John 2:13-22 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade." 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me." 18 So the Jews said to him, "What sign do you show us for doing these things?" 19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 20 The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
In this story, Jesus somehow equated the temple with his body. When asked about the fate of the temple, he referred to the future of his own body: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (v.19). Why did Jesus identify his own body with the temple? Paul makes the same identification when he says the believer's body is the temple of the Holy Spirit: "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?" (1 Corinthians 6:19).
Surprisingly, there is much correspondence between a believer's body and the physical temple.
- Tripartite Structure: The temple is patterned after the tabernacle in the wilderness: It has three compartments: the open-air courtyard where the altar for burnt offerings and laver with water are placed. This outer court is accessible to all people and priests. Inside the courtyard is a fully-covered tent. This tent itself is divided by a thick curtain into two sub-compartments: the larger Holy Place and the smaller Holy of Holies. In the Holy Place are placed the seven-branched lampstand (which is the only source of light for the Holy Place), a table with 12 loaves of bread and an altar of incense. And beyond the curtain inside the Holy of Holies is the ark of the covenant. Similarly, the human body is a three-compartment entity: the outer man (flesh and blood), the inner man (soul) and the innermost being (spirit): "may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess 5:23).
- God's Dwelling Place: In the wilderness, whenever God manifested himself as a cloud, he dwelt in the Holy of Holies. This corresponds to the Holy Spirit dwelling in the human spirit: "you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Rom 8:15-16). So, like the temple, we are also dwelling places of the Spirit of God in our human spirit. So, when Jesus compares himself to the temple, he is in fact saying that temple in Jerusalem is the Father's dwelling place just as his own body is the Son's dwelling place.
- Dwelling Places of the Triune God: As A.J. Gordon puts it, the Old Testament is the dispensation of God the Father who dwelt in the Tabernacle/Temple; the Gospels is the dispensation of God the Son who dwelt in Jesus' body/temple; the Church is the dispensation of God the Spirit who now dwells in the Church/Temple, which is the Body of Christ. So, in each dispensation, God has a "body" and that "body" is his temple and dwelling place.
Sometime, I struggled with pastors and elders who refer to the church building as "house of God". Without believers gathered inside, it's not a house of God but a warehouse for storing pews and organs. The dispensation of brick-and-mortar "house of God" has long gone when the Jerusalem temple was destroyed. In its place is now the temple of the Holy Spirit--and it exists whenever believers gather together, whether in the homes, offices, campuses or in public parks. The church is no more the building we call "church"; the "house of God" is the temple of the Spirit made up of warm-blooded bodies of believers of Jesus Christ.
The believers' assembly is therefore a place where God can manifest himself and others can find God in our midst. The reason for believers; gathering is not just for worship but for evangelism, so that non-believers who are in our midst may experience God in our assembly: "But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you" (1 Cor 14:24-25). Worship is not just to edify believers but is also an opportunity to reveal God to unbelievers. Worship must be both edifying and evangelistic.
Father, may Your Spirit reveals Christ in the midst of Your people, even as they gather for worship services around the world. Amen.