How Temple Theology helps us Understand the Incarnation.

In study 2 we reviewed the theology of the temple in Jerusalem. In particular we templestudied how Solomon’s prayer at the temple dedication (1 Kings 8) demonstrates a belief that God’s true dwelling was in heaven, despite being able to manifest the Glory presence in the temple. A parallel account of the temple dedication in 1 Kings 8 can be found in 2 Chronicles 5-7.

Study Series Intro: Over the next several months I will be posting a series of group bible studies on the Bible’s sacred places. Each study focuses on what these sacred places reveal about the character of God and how these places point to God’s ultimate self revelation in Jesus Christ.

Let’s review the temple dedication and Solomon’s prayer by reading 2 Chronicles 5:5-6:3; 6:18-21.

2 Chronicles 5:5 – 6:3  5 And they brought up the ark, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the Levitical priests brought them up.  6 And King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered.  7 Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the LORD to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the Most Holy Place, underneath the wings of the cherubim.  8 The cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim made a covering above the ark and its poles.  9 And the poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the Holy Place before the inner sanctuary, but they could not be seen from outside. And they are there to this day.  10 There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets that Moses put there at Horeb, where the LORD made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of Egypt.  11 And when the priests came out of the Holy Place (for all the priests who were present had consecrated themselves, without regard to their divisions,  12 and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, their sons and kinsmen, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with 120 priests who were trumpeters;  13 and it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the LORD), and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the LORD, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,” the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud,  14 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God.  6:1 Then Solomon said, “The LORD has said that he would dwell in thick darkness.  2 But I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.”  3 Then the king turned around and blessed all the assembly of Israel, while all the assembly of Israel stood. . . .   18 “But will God indeed dwell with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built!  19 Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O LORD my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you,  20 that your eyes may be open day and night toward this house, the place where you have promised to set your name, that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place.  21 And listen to the pleas of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen from heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.” (ESV)

Although the Lord manifests his presence in the glory cloud, Solomon’s prayer continually assumes that God’s presence is located in heaven (6:21, 23, 25, 27, 30, 33, 39). Moreover, in 6:18 Solomon acknowledges that “heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house which I have built.” For the Israelites, therefore, God was in no way limited to space and time. While humans cannot be in two places at the same time, the Almighty God can be present in the temple as well as present in heaven. God’s limitless presence includes being able to manifest his presence in a particular place—like the temple. Being in the temple, therefore, was to be in God’s presence more than anywhere else on earth. But even the temple took second place to God’s presence in heaven—that dimension outside our universe that is filled with God’s unmitigated glory.

In Solomon’s prayer (and elsewhere in the Bible), God’s special presence in the temple is referred to as God putting his “name” in the temple (6:20). When God said his name dwelled in the temple, it meant that something of his presence, reputation, character, and history could be accessed there. The temple therefore was a place of God’s presence, glory, and name.

The Lord’s connection to the temple helps us understand (though not perfectly) the Father’s connection to Jesus. Some question how Jesus could be God, when the Bible constantly depicts Jesus talking to God and assuming his Father is in heaven. God’s manifest presence in the temple and his transcendent presence throughout the universe suggest an answer to how Jesus the Son could relate to his heavenly Father.

Knowing that God’s presence could be in the temple and in heaven simultaneously, how would you respond to the question of how Jesus could be God and still talk to God in heaven? (Suggested answer: The Bible assumes that God’s presence is not limited to space and time. God can still transcend the heavens and earth while at the same time manifesting his presence in a particular place—or in Jesus’ case, a particular person.)

The manifestation of God’s presence in the person of Jesus Christ, like his manifestation in the temple, is an expression of his immanence within his omnipresence. God can manifest his presence in a place or a person while at the same time ruling over the entire universe. God stands as the transcendent creator and relates to space and time as its Lord and master.[i] In short, Jesus Christ can be the manifestation of God on earth, and God can still reign and be present over the whole universe. Of course, the Trinity best explains this phenomenon because the temple presence is not the exact same as God’s presence in Christ.[ii]

The distinct personages in God, and how their shared glory manifests, are better understood by reading John 1:1-3, 14:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. . . . 14And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

While the Word is distinct from God, he is nonetheless God as he shares the essential glory of the creator God. This glory reminded John of the glory that tabernacled among Israel in Moses’ day.

What is John claiming about Jesus the Word? How is the Word becoming flesh in verse 14 similar to the dedications of the tabernacle and temple? (Suggested answer: The Word that created the universe “dwells” or more particularly “tabernacles,” among the people, and they behold this glory.)

More of this temple language is used to describe God the Father’s relationship to God the Son in John 17. John 17 comes at the end of Jesus’ farewell address to his disciples and consists of a prayer for Jesus’ disciples.  

John 17:1-12: When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,  2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.  3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.  4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.  5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.  6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.  7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.  8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.  9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.  10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.  11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.  12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” (ESV)

What words remind you of the tabernacle/temple? (Suggested answers: 17:5 “Now, Father, glorify me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” John 17:11-12  “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me.”)

God’s glory and name are on Jesus as his glory and name are on the temple. Similar to God’s glory filling the temple, Jesus can manifest God’s presence without taking away from God’s transcendent presence. The unity of God’s limitless essential presence exists in three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The one God is not limited to being alone, but has shared a community of oneness for eternity. As we will see in subsequent postings, Jesus manifestation of God’s presence reflects God’s desire to share this loving community of oneness with his people in a way even greater than the temple.

If Jesus manifests God’s glory and name like the temple, what does it say about God’s character? (Suggested answer: God wants to be close to his people to the point of taking on flesh and walking among them. God, therefore, proves his love in taking on the flesh and pain of humanity.)

How is God manifesting his glory and name in a person, instead of a place different or better? (Suggested Answer: It is much more intimate and personal. It also gives us a taste of how God’s presence is supposed to relate to humanity.)


End Notes

[i] Thomas F. Torrance, Space, Time and Incarnation (London: Oxford, 1969), 2-6.

[ii] I am not advocating the ancient heresy of modalism. The Trinity best expresses how Jesus can be God at the same time as the Father – they are different personages that share the same nature. So Jesus manifesting God’s presence is not God simply expressing himself in a certain mode. The manifestation of the glory in the temple is not the exact same as the manifestation of God in Jesus Christ, rather it is an analogy that helps us understand that whether God is one or God is three in one, God is not limited to our space and time.

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