A Holy City—The Final Reality of God’s Presence. (Study 12)

In study 11 we examined how the church experiences God’s indwelling presence through the Spirit. However, the church age is not the final stage of salvation history. At the end of time as we know it, God will restore what was lost in Eden and there will be a re-creation. The centerpiece of this re-creation will be the full glory presence of God with, and in, his people. sky

Series note: This is the final study in a twelve part series that examines the Bible’s sacred places (tabernacle, temple, etc.). You can find the first post in May 2016 with subsequent studies appearing about every other month.

Ask people about their expectations for “heaven,” and they are likely to focus on human desires and assume a disembodied existence. Many of these expectations do not cohere with what the Bible lays out concerning the final state of humanity.  The Bible speaks of a final, bodily resurrection to a renewed heavens and earth. Christ defeated sin and death through his sacrifice on the cross, but the final judgment is executed on sin, death, and Satan at the end of time. With the destruction of sin, God can be with people again as in Eden—no sacrifice for sin or buffer to God’s holiness is needed. No temple is needed. The people can experience God’s full glory and reality. While there are various passages about the final state throughout the Bible, the book of Revelation contains some of the most extensive descriptions. As we will see in the following passage, Jesus (often referred to as the Lamb in Revelation) is with God as the centerpiece of heaven.

 Scripture study and Discussion:

Revelation 21:1 – 22:5  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” 5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” 6 Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. 7 He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. 8 But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” 9 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. 12 It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. . . .  22 I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; 26 and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; 27 and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

22:1 Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2 in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; 4 they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. 5 And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever. (NAS)

This passage describes the final state, or “heaven.” It is a part of a vision given to John the Apostle when he was exiled on the island of Patmos.

What are some striking elements of this description? (Possible answers: There will be no temple because God and the lamb will be the temple [21:22]. The glory of God and the Lamb gives the new city light [21:23]. Nothing unclean or false will be there [21:27]. Revelation describes a river of life flowing from the throne [22:1]. The Tree of Life will be on either side of the river [22:2]. The curse will be gone [22:3]. We will see the face of the Lord [22:4].)

Let’s focus down on the fact there will be no temple. What reason is given for this New Jerusalem not having a temple? (Suggested answer: “The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb is its temple” [21:22].)

From what we have studied in previous posts in this series (studies 1-11), how can God himself be a temple? (Suggested answer: The temple is the gateway to God’s true presence in heaven. When God manifests himself, like at Bethel, that place is said to be a “house of God” because God’s presence is the primary requirement of a temple. If God is permanently present without any need for a buffer, then there is no need for a temple—God himself is there. The whole Holy city, all of restored creation, functions as a temple.)

From what we have studied in previous posts, why does it make sense that Jesus (the Lamb) himself will be included with God Almighty as being the temple? (Suggested answer: Jesus is the reality that stood behind all previous sacred places. If the temple as the gateway to God’s presence found fulfillment in Jesus, then of course Jesus’ glorified presence will be the temple in the final state.)

This passage in Revelation paints a picture of God’s glory filling all of restored creation (depicted as a Holy City). His presence permeates the Holy City, which consists of 12 gates that bear the names of the tribes of Israel (Rev 21:12) and 12 foundations that bear the names of the apostles (Rev 21:14); these names testify that God’s people are part of this city-temple.[i] The entire city has been built into the Holy of Holies.[ii] No temple is needed because God’s presence fills restored creation and the people of the Holy City who experience God intensively, unfiltered, and internally.

The World is covered with God’s Glory

From the first pages of Genesis, to God promising a blessing for all nations through Abraham, to the prophecies for a world-wide restoration, God’s plan was to bring his children back to full fellowship with himself. This full fellowship with God includes unfettered experience of the matchless glory that founded the universe. Jesus Christ will be center-stage with God Almighty at the climax of time when the world is full of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.[iii] The Spirit will adorn and bind God’s people into the community of oneness that is Father, Son, and Spirit. The glory presence of God will be internal, extensive, and unhindered by sin.

Does your perspective change knowing that God’s glory will one day fill creation? If so, how? (Possible answer: We are involved in a world-wide, eternal plan that is guaranteed by God. This gives me hope, desire to reach the nations, and a desire to be ready for that day.)

What does God and the Lamb’s unfiltered glory presence reveal about God’s character and his plan for his people? (Suggested Answers: God has plans to bless and restore his people. Even when people rebelled, God had a plan to restore them in Christ. God is love, so he gives eternal life in His presence to his people. Ultimately, God wants to share the perfect love, goodness, and glory of the Trinity with his restored creation).

 

Endnotes

[i] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 1066-1071.

[ii] Grant Osborne, Revelation (BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 759-761.

[iii] James M. Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 106. G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission.( New Studies in Biblical Theology 17. Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2004), 391-393.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

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.”

Jesus Christ—the Fulfillment of all previous Sacred Places. Study 10.

All the history and temple theology that was covered in previous studies formed the background to Jewish beliefs in the first century. When Jesus of Nazareth began his public ministry around 30 C.E., he came to a people who carried assumptions and expectations concerning the temple. The first followers of Jesus incorporated these beliefs about the temple to describe and explain Jesus and his work. It may be helpful to review some of the assumptions and expectations concerning the temple that we covered in the previous studies. Some of those assumptions include: The temple was a gateway to God’s true heavenly presence. The tabernacle/temple was a way for God to manifest his glory presence to his people, a presence that began in the Garden of Eden. The temple was the place to offer sacrifice to maintain the covenant relationship with a holy God. Temple rituals were no substitute for a heart obedience to God, and God removed the temple when it became a mere religious/ritual token. In contrast to the destroyed temple, God would one day restore true worship among his people by giving them a new Spirit; through the Spirit, God could be present with his people no matter where they were located. Continue reading