“When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the Lord on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying, ‘For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.’” 2 Chronicles 7:3
In all of Israelite culture there was no spot on earth more sacred than the temple in Jerusalem. It was in this place that God’s glory dwelt and where He resided among His people. The temple was represented a “crossroads” of sorts; it was the intersection of two domains: the created world and God’s realm. The temple was where these two places overlapped. In a way, the temple was a mini Eden on Earth where God’s presence was still among His people, though because of our sin, we were not able to enjoy that presence as freely as had been the case in the original Eden.
It was Solomon, son of King David, who built the temple in Jerusalem, and the 2 Chronicles text recounts the events of the temple’s dedication. Solomon delivers an eloquent prayer of dedication in which he questions how the temple can hold God’s greatness when even all the heavens are incapable of doing so, and numerous sacrifices of dedication are offered to God. Fire comes down from heaven and consumes the offerings, and God’s glory descends upon the temple as smoke and fills it. In the 1 Kings account of these same events, it states that God’s presence fills the temple so entirely that the temple priests could not perform their duties.
The people of Israel present that day at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, also referred to as the First Temple, would have instantly recognized what the fire and smoke represented, as well we should too. Throughout the Old Testament, we see God’s presence depicted as fire/smoke again and again. Beginning with the Exodus, we see where God led the Israelites as a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night, to the Sinai narrative when God’s presence descends upon the mountain as smoke and engulfs it, through the tabernacle—the precursor to the temple—when God’s glory descended upon it as smoke and completely filled it. We see fire coming from heaven once again during the time of Elijah when he challenged the prophets of Baal to call down fire from heaven. The false prophets were not able to, but the prophet of God was able to do so. The people of Israel in Solomon’s day, and again in Elijah’s day, knew fire from heaven meant only one thing: God is here.
Sadly, the dedication of the temple was merely a high point in Israel’s spiritual history. Israel would be offering sacrifices—sometimes including their children—to false gods and idols before Solomon was even dead. Even sadder still is that Solomon himself was complicit and active in this pagan worship. Israel would only spiral further and further into sin and idolatry after Solomon died, and roughly four hundred years after Solomon’s death, Israel would be punished for their spiritual promiscuity. The Babylonians would come and destroy Jerusalem in 586 BC, and they would destroy the temple. The building that represented the Edenic relationship between God and his creation, that was the crossroads between this domain and the realm of God, was razed.
The prophet Ezekiel has a vision related to this coming destruction of the temple. Ezekiel was a Hebrew living in exile in Babylon as the result of deportation before the Babylonian Exile that transpired after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. In one of the saddest passages in all of scripture, Ezekiel has a vision of the temple, and the glory—presence—of the Lord leaving departing from it: “Then the glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the house… And they stood at the entrance of the east gate of the house of the Lord,” (Ezekiel 10:18-19). Due to the overwhelming sinful nature of the people, God’s presence could no longer dwell in the temple. The people had defiled it and their hearts, and judgment was now coming.
When the Israelites were allowed to return to their homeland at the end of the Babylonian Captivity, many desired to rebuild the temple, and so they did. The Second Temple stood until 70 AD when it was destroyed by the Romans, and would have been the temple that Jesus visited. It was a colossal structure, renovated and expanded by Herod the Great, but nowhere in scripture is there an account like we find in 1 Kings or 2 Chronicles where God’s glory descended upon it and filled it. Aside from an eschatological vision that Ezekiel has late in his prophetic work, God’s glory never returned to the temple after it left.
Or did it?
Throughout the New Testament, Christ makes numerous references to His body being the temple, usually to the scorn of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Christ indeed was the temple; He was God Incarnate. In Christ, we see God dwelling literally and physically among His people. He was the intersection between the two domains in a way in which a building could never be.
But eventually, Christ returned to heaven, and He has yet to return. The temple in Jerusalem was never rebuilt after the Roman destruction in 70 AD, so what now? Where is the temple? Where does God dwell now? Where does His realm now intersect with ours?
We need to look no further than Acts 2. This well-known text describes the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, but look at how that arrival is depicted:
“And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them,” (Acts 2:2-3).
The coming of the Holy Spirit is portrayed with temple language; it mirrors the arrival of God’s glory into the temple on the day that Solomon dedicated it. Here at Pentecost, the Spirit isn’t entering a building; it’s entering each of the 120 believers who were assembled there that day—they each became a temple. Throughout Acts, the sign of someone coming to faith in Christ was their receiving of the Spirit, and the same is true today. Receiving the Spirit means you become the dwelling place of God; you become a temple. We see this affirmed throughout the New Testament; Peter and Paul both wrote on this topic. Peter said that we “are like living stones being built up into a spiritual house,” (1 Peter 2:5), and Paul wrote “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you,” (1 Corinthians 3:16). Paul goes on to implore the Corinthian believers to avoid defiling their bodies because doing so would be the same as desecrating the temple building itself. Receiving the Spirit requires one to live differently.
We must remember that we are, as believers, the dwelling places of God. In each of us resides His glory and His spirit. Each of us represents that incredible intersection between His realm and ours. We must live accordingly; we cannot repeat the mistakes of Israel and pollute and desecrate our temple. Instead, we must live worthy of the God who resides within us.
Artwork: “The Second Temple Jerusalem” by Aryeh Weiss