In Spirit Blog

“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” – John 2:19

More militant words have rarely been spoken before or since. Jesus of Nazareth, with the backdrop of the temple of Jerusalem behind him, having just driven out the moneychangers from doing business in the temple courts, spoke these words in response to those questioning his authority. Rather than answer their question directly, as was often his habit he raised the stakes higher.

The temple in Jerusalem was the very centre of the Jewish religion and the entire nation. Originally envisioned by King David, built by King Solomon, destroyed by the Babylonians and rebuilt by King Herod, in the first century it was the visible representation of God on earth to the Jews. His supernatural presence waited behind the veil within, covering the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies, where the high priest would enter to offer sacrifice for the sins of the nation. It is impossible for us to fully understand the importance of this place and how central it was to Israel’s understanding of God and how He interacted with His people.

Jerusalem_DestroyedYet Jesus was suggesting it would be destroyed and that he would raise it again in three days? At that moment he was only implying such a thing could happen. Later he would be more specific and clearly state that it would be destroyed.

“…no stone will be left on another, every one will be thrown down” – Luke 21:6

We know now (as did the Gospel writers) that Jesus was not suggesting that he would rebuild the physical temple in three days but that he spoke of his body and that he was foretelling his eventual resurrection. Eventually, it all made sense but not until much later. At the time he said it, all who heard it were dumbfounded and some were downright furious that he was suggesting the very centre of their religion and way of life would be destroyed. Sound familiar?

The incarnation – God becoming man – was so much more than God Himself taking on the sins of all humanity and dying so that we would be restored to live with Him forever. Temple-based religion also had to be destroyed. Jesus of Nazareth forever ended it by being the once for all sacrifice. The veil was torn, giving all who believe permanent access to the presence of God forever, eliminating the need for the physical temple and its practices. The Romans only finished the job in AD 70 when they destroyed the building. The remains of it now sit underneath the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, one of Islam’s holiest places. It’s previous function as the heart of Judaism and the nation of Israel long since ended.

The implications of Jesus body being the new temple are astounding and far reaching. This statement, together with the eventual destruction of the physical building, meant that the centre of religious life would now be established within the temple of the human body. Jesus was the prototype, the second Adam, the Son of God, the firstborn among sons and daughters of God. Consider the following radical statements:

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own” – 1Cor 6:19

“However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands.” – Act 7:48
(see Belong Blog: Do you Know What Time it is? (Part 2) for more about Stephen and his radical message)

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” – Rom 8:29

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” – John 4:21,23

The staggering conclusion of these and other similar statements is this – Jesus has forever moved the centre of worship from a location or a temple made with human hands to the temple of the human body. He was the prototype of worship in spirit and in truth and as His brothers and sisters who seek to be like Him in every way, our destiny is the same. “This temple” (the physical building) has been destroyed. It is not a stretch to say that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus destroyed temple based religion forever. Why then do we insist on rebuilding it?

There is much talk in recent years about revival or a new reformation in the institutional church (i.e. the one that exists in institutions and physical buildings made with human hands). Could we be understanding the concept but missing the bigger point? What if the new reformation is not about the institutions and buildings at all? What if the rebuilding is in human temples rather than physical ones? If that is the case, what then is the destiny of the physical temples of our day?

We live in a time where it is no longer necessary to meet in a physical place to fully interact with others (see our 21st Century Reformation blog for more on this). There has never been a time quite like this in human history. The rapid acceleration of technology is facilitating an earthquake-like culture shift that is redefining relationships, community, meeting and other similar concepts that have always been associated with a physical place. This does not surprise God, the Creator of the universe and ultimate source of creativity and technological advancement. In fact, maybe He has caused it to happen at just the right time?

The invention of the printing press in 1440 was soon followed by the translation of the bible into common language in the early 1500’s, which enabled printing and distribution of scripture to the masses. This fueled the Reformation and the re-establishment of the concept of salvation by faith, undermining the hierarchical control of the institutional church of that time. One publisher or writer could reach many readers who could then comprehend and understand the bible for themselves.

In the 20th century, electronic amplification, radio and TV brought mass communication of the gospel to anyone who could listen or watch. This was the generation of the radio and TV preachers – ministry to thousands and millions simultaneously. While this accelerated the wide distribution of the message it was still very much one to many (i.e. one speaker and many listeners/viewers).

The 21st century has brought us the Internet and all of the associated tools that come with it (smartphones, tablets, laptops, email, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, etc.). This explosion of innovation and technology has also caused a dramatic shift from one to many to many to many communications. The control of the content has now shifted from the publisher/broadcaster to the reader/viewer. The inevitable development has occurred in parallel with the technology – extreme narcissism. How else to explain that the most popular new word for 2013 was “selfie”, a picture of yourself, the ultimate expression of narcissism. Conversely, an app called “Facetime” has also been developed which enables intimate connection between individuals from anywhere with a wireless connection. An interesting contrast.

So what? Why is this a big deal? We live in a generation where institutional temples all around us are crumbling and being replaced by individual temples. Individuals have been empowered. Technology has enabled it. Mass media is fueling it. It is pointless to attempt to revive, reform or rebuild the institutional temples. Jesus destroyed temple-based worship by establishing something new. Or put another way, he focused on the new with the full understanding of the implications to the old and did not attempt to preserve it. His statements about the coming destruction of the physical temple in Jerusalem demonstrate he was well aware of what was coming. Is it possible that the 21st century explosion of technology and innovation has sowed the seeds for the destruction of institutional religion, building on the foundations laid by the printing press, radio and television?

“No stone left upon another”

At Back to Eden Group, we believe that this is exactly what is happening within religious systems and society overall. Empowered individuals are questioning and challenging institutions everywhere (e.g. churches, governments, big business, etc.). Our focus is to prepare individuals for the responsibility that comes with this revolution. Empowerment of individuals without honour (for the Creator and one another) quickly descends in narcissism, humanism and potentially anarchy. Our model for what good looks like are Adam and Eve, before their fall, fully empowered, stewarding all of creation and in right relationship with one another and their Creator.

The challenge is still the same “Adam, where are you?” and “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden.” The body of Christ needs to make a choice. Selfie or Facetime?

John Matthews

Showing 14 comments
  • k.noel

    I am gravitating more and more to a lifestyle more like the Amish. I know there have been some negative implications with them and ironically new shows on National Geographic about them, but really the true basis of it all was hard work created discipline, sacrifice, and submission, because there are no short cuts to character and a up right standing with God. If you let one small thing in like phones, then pretty soon you let another and another and your no different from the world. Its the same way with us. What sets us apart? How are we in the world but not of it? I see most people no different than from the world. Many still claim to be christians but by the way they live, its just the same as the other 90% of the world, selling themselves for fame, accolades and attention. To be the next biggest star. This topic saddens and angers me deeply and in fact I almost just want to revolt and hide away, get away and live a hermit life but I am not so sure thats what God wants for us. We are suppose to me a light on a hill, how can we reach others if we are hidden?

    Speaking of “temples”, whats your stance on the so called third temple? Is it then not needed anymore since we are his church and his body? The result is then, the earthly temple is of no longer significance. God’s house in Jerusalem was meant to be a ‘place of prayer for all the nations’ (Isaiah 56:7; Mark 11:17); but God would now achieve this through the new temple, which was Jesus himself and his people. And for this reasons, a third temple, whose partial purpose would be the re-institution of animal sacrifices, is seen then as unnecessary and thus superseded.

    • B2E Group

      Good reference to the Amish. Yes to their hard work, character, integrity and passion to carry on a culture to multiple generations. No to the inward, almost cult like focus (which you have noted). Our view would be take the “yes” items and infect and influence culture with it (expect to be persecuted of course). That is how we become a light on a hill. We need more of the Amish culture (very Hebraic in many ways) but must continue to focus out as well. Both/and not either/or.

      Re: third temple. Can you provide a link to some of your references on this? Will help other readers and perhaps stimulate more discussion.

  • Jessica Sanders

    Definitely a thought provoking article. -I especially appreciated the written connection of Christ rebuilding His temple through His people, rather than a building structure. —In chatting with many circles of people from different backgrounds:.. Christian church-goers, to new age folk, to spiritual seekers, who are curious, even to those who believe in Jesus, but haven’t found connection within “the church”, and so lost hope in their faith altogether…there is a common theme of the question: “Why do I need to go to a building on Sunday morning, to validate my faith?” (Obviously a legitimate question) It seems that many who have asked this question, have only been greeted with ridicule from their spiritual family, and have either given up on the tension they are feeling, and just conformed, OR disconnected from their spirituality, and from other believers completely, since “something doesn’t feel right”, and no one wants to talk about it…unknown territory is frightening, as is questioning what has, to some, always felt safe. -It’s alarming to think that we all may have missed something this huge. –I feel like what gets missed for many people who are experiencing this, is that you still can have, (and need) close knit spiritual family, and community…and it doesn’t have to look like traditional, Institutional Church……Most people have been lead to believe that you’re either a “Christian”: meaning you attend weekly service, and submit to those in authority, however healthy they may be…or not….or you’re a “lost sheep”…and it just isn’t true. -Ok, end rant.
    -Thank you for writing this, it’s a great, and helpful explanation of a very important question. Stirs a lot of thoughts.

    P.S. -A humorous thought on “selfies”…the trend has obviously gotten far out of hand…it’s become ridiculous….but I feel like some ppl, myself included, like to create artistic, and expressive “Self Portraits” sometimes (an age old tradition of artists) not as a means of narcissism (which does exist within the trend for sure), but as a means of sharing a piece of who we are, in the moment, especially with loved ones who can’t always be nearby to see us, or share in the adventure. (My mom loves my “selfies”, haha!)

    • B2E Group

      Great insights into the spiritual community and how institutional thinking has become a barrier to the kingdom rather than an enabler.

      Regarding “selfies”… the question is really motive and awareness of same. To be extreme for a minute, many have hidden their pornographic tendencies behind the “art” cover as well. Also, how frequently does an artist need to produce a self-portrait anyway? There are other ways to connect with loved ones other than a very public portrait. Oh well, always remember the mantra of the narcissist…”enough about me, let’s talk about you, what do you think about me?” Check this out for further thoughts on this

  • k.noel

    Ask John requested, here are some more references on the Third Temple.

    The Third Temple, or Ezekiel’s Temple, is a Jewish Holy Temple architecturally described and prophesied in the Book of Ezekiel, a house of prayer for all people with a sacrificial service.The initial text discussing the Third Temple is written in the Book of Ezekiel chapter 40, where, on the day of Yom Kippur of the Hebrew calendar, Ezekiel prophesies the third temple architecture as well as envisioning the permanent entrance of the God of Israel through the eastern gate of the third temple wall.
    The First Temple was the one that Solomon built and which was destroyed. The Second Temple (516 BC to 70 AD) was built after the Jews returned from Babylonian captivity. The Third Temple will exist during the Great Tribulation. Daniel refers to this temple when he says that “the prince who is to come” (the Antichrist) will enter it and stop the sacrifices in the middle of the Tribulation (Daniel 9:27). The Apostle Paul mentions it when he declares that the “man of lawlessness” will profane the temple by entering it and declaring himself to be God (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). The Third Temple is also mentioned in the book of Revelation when John is told to measure it — a symbolic way of telling him to assess its spiritual condition (Revelation 11:1-2).

    This raises the question as to precisely when the temple will be rebuilt and as in the post above if in fact it is a literal temple. The Bible does not reveal the answer to when. All it says for certain is that the temple will be in existence when the Antichrist reveals himself (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4), and that will be in the middle of the Tribulation (Daniel 9:27).

    • B2E Group

      Thanks for the references. They help with context.

      You’ve opened up the eschatology issue which is not really the point of the post. However, without getting too deep into it, there are many who would hold the view that most of the book of Revelation has already occurred, as has Daniel’s prophecies (many believe they were fulfilled by AD 70 when the second temple was destroyed). There are many views debated by folks on this topic resulting in sincere positions being held that are diametrically opposed to one another.

      The issue at hand that we are trying to address is that the Most High no longer lives in places built by human hands and never will again because of what Jesus has done. Your original comment suggesting that Jesus himself and his people are the new temple is on the same track as this thought. This of course has implications on eschatology and end times theology. Quite frankly, we are more interested in what is happening now in us and the body of Christ that what may or may not happen in the future. We’ll leave that to the theologians to debate. Our F2F walk with God and how we live today is most important. We find end times debates to be unfruitful and have very little impact on how we live today. We know you get this and your comments support it. Our clarification is intended for other readers who may not understand it. Thanks for asking.

  • k.noel

    Sure, I didn’t mean to open that can of worms on end times. It just spurred on my thought process of temple. It must have fired that neuron and got me thinking if we are the temple and there is not a “church” building anymore labeled the temple then what does the whole 3rd temple that we have heard about. Thats all, glad you understood my intentions, as there are many thoughts on how the future will end and how it all will play out, and your right no one knows for sure…. Only God.

  • Cheryl Harrop

    I pick facetime! with Jesus – love it!

  • James Thomas Canali

    Wondering with God changing the unseen reality forever with the tearing of Christ’s flesh, what is possible with architectures?

    In one sense Chrsit took the power away from physical structures but in another did he free our ability to create? All structures be they business, art schools, coffee shops, can they access now the blueprints of heaven of free-thinking and pure reality?

    I guess this mystery of now living in Chrsit, or entering through the covenant of his flesh and blood, releasing our point of reference (meditating around this).

    • B2E Group

      Interesting view. Makes sense that with one structure being destroyed that others are opened for transformation. If His blood changes our DNA via communion then why not other things if we apply it by faith?

  • Katherine Matthews

    It is fascinating to watch the ebbs and flows of American history in parallel to church history. The recently heated ramp up to United States presidency has highlighted some very important issues in tandem to Gods calendar for his people. The political realm often mirrors the spiritual condition of the religious community and corruption and putrid ethical and moral candidates emerging is like watching a puppet show. Brazen and bold they defy the reality of any moral standards and they are heralded by the most violent Christian leadership in America to day. The joy filled side of this landscape is that the shock waves of these spewing sewers are celebrated as the Christian rally to vote these tyrants in. Gods timing is now, this year of 2016, for the children of God to open their spiritual eyes and come to their senses. There is no excuse to cry ignorant as we live in the most affluent era in history in regards to information. I truly wonder if the angels and hosts around the throne don’t serve in amazement at the revolving hamster wheel of God’s people. From the Torah until now the stupidity of idol worship as Gods people demand a king has not changed. And throughout biblical history God chose Nebuchadnezars, wicked kings and Ceasars to chasten his wayward people. It appears it may happen once again.

  • BrianVT

    We are the third temple…

    • B2E Group

      We definitely are the 3rd temple. The Kingdom of God is within us not a physical building.

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