by Carrie Boren Headington
(Editor’s note: This is the 6th post in a series called “A Journey of Evangelism in Scripture,” where we travel from Genesis through Revelation to look into the intersection of evangelism at various points of time.)
Yet we know the story all too well: man and woman rejected God and chose their own path, resulting in alienation, brokenness, and death. God walked in the cool of the garden and called out to a hiding Adam, “Adam, where are you?”
Even though Adam shunned his Maker, God promised to send a rescue. The enemy would eventually be defeated and God would fully be with His people once again: “The offspring of a woman will crush the head of the serpent” (Gen. 3:15).
From that moment on, history reflects a God who deeply and passionately longs to be with His people. One of the ways He does this is through the Temple. The Temple takes many forms and these forms profoundly inform our evangelism.
The first Temple was built by Solomon and completed in 939 BC. The Temple housed the Ark of the Covenant (which was the structure carrying the presence of God and the Ten Commandments through the wilderness and into the Promised Land). The Temple was also the place where priests offered blood sacrifices in atonement for the sins of the people of Israel. Time and again, the Israelites turned away from God but they could be cleansed from their iniquities at the altar of the Temple through animal sacrifice.
The Temple in Jerusalem was the central place of worship and the place where God could be encountered. The Lord said,
Now set your heart and your soul to seek the LORD your God; arise, therefore, and build the sanctuary of the LORD God, so that you may bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD and the holy vessels of God into the house that is to be built for the name of the LORD. (1 Chron. 22:19)
Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed 400 years later by the Babylonians and the people were taken into captivity once again. The Israelites wept, lamented, and longed for Jerusalem and their Temple. When the Israelite’s were brought out of captivity, the first thing they wanted to do was to rebuild the Temple. It was the embodiment that God was with them. The Temple was reconstructed in 516 BC.
Throughout the Old Testament period, God’s prophets prophesied a time when God would not need to dwell in a Temple but would come in fullness:
I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezek. 11)
The Gospel of John commences with the long-awaited announcement that God had fulfilled His promise of fully dwelling with His people in and through Jesus Christ. The Temple embodies the presence of God and John 1:14 tells us that in Jesus we have “God’s dwelling” among us. The literal translation of dwelling is “tabernacle.” The incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is the new temple. Jesus makes it evident that He is the new temple in John 2:
The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” (John 2:18-20; see also Matt. 27:40, Mark 15:29)
The temple of God according to Jesus was His very body which would suffer death and be resurrected three days later. The fullness of God dwelt in Jesus (Col. 1:19).
After the death and resurrection of the temple found in and through Jesus Christ, Jesus ascended into heaven and commissioned His apostles to be the new temple of God. He said that His spirit would dwell in them (John 14) and that they were to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
This was the commissioning of the Church. The Church would have the very spirit of God. The temple of God’s presence would not be found in brick and mortar of the Temple of Jerusalem and it would no longer be found in the physical body of Jesus which had ascended and was at the right hand of God the Father. It would be found in the hearts of all believers in Jesus.
The Apostle Paul affirms this new reality of the believers being God’s new dwelling on earth in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17:
Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.
And in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20:
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price; therefore, glorify God in your body.
And 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 reads:
For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. “And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” says the Lord Almighty. Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
This is a high calling for us as followers of Jesus. In days past, people sought God at the Jerusalem Temple; today, they should meet God in us. We, the Church, are the hands, feet, mouthpiece, and embodiment of God on earth. We are the vessels for God’s spirit to dwell, filling us with love and His presence. God is the great evangelist but we, His people, are the vessels that carry the message and embodiment of reconciliation. We are the ambassadors who herald, “Today is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). We are the temple of God found in broken jars of clay who radiate His presence. What a privilege and what a challenge!
How are we treating our temple? What are we doing with our time in our temple? What is the mouth of the temple of God saying? What are we doing with our resources of our temple? What does our temple say? What are the hands and feet of our temple doing? When people encounter God’s temple today, do they see Jesus?
We labor as the temple of God in this period of the now and not yet, we must remember that Christ (the Temple of God) has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.
In the end, there will be no need for a temple because in the fullness of time we will be His people and He will be our God. God’s original dream will be redeemed. ALL WILL BE TEMPLE.
John wrote in Revelation 21:2-5:
And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Carrie Boren Headington (@CBHeadington) is an evangelist and apologist who communicates the good news of Jesus locally, nationally, and internationally. Carrie founded the Good News Initiative helping people meet God, know God, and share God. She is adjunct professor in evangelism at Fuller Theological Seminary, an evangelist in the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, the wider Episcopal/ Anglican Church, and an occasional guest on Daystar Christian Television.