We Are the Temple – the Dwelling Place of God

27 July 2022

11.5 MINS

The Bible calls believers the Temple of God. This is a profound revelation with even more profound implications. God’s presence is no longer in a building: it’s in us.

Temples are some of the most photographed landmarks on earth. Think of the Acropolis in Athens. Notre Dame in Paris. Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Borobudur in Indonesia. The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

I’m giving myself the travel bug just listing all of these beautiful buildings.

What is it about all of these places that inspire us? What do they have in common? What is the idea of temple actually about?

We could say that a temple is a place where “heaven touches earth”. In almost every culture, people have built temples as a place where people and God or “the gods” meet.

Even if people have no idea who God really is, and even if their attempts to reach him are like someone fumbling around in the dark, and even if they’re living in complete rejection of the true God, they’ve been made to need him. Something in all of us is reaching for God, and longing for heaven to touch earth.

Us in God’s Presence

We have been longing for this ever since the book of Genesis.

In Genesis, we read that God created the world and gave the first couple all they needed, including the incredible task of caring for creation. Tragically, our first parents rebelled and broke the one command God gave them. Genesis 3:23 says that in response to their rebellion, “The Lord God banished them from the Garden of Eden.”

Previously, Adam and Eve would walk with God in the cool of the day. They lived in God’s presence. To borrow the language of temple, heaven and earth had met, permanently, in the Garden of Eden. But then they were expelled, driven out of the presence of God.

A few chapters later, Adam and Eve’s descendants built a “tower to heaven”—the Tower of Babel. But their hearts were not right. They built it as a monument to their own greatness, not in a genuine search for God. As a result, God confused their languages, causing them to spread out and populate the world.

Knowledge of the true God was lost. But each of these cultures took with them the memory of God’s presence and a desire to be reunited with him. That desire for heaven and earth to meet once more is why we have such incredible temple architecture all around the world.

With the whole world fumbling around in spiritual darkness, God made his move. He called a pagan man called Abram from the city of Ur in modern-day Iraq. God promised to bless Abram and make him a great nation that will bless the world.

God established a covenant with Abraham’s descendants, giving them Ten Commandments and many other laws to teach them what it means to live as his chosen people in the land he has promised to them.

God’s Manifest Presence

We’ve just covered 2,500 years of Bible history. What’s fascinating is that in all that time, every person on earth was living outside of the presence of God. On many occasions they related to him, yes—but from a distance.

You might be thinking, but isn’t God everywhere?

It’s true that God is omnipresent—he is in all places at all times. In the Psalms, David writes, “Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens you are there, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your right hand will hold me.” (Psalm 139:7-10).

Of course this is true. But just as God is omnipresent, so he makes himself manifestly present in certain places and at certain times. Think about Moses and the burning bush, or Elijah and the whirlwind, or the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration.

This manifest presence of God is what Adam and Eve enjoyed as a permanent feature of their lives. That is what they lost when they were banished from the garden.

Just before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Moses set up a tent called the “Tent of Meeting” where God begins meeting with him. We read in Exodus 33:11 that, “Inside the Tent of Meeting, the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.”

One of the instructions God gave Moses was to, “Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them.” (Exodus 25:8).

The Jewish Temple

The Tabernacle was a portable structure that moved with the Israelites as they travelled in the wilderness. Once they entered the Promised Land, under King Solomon, Israel used huge quantities of gold and silver and stone and timber to turn this into a permanent building called the Temple.

The pattern God laid out for them is incredibly detailed. In simple terms, it involved an outer court, through which the Temple could be entered. It had an inner court or “the holy place” where there were important symbolic items like a lampstand and a table with sacred loaves of bread. 

Behind a thick curtain was the “most holy place” or the “holy of holies”. It was in the holy of holies that the Ark of the Covenant was placed—a beautifully decorated chest that held the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments had been written—God’s covenant with Israel.

Only priests were allowed to enter the holy place, but the holy of holies was so sacred that only one person—the high priest—was ever allowed to enter it. This was holy ground. It was the place God chose to call his home, to dwell in the midst of his people. It was the one place on the planet where heaven met earth.

When the construction of this temple was complete, the priests took the Ark into the holy of holies, and 1 Kings tells us that, “A thick cloud filled the Temple of the Lord. The priests could not continue their service because of the cloud, for the glorious presence of the Lord filled the Temple of the Lord.” (1 Kings 8:10). Try to imagine that!

Israel celebrated the dedication of the Temple with incredible fanfare—offerings and heartfelt prayers and joyful music that went on for a whole fortnight.

Notice that the presence of God was not something the people of Israel just waltzed into. The Temple was incredibly sacred.

The high priest only entered the holy of holies once a year. The other priests would tie a rope around his ankle in case he collapsed or even died in the overwhelming presence of God so that they wouldn’t have to go in to retrieve him and have the same thing happen to them.

The Holiness of God

God is holy. In our modern age, we find it hard to understand what that means. One glimpse of God’s holiness and we would be undone.

The Hebrew word for “holiness” means “to cut” or “to seperate”. God is so holy, so seperate, so set apart that he cannot be near sin. It’s not that God was having a bad day when he kicked Adam and Eve out of Eden. It was a simple matter of fact that God is unable to have sin in his presence.

God has to maintain his holiness. And yet God loves the people he created, and wants us to be in relationship with him. We were created to be holy and to enjoy the sustaining presence of God as a part of everyday life. But we have sinned and defiled ourselves and made ourselves unholy, separating us from God’s presence.

What this whole idea of Temple is about is God, by his grace, giving Israel a place that could be built and cleansed and purified so that in at least some sort of limited, partial way, heaven could meet earth and people could have access to God.

This was a temporary solution. Something better was coming.

God’s Presence in Us

As a child, I grew up in a traditional church that had candles, stained glass widows and a sanctuary at the front that I knew was a no-play zone.

I came to faith as a teenager when I began visiting a different church that was in a much less fancy building. It had been an old ambulance training centre before it was used for Sunday services. The carpet stank, the paint was peeling, and it didn’t feel homely at all.

Even though the building was old and decrepit, I remember that church as a warm and friendly community of people who loved God and were living out their faith genuinely. I was especially struck when I saw a whole room of young people worshipping God with their hands raised and passion in their hearts.

I have visited many churches since, including the one I grew up in. I have also visited some of the great temples we considered at the beginning. I have stood inside the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque and Notre Dame and Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Those buildings are absolutely inspiring. But do you know what? I didn’t experience the presence of God in any of those grand “temples” like I did in that dingy old ambulance training centre.

Jesus once hinted at a similar truth.

He was walking around the beautiful Temple Mount in Jerusalem with his disciples one day when one of them said, “Teacher, look at these magnificent buildings! Look at the impressive stones in the walls.” Jesus replied, “Yes, look at these great buildings. But they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” (Mark 13:1-2).

This was a shocking thing for the Jewish people to hear. The Temple was their glory—it was where they met with God.

As it turns out, Jesus was spot on. Forty years later Roman armies swept through Jerusalem and razed the city. The gold from all the temple implements melted into the cracks between the stones, so the Romans quite literally pulled every stone apart to retrieve it. To this day, that Temple has never been rebuilt.

Welcomed Back Into God’s Presence

Jesus’ prediction was eerily accurate. He was pointing God’s people forward to a future in which God’s presence would no longer be limited to a building. Yes, Israel was obedient in building the Temple. But the Temple was only a shadow of things to come.

At Jesus’ crucifixion, we read in Matthew 27 that darkness fell across the whole land. And as Jesus shouted with his last breath, the earth shook, rocks split apart, and “At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” (Matthew 27:51a).

What was the function of that curtain? It was to seperate people from God’s holy presence. And notice that the curtain wasn’t torn from bottom to top, it was torn from heaven to earth.

What was God saying? He was saying that the death of Jesus Christ was ushering us back into the presence of God. The rebellion of our first parents, thousands of years ago, drove us out of the presence of God. And now the sacrifice of Jesus has brought us back into the presence of God.

“We can boldly enter heaven’s holy of holies because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the holy of holies. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him.” (Hebrews 10:19-22a).

This is an amazing revelation. Not since Eden was this possible.

Welcoming God’s Presence Into Us

But there’s more. We would be short-selling the gospel if we only said that Jesus came to usher us back into the presence of God. The gospel isn’t less than that—but it’s also much more too. 

Jesus didn’t just come to bring us back into the presence of God. Jesus came to bring the presence of God into us.

This is one of those mysteries that remained hidden from the very beginning, but that has now been revealed to God’s people: “Don’t you realise that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:16, 17b).

So take all that we’ve just been looking at about the Temple through Old Testament history and apply it to yourself.

The presence of God—that holy, fearsome presence that was accompanied by smoke and clouds and glory—it’s now in you. You are now holy ground. God’s manifest presence is living inside of you. You are the place God chooses to call home. You is now where heaven meets earth. You are the temple of God.

Yes, we have been welcomed back into the presence of God. But even more, we get to welcome the presence of God into us as a permanent feature of our lives. We host God’s presence inside of us, and live our lives from this point of view.

We Have Been Sanctified

How is it that God was so holy and set apart that the high priest could only enter the holy of holies once a year—and yet now it seems that almost casually, God comes and sets his home up inside of us? How is this possible?

God didn’t lower his standards. It was no casual thing for God to come and indwell us as believers. We were unclean, sinful and filthy, and God couldn’t come near us. It is not anything we have done that has made this possible—it is the finished work of Jesus.

Jesus sanctified us. He made us holy. When Solomon’s temple was dedicated, thousands of offerings were made to purify it and make it a place God could take up residence in. In the same way, Jesus’ death was the offering that cleansed us and made us a place God could call home. Hebrews 10:10 says it so simply: “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time.”

God isn’t less holy than he used to be. The difference is that we’ve been made holy. We have been sanctified at a massive cost—the price of Jesus’ very life. In fact just a few chapters after Paul made this amazing statement about us being the temple of God, he rephrased it like this:

“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

A high price was paid to sanctify us, to make us holy, to make you and I a place where God would choose to live. If our bodies are temples of God, it matters what we do with our bodies—with our sexuality and food and exercise and habits. We’ve been bought at a price. Our bodies are now God’s.

We Have Been United

Ephesians 2:20-22 says, “Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you… are being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.”

The truth isn’t simply that you are the temple. Actually, we are the temple. We’re stones. Peter calls us living stones that are being built together into a spiritual house for the Lord.

We’re not bricks. We’re not identical replicas of each other. Like stones, each of us are unique, and God is shaping us and carving us so that we fit together as we become his temple.

Sometimes that means we’ve got some hard edges God has to knock off. Other times that means we’re not all going to fit neatly with each other, and God might have to do a bit more shaping until we can fit. But we are being built by him as a community, held together by his love, into a beautiful place for him to dwell.

This means we need each other. Church isn’t merely for our enjoyment. We gather in order to serve one another, to grow in community, to contribute our gifts and talents and finances for each other’s good and for the good of the community around us. That’s what love is—it’s practical and real and messy and costly.

Where Heaven and Earth Meet

Church isn’t this building. God doesn’t meet us just when we come to a church facility. This building isn’t a temple. The Hagia Sophia, Notre Dame, Angkor Wat—none of those are temples in the true sense of the word. We are the temple of God. Heaven and earth have met inside of us.

On the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter got up to preach and one of the profound revelations he shared is that “the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands”. He went on to quote Isaiah, where God said,

“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
Where will my resting place be?

Has not my hand made all these things,
and so they came into being?”
declares the Lord.

These are the ones I look on with favor:
those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
and who tremble at my word.”

How amazing that God would come and live inside of us. You and I are the temple. We are the dwelling place of God.

Image by Stefano Alemani on Unsplash.

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  1. Homevountry2012@gmail.com 1 October 2022 at 3:30 pm - Reply

    When I think of myself as the dwelling place of God , I can only experience awe.
    Thank you Kurt.

  2. Kaylene Emery 6 October 2022 at 6:12 am - Reply

    Am still in Awe….with all the implications and responsibilities such Awe brings..
    “ We are the temple of God. Heaven and earth have met inside of us. “ Kurt M.

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