The Temple of Messiah

The Centrality of the Temple under the Old Covenant

The importance of the temple to the religion of the Old Covenant cannot be overstated. As ancient maps reveal, Jerusalem was regarded as the navel of the world, the temple its focal point. This was the connecting point between heaven and earth, the unique place that God had chosen for His dwelling place among His people.

Apart from its religious and spiritual significance to the people of Israel the temple was famous throughout the civilised world for its sheer magnificence and splendour. People travelled from all over the world to Jerusalem to see with their own eyes the glorious House of the LORD on Mount Zion that Solomon had built. The second temple, though humble in comparison, later earned its own reputation for grandeur after Herod undertook a massive renovation with the intent of gaining favour with the Jews while at the same time creating a lasting legacy for his name. The result was by all accounts impressive, its gleaming white marble edifice, adorned with gold, dominating the landscape, its magnificence attested to even by the disciples of the Lord.

Nevertheless, despite representing God’s dwelling place with His people, at the same time the temple visibly represented the barrier that separated sinful man from a holy God as well as barriers between God’s chosen nation and all other peoples. This was evident in the very design and construction of the temple. From the outer courts inwards to the Most Holy Place where only the High Priest could enter once a year, the courts were designed to restrict access at various points, symbolizing the division between different categories of men (Gentiles, Jews, men and women, Priests and Levites etc.) and prohibition against entering the Most Holy Place. As the writer to the Hebrews noted, while the earthly tabernacle was still standing it signified that the way into the Most Holy place had not yet been revealed (Heb 9:8).

The Second Temple

After seventy years in Babylon the Jews were permitted to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the temple which had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. The Lord moved King Cyrus, the great king of Persia, to issue a royal decree to all the nations within his domain, that no-one should hinder the Jews from going up to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and the temple, and that they should be given whatever assistance and materials they needed. However, this did not mean that non-Jews could participate in actually building the temple. When some of the enemies of Judah and Benjamin came to Zerubabbel the priest and the heads of the families saying, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here”, Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the LORD, the God of Israel ( Ezra 4:1-5).

When the building was completed many people who had seen the glory of the former temple were bitterly disappointed (Ezra 3:12). The Ark of the Covenant was never recovered and the Shekinah, the glorious presence of the Lord that had been visibly manifest at the dedication of the first temple, did not return. However, the prophet Haggai predicted that although this temple appeared unimpressive in comparison to the former temple built by Solomon, the glory of that house would exceed the glory of the former house and in that place the Lord Almighty would eventually grant peace (see Haggai 2:1-9). During this period the LORD also spoke through the prophet Zechariah saying that the Messiah, whose name is the Branch, will branch out from his place and he will build the temple of the Lord.

Thus, one of the expectations of the Messianic era was that when the Messiah came, he would build the temple whose glory would far exceed that of any former temple. That temple would be so perfectly consecrated (made clean and holy for the LORD) that the glorious presence of the Lord would again fill the temple.

“It is He (the Messiah) who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two” (Zechariah 6:13).

The building of the Lord’s temple by the Messiah would be evidence to the whole world that he is the Kingly high-priest who sits upon the throne. Furthermore; ” those who are far off shall come and help to build the temple of the LORD. And you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. And this shall come to pass, if you will diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God” (Zechariah 6:15).

The Origin and Development of Synagogue and Church

It is thought that the synagogue had its origin in the Babylonian exile. There are two Greek words, ekklesia and synagogue, which have basically the same original meaning, but in common usage synagogue came to be associated specifically with the assembly of Jews for worship and study and for the administration of local government by the elders according to the Word of God.

While the Temple remained the focal point of national identity, representing as it did the place of God’s presence with His people and the only acceptable place where sacrifices could be offered, as well as the place where millions of pilgrims would converge to celebrate the great feast days of the LORD, the people who lived in the towns and villages gathered in the synagogue on the Sabbath day. The building designated as the place of meeting, which traditionally faced towards Jerusalem, also came to be called a synagogue, in the same way that buildings built for Christian worship are often called churches.

The Greek words related to the concept of both church and synagogue are:

  • ekklesia – which means a called out assembly or congregation – this in time came to represent the assembly of believers in Jesus i.e. the church of Jesus Christ.
  • synagogue – which also means an assembly or congregation – this eventually came to represent the assembly of Jews who did not accept Jesus as Messiah.
  • basileia – which means kingly rule, kingship, sovereignty.

Thus, although the two words have essentially the same original meaning they came to represent two distinct religious assemblies, divided over the claims of Jesus.

Under the old covenant, the temple in Jerusalem was uniquely referred to as the “house of the Lord” or “the Lord’s dwelling place”. It is interesting to note that in all of the Oxford Dictionary’s definitions of the meaning of the word “church”, they are all uniquely associated with Jesus Christ and Christianity. The dictionary also notes the origin of the word “church”: it is derived from a Germanic word, kirika which in turn comes from the Greek kuriakon dōma meaning: “Lord’s House”.[1]

Leo Duprée Sandgren comments on the sibling analogy which has often been used to describe the age-old rivalry between Church and Synagogue:

“The modern appropriation of the ‘siblings’ paradigm merely reclaims the earliest paradigm when both the rabbis and the church fathers seized upon the biblical prophecy of two nations within Rebekah’s womb to describe their rivalry. In so doing, they admitted that not only were Jews and Christians siblings, they were twins. It will be a matter of sibling dispute who is Esau and who is Jacob.”[2]

Luke chapter 4 records how Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath day, as was the custom of most Jews (Luke 4:16).

The radical and unique nature of Jesus’ pronouncement on that day to be the eagerly anticipated Messiah would cause a rift within Judaism that would forever alter the development of the Jewish synagogue and lead to the development of a new assembly of people who would come to be known as the Church of Jesus Christ, incorporating people called out from every nation without distinction between Jew or Gentile.

The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Jesus. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the (the good news of the) year of the Lord’s favour.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:18-21).

The good news was that God’s anointed King had come – the kingdom of God was at hand. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah, a descendant of King David, of whose dominion, i.e. kingly rule (basileia), it was written, there would be no end and in whose name the people would be gathered: “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering (or obedience) of the people be.” (Gen. 49:10).

When Jesus asked Peter: “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:15-18).

The Rock upon which the church of Jesus Christ is built is the revelation that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Though there are many different denominations among the churches of Jesus Christ throughout the world, and many areas of doctrine upon which they are not all in perfect agreement, the essential foundation upon which the Church is established is that Jesus is both Lord and Messiah, the Son of God who became flesh, made his dwelling among his people and died to atone for the sins of the whole world. On the third day God raised him from the dead and seated him at His right hand, giving him all authority in heaven and on earth.

From that time forward the people who worshipped the God of Israel were called to gather in obedience to Jesus, whom God had anointed as King, and to listen to His word, for this was what the Law of Moses had anticipated and commanded: The Lord said to Moses: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account” (Deuteronomy 18:18-19).

The Glory returns to the Temple

When Solomon finished praying – (for the dedication of the newly built temple), fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the LORD because the glory of the LORD filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the LORD above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, “He is good; his love endures forever” (2 Chronicles 7:1-3).

The glory of the Lord did not return after the second temple was completed, but after his resurrection Jesus said to the believers: “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit…(Acts 2:1-4).

As Jesus had promised, the Father sent the Holy Spirit to indwell the believers and the glory of the Lord once again filled the new temple that Jesus is building out of living stones.

The Church of Jesus Christ is one church extending beyond time and space and incorporating a great multitude of people from every culture, language, tribe and nation, with one head, Jesus Christ. This vast assembly is the temple that Jesus the Messiah is building with living-stones as the dwelling place in which God lives by his Spirit.

The prophetic word that: …those who are far off shall come and help to build the temple of the Lord, was not only referring to those who were far away by distance, but to those who were:

  • …once far away, who have been brought near through the blood of Jesus Christ(Ephesians 2:11-13).
  • …formerly Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision”…
  • …and those who had no part or share in it because they were formerly …separate from Christ, and excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.

Not only do they now have a part in the building of the temple, they are the very living-stones which Jesus is using to build his glorious temple in which the Spirit of God, his glorious presence, is pleased to dwell.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22).

As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame” (1 Peter 2:4-6).

This is the new temple of the LORD – upon the heavenly city of Zion. The barrier that existed in the earthly temple has been destroyed so that all true worshippers may enter the Most Holy Place through the Blood of the Lamb, participating in offering sacrifices of praise and worship to the Great King who sits upon his throne. The way into the Most Holy Place has been revealed:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:19-22).

The Divergence between Church and Synagogue

Under the old covenant people could be cut off from the assembly of worshippers, either permanently or for a period of time, for cleansing for various reasons of sins, uncleanness and other offences, and they could be put out of the synagogue. Some sins even required that the offenders be put to death.

The question of allegiance to Jesus became the deciding factor over which membership of the covenant people was decided. The gospel of John tells us that the decision to expel those who believed in Jesus from the synagogue was established from a very early stage.

…the Jews had already decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue (John 9:22).

Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God (John 12:42-43).

Jesus in fact warned his disciples, “They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you” (John 16:2-4).

Later a curse was added to the benediction that was pronounced in the synagogue that was directed against those perceived as heretics, which most certainly included Jewish Christians:

“And for apostates let there be no hope; and may the insolent kingdom be quickly uprooted, in our days. And may [the notsrim and] the minim perish quickly; and may they be erased from the Book of Life and may they not be inscribed with the righteous. Blessed art thou, Lord, who humblest the insolent.”[3]

Ironically, Paul taught that it is the unbelieving Jews who, in spite of continued membership of the synagogue, are cut off from the faithful assembly (church) of Israel. If, under the old covenant, Jews who did not deny themselves on the Day of Atonement were to be expelled from the assembly of worshippers, how much more should those who treat the atoning blood of Jesus and of the New Covenant with contempt, be excluded from the household of God?

After the destruction of the temple the survival of Judaism became the pre-occupation of the synagogue. The synagogue tried to preserve Judaism and the exclusive identity of the Jewish people according to the terms and customs of the Old Covenant. As I have written elsewhere, “Judaism, deprived of land, temple and central authority, was left with only the book of the law. For it to survive, the law and the festivals had to be reinterpreted without the priesthood and the sacrificial system around which much of the law revolved. The temple, which had been the focal point of religious worship had to be replaced by the synagogue, something to which Jews in the diaspora were already accustomed.”[4]

Leo Duprée Sandgren comments on the development of post-temple Judaism alongside that of the Church:

“The second destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., along with the loss of the second temple, marks a watershed in Jewish history, even if not everyone saw it that way at the time. After all, cities and temples were destroyed by earthquakes, and rebuilt, often more grand than before. The second temple had proved that even after war and exile, Jewish life could be restored. But the third temple (not counting Herod’s renovation) was never rebuilt, and at this point Jews and the nascent Christians each begin to develop a religion without the central focus of a temple and the rituals of worship that surround it. As a religion without a temple, Judaism begins simultaneously with Christianity. The two communities forged their templeless identities in plain sight of each other, and in continual dialogue, and as constant rivals for the title “people of God” or “true Israel.” We now recognize that Judaism and Christianity are what they are because of the other. Neither formed itself in isolation.”[5]

In the gulf between Church and Synagogue stands the cross of Jesus Christ. Christians believe that the Church will be vindicated (justified) by believing and proclaiming that Jesus is Lord and Messiah who atoned for the sins of the world through his death on the cross. Membership of the Jewish synagogue is predicated upon an adamant denial that he is the promised Messiah who was to come.

Whereas the Synagogue still laments the destruction of the earthly temple, longing for the day when it may be rebuilt in Jerusalem and its rituals, sacrifices and priesthood re-instated, the Church no longer looks toward an earthly temple in Jerusalem, neither does it lament its destruction, for the more perfect temple of the Messiah is under construction and its glory far exceeds that of the former temples.

The revelation of Jesus the Messiah does not climax with the reconstruction of an earthly temple, with its barriers and restrictions, but with the unveiling of the glorious, eternal city of Jerusalem whose inhabitants are those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.

Rev 21:3 – And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”

Rev 21:22 – And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.

[1] The English language word “church” is from the Old English word cirice, derived from West Germanic *kirika, which in turn comes from the Greekκυριακή kuriakē, meaning “of the Lord” (possessive form of κύριος kurios “ruler, lord”). Kuriakē in the sense of “church” is most likely a shortening of κυριακὴ οἰκία kuriakē oikia (“house of the Lord”) or ἐκκλησία κυριακή ekklēsia kuriakē (“congregation of the Lord”).[2] Christian churches were sometimes called κυριακόν kuriakon (adjective meaning “of the Lord”) in Greek starting in the 4th century, but ekklēsia andβασιλική basilikē were more common.[3] (From Internet Wikipedia).

[2] Vines Intertwined – A History of Jews and Christians from the Babylonian Exile to the Advent of Islam – by Leo Duprée Sandgren p.6).

[3] Gamaliel II is credited with arranging the Eighteen Benedictions (another name for the ancient prayer called the Amidah), and adding a benediction against the minim, the heretics, which most certainly included Jewish believers at this time. Composed by Samuel ha-Katan (the Small), it was inserted into the blessing (actually a curse) of the minim (“heretics,” “sectarians”). The origin and original wording of this twelfth benediction are unknown and presently unrecoverable. The benediction probably originated in some form with the Pharisees and was meant to exclude perushim (“outsiders”) from their fellowship, and in good contemporary form, issued a pox on them all. The outsiders may have included extreme Hellenists, Essenes, Sadducees, and apocalyptic groups, as well as antagonistic followers of Jesus, such as the former Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus – Vines Intertwined – A History of Jews and Christians from the Babylonian Exile to the Advent of Islam – by Leo Duprée Sandgren p.324).

[4] Heirs of Abraham – What is the orthodox faith of Israel? Published by Messianic Good News 3rd Quarter 2002

[5] Vines Intertwined – A History of Jews and Christians from the Babylonian Exile to the Advent of Islam – by Leo Dupree Sandgren p.2.