In Jesus of Nazareth.
And it is with the full resonance of all of these "manifest presence," "shekinah glory," "fullness of the Deity dwelling in bodily form" ideas that Peter invokes temple language to refer to the church, saying that they (and we) are "living stones...being built into a spiritual house." Paul, too, brings this resonant temple language to bear upon the church when he says "Do you not know that you yourselves are God's temple, and that God's Spirit dwells in you?" If Jesus himself is the new, true Temple, then the church, his body, becomes an extension of that Temple. Jesus' audacious (but true!) claim to being the intersection point between heaven and earth now comes all the way home for us - we are now the intersection point between heaven and earth, insomuch as His Spirit dwells within and among us. God's presence is, or at least can be, now potently, powerfully, and predictably experienced in our midst, within the church, and even within our own individual bodies!
You and your faith community are the place where heaven meets earth, where we should expect the manifest presence of God to dwell. If our lived experience does not bear that out...well, that's a big part of why I'm writing this series of posts. I think we need to lean in. Keep your eyes out for Part 2 (I'm still pretending this isn't an actual post...), coming soon.
**Even though the reconstruction of Solomon's Temple post-exile is considered one of the wonders of the ancient world, Ezekiel 9, 10, 11 describe a striking scene right smack dab in the middle of the Babylonian Exile where the glory of Yahweh moves out of the Temple, out of Jerusalem, and presumably away from the earth entirely. The visible glory of God that had been present in Solomon's Temple (by then lying in ruins) for centuries departed, and it never returned, even after the Temple was rebuilt under Ezra, Nehemiah, et al. Though the priests and religious types carried on their work in the reconstructed temple much the same as they always had, and though it remained THE defining symbol of Hebrew national/religious identity, the manifest presence of God was conspicuously absent. It set the scene for an entirely new kind of Temple.