Some time ago, my wife and I were watching a documentary on the history of the temple of God and the dream of orthodox Judaism to rebuild that temple on the ancient site in Jerusalem. The temple has already been built there twice in days long gone past, but they are hoping to build a third temple. We learned that the Temple Institute in Old Jerusalem is preparing for this even now with its goal to provide a basis in research, planning and infrastructure for the third temple as a place of worship for all nations.
After watching the video, we discussed their objective to erect a third temple. “Jesus called Himself the temple,” my wife commented, referring to the declaration Jesus made about Himself to the Jews, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19-21). “Yes, He did,” I replied, “and that means that we are already worshiping in the third temple.”
This conversation encouraged me to pursue a deeper understanding of what this meant to me as a Christian. I began to realize that I was now walking, living and worshiping in the true temple of God through Jesus Christ. Whether at church or at work or at home, I could meet with God any time of day or night. This was a principle that I wanted to apply into my life.
We Can Worship God Anywhere
Like the many Jews who now long for the rebuilding of a physical third temple in Jerusalem so they can worship God, some of us also make the error of considering the structure where we gather as the temple in which God dwells. I remember a time when I felt that the church was sacred ground and that it was only there where I really met with God. It was only later that I considered how the early church met in homes, and that the large physical structures did not rise up as a place of worship until later.
When speaking with the woman of Samaria, Jesus told her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father … But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:21, 23-24).
Though it is our responsibility as Christians to gather together for fellowship, Jesus made it clear, the physical place where we worship is not the means by which we approach the Father, but rather our relationship with God. We are to worship in “spirit and truth.” In order to do this, we must first have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). The truth is in Christ, and we must worship in the Spirit of Christ if we are to worship in spirit and truth.
Jesus Christ at the Third Temple
Jesus Christ is the true third temple of worship on the earth (Rev. 21:22), yet we as Christians have also become this third temple through application as the body of Christ in which the Holy Spirit now dwells (1 Cor. 3:16-17, 6:19). Together, we all make up the structure of the true temple as the body of Christ, a spiritual sanctuary built up of bodily stones in which we worship God without ceasing. The Apostle Peter writes, “You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5).
The temple was a place of worship, and we as Christians have entered into the Holy of Holies before the face of the Father through Jesus Christ of whom we are part. We have now come into Christ and He has come into us. Because we now dwell continuously in the temple as priests and servants, our attitude should be one of reverent worship at all times in the eternal presence of God. When we depart from the physical structure of the building we call our church, we do not leave the presence of God nor does He cease to fellowship with us. By abiding in Christ, we never depart from the spiritual temple in which we worship.
How We Can Worship God
Exactly how are we to worship God in this third temple of the Spirit? Since we have now entered into the veil and live continuously before our God through Jesus Christ, I’ve noted three important aspects of worship that are our reasonable service.
Sacrifice of self. A 12-year-old boy at our church has grown up with the dream to be a quarterback for the National Football League. Within the last two years he has come into a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ through prayer, bible studies and Christian fellowship. He has struggled with thoughts of someday serving God in the ministry. After grappling with this for several weeks, he came to a decision that he would sacrifice his own wishes to follow the leading of God. “You know, Mom,” he told his mother with tears in his eyes, “if God doesn’t want me to play football, then I don’t want to play football.”
“Let death be to you the most desirable thing on earth–death to self, and fellowship with Christ,” wrote Andrew Murray in his book, Absolute Surrender. The apostle Paul instructs us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God (Rom. 12:1). This requires the denial of self that God may be all through us. When we decide to follow Christ, we place our own ego on the altar of the temple and it is ignited by the fire of the Holy Spirit, then it is slowly burned in the divine flames as a sweet smelling aroma to God. Though the sacrifice burns, it often takes a long time before it is consumed in the fullness of the fire. Our sacrifice of self to God is a continuous process of the Spirit of God in our lives. Each action and thought that we bring into subjection to the will of God is part of that sacrifice. Though self-sacrifice is not always an easy task, every time we deny the self for the will of God, we are progressing in our walk toward the likeness of Christ.
Prayer. Jesus called His temple a house of prayer (Matt. 21:13). Since we are now in the temple of God by abiding in Christ, we are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17).
Many years ago, when I first began dating my wife, she went to San Francisco on a four-day business trip and we were separated by a considerable distance. Soon we were missing each other and we spent several hours on the phone with each other every night, looking forward to the day when we would again be able to see each other. This is the way it should be with the Lord–talking and fellowshiping with Him in Spirit while longing for the day when He will return in bodily form to the earth.
As I began to consider myself as dwelling continuously in the temple of God, I found myself more in prayer. It wasn’t long before I was silently offering up brief prayers for others even while I was carrying on a conversation with them. I began using my driving time to speak with the Lord as well. I now speak silently to God in much of my daily life, as well as continue to bow to Him in moments of intimate prayer when alone or while participating in prayer groups at church.
Praise and thanksgiving. “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him and bless His name” (Psalm 100:4). The scriptures constantly refer to praise and thanksgiving as a form of spiritual sacrifice that is pleasing to God. We are to praise our Lord within the temple of Christ at all times, making melody in our hearts and singing within to the Lord, regardless of what is going on around us on the outside. After being severely beaten with flesh-tearing whips and cast into the inner prison with their feet held in stocks, Paul and Silas began to pray and sing praises to God in such a loud voice that the other prisoners heard them (Acts 16:23-25). Even in times of trial and tribulation, we are to offer up praise and thanksgiving. Yet, God wishes for us to praise and thank Him for all the good in our lives as well, and not to come before Him only in our moments of despair. We are to praise God during both good times and bad times, trusting that all is working together for our eternal good in the Lord.
It is the Holy Spirit that fills us with the praise and thanksgiving that flows out from within our soul through Jesus Christ to the Father. When ever I think of praise, I am reminded of a friend’s little girl, who loved to sing out the song “Hosanna” to the Lord. Often, we would be driving in the car and she would start to sing, and before long, all of us in the car would be singing along with her in praise to God.
Since that conversation with my wife about the endless quest of orthodox Judaism to rebuild their temple, I have come to the realization that we are all in the temple of God wherever we are and whatever we are doing. Through daily sacrifice, prayer, and praise we can now worship and fellowship with God on a continual basis. With the work of Jesus Christ, the veil to the holy place of God has been torn asunder and we now dwell in the presence of God the Father forever.
© Robert Alan King at BibleCommentator.com, previously published in Vista (September 1997) and The Advocate (October 1995). All rights reserved.