That day in Samaria, Jesus told her of a great transition that would completely abolish the old carnal religious orders of men, making way for a higher order of worship that is in keeping with the very nature of God. "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father . . . But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4: 21-24 NLT). The status quo was about to make a drastic change! A new covenant between God and man was well on its way to becoming a reality in spirit and in truth.
A central part of this vast transition consists of stripping away the old religious trappings that bind men in fixed traditions and blind them to that new and living way that He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh (see Hebrews 10:20). God's will in this matter is clearly stated in Hebrews 10:7-9. "He takes away the first to establish the second." You do not construct a new house on the site of an old one without first tearing down the old house.
The time was fast approaching when no one would be able to worship God in the temple at Jerusalem. That hour came in 70 AD, just as Jesus had earlier prophesied. The Roman emperor Titus utterly destroyed the temple and not one stone of it was left upon another (See Matthew 24: 2). Though seemingly disastrous, this event was a sign to the Jews of their sin, because it fulfilled Jesus parting words, "'Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, you shall not see me again, till you shall say, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.' And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him to show him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, 'See you not all these things? Verily I say unto you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down.'"(Matthew 23:38 - 24:2 KJ2000).
This was not only the sign of the end of the old order, but a witness of future blessings that were to come. After Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the temple, the Jews asked Him, "What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?" Jesus answered, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews answered, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" This is so characteristic of religious man. Because of his fixation on physical, religious trappings he cannot see beyond to the heavenly reality. What these myopic Jews did not know was that Jesus "was speaking of the temple of His body." (see John 2:15-21). Notice how Jesus used the words temple and body interchangeably.
Let's follow Jesus' logic very closely here. The temple on mount Zion was merely an earthly representation or shadow of the real temple or dwelling place of God, "One greater than the temple," was already among them (see Matthew 12:6). When the Jews destroyed the temple of His body, Jesus raised a new temple in its place. This clearly points to the spiritual house, the body of Christ. Two thousand years ago, the temple of Christ's body was a physical body that rose again on the third day. His natural body was key to the realization of God's full purpose in His Son because it was the single seed that was sown in the ground and raised a spiritual body unto much fruit.
"Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: 'Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me.'" (Hebrews 10:5 NKJV). Here is the divine template. Paul likened our physical bodies to wheat or some other grain that is sown in corruption and raised in incorruption. "It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 15:42-44 NKJV). The same is true of Christ's body. Christ's physical body or temple was sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. Now, under this glorious New Covenant, the temple of His body is a spiritual house made of living stones, fit for God's own dwelling place.
Most of the early believers understood this mystery very well and were careful to give to God the worship He seeks in that house. Central to their faith was the knowledge that He is Spirit and as such can only be worshiped in spirit. Peter, the one who wanted to raise three equal tabernacles for Jesus, Moses and Elijah just a few years earlier, now understood that God in this new dispensation has taken up residence in a spiritual temple not made with hands. "You also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1Peter 2:5). Paul agrees with Peter, "Or do you not know that your bodies are a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is within you--the Spirit whom you have from God?" (1 Corinthians 6:19 WNT). "And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people'" (2 Corinthians 6:16 NKJV). And again, "In him (Christ) you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:22 ESV).
John was in the Spirit when he caught a glimpse of the heavenly Jerusalem, coming down as a bride prepared for her husband. The first thing he noticed was the absence of what most of the religious world considers essential. "I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple" (Revelation 21:22 NASB). The closer we get to that heavenly city, the more the earthly trappings of religion fade away. Millions today are finding out once again that true worship is not dependant on a locale, special music setting the mood, or a special building, but it is a matter of the heart and happens everywhere His true body is found living in His truth.
In keeping with this great New Covenant reality, the early believers had no temples. A central part of their message was taken from God's words to backslidden Israel in Isaiah 66:1, "Heaven is My throne, and earth the footstool of My feet. Where then is the house that you build for Me? And where then is the place of My rest?" (See also Acts 7:49, 17: 24-28). The second century Christian apologist Minicus Felix gives us a sense of the depth of their understanding of this great transitional truth when he wrote to their skeptics,
You mistakenly think we conceal what we worship since we have no temples or altars. . . How can anyone build a temple to Him, when the whole world can't contain Him? Even I, a mere human, travel far and wide. So how can anyone shut up the majesty of so great a Person within one small building? Isn't it better for Him to be dedicated in our minds and consecrated in our innermost hearts--rather than in a building? (Minicus Felix, Octavius, 2nd Century A.D.).
Regarding this amazing quote, J.G. Davies wrote,
Throughout at least the first two centuries there were no church buildings as such, and this was so remarkable that to the pagan population, it was considered grounds for accusing the Christians of "atheism." In a world notable for the number of its holy shrines and the rivers of blood that flowed daily from the sacrificial victims, Christians were conspicuous in that they possessed neither the first nor engaged in the second" (Secular Use of Church Buildings, J.G. Davies, 1968: page 1)
Let's continue to explore this vast New Covenant transition, how it took shape in the early church and its direct bearing on our lives as New Covenant believers, individually and collectively. Considering the preoccupation with building larger and more ornate places of worship in Christendom today, it is painfully obvious that something has drastically changed. We believe that this is proof conclusive that Christians at large have yet to grasp the enormous significance of the truth that Jesus shared with that Samaritan woman, so long ago. "As was the case in ancient Israel, a structure has grown up in Christendom that proceeds from the flesh and does not represent the mind of God.... We certainly will not be deceived if, out of present events, we read the mind of God, the mind which leads out of the old system of the rule of the worldly church and into a new and fresh life of truth" (Blumhardt, Thy Kingdom Come). It is not enough for us to leave behind the old religious system of temple-worship and carnal sacrifices. We must press on, toward a full participation in the spiritual realities of this higher order of worship.
William Law explains,
Hence it plainly appears that the gospel state could not be God's last dispensation, or the finishing of man's redemption, unless its whole work was a work of the Spirit of God in the spirit of man; that is, unless without all veils, types, and shadows, it brought the thing itself, or the substance of all former types and shadows, into real enjoyment, so as to be possessed by man in spirit, and in truth. Now the thing itself, and for the sake of which all God's dispensations have been, is that first life of God which was essentially born in the soul of the first man, Adam, and to which he died. But now, if the gospel dispensation comes at the end of all types and shadows, to bring forth again in man a true and full birth of that Holy Spirit which he had at first, then it must be plain, that the work of this dispensation must be solely and immediately the work of the Holy Spirit.
- Chapter 2: Worship in Spirit, the Pneuma of God
- Chapter 3: Not Forsaking the Assembling
- Chapter 4: The Babylon Principle
- Chapter 5: Christ is the Church and the Church is Christ
- Chapter 6: Holding to the Head
- Chapter 7: The Five-Fold Ministry
- Chapter 8: The Hope Of Glry
- Chapter 9: Christ Working in Us
- Chapter 10: Mere Curch Busyness or the Kingdom of God?
- Chapter 11: Discerning the Lord's Body
- Chapter 12: Don't Fear the Bulldozer