In the previous couple of posts, we’ve looked at the Tabernacle as an Old Testament type (for a definition of type, see the first post in this series). We discussed how the Tabernacle was a type of Jesus, in that just as the purpose of the Tabernacle was to serve as a dwelling place for God among His people, Jesus also had the fullness of God dwell in Him (see Colossians 1:19). We also discussed how the Tabernacle was a type of the Church – in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, Paul writes “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” Today’s lesson looked at the Temple(s), which were the permanent forms of the preceding tabernacles built by Moses and David. The Temple was a type of the same New Testament figures – Jesus and the Church – but the lesson elaborated on how the destruction and restoration of the Temple served as a shadow of the fate of the Church, even in today’s time.
A Snapshot of Church History
Today’s lesson pointed out that the history of the Church can be divided into 4 stages:
A Glorious Birth
The birth of the church is described at the beginning of Acts. Acts 4:31-35 describes a lot of what made the birth of Church so glorious:
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
So we see that, as the lesson put it, “the Church of God was birthed in the power of the Holy Spirit and had a dynamic impact on the community of that day.”
A Period of Decline
Even during the first century, a great deal of doctrinal error had crept into the Church. The number of letters written by the apostles to correct these errors in the New Testament serve as proof of that. This period of decline continued to spread throughout the Church, reaching rock bottom during the Dark Ages. The lesson pointed out that, at this time in history, “the Church was hardly recognizable as the same holy, dynamic company birthed by God on the Day of Pentecost.”
A Period of Restoration
Even during the Dark Ages, there were individuals who were true believers, carrying the Church through that dismal time in history. God began to use some of these people to begin to rebuild the foundations of the Church. This time in history is known as the Reformation, and is hallmarked by men such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and Ulrich Zwingli. The Church remains in this period of history, though most theologians believe we are nearing the end stages.
A Glorious Finale
In the (hopefully near) future, Christ will return in all His glory, bringing with Him a new time period for the Church. Paul writes of this in Romans 8:18-23:I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
The lesson summarizes by saying that it will be at this time when “God will bring His plan for the Church to its climax. As the Church becomes the Temple God has designed her to be, the earth will indeed ‘be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea’ (Habakkuk 2:14)”.
The Restoration of the Temple
After putting the Ark in the new tabernacle, David had fully intended to build a permanent Temple for the Ark of God’s presence to reside. Unfortunately for David, God would not allow it to happen. He instead chose David’s son, Solomon, to be the one who would have the Temple built. Solomon built the Temple and furnished it with many lavish fixtures, surely making it one of the great wonders among any building in the world at that time (see 1 Kings 6-7). The general structure of the Temple, though, was identical to the tabernacle(s) that preceded it – it contained an outer court with the brazen altar and laver, and an inner court, which was made up of the Most Holy Place (where the Ark was kept) and the Holy Place, which held the table of the bread of presence, the lamp stand, and the altar of incense.
Over the next couple hundred years, the nation of Israel went through many trials and periods of turning away from God. God allowed the Temple to be plundered and thrown into disarray by foreign nations, and each time it was repaired and brought back to service in periods of revival under Joash and Josiah. Eventually, around 587 B.C., the Babylonians totally destroy the Temple and take all of its sacred furnishings to the temples of Nebuchadnezzar’s gods, and all of the people into exile in Babylon. Seventy years later, a remnant of about 50,000 people returned to Jerusalem, and under a decree of protection from King Cyrus of Persia, and they begin to rebuild the Temple.
New Testament Fulfillment
As it’s outlined in the book of Ezra, the Temple was rebuilt in 4 stages. Today’s lesson attempted to link the 4 stages of the rebuilding of the Temple to the restoration of the Church (the Reformation and beyond). Whether this is a theologically and Biblically sound thing to do, I can’t say. I can say that I don’t find any New Testament references saying that the rebuilt Temple is typical of the current or future Church. All the same, allow me to summarize the points of the lesson, and preface by saying that this may serve as a better illustration than a Biblical type.
The Altar of Sacrifice (Ezra 3:1-6)
The first part of the Temple to be rebuilt was the altar of sacrifice – the brazen altar in the Temple’s outer court. The altar of sacrifice represented the people’s relationship with God, so by building it first, it demonstrated the need for a restored relationship before all else. In the restoration of the Church, the first thing to be restored was the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Interestingly, this is the very essence of the spiritual meaning of the guilt and sin offerings that were given upon the altar of sacrifice. So we can see that the budding Reformation began the same way the new Temple did – through restored relationship.
The Foundation of the Temple (Ezra 3:7-13)
In the restoration of the natural Temple, after rebuilding the altar of sacrifice, the Israelites laid the foundation for the new Temple. The lesson attempted to link this foundation to the foundation mentioned in Ephesians 2:20: “…you are…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.” (emphasis added) It says that the “modern ministries of apostle and prophet” are this foundation, in that “the prophets spoke and stirred the people, and the apostles acted on the word of the Lord and directed the work.” I immediately wanted to know exactly what these ministries might look like today, so I referred to my trusty old Got Questions site for answers. While the office of apostleship is closed (those hand-picked by Christ), the gift of apostleship lives on (though it’s best to NOT use the term apostle, to avoid confusion). The gift of apostleship describes those who are enabled by God to carry the Gospel message with God’s authority. Therefore we could say that the original Apostles (represented today by the Bible, maybe?), as well as those who continue to work today to spread the Gospel throughout the world (missionaries, perhaps?) are this foundation. I don’t find this to be a strong argument, but at least it makes sense. In the end, the best connection I can think of is that, with the Reformation, came a returning to the true foundation of our faith – Jesus Christ.
The Rebuilding of the Temple (Ezra 6:14-16)
After the foundation was laid, the natural Temple itself was rebuilt. According to the lesson, this corresponds to the Church today: “…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.” (1 Peter 2:5). The Church is being built slowly, as person after person comes to faith in Christ and becomes a living stone in this, the spiritual Temple of God. This Temple has yet to be finished, but the construction continues.
The Worship in the Temple (Ezra 7:1-20)
After the Temple was fully restored, worship was re-instituted according to the original plan outlined in the Law. Likewise, in the future, after Christ’s return and after the Temple that is the Church is complete, we will worship God as we were originally intended, offering all the spiritual sacrifices that please the Lord, as the Israelites offered the physical sacrifices listed in Ezra 6.