The Bible introduces us to at least nine or eleven (depending on how you look at it) temples, all of which are understood in light of the others. They seem to come in groups of three.
There is the temple of the uncreated heavens, the eternal temple, which, Revelaton suggestions, is God Himself.
Then there is the temple of the created heavens, which Isaiah describes in Isaiah 60 (heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool).
Third, we see the earthly temple, which is first, Eden and the garden that God planted there, where He placed the first man (priest). When the priest fails, the Lord sends Him out of the temple. Later, He offers what I believe is a substitute Eden, first in the tabernacle, then Solomon’s temple. I see this set of three as variations on one temple, but I wouldn’t build a whole theology on that position.
These are what we might call the temples of heaven and earth, and they are the first of three groups of three (with one group of three making up one of the three – get it?)
Then come what we might call the personal temples.
Adam was not only a priest, but also a temple. He was created to be a dwelling place of God. His Spirit was the home of the Holy Spirit.
When Adam fell, the reason he was evicted from the garden-temple is because He had evicted the Spirit from his own temple/self. The glory departed.
Consequently, Adam needed to be replaced, both as priest and as temple. The new man, the new priest, the new Temple, was Christ, who “tabernacled among us,” and told the temple stewards of His day that if they tore down this temple, He would rebuild it in three days.
They didn’t get it. They thought that the temple Solomon built and which was replaced by the one Herod built was where they met with God. They ignored Jeremiah’s and Isaiah’s and Ezekiel’s oracles, insisting that no temple made with hands can contain God, so when the temple stood before them, they didn’t see it for what it was.
They tore it down; he rebuilt it.
He descended into hell and death, where He captured death and took captivity captive. He ascended through the heavens into the heavenly temple with His own blood and sprinkled it on the eternal throne and He sat down at God’s right hand, beside (or on?) the Mercy Seat, surrounded by cherubim.
Because of what He achieved as a priest, He could now restore the priesthood and the whole creation. He was able to send the Holy Spirit who had been taken away when Adam sinned.
Now each person, the individual united to Christ, could be a temple again.
As there are three heaven and earth temples, so there are three personal temples: Adam, Christ, and the individual united to Christ. This third temple is quite wonderfully more than just one and is open to anybody who wants to abide in Christ.
There may also be a third set of three temples.
When He sent the Holy Spirit into the world, He initated a new creation. As there was an earthly temple (Eden, tabernacle, temple), so now there is a new earthly temple: the church.
As the visible heavens were a temple, so now there is a new heaven and a new earth.
As there was an eternal temple, so now we have access to that temple (same temple, newly known) in the body of the new/eternal priest who makes an eternal sacrifice for an eternal covenant on our behalf.
Because we have access to the eternal temple, the God of the eternal temple has access to us – as we abide in Him, so He can abide in us! We can become the vessels of Christ, filled with His Spirit, so that rivers of life can flow out of us to the four corners of the earth, as they did from Eden. We can become a new Eden, filling the earth with His blessing, washed, sanctified, and justified.
Today we commemorate the first of the martyrs for Christ, St. Stephen. He was accused (the story is found in Acts 6 and 7):
This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered.
St. Stephen’s response seems to be primarily to show that God appeared to most of the great patriarchs outside of the land and far from the temple. And then he says:
However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says:
“Heaven is my throne,
And earth is my footstool.
What house will you build for me? says the LORD,
Or what is the place of my rest?
Has My hand not made all these things?
Accusing them of being stiff-necked, he cut them to the heart, and they stoned him.
Now, in light of all the foregoing, read what Stephen experienced:
But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing (!) at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
… And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God.
It would seem that Stephen himself had answered the Lord’s question through Isaiah: he had built a house for Him, had invited Him in by receiving Him, and had become the place of His rest.
No prophet ever saw what St. Stephen saw, but many a martyr has. May we, together with St. Stephen and all the martyrs, respond to His patient knock at the door, open the gates of repentance, and become His temple, as He is ours.