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17 September 2019

Jesus, the True and Greater Temple

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the well
Prophecy teachers often focus on an anticipated new or “third temple” to be built in Jerusalem before or during the Millennium. Such views stand in tension with the New Testament portrait of Jesus as the Greater and True Temple that was foreshadowed by the structures of the faith of Israel.
Prior to the Millennium, according to this view, the reconstruction of the temple will be a pivotal sign of the soon return of Jesus. In the millennium, the temple will be the location from which Jesus rules the earth and the global center of worship. The ancient feasts, sacrifices, and other Levitical rituals will be restored, and Israel will fulfill its role as the light of the world.
But if Jesus is the true Temple in which God’s presence dwells, why must another stone edifice “made-with-hands” be built, one in which His glory will not reside? If he is the “once-for-all sacrifice” for sins, the “priest forever after the order of Melchizedek,” the inaugurator of the New Covenant, the one who “achieved the purification of sins,” and fulfilled all the “law and the prophets,” why the need to regress to the old and obsolete regime (Hebrews 8:13)? What was the point of Christ’s death, or did he simply “die in vain” (Galatians 2:21)?
Consistently in the New Testament, Jesus is the true and greater Temple, the habitation of God that was prefigured in the earlier tabernacle and later temple (John 1:14; Colossians 1:19; 2:9). He is the true Bethel, the “house of God,” the real mediator between heaven and earth (John 1:51). He is the temple “made-without-hands” that was destroyed by evil men but raised from the dead by God (John 2:17-21).
The question about the proper location of a temple building is no longer relevant; with the arrival of Jesus “the hour is coming and now is when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (John 4:20-24).
In Christ, all the fullness of God dwells (Colossians 2:9-17). Christians are built up, established and made “complete in him”; Jewish and Gentile believers are “circumcised with the circumcision made-without-hands.” Once restricted to the outer sections of the Temple, Gentiles now have full access to the presence of God through Jesus. The “middle wall” of separation between Jew and Gentile has been dismantled in him. Do we really wish to erect it again?
Disciples of Jesus have been quickened in him and, no longer, are subject to calendrical and dietary rites. Such practices had their time and place but were no more than “shadows of the coming things.” What was foreshadowed under the old system has come to fruition in Jesus.
God never intended to achieve perfection through the Levitical system; otherwise, He would not have promised a greater priest and a “better sacrifice” (Hebrews 7:11-28; Psalm 110:4). And a change of priesthood means a “change of law.” The Levitical system was powerless to perfect anyone, therefore, Jesus became the “guarantor of a better covenant,” appointed to a better and an “un-transmissible priesthood.”
The Levitical priests entered the earthly tabernacle to offer “gifts and sacrifices” (Hebrews 8:1-13). But their priestly services were only “glimpses and shadows of the heavenly things”; the tabernacle was the model of the heavenly reality. In contrast, Jesus ministers on behalf of his people from “the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens in the Holy place and Real Tabernacle pitched by the Lord and not man.”
Jesus inaugurated a “new and better covenant legislated on better promises” (Jeremiah 31:31-33). The old covenant was “not faultless”; it was unable to achieve “purification of sins” (Hebrews 1:1-3; 8:1-11). With the arrival of the new covenant, the old one “has been made obsolete” (Hebrews 8:13).
Jesus is the supreme high priest, the final mediator who entered the “greater and more perfect Tabernacle, one not-made-with-hands,” to appear in the presence of God for us (Heb 9:11, 24).
Jesus is the “true Light that lights every man that comes into the world” (John 1:4-9; Luke 1:78-79; 2:32; Acts 26:23). The mission given to Israel has fallen to him and his followers. He fulfills the role because he is the true Israel of God; likewise, his disciples are lights in this world but only as they reflect his light (Matthew 5:14; Philippians 2:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:5; Revelation 1:20).
Jesus came to “the circumcision to confirm the promises made to the fathers.” This included the promise that “the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” As Isaiah prophesied, Jesus was the “root of Jesse risen to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall they trust” (Romans 15:8-9). He reigns over the nations now, in this present age (cp. Revelation 1:4-6).
The gospel is proclaimed to all nations “for the obedience of faith,” as promised by the prophets and according to the commandment of God (Romans 16:25-16). The scriptures foresaw that God would justify the heathen and, therefore, proclaimed to Abraham, “In you will all nations be blessed” (Galatians 3:8). This has now occurred in Abraham’s “seed, Christ” (Galatians 3:16). All men who follow him in faith are the “true seed of Abraham,” regardless of nationality.
As he concluded his testimony before the Sanhedrin, Stephen reminded the temple authorities that “the Most High does not dwell in places made-by-hand.” However much a part of the Levitical code, at the end of the day, temple buildings and tabernacles are man-made structures; shadows, types, and models of the true habitation of God’s Spirit.
With the victory of Jesus, the time of shadows has come to an end. He is the end, the “goal” of the Mosaic legislation (Romans 10:4). The structures of the old regime have reached their intended ends; Jesus is now and forever the true and final temple to which the shadows pointed, the substance that casts the shadows.
What About the Millennial Temple?
The single passage that describes the thousand-year period makes no mention any temple, tabernacle, sanctuary, altar, animal sacrifice, Jerusalem or Israel; those things must be imported into the text (Revelation 20:1-10).
The expectation about a millennial temple is based on Chapters 40-48 of Ezekiel and Isaiah 2:2-4 (“in the last days the mountain of Yahweh’s house will be established on the top of the mountains…and all nations will flow to it”). There are two main problems with this interpretation:
1.     Only one biblical passage refers to a thousand-year period and it makes no mention of a temple (Revelation 20:1-10).
2.    Revelation locates Ezekiel’s ideal temple in “New Jerusalem” (21:1-22:5).
What the book of Revelation does locate in the Millennium is the binding of Satan to prevent him from deceiving the nations and the saints martyred “for the testimony of Jesus” that reign with Christ as a priestly company. The “rest of the dead” do not live until the thousand years are concluded. Further details about events and places during the period are not provided; neither Temple nor Jerusalem is mentioned.
Satan is loosed at the end of the thousand years to deceive the nations and to gather them to the final battle against God’s “saints.” This confrontation results in the destruction of the wicked and the final judgment.
The book of Revelation does allude to language from Ezekiel Chapters 40-48 but does so in describing New Jerusalem. Thus, John saw a “new heaven and a new earth,” and the “holy city, New Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.” John was carried “in the spirit to a great and high mountain” to see the descent of the holy city (Revelation 21:9-10). This echoes Ezekiel 40:1-2 where the hand of Yahweh carried Ezekiel “into the land of Israel to set him upon a very high mountain on which was the frame of a city on the south.”
An angel took “a golden reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall” (Revelation 21:15). Likewise, in Ezekiel 40:3-5, a man “with a line of flax in his hand and a measuring reed stood in the gate…And, behold, a wall on the outside of the house round about, and in the man’s hand a measuring reed six cubits long, of a cubit and a handbreadth each: so he measured the thickness of the building, one reed; and the height, one reed.”
New Jerusalem had “a wall great and high; with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names written on it, which are of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: on the east were three gates; and on the north three gates; and on the south three gates; and on the west three gates” (Revelation 21:12-13,). Likewise, in Ezekiel 48:30-35, “The gates of the city shall be after the names of the tribes of Israel, three gates northward…And at the east side three gates…And at the southside three gates.”
In New Jerusalem, John saw “a river of water of life, bright as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.” On either side was “the tree of life, bearing twelve fruits yielding fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:1-2, 22:14; 22:19). This picture is based on Ezekiel 47:1-12.
The final verse of Ezekiel reads, “The name of the city from that day shall be, ‘Yahweh is there’” (48:35), which corresponds to Revelation 22:3, “and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be there.”
John stated that he “saw no temple” in New Jerusalem but was referring to its lack of a physical building. In the city, the “Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are the Temple,” just as the city has no more need of the light of the sun or moon, “for the glory of God illuminated and its lamp is the Lamb.” In the end, the holy sanctuary encompasses the entire creation, God’s presence is everywhere, and all unclean things are excluded from New Jerusalem.
A temple building in Jerusalem is found in the thousand-year period only by importing it into the text from other passages and traditions. This does not mean that the New Testament has abandoned the promise of an ideal temple; it has reinterpreted it in Jesus Christ.

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