At the recent WA Equipper’s Prayer Summit a pastor remarked on our neglect of the personal presence of the Holy Spirit. He suggested that as the Holy Spirit clothed himself with the body of Jesus when Christ was on earth, the Spirit now clothes himself with the church. In praying about this I was stunned by some insights I believe the Spirit began to open up to me about the church as his temple. I don’t know how to convey the depths of emotion this generated, but I was “out of it” for about half a day. I pray that the truths I have attempted to unfold in this paper grasp you as they have affected me.
Evangelicals have focussed on the role of the Spirit in personal salvation; Pentecostals have stressed the gifts and power of the Spirit, but to talk of the temple of the Holy Spirit is a deeper and more intimate matter. Paul describes the dignity of the church as God’s temple:
“According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Cor 3:10- 17).
Why a Temple?
Everyone in the ancient world knew that a temple was the dwelling place of a deity. This is reinforced by the frequent biblical expression for the temple as “house of God/the LORD” (approx 300 uses). Less obviously, Eden was a garden-temple at the centre of which was humanity as the image of the Creator; Adam was a priest-king commissioned with the sacred duty of manifesting the divine presence across the earth. Humanity as God’s Temple exists to bring his glory throughout all creation (Isa 43:6-7; 1 Cor 11:7; Rev 4:11). In the End, creation is one vast temple of God (Rev 21:3; 16). Through Christ, the church presently on earth partakes of this eternal reality.
What Sort of a Temple?
Paul says of the church in Corinth, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Cor 3:17). Despite their divisions, immorality and false teaching, God lived in the church at Corinth so that it can only be described as “holy”. The word chosen by Paul for “temple” (naos) is the term reserved for the inner sanctuary in which God lived. The believers in Corinth were the real Holy of Holies in the city! This explains the very serious words that those who harm the church will be “destroyed” by God. This connects back to Paul’s description of genuine Christian ministry.
The Ministry of Temple Building
Paul saw himself as a temple builder. As a “skilled master builder” he has “laid a foundation”, Christ. One may build with “gold, silver, precious stones” or “wood, hay, straw”. The former list is drawn from descriptions of Solomon’s temple. It indicates the supreme value of the people who make up the new covenant temple to God. Alternatively, no sensible person would house the presence of their deity in a dwelling made of cheap perishable items like straw, that in the End will be consumed by the fiery judgement of God.
Scripture says that “the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands” (Acts 7:48 cf. Mark 14:58; Heb 9:11, 24). This prohibits relying on worldly reason and wisdom to build the house of God. Such strategies are forbidden and useless.
God builds his holy temple by Word and Spirit alone. Jesus prayed for the church, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17 cf. Eph 5:26-27). Paul describes himself as “a minister of Christ Jesus …in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:16). The use of this sacred language for ministry is consolidated by other New Testament descriptions of God’s people.
The Heart of These Stones
“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet 2:4-5). This passage teaches that believers share in Jesus sacrificial service.
As Jesus was dying he was publicly mocked by the chief priests, who were the guardians of the Jerusalem temple. ““You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”” (Matt 27:40) The dying Christ did not look like a precious stone that a builder would choose to make a sanctuary for a holy God. Jesus looked broken and rejected, for the fiery wrath of God was destroying in the temple of his flesh (Rom 3:25; 8:3) the sin of the world.
In the wisdom of God most Christians are not “wise according to worldly standards …powerful …of noble birth” (1 Cor 1:26). On the outside they tend to look like the crucified Lord, “foolish…weak…low and despised in the world” (1 Cor 1:27, 28). But the inside story is vastly different.
The writer to the Hebrews exhorts his fellow believers, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Heb 10:19-22)
Every element of this description is drawn from the typology of the temple. The Most Holy Place was entered by the High Priest taking the blood sacrifice on the Day of Atonement, Christians now enter the heavenly holy places (Heb 9:11) through the precious blood of Christ. The curtain which divided the holy of holies from the rest of the sanctuary (Heb 9:3) has been opened up for us by the rending of the real curtain, the body of Jesus. The High Priest sprinkled animal blood on a lifeless altar, but Christ, has sprinkled his blood on our hearts purging them from all guilt.
When the temple of Christ’s body was pierced by the soldier’s spear, from his side “came out blood and water. (John 19:34-35). His blood applied to our hearts makes atonement, the water, symbolising the life –giving Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39; Tit 3:5-6), makes all our offerings to God clean. God had once promised concerning the Jerusalem temple, “I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time.” (2 Chron 7:16), in Christ this is literally true of the life of the people of God. God’s heart dwells in the midst of his church and from this union arises actions of indescribable beauty.
The Preciousness of the Stones
Since Christ dwells in our hearts by faith (Eph 3:17), we are united to the Son who is absolutely pleasing to the Father. “Joined to the Lord”, we are “one spirit” with him (1 Cor 6:17). We have been drawn inside the unity of the eternal trinity – God fully dwells in us as his temple. The implications are indescribable.
The faith of a person that believes in the Spirit raised Christ from the dead (Rom 10:9-10; 8:9-10) pleases God immeasurably (Heb 11:6). By grace, the heart of the believer has become an altar of offering as precious to the Father as the cross. Paul couples the believer and Jesus together by saying, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph 5:1-2). As we walk in forgiving love, we enter into the intensity of the Father’s appreciation of the death of Jesus, we become, “the aroma of Christ” (2 Cor 2:15).
Forgiving love that shares in the sacrifice of the cross is the principal offering on the altar of our hearts. As believers refuse to take offence against the sins of their fellow Christians they become stones bound together by love, “14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Col 3:14). From this corporate altar arise prayers whose value to God cannot be humanly grasped.
“And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Rev 5:8-10).
The prayers of the people of God are so precious that they are carried by angelic authorities into the nearest presence of God in “golden bowls”, indicating supreme value. Revelation represents believers as royal priestly intercessors sharing in the holy offices of Christ as priest and king. As those who have been ransomed and redeemed by the blood of Christ (Eph 1:7; Heb 9:12; Rev 5:9) we have been sprinkled with the blood of Jesus (1 Pet 1:2). With our conscience and heart purified our prayers to the Father commune with the prayers of Jesus himself. The prayers of the saints on earth share in the power of the prayers of Jesus on the cross and in the efficacy of his present earthly intercession.
Words fail to describe how precious and delightful the heavenly Father feels about our intercession. The Old Testament does however provide an analogy. The incense which was to be taken in a cloud into the Holy of Holies (Lev 16:12-13) is called “most holy”, and anyone who replicated it was to be put to death (Ex 30:22-38). The fulfilment of this symbolism is found in the real temple whose stones are holy people indwelt by God himself, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Cor 3:16- 17)
In the Temple of the Spirit an altar of praise is raised up to God. What makes the praises of God’s people utterly melodious in his ears is not the professionalism of our musicians, but that we “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet 2:4-5). The sole mediation of Jesus accounts for the completely acceptability of our adoration to the Lord.
All these dimensions of the temple of the Spirit can be summed up in terms of the presence of the glory of God. When the temple of Solomon was opened the glory of the Lord filled the house (2 Chron 7:1-3), but this was an extraordinary event. Generally, the glory of God was restricted to the Most Holy Place and was seen only by the High Priest once a year (Ex 25:22; Heb 9:5). Although there was no natural or artificial illumination in this sanctuary, the light of God was so intense it lit the way for the atonement ritual that maintained the presence of God amongst his people. All these types of glory have come to fulfilment for us in Christ.
The Christ who dwells within us is “the radiance of the glory of God” and “the hope of glory” (Heb 1:3; Col 1:27). God himself “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). The glory of the Holy of Holies now lives in us as the new covenant temple. We now share in the innermost being of God himself, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one” (John 17:22). The prayers of Jesus have been answered in the creation of a people whom God shall indwell forever (2 Cor 6:16-18).
Application and Conclusion
We are heirs of “such a great salvation” (Heb 2:3) “into which angels long to look” (1 Pet 1:12). Yet we must ask, “Why is the church of God, ‘the temple of the living God’ where God ‘walks and dwells amongst us’ (2 Cor 6:16), so mundane and predictable?” Why is “church” so often routine, boring or, even worse, relevant to the point of triviality? The answer is simple, for as always, it has to do with the cross.
“And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”” (Luke 24:25-26). The prophets had insight into “the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” (1 Pet 1:11) because they knew this sequence of death and life, humiliation and revelation in their own lives. Peter says, “14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Pet 4:14). Without suffering with Jesus in his struggle to move his people from old wineskins into their true glory there can be no revelation of the essential nature of the church, for it is only through the experience of shared sacrifice do we know that the Lord inhabits us as his temple.
The Temple of Jesus humanity was restored by God’s Word and Spirit through the destruction of his old flesh on the cross and its recreation by resurrection from the dead. Just as this temple was not made by human hands but by God’s own action of God, so it must be with temple building today. All our marketing, programming, clever rhetoric, and attempts to “fix” the living stones by human control are but “wood, hay, straw” that will perish on the Day of fire (1 Cor 3:12-13). To shift away from such means will require a radical realignment of faith, a new reformation. God grant us to believe who we are, his own holy temple.
 Full details are contained in G.K.Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, Apollos, 2004.
 1 Chronicles 29:2, elsewhere applied to the End time temple (Isa 54:11ff; Rev 21:19ff.).
 Jesus had earlier spoken of “the temple of his body” (John 2:21).
 “And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” (Matt 15:37-38)
 Clean in the ritual sense of acceptable sacrifices to God (Gen 8:20-21; John 13:10; 15:3 ).
 The resurrection is the perfection of the temple of God in the body of the glorified Lord (John 2:18-22).
 The word for “bind” was regularly used for mortar holding bricks together.
 “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb 9:14)
 Arguably, the church is an altar, “Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there” (Rev 11:1). Cf. Heb 13:10.
 Compare, “Through him (Jesus) then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” (Heb 13:15)
 Prophetically, the principle underlying this text applies, “If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it.” (Ex 20:25).