The LORD calls, through Haggai, on the remnant to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. So, what’s the big deal? Who cares about a building? The church in the 21st century knows that she should not make much of bricks and mortar. So why does the LORD make such a big issue of it?
The temple idea plays a big role in redemptive history. It speaks of the LORD’s willingness to be at the very centre of his people. Consider these things:
- After the Exodus God commanded that there be a place for him to dwell with his people:
Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.(Exod. 25:8)
As a result the sanctuary, the tabernacle was to be placed at the very heart of the people. The camp would be configured so that three tribes would camp on each side of the tabernacle. The LORD himself commanded that it be so.
- After the nation of Israel had been finally established and there was peace in the land, God promised that Solomon would be allowed to build a temple. Once again, this non-portable structure would be placed at the very heart of the national life of the people of God. It would be the place where God would dwell with his people.
- When Jesus comes an interesting change occurs. John says in 1:14,
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
The word for “made his dwelling” could be translated “tabernacled”. Then, in Jesus’ body we find the presence of God dwelling with his people. Signaling further the transition from the physical temple to Jesus body, He responded to the Jews’ demand for a sign by saying (in John 2:19),
Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.
Jesus himself was the temple.
- In the next phase of redemptive history, after Jesus death, resurrection, ascension and pentecost, the place of his dwelling is the church. Paul says of the Corinthians,
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?
Note that Paul is speaking of them collectively, not as individuals.
- Finally, at the very end of the age, the temple is still prominent. But again there is a change. John says in Rev. 21:22-27
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
God himself is the temple and the people of dwell with him forever in His glorious light.
When we see what all of this was pointing to, is it therefore any surprise that at that particular stage of redemptive history the LORD should be concerned to establish his temple? To our eyes, it is simply a building. God dwells in the church now. But it speaks of his eternal purpose and desire to dwell with his, yes, sinful, people in the closest possible communion. It is an amazing, eternal covenant love.