We’ve talked about how to build up spiritual temples and the fact that the churches today need a good temple cleaning, but not much about the practical how-to for cleaning temples. Back when there was a physical temple standing, God gave specific instructions about how to purify the temple and clean it when things got dirty. You couldn’t just throw some soapy water across the floor and say, “Clean!” Today, we are the temple of God, and He has set in place ways of cleaning us out as well.
Step One: Clear Out Junk
One of the most complete Old Testaments accounts we have of cleansing a temple took place in the days of king Hezekiah.
In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the Lord and repaired them. Then he brought in the priests and the Levites, and gathered them in the East Square, and said to them: “Hear me, Levites! Now sanctify yourselves, sanctify the house of the Lord God of your fathers, and carry out the rubbish from the holy place. For our fathers have trespassed and done evil in the eyes of the Lord our God; they have forsaken Him, have turned their faces away from the dwelling place of the Lord, and turned their backs on Him. They have also shut up the doors of the vestibule, put out the lamps, and have not burned incense or offered burnt offerings in the holy place to the God of Israel. (2 Chr. 29:3-7)
And they gathered their brethren, sanctified themselves, and went according to the commandment of the king, at the words of the Lord, to cleanse the house of the Lord. Then the priests went into the inner part of the house of the Lord to cleanse it, and brought out all the debris that they found in the temple of the Lord to the court of the house of the Lord. And the Levites took it out and carried it to the Brook Kidron.
Now they began to sanctify on the first day of the first month, and on the eighth day of the month they came to the vestibule of the Lord. So they sanctified the house of the Lord in eight days, and on the sixteenth day of the first month they finished.
Then they went in to King Hezekiah and said, “We have cleansed all the house of the Lord, the altar of burnt offerings with all its articles, and the table of the showbread with all its articles. Moreover all the articles which King Ahaz in his reign had cast aside in his transgression we have prepared and sanctified; and there they are, before the altar of the Lord.” (2 Chr. 29:15-19)
I find it very interesting that, in addition to purifying the house and cleansing it (presumably with water and blood) the priests had to carry out debris and rubbish. There were things inside the temple defiling it that needed to be thrown out before the other purification could take place.
This puts me in mind of two incidents that took place during Jesus’ ministry. In several Bibles I’ve read, the section heading here reads “Jesus Cleanses The Temple.”
Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” Then His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.” (John 2:13-17)
This happened in John chapter 2, at the first Passover during Jesus’ ministry. That means one of the very first things He did as part of His ministry was throw certain things and people out of God’s temple. It was a pivotal moment, and it didn’t just happen once. A very similar incident occurs right before His last Passover.
Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” (Matt. 21:12-13)
Look how important this was to Jesus. He made a whip to drive out sheep, oxen and people. He poured the exchangers’ money onto the floor, and threw tables over. He probably raised His voice as He ordered out people who’d made His father’s house a vehicle for personal gain. He spent the time leading up to two Passovers before His sacrifice, which fulfilled all the blood sacrifices of the Old Testament, throwing defiling elements out of the temple.
Is there anything that needs thrown out of our lives before God can really start to work with us? The temple today is in our minds, so that’s where we need to look. Anything inside us that is crowding God out of His temple must be thrown out. Jesus can help with that if we ask Him, but – like the priests in Hezekiah’s day – we have to be willing to carry out the rubbish and dump it somewhere it won’t come back.
Step Two: Apply The Blood
Back in the Old Testament, the physical temple had to be cleaned and purified before God would put His presence there. Even when the first tabernacle was built and things started out exactly as God commanded, purification was a daily necessity. I suspect this was because people were involved, and no matter how hard we try we still can’t keep things clean enough for God on our own.
And you shall offer a bull every day as a sin offering for atonement. You shall cleanse the altar when you make atonement for it, and you shall anoint it to sanctify it. (Ex. 29:36)
As Israel fell into sin, the temple was often neglected. Throughout history, it was forgotten by Israel, defiled with idols, and ravaged by conquers. Whenever Israel came back to God, the temple needed fresh purification.
Thus says the Lord God: “In the first month, on the first day of the month, you shall take a young bull without blemish and cleanse the sanctuary. The priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering and put it on the doorposts of the temple, on the four corners of the ledge of the altar, and on the gateposts of the gate of the inner court. And so you shall do on the seventh day of the month for everyone who has sinned unintentionally or in ignorance. Thus you shall make atonement for the temple. (Ezk. 45:18-20)
The animal sacrifices used to purify the physical temple were a stand-in pointing to how Jesus’s sacrifice would purify His people. “It is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins,” but Jesus was able with one offering” to have “perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:4, 14).
Remember that the tabernacle and then the temple layouts were divided into different sections. In the book of Hebrews, it talks about how there was a main section of the tabernacle where the priests served throughout the year, and then the Holy of Holies which the high priest could only enter once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).
Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance; the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience — concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation. (Heb. 9:6-10)
What’s really interesting is that in the Greek, there’s one word to describe the entire temple complex and another word to describe the inner sanctuary or Holy of Holies. It’s this second word, naos, which is used when talking about us as the temple of God. The book of Hebrews tells us there is a spiritual version of the Holy of Holies in heaven, where Christ presented His blood to atone for our sins, but each Christian today is also a type of spiritual Holy of Holies.
And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission. Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another — He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (Heb. 9:22-26)
The high priest was the only one ever allowed into the Holy of Holies, just as Jesus Christ was the only one who could clean the spiritual temple. The law requires blood purification of holy things, and Jesus is the only one who’s blood is precious enough to cleans a polluted spiritual temple. Accepting Him as our Savior and asking Him to wash away our sins is a vital step in cleaning the spiritual temple.
Step Three: Keep Scrubbing
As the great High Priest over the church today, Jesus is the only one with a right to come into the temple and clean it out. We can help as best we can, but we must never forget that He’s the one doing the cleansing. It was His sacrifice that removed sin once and for all, and He’s the one continually working to clean His people.
looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. (Tit. 2:13-14)
John the Baptist testified of Jesus Christ that He would baptize His people “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). When we accept Jesus Christ as our savior and are baptized in His name, we’re washed with His blood and covered in the spirit of God. That’s just the beginning of our purification process, though.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. (Eph. 5:25-27)
The church today is God’s temple – His personal dwelling place – and we must do all we can to set it to rights by working on ourselves individually and collectively under the Headship of our High Priest Jesus Christ. The closer we draw to Christ and the more we point others to Him, the cleaner this temple will get.
Back in the Old Testament, the priests were assisted by Levites whose “duty was to help the sons of Aaron in the service of the house of the Lord, in the courts and in the chambers, in the purifying of all holy things and the work of the service of the house of God” (1 Chr. 23:28). This was supposed to keep happening on a continual basis. In much the same way, we have to continue repenting when we fall short and continue submitting to the refining process Christ is accomplishing in our lives.
credits for photos used in blog images:
- “Washed Away” by Graeme Law, CC BY via Flickr
- “Professional Tile Cleaners” by Nellie Dean, CC BY via Flickr