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A Biblical Theology of God’s Temple: An Introduction (Part 1)

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Many of us know of or have heard something about God’s temple as described in the Bible. In the most general sense, the notion of temple throughout Scripture simply has to do with God dwelling among his people. The first temple was constructed in Jerusalem under the reign of King Solomon according to God’s instruction. It was understood by Israel to be the dwelling place of God and served as the means by which his presence was mediated to his people. For this reason, it also stood as an enduring symbol of his continued faithfulness to Israel and functioned as an important ethnic and religious symbol that marked them as separate from all the other nations: the temple signified that the Jews alone were God’s chosen people whom he was committed to uphold and bless. Therefore, when King Nebuchadnezzar overtook Jerusalem in 586 BC and destroyed the temple, it was an incredibly devastating blow to the Jewish people. Nonetheless, in due course, it was rebuilt. This “second temple” was later expanded upon and made to be famously beautiful and ornate under the Roman client king of Judea, Herod the Great. This is the state in which the temple existed during the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. However, in AD 70, it was again destroyed by the Roman emperor Titus following a Jewish rebellion against Rome and to this day has never been rebuilt.

In modern times, understandably so, many Jews possess a hope that the temple will one day be rebuilt and its functions reinstituted. Alternatively, other religious groups have constructed for themselves temples claiming that they are the modern continuation of the ancient temple and see them as vital to the present day practice of faith and worship (e.g. Mormonism). Against both ideas are the collective witness of the New Testament scriptures which claim that Christ has fulfilled the Jewish law with its temple and priesthood and has instituted a new covenant, that is, a new promise of salvation given by God that functions in a different way. According to the Bible, this new covenant, available to both Jews and non-Jews alike, operates solely on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ and thus there no longer remains any need for a modern day physical temple (e.g. Hebrews 7-9).

For this reason, the reader may be forgiven in asking, “Does the temple still retain any significance for the Christian faith and is there any benefit in studying it?” It is the aim of this series to show that indeed it does. Though the Jewish temple has been superseded, the theme of temple is nonetheless picked up by the New Testament authors and further developed in meaningful ways which function as a progression of all that which came before. Indeed, a careful study of the progression of the theme of temple throughout the Bible—developed further and further at each successive stage in the biblical-historical narrative—will richly benefit all those who invest the time to understand it. A study of this theme within Scripture displays God’s enduring faithfulness throughout the generations of old and upward into the present. Furthermore, it teaches us about the present reality of the Christian faith and carries with it a glorious future promise for all those who have faith in Jesus Christ. For these reasons, it is my prayer that you will continue along with me as I attempt to outline the trajectory of this theme of temple—that is, God’s commitment to dwell with his people—throughout the Bible, and it is my sincere hope that it will benefit you the same way that it has me.

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