The Temple--As It Was, Is, and Will Be Again

Regis Nicoll
Regis Nicoll
2015 12 Jan

One of the oddities of the Bible is how little it reveals about the life of its central figure: Jesus Christ. All we know of Jesus prior to age 30 are a few sketchy accounts by Matthew and Luke, with gospel writers Mark and John completely silent on His early life.

A yawning gap

Luke tells of Jesus’s circumcision and presentation at the temple; Matthew reports His visit from Magi as a young child followed by His flight to Egypt to escape the sword of Herod. After that, the biblical record goes dark until the “lost and found” report on Jesus at age 12.

According to Luke, Jesus went missing on a family trip home from the Passover celebrations in Jerusalem. After a frenzied three-day search, a harried Mary and Joseph found Him “in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.”

That’s it—the sum total of what the Bible says of Jesus’s first 30 years on earth.

While the omission has piqued the interest and imagination of many a Bible student, it is one that no mythmaker would have allowed. As C. S. Lewis has noted, “Most of the life of Jesus is totally unknown to us . . . and no people building up a legend would allow that to be so.”

The yawning biographical gap, while frustrating, adds authenticity and credibility to the biblical record; and the early details that are there, though few, are profound in significance—not the least of which, is that His first recorded public appearances are in the temple.

In the temple

At eight days old, His infant cries pierced the ears of His circumciser. Thirty-two days later, His coos warmed the hearts of Simeon and Anna. Then, at twelve years old, His thoughtful words stimulated the minds of His hearers.

Fast forward to the end of His public ministry, and Jesus is again at the temple, where His voice rumbles throughout the courts as He drives out the moneychangers, upbraids the religious leaders, and, finally, looks over the city weeping aloud for his countrymen. Even from the remove of Golgotha, His last words, “It is finished,” reach the temple in a thunderclap that shreds the veil from top to bottom.

The prominence of the temple at both ends of Jesus’s life points its importance in biblical history and beyond.

Earth as temple

In his book “Surprised by Scripture,” N.T. Wright notes that the biblical creation narrative “would have been seen in the ancient world as a story about a god building a temple, a place for his own habitation.” (Emphasis in original.) Wright suggests that God intended earth as a place to cohabit and fellowship with man, a “temple” facilitating human-divine congress.

One can imagine the original creation as a hyper-dimensional realm in which heaven and earth were not separate, but adjoined, overlapping and interlocking, allowing God, a hyper-dimensional Being, to be manifestly present for man to experience in complete intimacy.

The human design, in God’s image, is suggestive as it would be necessary for the kind of relationship initiated by God toward Adam and Eve (instructing them, authorizing them, empowering them, and commissioning them as partners in creation care).

Also suggestive are the closing chapters of Revelation that describe the new creation. Concerning the Holy City descended to earth, John writes, “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.”

(As a teasing side note: Some scientists see evidence that our universe came from a higher-dimensional one, rather than from a “big” physics-defying “bang” in the quantum vacuum. But that’s a topic for another day.)

This doesn’t mean that the original creation was non-physical, but that it was more than physical, perhaps like Jesus’s resurrected body that could be seen, touched, and felt, but could pass through solid objects and move from place to place instantly and effortlessly, prefiguring the new creation.

But what was, was interrupted and changed with the Fall. Continue reading here.