From a Holy Place to a Holy Person to a Holy People. (Study 11)

Study 10 showed how John’s Gospel presented Jesus as the fulfillment of all previous sacred places. If Jesus was the fulfillment of these places, what happens now that Jesus has ascended into heaven? How are believers to experience the presence of God now? Moreover, how does God manifest his presence in the age to come? We will answer these questions in the next couple studies.

Study Series Note: This study is the eleventh in a series that examines the Bible’s sacred places (tabernacle, temple, etc.).  In today’s post, we will focus on how the Spirit of God dwells with his people today. In the exile God’s Spirit dwelled among his people, God now dwells in his people through the Holy Spirit.[i] God’s presence went from a place—the temple, to a person—Jesus. That presence now dwells in the people who trust in Jesus. Sometimes believers perceive the presence of the Spirit dwelling inside; sometimes they do not, but perception does not always match reality.

The Spirit of Truth Will be in You

Studies 8 and 9 introduced the exilic prophets and their predictions about God giving his people a new Spirit in the coming restoration. These prophecies are fulfilled through Christ, who establishes a restored and forgiven people of God—a people who are made holy by Christ’s sacrifice and can now be indwelt by the Spirit of God.dove

Because Jesus is the reality behind all sacred places, the Spirit would not only continue to manifest the Father’s presence; the Spirit would manifest Jesus’ presence after his ascension back to heaven. In this way, the people of God become a holy sanctuary of the triune God’s presence on earth.

In John 14:16-20 Jesus says:  16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

This passage is found in Jesus’ final dialogue with his disciples before he is crucified. Jesus prepares the disciples not only for his death, but for what his departure will mean for his followers.

What reassuring promises does Jesus give? (Possible answers: Jesus will send another Helper, the Spirit of truth who will be IN them. He will not leave them orphans. Because Jesus lives they will live. Jesus will be in the Father and IN them and they will be in him.)

If Jesus manifests God’s presence and is the reality behind sacred places, what does it mean for the Spirit to make Jesus’ presence known to his followers? (Possible answer: Jesus’ followers now become a people indwelt with God’s presence. God’s people become the temple.)

In verse 17, notice that the Spirit was with the disciples as they were with the Spirit-filled Christ, but after Jesus’ sacrificial death the Spirit will be sent to indwell them. Remember, Jesus is the reality that stands behind all biblical sacred places because he is the ultimate revelation of God’s presence to humanity. That ultimate revelation can continue to not only be with, but indwell, God’s people as the Spirit of God and Christ transform the hearts of believers. These believers are to bring Christ’s presence to the whole world until the end of the ages.

 

Built up into a Temple of God

Jesus restored a people for God not just from the Israelites, but from all nations (Gentiles). This expansion of God’s people was in keeping with God’s plan to bless all nations through the descendants of Abraham. Both Jews and Gentiles would be built up into a household and temple of God as the Spirit manifests Christ in God’s restored children. This point is made by the Apostle Paul in the book of Ephesians.

Ephesians 2:11-22: 11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands-12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Verses 11-17 describe the Gentiles being brought into the people of God through Christ’s sacrifice. What does the writer say about the Gentiles being brought into God’s people? (Possible answer: The Gentiles were strangers to God’s covenants and people [v.11-12]. They have been brought near to God by Christ’s blood [v. 13]. Through Christ’s sacrifice, all divisions between these two groups have been abolished to make one new and unified people of God [v.14-16]).

In verse 18, another reason for this new unity is given; what is it? (Possible Answer: Through Christ, both groups have access to the Father through the same Spirit).

Verses 19-22 use both household and temple imagery. The new messianic community is being built up into a household of God and his holy temple. Continuing with that building imagery, how is this new temple being built? (Possible Answer: It is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and Christ Jesus is the cornerstone [v. 20]. The people seem to be parts, as they are “built together” into this dwelling [v. 22].)

Using repetition with variation for emphasis, verses 21-22 describe how believers constitute a new temple. In Christ, the cornerstone, the whole house is joined together and grows into a temple of the Lord. Both Jewish and Gentile believers are being built together into a dwelling place for God the Spirit. Christ, who manifests the divine presence of the heavenly temple, sends his Holy Spirit to his people. The Spirit of God indwells the people—making them the new temple. Gordon Fee explains, “Here is the ultimate fulfillment of the imagery of God’s presence, begun but lost in the Garden, restored in the tabernacle in Exodus 40 and in the temple in 1 Kings 8. It is God’s own presence among us that marks us off as the people of God . . .”[ii] John 14:16-20 stated the presence of God (and Christ) would indwell the people of God. This passage in Ephesians concurs. The divine presence that Christ embodied is still available in his new temple, the people of his church. The church, however, is not a building. The church is the people of God indwelt by the Spirit presence of God. God’s temple presence has gone from a place (tabernacle, temple) to a person (Christ), to a people.

How does the depiction of Christ’s followers here differ from common conceptions of the church? (Possible answer: Many people consider church a boring building to attend religious services. Here, the church is a diverse collection of different types of people who are unified in Christ and who experience the presence of God through the Spirit.)

When the Israelites visited the tabernacle or temple, they knew that God’s glory presence dwelled in the Holy of Holies. But as they stood before the sanctuary, do you think they, or the officiating priests, always felt God’s presence? (Possible answer: Probably not. Other than the times when God manifested his presence in the glory cloud, many Israelites would have believed God was present in the Most Holy Place, even though they could not perceive him. In the Bible, sometimes God manifests his presence in an obvious, earth-shaking way. At other times, people are unaware until God opens their eyes.)

If you are a Christian then sometimes you probably don’t feel indwelt by the Spirit of God. How can you make God’s presence a more experienced reality in your life? (Possible answers: Stop being a loner. Although the Spirit dwells in individuals, the Bible emphasizes the household aspect of the Spirit. In the new reconciled community the Spirit is experienced in and through the people. Since the apostles and prophets make up the foundation of the temple and Christ is the cornerstone, we experience life as a temple the more we are connected to Christ [prayer and worship] and the words of his messengers [prophets and apostles wrote scripture]).

Why does this passage keep emphasizing the centrality of Christ in the bringing together and building up this new household and temple of the Lord? (Possible answers: Christ’s sacrifice cleanses all people who believe in him, regardless of background, to make them holy for God’s presence. Jesus manifested God’s presence and sends the Spirit to continue to manifest the presence to believers [as John 14 described]. These believers then become a temple of the Spirit to bring God’s presence into the entire world. If we want to experience Christ’s presence more, we need to walk with him.)

What does God’s presence dwelling in his people reveal about God’s character and his plan for his people? (Possible Answers: God is loving and rescues his people for his family through Christ. He plans to have a close, heart transforming relationship with his people. His people are indwelt by his presence and they are to manifest his presence throughout their world and lives.)

 

END NOTES

[i] For a thorough discussion of this topic see: James Hamilton, God’s Indwelling Presence (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2006).

[ii] Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 689. R. McKelvey, The New Temple: The Church in the New Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), 179-180, speaking generally about the church as the new temple agrees: “The New Testament declares that God has fulfilled his word of promise made by the prophets and erected a new and more glorious temple. . . . God no longer dwells in a house with his people: he dwells in them; they are his temple.”

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