Advent thoughts: December 8

“Moreover, the Lord declares to you [David] that the Lord will make you a house…. I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (II Samuel 7:11-13—read II Samuel 7:1-17).

David wanted to build a Temple in Jerusalem. He wanted to provide a house for the Lord. Since the days of Moses, the house of the Lord had been a tent, a temporary structure that could be dismantled and moved from one place to another. While the Israelites were in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land, the dwelling of God had been in their midst, one special tent among many other tents. After they crossed the Jordan River and began to displace the Canaanites, the Israelites continued to gather at the Lord’s tent for sacrifices and religious festivals. Now that David had made Jerusalem the capital city of the tribes of Israel and had built himself a palace, he wanted to provide a fitting structure for the worship of the Lord.

God declined this gift. He did not want King David to build him a house. Instead, God said that he would build David a house. One of his descendants would rule an eternal kingdom. The name of David would be remembered forever because of his greater descendant.

David appears to have assumed that his son Solomon was the promised offspring. But God said that the Son of David would receive his kingdom after David died; when Solomon began to rule as king, David was still alive. God said that he would discipline the Son of David when he was found to be guilty of sin; but when Solomon sinned God did not discipline him as he deserved—he tore away the kingdom from Rehoboam, the son of Solomon. God said that the Son of David would rule an eternal kingdom; Solomon ruled for forty years and then died, and the kingdom he once ruled was eventually overthrown by the Babylonians.

“I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son,” God said of the Son of David. Therefore, the Son of God took on human flesh and was born in Bethlehem, the city of David, so he could inherit the throne of David. David had long since been dead and buried when Jesus claimed his kingdom. Although Jesus never sinned, he took on the guilt of the entire world and, bearing that sin, he was disciplined with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men. Solomon built a Temple in Jerusalem, but Jesus built a house out of living stones—the Holy Christian Church, which is his body and, therefore, is his Temple.

The Son of God is David’s son and also David’s Lord. He has received all authority in heaven and on earth. He rules an eternal kingdom, and he grants royal citizenship in that kingdom to all who trust in him. Thanks be to God! J.

“Your body is a temple of God”–part two

Last month I wrote this post to demonstrate that, when the apostle Paul wrote that “your body is a temple of God,” he was referring to the entire Church and not to individual Christians. The “you” of “your body” is plural, but he speaks of one temple, not many temples. But what does it mean to call the Church a temple of God?

People of many different religions have built temples. Ancient Sumer had temples; ancient Egypt had temples. These temples were built for gods so that believers in those gods would have a place to contact their gods. Temples were built, not because gods needed homes, but because people needed connections with the gods they trusted and worshipped.

When God spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave Moses the design for a tent which would be a moving temple. This tent (often called the Tabernacle) was to be in the center of the campground when Israel was at rest. The Tabernacle represented God’s presence among his people. Animals were sacrificed in the Tabernacle as part of Israel’s connection with God. The lives and blood of the animals were given to God, pictures of the sacrifice God’s Son would make on the cross to remove the sins of the world. Even the tent was a picture of Jesus. When John wrote “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14), the verb translated by “made his dwelling” refers to the pitching of a tent.

King David wanted to build a temple for God in Jerusalem. Through the prophet Nathan, God declined David’s offer. He said that instead of letting David build a house for God, God would build a house for David. That house would be a son (or descendant) of David who would rule an eternal kingdom. David may have thought that the promised Son of David was his son Solomon, but Solomon did not match the terms of the Promised Son. Solomon began to rule before David died, but the Promised Son was to come after David died. Solomon sinned and was forgiven for his sins, but the Promised Son bore the burden of the world’s sins and atoned for those sins. Solomon ruled for forty years and then died, but the Promised Son was to rule forever. Solomon was an adopted son of God, as all believers are, but Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God.

David purchased land, gathered materials, and hired workmen to build the temple God had told him not to build. Solomon oversaw the construction of that temple, and God accepted his gift. The temple followed the pattern of the Tabernacle that God had designed. Sacrifices continued to be offered in the temple, drawing the power to forgive sins from the future sacrifice of the Promised Son. Yet God’s people strayed away from the Lord; even Solomon built temples for other gods, the gods worshipped by his wives. The unfaithfulness of God’s people made a mockery of the sacrifices to atone for sin. Therefore, God raised the Babylonian army and allowed it to sack Jerusalem and destroy the temple.

Under the Persian government, God’s people were allowed to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the temple. Some of those who saw the new temple wept because they remembered the splendor of Solomon’s temple. Through the prophet Haggai, God promised that the second temple would be more glorious than the first temple, because God himself would visit that temple. This promise was fulfilled when Jesus entered the temple–first as a baby, forty days old; then as a boy, twelve years old; then as a man in his thirties. Jesus taught in the temple. He even cleared the temple of merchants who were defiling the temple. When asked by what authority he cleared the temple, he responded, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19)–“But the Temple he had spoken of was his body” (John 2:21). The Word made flesh was a temple, because it was the way God chose to be present among his people.

The tabernacle was a picture of the Word made flesh, promising the presence of God among his people. Solomon’s temple and the second temple were also pictures of Jesus, the presence of God among his people. God had the Babylonians destroy the first temple, and he had the Romans destroy the second temple, as pictures of his Son suffering and dying on the cross to atone for the world’s sins. Now that Jesus has fulfilled the promise to pay for the sins of the world, temples and animal sacrifices are no longer needed.

The body of Jesus, which is the true temple of God, rose from the dead. Forty days later that body ascended into heaven to fill the universe. Jesus, “seated at the right hand of the Father,” is present everywhere. Yet he is present in a special way whenever his people gather in his name. “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (Ephesians 1:22-23). Since the Church is the body of Christ, it also is God’s Temple. The Church is the place where God’s people know that they are in the presence of God.

As God’s people, we need to be connected to God. God is everywhere, but as sinners in a sinful world we cannot always sense his presence. Therefore, Jesus promises to be present “where two or three gather in” his name (Matthew 18:20). One Christian alone is not a temple. Christians gathered to hear the Word of God and to receive his blessings are a temple. God reaches out to sinners from the Church. God cares for his people in the Church. The Good Shepherd provides for his flock in the Church. We are the body of Christ, diverse in many ways, yet functioning together to accomplish the will of our Head. As the body of Christ, we are his temple. We are the only temple God wants or needs in the world today. J.