There are a bunch of times in the New Testament where we are told that as Christians we are together the temple of God, the place where His Spirit lives (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:22; 1 Peter 2:5). I think that the weight of these statements are sometimes lost on us, and we forget what a privilege it is to have this kind of intimacy with and access to the Almighty Creator of the universe. I want to explore a bit about what it means that we are God’s temple.
For a millennium prior to the life of Jesus, if you asked any Jew where the dwelling place of God was, they would tell you that God’s dwelling place was in the Temple. Or before that, in the Tabernacle, the tent where the Ark of the Covenant resided. This is the place where God chose to make His Presence known, and this is where God’s people were to seek Him.
Now, obviously God didn’t physically live in the Temple, but by His Spirit, God did make it His dwelling place, in order that everyone would know that this is where they should seek Him. The Temple was a holy place, and the inner-most room, the ‘Holy of Holies,’ was where the Ark itself was kept. This is where God’s presence was most clearly present.
This inner-room of God’s presence was separated from the rest of the Temple by a curtain. Access to this Holy of Holies was only permitted once per year, and that only by one person, the High Priest. Access to God is a supreme privilege, and God ordained for this to take place at the Temple in Jerusalem.
Then along came a man named Jesus. Among the many things Jesus taught, he spoke of the fact that a time was coming when God’s true worshippers would no longer worship at the Temple in Jerusalem, but would worship instead “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24); he started to speak of himself as a “temple” (John 2:19-21); he spoke of himself as the place where heaven and earth meet (John 1:51). What did all this mean?
Even Jesus’ own disciples failed to understand all this until Jesus had died and risen again from the dead. But now, God has made it known. When Jesus died and took the punishment for our sins, bearing the wrath of God that we rightly deserved, we are told that “at that moment the curtain of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:51). This curtain was the same curtain that kept people out of the Holy of Holies. When Jesus died, the curtain was torn in two. He destroyed the barrier of sin that kept us from God’s presence.
No longer is God’s presence to be sought at a temple in Jerusalem. No longer is a building the place where God chooses to manifest His presence. Jesus has fulfilled and transcended the role of the temple in himself, so that now, through Jesus, all people can have access to God.
So if you are united with Christ through faith in him, you can be sure that God is with you. God dwells in us, His people.
This is why Christians don’t have temples. This is why a church building is no more ‘holy’ than any other building. The very word ‘church’ simply means an assembly of people. We are God’s people, His assembly, and when we gather together in Jesus’ name, we have the amazing privilege of being the place where God dwells by His Spirit.
So let’s look at Ephesians 2:21-22, and let’s read it with fresh eyes.
In Jesus, God’s assembly “is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
Praise God for what He has done for us in Jesus.