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The Temple: It’s Place in Salvation History

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Why is the Temple’s destruction announced first before that of the end of heaven and earth? The answer is to be found in the importance that the Temple has in salvation history. The pattern Heaven and Earth –> Jerusalem –> Temple is the progress that salvation history takes from Genesis to 1 Kgs 6. Before the Heaven and Earth can give way to the new Heavens and the new earth, the pattern of destruction is first realized: Temple –> Jerusalem –> Heaven and Earth (as one sees it in Luke 21, for example). With the coming of the new heavens and the new earth, the new Jerusalem will also descend from above. The Temple will no longer be rebuilt, for at that moment, the presence of God Himself makes it redundant.

The Temple has a cosmic significance.  In ancient myths, the Creator God builds His Temple after subduing His enemy.  In the Scriptures, God does not have an enemy, but he creates, first the world (by giving it structure and filling it up), then by creating a people (he calls Abraham first and then looks after the children of Abraham until they become a nation in Egypt), third, he turns the people he creates into a kingdom under David.  Only after this does He allow a Son of David to build a Temple for Him.  So after a three-fold act of Creation, the Temple of Yahweh was built — a sacrament of His dwelling among His people.

The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed because of the sins of Israel.  Jeremiah and Ezekiel foresaw this, but they also saw its restoration.  The Temple’s restoration will be tied up with the restoration of God’s people which has been scattered in exile.

When Israel is called forth from exile to return to its land, the Temple was soon rebuilt.  It was desecrated once more under the Persian rule, but the Maccabees (1 Macc 4:36-59; 2 Macc 10:1-8) recaptured it and rededicated it.  The Feast of the Rededication of the Temple is celebrated even by Jews today as the Feast of the Hannukah.  It is also called the Feast of Lights.  It was during one of these feasts that Jesus proclaims “I am the light of the world.” (8:12)

The Temple was a sign that in Israel, God was pleased to dwell with His chosen people.  Herod the Great enlarged and beautified it.  Jesus and the apostles walked in its shadows.  The Synoptics recount to us that on one occassion Jesus entered the Temple and cleansed it with a whip of cords and by his preaching (cf. Luke 19:45-48 and par.).  This was in fulfillment of the prophecy that “in those days”, the Sent One will be purifying the Temple and Israel (cf. Mal 3:1-4).  With Jesus, then, the Last Days have come.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells the Jews:  “Tear down this Temple and I will raise it up in three days. (Jn. 2:19)”  The evangelist comments that He was then referring to His Body, torn on the Cross and Resurrected after three days.  There is more however to this “Temple –> Body of Jesus” reference.  For Christians it meant that with the Resurrection of Christ, Christ’s Body — the Church — has become both Temple and people of God (1 Cor. 3:16;6:19;1 Peter 2:5).  In the Synoptics, Jesus announces this transfer of privilege in his announcement of the Temple’s destruction (cf. Luke 21:6 and par.).

The Temple in Jerusalem was again destroyed around the year 70 AD under General Titus.  The surviving wall of that destroyed Temple is now known as “the Wailing Wall” before which pilgrim Jews still sing the psalms of hope for God’s restoration of His people.  For the Jews who formed the earliest Christian communities, the destruction of the Temple signalled the end of its function as a reminder of God’s dwelling among His people.  For them it pointed to a new stage in salvation history, the days of the  Church that Jesus built on the Rock of Peter’s faith.  When finally the end has come and the new heavens and the new earth have been created, the new Jerusalem will descend from above but the Temple will not be restored.  John writes that it will no longer be necessary (Apoc. 21:22-27).  God Himself will dwell in the midst of His people.

Click on the above graphic link for an illustration of the resonances of the word Temple as I find it in Luke 21:5ff

Originally posted 2007-11-18 21:41:42. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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