The Temple, cont.
There is a military dimension to both the tabernacle, temple, priesthood and Levites.
Despite being an immovable structure, the temple is not a static model, but rather a dynamic model of a kingdom that is aggressively asserting the reign of God into the whole earth—and to reinforce this picture many military metaphors are frequently used.
The ark is graphically described in 1 Chron 28:18 as a “chariot”. With the cherubim spreading their wings over what was a box like structure (the ark itself was a golden chest), it must have looked something like a great winged war chariot. And this could very well be the source of the scriptures that speak of God enthroned in a chariot and going forth for the defense of his people.
The temple itself is called, on one occasion, a “citadel,” again, a military metaphor. (1 Chron 29:1) (This is not usually reflected in the English translation but it is in the Hebrew).
The tabernacle had the configuration of a war tent and the temple was laid out using the same three-fold segmentation. Recently, archaeologists discovered the design, dimensions, and details of the war tent of Ramesses II. As we know, Ramesses II was the pharaoh in power when Israel left Egypt. When they reached Sinai, Moses received the design of the tabernacle from the Lord while he was on the holy mountain. Subsequently it was constructed following the divine revelation—and much to the Israelites’ amazement its external dimensions and three-fold configuration were exactly the same of the war tent of Ramesses II (see the diagram in Appendix 2 below).
Of course, there was no ark of the covenant, table of showbread, menorah, or incense altar in Ramesses’ tent. The innermost room was his throne room, the holy place was his receiving chamber, and the outer court used for general purposes. It had nothing of the rich embroidery that was on the tabernacle but its actual dimensions and configuration were exactly the same. In addition, his troops camped around it on the north, south, east, and west when he went out on his military campaigns.
Having seen Ramesses setting out on his military campaigns many times, the Israelites would have seen the parallel with the tabernacle, and understood that now “Yahweh was a warrior” in their midst. And as his army ,Israel was encamped around his tent, three tribes to the north, three tribes to the south, three tribes to the east, and three tribes west. Israel’s calling was to assist Yahweh in defeating his enemies and extending his kingdom, to the ends of the earth. And now, in the Chronicles, this model that was initiated by Moses comes to its fullness in Solomon’s temple.
By way of an aside, it’s interesting to reflect on the fact that as Ramesses built his war tent before the tabernacle was constructed he must have been (unknowingly) guided in its design by the hand of the Lord. However, the externals were only secondary and when Moses went up on the mount after the Exodus he not only received the external configuration but also the details of the ark, the altars, and all the other tabernacle furniture and utensils that were so highly symbolic. However, as the ordinary Israelite could never see what was inside the tabernacle, what they could see would have immediately reminded them of the war tent of Ramesses II whom Yahweh had overthrown at the Red Sea. It must have been a model that deeply resonated with them, reminding them of their calling to overthrow the injustice and brutality of rulers of this world as they followed the one who was now encamped in their midst. The application of all this to the new covenant people of God who are now the temple of the Holy Spirit is not hard to make.
The epicenter of both tabernacle and temple was the Holy of Holies, which was shaped like a cube. Again, this is picked up in the picture of the city/temple in Revelation, which is cubic and comes down out of heaven. Aristotle said that a cube was symbolic of justice, having equal dimensions in every direction. As we are told several times in scripture, justice is the foundation of the Lord’s throne, and now this is modeled in Chronicles when in the dedication ceremonies the ark, the throne of the Lord, comes to “rest” in the cubic structure of the Holy of Holies.
The book of Ezekiel reinforces this in its concluding nine chapters devoted to the vision of the temple, which is the climax of the book. Every 49 years the Day of Atonement launched the Year of Jubilee and the Rabbis believed that Ezekiel received his temple vision on the Day of Atonement at the beginning of the Jubilee year.
As we know, the Jubilee was the “acceptable year of the Lord”; slaves were freed, debts were canceled, property restored, and equity reestablished in the land. As mentioned above, our Lord’s first recorded words at the age of twelve were, “I must be in my Father’s house.” After his baptism his first recorded sermon was in the synagogue at Nazareth and his text was taken from Isaiah 61, which speaks of the restoration of Israel in the Jubilee year. The Jubilee itself was a paradigm of the kingdom of God, which Jesus, much to the astonishment of everyone, now announces at being “at hand.”
The temple was a paradigm of this kingdom, which is why Ezekiel’s vision was given to him at the launch of the Jubilee year. God’s kingdom is a reign, which is good news to the poor, the release of the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and the setting free of those who are down trodden (Luke 4:18). This is what the temple modeled, and as a kingdom of priests this is what we are called to carry forward aggressively to the ends of the earth.
The temple models the atonement that was achieved in the incarnation and the cross.
The temple is described as a “house of atonement” (2 Ch 7:12) and the great annual Day of Atonement took place when it was dedicated during the Feast of Tabernacles (2 Ch 7:9).
Mount Moriah is only mentioned twice in the Old Testament. The first is in Genesis 22:2 as the location where Abraham offered up his son Isaac to the Lord, and the second is in 2 Chronicles 3:1 where we are told that the house of the Lord (the “house of atonement” that foreshadowed the Father offering up his beloved son), was also located on Mount Moriah.
Atonement is central to temple theology and the base on which everything else rests. However, as the sacrificial system is that which is normally emphasized when we teach on the tabernacle and temple I have not majored on it in this analysis, but have instead tried to pick up some of the dimensions that are often overlooked. However, its dedication on the Day of Atonement is profoundly significant and it would be a serious omission not to deal with its importance at this point.
James Torrance, the Scottish theologian, in his book, Worship Community and the Triune God of Grace (IVP, l996) draws five parallels between the activity of the high priest on the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16 and the activity of Jesus as our high priest in his death and resurrection:
- The high priest represented all Israel. He was bone of their bone and flesh of their flesh. All that he did, he did in their name. This was symbolized by their names being engraved on his breastplate and on the shoulder pieces holding the ephod.
- He consecrated himself by washing and applying blood to his ear, thumb, and toe—the application of blood to his bodily extremities (the ear, thumb, and toe) indicating that he was now clean all over.
- He lays his hand on the first of the two goats (indicating a vicarious confession of the sins of all Israel) and it is slain.
- He takes the blood into the Holy of Holies, sprinkles the mercy seat, and intercedes for the people. (In the Septuagint it says that he “ascended” into the Holy of Holies. Reconstructions of the temple show that there were steps up from the outer court into the “court of the Israelites,” and then more steps up into the holy place. The priest would then walk through the holy place and then climb more steps up into the Holy of Holies. So literally the high priest would be “ascending” into the most holy place to sprinkle the blood.)
- After the sins are “laid” on the second goat, the scapegoat, it is sent away indicating the carrying away of sin. The high priest would then return to the people outside with the great Aaronic blessing of peace.
Torrance points out that all this is paralleled by the work of Jesus our great high priest:
- First, Jesus comes as our representative, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh—all that he does, he does in our name.
- His whole life was one of consecration to the Father, and immediately before the cross he “consecrates himself” for his great task of atonement (John 17:19). Unlike Aaron, our Lord did not have to deal with any personal transgressions but the “consecration” was the setting aside of his life to accomplish his high priestly task.
- Having vicariously confessed our sins (this was the significance of his baptism), he is now slain as the Lamb of God. (It should be noted that “lamb” and “goat” are sometimes used interchangeably in Israel.)
- On the morning of the resurrection he says to Mary, “I ascend to my Father and your Father (John 20:17), declaring his intention to “ascend” into the Holy of Holies in heaven, sprinkle the mercy seat, and intercede for his people. He is retracing the steps of the high priest who would ascend the temple steps through the various courts into the most holy place.
- On the evening of the resurrection day, he appears to his waiting disciples and greets them with the Aaronic blessing of peace (John 29:19). He can now give them his peace, as he is both the slain lamb and the scapegoat who has carried away their sin.
- Finally, he does something that the high priest could never do. On the evening of the resurrection he breathes on them the Holy Spirit (20:22). This constitutes his people as the new temple, the temple of the Holy Spirit—not a structure of bricks and mortar but a community of interlocking lives resting on the finished work of Christ and acting in the power of the Spirit.
Therefore the fact that the Day of Atonement took place during the dedication of the temple has enormous symbolic importance for us today.
David envisioned the temple as a center of worship, music and singing.
There is a large amount of space devoted to the responsibilities of singers and musicians in the closing chapters of 1 Chronicles, leading us to conclude that the emphasis on music and singing and choirs is now seen as a central component of temple worship. David is the one responsible for this major innovation, which was not previously part of the activities surrounding the tabernacle.
It is astonishing that 4,000 Levites are set apart exclusively to play instruments, sing, and prophesy before the Lord (25:1, 2, 3, 6, 7). David has revelation that the Lord is “enthroned on the praises of Israel”, and therefore knows that in any structure that attempts to model the kingdom of God, worship must be central. He now designates specific Levitical families to give their time and energy exclusively to worship and singing (1 Ch 23:3, 11, 16 and Ne 12:24, 36, 46). In fact both David and the commanders of the army set aside these Levitical families (1 Chron 25:1), indicating that even David’s military officers understood the crucial link between worship and advancing the kingdom of God (2 Ch 20:22).
The 24 rosters of priests (1 Ch 24:7–19) are matched by 24 rosters of musicians, which meant that there was worship going on daily during all the priestly activities in the temple. (1 Ch 25:9-31) (This is picked up in Revelation, where we find 24 elders worshipping around the throne—Rev 4:4).
When we come to the Gospels, Jesus will take what David initiated in an even more radical direction. His first teaching on prayer is found John chapter 4 where the woman at the well contrasts worship at the temple in Jerusalem with worship at the mountain in Samaria. Our Lord’s reply would have stunned anyone. He replies that “no longer in Jerusalem (the temple), or on this mountain” (Samaria) will men worship,” but that in the future worship will be unfettered from any physical location. After Pentecost it will become an integral part of a community—not a building—constituted as a temple by the Holy Spirit tabernacling in their midst.
Therefore, if we are to be faithful to the paradigm of the kingdom of God set forth in the temple (and our Lord’s description of the Father seeking a community who will worship him in Spirit and truth) we must make worship the epicenter of our personal and corporate lives.
Solomon institutes the temple as a house of prayer (Isa 56:7)
Building on David’s vision of the temple as a place of music and singing, Solomon sees the temple as a house of intercession—and this is again innovative. (1 Kgs 8:23–61; 2 Chron 6:20; Isa 56:7; Mk 11:17.) We do not get this perspective of the temple as a house of intercession prior to this in the Old Testament. The Tabernacle was not seen as a house of prayer, and in the future the synagogue will not be viewed this way either (they were originally centers of teaching).
Solomon’s prayer dedicating the temple is in 2 Chronicles 6 and contains a rich theology of prayer. The key words in the chapter are very instructive. They include “prayer” (which along with “supplication” and “cry” occurs 24 times); “listen” (which along with “hear” occurs 12 times); God’s “name” or “his name is there” (occurring 14 times); praying “towards” or “in” the temple (occurring 10 times); and God “hearing from heaven” being mentioned 7 times. This all takes place in the “house,” which is mentioned a total of 21 times in the same chapter.
II Chronicles 6 is the probable foundation of our Lord’s instruction on prayer at the last supper. There is a close link between praying in Jesus’ name (John 14:13–14; 16:23–24) and praying towards the temple where God has “set his name” (mentioned 14 times in Solomon’s prayer of dedication). “To pray in or towards this temple is to pray to or in the name of the God [who dwells there], which is the Old Testament equivalent of prayer in the name of Jesus (Jn 14:13; Acts 2:21).” (Selman, p. 323 & 327).
Torrence points out that in my name Jesus lived a life of perfect holiness and obedience; in my name he fully pleased the Father; in my name he vicariously confessed my sins and submitted to the verdict of guilty; and in my name he died, rose, and ascended to the Father. Then in my name he entered into the most holy place as a great high priest. All this was so that now, by praying in his name I can claim all that he has done in my name
In addition, there are seven key areas of intercession highlighted in Solomon’s prayer of dedication, but the most fascinating is the fifth (2 Ch 6:32, 33) which envisions the Gentiles coming to the temple and worshipping “like thy people, Israel”. Central to the temple is God’s desire that “all the people on the earth might know [his] name” (2 Ch 6:33), which was to be “famous and glorious throughout all lands” (1 Ch 22:5). Jesus’ anger at the money changers was not only that they were a “den of robbers,” but that there no longer existed a house of prayer for (“accessible to”) the nations (Isaiah 56:7).
Solomon knows that immigrants, resident aliens, and visitors from other nations will worship at the temple and fear God “like your people Israel” (v. 33). There was to be something magnetic about the presence of God in the Jerusalem temple. And while a measure of this took place in Solomon’s day (witness the Queen of Sheba’s visit to Solomon’s temple and the Ethiopian eunuch’s visit to the second temple), it is again foreshadowing those from every kindred, tribe, tongue, and nation who will eventually constitute the temple of the Holy Spirit. They will not visit a building, but will be those among whom God will have his habitation by the Spirit (Eph 2).
Therefore, if we are to be faithful to the paradigm of the kingdom of God as set forth in the temple, just as we must embrace David’s vision and make worship central, so we must also build on Solomon’s vision of the temple as a house of prayer for all nations, and make intercession a central component of our personal and corporate lives
The temple was symbolic of the kingdom of God filling the whole earth.
As mentioned above, Solomon’s reign is now from the Nile to the Euphrates (2 Ch 9:26) and it is not without significance that this reference comes twice in the chapters devoted to the temple. This was a distance of over 1,500 miles, and such a distance in the Hebraic worldview brought one “to the ends of the earth.” This can be seen in a number of the Major Prophets, who when talking about specific nations at “the ends of the earth,” are usually referring to nations in the region of about 1,500 miles from Israel. At the epicenter of the temple is the ark, which represented the throne of the Lord and this throne is delegated to Solomon whose influence now extends “to the ends of the earth.”
The Queen of Sheba comes to visit Solomon and she is described as coming from “the ends of the earth.” Solomon’s temple was described as being “great and glorious throughout all lands” and while this was not literally true (it was probably unknown in China), it foreshadowed the temple of the Holy Spirit that would indeed include those from every kindred, tribe, tongue, and nation.
In the New Testament, the book of Revelation concludes with a picture of a temple/city that is cubic in shape and stretches for 12,000 stadia in all directions (which is about 1,500 miles). As John is constantly using Old Testament metaphors, models, and texts, it would appear that these dimensions are meant to correspond with those used in the Old Testament to refer to the “ends of the earth.” So John’s vision is of a city/temple full of the glory of God that will be the consummation of human history, filling the earth as the waters cover the sea. The promise given to Abraham that he would inherit the world (Genesis 15:18 & Romans 4) will be fulfilled in a kingdom that reaches to the “ends of the earth”—and all this is foreshadowed in Solomon’s temple.
The word “forever” is also used a number of times in describing the temple (2 Ch 6.16). If it was simply a physical structure this could not be true as it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. However, what Solomon built was a stupendous visual aid to help us understand the nature of the kingdom of God that will indeed be “forever.” Chronicles will end therefore, and bring to a close the Old Testament canon, by again referring to the temple in the very last verse of the book (2 Ch 36:23). As I have mentioned, Chronicles, the last book of the Old Testament is paralleled by Revelation, the last book of the New Testament—which also ends, with a vision of a city/temple that is full of the glory of God and reaches to the ends of the earth.
Hopefully the above provides some insights for further study and reflection on the kingdom of God. However, in conclusion several things need to be said.
First, it is important to keep in mind that Chronicles is a unique book and it stands apart in its attempt to interpret the Old Testament from beginning to end. It is the only Old Testament book that attempts to do this, and standing at the end of the Hebrew bible it becomes a statement of what the previous 37 books are all about. Someone said that the message of Jesus could be summed up in two concepts: the kingdom of God and the fatherhood of God—and both of these themes are central to Chronicles. The temple is “the Father’s house” and also a paradigm of the kingdom of God. However, its ultimate consummation is not a building but a person. Jesus said, “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2), and the author of the book of Hebrews describes Jesus as “the builder of God’s house” (Hebrews 3:3). As we have said, that “house” is now the church, the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Second, many lament the loss of the mobility and simplicity of the tabernacle model. However, once the temple is built the prophets make it abundantly clear that God is not in a box or encased in a building. Even Solomon, in his prayer of dedication, said that the “heaven of heavens cannot contain him.” Our God can still move on, and indeed does so—we see him in Ezekiel abandoning the temple because of the sinfulness of the people.
There is a fascinating reference in 2 Chronicles 5 which speaks of the carrying poles of the ark being too long to fit into the Holy of Holies and protruding out through the veil into the holy place (vv. 8, 9). This is fascinating because the dimensions of the Holy of Holies were given to David by divine revelation. The Lord could have specified a larger Holy of Holies so that the poles would fit inside, but he did not do so. Alternatively they could have simply removed the carrying poles, as the ark was no longer being transported. Obviously they were not allowed to do so—and this in itself became a powerful reminder that if they were not faithful, Yahweh would again be on the move.
Every priest who entered the holy place to take in the showbread, or trim the menorah, or place incense on the golden altar, must have been acutely aware of the two poles poking out through the veil, reminding them that our God cannot be contained and remains free to move on. The pilgrim dimension of the tabernacle was not completely swallowed up by the permanence of the temple.
Third, despite being given a plan, there is still room for Solomon to exercise his own creativity in many of the architectural and artistic details of the temple. After the exile the post-exilic community build another temple but it is very different from Solomon’s. The three-fold configuration stills holds, but much else is changed. However there is no indication that this is displeasing to the Lord or that it should all have been the same.
Moses was shown the divine blueprint for his age, but now it is superceded by the new revelation given to David (I Chron 28:12, 19). Moses had one altar, Solomon had another, and those returning form exile had yet another. Then the altar described in Ezekiel’s temple is different again. And finally, according to Hebrews (13:10), we now have an altar that is the fulfillment and consummation of them all.
In a similar way, God has a configuration for the church, but it is not so tight as to exclude our own creativity and innovation to maximize its impact in our own culture and context. Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, we have the freedom to be innovative and design structures that fit our culture and effectively extend the kingdom of God. Some of the greatest breakthroughs have been when leaders have had the courage to create a new church paradigm, to replace the wineskin, and create a dynamic church model that eventuates in conversion, healing, signs and wonders, and new mission thrusts into the ends of the earth.
Fourth, as we know, Solomon’s later life was a disaster. His multiple wives and blatant idolatry resulted in the Lord saying, “I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant” (1 Kings 11:11). Because of this, some have suggested that the temple model is invalid. However this is not true. David, Solomon’s father also had his share of shameful failures, but the Messiah, when he comes, will still bear the title of “the son of David”. God can only work with the material he has at hand and despite David’s failure he was still a man “after God’s own heart.” The same is true of Solomon. In his early years he followed the Lord whole-heartedly and his prayer dedicating the temple in 2 Chronicles 6 is magnificent. The fact that he turned away and was unfaithful in his later life doesn’t negate the authenticity of the paradigm of the kingdom that was set forth in his temple.
Finally, when reading Chronicles we need to constantly keep in mind the audience to whom it was written. Most scholars agree that it was written around the year 400 BC. A remnant had previously returned from exile and were seeking to establish themselves once again in the land. However, the Davidic kings were a thing of the past. They had lost their national independence and were now a small, insignificant province of the Persian Empire. The readers of Chronicles had never seen the magnificence of Solomon’s temple nor lived in an age where Israel stretched from the Nile to the Euphrates. By the time the book was written, they had built the second temple but it had no ark of the covenant, no shekinah glory, and its altar—unlike that in the tabernacle and that in Solomon’s temple—had not been ignited with fire from heaven.
The question then becomes, why does the chronicler write a book that describes in great detail a temple they have never seen and an empire they had never experienced? The reason, of course, is that these externals were signposts pointing to a deeper reality. They needed to understand the concrete models that had been established in David and Solomon’s day, but only so that they could apply the principles that they contained into their present context. Those returning from exile are given the book of Chronicles to help them grasp that the kingdom can be in their midst even though Solomon’s temple was gone and they are now a puppet state of the Persian Empire. If they understand the paradigm, they can still have the reality towards which it pointed.
In a similar way, those who heard the announcement of the kingdom through Jesus and then through the church after Pentecost (the Romans rather than the Persians now being in control), could have the reality to which the paradigm of the kingdom of God embodied in the temple pointed. The physical temple and territorial kingdom are now subsumed into the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. And now his body, the new temple (of the Holy Spirit) is commissioned to extend his rule and reign to the ends of the earth. So that once again it can be “famous and glorious throughout all lands” (1 Ch 22:5).
1. It is interesting to note that the priests took on the role of governance in the Hasmonean period, some even calling themselves “kings”. Aristobulus I was the first of the Hasmonean king/priests. He was from the priestly family of the Maccabees (although this was not the high priestly family.) Whether the Hasmoneans should have done this or not is open to question. They did not see themselves as Davidic kings, but what is interesting is that as representatives of the temple, they realized they were serving an institution that represented both governance and priesthood. With the departure of the Davidic kings they stepped into the gap of governance as they clearly saw the temple as embodying this.
2. As we know, there was no ark in the second temple. They could have built another one (as they did with the altar), but they had no word from God to do so. Was this because the ark represented God’s governance and now they were under foreign domination? They still had a means of atonement (the altar), but the epicenter of the temple, the ark, the throne of the Lord was missing. Could this also have been God’s way of weaning them away from physical symbols in preparation for the New Covenant age? This was certainly true of the Jews in dispersion who now increasingly saw the Torah as the center of their corporate religious life.
3. Selman points out that Solomon’s prayer of dedication in 2 Chronicles 6:16–17 clearly shows that he sees the throne of the Lord as now being delegated to the house of David. Solomon prays, “Thou hast kept with thy servant David that which thou hast promised him. Thou hast spoken with thy mouth and hast fulfilled it with thy hand, as it is this day.” God’s promise in the Davidic covenant (I Chronicles 17) that the house of David would rule over Israel in perpetuity now comes on-line with the construction and dedication of the temple. God is modeled as “enthroned above the Cherubim” and reigning from his “palace” the temple. But this reign is delegated to the house of David’s in fulfillment of God’s previous promise.
4. “The throne on which David and his successors sat is really God’s throne and the kingdom over which they ruled is God’s kingdom (1 Ch 28:6; 29:23; II Ch 9:8; 13:5, 8). The author repeatedly associates the temple with the kingdom of God, as in David’s affirmation on completing his preparations for the new building, “yours O Lord, is the kingdom” (1 Ch 29:11) (Selman, p. 48).
5. John Calvin said, “the judgement seat of [an earthly] king is the throne of the living God” (David Hall, Savior or Servant, p. 217). He clearly saw that even in nations outside of Israel kingship was derivative and not absolute. The throne of every monarch was (ideally) to be an expression of God’s lordship over the whole creation.
6. “At the center of the life of the people of God there must be the priest and the king: only round these two figures will the rest of the picture fit into place. And even if there is no one actually playing either or both of these parts [after the exile there was no king, and after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD there was not priesthood], yet still it is only round an empty space of the priest-and-king ‘shape’, as it were, that the picture of God’s [kingdom]…can be built…” (Michael Wilcock, The Message of Chronicles (IVP, 1987), p. 49) To announce in Mk 1:15, 11:10 and Lk 1:32 that “he shall rule over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end” would have been the most dramatic way possible of introducing Jesus. The Romans are out in the street and they have had no Davidic king or political independence for nearly 500 years.
7. Wilcock also states that the ellipsis of the kingdom revolves around the twin poles of priest and king. It is a dyad and not a triad of prophet, priest, and king. The prophet basically plays no part in the life of the people. His role is to keep governance, the king, in check—either as a friend, or as an enemy. This does not mean that he never speaks to the people, he does. But the classical prophets rise and fall with the monarchy. Once the prophet is institutionalized, he dies. The law guided the priest and the prophet guided the king.
8. It is of interest to note that the frequent description of Christians in the New Testament epistles is that we are “saints.” While, of course, this does indeed mean that we are God’s “holy ones,” the word “saint” has a rich OT background. The word appears in Daniel 7 five times (vv. 18, 21, 22, 25, 27) in the context of one like a son of man coming to the Ancient of Days and being presented before him. Then to him is given dominion, glory, and a kingdom that “all the peoples, nations, and men of every language might serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away and his kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13, 14) Here the son of man is being given a kingdom (the word “kingdom” is used twice and the word “dominion” twice) that will extend to all the peoples, nations, and men of every language. However, the story does not end here. The astonishing thing about the passage is that then this kingdom is given to the “saints.”
This is the background against which the word “saints” is used in Daniel 7: “but the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever for all ages to come.” So when the New Testament picks up the term “saints” it has its background and context in Daniel 7, which is all about us receiving the kingdom. Therefore, if we are to truly be saints we need to understand what this kingdom is, and the best description outside of the New Testament—or perhaps I should say, on which the New Testament is based—is the presentation of the kingdom through the model of the temple in the book of Chronicles.
The Ark as a Paradigm of Governance
Some of this material is covered above in point three. However, as the ark as a symbol of governance is so important, a more comprehensive treatment of the concept is developed below.
The temple embodies the concept of both governance and priesthood. Governance is modeled by the ark (which is seen as the throne of the Lord), and priesthood by the altar (on which atonement was made). We tend to think of the temple as a religious building (as this is what “temple” has come to mean in English) but, in fact, it is a paradigm of the kingdom of God, which of course encompasses the whole of human life. The very word “kingdom” is a word describing governance, and if the temple is a paradigm of the kingdom then it must include within it a dimension of kingship. We should also keep in mind that the word translated “temple” (“bayit”) is simply the word “house”. The “house” or “palace” of any king is, of course, the epicenter of his reign. (Twice in Chronicles the word “palace” is also used for the temple (1 Chron 29:1 & 19, but this is not reflected in some of the English translations)
Often we associate both ark and altar with priesthood, and indeed, there is some overlap—they cannot be totally separated. However, it is very important to note that in the temple, both governance and priesthood are equally represented. As I have said, Chronicles deals explicitly with the Kingdom of God more than any other OT book with the exception of Daniel (who’s approach is apocalyptic in contrast to the Chronicler who uses a historical paradigm). As the kingdom is so central in the New Testament—many scholars say that the core of the teaching of Jesus was the kingdom of God—Chronicles becomes very important if we are to properly understand our Lord’s teaching on the subject. In understanding the kingdom we often emphasize priesthood—and this is something we understand well—but we often neglect the aspect of governance and have therefore not applied this principle appropriately. Chronicles sees the temple generally, and the ark specifically, as the embodiment of Gods governance and kingdom. This governance is then delegated to the house of David and the priesthood to the house of Aaron.
On the Day of Atonement, blood was sprinkled in the sanctuary and on the mercy seat (Lv 16:16; 16:33; Heb 9:21-22). This was to cleanse the sanctuary and the Holy of Holies, so that God could continue to reside and reign in the midst of Israel despite their impurities. Because the lid of the ark (“chest,” Hebrew “aron”) is called a “mercy seat” or a “propitiatory” (“kapporeth” from “kippur,” “to cover”—the meaning of the word atonement—Exodus 25:17) we often associate the ark exclusively with forgiveness and exclude the dimension of governance. However, we need to remember that the Holy of Holies was seen as God’s throne room and the ark itself as God’s throne (1 Ch 13:6). And, of course, throughout scripture a throne is primarily a symbol of governance. In keeping with the majesty of God, it is also described as his “footstool” (1Ch 28:2; Ps 99:5; Ps 132:7).
Atonement was made at the altar, which enabled the Lord to extend forgiveness to his people. However, forgiveness is personal, not simply a legal transaction, and it is given to us by the Lord from his throne of mercy, his mercy seat. However, while it is received at the throne of grace (Heb 4:16) it is achieved on the altar of sacrifice. The mercy seat, or propitiatory, is where the one who is “the propitiation for our sins” (I Jn 2:2, Ro 3:25) grants us the propitiation that was achieved on the cross (the altar). The real mercy seat is now in heaven where the Lamb is enthroned (Rev 5:6). From this throne God both extends forgiveness and exercises governance.
For this reason Chronicles makes a point of noting that for about 70 years in Israel’s history the ark and the altar were in different locations. If they were both needed to make atonement it would have been impossible to have them in separate locations, as it was mandated that the burnt offering was presented “to make atonement” on a daily basis at the altar—which was some miles away from Jerusalem (the location of the ark) in Gibeon (1 Ch 6:49). Both were needed once a year on the Day of Atonement, but the ark was not needed on a daily basis for the provision of atonement. The ark, the throne of the Lord, was therefore more a symbol of governance than it was of atonement.
If God’s governance is not represented by the temple, only atonement, then we could never be called “temples” of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. As those who have been born into the kingdom and filled with the Spirit we also now embody and extend God’s reign but we do not embody atonement, only Jesus himself does this.
The paradigm of the ark being God’s throne is also demonstrated by the fact that it is called “the ark of thy strength” in Psalm 132:8, and “the ark of thy might” in II Chronicles 6:41. In addition, Psalm 99:1 speaks of the Lord as “enthroned above the cherubim (see also 1 Sam 4:4–5, & 6:2; 2 Sam 6:2; 2 Kings 19:15; Ps 80:1; 1 Chron 13:6). When Israel carried the ark around Jericho it was a statement that God’s kingdom, his government, was about to overthrow the government of Jericho. When the priests set out with the ark to lead the people of God they would cry, “let God arise and his enemies be scattered” (Nu 10:35). To carry the Lord’s throne was to scatter his enemies and advance his kingdom. In Chronicles the ark with the winged cherubim over it is described as a “chariot” (1 Ch 28:18). It was as if the Lord was enthroned on a great winged war chariot. “Yahweh is a warrior” (Ex 15:3), and he is enthroned in Israel to bring justice to the nations.
The concept of the ark being the Lord’s throne and the Holy of Holies being God’s throne room is further reinforced by the fact that it is said of Solomon that he sat on the throne of the Lord (1 Ch 29:23; 2 Ch 9:8). The throne is the Lord’s, but he delegates it to David and Solomon much like in the book of Revelation where the throne of God is mentioned about 32 times and in over half of the references we are sharing it—it’s the same principle. This is the reason why when the construction of Solomon’s physical throne is described, it is absolutely magnificent—“nothing like it was made for any other kingdom” (2 Chronicles 9:17–19). This splendor was necessary simply because his throne represented the Lord’s throne—God’s reign in and through Israel.
In addition, having made atonement on the cross (the altar) as our high priest, the New Testament sees Jesus as having entered into the Holy of Holies and now seated at the right hand of the Majesty on High. The most holy place contained the ark, the throne of the Lord, and this is where Jesus sat down. We need to remember that Hebrews makes a point that the true tabernacle, the true holy place, and the true mercy seat are in heaven (Heb 9:11; 9:24; 10:12). This is why we are told that we can now come boldly into the most holy place where we find the throne of grace (Heb 4:16). It should also be noticed that in Revelation 11:19, heaven is opened and we see the ark of the Lord. In this context it is clearly a picture of his throne (which is then climaxed in Revelation 21:3).
Such passages as I Kings 8:9 and Exodus 25:21, 22 also emphasize that the ark was the throne of the Lord from which he extended his governance. Speaking of the mercy seat it says, “there I will meet with you….I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel.” It’s significant that 1 Kings 8:9 and 2 Chronicles 5:10 make a point of saying “there was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone.” This is important because it is plainly saying that from his throne God rules through his law.
The common name for the ark is “the ark of testimony” (Exodus 25:22; Lv 16:13; Nu 14:4; Jos 4:16). The “testimony” is, of course, the law of God (Exodus 25:21 and 2 Ch 6:11). The other common name for the ark is “the Ark of the Covenant”. The covenant was made at Sinai through the giving of the law (Dt 9:11) which was the “constitution” of Israel outlining the precepts by which God would reign in their midst.
There are, of course, many references to the ark being called the ark of the covenant but the following are some used in various periods of Israel’s history: Jos 3:11, 14, 17; 6:6, 8; 1 Sm 4:4; 1 Kings 8:6; and 1 Ch 15:25. It is also called “the ark of the Lord” (Jos 4:11; 1 Sm 5:4) and “the ark of God” (I Sm 3:3; 4:11, 17; 5:1). The important thing to note is that the Ark of the Covenant, or the ark of the testimony, are both descriptive of God’s governance in Israel through his covenant—embodied in his law.
So to sum up, in looking at the temple it seems valid to see the ark as primarily a model of governance (the Lord’s throne) and the altar representing atonement (sacrifice and priesthood). Governance is delegated to the house of David and priesthood to the house of Aaron. There is a separation of powers but also some overlap because the governance of God can only be effective through the blood of atonement.
If we follow the Jewish cannon, Chronicles is the last book of the Hebrew Bible. It is significant—as the chronicler’s aim is to sum up God’s purposes in whole Old Testament—that the crowning paradigm is that of a temple embodying both governance (the ark) and priesthood (the altar). In the exhaustive genealogies contained in the first nine chapters of Chronicles, only the family of David and Aaron are traced from the Patriarchs to the exile. This strengthens the thesis that the book is about priesthood and kingship, as these, of course, are the families of the priests and the kings.
As we consider governance in our day, we should not restrict it to spiritual authority in the church, or even in spiritual warfare. We need to realize that the temple model embraces political governance.
In following this through we need to keep in mind the separation of church and state (represented by Levi and Judah), but avoid the mistake of only seeing the church represented by the temple, as if somehow governance is simply neutral or secular. Biblically all governance is under God (and represented in the temple model), even though it is delegated to the kings of the earth. Under David and Solomon this paradigm is very clear—they represent the reign of God as it was delegated to the men of his choice.
As we move out into the nations of the earth, the picture becomes more confused. However, the Bible asserts repeatedly that the Lord is the King of the kings of the earth (just glance at the multiple references to this in the Psalms alone). In other words, God still reigns over the nations even though he has delegated this governance to kings, princes, prime ministers, and presidents. They may not exhibit his governance very adequately, and some of them may even be in open rebellion against it. However eventually the scriptures promise that God will get back to establishing his rule in the whole earth, and this is prefigured in the temple paradigm.
This is why just as the last book of the Hebrew Bible (Chronicles) ends with God’s activity summed up in the model of the temple, so the last book of the New Testament sums up God’s activity in the model of the temple. In Revelation 21:16 we see the New Jerusalem descending from God out of heaven shaped as a cube. As far as I’m aware the only other cube in scripture is the Holy of Holies. This was the throne room that contained the ark on which the Lord himself was enthroned. The New Jerusalem measures 1,500 miles in each direction. If we go to the prophets we find repeatedly that nations approximately 1,500 miles from Israel were described as being at “the ends of the earth.” This gives us the background for the symbolic dimensions of the city—it is now seen as reaching to the ends of the earth, and filling the creation.
Some object to the city being called a temple because the passage states that there is “no temple in it” (21:22). However, the whole point is that there is no temple in the city because the city itself has become the temple, the dwelling place of God (21:3, the Hebrew word “shekinah” comes from the word “to dwell”) The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb residing in the city constitute it as a temple (21:22). In addition it is explicitly stated that “the throne of God and the Lamb will be in the city (22:3), and as we have seen, God’s throne was the ark (11:19) and the Holy of Holies his throne room. So human history will be summed up by the governance of God in the whole earth and his kingdom being extending into all the nations. Aristotle said that a cube is a picture of perfect justice, having equality in all directions. The city’s cubic shape emphasizes that God’s reign will be one of universal justice and peace.