A Hole in Our Holy Temple? Toward a Whole Bible Vision of God’s Dwelling Place

david-rodrigo-336783-unsplash.jpgThe MacArthur Study Bible is a treasure trove for commentary on the Bible. Many weeks in preparation for preaching I look at its notes, and profit from its historical, grammatical, and theological observations. This week, however, as I read its commentary on Haggai, I couldn’t help but notice some biblical data missing from a table on the temples in the Bible.

While not expecting comprehensive commentary in a study Bible, I was puzzled by the way the dispensational theology of the editors may have led them to excise some key biblical data. For those familiar with Simeon Trust, this is a classic example of the framework running over the text—in this case, the text is the whole Bible.

From the looks of it, this otherwise helpful table on the temples in the Bible—well, except for the dispensational stuff, again—has left some significant holes in the Holy Temple. In other words, as the following chart defines the terms, a temple must be “a place of worship, a sacred or holy space built primarily for the national worship of God” (italics mine).

Italicized are two words/ideas that encapsulate the problem. Are temples only built for national worship? What about the heavenly temple where God abides and angels and all nations worship God? Also, must a temple be built with physical materials? What about Jesus’s words in John 2, where he said that this temple would be torn down and he would raise it up in three days? Does built apply to flesh and blood?

What’s missing in this chart are key elements of a biblical theology of the temple, which touches on so many other elements of Christology, ecclesiology, and eschatology. Moreover, even within the chart the definition at bottom does not hold up for all the data given.

So, to fill in the holes, I’ve modified the chart below, explained the distortions in this table, and outlined why five additions should be included in any temple. From this modified chart, we do get a more complete sense of all the temples in the Bible, although I’m still not convinced about the two temples associated with the Millennium. But I’ll save that for another day.

For now, let’s consider all the temples in the Bible. If you can think of another one, please let me know.

** Bold Italics – A kind of temple that doesn’t fit the definition at the bottom and one that unhelpfully defined as “the only temple until the Messiah returns.”

** Italics – Two temple buildings which some believers understand to be constructed in the future.

 ** Bold – Five other temples that Scripture describes.

Cosmic Temple In the beginning . . . Created by the Word of God

For the purpose of dwelling with his people

Psalm 104:1–5
Heaven In the beginning . . . Created by the Word of God to be the place in creation where the Lord reigns Exodus 25:8–9, 40

Hebrews 8:5



In the beginning . . . Created by God to be the place where mankind communed with God


Genesis 1–3
The Tabernacle

(Mobile Temple)

About 1444 B.C. Detailed plan received by Moses from the Lord; Constructed by divinely appointed artisans; Desecrated by Nadab and Abihu Ex. 25–30; 35:30–40:38; Lev. 10:1­–7
Solomon’s Temple 966–586 B.C. Planned by David

Constructed by Solomon

Destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar

2 Sam 7:1-29

1 Kings 8:1-66

Jer 32:28-44

Zerubbabel’s Temple 516–169 B.C. Envisioned by Zerubbabel

Constructed by Zerubbabel and the elders of the Jews

Desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanes

Ezra 6:1-22, 3:1-8, 4:1-14


Haggai 1–2

Herod’s Temple 19 B.C.–A.D. 70 Zerubbabel’s temple restored by Herod the Great

Destroyed by the Romans

Mark 13:2, 14:23; Luke 1:11-20, 2:22-38,


2:42-51, 4:21-24; Acts 21:27-33

The Present Temple Present Age Found in the heart of the believer

The body of the believer is the Lord’s only temple until the Messiah returns

1 Cor 6:19,20


2 Cor 6:16-18

Christ At the Incarnation


The Fullness of Deity Dwells Bodily in Christ John 1:14

Colossians 1:19; 2:9


The Church At the resurrection of Christ In his exaltation, Christ sent his Spirit to create one new people, a household of God, a temple of the Holy Spirit


Matthew 16:18

1 Corinthians 3:16–17

2 Cor 6:14–18

Hebrews 3:4–6; 12:25–29

1 Peter 2:4–9

The Temple of Revelation 11 Tribulation Period To be constructed during the Tribulation by the Antichrist

To be desecrated and destroyed

Dan 9:2, Matt 24:15, 2 Thess 2:4


Rev 17:18

Ezekiel’s (Millennial) Temple Millennium Envisioned by the prophet Ezekiel

To be built by the Messiah during his millennial reign

Ezek 40:1- 42:20,


Zech 6:12,13

The Eternal Temple of His Presence The Eternal Kingdom The greatest temple of all

(“The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its Temple”)

A spiritual temple

Rev 21:22; 22:1-21

The temple (Grk. Hieron) is a place of worship, a sacred or holy space built primarily for the national worship of God. @Thomas Nelson 1993 (MacArthur Study Bible, 1335)

Three Temple Distortions

1. No mention of Haggai’s temple

While this list is presented in the comments on Haggai, Haggai is not even placed on the list. It could be included with Zerubbabel’s temple (as included above), but as Haggai also speaks of a later, greater temple (2:9), it should also be mentioned with the temple which Christ is building.

We know the temple of latter glory is related to the church because of Hebrews 12:25­–29. As Hebrews cites Haggai 2:6, we discover how the present reception of the kingdom (Heb 12:28) indicates the way in which God is presently shaking the nations and bringing in the treasure from all nations.

The people are the treasure, living stones, who are fitted into the temple Christ is building. That this temple is not mentioned in the table is odd, as it certainly contributes to a full understanding of temple theology.

2. The individual as the only temple in this age

While the definition given for temples relates to buildings wjere God is worshiped, the MacArthur Study Bible also includes the individual, which is called “the present temple.” This too is curious.

First, it doesn’t match the rest of the chart, where every other example is a building (except for the final temple). And second, the evidence for the individual as a spiritual temple is much less than that of the church as temple. In fact, 2 Corinthians 6, cited above, is clearly about the church as a temple, and individuals as members of that spiritual household. It is not about individuals as self-contained temples.

Likewise, there are some who argue that 1 Corinthians 6:19 should be understand as the church “body,” hence, individuals would not be self-contained temples, but rather members of the temple. This would comport with passages like 1 Peter 2:5, which describes the spiritual house as comprised of living stones. Christ is the cornerstone, the apostles and prophets are the foundation stones, and believers are living stones, set on Christ’s foundation (cf. Ephesians 2:19–22).

In all these ways, the main stress on the temple in the present age is not on the individual. Just as in Israel, it is a corporate reality. Yet, in the place where this chart deviates from its own definition, it allows for a hyper-individualistic reading of the New Testament. To say that the individual believer is the only temple in this present age greatly misreads the New Testament.

3. The spiritual temple

Last, it is interesting how the eternal temple of God is described, as a spiritual temple. This description is quite ambiguous. Is this a Holy Spirit temple? Is it a spiritual temple, as opposed to a material temple? This would seem to be a possible interpretation, as the other temples are physical buildings (except the “present temple”), while this temple is explicitly identified with the Lord and not material building.

Yet, if this final temple, which is the goal of all creation, is not a building, shouldn’t this inform the rest of the chart? In other words, the goal of temples in the Bible is less the building. It is always the Lord himself. When David sought to build the Lord a house, Yahweh responded that he was not lacking a physical temple (2 Sam 7:7). Likewise, when the people wept over the size of the temple in Ezra 3:12, the Lord comforted them by saying, he would be with them (Haggai 2:4–5). Surely, this was Israel’s glory, that the God who could not be contained in a house built with hands (1 Kings 8:27) might be with them. That was the pinnacle of the covenant, and the physical building merely visualized that greater reality of meeting with God (on this point, see Michael Morales, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?).

We should learn, therefore, as we watch the progress of the temples across the Bible that God’s goal is not a physical building. After man lost his place in Eden, his goal has always been a new creation, where a regenerated world (see Titus 3:5; Matthew 19:28) would enjoy mediated communion with him. Thus, the final temple, which is not a building, but an entire cosmos filled with God, should teach us that physical buildings are not the essence of what a temple is, as the MacArthur Study Bible defines them. Rather, as we will see, these buildings were necessary models to understand the true temple, Jesus Christ (cp. John 1:14 and Revelation 21:22).

Five Missing Temples

There are at least five temples that this chart does not include, and to fully appreciate a biblical theology of dwelling in the Bible, we must consider them. For starters, there is (1) God’s cosmic temple, as well as the temple he habits in (2) heaven. From there, we see how God created a (3) garden-sanctuary in Eden. Only after seeing these three related but distinct temples can we begin to plot the history of temple building in Israel.

Likewise, after all the physical temples, we come to the New Testament where we find temple language applied to (4) Christ and (5) the church. From a unified reading of Scripture, we learn how these later “temples” (Christ and the church) both depend upon and develop the earlier ones in Israel, which all go back to God’s work in creation.

Let’s look at each of these temples and then draw a few final conclusions.

1.The cosmic temple

Many times in the Old Testament the universe is described with temple language. For instance, Psalm 104:1–5 states,

Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, 2 covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. 3 He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind; 4 he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire. 5 He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved.

Likewise, the seven-day construction of the universe has many parallels to the construction of the temple. While firmly holding to a six-day creation, it is very plausible to understand how the purpose of the universe is to be God’s dwelling place with man.

2. Heaven as God’s Created Temple

In addition to the cosmic temple, Moses says that the tabernacle he built was patterned after the one he saw on Sinai. Hebrews 8:5 confirms this reading, indicating that heaven is a created place, where the Lord dwells.

And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. 9 Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it. . . . 40 And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain. (Exodus 25:8–9, 40)

Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. 5 They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”(Hebrews 8:4–5)

From these two passages, we get the sense that the temple should not be defined as a building but wherever the Lord is present. Likewise, God’s heavenly temple has little to do with any one nation, as the MacArthur Study Bible defines it. Rather, it is the place where God is worshiped by all of his angels, and later worshiped by the redeemed from all nations (Revelation 5).

3. Eden’s Temple

Borrowing from an earlier post, here are some evidences for a temple in Eden. 

We see the most clear indication of the Garden as sacred temple when it is compared to Moses’ tabernacle and Solomon’s temple. For instance, in The Temple and the Church’s MissionG. K. Beale demonstrates the way the tabernacle and temple reflect Edenic imagery.

For starters, Beale suggests that within Genesis 1–3, there is a gradation from the outer court (the world outside the garden), to the inner court or the holy place (the garden), to the most holy place (Eden itself, i.e., the place where God dwells atop the holy hill).[9] In other words, the architectural pattern we find in Exodus (and Hebrews) begins in the Garden. John Walton concurs, when he writes,

The garden of Eden is not viewed by the author of Genesis simply as a piece of farmland, but as an archetypal sanctuary, that is a place where God dwells and where man should worship him.  Many of the features of the garden may also be found in later sanctuaries particularly the tabernacle or Jerusalem temple.  These parallels suggest that the garden itself is understood as a sort of sanctuary.

As he understands Eden to stand above the garden and to stream water into it, Eden becomes something more than the name of the Garden. Rather, the Garden-Sanctuary of Adam and Eve is the place where God comes to visit mankind in the cool of the day (Gen 3:8). Placed there as God’s children, they are meant to serve as royal priests. Though they quickly rebel from this command, God’s original design for humanity remains and will serve as a pattern for the rest of the Bible.

Therefore, in any study of Genesis and in any study of the Bible, we must understand the way in which Eden is more than an ancient garden. It is the place where God put his royal priests to cultivate and keep the earth he gave them to subdue and rule. Though framed in ancient language and imagery, it is vital modern Christians understand these original designs—for they have impact on the way we conceive of God, the world, and mankind’s place in the world.

Indeed, with respect to the temples in the Bible, it is impossible to get a complete picture unless we see where the temples begin and where they are going. Clearly, the temple is not just something given to Israel. Rather, it is something that began in creation, and that was only given to Israel later for the purpose of bringing the greater dwelling place of God, found in Christ, his church, and his new creation.

4. Christ’s Temple

Make no mistake, Jesus Christ is a person with a flesh and blood like ours. He is not a building composed of brick and mortar. However, Scripture speaks often of Christ as a dwelling place. For instance, in a passage with multiple quotations and allusions to Genesis 1 and Exodus 34, John writes,

And the Word became flesh and dwelt (lit. tabernacled) among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Following Jesus’ words, John 2:16–21 refers to Jesus as a temple many times in his Gospel.

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.

In this passage, we learn how Jesus thinks about his relationship to the temple. Very shortly, he would bring judgment on this unclean building, and in its place his resurrected body would become the place where God would meet with his people. This is what Jesus asserts after he clears the temple in John 2, even as it was previewed in John 1:51, where Jesus, picking up the imagery of “Jacob’s Ladder” (better Jacob’s Temple), said he is the New Bethel (house of God): “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (For more on Christ as the true temple in John’s Gospel, see Paul Hoskins, Jesus as the Fulfillment of the Temple in John’s Gospel).

John’s testimony is matched by Matthew’s as he reports Jesus describing himself as the cornerstone of a new temple. In Matthew 21:42, Jesus cites Psalm 118:22 and applies these words to himself: “Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Moreover, Mark identifies Jesus as a new temple when in Mark 2, the crippled man receives forgiveness at the hands of Jesus. Whereas the people had for centuries gone to the temple for forgiveness, now in Jesus there is a new location for God’s gracious presence. Nicholas Perrin unpacks this teaching in his insightful book Jesus the Temple.

Likewise, further evidence for Jesus as a temple is found in the Epistles. For instance, Colossians twice speaks of Jesus in temple language. First, Colossians 1:19 says, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” Next, Colossians 2:9 says of Christ, For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Add to these verses the testimony of Ephesians 2:19–22 (see below), which develops the cornerstone theology of Jesus, and it becomes very difficult not to see repeated testimony of the New Testament, that Jesus is the true temple.

What the buildings of stone provided for Israel in the past has been eclipsed by the coming of Christ, in whom the very fullness of God is found. Unfortunately, when the temple is defined a priori as one nation’s building it eliminates the passages which identify Jesus as God’s greater temple.

5. The Church

By defining the temple as a building for a national people, this also blinds readers to the way that the church is referred to as a temple many times. Interestingly, this chart includes a non-building reference to the individual Christian as a temple, but it doesn’t grant the same place to the church, even though there are more references to the church as temple, than individuals as temples.

Consider just a few places where the church is described in temple terms. First, in 1 Peter 2, Christ’s status as cornerstone is identified, which makes the church a gathering of living stones.

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 

What could be more clear than this statement, the people of God (“the elect exiles from of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,” 1:1) are a “spiritual house,” i.e., a temple filled by / created by the Holy Spirit?

Confirming this interpretation is the word in Hebrews 3, which makes Jesus better than Moses. In verses 3–6, Hebrews 3 says for the former was only a servant in God’s house, but Jesus is a son over the household of God. In that very passage, the author of Hebrews goes on to say, “And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope” (v. 6). From 1 Peter and Hebrews, we see how the General Epistles make a case for the church as a temple. And this confirms what we have already seen in Paul.

In particular, 1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:14–19; and Ephesians 2:19–22 all make the same point: the church is the temple of God, where the Spirit of Christ dwells.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Cor 3:16–17)

14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17 Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, 18 and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”  (2 Corinthians 6:14–18)

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19–22)

In both the Corinthians passages, and perhaps 1 Corinthians 6:19 too, we find Paul speaking of the church as a spiritual temple (naos). In the latter passage, he even goes so far as to apply the (old) covenantal language of Leviticus 26 to the church, making an ethical application based on the gift of the Holy Spirit, not the circumcision of the flesh (as in Leviticus). Likewise, in Ephesians 2:19 and 21, Paul speaks of the church as God’s house (okios) and God’s temple (naos). One could make the case that none of these passages speak of the temple as a building (hieron), but such a wooden reading of that word misses the theological significance of what is happening in the days of Jesus.

As the son of God, in whom the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, he has come to bring judgment on the last temple (see Matthew 21:41–43) and to establish a new temple (John 2:20). As the old temple reflected the old covenant, as the stone tablets of the old covenant literally resided in the ark placed in the holy of holies, so now the new covenant has a better law (written on the heart) and placed in a better temple, one made without hands. As Ephesians 2 says, the Spirit is building this temple, uniting together Jew and Gentile in one new man. In this way, the church is the temple Jesus is building with his own blood, just as he said he would do in Matthew 16:18, which is the last passage to mention.

When Jesus testified that he would “build his church” (ekklēsia = gathering), he mixed metaphors; he said I will build (construction language) my people (family language). Just like 2 Samuel 7, where David sought to build a house (building) for the Lord, the Lord in turn promised to build a dynasty for David (a people). Now the Lord as David’s Son is promising to build a house (a people). In this way, the Son of Man is taking up the mantle of David and making good on the covenant made in 2 Samuel 7 (cf. W.D. Davies and D. C. Allison, Matthew: A Shorter Commentary, 269).

Clearly, the building material Jesus uses is not that of dead stones. But with living stones, he is constructing an eternal people who will populate the kingdom he is bringing. In this way, if we listen to the way the language of temples work in the Bible we must make definitions that allow for various kinds of temples.

Correcting Our Temple Vision

In the end, to define the temple as a building, and one that centers on the nation of Israel, while neglecting these other temples, explicitly described in Scripture, severely limits the validity of any conclusion drawn about the temple. Conclusions drawn with only partial data will inevitably skew that data.

Thus, it seems there is a hole in the holy temple presented in the MacArthur Study Bible. And all of us need to go back to the Bible and ask, What does it say?  What does the whole counsel of God say? From there, we can make interpretive and theological decisions based on Scripture.

In many places the MacArthur Study Bible does this. But not here in this survey of temples in the Bible, hence the need to supplement its findings.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by David Rodrigo on Unsplash

3 thoughts on “A Hole in Our Holy Temple? Toward a Whole Bible Vision of God’s Dwelling Place

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