The Temple and the New Jerusalem

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So, to finally finish our short series on the temple.

We started by looking at the Temple and the big story, here.

Then we looked at the Temple and separation, here.

Last time we pondered the Temple and the Spirit and what happens to the temple in the New Testament after the coming of Jesus, here.

Now, we turn to the future with the final pages of the book of Revelation and see both where we’re heading  along with how that echoes where we’ve been.

Now of course we must remember that Revelation is apocalyptic literature; a style of writing that is very black and white in its outlook and a style that loves symbolism and story. And so in reading and understanding the book we need to read it literally – that is, we need to read it in line with its clear literary genre which in this case is apocalyptic. What we mustn’t do is read it literalistically, and ignore what it’s trying to say by reading the symbols and ignoring their context and what they’re referring to.

Revelation 21-22 gives us a word picture of where everything’s heading. Chapter 21 speaks of the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven onto the new earth. This passage has multiple echoes and allusions to the temple (and the tabernacle before it). Here’s the key verses for our purposes, Revelation 21:1-4, 15-18, 22:

1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away …  15The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. 16The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long. 17He measured its wall and it was 144 cubits thick, by man’s measurement, which the angel was using. 18The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass …  22I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

The heavenly Jerusalem is the place where God himself dwells, but now, in the new creation, that heavenly Jerusalem comes to be upon the earth. Now Heaven and Earth interlock again just as they did in the Garden in Genesis 1, just as the symbolism within the tabernacle and temple pointed to and were localised expressions of. So now God will dwell once again with his people unimpeded by sin and imperfection.

But for a city, this thing is a weird city both in its size and in its shape. Verses 15-16 point this out. In terms of its size this isn’t your normal city. It is a huge city. It’s about 2,200 kilometres in width and length. For comparison, the entire state of New South Wales is about 1,200 kilometres by 1, 000 kilometres. So this city is about twice as long and wide as the whole NSW state. It’s a big city.

But the other weird thing about this city is not only is it big, but its dimensions are the same in length, width and also height. This city is a perfect cube.

And that’s meant to tell us something. It’s meant to remind us of something. It’s meant to remind us of 1 Kings 6.

 19 He prepared the inner sanctuary within the temple to set the ark of the covenant of the LORD there. 20 The inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty wide and twenty high. He overlaid the inside with pure gold, and he also overlaid the altar of cedar. 21 Solomon covered the inside of the temple with pure gold, and he extended gold chains across the front of the inner sanctuary, which was overlaid with gold. 22 So he overlaid the whole interior with gold. He also overlaid with gold the altar that belonged to the inner sanctuary.

The inner sanctuary, the Most Holy Place, where only the High priest could go and only once a year and only after hefty amounts of purification with washings and sacrifices, was a perfect cube. The inner sanctuary of the temple was overlaid with gold. The New Jerusalem is made of gold.

Two gold cubes. The whole city of the New Jerusalem is an expanded Holy of Holies. And as the city and the new earth interlock the dwelling of God is now once again with his people on the earth in unimpeded intimacy. Heaven will be a place on earth. And what was once a place only for one man to enter and always with great fear, will then be a place for every member of God’s people always with no fear but only great joy. And all because of the work of the lamb who was slain.

In this city there is no temple.

Plundering the Egyptians: Celebrate

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(c) xanderthurteen

Most of these “Leadership Proverbs” I’ve just picked up, absorbed and imbibed by some process of osmosis along the way and don’t know exactly whom they originated from. But when I know I’ll make reference, and when I don’t it’s not that I’m ungrateful or that I want to appear like a genius. It’s genuinely that I can’t remember. So if I’ve flogged something from you let me know and I’ll happily acknowledge it.

Celebrate

Leaders are all about doing things. Moving forward. Getting things done. Achieving things. Accomplishing things. Planning ahead. Solving problems. All that good stuff. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But every now and then you need to pause and take a breath and look around at what God has done in and among and through the team and celebrate and thank Him for showing up and being at work.

No matter how enthusiastic and godly and developed your team is they will still lose momentum. The friction of ministry will push against them and the grind of the task will sap enthusiasm from them and slow them down.

So you need to intentionally take time out to see what God has achieved among them and why all their effort has been valuable. They need to see that what they’re doing matters. And while it is true that God keeps most of the positive impact we have on people from us so that we don’t get puffed up with pride, it’s also true that he does reveal just enough to us to keep us in the game. And when you’re working as a team sometimes there’s only one person who is aware of the win, but it’s a win the whole team had a hand in achieving – because you’re a team! So the team needs to hear those stories.

It might be surprising to notice how often God legislated for his people to take time out and celebrate. And it might be surprising how long some of those celebrations went for. All the Feasts in the Old Testament were God’s legislated, intentional celebrations for His people. A time for them to stop and reflect and notice what God had done for them and was doing among them. There’s a good reason why he did that. Celebrating is important to God.

And it’s good for your team. Celebrate wins. Celebrate them in small ways along the way, and block in time for big, official, intentional celebration. It communicates to your team that thankfulness is valued. It communicates that God is the giver of all good things and all growth. It communicates that you’re not just interested in squeezing as much productivity as you can out of your team but that you want to sow into them as well. It communicates clearly what it is you see as a win and what the vision looks like in practice because those are the stories you highlight and celebrate. And celebrating communicates that this team is worth belonging to. 

Quote: Gunton on the Virgin Birth

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speckled aspen

I don't know who this photo belongs to, but if you know who took it I'd like to credit them.

“The conception of Jesus must be understood as an eschatological act, and that is why the Spirit is involved. The Spirit, as the perfecting cause of the creation, is the agent of the perfecting of Jesus humanity, through the renewal of the fallen flesh which is taken from Mary. It is extremely important not to speak of the conception of Jesus as a creation out of nothing, though that is often done.  Any suggestion that his body is not formed of the matter of this fallen world both breaks the links between creation and redemption and renders the saviour irrelevant to this world.”

                                                 Colin Gunton, The Triune Creator

The Temple and the Spirit

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(c) TraditionalDanimatio

In the Old Testament God had promised that part of the New Covenant, a key part of the New Covenant, would be God again dwelling amongst his people. Ezekiel 37:26-28 is a good example:

26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. 27 My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I the LORD make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.’ “

For Paul the Spirit is how God now dwells with his people. It is significant to note that Paul uses Temple imagery to describe this new reality. The Spirit is both the fulfilment of the New Covenant and the fulfilment of the renewed temple imagery. Paul speaks of the Spirit in this New Covenant/new temple combo four times. As would be expected he speaks of the gathered community in temple language, much like God dwelt amongst his gathered people in the Old Testament in both Tabernacle and Temple. What is surprising is that Paul also uses this temple language for the Spirit’s presence in individual believers. We’re going to look briefly at each of the four passages.

First is Ephesians 4:22. The context is Gentiles, who were far from God and excluded from fellowship have now been brought near to God through the death of Jesus. Jesus has achieved peace with God for both those far away (Gentiles) and those near (Jews). And now in Christ a new humanity is established because through Christ both Jews and Gentiles have access to God by the one Spirit. Then Paul writes:

19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

This is probably the most explicit incidence of this Spirit/Temple idea. The Ephesian Christians are being built into a Temple, a dwelling place where God will be present by his Spirit.

Next is 1 Corinthians 3:16-17. Here Paul is discussing the foolish team-spirit that has been building around different leaders, and the contention and segregation on the basis of “wisdom” that has ensued which is destroying the church. To which Paul says,

16Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? 17If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.

The temple imagery really starts back in verse 9 where Paul refers to the Corinthians as God’s building with the foundation being Jesus Christ. The Corinthians are warned not to metaphorically build the building with materials unsuited to the foundation but rather with gold, silver and costly stones – imagery from 1 Chronicles 29 and 2 Chronicles 3 and the building of Solomon’s temple.

The gathered community in Corinth was God temple is that city. Amongst all the other Pagan temples in Corinth God people gathered, accompanied by the Spirit, was God’s alternative. And the Corinthians were in danger of destroying God’s temple by their factional in-fighting. And so comes one of the strongest warning in Scripture: those responsible for the destruction would in turn be destroyed by God!

This is perhaps the most important word in Scripture about the importance and magnitude of the local church – the other frontrunner for me is Ephesians 3 with the cosmic significance of the church on display. The local church is God’s temple in the place where it is to be found, and it’s God’s temple because of the presence of the Spirit because it is by the Spirit that God has returned to be with his people.

The same idea is seen in 2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1 where the people are commanded to leave behind the idolatry of Corinth and purify themselves from idol practices precisely because they are the temple of God in Corinth. They themselves are God’s temple and so God’s alternative to the temples and idols in Corinth, so of course they had to come out from and separate themselves from the idols of Corinth.

16What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
17“Therefore come out from them
and be separate, says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you.”
18“I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”

 1Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Paul takes the temple imagery and makes the stunning and surprising shift from gathered community to individual believer. The argument seems to be that the Corinthians believed that the spirit was what mattered and the body was inconsequential. What you did with your body had no impact on your spirit. And so you could sleep with a prostitute because it was just your body. Paul vigorously disagrees,

19Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.

You were purchased, the whole person, by the death of Christ and now indwelt by the Spirit as a temple for the Lord. A temple made and purchased by his own hands. And this reality has ethical implications. Individual believers being indwelt by the Spirit as a temple means that your body matters and what we do or don’t do with our bodies matters.

By His Spirit God has revisited his people. Both the gathered church functions as a temple of God’s presence in their community and also the individual Christian is a temple of the Lord through the personal presence of the Spirit residing within. Both truths have massive implications for how we think of church and how we think of ourselves and our own personal ethical piety.

Next week we’ll finish our thinking about the Temple and God’s presence by looking at the Temple and the New Jerusalem.

Plundering the Egyptians: Bad News Needs to be Fast News

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(c) Tebe Interesno

Most of these “Leadership Proverbs” I’ve just picked up, absorbed and imbibed by some process of osmosis along the way and don’t know exactly whom they originated from. But when I know I’ll make reference, and when I don’t it’s not that I’m ungrateful or that I want to appear like a genius. It’s genuinely that I can’t remember.

This insight, however, comes by way of Andy Stanley.

Bad News needs to be Fast News

If there is some bad news that is coming your way, news that will mean last minute changes, critical decisions needing to be made under the pressure of time constraints and potentially unexpected fallout, then you want that news to come to you quickly so you maximise the time available. And you want it to be as accurate as possible when it comes so you can make the best decisions you can. This follows on from what we looked at last time, bad news is good news. Last time was outlining the basic outlook and attitude shift. This time we’re looking at how that attitude shapes what you do. If bad news is good news, then bad news also needs to be fast news. And it needs to be accurate news.

But if you think bad news is bad news, and if you treat bad news as bad news, and if you treat messengers of bad news badly, then most likely bad news won’t be fast or accurate. Or, over time, bad news will get slower and more hazy.

Here’s an example to illustrate how this might happen. Let’s imagine a leader comes to me and says, “In two weeks I’m not gonna be able to make it to our meeting.” Now I could respond by saying, “What!?! But we’ve had this booked for ages! You know it’s really important. I can’t believe this. What could be so important that you blah blah blah” And then for the next 2 weeks whenever I see them I could refer to how they’re not coming, or remind them how disappointed I am. What I’m teaching them is: the more notice you give Craig the worse it will be. Instead, wait until the last possible moment and then make it as vague as you can. I’m training them to instead say, “I might not be able to make it tomorrow.” I don’t want to know the day before that they may or may not be there. I want to know definitely and I want to know as early as possible.

I want to make sure I communicate to my team that I want information fast and accurate. What I could say in response to the news that they’ll be missing the meeting: “Thanks for letting me know. Is everything okay?” They’ll say whatever it is they’re going to instead, maybe a concert or maybe a funeral. Maybe they’re okay; maybe they’re not. But that response gives me a chance to show them that I care about them and what’s happening in their lives. If they have a totally legitimate reason, like their mum is dying and they want to spend as much time with her before she goes, then I’d respond in a certain way. But whatever the reason is, for them it’s more important than my meeting. So then I’d say, “Well thanks again for letting me know with plenty of time. I know you know how important this meeting is so this other thing must be really important, so if you have to go you have to go.”

That’s probably not the best response, but it’s better than the first one.

The other problem with hating bad news and shooting those who deliver it is you increase the level of anxiety in your team. It makes you unpredictable. “Is this news bad enough that I’m gonna get roasted? How much do I need to sweeten it so that it’s palatable? Will I get roasted anyway?” These kinds of questions make people less inclined to tell you the truth.

But if your response to news, good or bad, is to thank the messenger for the important information without any risk of reprisals then your response becomes predictable and you lower the anxiety and so you receive more and better information.

Bad news needs to be fast news. So you need to create an environment that is low threat so that your people are safe when they bring you bad news. You need information, especially bad news, fast and you need it accurate.

Quote: Calvin on Faith, the Word and the Spirit

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(c) flickr Eduardo Amorim

Here Calvin discusses the place of the Word of God and the role of the Holy Spirit when it comes to faith.

“And so, whether adversities reveal God’s wrath, or the conscience finds in itself the proof and ground thereof, thence unbelief obtains weapons and devices to overthrow faith. Yet these are always directed to this objective: that, thinking God to be against us and hostile to us, we should not hope for any help from him, and should fear him as if he were our deadly enemy.

“To bear these attacks faith arms itself with the Word of the Lord. And when any sort of temptation assails us – suggesting that God is our enemy because he is unfavourable towards us – faith, on the other hand, replies that while he afflicts us he is also merciful because his chastisement arises out of love rather than wrath. When one is stricken by the thought that God is Avenger of iniquities, faith sets over against this the fact that his pardon is ready for all iniquities whenever the sinner betakes himself to the Lord’s mercy. Thus the godly mind, however strange the ways in which it is vexed and troubled, finally surmounts all difficulties, and never allows itself to be deprived of assurance of divine mercy. Rather, all the contentions that try and weary it result in the certainty of this assurance.

“[…] But our mind has such an inclination to vanity that it can never cleave fast to the truth of God; and it has such a dullness that it is always blind to the light of God’s truth. Accordingly, without the illumination of the Holy Spirit, the Word can do nothing. From this, also, it is clear that faith is much higher than human understanding. And it will not be enough for the mind to be illumined by the Spirit of God unless the heart is also strengthened and supported by his power.

“[…] Indeed, the Word of God is like the sun, shining upon all those to whom it is proclaimed, but with no effect among the blind. Now, all of us are blind by nature in this respect. Accordingly, it cannot penetrate into our minds unless the Spirit, as the inner teacher, through his illumination makes entry for it.”

                     John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.2.20, 21, 33, 34

Calvin’s point is that while unbelief may often be fuelled by either external unpleasant circumstances or by internal subjective phenomena so that you begin to lose trust that God is for you and not against you, the antidote for this slide is the Word of God. Because although circumstances are ambiguous the promises of the God are clear; and so circumstances must be interpreted by the clear promises of Scripture. But because of our natural bent towards sin and unbelief and away from God and obedience to His Word, the Word of God by itself is of no advantage without the Holy Spirit at work in us and alongside it, changing and strengthening our hearts and illuminating the Word.

The Temple and Separation

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Last week we outlined briefly a Biblical Theological overview of God’s presence and separation and the role of the Temple in that dynamic, culminating in Jesus and His presence by His Spirit amongst and within His people.

That was last week. This week we drill down deeper into the reason for that separation. Exactly why did God separate himself from sinful humanity in the way he did? What was his overriding motivation for such action?

From Eden onwards God had removed himself from His people. And even when he was with them, like for the 40 years in the wilderness or in the Temple in Jerusalem, he was still very removed and distant. The Tent of Meeting outside the camp. The Holy of Holies that only one man once a year could penetrate.

Even when God was present He was unapproachable. It was never a return to the Garden, let alone a superseding of the Garden like we have with the Spirit’s presence. But more of that next week.

And the reason for this separation, the reason behind why God was so removed, and the reason why even when he was close he wasn’t really close, is very simple.

And it’s not primarily because of judgment. Of course this is part of it, there’s no denying that. God certainly does, and is perfectly within his rights when he does, bring judgment for wrongdoing. And it’s also true that his denying his people his presence is an outworking of his judgment against them. But there’s also more to it than that.

There’s more to it because just as God’s absence was a sign of judgment, so also God’s presence is often referred to in the Old Testament as a sign of judgment.

In Ezekiel 33 God appoints Ezekiel as a watchman. The job of the watchman was to look out from the city wall. And when the enemy appears the watchman is to warn the city that the enemy is approaching and so to get ready. The surprising part is that while Ezekiel is the watchman the enemy he is to warn the city of is the Lord himself. When God comes to his city it wasn’t a happy day.

One of the clearest places to see this is in Malachi 3 and 4. The great promise of the one who will go before the Lord and prepare the way, fulfilled in John the Baptist. But Malachi 3:3, 5 paints the picture clearly for us and underlines the significance:

See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple … So I will come near to you for judgment.

So it is true that God’s absence is both a sign of and also an element of his judgment. But it’s also true that his presence with his people is a sign of and also an element of his judgment. The reason for this bad-both-ways predicament is that judgement isn’t the root cause of God’s self-exclusion.

The main reason God removes himself is love.

And here’s why:

God is so infinitely perfect, infinitely holy, infinitely good, infinitely righteous and sin is so horrible and so distasteful and so unacceptable and I am so sinful and I am so far from perfect that if God came close to me just as I am his justice would flare up against me for my sin like a refiner’s fire – as Malachi 3:2-3 puts it – and I’d be destroyed. And that would be totally fair and right and I’ve got no defence.

So if I was just to stroll through the temple and sachet into God’s throne room without the penalty for sin being paid then I would pay the penalty for sin. I wouldn’t be listened to.

And so God, in his love and out of mercy, separates himself from us and keeps himself distant.

Which is why in the Old Testament, Emmanuel: God With Us, is not a good thing. God with us means judgment and destruction for God’s enemies. The problem is, everyone has made themselves God’s enemy because of their sin. And if God came close without a mediator, without an atoning sacrifice for sin, then the penalty for sin would be paid. But in Christ God came close to his sinful people and in an act of loving judgment paid the penalty for sin Himself.

The reason for God’s separation was never purely judgment. Judgment and Love are always mingled. Mercy is always mingled with justice. And judgment is always rooted in love.

God removed himself from fellowship with humanity as an act of judgment, yes, but ultimately as an act of love.