This article was written to accompany the ‘Enjoying God’s Presence’ hangout.
- If you could have any one thing, what would you want?
- If you could go to any one place, where would you go?
David’s One Thing & Jonah’s Hope
In Psalm 27, David provides his answer to both of these questions. “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4)
David’s ‘one thing’ would not come as a surprise to many of us. Above all else, he wants God. What may be more surprising is the way that David has linked this desire to his ‘one place’: The Temple. It seems like David wants to be in God’s presence, and he sees being in the Temple as the way to accomplish this.
In a similar way, Jonah cries out to God as he is drowning, and holds out a hope of once more looking on God’s temple. “I am driven from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.” (Jonah 2:4) Jonah has been on the run from God, refusing to preach to the Ninevites, and has ended up being thrown from a boat into stormy water. In this predicament he repents and turns to God. Aside from the obvious prayer of not drowning, Jonah’s hope is to look on the temple again.
He is not praying for an experience of God’s presence whilst in the water. He wants to be at the temple, because he wants to meet with God.
Both David and Jonah saw the temple as the place to experience the presence of God. This may seem strange to modern readers, but it is actually still true. We meet with God in his temple, only now the temple is no longer a building in Jerusalem. To understand this, we will need to delve into the story of the heavens and the earth.
THINK IT THROUGH
- Why do you think the temple was so important to David and Jonah?
- Does the temple have an important role to play in our lives? Why/why not?
In the Beginning
In the very first verse of the Bible, the heavens and the earth are coupled together. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1). The word ‘heavens’ in the Bible is used in a number of different senses. Sometimes it is referring to the sky, sometimes to space, but mostly (such as in this instance), it used to refer to the dwelling place of God. This is what Paul is getting at when he refers to ‘The Third Heaven’ in 2 Corinthians 12.
The heavens (the dwelling place of God) and the earth (the dwelling place of man) were created together. They belong together. God dwelling with people is how things were meant to be.
In Eden, this is exactly what happened. God would walk in the garden and enjoy fellowship with the people he had created. This is referenced directly in Genesis 3: “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of day.” (Genesis 3:8) In this instance, the people were scared and hid from God because they had just sinned. Nevertheless, the verse does not present God’s presence in the garden as anything out of the ordinary, and carries the implication that God would frequently walk with them there.
Adam and Eve’s sin had many consequences. Not least amongst them was the wedge of separation that was driven between the heavens and the earth. No longer were the dwelling places of God and man as one. No longer was there access for humanity to walk with God (Enoch is the one exception in the early chapters of Genesis). Humanity was barred from God’s presence. “Therefore, the Lord God sent him out of the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the Garden of Eden, he placed the Cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:23-24).
The heavens and the earth that were created together have been torn asunder. The rest of the story is the quest to get back what was lost, to see heaven and earth reunited and the presence of God filling the earth once more.
Though this will not happen in its fullness until the very end of the story, along the way there are points where heaven and earth connect and the presence of God is made manifest on the Earth. These points are called ‘temples’.
HAVE A GO
- What is the story of the book of Exodus? Write a few sentences to summarise the plot of the book.
For most people, the story of the book of Exodus is the journey of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to freedom. We see parallels with finding redemption from things that enslave us, and ultimately a parallel with the redemption we have in Christ.
This is all true and is all important, but it is not complete. The end point of Exodus isn’t the moment God’s people cross the Red Sea, just as the story of our redemption does not end the moment we come to Christ.
The people move from slavery to freedom in chapter to 15 of Exodus, which is less that half-way through this 40 chapter book. The rest of the story is about worship and about the presence of God. The point of freedom is to know, worship and enjoy the God who has set us free. “The Lord, the God of the Hebrews has sent me to say to you: Let my people go so that they may worship me in the wilderness.” (Exodus 7:16, NIV)
Specifically, the majority of the second half of Exodus contains detailed instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle, a tent of meeting between people and God. “Speak to the people of Israel… and let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.” (Exodus 25:2,8-9)
When the heavens and earth had been divided as mankind turned from God, the dwelling places of God and man were no longer together. Now, God’s free, redeemed people will have in their midst a tent where people can meet with God. This Tabernacle represented nothing less than a point of intersection between heaven and earth, a meeting place between people and God. Once more, God’s presence would be manifest on the earth.
This is a significant step in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go.
THINK IT THROUGH
- Read Hebrews 9:1-10. In what ways does the Tabernacle fall short of fully bringing people into God’s presence?
A few hundred years after the Tabernacle was constructed, life was very different for God’s people than it had been in the Exodus. They were no longer wanderers in the desert but now occupied the land. Under David’s kingship, they prospered and the Tabernacle was beginning to appear a poor relation to some of the other buildings in Jerusalem. It was still a tent, yet it was supposed to take pride of place in a great city. Because of this, King David articulated a desire to see a permanent building constructed as a dwelling place for God.
God spoke to David through the prophet Nathan, affirming that the idea was a good one, but that David was not the right man for the job. “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (2 Samuel 7:12-13).
David, therefore, spent his days preparing all the materials for the Temple, and it was his son, Solomon who constructed the Temple, fulfilling Nathan’s prophecy. When the construction was complete, the people came together to dedicate the Temple, and the Priests took the Ark of the Covenant into the Holy of Holies (a particularly consecrated inner part of the Temple, just as it had been in the Tabernacle). When the priests came out of the Holy Place, God went in. “And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.” (1 Kings 8:10-11)
Like the Tabernacle before it, the Temple became a focal point of the presence of God on the earth, a place where God would dwell within the dwelling place of man, or put simply where heaven meets earth.
David and Jonah were right to look to the Temple as they sought to experience God’s presence because at this point in history the Temple (or in David’s case the Tabernacle) was where God’s presence was to be found. In fact, the idea of a ‘Temple’ has become synonymous with wherever God’s presence is manifest on the earth. We will see that Christians, the Church, and Jesus himself are described as ‘temples’, and we could even describe the Garden of Eden itself as the first Temple.
In the centuries that followed the construction of the Temple, the Kingdom of Israel began to fragment. The people disobeyed God. Idolatry was rampant, and a civil war split the Northern Kingdom from the Southern Kingdom. Despite many warnings being issued by the Prophets, eventually judgment came on both kingdoms. The Northern Kingdom was the first to fall, and was followed by the Southern Kingdom (which housed the Temple). The people of the Southern Kingdom were taken into exile in Babylon. Jerusalem (including the Temple) was destroyed.
The exile led to an existential crisis for many of the Jews, and prophets such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel spoke into their situation. Part of the reason for their heartbreak was the fact of being physically conquered and displaced, but alongside this the very basis of their worship had gone. For centuries the presence of God had dwelled in their midst, first in the Tabernacle and then the Temple. Now the Temple had gone, and (seemingly) so had God’s presence.
This is why rebuilding the Temple was the top priority for the Jewish people who returned to Jerusalem from exile. The book of Ezra tells the story of the rebuilding of the Temple. When the altar had been built and the foundations of the temple had been laid, the people came together just as they had in Solomon’s day, to praise God. They sang the same song that people had sung at the dedication of the first temple (‘For he is good, and his steadfast love endures forever.’). However, the emotional response of the people was not the overwhelming joy of Solomon’s day, but was mixed.
“And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised The Lord, because the foundation of the house of The Lord was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of Fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid.” (Ezra 3:11-12)
THINK IT THROUGH
- Why do you think there was such a mixed reaction to the second temple?
Whilst there was celebration and euphoria amongst the people about the new Temple, it was the old men who reacted with tears. These were men who could remember the first Temple and had seen it with their own eyes. Their hopes were not met in the new Temple.
The building itself was not quite as spectacular as the first temple, but this was not the cause of their grief. Although this event had much in common with the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, there was one thing lacking. People gathered, celebrated and sang the same songs, but this time the glory of God did not descend on the Temple. Externally, the trappings were fine, but this Temple would not function as a meeting place between heaven and earth.
For the next few centuries, there would be no overlap between God’s dwelling place and man’s. The distance between heaven and earth had never been greater.
At the start of John’s gospel, Jesus is introduced as ‘the word’, and is described as both being with God and being God. John goes on to say that, “the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14)
This is very literally describing God dwelling where we dwell, or heaven on earth. In fact, the Greek word used to say ‘he made his dwelling’ (skenoo) is literally saying he pitched his tent amongst us, and is the same word that is used to refer to the Tabernacle. The idea is that Jesus ‘tabernacled’ among us. After centuries of waiting, the presence of God is once again with us on the earth, but now it is no longer in a tent or a building that people can meet with God, but in a person: Jesus.
Jesus had no hesitation in referring to himself as the temple. He was speaking of his own body when he said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19). In doing so, he was affirming that the functions of the Temple were being fulfilled in him. Wherever Jesus went, God’s presence was manifest there.
In addition to his words, Jesus’ actions were what you would expect for the one in whom heaven meets earth. He taught his disciples to pray ‘your will be done on earth as in heaven’, and the way he lived his life made this happen. He raised dead people, healed the sick, opened the eyes of the blind, set the oppressed free and exalted the poor. This is the outcome of God’s presence dwelling on the earth, and is reminiscent of how things were in Eden, or will be in the New Creation.
HAVE A GO
- Try to think of different incidents from the life of Jesus where you can see the presence of God dwelling among people. Can you list ten?
Just as Jesus had said, the Temple (his body) had been destroyed and raised up again three days later as Jesus was killed and then rose from the dead three days later. Over the following six weeks, Jesus appeared alive to many witnesses and taught them about what would happen next, particularly the coming Holy Spirit and their mission to the ends of the earth. At the end of this six week period, Jesus ascended back to Heaven.
Jesus is both fully God and fully man. During his incarnation, he had brought the dwelling place of God to the earth. Now, following his ascension he has brought the dwelling place of man into heaven. Jesus is still where heaven and earth meet. This does, however, raise the question of where the presence of God can now be found on the earth.
The answer is revealed at Pentecost, where Jesus poured out his Spirit upon the church, and began dwelling within his people. “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him, you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22).
God’s presence is now made manifest through his people. The dwelling place of God is within his church, through his Spirit, which means that just like Eden, the Tabernacle, the Temple and Jesus himself, it is in us that heaven meets earth and God dwells with man.
THINK IT THROUGH
- What are some of the functions of the Temple that are now fulfilled through the church?
Whilst it is the church corporately that is primarily thought of as God’s Temple in the present age, the Bible does also use the word ‘Temple’ in reference to individual Christians. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19) Because each of us is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, he is present in our lives and his presence is made manifest through us. Paul is bringing this up in 1 Corinthians to help them understand the severity of using their bodies in sexual immorality if those bodies are temples of God.
Individually and corporately we are God’s temples, and his presence is made known through us.
The New Creation
The heavens and the earth were created together in Genesis 1. Before humanity turned from God, the story was of God dwelling with his people and walking with them in the Garden. When humanity fell, the heavens and the earth were separated and the dwelling place of God was no longer with man. Throughout history, there have been connection points. In the Tabernacle and the Temple, in the God-Man Jesus, and in his Church, God has dwelt with man, and his presence has been known on the earth. Despite these connection points, in the present age, there is still separation between heaven and earth. The story needs a conclusion where heaven and earth are reunited, and this is exactly what is promised in the book of Revelation.
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them and they will be his people” (Revelation 21:3)
“And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:22)
At last, the dwelling place of God is with man, as it was always supposed to be. The heavenly Jerusalem has descended and heaven and earth are reunited.
The fact is highlighted that there is no Temple in the city. There is no need. The Temple was the place of God’s presence on the earth, but the whole earth will be full of his presence. God himself will be here, and we will enjoy all eternity in the manifest presence of God.
- David and Jonah were both desperate to be in the temple to experience God’s presence. In what ways do you show desperation for his presence?
- In what ways does the Church’s identity as God’s Temple change the way we think of our gathered times together.
- In what ways does the promise of God dwelling with man in the New Creation give you hope? What (if any) role does this hope play in your day-to-day life?