“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.

Advertisements

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

At times Christians say that we should take care of our bodies because they are God’s temples. Now, I am entirely in favor of maintaining our health. That is good stewardship of part of God’s creation. (See note #1, below.) But describing our bodies as God’s temples is a mistake—one which muddles what the apostle Paul wrote. It combines two or more references into a single thought that Paul did not intend.

Paul used the word “temple” in seven places among his epistles (counting multiple uses in the same sentence as one place). Only once does he refer to the actual building in Jerusalem (I Corinthians 9:13). Another time he refers to pagan temples (I Corinthians 8:10). In the remaining five places, Paul uses the word “temple” figuratively to speak about something else. These instances are worth analyzing one by one.

I Corinthians 3:16-17: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For the temple is holy, and you are that temple.” In every case, the word “you” in these verses is plural. If your Bible does not point that out in a footnote, and if you are unable to read the New Testament in Greek, then check out a King James translation. The translators used “ye”—the plural for you at that time. (See note #2, below.) The Christian Church, together, is one temple. Moreover, Paul is writing about Christian unity in this chapter, not about physical health.

I Corinthians 6:19-20: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” This verse comes closer to saying that each of us is a temple of God, but Paul specifies in this case “a temple of the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit of God does dwell within a Christian, granting saving faith and perseverance and guiding the Christian in doing good works. The topic of this part of Paul’s letter, though is sexual morality. He stresses that visiting a prostitute is a sin against God, especially against God the Holy Spirit. In ancient Greece, as in Canaan, prostitution was part of the pagan religion. Visiting a prostitute was an act of pagan worship. Therefore, it was wrong for a Christian to visit a prostitute. By extension, a preacher might use these two verses to talk about diet and exercise or other bodily matters, but that preaching goes beyond what Paul intended in these verses.

II Corinthians 6:16: “What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God, as God said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.’” Once again, the temple of God is the Christian Church. The pronoun is plural—we, not thou—but the temple is one temple. Together, we are all the temple of God.

Ephesians 2:19-22: “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 are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Here Paul expands a simple figure of speech into an entire parable or allegory. Unmistakably, though, he is telling many Christians that together they are one temple.

II Thessalonians 2:3-4: “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that Day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” Some people treat the temple in this verse as a physical structure. (See note #3, below.). When we apply Paul’s thoughts about the temple of God in his letters to the Corinthians and Ephesians, we see that the man of lawlessness (the antichrist) will be found among God’s people, not actively opposed to the visible Church. Hitler and Stalin were not fulfillments of Paul’s prophecy, nor would Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton qualify as the man of lawlessness. That false leader will draw God’s flock astray by false teaching inside the Church—taking his seat in the temple of God.

Having established the teaching that the temple of God, according to Paul, is the whole Christian Church, I will next explain what it means for the Church to be the temple of God. J.

  1. Stewardship is a technical term describing the way Christians take care of God’s property. It sometimes becomes confused with fundraising for the church, but stewardship involves far more. Adam and Eve were placed in charge of the planet. Their descendants are still in charge of taking care of the planet. Stewardship means meeting our worldly responsibilities—paying our taxes, for example. It includes caring for our families. Yes, taking care of our own health is also part of faithful stewardship. We can do far more to serve God and help our neighbors when we are healthy than when we are sick or out of shape.
  2. English has changed since the time the Bible was first translated into English and Shakespeare wrote his plays and sonnets. Like many other languages, English had one word for addressing a single person (thee and thou) and another for addressing more than one person (ye and you). That has probably fallen out of use because of the egalitarian nature of American and British society in modern times. You see, in English of that time, as in other languages, people would use the plural pronoun to speak to royalty or to other people of importance. I suspect the origin of that custom is the Holy Trinity. When God spoke to himself, he used the plural (“Let us make man in our image,” for example.), and some ancient rulers may have started imitating the Lord to emphasize their own importance and authority. That last part is mere speculation, but the elimination of “thee and thou” means that we use the same pronoun no matter who we are addressing and how important that person is.
  3. Of course some Christians believe that this verse must be read literally and will be fulfilled literally. They anticipate that the Day of the Lord cannot arrive until a third temple has been built in Jerusalem for the man of lawlessness to defile. These becomes part of an elaborate narrative based on a few verses of Scripture taken out of context—but that can be the topic of another post.

Christ and the Temple

During Holy Week, Jesus (after clearing buyers and sellers out of the Temple courtyard) taught the crowds and debated with opponents. Temple authorities were investigating Jesus, hoping to trap him into some misstatement that would make them able to bring him to trial and convict him of some crime. Jesus overcame their verbal attacks, which only made them more frustrated and more determined to destroy him.

One day, after this verbal sparring, the disciples of Jesus pointed out to him the magnificence of the Temple. The building was, at that time, undergoing renovation, funded by the Herod family. Apparently trying to win some loyalty from the Jewish people, the Herod family was trying to give the second Temple the same splendor that Solomon’s Temple had displayed. Jesus seemed unimpressed by the large stones and beautiful artwork. Instead, he prophesied that the entire Temple would be destroyed. This prophecy was fulfilled forty years later when the Jews engaged in a war of rebellion against the Roman Empire. The prophecy of Jesus about the Temple prompted other questions from his disciples, with the result that Jesus gave them information about future history and about the coming Day of the Lord.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all report the cleansing of the Temple by Jesus, with Mark indicating that this cleansing took place on Monday of Holy Week. John does not mention this cleansing, but near the beginning of his Gospel he describes a different cleansing which Jesus accomplished early in his career. At that time, the authorities asked Jesus who gave him the right to kick people out of the Temple. He responded, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” These words of Jesus were misquoted at his trial Thursday night of Holy Week. John adds the detail that Jesus was speaking, not of the building in Jerusalem, but of his body, when he said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

How could the body of Jesus be a Temple? In the Bible and in other religions, a temple is a place where a god can be found. Temples are points of communication between gods and believers. Prayers and sacrifices are the key events in any temple. A temple is a physical structure which connects believers to their god. Therefore, the body of Jesus is a Temple. It is a physical structure in which God can be found. Jesus truly is God, so his physical body is a Temple of the true God.

In fact, the body of Jesus is more than “a Temple.” It is the Temple. The Tabernacle constructed in the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan, and used for centuries by the Israelites, was a picture of Jesus, the true Temple of God. Solomon’s Temple, modeled upon the Tabernacle, was a picture of Jesus. The second Temple, built during the Persian rule and then renovated by the Herod family, was a picture of Jesus. All of these buildings were physical access points to God, but only through Jesus can people come to God the Father.

Because it is a physical structure, a Temple can be destroyed. Solomon’s Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. The second Temple was destroyed by the Romans. In both occasions, the destruction of the Temple was recognized by God’s people as judgment by God, rejection of his people because of their sins. The physical body of Jesus was also destroyed. After a series of brutal beatings, that body was nailed to a cross and killed. In this destruction also the judgment of God is seen—his wrath against sin and against sinners. Yet Jesus never sinned. God the Father saw the sins of the world upon Jesus and treated Jesus as sin itself. By this exchange, sinners are now free from guilt, rescued from God’s wrath, and made able to approach the throne of God and even to call him Father.

“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” When the Romans destroyed the Temple building in Jerusalem, it remained destroyed. To this day it has not been rebuilt. The true Temple, though, the physical body of Jesus Christ, was restored. He was tortured and killed on Friday, but Sunday morning he was alive again. Now he lives and reigns to all eternity, and death has no power over him. He shares that victory with all who trust in him. He remains the true Temple, every believer’s access to God. No other Temple is needed. J.

Cleansing the Temple

Some years ago I was watching the movie Jesus Christ, Superstar on television after the children had gone to bed. One young daughter left her bedroom for some reason and happened to see a scene from the movie through the doorway—it was the scene in which Jesus violently disrupts the buying and selling that is taking place in the Temple. My daughter recognized that the actor in the movie was representing Jesus, but she was not familiar with this event as described in the Bible. The anger and violence with which Jesus confronted the misuse of God’s Temple puzzled and frightened her.

According to Mark, this cleansing of the Temple happened on Monday of Holy Week, the day after Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem. Matthew and Luke both describe the two events without transition, but neither of them says they took place on the same day; John does not mention this cleansing of the Temple, but he includes a similar event near the beginning of his account of the Gospel. Jesus was passionate about the Temple. It provided God’s people a place to have access to God. Animals were sacrificed there as an offering to atone for sin, though they were only pictures of the ultimate Offering that would atone for sin. Prayers were said in and around the Temple. As Jesus pointed out on that Monday, God’s house was intended to be a house of prayer.

Jesus then added that the buyers and sellers had made the Temple a den of thieves. I have not been able to verify this account, but I have read that when people brought their animals to the Temple for the sacrifice, they were told that their animals were flawed and unacceptable for sacrifice to the Lord. The buyers offered to purchase the flawed lamb or goat or bull from the worshipers and sell them a proper animal for sacrifice (at a higher price, of course). After the sale, the flawed animal was taken to a pen elsewhere on Temple property until it was sold to another worshiper in a similar way.

In the same way, the money-changers were cheating the people. The priests of the Temple said that Roman money was no good in God’s house. The money-changers offered to exchange the temple shekel for Roman coins. The exchange rate was not favorable for the worshipers. Of course the money-changers and even the priests had no difficulty spending Roman coins in the marketplace. When they asked Jesus, during Holy Week, about paying taxes to Rome and he asked them to show him a Roman coin, they had no trouble finding one to show him, even though that money was supposedly no good in God’s house.

Even today enemies of the Church accuse Christians of hypocrisy and greed. Unfortunately, they often find enough examples to prove their point. Jesus does not want his people to be known for their sins. He has paid a great price to take away their sins. Jesus still wants his house to be a house of prayer and a place where people may approach the Lord to receive his grace, his forgiveness, and his love. Therefore Jesus still fumes when he sees his Temple distracted by worldly things to the point that they no longer proclaim the message God has given them to share.

The wrath of God is real, as I had the opportunity to explain to my daughter that night years ago. God’s wrath at sin is not confined to the Old Testament; Jesus himself strikes out at sinful injustice and the way some people take advantage of others in the name of the Lord. If we are like Jesus, we will oppose evil wherever we find it. We will seek to make God’s house a house of prayer, not a den of thieves. But we will also make God’s forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ the center of our message to a sinful and needy world. J.

Is Donald Trump the Antichrist?

One day last week one of my coworkers asked me if it is possible that Donald Trump is the Antichrist. Her question was no idle jest. She knows that I have theological training, and she is concerned seeing Trump attracting such great fervor in so many people. She wanted seriously to know if there is any danger that the man, Donald Trump, who could become President of the United States next January may be the Antichrist.

I gave her a short answer, but I will expand here upon what I told her. To know whether or not Donald Trump is the Antichrist, we must compare Trump to the description of the Antichrist in the New Testament. Jesus, for example, calls the Antichrist “the abomination of desolation” (Matthew 24:15). Paul calls him “the man of lawlessness… who opposed and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the Temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (II Thessalonians 2:3-4). John wrote, “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that Antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us…” (I John 2: 18-19), and, “every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already” (I John 4:3). In the book of Revelation John describes the Antichrist as a beast that rises out of the sea, is given power by the dragon (Satan), is worshiped by the world, makes war on the saints, and speaks blasphemies against God and against all who dwell with God in heaven (Revelation 13:1-10).

Although it is tempting to try to match these descriptions of the Antichrist to Donald Trump, a bit more research makes the connection unlikely. The “abomination of desolation” is more than a powerful insult; it is a technical phrase from the book of Daniel that refers to false religion being imported into God’s Temple. Some of the kings of Judah brought false gods into the Temple, with the final result of the Babylon siege to Jerusalem which brought about the destruction of the first Temple. Antiochus IV, who called himself Epiphanes (implying that he was a god in human form), placed his statue in the Temple in Jerusalem; but Antiochus himself was humbled and destroyed, and the Temple was cleansed and rededicated. The trial and condemnation of Jesus in the Temple might be considered abomination of desolation; other crimes were committed in the Temple in the following years, and that Temple was destroyed by the Romans forty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Since that time the Temple has not been rebuilt. Some Christians believe that the Antichrist cannot do all that is said of him until another Temple has been built. They overlook the fact that Paul—who said that the Antichrist would take his seat in the Temple of God—also wrote, “Do you not know that you (plural) are God’s Temple (singular) and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (I Corinthians 3:16), and , “we are the Temple of the living God” II Corinthians 6:16), and also, “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” (Ephesians 2:19-21).

The Temple, then, is the entire body of believers in Jesus Christ, the Holy Christian Church. In this Temple the Antichrist will arise and claim authority. (“They went out from us, but they were not of us.”) In this Temple the Antichrist will claim the authority that belongs only to God, demanding the worship of all people and making war on the true believers in Christ. After all, in Greek, the prefix “anti-“ means not just “opposed to” but also “in the place of.” The Antichrist is a phony Christ, a replacement Christ, one who tries to remove Jesus from the lives of Christians and tries to take the place of Jesus in their lives.

Even as John wrote, there were many antichrists. Since that time many more have arisen, deceiving people by the dozens and sometimes by the hundreds. Jim Jones and David Koresh are antichrists of recent memory. The Antichrist, Paul’s man of lawlessness and the beast of Revelation, will deceive people by the millions. That spirit of deceit, rising from within the Church but denying Christ, was in the world when John wrote and is still in the world today.

Donald Trump claims no special authority from the Church. He might appear to want to be worshiped—his opponents might even say that he thinks that he is God—but his focus is on political power, not on spiritual power. He seeks to live in the White House; he would not say, as Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

I can think of reasons not to vote for Donald Trump, but fear that he will become the Antichrist is not among those reasons. Should he prevail in the Republican primaries and then be elected President in November, it will mean changes and adjustments for some people—probably for a lot of people—but it won’t be the end of the world. That end is coming, but not because of Donald Trump. J.