One of the oddities of the Bible is how little it reveals about the life of Jesus. All we know of Jesus prior to age thirty are a few sketchy accounts by Matthew and Luke, with gospel writers Mark and John completely silent on his early life.
While the omission has piqued the interest and imagination of many a Bible student, the details that are there, though few, are profound in significance—not the least of which is that his first recorded public appearances are in the temple: at eight days old, his infant cries pierce the ears of his circumciser; thirty-two days later, his grinning coos warm the hearts of Simeon and Anna; then, as a 12-year-old “missing child,” his thoughtful words stimulate the minds of Israel’s teachers.
Fast forward to the end of his public ministry and Jesus is again at the temple where his voice rumbles throughout the courts as he drives out the moneychangers, upbraids the religious leaders, and, finally, looks over the city weeping aloud for his countrymen. Even from the remove of Golgotha, his last words, “It is finished,” reach the temple in a thunder clap that shreds the veil from top to bottom.
The prominence of the temple at both ends of Jesus’s life points to its importance in biblical history and beyond.
Earth as Temple
In the edenic era, the earth was a creation-temple, facilitating human-divine congress so that man could enjoy fellowship with God.
One can imagine the original creation as a hyper-dimensional realm in which heaven and earth were not separate, but adjoined, overlapping and interlocking, allowing God, a hyper-dimensional Being, to be manifestly present to man.
(As a teasing side note: some scientists see evidence that our universe came from a higher dimensional one. But that’s a topic for another day.)
This doesn’t mean that the original creation was non-physical, but that it was more than physical, perhaps like Jesus’s resurrected body that could be seen, touched, and felt, but could pass through solid objects and move from place to place instantly and effortlessly, prefiguring the new creation.
The human design, as Imago Dei, is suggestive of the kind of intimacy God initiated with Adam and Eve and desires with us.
But what had been, was interrupted and changed with the Fall.
The Temple Collapses
When sin entered the world, the hyper-dimensional creation-temple collapsed into the three-dimensional earth, with Adam removed from communion with God as God withdrew, but God did not withdraw to an empyreal realm beyond the edge of the universe as would the God of Deism—the God who creates and then vacates to pursue other divine amusements—or the “Downton Abbey” Butler who remains silent and out of sight until a guest rings for service.
Rather, God withdrew into the hidden, inter-dimensional folds of creation, not as a part of creation, but as its immanent Coherer, Sustainer and Life Engine. “‘Do I not fill the heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord.”
The “collapse” of creation and God’s withdrawal produced direct consequences in the nature of nature: the land became hostile, work toilsome, child-bearing painful, human relationships strained, and life mortal.
The God with Us
From the Fall onward, God, though hidden, showed up from time to time, passing through the gossamer veil of creation in a burning bush, a pillar of fire, and an angel. Eventually, he established a visible dwelling among his people: the Tabernacle of Moses and, later, the Temple of Solomon.
As God’s dwelling place on earth, the temple was a reminder to God’s people that although he is unseen, he is with them; he is for them, not against them. It was through the temple, and its sacrifices, that sinful man could approach a holy God, and he them. The effect on many was an arousal of transcendent longings expressed by one of the Sons of Korah,
How lovely is your dwelling place,
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.
In contrast to Milton’s Satan who would rather rule in hell than serve in heaven, the writer goes on to say,
Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
Today, God is still approached through the Temple—not one of brick and mortar, but that of the nail-pierced body of his Son. The key to this connection is found, among other places, within the walls of the temple itself, where,
The Mercy Seat foreshadowed Christ’s atonement; the Jar of Manna, Christ’s Eucharistic body; Aaron’s Staff, Christ’s leadership; the Stone Tablets of the Law, Christ’s commandment written on hearts; the Table of Incense, Christ’s intercession; the Table of Showbread, the “Bread of Life”; the Golden Lampstand, the “Light of the World”; the Bronze Basin, the Word’s cleansing action; the Bronze Altar, Christ’s sacrifice.
Out With the Old, in With the New
When the “coming of age” Jesus asked his anxious parents “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” it was a statement about his identity and ministry. The Shekinah glory that had departed the temple centuries earlier had returned materially, in him.
Over the next twenty years, the Presence traveled the dusty roads of Palestine, restoring the disabled, raising the dead, and exorcizing demons. He signaled the fading of the old sanctuary and the appearance of the new—one not made by human hands or limited by space and time.
When Jesus’s dying breath rent asunder the temple veil, it opened a corridor into the hyper-dimensional interface blocked by sin. From the Way and through the Way, all who receive him are “in him”; he is their Temple. (As the Apostle John writes about the New Jerusalem in the penultimate chapter of Revelation, “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.”)
Over the last two thousand years, the assembly in that Temple has grown, and will continue to grow until heaven and earth, once again, coalesce under the direction of the coming King.
At that time,
what was intended to be, will be—
the shadow of his Tent, covering creation
from sea to shining sea.
Editor’s note: Pictured above is “The Finding of the Savior in the Temple” painted by William Holman Hunt in 1854-55.