Throughout the Bible, the temple of God is referred to as God’s house.
For instance, in 2 Samuel 7, God tells David that his son, Solomon, will build God a, “house”. And after Solomon built this, “house,” for God, and they brought the ark of God’s presence into the temple, we read, “a cloud filled the house of the LORD…the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD,” (1 Kings 8:10-11). In other words, this was God’s house, and–if I may say this reverently–He was making Himself right at home. It is called “God’s house,” because it is the place where He dwells.
The same language is used for the temple during the time of Jesus. Consider:
- At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He forcefully drove people out of the temple for their misdeeds, and called the temple, “my Father’s house.” (John 2:16). Likewise, His disciples noted that this incident fulfilled the Scripture that says, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:17, quoting Psalm 69:9)
- At other times, Jesus could refer to the O.T. temple simply as, “the house,” (Lk. 11:51), which clearly infers it was God’s house, and so translations render this as, “the sanctuary,” or, “the house of God,” to convey the same meaning.
- And at the end of Jesus’ ministry, when He drove people out of the temple again, He quoted Isaiah, and said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” (Matt. 21:13, see also Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46).
So throughout Jesus’ ministry–the temple is referred to as, “God’s house.”
However, shortly after Jesus’ 2nd “temple cleansing,” He talked with His disciples about a day when the temple would no longer be standing: “Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, ‘You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.’” (Matt. 24:1-2). He would go on to describe the events of this temple destruction as happening within the generation of His disciples (Matt. 24:34). Of course, this was fulfilled in the terrible and bloody temple destruction that happened in 70 AD (remarkably, this was 40 years after Jesus’ death, which is the biblical time period of a generation–Num. 32:13; Ps. 95:10).
But, as fascinating as all this may be, what is even more striking is what Jesus said immediately before He described the temple being destroyed. Look at Matt. 23:37-38: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate.” Notice the striking shift in describing the temple. Jesus calls it “your house,” not God’s house.
Up to the time of Matt. 23:38, the temple was always known as, “God’s house.” But now, Jesus calls it, “your house,” and shortly after describes how it would be destroyed. Perhaps even more significantly, in the rest of the N.T. the temple (that is, the physical building) is never again called, “God’s house”. It ceased to be “God’s house” from the time Jesus called it, “your house,” and described its collapse.
A significant shift clearly occurred. This shift was hinted at during Jesus’ ministry. For instance, immediately following the first temple cleansing, Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (2:19). Of course, the Jews thought He was referring to the physical temple (2:20), but John writes: “He was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:21-22). So Jesus calls His own physical body the temple. Why? Because God dwelt in Him.
Then, after Jesus died and resurrected, we read things like:
- “the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands” (Acts 7:48)
- “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16)
- And others (Heb. 3:2, 5-6; 10:21; 1 Pet. 2:5; 4:17).
See, the shift had taken place. Initially, God dwelt in a temple made with human hands. Then, He dwelt in Jesus Christ. And now, He dwells in the church (which is also called Jesus’ “body”–1 Cor. 12:27; Col. 1:18; etc.). And never again would God call the physical temple, “His house”.
The implications of all this are far greater than anything I could put in a blog post. But one thing that I wanted to touch on here is the significance that is placed on the temple’s destruction in 70 AD. It was this event that caused Jesus to clearly mark the shift from, “God’s house,” to, “your house,” (Mt. 23:38). It was this event that “sealed,” in a sense, what was said throughout the N.T. (which was mostly written before the temple was destroyed)–that God’s temple is now composed of the human members of the church, and not a physical building. And, it is this event that is the theme of Matt. 24, and some of the prophecies of Daniel (alluded to in Matt. 23-24) that mark the end of a specific stage in God’s economy–that is, the people of God are no longer defined by physical lineage, a physical temple, physical circumcision, etc. Instead:
“And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise,” (Gal. 3:29).
“For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.” (Rom. 2:28-29).
Anyway…I’ve been chewing on all this recently, and thought some of you may appreciate “chewing,” too.