Jesus and the Jewish Temple

‘The Temple Mount is like a smouldering volcano that is bubbling and threatening to erupt – a threat that is liable to endanger Israel’s existence.’ That was the summary of a report handed to the Israeli prime minister a while back. Should he take it seriously?  It was written by the former Israeli secret service chief Carmi Gillon and the former police commissioner Assaf Hefetz. And the tragedy is this – some it seems are longing for it to happen. Many Christians are convinced the Jewish Temple must be rebuilt soon so that animal sacrifices can be offered once again. Then it will be desecrated by the Anti-Christ before Jesus can return and rescue his people.

In fact some churches fund organisations committed to building a Jewish Temple next to or in place of the Muslim Dome of the Rock. The Temple Institute and Temple Mount Faithful, for example, probably have more Christian supporters than Jewish. And this is not a minority issue in Israel either.

A Gallup Poll found that 58% of Israeli’s support the Temple Mount Faithful and the rebuilding of the Temple. You know what makes this poll even more significant? While Israeli society is generally divided on most subjects, this was the largest show of support, any organisation has ever received, on any issue. Rabbi Yisrael Meida explains the significance of the Temple Mount to religious Jews.

“It is all a matter of sovereignty. He who controls the Temple Mount, controls Jerusalem. And he who controls Jerusalem, controls the land of Israel.”!

Hal Lindsey insists:

“Obstacle or no obstacle, it is certain that the Temple will be rebuilt. Prophecy demands it… [is] the most important sign of Jesus Christ’s soon coming is before us… It is like the key piece of a jigsaw puzzle being found… For all those who trust in Jesus Christ, it is a time of electrifying excitement.”

With media speculating about the possibility of military intervention in Syria or a war against Iran, Christians in the Middle East don’t exactly see this as a time of ‘electrifying excitement’. Gershon Salomon, founder of the Temple Mount Faithful nevertheless does. He said this recently,

“The mission of the present generation is to liberate the Temple Mount and to remove – I repeat, to remove – the defiling abomination there … The Jewish people will not be stopped at the gates leading to the Temple Mount … We will fly our Israeli flag over the Temple Mount, which will be minus its Dome of the Rock and its mosques and will have only our Israeli flag and our Temple. This is what our generation must accomplish.”

In an interview with Sam Kiley in the Times newspaper, Salomon insisted,

“The Israeli Government must do it. We must have a war. There will be many nations against us but God will be our general. I am sure this is a test, that God is expecting us to move the Dome with no fear from other nations. The Messiah will not come by himself, we should bring Him by fighting.”

This morning in our series Christ in all the Scriptures, we have come to 1 & 2 Chronicles. These books cover the same period of history as 1& 2 Kings but deal exclusively with the Tribe of Judah and the House of David. In particular, they focus on the construction of the Temple as the centre of worship. Once David had been crowned King of Israel and built his own palace, he set his heart on building a Temple for God. “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.” (2 Samuel 7:1) as it had since the time of Moses.  But the Lord sent Nathan the prophet with this message,

“Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” (2 Samuel 7:5-8)

Instead, the Lord insists:

“The LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son…Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’” (2 Samuel 7:11-16)

Clearly, the Lord is referring to Solomon, but beyond him to someone much greater.

1. Solomon and the Construction of the First Temple

One of the first acts of David was to fetch the Ark of the Lord from the house of Abinadab, at Jebesh Gilead, to bring it to Zion [1 Chronicles 13]. For twenty years the Ark with its mercy-seat, God’s appointed meeting-place with His people, was neglected and almost forgotten. David was encouraged to bring the Ark to Jerusalem and bought the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite on Mount Moriah.

“David built an altar to the LORD there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. He called on the LORD, and the LORD answered him with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering.” (1 Chronicles 21:26)

Thus, the Tabernacle, rested upon the very place of Abraham’s sacrifice. In 2 Chronicles 2-4, we read that Solomon enlisted the help of Hiram, King of Tyre, in supplying both materials and skilled workmen to help construct the Temple. Every aspect of the Temple had spiritual significance, for God gave David detailed plans for its design which Solomon followed. In 2 Chronicles 5 we read that when the work of the house of the Lord was finished, Solomon assembled all the elders of Israel to bring up the Ark of the Lord out of Zion, the city of David.

“Then the temple of the LORD was filled with the cloud, 14 and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple of God.” (2 Chronicles 5:13-14)

What a beautiful picture of the Holy Spirit coming to fill the heart surrendered to God, cleansed by the precious blood of Christ and thus made fit to become a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) In 2 Chronicles 6, Solomon prays a moving prayer of dedication:

“LORD, the God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven or on earth…“But will God really dwell on earth with human beings? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! Yet, LORD my God, give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy… Hear the supplications of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place; and when you hear, forgive. (2 Chronicles 6:14-15, 18-21)

Though Solomon could not have known it, in the spirit of prophecy he is asking that those who look to Jesus, in drawing near to the Father, may be answered. It was only to say in symbol what the Master says in words, ”Whatsoever you ask the Father in My name He will give it you” (John 15:16)

Solomon and the construction of the first Temple.

2. Jesus and the Revelation of the True Temple

From the very beginning of his ministry, a tension is evident between Jesus and those who looked to the Temple for their security and hope. One of Jesus first public acts was to throw out the money changers and traders from the Temple. Jesus aroused both anger and confusion.

“What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”  The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:18-22)

The synoptic gospels elaborate on Jesus reply. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers’.” (Luke 19:46). Jesus is quoting from Isaiah and Jeremiah.  Isaiah had looked forward to the day when God’s people would be truly international.

“these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7).

The Temple was intended to be an inclusive place for all nations but Jeremiah foresaw how this wonderful vision would one day become distorted and corrupted.

“Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 7:11).

Jesus combines these two prophecies to explain his actions. Selling sacrificial animals, even in the Temple forecourt, was forgivable. But cheating the poor and preventing people from other nations from entering God’s presence was unforgivable.  Challenged to prove his authority, Jesus replies.

“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”  Why does Jesus say this? Because the Temple was only a temporary edifice until the true Temple had come. Still unfinished after 46 years construction, its days were already numbered. Here we have not only the first hint of Jesus’ impending sacrifice but also of his resurrection.  Jesus was not cleansing the Temple. He was declaring it redundant. The imperfect, temporary, earthly Temple has been superseded by the perfect, eternal, heavenly one. It is no coincidence that just as Jesus died on the cross, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Matthew 27:51). The old Temple was declared redundant the moment Jesus died on the cross. The curtain separating the people from the Holy of Holies was torn in two – significantly from top to bottom. The wall of separation between a Holy God and sinful world, was torn down, never to be re-erected. Why? Because of Jesus atonement – at-one-ment. Reconciling God and people. Once for all, once for all people, once for all time. That is why we no longer need to visit Jerusalem and offer bloody sacrifices to make atonement for our sin. That is why those who advocate the rebuilding of the Temple are regressing into a pre-Christian sacrificial system, superseded, made redundant and annulled by the finished work of Jesus Christ. That is why, in the words of Hebrews,

“To their loss, they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” (Hebrews 6:6).

That is why the writer to the Hebrews says:

‘By calling this covenant “new”, he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and ageing will soon disappear.’ (Hebrews 8:13).

This is why the Temple was destroyed in 70AD. It had served its purpose. The true Temple had arrived. The temporary earthly replica was now beyond its ‘sell by’ date. The real, more glorious and lasting Temple had arrived. That is why Jesus said people could now worship God anywhere:

“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24).

Hebrews explains the progression from one Temple to another:

“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship… we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”(Hebrews 10:1-3, 8-11)

God used the Roman General Titus to destroy the Temple in the same way he had used the Babylonian King Cyrus to rebuild it after the exile. When Jesus cried out ‘It is finished’ as he died on the cross, he did indeed ‘make perfect those who draw near to worship… [and] take away sins’ (Hebrews 10:1,4).

Solomon and the construction of the first Temple.
Jesus and the revelation of the true Temple.

3. The Church is Becoming the Living Temple

After Pentecost, the Temple imagery is applied to the Body of Christ, the Church. For example, In 2 Corinthians, Paul quotes from passages in Leviticus and Isaiah, both of which refer to the physical Tabernacle and Temple, and applies them to the Church.

“For we are the Temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ ‘Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.’” (2 Corinthians 6:16-17)

To the Church in Ephesus, he adds: If Jesus is the True Temple, those who follow him not become part of him, they become part of his Body, the Church of which he is the head.

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:19-21)

Notice the imagery used. God’s people. God’s household. God’s Temple. The apostle Peter does the same thing describing the Church using the same imagery associated with the Temple (Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 28:16) to describe the way we are being made into the new house of God. Christians are, he says, being made into the new house for God, in which Jesus is the ‘precious cornerstone’

“you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ… But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:5, 9)

What does this mean? If you have received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour (John 1:12), you are a child of God and he indwells you by his Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9-11). That is why Paul writes,

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

What are the implications? The Temple was the place of mediation. And you know what? It still is. We are called to be mediators. What is our ministry? Reconciliation.  As the Temple of God our role is to mediate between sinners and a holy God. How? By sharing the love of God found in Jesus Christ, in word and deed.

This is the purpose of God’s living Temple today.  Win – Build – Send.  So the Temple, first constructed by Solomon, destroyed by the Babylonians, rebuilt under Ezra and Nehemiah, and expanded and beautified by Herod, was only ever intended to be a temporary construction. It was a shadow pointing to the day when the true Temple, the Lord Jesus Christ would make atonement for our sins, be our ransom sacrifice and become the foundation stone for a new Temple, made of living stones.   This morning we have seen from Chronicles, first how Solomon constructed the first Temple; second how Jesus fulfilled the role of the true Temple; and third, how the Church is becoming the new, living and under construction, holy Temple of the Lord. In Revelation we are promised:

“I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it.  Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:22-27)

Let us pray.