In John 2, a monumental shift takes place in redemptive history. What exactly is that shift? The beauty of God’s covenantal relationship with His image bearers is that He promises, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” This relationship has always been unilateral, meaning, that God’s relationship with humanity is always initiated and maintained by Him alone. This point is clear in the opening two chapters of Genesis, where God not only enters into relationship with Adam and Eve by creating them, but also He sets the terms and stipulations of that relationship, which lead to either blessing or cursing. What is even more astounding is when God enters into covenantal relationships, He does not do so in an austere or distant fashion. When God is in relationship with someone or a people, His presence is also with that people. While He is altogether transcendent (above all things and superior to all things), He is also immanent; He is near.
God’s holy presence is a mediated presence. In the Garden of Eden, the Garden becomes the place where God’s presence dwells with our first parents. In fact, Eden was the archetypal temple of God, where God would walk with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day. In this temple God and Adam were unhindered by sin, nothing distorted their relationship with each other, as the first people were naked and not ashamed. Adam and Eve also were in perfect relationship with each other. In this temple were also reminders of God’s covenant relationship with Adam and Eve–a tree of life, symbolizing the abundant life of God Himself which was given to them as a gift, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, a reminder of God’s holy and righteous standard for His people. They were to worship and adore God alone, and never take it upon themselves to turn their affections toward themselves or any other created gift. Of course, through the deception of the Serpent, Adam and Eve rebelled against God and were expelled from the Garden Temple, with the cherubim set at the east entrance of the Garden, guarding the way to the tree of life, lest man take from the tree of life, eat, and live forever.
Would this forever be the end of God’s covenant relationship with humanity? Of course not, as God would enter into relationship with Noah and his family, as well as with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their offspring. God walked with these individuals and His presence was with them as He fulfilled His promises to them. But through Moses, God would once again mediate His presence with His people, now the nation of Israel, through a Garden-temple called the tabernacle. The instructions for this building are found in Exodus 35-40. What is fascinating is that its entrance was to the east, just like the Garden of Eden. Cherubim would be part of its makeup, as their wings spread over the Ark of the Covenant. Inside this tabernacle would be symbolic reminders of God’s holiness and reminders of man’s need for atonement for sin. Although God is omnipresent, His covenantal presence would be mediated through the tabernacle, through the Aaronic priesthood. All of Israel’s worship centered on this moving tabernacle and to be cut off from the tabernacle was to be cut off from the presence of God and any hope of a relationship with Him.
As Israel moved to a monarchy, there was the desire of King David to build God a house. In 2 Samuel 7, we find that it is not David who would build a house for God, but God would build a house for David–a line of kings culminating in an eternal King who would sit upon David’s throne forever. It would not be David but his son Solomon who would be given the gift of grace to build God a temple. Now that Solomon had secured peace throughout the kingdom, Jerusalem the capital would be the permanent place of God’s temple. We read that God’s presence, after Solomon’s prayer of dedication, floods the temple and again God’s presence is mediated to His people.
Yet, if Israel disobeyed God’s law, and went after idols, just like Adam and Eve faced the consequences of God, so Israel would also face severe consequences. This time, instead of being expelled from the Garden, Israel would be expelled from her land to captivity in a foreign land. As a sign of God’s judgment, the temple, the symbol of God’s presence, would be destroyed. But it is not that YHWH Himself would be destroyed, for He would simple remove His presence from the temple, as recorded in Ezekiel.
As you look in the prophets, the threat is always ultimate judgment in the destruction of Jerusalem and exile. Yet, God floods all the prophets with words and images of restoration. He will not forsake His people forever, for to do so would mean that God would break His own covenantal word, which He cannot do, for God cannot lie. The challenge when reading the prophets is to understand exactly how God would do this, as the prophets often use symbolic language tied into things they were familiar with in their own day to project something future that is greater. What we can ascertain is that this future restoration would involve a New Covenant, a greater temple, a restored land (which would include a renewed earth), and a new people. In other words, the greatest expression and fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant.
The key to understanding how these prophecies were fulfilled is found in the New Testament. It is found in the Christo-centric hermeneutic presented by Jesus Himself and carried through in the writings and preaching of the Apostles. The New Covenant is accomplished through the death of Christ on the Cross. The Greater Temple, according to John 2, is Christ Himself, the Word made flesh who “tabernacled” among us. This temple would be destroyed and raised into a glorious new temple, a resurrected temple, which ascended into the heavenly temple to intercede as high priest. What about the restored land? Some believe that this will be during what is called the Millennium, a literal 1,000 year reign of Christ from Jerusalem over the whole world. Yet, a closer examination NT text indicate that the land is now the whole world to be reached with the gospel of the New Covenant (see the Great Commission). But even greater, the restored land is ultimately the New Heaven and Earth, which is the land that Abraham was looking for (Hebrews 11:10,16) and was promised, which is the land that we read of in Revelation 21-22.
And this new people? It is the New Covenant Church which is the fulfillment of Old Covenant promises and prophecies. Time does not allow in this already lengthily article to expound, but a careful reading of the book of Acts shows that the Apostles understood that what was happening from Pentecost on was the fullest expression of Israel’s anticipations. It’s not a replacement, but a fulfillment. As ethnic Jews are brought to salvation in God through Jesus Christ, they become the Church, Abraham’s true offspring because they come by faith in Abraham’s Seed–Christ. Yet, as even the Old Testament looked forward to the inclusion of Gentiles, so we see this in full expression as Gentiles are now grafted in to God’s redemptive tree. So both Jews and Gentiles make up the new temple of God, the church, as the church is referred to numerous times in the NT as God’s temple, building, or holy place.
By consequence, this means that a literal rebuilt temple cannot be part of God’s redemptive program, because this program is fulfilled completely in Christ already. In our day and age (the eschatological age), we are simply seeing the outworking of God’s kingdom purposes. This will all be consummated at the return of Christ, when God and the Lamb will be the Temple, and we will dwell again in a perfect Eden, a perfect Temple, the New Heavens and Earth. So we see the great shift in the idea of the Temple–from shadow to substance, promise to fulfillment, type and antitype–all leading to the exaltation and glory of God through the finished work of Christ, applied by the Holy Spirit, to the temple of God, the Church.
Praise God for His perfect work! Now let’s go in the power of the Spirit to be a part of God’s temple building plan for the New Covenant age–making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all Christ commands–all with the promise of God’s presence, the presence of Immanuel, with us to the end of the age.