Many things in the Old Testament are what we call ‘types’, that is something that foreshadows or points to another, yet greater, thing to come in the future. Types are given with the ultimate intention of waiting for the anti-type to come, or another way stated, waiting for that which completes and fulfills the type.
It is true that God has always wanted a place in which He could dwell. In Exodus, He first gave the plans for the tabernacle, the mobile dwelling place of God of which His glory was to rest between the two cherubim. But it was only temporary until something of greater grandeur would be built once Israel had settled in the land of Canaan. We see this more ‘permanent’ dwelling place with the construction of the temple in the days of Solomon. There is no doubt its glory surpassed that of the tabernacle. It stood as a superior dwelling of God in His glory. But again, this was only temporal until something greater would come. These were both types, pointing to a greater temple, a more excellent dwelling place of God.
When Christ arrived on the scene, He made this interesting statement:
Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. (John 2:19)
Unfortunately, the Jews of the day assumed Jesus was speaking of the physical temple based in Jerusalem, hence their response in verse 20. But John clarifies that Jesus was speaking about Himself when penning these subsequent words:
But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:21-22)
Therefore, we must first recognize that Christ is the great temple of God in which all the glory, splendor, power, character and fullness of deity was to dwell in bodily form (see Colossians 1:15; 2:9). And no doubt the Son of God fulfilled such. Eugene Peterson had this to say about John’s words in chapter 2 of his Gospel:
‘So when John tells us that Jesus, the flesh and blood Jesus that everyone can see, dwelt among us, he clearly means us to understand that Jesus is the new tabernacle and temple of the Hebrew people. Do you want to see God present among you, do you want to come into the presence of God and worship him? Here he is making himself at home among you: Jesus – pitching his tent, building a house, setting up shop.’ (Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Place, p99-100)
Yet, we must also consider another beautiful temple which God is building today. As stated in my previous article, God is currently in the process of forming a people of the kingdom who would produce the fruits of the kingdom (see Matthew 21:43) – one of both Jew and Gentile submitted to Christ. Thus, in regards to the topic of the temple of God, we read these words of Paul:
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 building, being fitted together, is growing in to a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:20-22)
You see, it is the body of Christ that is being built into a holy temple, for Peter stated it this way:
You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5)
And we can even consider the words of Stephen that, in actuality, ‘the Most High does not dwell in houses [or temples] made by human hands’ (see Acts 7:48-49).
Some might claim, ‘Well, that is good and all, the spiritual temple God is building. But He still desires to build a physical temple, for the prophets proclaimed such.’ To this, I would agree that God did promise that a new and beautiful temple would be rebuilt (see Ezekiel chapters 40-48). But we must consider that, in the days of Zerubbabel and Ezra, a physical temple was rebuilt (see Ezra chapters 3, 5, and 6).
Yet, some would argue that Zerubbabel’s temple was not as glorious as described by Ezekiel, thus we are still awaiting another temple to be built in Jerusalem. But, I would remind us that we cannot read the Old Testament promises without viewing them through the lens of the New Testament. We have to ask, ‘What did Christ and the writers of the New Testament say?’ For as I quoted one theologian in another previous article:
‘The Old Testament is no longer the last word on end-time prophecies since the Messiah of prophecy Himself has come as the last Word. The New Testament has been written as the ultimate norm for the fulfillment and interpretation of Israel’s prophecies. A Christian would deny his Christian faith and Lord if he reads the Old Testament as a closed entity, as the full and final message of God for Jews irrespective of the cross and resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah, and apart from the New Testament explanation of the Hebrew writings.’ (Hans K. LaRondelle, The Israel of God in Prophecy: Principles for Prophetic Interpretation)
The truth is that God has kept His promise to fulfil the words prophesied by Ezekiel. Initially, this fulfillment came in the days of Zerubbabel and Ezra. But, even more, based upon the New Testament passages we looked at earlier, God is building a different kind of temple today. As I claimed earlier in this article, God has always wanted a temple – a place of dwelling for Himself. But, in the new covenant, God has shown that He is building something greater than a temple made of brick and stone. The physical temple pointed to something greater – a people who are being built together as a holy temple, a dwelling of God, in the Spirit.
Though this is a lengthier quote, Christopher Wright made it clear through this illustration:
‘Imagine a father who, in the days before mechanized transport, promises his son, aged 5, that when he is 21 he will give him a horse for himself. Meanwhile the motor car is invented. So on his 21st birthday the son awakes to find a motor car outside, “with love from Dad”. It would be a strange son who would accuse his father of breaking his promise just because there was no horse. And even stranger if, in spite of having received the far superior motor car, the son insisted that the promise would only be fulfilled if a horse also materialized, since that was the literal promise. It is obvious that with the change in circumstances, unknown at the time the promise was made, the father has more than kept his promise. In fact he has done so in a way that surpasses the original words of the promise which were necessarily limited by the mode of transport available at the time. The promise was made in terms understood at the time. It was fulfilled in the light of new historical events.’ (Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament)
The horse is like the temple of the old covenant; the motor car is like the temple of the new covenant, that is, the body of Christ. For God knows that a temple made of His people shines with a beauty and magnificence far greater than that of one constructed of stone. Thus, God has been faithful to fulfill His promises, and He is fulfilling them in greater ways than could have ever been imagined in the days of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the rest of the prophets. And, even more, when the fulfillment of any type comes, we are to never go back to the type. Thus, with Christ and His body as the great temple, God does not call us back to construct a physical temple. The promise has been fulfilled!
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think…(Ephesians 3:20)
Next time, I will look at the land of Israel as a type of something greater to come in the new covenant.