What was the purpose of the temple?
This post is a chapter from Dr. Timothy Tennent’s book, 30 Questions: A Short Catechism on the Christian Faith available for purchase from our store. This resource makes for a great teaching tool in local churches, especially for catechesis purposes. We’re featuring a chapter each week in hopes of encouraging you to pick up the book and share it with others as well.
In the Garden of Eden, God was fully present with Adam and Eve. The whole of creation was filled with the manifest presence of the glory of God. In a certain sense, the whole of creation was a temple for God’s presence, with his rule and reign extending over all he had made. However, with the entrance of sin, humanity experienced for the first time the absence of God. Sin is, at its root, a broken relationship. To put it another way, whenever we sin we are choosing—at that point—the absence of God in our lives. Sin might be understood as all those places in our lives and in our actions where we have said “no” to God’s presence and we have shut God out.
God’s plan is to once again fill the world with his glory and presence. The temple (preceded by the tabernacle or “tent of meeting” in the wilderness), was the provision God made for this return of his presence among his people. It had an outer court, an inner holy place where sacrifices were offered, and an inner sanctuary known as the holy of holies where the high priest would enter once a year.
There was a heavy curtain which separated the holy of holies from the holy place, and no one except the high priest was allowed to enter. In the holy of holies was a special ornate box known as the Ark of the Covenant which contained, among other things, the original stone tablets upon which were written the Ten Commandments. The top of this chest was known as the mercy seat since it was here that the high priest put the blood of the sacrifice and the people’s sins were forgiven. When the sins were declared forgiven, God’s presence would be manifest in the holy of holies. The temple was the ongoing sign of the presence of God among his people, and provided the one place where God could be approached. Thus, the temple represented the presence of God and the absence of sin.
In the New Testament we learn not only that Jesus is the High Priest and the final sacrifice, as noted earlier, but we also learn that he is the true Temple of God. In Jesus, the presence of God and the absence of sin are truly and finally found. When Jesus died upon the cross, one of the often neglected details is that at the moment of his death the heavy curtain which separated the holy of holies from the holy place was torn in two from the top down. It was the symbolic demonstration that the presence of God was no longer limited to one place, but was now, in Christ, made available to the whole world.
Indeed, wherever two or more are gathered in his name, the presence of God is there! God is now present with his people wherever they gather in the world. As the church continues to grow and spread, the presence of God continues to invade the world, dispelling darkness and sin, and reestablishing God’s rightful rule and reign.
1 Kings 6:1–22
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