Don’t Be Something Jesus Would Throw Out Of His Father’s Temple

Let’s take a trip back to the early 1st century. It’s a few days before Passover and the Jews are heading to Jerusalem for the Feast. As they travel, they sing the songs of ascent like they do every year. On this particular year, though, there’s an extra level of excitement. A man named Yeshua (Jesus) arrived on the scene a few years ago and many think he could be the Messiah. He’s even riding into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt, as Zechariah said the Messiah would.

Hoshiya-na! Baruch haba B’Shem Adonai!” they call. Save us now! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!

As Yeshua rides in, the people spread their garments in the way. They also cut palm branches as if they were here for the Feast of Tabernacles instead of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. They’re expecting the Messiah to kick the Romans out, redeem Israel, and restore the kingdom. They’re hoping for the fulfillment of Tabernacles — the Messiah, son of David, ruling in power and might.

Instead, this Yeshua turns his donkey toward the temple. Once there, he “drove out all of those who sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the money changers’ tables and the seats of those who sold the doves.” Instead of driving the pagans out of Jerusalem, he drove corruption out of God’s house, saying, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers!” Read more

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You’re Not “A Temple of God.” You’re Part of The Temple Of God

We’ve probably all heard that Christianity is about your individual relationship with Jesus. I’ve said that myself. But while God is very much concerned with the state of every individual heart and wants a relationship with you, Christianity is not an individualistic religion. We get that idea from Western culture, not from scripture.

The Bible is written for all peoples and all cultures. But it was also written by people living in a Middle Eastern society, and those of us in the Western world can miss some things Biblical writers took for granted. It rarely occurs to us that Americanized Christianity might not be the same thing as Biblical Christianity, but our culture does color how we read the Bible and in some cases it leads to inaccurate assumptions.

When I was reading Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, one of the misconceptions that really stuck with me had to do with the verses about spiritual temples. We tend to read the verses that say “you are a temple of God” and think the “you” is singular” and treat “temple” as plural, assuming that we are each one of God’s temples. But we’re wrong.

Confusion of Plurals

There are three passages where Paul talks with the Corinthians about them being God’s temple. They’re 1 Cor. 3:16, 6:19; and 2 Cor. 6:16. Richards and O’Brian only talk about one of these, but I checked the others in the Greek and their point holds true for all three. They write,

Biblical Greek could differentiate between you singular and you plural, but we miss this in our English translations. … We typically understand the singulars and plurals in this verse backwards. In the original Greek, the you is plural and temple is singular. Paul is saying, “All of you together are a singular temple for the Holy spirit. God doesn’t have millions of little temples scattered around. Together we make the dwelling for the spirit (p. 108)

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Clean Temples For Yom Kippur

Back in the Old Testament when there was a tabernacle or temple standing, it included a room called “the most holy place” or “the holy of holies.” This was where the ark of the covenant was and a heavy veil separated it from the rest of the inner temple. It wasn’t a place that people, even the priests, could just walk into.

and Yahweh said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother, not to come at all times into the Most Holy Place within the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark; lest he die: for I will appear in the cloud on the mercy seat. (Lev. 16:2, WEB)

The only time someone could enter this most holy place was on the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur. Even then only the high priest could go in and only if he followed the proper rules for entering a place God had sanctified.

Clean Temples For Yom Kippur | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo credit: “Clean” by Sara Laval, CC BY via Flickr

But why bring this up now? We don’t have a temple or a priesthood or sacrifices anymore. And many Christians will say all that Old Testament stuff belong in the past. Or does it? There actually is a temple today, for “you are a temple of God” (1 Cor. 3:16, WEB). There’s a priesthood, too, because Jesus Christ is the High Priest and He has “an unchangeable priesthood” (Heb. 7:24, KJV). We’re even included in that because we’re meant “to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices” (1 Pet. 2:5, WEB). So given these facts, what can we learn from Yom Kippur today?

Temples Defiled By Association

When I was re-reading Leviticus 16, I was surprised to notice that the high priest was told to “make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, even all their sins” (Lev. 16:16, 33 WEB). I knew he was to make atonement for himself and “all the assembly of Israel,” but hadn’t noticed the holy place needed atoned for as well (Lev. 16:17, 30). There was something about being in the midst of an unclean, sinful people that defiled even the part of the temple where God’s presence appeared.

Today, the church body is described as a temple of God (there’s also a temple talked about in heaven, which we’ll get to later). The Greek word used in those passages is always naos (G3485), which refers to the inner sanctuary rather than the entire temple complex (which would be hieron, G2411). We are now God’s most holy place. And like the other holy of holies, we can become defiled by choice (see 1 Cor. 3:16-17) or by the sinful world around us. Read more

Our Atonement Today

A blessed Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement to you all. Earlier this month, I subscribed to Bible Gateway’s newsletter Holy Land Moments with Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. It’s described as a way to learn about the Jewish background of Scripture by exploring the High Holy Days.

I’m finding it fascinating. I grew up keeping these Holy Days, but not always with much understanding of the Jewish perspective on them. While some of the Jewish tradition doesn’t relate to Christian observance of these days, they often teach a perspective that deepens my understanding. Take the Days of Awe for example. Using the 10 days between Trumpets and Atonement for self-reflection and repentance deepens the meaning of and my engagement with this holy time. And sometimes, the Jewish perspective sparks a thought about how my Christian perspective differs, such as today’s comment in the Holy Land Moments newsletter:

The central part of the Yom Kippur service is missing today. Chapter 16 of Leviticus is dedicated to the description and instructions for the Yom Kippur service that was performed when the Tabernacle and later the Temples stood. Today, we no longer have a high priest, nor do we participate in ritual sacrifices. So how do we achieve atonement?

Those who believe Messiah has come have a different answer to this question than those who don’t. Rabbi Eckstein writes,”There are three keys that take the place of the service performed in biblical times” and they “can undo our wrongdoings and change things for the better.” These things are “repentance, prayer, and charity.”

Our Atonement Today | marissabaker.wordpress.com
original photo credit: Nick Fullerton, CC BY via Flickr

While those things are important, I thank God through Jesus Christ my Lord that I’m not trying to atone for myself. There’s no way I could ever do enough or be good enough to undo my own sins. Today, we do have a High Priest and He has filled the ritual sacrifices with His perfect sacrifice (Heb. 7:23-28). The “central part” of Yom Kippur isn’t missing for Christians who keep this Holy Day — it’s more real than ever. Read more

Consider the High Priest

In Hebrews 3:1, the writer tells his “holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling” to “consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus.” The word “consider” invites us to “observe fully” (Strong’s G2657) and “fix one’s eyes or mind upon” Jesus (Thayers). That’s what we did in last week’s post for His role as Apostle, and what I hope to do this week for His role as High Priest.

Consider the High Priest | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Changed Priesthood

Christ’s priesthood is “after the order of Melchizedek.” It’s a key point in Hebrews’ discussion of Christ as our High Priest, even though we know very little about Melchizedek from his 3-verse appearance in the Torah. Read more

Malachi’s Message

In most Bibles, Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament, leading directly into the Gospels. It’s an intensely personal book where the Lord challenges His people regarding the way they worship Him. This happened some time after the temple rebuilding described in Haggai and Zechariah — long enough for the spirit of revival to wear off and the people to grow lax in their worship.

Malachi’s call to return to God comes before the first coming of Christ, but it’s equally relevant as we wait for His second coming. Like Israel at this time, we could slip into lax, lukewarm worship that doesn’t honor God and won’t qualify us to live in His family.

Malachi's Message | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Honoring God

God opens this book with the words, “I have loved you.” He’s writing a letter to Israel, and that’s the first thing He says. The very next thing is Israel’s question, “In what way have You loved us?” (Mal. 1:2). It’s a common, heart-breaking theme in the scriptures — God loves us, but we don’t love Him back and we won’t even admit the problem is ours.

“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence? says the Lord of hosts to you priests who despise My name. Yet you say, ‘In what way have we despised Your name?’ You offer defiled food on My altar, but say, ‘In what way have we defiled You?’ By saying, ‘The table of the Lord is contemptible.’ And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?” says the Lord of hosts. (Mal 1:6-8)

When we offer God our time, money, and/or efforts on a level that wouldn’t be acceptable to other humans, we’re demonstrating contempt for God. If you rush through prayer in a way that would be rude if you called up your Dad on the phone, then you dishonor God. If you volunteer to help out with something at church and turn in a performance that wouldn’t be good enough for your boss at work, you dishonor God. He deserves our best, not our leftovers.

You also say, ‘Oh, what a weariness!’ and you sneer at it,” says the Lord of hosts. “And you bring the stolen, the lame, and the sick; thus you bring an offering! should I accept this from your hand?” says the Lord. “But cursed be the deceiver who has in his flock a male, and takes a vow, but sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished — for I am a great King,” says the Lord of hosts, “And My name is to be feared among the nations. (Mal. 1:13-14)

We know from the story of the widow’s mite that God respects sincere offerings, however small. But we also know from the story of Ananias and Sapphira that pretending to give God one thing and then trying to slip in something of lesser value is abhorrent to Him.

Warnings for Priests

I think about this when I see a minister stand up in front of his congregation and say he just pulled an old message out of his files for today. A message about one of your old messages, which you freely admit you just cycle through every once in a while, just doesn’t seem like giving God your best. It’s something we all have to beware of — any time we set things we’re doing for God at a lower priority we’ve fallen into a dangerous attitude.

“And now, O priests, this commandment is for you. If you will not hear, and if you will not take it to heart, to give glory to My name,” says the Lord of hosts, “I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have cursed them already, because you do not take it to heart.” (Mal. 2:1-2)

These messages to priests can apply to all of us. After all, Peter tells use we’re a “priesthood” being built up to serve God (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). However, the warnings are more serious the more responsibility a person has in the household of God. “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required” (Luke 12:48).

“For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge, and people should seek the law from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have departed from the way; you have caused many to stumble at the law. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi,” says the Lord of hosts. “Therefore I also have made you contemptible and base before all the people, because you have not kept My ways but have shown partiality in the law.” (Mal. 2:7-9)

God has little patience for leadership that fails His people, as evidenced by Jesus Christ’s reaction to the scribes and Pharisees. He even said if we can’t do better than the religious leaders of His day, then we will not enter God’s kingdom (Matt 5:20). These were people who memorized the Old Testament, tithed regularly, and were held in high regard for their religious learning, yet Jesus said that people like them won’t be part of His family because their attitudes were wrong.

Doing Better

So much of the minor prophets’ messages to ancient Israel put me in mind of our nation today. We started out with at least the intention of being a Godly country, but we don’t even a have that any more. In addition, many of the churches have become slack in keeping the law of God.

Yet from the days of your fathers you have gone away from My ordinances and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of hosts. “But you said, ‘In what way shall we return?’ “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ in tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation.” (Matt. 3:7-9)

When we turn away and refuse to render “to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21), we bring a curse on ourselves. To do better and “return to God,” we have to turn completely away from sin and start serving God.

We live in a world that says evil is good (Mal. 2:17), that boasts of pride and wickedness (Mal. 3:15), oppresses the innocent, and regards not God (Mal. 3:5). Our lives as part of God’s church — His temple — must be a sharp contrast to this attitude.

“Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts. “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like launderers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness. (Mal. 3:1-3)

God’s not going to let His people stay polluted by the world. I believe this prophecy is being fulfilled now — that Jesus Christ, our High Priest, is in His temple right now purifying His servants. If we learn through this refining process to serve God in righteousness, we will be part of His family. We have to acknowledge our shame and guilt, turn around, and begin serving God as we never have before. We need to stop being scared and live boldly for Jesus, meeting together to encourage each other and built up the temple.

Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name. “They shall be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “On the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.” Then you shall again discern between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him. (Mal. 3:16-18)