Dismantle Church — Part 3

Tree of Life
Tree of Life, © The Bible Project

When I was a new believer, I was at a youth meeting where a preacher preached on the parable of the prodigal son. During the question and answer time, I asked him, “When the prodigal son returns, will he get his inheritance?” The preacher said, “How can he get what he squandered? He will not have any inheritance.” It sounds logical because we think from our context and do not understand the patriarchal family context.

We think the redeemed Prodigal son may have a place to stay and food to eat but cannot inherit anything more from the Father. So what does it mean to him? Let us imagine. He may try to work with the servants to keep himself occupied, thinking it is better than feeding the pigs. Then, once a week, he meets the Father to thank him and always tries to avoid facing his older brother. He likely may never get married because he has no inheritance to pass to his children.

This is the mindset of our current individualistic thinking. We apply this to our understanding of biblical truths. In the previous chapter, we discussed how we misunderstood redemption and our identity as sons and daughters in the household of our heavenly Father. In this chapter, we see how we misunderstood our purpose to become God’s dwelling place, which is our spiritual inheritance in Christ.

When God created Man, he placed them in the Garden to be with Him and reign with Him. (Genesis 1:28) The Garden at Eden was God’s dwelling place. (Genesis 3:8, Leviticus 26:12) God, man and creation were in perfect union. But, when man rebelled against God, he was sent out of it. Our sin separated us from God’s presence and his dwelling place.

After that, in the book of Exodus, we see that God’s presence appeared tangibly at Mount Sinai for the first time. “Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire.” (Exodus 19:16–18)

When Moses completed erecting the tabernacle as God commanded him on the mountain, God’s glory filled the tabernacle. “For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.” (Ex 40:34–38) God came to dwell among his people again. (Leviticus 26:11,12). However, it is nothing compared to the Garden because Man was still sinful.

Roughly 500 years later, King Solomon completed building the temple, and during its dedication, the glory of the Lord filled the temple. “As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple.” (1 Kings 8:10–11, 2 Chronicles 7:1)

The imagery of flowers, fruits, palm trees, cherubims, the lampstand, etc., in the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple point to the Garden, an archetypical temple of God. Just as God appointed priests to serve him in the temple, He called Adam and Eve to tend it (abad/serve) and keep it (shamar/preserve) as his royal priests.

About 150 years after inauguration, Solomon’s temple was in wrecks, so King Josiah ordered the temple’s restoration. Another 200 years later, God allowed King Nebuchadnezzar to destroy the temple because of Israel’s sin. Just as God drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden for their rebellion, He sent Israelites into exile for their sin. A few years before the destruction, Ezekiel prophesies about the glory of God leaving the temple. (Ezekiel 10)

After 70 years in exile, Jews returned to rebuild the temple, but God’s glory did not descend on the temple this time, and there was no mention of the Ark since then. (Ezra 6:16)

Over 400 years later, Jesus came to cleanse this temple of those who made it a marketplace. He said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn My Father’s house into a marketplace!” (John 2: 12–24, Matthew 21:12–13) 40 years after Jesus, around 70 AD, God’s judgement fell on Jerusalem for their sin; the Roman army burned the city and the temple with fire.

About 40 years before that dreadful Day of the Lord, on the day of Pentecost, a few days after Jesus ascended to heaven, God’s glory rested on the disciples who gathered to pray, with the sound of rushing wind and fire, just as Ezekiel describes his vision by the Chebar canal. (Acts 2:1–3) (Ezekiel 1)

Becoming the temple of God

So what am I trying to say? When we see the biblical narrative, we will notice that the Temple is God’s dwelling place. Like in the Garden of Eden, God’s presence was in the tabernacle and the temple King Solomon built until the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon. We have seen how God displays his presence with fire, smoke, and clouds during the temple’s inauguration. On the day of Pentecost, the Spirit of God came with rushing wind and rested on the disciples as tongues of fire to make them the new temple as prophesied by prophet Joel. (Joel 2:28)

Apostle Paul presents this truth to the church in Ephesians. “Therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. In Him the whole building is fitted together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together into a dwelling place for God in His Spirit.” (Ephesians 2: 19–22)

When Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days, I will raise it up.” Jesus was not only revealing that he was going to raise on the third day, but he also meant that in the new covenant he is bringing about, his body (his Church) is the new temple where the Spirit of God dwells. (John 2:19) “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (1 Colossians 1:15–20)

When we are born of the Spirit of God, we are born into the household of the Father as sons and daughters. This household is the temple of the Spirit of God. (John 14:23) (Acts 1:8)

So, what do all these things mean to us?

The temple is the place where God’s presence dwells

We now know that God’s presence was in the garden, then in the tabernacle and the temple in Jerusalem. As His presence came down at Sinai, He came to his Church on the day of Pentecost as promised.

Before ascending to heaven, Jesus promised to his disciple, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

The Spirit of God that was hovering over the waters in Genesis, that walked with Adam and Eve, that was on mount Sinai, and the most holy place now inhabits the hearts and community of believers who love him.

The people of God, the Church, have become His dwelling place. So what does it mean? The Spirit of God that was hovering over the waters in Genesis, that walked with Adam and Eve, that was on mount Sinai, and the most holy place now inhabits the hearts and community of believers who love him. “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (John 14:20–23) Have you realised how awesome and dreadful it is? Do we understand the weight of this truth?

The temple is the place where heaven and earth overlap

You may ask, isn’t God in heaven? Unfortunately, we are made to believe that heaven is somewhere above the clouds.

God is Spirit, he inhabits the spiritual realm, yet he created the physical realm and made his dwelling place with man. The Garden in Eden was the first temple where spiritual and physical dimensions overlapped. But our sin separated it. In Revelation 21, we see how heaven comes down to earth as a bride ready for her groom. In Christ, heaven and earth overlapped again by the Spirit of God (His Presence) in the body of Christ, which is His Church. We are already that new creation. (2 Corinthians 2:17)

In Christ, heaven and earth overlapped again by the Spirit of God (His Presence) in the body of Christ, which is His Church.

Paul wrote to Ephesians, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places… according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:3–14)

John also brings this idea while addressing the seven churches/ekklesia as seven lampstands of the heavenly temple where Christ is amidst them. Lampstands, which were in the temple, symbolise the Tree of life of the Garden.

God reigns from His temple

When Jesus began to proclaim the gospel, he said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In Christ, the kingdom of God, or the reign of God, has come to us.

Paul in Ephesians writes, “when he (Christ) raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:20–23) (Hebrews 12:22–24)

In the Garden, God calls Adam and Eve to have dominion over all the earth. They were like God’s viceroys who reigns on behalf of the king. So today, when God’s people submit to the lordship of Christ in all their lives, He restores our calling to reign with Christ.

When God’s people submit to the lordship of Christ in all their lives, He restores our calling to reign with Christ.

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9, 10)

The temple is the house of prayer for all nations

When Jesus came to the temple, he was angry because they had made it a den of robbers. Quoting prophet Isaiah, he said, “It is written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer.’ But you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Matthew 21:13, Isaiah 56:7)

God desires all nations to come to him and pray. Interestingly, when King Solomon prayed at the temple dedication, the Spirit of God filled the temple. Similarly, when the disciples were praying in Jerusalem, the Spirit of God came like a mighty wind and tongues of fire rested on each one of them. They all prophesied by speaking about the mighty works of God in the languages of many nations.

God’s people from all nations are the temple of the Spirit of God, who have access to God to whom we can call Abba Father.

Today what does it mean to be the house of prayer? Since God’s people from all nations are the temple of the Spirit of God, who have access to God to whom we can call Abba Father. He desires us to call on him, and he promises to answer us.

The early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.”

The temple is the perfection of beauty

When Jerusalem and the temple fell to Babylon, prophet Jeremiah lamented. “‘Is this the city that was called the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth?’” (Lamentations 2:15)

The beloved psalmist of Israel writes, “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised in the city of our God! His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King.” “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shone.” (Psalm 48:2, Psalm 50:2)

Was this merely their love of their homeland? I think the psalmist and the prophet could say this because the presence of the almighty God rested in the temple. The only place on earth where heaven and earth overlap.

The Bride of Christ is beautiful because the Spirit of God inhabits it. It is a picture of the marriage of heaven and earth.

In Revelation, John prophesies about this new temple, the Bride of Christ, coming down with all her beauty. “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.” (Revelation 21:9–11)

“Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind. Breathe on my garden and spread the fragrance of its spices. Let my beloved come into his garden and taste its choicest fruits.” (Song of Solomon 4:16)

The Bride of Christ is beautiful because the Spirit of God inhabits it. It is a picture of the marriage of heaven and earth.

So what does it all mean to become the temple of the Spirit of God? First, I think it means to have the presence of God made visible in all His power, beauty, wisdom, love and holiness to the people around and the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. And secondly, to serve God as his priests. As a local community of disciples, we are the dwelling place of the almighty God, both individually and corporately.

The presence of God made visible in all His power, beauty, wisdom, love and holiness to the people around and the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.

Do we understand the weight of this incredible gift, our inheritance we received in Christ? Unfortunately, our ‘ticket to heaven gospel’, which the preacher at the youth meeting believed, is that my faith in Jesus is to go to heaven after I die. It conveniently ignores our identity, authority, purpose, calling and inheritance in Christ today as a child of God.

This gospel does not require us to become part of the household of God and the temple of the Spirit of God. As Jeroboam, king of the northern kingdom built temples and high places to prevent people from going to the temple of God in Jerusalem. Our Sunday Show Business is our new high place built to worship our idols.

That is why we see celebrity preachers, glorious denominations, high-tech church services, which have nothing to do with the temple of God. To us, Christ gives a stern warning, “I will come to you and remove your lampstand (Tree of Life) from its place unless you repent.”

Let us ask ourselves, Do the world around us witness the Spirit of God in our local churches, families and our individual lives? If not, it is time we repent and dismantle our high places to seek God and worship him.

Do the world around us witness the Spirit of God in our local churches, families and our individual lives?

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Mark Raja

Mark Raja

Product designer, Systems thinker, Creative catalyst, Amateur writer, Father, Husband