The paper below is a work in progress. Normally in my teaching and writing I use a lot of illustrations to clarify my concepts and then work hard on applying them to where we are at in the church and global mission. However, with this study on the temple I probably won’t be able to develop it for some time and so I have decided to write what I have so far. It is not very user friendly at this point, but I believe that the content has huge implications for advancing the kingdom in this season. So what you have below is some scaffolding, not very attractive, but hopefully clear enough for you to take it further in your own thinking and apply it into the ministry context in which you are working.
I must admit that I have never been very keen on the temple. The ceremony and elaborate ritual of a religious institution—the smells and bells, the grandeur and opulence, has personally never been very inspiring. Perhaps I am simply biased from my days in India where temples abounded on every street corner—along with an all-pervasive sense of oppression. I used to regret that Israel had abandoned the simplicity and mobility of the tabernacle for the solidity and complexity of the temple and its rituals.
However, over the last year I have been studying Chronicles and have discovered that the epicenter of the narrative is the temple, and that the Chronicler sees the temple as a paradigm of the kingdom of God. This is important because it means that Chronicles, the last book of the OT in the Hebrew cannon parallels Revelation, the last book of the NT: they both major on the kingdom of God as modeled by a temple. (The New Jerusalem in Revelation has all the features of a temple. John remarks that “there no temple in it”(21:3) simply because the whole city has now become a temple, the dwelling place of God.) The temple model therefore becomes a way of summarizing biblical revelation and important for us if we are to understand the kingdom of God and how it operates.
Many scholars see Chronicles as a book totally devoted to the construction and dedication of the temple. Martin Selman in his commentary on 1 and 2 Chronicles says: “most of David’s reign is given over to temple preparations and the whole of Solomon’s is designed around the temple’s construction”. Of the 19 chapters on David, 4 are on his bringing the ark to Jerusalem and 9 are on his preparations for the temple. The remaining chapters—his conquests and military exploits—are also centered around the temple as these are achieving the “peace” that was a prerequisite in Deuteronomy for the building of the temple. In a similar way, almost all of the 9 chapters on Solomon are about the building and dedication of the temple. Then the remainder of the book simply describes how the following 19 kings either honored or dishonored the reign of God as represented by the temple paradigm.
Because of this, it is understandable why many see the book as totally devoted to the construction and dedication of the temple. However, others would, correctly I believe, modify this and say it is a book devoted to the kingdom of God of which the temple is a paradigm.
Scholars see Chronicles as a unique book because it is the only one that attempts to interpret the whole Old Testament from beginning to end. Standing at the end of the Hebrew bible (it was written around 400 BC) it becomes a statement of what the previous 37 books are all about. And it therefore makes sense that there is more about the kingdom of God in Chronicles than any other Old Testament book (except Daniel), and that the chronicler presents the temple as that which is designed to model the kingdom of God.
Because of this, my negative evaluation of the temple has gone through a dramatic revision. Some of my thoughts appear below although it is impossible to compress the whole panorama of temple theology into a few pages. (I do have a tape set on Chronicles for those who wish to pursue the theme in more depth.) I should also mention that in this study I am indebted to Martin Selman’s commentaries mentioned above which I would warmly recommend (I & II Chronicles, An Introduction and Commentary (IVP, 1994).
Before beginning we must keep in mind that the Lord did not initially respond positively to David’s desire to build him a temple (1 Chron 17:4–6). The Lord said that he had been quite content over the years to move around in the Tabernacle. However, with the help of the prophet Nathan, David begins to understand that God’s purpose is not so much for David to build him a house but for God to build David a “house.” (1 Chron 17:10; 28:5; 2 Chron 13:8) And this “house” would be a line, a dynasty, through which the Messiah would eventually come. Once David understood this he was allowed to go ahead.
David understood that it was not so much a physical building that God was after but rather the spiritual reality of the kingdom that it represented.
I should add that most of us know well the obvious things about the temple—that it was a place where sacrifices were offered and atonement was made, and so although this is very central I will not cover this in any detail because of our familiarity with the OT sacrificial system. My purpose will be to point out the whole panorama of temple theology, which is much more comprehensive and much of which is often overlooked.
1. The temple as the Father’s house
The word “temple” in English does not serve us very well in understanding the biblical concept. The Hebrew word “temple” (bayit) is better, and is simply a translation of the word for “house” (bayit) and although one or two other words are sometimes used, this is the dominant one. The word is important as while, for us, a temple is simply a religious building, a “house” is something very different. A house, or a home, is the epicenter of family relationships and activity—not just religious activity. In traditional societies the home has always represented intimacy, camaraderie, hospitality, philanthropy, laughter, children, education, and even industry—the farm or workshop often being an extension of the house. “Bayit” is, therefore, a much warmer and wider word than the English word “temple”. It signifies that God has taken up residence in Israel and they are now learning to be at home with him.
The first recorded words of Jesus are, “did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49 NASB). In a similar way, at the end of his ministry in his farewell discourse, Jesus again spoke of the temple—this time the temple in heaven—as “my Father’s house.” (Jn. 14:21) Jesus bookends his life by references to this very intimate metaphor of the house or the home as his description of the temple.
In the light of the fact that a believer will become the temple of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost, he also adds in his farewell discourse that, “I and my Father will come and make our home with him.” (Jn 14:23) In saying this, he is building on temple theology. Just as the Lord took up residence in Solomon’s house, so he wants to take up residence in the individual believer by the Spirit.
The church father, Irenaus, spoke of the Son and the Spirit as being the two arms of God. He saw the Father as desiring to reach out and draw us into his bosom much like we reach out with our arms to embrace somebody we love. The Fathers “arms,” to draw us into his heart are the Son and the Spirit. And as we will see in Chronicles, the heart of the Lord is continually towards the temple, his house, into which he wants to draw us as his children by his arms of love.
It is also interesting that the English word hearth comes from the word focus. In traditional societies, the family would gather together around the fire burning in the hearth. This was the focus of family life. In a similar way, the Father now draws us into his heart, into his house, so that we might gather with him as his children around the “hearth” for fellowship and communion. And this intimacy is the focus of kingdom life.
The concept of the temple as God’s house is also illustrated by the offerings that were brought to it each day. In the Old Testament Exegetical Dictionary of Theology and Exegesis—perhaps the best heavyweight multi-volume work in print on Hebrew vocabulary—“offering,” rather than “sacrifice,” is said to be the dominant word used in Leviticus. Strictly speaking, the burnt sin and guilt offerings were described by the word “offering” not by the word “sacrifice.” In fact in Leviticus, and throughout virtually the whole Old Testament, the word “sacrifice” (zebah) is used only in reference to the peace, or “fellowship,” offering, when the animal was eaten as part of a communal meal.
This is important because although there were many levels of symbolism in the offerings, at a very basic level (according the OTEDT mentioned above) an offering was simply the giving of a gift to God. It could be for a variety of reasons; for thanksgiving, love, fellowship, or because we had grieved him by our sin. However, the regular morning and evening offerings (although primarily to make atonement) were also to reinforce the reality of the fact that God was living in the midst of Israel. Twice in Malachi (1:7; 1:12) the altar is called “the table” of the Lord. Part of the temple model is that (symbolically) we have the honor of providing for God’s domestic needs of meat, bread, light, and fragrance. When you went into the house of the Lord it was very obvious someone was in residence: you were greeted by the smell of fresh bread (the showbread), the warmth of beautiful candlelight (the menorahs), and the fragrance of perfume (from the golden altar in the holy place).
The prophets emphatically tell us that unlike the idols, God does not need to be fed. However, to help us grasp the reality of his actual residence in the midst of Israel, it was as if every morning and evening, food was brought to “the table” in his house. The consciousness of the Lord residing in their midst was reinforced daily as they had the privilege of providing for the needs of his household. This was a powerful picture of the fact that the God of heaven had his habitat in the midst of Israel and that they had the high privilege of bringing provisions morning and evening into his “house.”
There was more going on therefore in the model of the temple than making of atonement and the provision of forgiveness. The whole thing was designed to powerfully remind every member of the community that God had taken up residence in Israel. And this picture is, of course, picked up in the New Testament where the church is called “a habitation of God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2).
In contrast to what I have said about the smell of fresh bread, the warmth of candlelight and the fragrance of perfume, some have suggested that the burnt offerings were foul smelling because the whole animal was burnt. However, this cannot be true as the offerings are frequently referred to as a sweet smelling, or soothing aroma (Genesis 8:21). Even the burnt offering is described this way (Genesis 8:20). When one reads other ancient writers—for instance Homer in the Iliad—they also speak of the fragrant smell of the burnt offerings. Chronicles indicates that the fragrance was produced by the use of libations and the skinning of the burnt offering. The details are lost to us, but the skins could have been burnt outside the camp. However, the overall picture is more like the inviting smell of a barbecue than anything else.
The smell of fresh bread, the cooking of meat, and the perfume from the altar of incense (called the “altar of perfumes” in Hebrew) was a daily reminder that the living God was resident in the midst of his people (the word “shekinah” is from the root “to dwell”). The tabernacle would have been very much like a royal Bedouin tent, and this is why later on the temple, although it was a lavish “religious” structure, will still be described by the word for a domestic dwelling (bayit). Our Father wants to be in our midst, not in the austere, impersonal, and sterilized atmosphere we often associate with religious buildings, but in a warm, intimate, and “homely” manner. This does not eliminate the magisterial, the transcendent, and the majestic—there was plenty of temple ceremony to reinforce this dimension also—but the primary model for the pilgrims and worshippers was that of a homecoming to the Father’s house.
It is also interesting to note that after nearly 300 years of persecution that ended with the conversion of Constantine, the early church did not immediately abandon meeting in homes and rush out to build churches. In fact, when the early Christian basilicas were eventually built they were configured on the ground plan of the standard Roman house—only larger. They were not built using the architecture of temples or synagogues. In fact, a synagogue must have felt very cold and impersonal after the church had absorbed the warm domesticity of the home for so many years. And all this was continuing the warmth of the tabernacle/temple model that was established in the Old Testament.
2. The temple is a paradigm of the new creation (and Eden being restored)
As we will see below, the temple was symbolic of Israel entering into “rest,” which was a description of them entering into their inheritance. (1 Chronicles 22:9; 23:25) However, much to our surprise, the temple is presented not only a symbol of Israel’s rest but as a “house of rest” for God himself—not just for his people. (1 Chron 28:2 & Ps. 132:7, 8, 14) God can again enter into rest, as he did after the six days of work in which he completed the original creation. (Genesis 2:1–3) As we will see, the completion of the temple represented the renewal of creation—which was the purpose for which God had raised up Israel. He enters into rest as his work, renewing and redeeming creation has (symbolically) been completed. This is what the temple foreshadowed.
As mentioned above, the last book of the Hebrew Old Testament (Chronicles) and the last book of the New Testament (Revelation) share the common theme of the temple, and in both books the temple is a paradigm of the new creation. The city/temple in Revelation is full of motifs from the original creation and the Garden of Eden—the river that flows through the city, the trees for the healing of the nations, and the description of the “tabernacle of God [again] being with man”—even as it had been with Adam in the garden.
There are at least 5 aspects of the temple that indicate that we are meant to see it as God’s provision to take us into the new creation, which metaphorically is going “back to Eden,” our original inheritance:
- There is a three-fold segmentation in the temple, as there is in Genesis with the garden (which is located “in Eden” which in Genesis not synonymous with the garden, but a description of the general geographic area). Surrounding the garden was the region of Eden itself. And surrounding Eden, the land mass in which it was located. This three-fold segmentation is represented in the temple by the Holy of Holies, the holy place, and the outer court.
- The shekinah of God’s presence that was originally in the garden is now in the temple.
- The flowers (1 Kings 6:32, 35; 2 Ch 4:21); palm trees (symbolic of the tree of life) and lions and bulls (I Kings 7:22–37.) were engraved on the walls of the Holy of Holies and the holy place, and on the utensils used in the temple, all of which were designed to remind us of Eden. There were also oxen under the laver (called a “sea”—2 Chron 4:3) and pomegranates (speaking of abundant fruitfulness) on top of the pillars. (2 Chron 3:16.)
- The Cherubim were on the veil and doors of the temple, as they were at the entrance to the garden. (1 Kings 6:29)
- A river ran out of Eden, and while there is no river in Solomon’s temple, there is in Ezekiel’s temple, and the temple in Revelation The river is another indication that the temple is a picture of Eden and the creation being restored.
It is also important to note that in 1 Kings 4:33, Solomon is spoken of as describing “plant life from the cedar (the largest) to the hyssop” (one of the smallest). He also spoke of “animals and birds and creeping things and fish.” Bruce Waltkie says that the implication is that Solomon named and classified the plants and animals and this paralleled what Adam was asked to do in Genesis.
In the ancient world, to name something was to rule over it, and in naming and classifying the animals Adam was exercising his dominion. In a similar way, Solomon, foreshadowing the last Adam and the new creation, is doing the same thing. The temple foreshadows the new creation and Solomon as a type of Christ, the last Adam, is ordering the new creation as Adam ordered and exercised dominion over the original creation.
There is also an important mention of God’s heart and man’s heart in both Genesis and Chronicles (and this is interesting because God’s “heart” is rarely mentioned in scripture.) In Genesis 6:5, the Lord said, “that the imagination and the thoughts of man’s heart was evil continually”—and it was this that resulted in the judgment of the flood. The Hebrew phrase, “the imaginations and thoughts of the heart” is only used in one other place in the Old Testament: in 1 Chronicles 29:18. Here David prays that “the imaginations and thoughts of their hearts,” rather than being evil continually, might be “directed towards thee.”
So whereas the result of the fall is that the imagination and thoughts of man’s heart were evil continually, the result of the redemption and restoration accomplished in the temple is that the imaginations and thoughts of man’s heart are now “directed towards thee.”
In Genesis, which opens the Old Testament, we read that “God was grieved in his heart” (Genesis 6:6). However, in Chronicles, which closes the Old Testament in the Hebrew Bible, after the dedication of the temple there is now pleasure rather than pain in his heart—and for this reason his “heart will be there continually.” (2 Chronicles 7:16)
The temple, foreshadowing the work of Christ, recovers what was lost in Adam. The result is that the pain that was in God’s heart over the brokenness of the creation project is now healed. God’s tomorrow has entered our “today” and is modeled for us in the temple.
For this reason 1 Chronicles (1:1) begins with Adam—who was in the garden—and ends with a call to the exiles (who have lost everything) to “go up” and rebuild the temple that was destroyed by the Babylonians (2 Chron 36:23). What God began in the garden is going to be redeemed and restored through a temple, and now they must rebuild it as it foreshadows the city/temple in Revelation 21 & 22, which will climax human history.
3. Both priesthood and kingship, atonement and governance, arerepresented in the temple paradigm
It is not easy for us to break with our mental construct of the temple as purely a “religious” institution (and this is where, again, the English word “temple” distorts the picture.) For most of us, a temple always represents a religious institution and a palace, (or modern day parliament) an institution of governance. For us they are totally separate institutions—but not so in the Biblical model. Chronicles demonstrates that both priesthood and governance were subsumed within the temple model and were not viewed as separate institutions.
We have tended to emphasise the dimension of priesthood represented by the altar, but neglected the dimension of governance represented by the ark, and as this is so important but frequently overlooked, I have included a full treatment of this in Appendix 1 below.
The two streams are diagramed below:
House of David/House of Aaron
The one stream is that represented by altar, priesthood, and atonement, and is delegated to the house of Aaron. The other is that of ark, kingship, and governance, and is delegated to the house of David. However, we often associate the ark exclusively with forgiveness, and exclude the dimension of governance it represents (perhaps, because of its “mercy seat”—“kapporeth,” from “kippur,” to cover or atone). 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 Psalm 99:1—speaking of the Lord as “enthroned above the cherubim—being just two examples from among many). And, of course, throughout scripture a throne is primarily a symbol of governance.
In addition, 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.
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 extended 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.
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.
On the Day of Atonement, blood was sprinkled in the sanctuary and on the mercy seat. However, 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.
So to sum up, in looking at the temple it seems valid to see the ark as primarily representing governance (the Lord’s throne) and the altar as representing atonement (sacrifices 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.
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.
In the age to come the church (the temple) will exercise both governance over the nations and a priesthood before God (in worship). In this age, we exercise priesthood but not governance. We may do so in spiritual warfare and by political involvement as individual Christians–but not as the institutional church. To do so would revert to some of the disastrous yoking of church and state that occurred in the Middle Ages.
The metaphor of the church as the temple is therefore now only partially fulfilled—the church is not yet the temple in all its fullness, we exercise only priesthood, not governance. This is parallel to our Lord who exhibits a perfect priesthood in the presence of God, but not—in this age—the fullness of his reign (kingdom) in the nations that will be seen in the age to come.
The temple is a sign that the people of God have entered into their full inheritance.
The temple was the symbol of Israel obtaining her full inheritance: what Joshua initiated is now consummated by David. Before he dies David will tell Solomon three times to “be strong and very courageous” (1 Chronicles 22:13; 28:10 & 20) and these are, of course, the very words given by Moses to Joshua. We are meant to see David’s conquests as an extension and culmination of Joshua’s conquests. (Duet. 31:6 & 23; Joshua 1:6, 7, 9) As I have said above, it is symbolic of Israel obtaining her inheritance and entering into the promised “rest.”
However, now Solomon’s foreign enemies have been subdued and the all the building materials gathered together for the construction of the temple. So why is he told three times to “be strong and very courageous”? Such an exhortation seems somewhat over the top for a simple building project. However, Solomon (and the chronicler’s audience) are meant to spot the parallel exhortations (“be strong and very courageous”) and realize that what Joshua initiated so many years ago is now being consummated in the symbolism of Solomon’s temple. And therefore Solomon must “be strong and very courageous” and fulfill that which he was commissioned by David to do in the same way that Joshua was commissioned by Moses.
Israel’s territory under David was unsurpassed at any other point in their history. This linked David directly with the promise given to Abraham (Gn 15:18) and Moses (Ex.23:31; Dt. 1:7; 11:24; cf. Jos. 1:3–4; 1 Ch 13:5). (Selman, p.187) However, fully inheriting the land as symbolized by the temple, was itself only a foreshadowing of something infinitely greater—that of inheriting the whole earth (Ps 37:11; Mt 5:5; Ro 4:3.) And this is why Solomon’s reign from the Nile to the Euphrates—representing in the ancient world “the ends of the earth” (2 Chron 9:26)—is placed alongside the construction of the temple. The temple is a paradigm for a kingdom that will one day be global in its reach. This theme is then picked up in Revelation (which as I have said, parallels Chronicles) where we see those from every kindred, tribe, tongue, and nation (this phrase is used seven times in Revelation) representing “the ends of the earth,” populating the city/temple described in the climax of the book.
The theme of entering the promised inheritance is also alluded to when David purchases the temple site. Like Abraham (who purchased ground to bury Sarah), he pays the full price (1 Chron 21: 22, 24 with Gen. 23:9). Chronicles and Genesis are the only two places where this phrase “the full price” is used in the Old Testament. Abraham purchased the first piece of land and David the last piece (which was owned by a Jebusite, 21:18). This is, again, symbolic of Israel obtaining the full inheritance, which is to be modeled by the temple. The 153,000 Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites remaining in the land (a reminder to Israel of their failure up to this point to inherit all that God had promised) now become the main labor force to build the temple. Again, the Chronicler takes great pains to demonstrate that all this was symbolic of Israel having defeated their old enemies and thus now obtaining their full inheritance. (see Selman, p.210)
David (much like Moses who was disqualified from entering the land) is disqualified from building the temple, but we are not meant to see his battles as evil. They achieved the peace that was necessary before the temple could be built (Deut 12:10–11). The temple was a picture of the governance of God and as his reign is one of “justice, joy, and peace” (Rom 14:17) this has to be achieved by David before the temple could be built.
His being a warrior is not what disqualified him. His victories were God given (14:10, 14; 17:11; 18:6 & 13—“the Lord helped David wherever he went”; 19:13). However Solomon’s reign will be one of peace and rest (this is the meaning of his name—22:8) representing the ascension ministry of Christ. His temple will be built from the spoils of David’s victories (representing the cross, the defeat of God’s enemies), David and Solomon together making a composite picture of Jesus himself (Heb 1:3).
Just as the temple was the outward and visible sign of the Davidic covenant, so the church (2 Cor 6:16) is the outward and visible sign of the new covenant.
The Davidic covenant is embodied in the temple much like the Abrahamic covenant was embodied in the land. As mentioned above, in 1 Chronicles 17 there is a play on the words “I” and “You”. “You will not build a house for me (v. 4), but I will build a house for you” (v. 10). God was not excited about David’ plans to build him a temple as an end in itself (v.6). God wanted to build David a “house”—lineal descendants, a family, a dynasty—through which the Messiah would come (vv. 10, 17, 23, 24), the son (“seed” v. 11) of David (Jesus) who would build the real “house” God was after (vv. 11–14; 2 Sm 7:13, 16; Heb 3:3, 4; Mt 16:18).
That which David’s son, Solomon, builds only foreshadows that which David’s greater son Jesus will build. The physical “house” will simply be the embodiment of God’s promise to David to establish his house, his dynasty, “forever,” (v.14). And this dynasty (a reign, a kingdom) will be represented by the temple (v.14). Once David understands that the building is only a paradigm of the kingdom of God, then he can go ahead with the planned construction (1 Ch 28:5; 2 Ch 13:8).
Significantly, in the chapter containing the Davidic covenant, the word “forever” is used eight times in connection with the temple (1 Chron 17:12, 14, 22, 23, 24, 27). However, after its construction, the unfaithfulness of the kings, the Babylonian invasion, and its eventual destruction seemed to invalidate this promise. The Davidic kings and the “house” God promised to David, the visible sign of which was Solomon’s temple, both (seemingly) came to an end in 536 BC. However, 500 years later, the astonishing day came when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and not only announced to her the virgin birth (Luke 1:32–33), but also repeated to her all the key words that embodied the Davidic covenant in 1 Chronicles 17—“the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever and his kingdom will have no end.
Through the death of Christ the new covenant would be instituted and the church born. And just as the temple had been the outward and visible sign of the Davidic covenant, so the church, the temple of the Holy Spirit, is now the outward and visible sign of the new covenant.
Because the church is the now the outward and visible sign of the new covenant we are also now exhorted to “be strong and very courageous” in being the people who now embody the reign of God as the temple of the Holy Spirit in the new covenant age.
The dedication of the temple was a foreshadowing of Pentecost, the dedication and inauguration of the new temple, the church.
Many of the features of Pentecost in Acts 2 are present when Solomon’s temple is dedicated. There is a reference on both occasions to “prayer,” being of “one of accord” (2 Chronicles 5:13), fire from heaven, the glory of God falling (2 Ch 7:1–3), and the presence of 120 priests (2 Ch 5:12—paralleling the 120 in the upper room on the day of Pentecost.)
The epicenter of the temple was the ark and within the ark were the tablets of the Law. The promise in Jeremiah was that when God made a new covenant he would put it within his people and write it on their hearts. (Jeremiah 31:32) Pentecost was the feast that celebrated the giving of the law at Sinai and when the Spirit fell on the disciples in the upper room this promise was fulfilled. They now became the temple of the Holy Spirit and the law, which had been on tablets of stone was now internalized in their hearts by the Spirit. (Heb 8:1–13)
Significantly, immediately after the law was given at Sinai, 3,000 died in the incident of the golden calf. By way of contrast and reversal, at Pentecost when the law is written on the heart, 3,000 are made alive; they are reborn by the grace of God. This is a deliberate contrast to demonstrate that the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life—and the life that will flow at Pentecost, seen in Ezekiel’s vision as a river flowing out from under the threshold, is prefigured in the temple model. (As an aside, it is fascinating to note that “Solomon’s sea,” the laver for the washing of priests, contained 3,000 “baths”—the same number who were “washed” and regenerated on the day of Pentecost).
The temple was symbolic of the inclusion of the Gentiles.
2 Chronicles 6:33 refers to the temple as having an impact on all nations and for this reason it was dedicated during the Feast of Tabernacles—and every Israelite in attendance would have not missed the significance of this. (Chronicles 5:3; 7:8–10).
Tabernacles was the great feast of harvest in Israel. In the book of Numbers (Chapter 29) we read that 70 bulls were sacrificed during the feast and in the later rabbinic literature this is seen as a sacrifice for the ingathering of the nations. The number 70 is regularly used in scripture as referring to the nations of the earth. In Genesis 10, the table of nations numbers 70. When Israel goes down to Egypt they number 70 persons—they are a nation for the nations. Moses appoints 70 elders after they come up out of Egypt, as he knew that they existed to bless all nations. And now in Solomon’s temple there are 10 menorahs. As each lamp had seven flames, this would have meant that 70 points of light were seen by the priests who entered the holy place—again indicating Israel’s role as a light to the nations.
As we move into the New Testament, we find Jesus appointing a group of 70 disciples, who eventually, after Pentecost, would be commissioned to the nations. So the dedication of the temple at the Feast of Tabernacles was a powerful foreshadowing of the inclusion of the Gentiles that would take place in the new covenant age.
This is reinforced in Solomon’s prayer of dedication in which he asks that foreigners have access to the temple (2 Chronicles 6:32, 33). In his day this would be those who were proselytes or “God fearers”; those who had abandoned their foreign gods and become immigrants, resident aliens, or pilgrims to Jerusalem. However, this is again a powerful foreshadowing of the New Testament temple of the Holy Spirit, which will be made up of Gentiles from all nations.
It should also be noted that when Isaiah speaks of the temple as “a house of prayer for all nations” (Is 56:7) the thought is not primarily that prayer will be offered in the temple for the nations, but rather that it would be a house of prayer accessible to all nations. Which is why our Lord—who quoted this verse when driving out the moneychangers—was so furious. The court of the Gentiles was now crowded with moneychangers and inaccessible even to God fearing Gentiles.
In addition Hiram-abi the skilled master craftsman in charge of the temple construction was a Gentile. The workers were aliens (1 Ch 22:2—the non-Israelite inhabitants of Canaan), and although these Gentiles were “forced labor” they still foreshadowed the New Testament picture of the inclusion of the Gentiles in the building of the new temple, the church.
Gentiles are very prominent in the life of David, which again, is significant as he is the man whose passion was to build the house of the Lord. David’s great grandmother, Ruth, was a Moabite. David took his parents to the king of Moab for protection when Saul was trying to kill him (1 Sm 22:3, 4). David’s bodyguards included Gentiles—Cherethites were Cretians and his Pelethithes and Gittites were Philistines (2 Sm 15:18).
In addition, he was given refuge for about 16 months in Gath, a Philistines city, when he was being pursued by Saul (1 Sm 27:1). A number of his “mighty men” were Gentiles, including Uriah, who was a Hittite (2 Sm 11:38-41, 60 ), and others of his mighty men were also Gentiles. He deposited the ark in the house of a Gittite (a Philistine) for three months (2 Sm 6:10), and during the time of Absalom’s rebellion, he and his soldiers were given provisions from an Ammonite (2 Sm 17:27). Sydonians and Tyrians brought cedar for the temple (1 Ch 22:4) and, as we have said, Gentiles were used in its construction (1 Ch 22:2).
All this is all symbolic, foreshadowing that the fullness of the Davidic kingdom will be for the Gentiles and that the temple will be a house of prayer accessible for all nations. It was designed to be for God’s “fame and splendor in the sight of all nations” (1 Ch 22:5), and ultimately, the glory and honor of all the nations will be brought into it (Revelation 21:26).
The inclusion of the Gentiles is also a statement that not only all races but all the gifts and talents they bring with them are needed to build the house of the Lord. 1 Chronicles 22:15 make the point that every kind of talent was needed to build the temple; workmen, stone cutters, masons, carpenters, and all kinds of craftsmen “without number” (1 Ch 22:15). In a similar way, in our day the New Testament takes pains to point out that everyone’s gifts and talents are needed to build the church, the house of the Lord.
In chapter 26 we are introduced to groups of Levites who apparently had ordinary tasks (cf. 1 Ch 23:3–5). They included gatekeepers (vv. 1–19), treasurers (vv. 20–28), judges, officers, and various civil servants, all of whom, although they were Levites, worked away from the temple (vv. 29–32). However, the Levites “secular” work was still regarded as ministry to the Lord. This is important because if the temple is a paradigm of the kingdom of God, it indicates that the distinction between the sacred and the secular now disappears.
Every Levite, even those who served permanently as judges away from the temple, were described as contributing to “the service of the temple of the Lord” just as much as the priests and the Levites ministering at the temple (1 Ch 23:24 and 32). (Selman p. 237) It is revealing that the word for “layman” in Romanian is “mirean,” which means “anointed one”. In our day, the priesthood of all believers means that we are all “anointed ones,” commissioned to seek first the kingdom and see the church established to the ends of the earth. And this is beautifully modeled by the Levites who minister to the Lord as judges, officers, and civil servants, but who have no role in the temple sanctuary itself. And today, in our age, when the reality has replaced the shadow, Jew and Gentile, sacred and “secular,” bond and free, skilled and unskilled, all contribute equally to the building of the house of the Lord.