Sunday, February 10, 2008

What is the true temple?

I've been learning more during our times of gathering as believers. Today we pulled out a scripture from Mark 11:12-20. Jesus often comes up with some mind blowing controversial statements. He was walking along with the disciples. Really this meant that he was hanging out with his mates, living day to day life, all the while teaching them in informal ways. This is a good model of discipleship that we can follow. Anyway, Jesus had a look at a fig tree that was producing no fruit. Jesus was unimpressed and said to the tree "May no one ever eat fruit from you again."
At first glance this seems disconnected from what happens next. Jesus and his mates turn up to the temple in Jerusalem. What follows is one of Jesus' most passionate moments in his life. They entered the outer courts of the temple and found a market place there. Jesus was furious. People were selling and buying. So Jesus turned the market place upside down. He turned the tables over and threw the money all over the ground. Then in his most passionate voice he declared to all present "My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations." It is often a good clue to see what motivates some one, by observing what makes that person get angry and passionate. Make no mistake, Jesus was angry. But he was very justified in his anger.
Often when looking at the example of Jesus turning the tables over in the temple, we deduce that he was upset because unholy activities were being carried out in a holy place. But there is a lot more going on than that. People were using the temple for profit instead of worship, yes this made Jesus upset. But Jesus was most passionately upset because the gentiles, the nations were prevented from coming to God. The outer courts were set aside as a place for seekers to come and pray and to find the God of the universe. Jesus had a heart for the nations. The religious Jews did not. They had a religious elitism that prevented gentiles from coming to God. This was what upset Jesus so passionately, that the Gentiles, the outsiders were being excluded.
In an examination of the law in the old testament it can be seen that God had two major purposes. One of these was to show that his people were not capable of keeping all the laws and were therefore sinful. The other was to encourage Israel to open up their land to the Gentiles, to make a way for the nations to come to worship God as well. There are many references to the nations in the law. Foreigners are often referred to as "aliens." The law was written for them too, and Israel was to invite people in this relationship with God
Originally God asked Moses to set up a tabernacle in a tent. This meant that God's Holy place could move about through out the land. The tabernacle was the place where God made himself present. Through out the Bible there is a progressive revelation of God's truth. Therefore there are many things that God did, as an allowance to the people of the day. People did not understand that God's presence could be everywhere, so he limited it to a holy place. It was through Jesus' sacrifice on the cross that we all have access to God's presence. So in the old testament system, God made an allowance, a concession of grace and made his presence known through the tabernacle. This however was not God's ultimate plan.
Later on in the history of Israel, during the time of the Judges, while Samuel was the Judge, the people of Israel, cried out for a King. This was not God's plan either. He wanted his people to see that He was their King. But the people had not learnt this lesson, and so he made another concession of grace and gave them an earthly King. The first of these Kings was Saul, then David, then Solomon and so on. During David's reign, he desired a temple. This was not God's original plan. But to show that he loved his people, he allowed them to worship him in one place, in a permanent building. David started this project, but it was his son Solomon that finished it, after David died. God was not opposed to the temple at the time, but it was not his final plan. He allowed this to happen, just as he allowed the Israelites to have a King.
These concepts are not that hard for us to understand as Christians. We know that God wanted to be the King of Israel. We learn when Jesus came that he is the King of the Jews, and in deed the King of all nations. We also learn that he is the High Priest above all priests. He is the Priestly King. Very few Christians will argue with these concepts. We also know that we can all come into God's presence after the curtain in the temple was torn. Think about that for a moment. The curtain demarcated the Holy of Holies where only the High Priest could go. But now we can all go into the Holy of Holies. Does that not make us priests as well? So then, why do we need separately ordained priests in the modern body of Christ?

As I said earlier, Jesus liked to say controversial things, to stir things up. So I am going to take a leaf out of Jesus' book today and also say some controversial things. In Matthew 24 Jesus was again walking with his mates from the temple. His mates pointed out how beautiful the buildings were. After all, Herod had spent a lot of money on the temple, and surely God wanted a beautiful building to live in, where we can worship him. It seems like they didn't really know their Bible that well, and did not realise that the temple was an earlier concession, that Jesus had come to do away with. Jesus pointed out to his mates " 'Struth, I tell ya, not one stone here will be left on another, every one will be thrown down." Whoah! What did you just say Jesus? This temple will be destroyed? This temple is not important? Jesus was pointing out that the temple was not important to him. So then why do we bother to spend so much wasted money on Christian temples today?
The curtain in the temple was torn at Jesus' death. The temple system was done away with. It was replaced. Yes it is true, that in the early church, in Jerusalem that the believers would pray in the temple, and also meet in their homes. This was their tradition, their culture, what they knew. It is also true, that they hung around Jerusalem too long and were slow in being obedient to take the gospel to all nations. By 70 AD, the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed, just as Jesus had prophesied. The end of the spiritual significance of the physical Israel ceased at Jesus' death and resurrection in 33 AD. The physical evidence of this came in 70 AD. The earthly Israel had been replaced in God's plan by a spiritual Israel, the Body of Christ, the world wide church. (Romans 11). This was the end of Israel. The Israel of today is the not the real thing. Yes of course God still loves the Jews, but he has a new Israel, the old one is done away with.
Back to the temple again in Mark 11. Jesus turned the tables over in the temple. He saw no fruit there. Just as he told the fig tree it would produce no more fruit, he pronounced the same of the temple. In verse 21 of Mark 11, the fig tree is withered. The story of the traders in the temple is sandwiched in between the story of the fig tree. This gives the story a bit more punch. Jesus directly tells the fig tree to wither, and more subtly says that the temple will wither. Of course in Matthew 24 he prophesies its withering.
After AD 70, the temple was no more and the believers were scattered. They were forced to meet in homes. The early church in the first few centuries almost exclusively met in homes. The early Jewish believers had their temples and synagogues. The Gentile believers were hardly going to worship Jesus in their pagan temples, so they worshipped in their homes. This is ok, though, Jesus did away with the temple. Again, why do we waste money on Christian temples today?

Jesus replaced the building with something more radical. With us. With our physical bodies. "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple." (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) As believers in Christ, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, not a building.
Within a few centuries though, after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, people began to revert to the buildings, the physical temples. This was human nature, not God's plan. People also reverted to having separate ordained priests to mediate before God. Another thing that is not in God's plan. They copied large portions of the old testament system. This was movement backwards, to before the cross. Oops, what a big mistake. The post Constantine church, voluntarily gave up freedoms that Jesus had died for. And today, so many of us still voluntarily give up these freedoms.

A colleague of mine from Moscow has decided to convert to the Orthodox church. He and his wife are doing this through the Antiochian Orthodox church in America, before they return to Moscow. Don't get me wrong I do believe that the Orthodox church is part of the Body of Christ, but I also think they have made some harsh judgements and big mistakes. I have some other Antiochian Orthodox friends in Saskatchewan. A few years back my wife and I went a long to an Orthodox service with our friends. We were denied Holy Communion because we were not Orthodox believers. But I am a Christian. I confess Christ crucified and resurrected. I have been baptised in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Why was I denied communion? Because of religious elitism. An elitism that says that only the Orthodox church is right and the rest are not. I was hurt by this experience. I reached out in unity and was slapped in the face. My colleague from Moscow has informed me that he will no longer have communion in a protestant church. He is effectively breaking fellowship with me. This is religious snobbery. This is the exact thing that upset Jesus in the temple. The five Orthodox churches of the Roman Empire- Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Constantinople and Rome committed a grave error when they reintroduced the temple system. The protestant reformation went a long way to dismantling this system, but there is stil further to go in realising the system that God wants in place.
There is a huge glaring weakness with the bricks and mortar temple system. It encourages the notion that the church building is a holy place, and that you must be holy to come into it. This is wrong for so many reasons, not least because it often keeps non-believers away. It strongly implies that if you have to be holy to come into the temple, or church building, that you do not have to be holy on the outside of the temple or church building. This creates a very unhealthy dichotomy, where Christians do not live holy lives all of the time. We are encouraged by Peter in his first letter to live holy lives that others may see our good doing and glorify God. Peter says this, just after he finishes explaining that we are all priests in God's kingdom and Jesus is our high priest. Again, why do we build buildings and act like they are holy places, and why do we employ others to be priests, when we are supposed to be them ourselves?
It is a far higher calling to be the temple of the Holy Spirit, than to simply walk into a building. We are supposed to be holy all of the time, not just on Sundays! Whoah, This is what God asks of us. We are his temple, and we are holy and called to be holy.

Isaiah prophesied that God had set apart for himself priests from all nations. At the time, the priests were only supposed to come from the tribe of Levi, not even the other Israelite tribes, let alone from other nations! What faith Isaiah must have had to say something so controversial. Revelation is progressive in the Bible. This was already stretching it as far as what the Israelites could understand. Peter takes it a lot further than Isaiah when he says that we are all priests. Isaiah was controversial. Jesus was controversial. Today the church has slipped back into an earthly system of physical temples and priests. These are called churches and pastors. This is so far from God's plan. He wants to do away with these barriers. We are all priests and we are all temples. To live this way will require some radical changes for the church. Many will be opposed to it, because it will upset their financial system of the worldly church. Are you opposed to the system that God desire us to be a part of? I would love to hear your comments.

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