by Peter Ditzel
New Testament Usage
Now what happens in the New Testament? As we found with the Hebrew word meaning “house,” the Greek word for “house” (oikos) means either a dwelling place or a family. In the Gospels, we find the term “house of God” still referring to either the tabernacle (in Scriptures that look back to the time of the tabernacle, such as Matthew 12:4) or the temple. The temple at the time of the New Testament was what is called Herod’s temple. Herod’s temple was not a new temple, but was an expansion of the temple built under Zerubbabel. But after Jesus’ resurrection, the temple is never again referred to as the “house of God” or “house of the Lord.” Why do you think this is so?
The temple was vital to the Old Testament ritual, but all of that ended with the Old Covenant, and Jesus Christ ended the Old Covenant by completely fulfilling it (Matthew 5:17-18; John 19:30). Later, the destruction of the temple in AD 70 confirmed that it was over. Under the Old Covenant, the temple acted as a type or shadow of the true “house of God” or “house of the Lord.” We’ll see if the New Testament clearly tells us what that is.
I want to point out what Jesus said of Himself in John 2:19-21: “Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body.” So, Jesus here calls His body a temple. Why?
To answer this, we must see what all of the Old Testament Scriptures referring to “house of God” and “house of the Lord” have in common. Remember that they referred to a place out in the open, a pillar, a tabernacle, a temple, a people, a prophetic vision of a future people, and a heavenly place. But they all have this in common: Whether in type or in reality, they all refer to where God dwells. Because of what he saw in vision, Jacob saw that place out in the open as where God dwelt; Jacob erected the pillar to depict the dwelling of God; the tabernacle typified God’s dwelling with His people; the temple also pictured God’s dwelling with His people, it was a shadowy type of heaven, and–as we see in this Scripture in John–it was also a type of Jesus. These ideas of the temple–1) that it pictured God dwelling with His people, 2) that it pictured heaven, 3) and that it pictured Jesus–are completely related.
1) Remember what the angel told Joseph of Mary: “Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matthew 1:20-23). Jesus was God dwelling with His people.
2) Have you ever heard the expression, “Where the King is, there is the capital”? What did Jesus preach in His ministry on earth? “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). What did He tell His disciples to preach as they went before Him? “And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:7). The kingdom of heaven was at hand in Jesus.
3) In John 2:19, when Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” Jesus was relating Himself to the temple, which was typical of the dwelling place of God. Jesus was saying that the temple pictured heaven and yet this dwelling place of God was in the midst of His people Israel, and it pictured Jesus because God was in Jesus and Jesus was, therefore, God with His people–Emmanuel. Do you see how the physical types of the Old Testament really focus on Jesus and His people, who today are the church (not a building, but the assembly of people)? Can you begin to see why it is wrong, so very wrong, to go back to the shadows and call a building the “house of God”?
But there is more to this wonderful picture. In 1 Corinthians 12:27, the church is called the body of Christ: “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” This same thought is found in Ephesians 4:11-12: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”
Now let’s go back to Ephesians 2, verses 19-22: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” The term “household of God” is almost identical in the Greek to “house of God.” The church is here called the family (or household) and the temple of God and the habitation of God which God inhabits through the Spirit. Is not the Father in Jesus and Jesus in the Father and we in them and they in us? “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21).
Look at Acts 7:48: “Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest?” Scripture clearly tells us that God doesn’t dwell in temples or any buildings made with hands. Those who are ignorant of this concept ought to become familiar with it. And, for those who are familiar with it to deny or ignore it and still call a building the “house of God” is heinous.
Now look at 2 Corinthians 5:1-4: “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.” Notice how Paul is contrasting his earthly body, which he calls a tabernacle (which is a temporary dwelling), with an eternal, heavenly building of God not made with hands. In his commentary on these verses Matthew Henry says of the heavenly building that it is, “What heaven is in the eye and hope of a believer. He looks upon it as a house, or habitation, a dwelling-place, a resting-place, a hiding-place, our Father’s house, where there are many mansions, and our everlasting home…this happiness shall be enjoyed…immediately after death, so soon as our house of this earthly tabernacle is dissolved.” As we saw in some of the Psalms, Paul seems to be referring to the heavenly temple.
Then, in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, we read, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”
Now let’s read 1 Timothy 3:14-15: “These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” What is the “house of God” here?
Paul clearly says it is “the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” It is the church, the ekklēsia, the assembly. This is talking about God’s people, not the building in which they meet. And notice that it is the pillar and ground of the truth. Does this sound familiar?
In a spiritual sense, we have come full circle. Jacob first used the term “house of God” to refer to the ground and a pillar. And what happened on that piece of ground where Jacob set up the pillar? He had seen a vision of Jesus Christ as a ladder with God’s messengers, the angels, going up to heaven and coming down from heaven. Where does truth come from? From heaven. Who puts truth into the church? Jesus Christ through the Bible. Who do we pray to? God in heaven. Through whom do we pray? Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is our link to heaven. Look at John 1:51: “And he saith unto him [Nathanael], Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”
Are you beginning to see the wonderful, beautiful, precious truths that are trampled upon and hidden by calling a structure of wood, and brick, and stones the “house of God” or “the house of the Lord”? All through the dark ages, when God’s people were meeting in ordinary cottages and barns and fields and caves, they called the buildings of the established church “heaps of stones.” They understood a truth that many today have lost.
I want to diverge slightly here and ask, Why is it wrong to call the room in which the people meet “the sanctuary”? In the Old Testament, the sanctuary was a sacred place, specifically the holy places of the tabernacle and temple. But notice Isaiah 8:14: “And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” If Jesus Christ is the stone of stumbling and rock of offence, as we know from Romans 9:33 and 1 Peter 2:8, then He is also the sanctuary. Jesus, our Savior, is our Sanctuary. A physical building is not our sanctuary. Jesus, not a building, sets us apart for holy use.
Copyright © 2009 Peter Ditzel. Permissions Statement.