Destroying the Temple
Someone asked me:
“Would you please write a few thoughts on 1 Corinthians 3:16-17?
Does this mean individuals or the church? How does one defile the
temple? Paul seems to indicate that a Christian could do this.”
Looking at this passage in its
context, we may start with 1 Corinthians 3:1-8; there Paul teaches
us that we should trust in the Lord and not in the human instruments
through whom he chooses to work in our lives. Paul uses an
agricultural metaphor to get across his point.
In verse 9, he changes the metaphor
from one of agriculture — “you are God’s field” — to one of
architecture — “you are . . . God’s building.”
Also, he contrasts those through whom God chooses to work — “we
are God’s fellow workers” — with those in whom the work is done —
“you are God’s field, God’s building.”
In verse 10, Paul talks about the
work that he does as a “an expert builder” of the Temple. (Cf. my
brief article, “Does
God Want the Temple Rebuilt?” and Edmund P. Clowney’s eloquent “The
Final Temple,” Westminster Theological Journal, Vol. 35, Fall
1972, Page 156.) Of course,
Paul is not only a builder of the Temple, he is also a part of the Temple,
one of its “living stones,” to use Peter’s analogy. (Cf. 1 Peter
2:5, “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual
house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to
God through Jesus Christ.”) Two
temples came before this one:
The First Temple was completed by
Solomon in 966 B.C. and destroyed in 586 B.C.
Like the Tabernacle before it, it was immediately filled with the
Shekinah Presence of God:
The Second Temple was completed in
516 B.C., over twenty years after the Exile ended.
Desecrated under Antiochus Epiphanes and cleansed in 165 B.C., it
underwent massive remodeling beginning in 19 B.C., under Herod the Great,
but it remained the Second Temple. There
is no record of any kind of Shekinah Glory coming on it, and tradition
tells us that the Ark of the Covenant was lost during the Exile and never
inside the Holy of Holies of the Second Temple.
To those who had seen the First Temple, the Second seemed to be but
a paltry imitation, but Haggai foretold:
The Second Temple was destroyed in
A.D. 70, on the ninth day of the Jewish month Ab, the same day of the same
month as the destruction of the First Temple.
How was Haggai’s prophecy fulfilled?
Malachi gave the answer: ‘“Then
suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger
of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.’
The Lord Jesus himself was anointed
with the Shekinah Glory of God:
In his glorious person, the LORD
came to the Second Temple. He
walked on its pavement, and drove out those who made merchandise of the
souls of men. But who could abide his coming?
He authorized the destruction of the Second Temple and the building
of the Third Temple. He
prefigures this in his own death and resurrection.
‘“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days”
. . . But the temple he had spoken of was his body.’ (John 2:19-21)
As in the Consummation, the Lord himself is the Temple (Revelation
21:22), but we are built into this same Spiritual House, united with him
and resting on the Foundation.
It is in a very public way, the
Third Temple is filled with the Shekinah Glory of God:
It is the Church, not individual
Christians, that Paul has in view in 1 Corinthians.
As with the agricultural analogy (3:6, “I planted the seed,
Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.”), so with the architectural
(3:10, “I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is
building on it.”) — it is always God’s sovereign work, and the Lord
Jesus is the Foundation: “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one
already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (3:11) Therefore, Christians who
are engaged in building the Temple must be careful how they build it, for
it must be built on the Lord Jesus Christ alone.
Furthermore, one must build according to God’s building plans; then the Temple will be adorned with gold, silver and costly stones. After all, the Church, the Bride of Christ, is the Holy City, adorned with all manner of exquisite and beautiful things. Revelation 21:9-21 makes it very clear that the Bride is the City:
This picture of the City as a
person, as over against persons simply inhabiting the City, is found in
other passages, too, such as Galatians 4:26 (“But the Jerusalem that is
above is free, and she is our mother.”).
It is through the gathered people of God that we hear the gospel
and come to believe; as many have said, “The Church is the mother of
Hebrews 12:22-24 makes it plain that when we gather with believers on earth, we are already united with the City that is above:
After all, God has already “raised
us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ
Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:6) Pondering
this, undoubtedly, was what inspired Samuel J. Stone to write:
The process of the sanctification and beatification of the whole earth under the New Covenant is foretold in Zechariah:
All of life is sacred; every calling
is a priestly calling to worship God, whether I am preaching in public
worship, crafting furniture, teaching little children or changing diapers.
But this sacralization of earthly life is moving toward the consummation:
at the Return of Christ, when the City comes down to earth, the
Building is complete and the Third Temple is God himself: “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God
Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” (Revelation 21:22)
Yet we are united with Christ, who is the Head of the Body, and so
we continue as living stones in the consummated Temple.
It is in that context that we must
read the last half of 1 Corinthians 3.
It is not about individuals who don’t get enough exercise or who smoke
or eat too much sugar and fat or drink too much alcohol.
It is about how we are to be engaged in building the Temple.
Some truly build on the Foundation
of Christ and his Apostles, yet they use worldly methods to do God’s
work. Their edifice may be
large and grand, but it will not stand the test of eternity, because the
wood, hay and straw will be burned up.
Each builder’s “work will be shown for what it is, because the
Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire
will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives,
he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he
himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” (1
All believers, in all ages, form but
one holy Temple, the Third Temple, the final temple, indwelt with the
Shekinah Glory of God: “Don’t
you (plural) know that you yourselves (plural) are God’s temple
(singular) and that God’s Spirit lives in you?”
(1 Corinthians 3:16)
True Christians can resort to
worldly methods to build God’s Temple, but what about those false
teachers who rob the Church of the gospel and by false teaching destroy
it? “If anyone destroys God’s
temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you
(plural) are that temple (singular).” (1 Corinthians 3:17)
As I ponder that dreadful passage, I
am grateful for God’s wonderful promise of preservation, and I look to
him alone for my salvation.