When Jesus’ identity as the Christ was unveiled among his disciples, the first subject he turned his attention to was the church (Matthew 16:13-20). On that day He promised, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). The word “church” conjures up a number of images and ideas that more often than not are misguided or at least incomplete. When Jesus spoke of “church” he was simply talking about the group of people who would belong to him (Acts 2:38-47, 4:23-5:11, 6:1-7, 11:19-26, et al). The Bible details the meaning and significance of this group using a number of metaphors. One of the ways God describes his people, the church, is as a Temple.
A temple is a connection point between humanity and the divine. These connection points are critical to every human culture. Ruins of Greco-Roman temples are visited by thousands of people each year. The Hōryū-ji Buddhist temple in Japan was built in 607 and is still revered today. For Israel, God’s special people, the Temple was especially important. Yahweh God designed a marvelous and distinctive Temple made out of the finest of all materials. Most importantly, He promised His people that this Temple was where He would dwell among them (1 Kings 8). Jesus said his church, the Temple, would be the new place where God would dwell in the world (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4-8). What does it mean for the church to be God’s Temple?
A Temple is a holy place. You can’t rent a room at a temple for your kid’s birthday party or get some friends together to play an indoor soccer tournament. People come into temples with reverence in demeanor, apparel, and behavior because temples aren’t like any other place–they are unique, dedicated places made out of the highest quality material. Jesus’ church is God’s Temple in the world and the disciples that make up that Temple must be of the highest quality, their conduct must be unique from the rest of the world, their lives must be completely dedicated to God. Greed, sexual immorality, and divisions born out of selfishness can never be part of church. God’s people must be free from all the evils and corruptions of the world because God’s people, the church, are his Temple, and a temple is a holy place.
A Temple points people to its god. If you visit religious sites–ancient or currently operational–you immediately learn about the god which the site was established to venerate. A temple is not just an architectural wonder or a tourist trap. A temple points to its god. The Jewish Temple was special not because of the materials it was made of or because of its architectural beauty but because God’s Name was there (1 Kings 8:17-20, 29). This was an important part of God’s plan to make His Name known among all the nations (1 Kings 8:41-43). A temple demonstrates the nature and value of the god that it represents. God’s Temple today is Christ’s church. Jesus has placed his people in the world to lift up his Name so that all can know who he is. This purpose gives even greater weight to the holiness that the Temple, Christ’s church, must live out. Sexual chastity, deep love for one another and the world, strict adherence to Scripture, contentment instead of greed are not merely an honor directed toward God. They are part of God’s purpose of making his Name known to the world through His Temple, the church.
To follow Jesus is to offer yourself as part of His grand building project. Being a disciple demands a holy life that lifts up the Lord’s Name in the world. Because if you are with Jesus then you are part of God’s Temple, the church.