In a previous post we looked at how God’s presence in the Old Testament was found in the tabernacle and temple. These locations were built for God to dwell among his people, as he did in the Garden of Eden. But this paradigm changes in the New Testament; God’s presence among his people is seen in new, more tangible ways.
Word of God
In John 2, a small-town preacher in the streets of Jerusalem makes an audacious claim:
Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. (John 2:18)
The Jewish leaders do not like this talk, and even use it as evidence in his eventual trial. But this man was not talking about the physical temple; he was talking about himself.
If the temple was built to hold God’s presence in the midst of the people, then it wasn’t fulfilling that purpose. But when Jesus refers to himself as a temple, we realize that God’s presence is dwelling among the people. Only it is not in a building made of gold and stone, but rather in a body made of flesh and bone.
John highlights this in his introduction to the Gospel, saying:
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
The word that the ESV translates as “dwelt among” refers to pitching a tent; others have translated this verse as saying “the Word became flesh and pitched his tent/tabernacled among us.” God’s presence is not limited to the Holy of Holies in the temple, where only one priest could visit once a year. Instead, God is walking among his people.
You are the Temple
After Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, one could say that God’s presence again left his people. But that is not the case. Before he left, Jesus promised his followers that God would send the Helper to be with believers. This is another monumental step in God’s plan: God’s presence would be within the believer. No longer would mankind have to go to a sanctuary or a person to find God. Instead, God would be with each believer.
Based on this new program, it shouldn’t surprise us that Paul uses temple language to describe believers. In 1 Corinthians 3:16, he writes:
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
In this context, Paul is referring to the church as a whole; it is within the community of believers—with Christ being the head of the church—that the presence of God resides. So the individual, as well as the community of believers, is the new temple of God.
The end of the biblical story has one more thing to say about temples and the presence of God. In Revelation 21, John describes a vision he has of New Creation:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1–4)
The phrase “dwelling place” is the same word as found in John 1:14, talking about the Word tabernacling among us. So in the New Creation, mankind is living with God. The presence of God is with man.
John reinforces this idea by showing how this city is really one big temple. In Revelation 21:14–16, he gives measurements for the city; it is a massive cube, as long and wide as it is tall. The only other cubes in the entire Bible: the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle and the Holy of Holies in the temple. Both those locations were where God’s presence dwelled, and now the New Jerusalem fills that purpose. New Jerusalem contains many things found in the previous temples: gold, precious stones, and the tree of life. But there are several things missing: there is no altar, no ark of the covenant, no lamp stand, and no priests. That is because they have been replaced by Jesus Christ.
John explicitly states in Revelation 21:22-
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.
There is no need for a special location to meet with God, because God fills the entire city. The whole city becomes a cosmic Most Holy Place, dedicated to hosting the Glory of God forever.
In the Old Testament God’s presence was limited and restricted; only certain people could experience God’s presence, and it was after much preparation. But in the New Testament things change; God dwells among his people in a new, tangible way. Instead of dwelling in a building made of gold and stone, God appears in flesh and bone. His presence remains with believers through the Holy Spirit. And all this points to the reality of New Creation, where mankind will dwell with God forever.Tweet