By Shane Kastler
Recently I spoke with a Christian who was very excited about the possibility of a new Jewish temple being built in Jerusalem. He told me, “They have the blueprints for the temple! It won't be long now!” I marveled at this statement and responded by asking him, “Why on earth would you, a Christian, even desire there to be a new Jewish temple built?” Of course I already knew the answer; though I think it to be extraordinarily misguided. This man, like many Christians today, think a new temple will usher in the return of Christ. He believes that many of the prophecies made regarding the temple cannot come to pass until a new temple is erected. After all, how can the Anti-Christ Barack Obama desecrate the holy place by sacrificing a pig on the altar, unless the temple is rebuilt and the sacrficial system re-instituted? (please note the mild sarcasm) Aside from the fact that this is undoubtedly a major misinterpretation about when and how various temple prophecies might have already been fulfilled; the fact that a Christian would long for a physical temple flies in the face of New Testament teaching.
Sam Storms in his book Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative makes this statement, which I think is very helpful: “It's entirely possible, of course, that people in Israel may one day build a temple structure and resume their religious activities within it. The political and military implications of such, not to mention the religious furor it would provoke, are obvious. Whether or not this will ever occur is hard to say, but if it does it will have no eschatological or theological significance whatsoever, other than to rise up as a stench in the nostrils of God. The only temple in which God is now and forever will be pleased to dwell is Jesus Christ and the Church, his spiritual body.” (pg. 20)
Storms rightly cites 2 Corinthians 6:16 where the Apostle Paul writes, “For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, 'I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God and they shall be my people.” Here Paul purposely (and under the Holy Spirit's inspiration) uses Old Covenant “Israel” language that he applies to New Covenant believers. That reality in and of itself is enough to send many dispensational Christians into a tailspin. But Paul goes on to use “temple” language that he also applies to the church.
The temple, like so many other Old Testament/Old Covenant realities was a typological shadow that finds its “substance” in a New Covenant reality. This common form of typology is further explained by Paul in Colossians: “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17 NASB) The Sabbath was a shadow that finds its substantive fulfillment in Christ. Just as the temple was a shadow that finds its substantive fulfillment in Christ and His church. Jesus referred to himself as “this temple” during his earthly ministry and greatly annoyed the Jews in doing so. “Jesus answered them, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' The Jews then said, 'It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?' But He was speaking of the temple of His body.” (John 2:19-21 NASB)
Storms goes on to say in his book: “It would be an egregious expression of the worst imaginable redemptive regression to suggest that God would ever sanction the rebuilding of the temple. It would be tantamount to a denial that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. It would constitute a repudiation of the Church as the temple of God and thus an affront to the explicit affirmation of Paul here in 2 Corinthians 6 and elsewhere.” (pg. 21) Of course some might say Storms is overstating his case here; and some might claim that most dispensationalists would never repudiate the church, a point I suspect Storms would readily concede. But Storms' point is not an overstatement at all because the mindset of thinking a future Jewish temple is necessary for God's eschatalogical purposes very much is a repudiation of the New Covenant church and would rightly be called a “stench in the nostrils of God.” I am in complete agreement with Storms assessment on this issue and fear that too many Christians have become overly obsessive about middle-eastern matters as a result of it.
As I have written in other places, America might be wise to support Israel for diplomatic reasons; but not for theological ones. Israel is not the chosen the people of God. The “elect” from “every tongue, tribe, people, and nation” are. (Revelation 5:9) The true Sabbath is Jesus. And the true “Temple” where the Lord dwells can be found in Christ and His church.
If anything should be conclusive regarding God's views toward a physical temple it should be the judgment Jesus pronounced during his earthly ministry. “And while some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, He said,“As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.” (Luke 21:5-6 NASB) Of course this prophecy was fulfilled in 70 A.D. when the Roman general Titus overthrew Jerusalem and utterly annihilated the temple. Literally leaving “no stone upon another.” The Bible says of marriage, “what God has joined together let no man put asunder.” (Mark 10:9) I believe the opposite is equally true. What God has destroyed let no man seek to rebuild.
In conclusion I would warn Christians against the inclination to seek earthly, physical fulfillments of what the New Testament describes as spiritual, eternal realities. Make no mistake, the spiritual, eternal realities are much, much greater. Jesus really is greater than the Sabbath. The Holy Spirit indwelt church really is greater than any ethnic nation. And the combination of Christ and His church really are greater than a building in Jerusalem, no matter how ornate its stones and walls. The true “promised land” is far greater than a sandy middle-eastern dessert. And we would do ourselves well to heed the New Testament admonition “For here we have no lasting city. We seek a city which is to come.” (Hebrews 13:14)
So rather than longing for an “old style” Jewish temple built with human hands and made of earthly stones. Rejoice that you are a part of a new temple, made with “living stones” as Peter spoke of: “Coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5 NASB) We are these living stones. Our lives are these spiritual sacrifices. And our Lord is the fulfillment and culmination of our redemption. We do not need a physical temple for the Lord's plan to come to fulfillment, nor should we desire one. For the true temple is here and is continually being built out of “living stones” that God graciously brings to life and fits together according to His glorious, divine, eternal and spiritual purpose.