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19th November, 2007

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Jerusalem's temple: does it still have any relevance?

The Romans destroyed Jerusalem's temple in 70 AD and it has never been rebuilt. Many Christians believe it no longer has any relevance because its purpose was entirely to foreshadow Jesus Christ, the “true temple of God”. This view crops up constantly in Christian writings. For instance, the New Geneva Study Bible note on Hebrews 3:5 says that, “access into God's presence would only come when the earthly tabernacle was replaced by something better”. Learned scholars such as David Carson suggest that,

Jesus cleansed the temple; under this typological reading of the Old Testament, he also replaced it, fulfilling its purposes. (Commentary on John, p. 182)

Even if it were true that Jesus is “the reality” of the stone edifice shadow, that fact does not logically lead to the conclusion that the shadow has no further value once the shadow-caster appears; literal shadows don't vanish when the object casting them comes into view! That much temple ritual symbolizes the person and work of Jesus cannot be denied — see Hebrews 9:11-12, for instance. Perhaps certain aspects of the structure itself depict aspects of His person and work. One author suggests that,

Here the curtains formed the covering of the Tabernacle, typical of Christ in his various official glories, whilst the boards speak of believers being builded together to be a habitation of God by the Spirit (A. J. Pollock, The Tabernacle's Typical Teaching, p. 26).

Maybe, maybe not. Who knows? However, to suggest that every detail, including carved pomegranates, somehow depicts Jesus is to go too far. The notion that the sole purpose of the temple was to symbolically foretell Jesus' coming doesn't hold up under scrutiny, as Hebrews 9:24 attests:

For Christ has not entered the holy places

made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us…

In some manner, the earthly edifice serves as a facsimile of a heavenly counterpart where God sits enthroned. David cried out that God heard his prayers “from His temple” (2 Sam. 22:7). Jesus' coming did not invalidate this purpose of the temple. Jesus Himself incurred the wrath of the establishment because of His zeal for His Father's house (John 2:17). Why would He be zealous for something whose use-by date had arrived? It doesn't make sense. Jesus also implied strongly that His Father was, while He Himself lived among men, “abiding” in the temple (Matt. 23:21), in full accord with its originally revealed purpose (Ex. 25:8). No wonder He was so zealous. We are clearly intended to view the temple as a wondrous gift from a loving God to undeserving men, a “place of prayer [worship] for all nations” (Mark 11:17). One Old Testament scholar, David Vanderhooft, analyzed 2 Samuel 7:10 and concluded that it speaks of the temple and that, “the people dwell beneath God's sacred precinct, in its protective shadow” (Dwelling Beneath the Sacred Place, Journal of Biblical Literature, 1999, p. 631). Had the people served God in sincerity, they would have enjoyed special blessings “in the temple's shadow”.

Standard interpretations that see it as a temporary provision and a necessary evil that God almost regretted should be abandoned unequivocally. Many passages suggest that the temple is to play an ongoing role in God's dealings with both mankind and glorified saints. Indeed, a primary focus of the believer's reward is to be “brought” to the temple where he or she will even offer sacrifices! (Is. 56:7). Believers will “inherit” the holy mountain on which a rebuilt temple will stand (Is. 57:13). They will walk its paving stones together with their Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 4:17 and Ez. 43:7). May we not be so foolish as to speak disparagingly of our future home.

Suggested further Dawn to Dusk reading:

Should a temple be built in Jerusalem?

Doom to the temple

The Dawn to Dusk book Shadow and Reality deals with the question of temple symbolism at some length


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