What is the best way to describe the Bible? Is it a collection of verses that supply promises and warnings for the Christian life? Is it a collection of books that each point to Jesus Christ? Or is it an epic story of Paradise Created, Paradise Lost, Paradise Promised, and Paradise Made New in Christ?
Perhaps, the best answer is all the above. While each of these three answers are correct, I think the last is the most difficult to see in Scripture. In the last month at our church, we have given attention on Sunday mornings to the tabernacle in Exodus and how it fits into God’s plan of redemption. Because of that, I want to give you a biblical roadmap that traces God’s “tabernacles.” I think by seeing this line of dwelling places, it will give you and I a greater ground for hope in God. Call it a temple story.
Garden of Eden. This is God’s first dwelling place on earth. In Genesis 3, it describes God walking in the Garden in the cool of the day. This garden has many features of the later sanctuaries of God—gold, bountiful trees, flowing rivers, priestly guardians, and more. Thus, from the beginning, God sets a pattern for the kind of place he will inhabit with his people.
Exodus 25-40. On Mount Sinai God gives Moses a vision of his throne room, which becomes the pattern for the tabernacle and all future sanctuaries. Interestingly, as we have seen this tabernacle points back to Eden and ahead to a New Eden. The tabernacle given in Exodus is a portable Sinai where God’s people—through the priest—can climb the rungs of Jacob’s ladder and come into God’s presence.
1 Kings 8. After Israel is settled and resting in the land, 1 Kings records how God gives Solomon wisdom to build a temple in Jerusalem. This temple replaced God’s nomadic tent and became a permanent fixture in Israel. It’s size and beauty surpassed that of the first tabernacle, showing that as time goes by, God’s temple increases in glory and beauty.
Ezekiel 40-47. During the Exile, after God’s spirit had abandoned the temple, Ezekiel describes a future temple that overflows with streams of living water. This water will cleanse the earth, and God’s presence will once again dwell with his people. Significantly, when Jesus comes, John uses imagery from Ezekiel to describe Christ’s cleansing ministry (see John 7:37-39).
Jesus. Perhaps most amazing of all, Jesus Christ is described as God’s dwelling place. He is God with us, Immanuel. John 1:14 says that the Word became flesh and “tabernacled” among us. In truth, Christ is the meeting place between God and man. In him the fullness of God dwelt bodily (Col 2:9), and in him we have access into the very throne room of God (Heb 10:19-25). Therefore, we ought to come regularly into his presence with thanksgiving and supplication.
The Church. Today, God dwells in heaven, but by his Spirit, he also dwells in his church. Paul says, “We are the temple of living God” (2 Cor 6:16), and that our bodies are the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6:19). Likewise, 1 Peter 2:5 describes believers as living stones “being built up as a spiritual house.” In this way, the church is the spiritual house of God (Eph 2:19-22).
Revelation. Finally, there is the promise at the end of the age that God will dwell with his people on earth. In fact, Revelation 21 speaks of a New Jerusalem that will come down out of heaven adorned as a bride. It says there won’t be a temple, for the lamb will be the temple of God. This is our hope. At the end of the age, all the cosmos will experience the glory of God’s holiness, and will be as sacred as innermost chamber of the temple.
This temple theme is a source of great wonder and hope. When the world around us seems to be crumbling, the ever-steady rise of God’s dwelling place in our world is a gospel reminder that even if our flesh and funds may fail, God is bringing us into his dwelling place.
Remember what Jesus promised. He said, “In this world, we would have tribulation, but take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Such a promise is good news, but its goodness grounded in another promise: “Let not your hearts not be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3).
I am praying that this month God will give you and me a greater vision of his heavenly tabernacle, and that such a vision will purify our daily desires, and motivate us to live more radically for Christ. God’s temple story gives us hope for tomorrow, no matter what is transpiring today.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss