Compare and discuss the three-tiered design of creation (sky, land, and sea) that God completes on the seventh day (Genesis 1:1-2:2) with the three-part design of Solomon’s temple (holy of holies, holy place, and courtyard) completed after seven years (1 Kings 6). What similarities and differences stand out to you?
How do human beings fail to trust God as they work in the cosmic garden temple (Genesis 3:1-6) and Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 9:1-9 and 11:1-13)? What happens as a result (see Genesis 3:7-24; 2 Chronicles 36:15-21)?
What do you observe as you compare the dedication of Solomon’s temple (2 Chronicles 7:1-3) with the inauguration of Jesus’ new human temples (Acts 2:1-4)?
Discuss how New Testament authors describe the Church as God’s new temple (see Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4-5).
The ancient Israelite temple was a symbol that pointed to God’s desire to live among his human partners and rule the world through them.
The temple was a sacred place to the ancient Israelites. There, Israel’s priestly representatives entered into God’s presence on behalf of the people to offer sacrifices and be in the presence of Yahweh. The temple attracted Israelite pilgrims for centuries and was a cornerstone of their covenant relationship with God.
But this powerful symbol of future hope didn’t last. The books of Joshua through 2 Kings tell the story of how Israel entered into the promised land, rebelled against their God, and dishonored the temple in Jerusalem. So after centuries of patient waiting, God handed Israel and its temple over to the imperial powers of Assyria and Babylon, who plundered and destroyed the temple and exiled Israel far from their homeland. Israel replayed the rebellion of Adam and Eve and suffered a similar result. And even though many Israelites eventually returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, they never experienced God’s presence there in the same way. This is why the biblical prophets spoke of a future temple when Israel’s God would return and take up residence once more among his people.
Understanding the significance of the temple sheds new light on the story of Jesus. The Gospel of John opens by telling us that Jesus of Nazareth was the glorious temple presence of Israel’s God embodied as a human being. “The Word became flesh and pitched a tent among us, and we saw his glory” (John 1:14). With these words, Jesus is described as the tabernacle, as the divine temple glory that became human. Jesus is the ultimate reality to which the temple pointed.
When the Holy Spirit came to take up residence among Jesus’ followers at Pentecost (Acts 2), God’s fiery appearance echoed the filling of the Jerusalem temple with the divine presence (1 Kings 8). This also helps us understand why Jesus’ earliest followers described themselves as human temples. The apostle Peter called Jesus’ people “living stones who are built up as a spiritual temple as a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus the Messiah” (1 Peter 2:5). Through Jesus, humanity is invited to reclaim their original calling to rule the world together in partnership with God.
This is what we see on the last page of the Bible, where all creation is renewed and Heaven and Earth are united in a new garden city (Revelation 21-22). We’re told that there is no temple building there (Revelation 21:22) because God himself is the temple, and his people can now live and rule directly in his presence.
Exodus 15:17-18 1 Kings 8:27 Acts 17:24-27 Genesis 2:8-15 Exodus 25:1-8 Numbers 3:7-8 Genesis 2:15 2 Chronicles 36:15-21 Jeremiah 52:12-23 Ezra 1:2-3 Ezra 3:12 John 2:13-22 John 1:1-2 Mark 16:15 Acts 1:8 Acts 2:42-47 Ephesians 2:19-22 1 Peter 2:5 Revelation 21:1-7 Revelation 21:22