|Dome of the Rock, the Temple Mount, Jerusalem|
One Sunday morning this past summer I saw a person I did not recognize at Redeemer. I went to her and asked her name. "Is this your first time with us?"
"I've been here before, but it's hard to get here since I have to walk."
That morning was cold, rainy, and very windy. "Where did you walk from?"
"LaSalle," she said.
This woman walked 5 miles in the cold, wind, and rain to be in the presence of God!
For ancient Israel the place to be, when it came to experiencing God, was the Temple. Observant, God-seeking Jews and Gentiles would travel, sometimes for hundreds of miles, to the great festivals held in Jerusalem that were centered around the activity of the Temple. Richard Bauckham writes:
"The Temple was the symbolic centre of Jewish faith and it was also the place where God was accessible to his people in a special way. It was God’s holy presence in the Temple that made Jerusalem the holy city and Palestine the holy land. It was God’s presence in the Temple that made it the only place where sacrifice could be offered." (Bauckham, Jesus: A Very Short Introduction, p. 21).
New Testament scholar Michael McClymond adds:
“The overriding importance of the Temple in first-century Judaism becomes apparent in the persistence of the Jewish people in rebuilding and maintaining the Temple and in the large place given to it in ancient literature. Bruce Chilton notes that the Jewish Temple was renowned throughout the world and was perhaps “the largest religious structure in the world at that time.”” (McClymond, Familiar Stranger, 53)
In Jesus's final weeks on earth we see him in Jerusalem, walking daily up the mountain to teach and stir the religious pot in the Temple courtyards. Jesus intimately referred to the Temple as "my Father's house." It was part of his family estate. The Temple was the House of God, the spatial locale where God especially manifested his presence. It was always intended to be a House of Prayer, where the dialogue happened between God and the people of God. It was a most holy, set-apart place. But, sadly, no longer.
As Jesus the Light of the World stood in the courtyard, the Temple had become a place of spiritual darkness. Nothing more devastating could be said than Jesus's words in Matthew 23:13: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to." (This is, BTW, the real meaning of "Church"; viz., the corporate, flesh-and-blood sanctuary wherein the presence of God abides.)
Because of this, Jesus said the Temple is going down. People won't worship God on this mountain anymore. Not one brick of this magnificent structure will be left standing. It is hard to grasp the enormity of what Jesus was saying. Imagine someone walking in the outer courts of the White House in Washington, D.C., openly proclaiming its impending ruin.
This Temple will soon be gone. It happened in 70 A.D. But the Temple will remain. Because Jesus has already said, with jaw-dropping self-referential clarity:
I tell you that something greater than the temple is here.
- Matthew 12:6
I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.
- Matthew 26:61
But the temple he had spoken of was his body.- John 2:21
Jesus reinterprets the Temple in terms of his own self. Jesus hosts the presence of God. As we abide in Jesus, corporately and individually, the followers of Jesus become portable sanctuaries that host God's manifest presence.
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?
-1 Corinthians 3:16
See James McDonald, Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs For. What Every Church can Be, on the loss of God's manifest presence in America churches today. He writes:
"Whether you are 15 people around a candle and a coffee table or 150 people in a tired building trying to turn it around or 1,500 people on the rise with plans for another service— regardless of size: if you don’t have the thing that makes us distinct, you have nothing, no matter what you have. And if you do have it— what we were made to long for; what makes us a true church of the one true God— you have everything you need, no matter what you lack."
(Kindle Locations 1003-1006)
And that thing is...?