Where God Dwells
Apart from the contacts between Jesus and the early church with the priestly authorities from the Temple, the New Testament shows minimal interest in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Far more frequent are the applications of temple language and imagery to the New Covenant community built by Jesus and his original apostles. What the old Temple and its predecessor, the Tabernacle, foreshowed is coming to fruition among his disciples, the “Body of Christ.”
For example, Paul applies the Greek term rendered “Sanctuary of God” to the Assembly in the city of Corinth, and he uses related temple language when describing congregations of believers elsewhere.
|[Church Iceland by Cassie Boca on Unsplash]
Many of the same Greek terms the New Testament applies to the Assembly of God are from the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible when it describes the Tabernacle in the wilderness as well as the later Temple complex in Jerusalem.
While Paul’s usage is metaphorical, it illustrates the identity of God’s people under the New Covenant. In his epistles, the English term “Sanctuary of God” translates the Greek clause ton naon tou theou, and the noun naos means “sanctuary.” Most often it refers to the inner sanctum, the sanctuary proper, and not the entire Temple complex.
Paul applies the term to the local congregation four times in his two letters to the Corinthians, and once he uses the noun naos by itself in Ephesians for the Assembly of God that consists of Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus:
- (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) - “Know you not that you are a sanctuary of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells within you? If anyone mars the sanctuary of God, He will mar him, for the sanctuary of God is holy, and such are you” – (compare 1 Corinthians 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16).
- (Ephesians 2:19-22) - “Hence, then, no longer are you strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens of the saints, and members of the household of God, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, there being for chief cornerstone Jesus Christ himself in whom an entire building is in the process of being fitly joined together and growing into a holy sanctuary in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a habitation of God in the Spirit.”
In Ephesians, not only is the language metaphorical, but Paul mixes his metaphors. The Assembly DOES NOT consist of men who are made of stones or goatskins. Tents and stone buildings do not “grow,” at least, not organically.
None of this means that his language is not serious, or that he is not describing genuine realities brought into existence by Jesus under the New Covenant.
The local assembly is the “Sanctuary” of God because, like the ancient Tabernacle and Temple, it is where the presence of God dwells (the “habitation of God in the Spirit”). It is His presence that makes it “holy,” and therefore, something not to be violated, sullied, disrespected, or otherwise desecrated.
THE SANCTUARY IS HOLY
The language about preserving the holiness of the “Sanctuary” and the punishment that awaits anyone who “defiles” it reflects the purity regulations for the Tabernacle found in the Torah. For example, Numbers 19:20 reads:
- “But the man that shall be unclean, and shall not purify himself, that soul shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly because he has defiled the sanctuary of Yahweh.”
In his second letter to the Corinthians, The Apostle Paul is quite explicit:
- “And what concord has Christ with Belial, or what portion has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the sanctuary of God with idols? For we are a sanctuary of the living God; even as God said, I will dwell in them, and I will walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” – (2 Corinthians 6:15-17).
Paul summoned believers to live holy lives by learning to remain “separate” from sin and idolatry. As before, he identified the Assembly as the “Sanctuary of God,” the place where He dwells. To fortify his point, he cited two passages found in the Hebrew Bible:
- (Leviticus 26:11-12) - “And I will set my habitation in your midst, and my soul shall not abhor you, But I will walk to and fro in your midst, and will be unto you a God, and you shall be unto me a people.”
- (Jeremiah 31:33) - “For this is the covenant which I will solemnize with the house of Israel after those days, declares Yahweh, I will put my law within them, Yea, on their heart will I write it. Thus will I become their God, and they shall become my people.”
Previously, he linked the “Spirit” to the presence of God that now dwells in the Assembly. The Gift of the Spirit possessed by believers demonstrates that God now dwells among His people, and therefore, they collectively constitute the “Sanctuary of God” in each city or region where they reside.
Hence, Paul identifies the local assembly of believers as the “Sanctuary of God,” and that identification is built on promises of a New Covenant from the Hebrew Bible. As he teaches elsewhere, the institutions of the old covenant were “types” and “glimpses” of the true realities that Jesus is now actualizing in the New Covenant - (Colossians 2:16-17).
The Tabernacle and Temple were “types and shadows” of the greater reality when God would indwell His people. Now, wherever followers of Jesus are gathered in worship, the Spirit of God is present and working among his people, the “Sanctuary of God.”