Take part in TGC’s Read the Bible initiative, where we’re encouraging Christians and churches to read together through God’s Word in a year.
In the 1970s, some people hoped to build a little piece of heaven in the Arizona desert. They built a brand-new city in the middle of nowhere. Its name? Arcosanti. Dreamed up by an Italian architect, this paradise offered 5,000 people the simple life. They’d share modern-looking apartment buildings, grow their own food, and pay for the whole thing by selling wind chimes. Fifty years later, it’s only 5 percent finished and only 50 people live there. It didn’t work.
In the beginning, God put humans in the perfect home. God himself walked with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, but then they rebelled. So God sent them out of the garden, away from his presence. Since then, the Bible talks about God being “in heaven” (Gen. 21:17; 2 Chron. 20:6) and people being “on earth” (Eccl. 5:2; Ps. 115:16).
But beginning with the tabernacle in Exodus 26, we read about special places where God comes down to meet with his people. Tiny patches of heaven on earth.
God gave his people plans for a place where he’d meet with them: a special tent called the tabernacle (Ex. 26:1–37). God is everywhere, but he’d dwell in a special way with his people in the most secret room (“the Most Holy Place,” 26:33) in the middle of the tabernacle.
Beginning with the tabernacle, we read about special places where God comes down to meet with his people. Tiny patches of heaven on earth.
In this place, God remained close to, yet separate from, his people. He was so holy, so pure, that if he’d dwelled with people in the same way outside the tent, the people—who were all sinners—would have died. No one can see God as he truly is and live (33:20).
So the tabernacle was the place where God’s sinful people could approach him through offering animal sacrifices for sin (29:38–46). The tabernacle was used by God’s people for almost 500 years (from about 1446 to 960 BC).
Eventually, God allowed King Solomon to replace the tent with a building: the temple (1 Kings 6–8). As he did with the tabernacle, God caused his presence to dwell in the most hidden central room inside the temple (8:10–11). The most holy God continued to live amid his people.
Yet even with their God so close, his people (including Solomon) turned away from him (11:3; 12:25–33). They worshiped other gods. So God sent prophets to tell the people to turn back to him (e.g., 17–19). Sadly, most of his people refused to return to the God who had come to live with them (Ezek. 16).
As a result, in the time of Ezekiel, God removed his presence from the temple and removed his people from their homeland (10:18–19). What would God’s people do now?
God’s presence had left the temple, but he hadn’t left his people. He went into a foreign land with them and took care of them (Ezek. 11:16). After 70 years of exile, God would gather his people once more and return them to their homeland (Ezek. 11:17; Jer. 25:11). By this time, Solomon’s magnificent temple had been destroyed. So a man named Zerubbabel led the effort to build another temple (Ezra 3:1–3).
This building wasn’t nearly as beautiful or as big as the one Solomon had built (Ezra 3:10–13). Many people wondered, Could this small and simple building possibly be the place where God would dwell with his people? Or should God’s people wait for some new temple?
About 15 years before Jesus was born, King Herod started to build yet another temple for Israel (John 2:20). When finished, this one would look amazing—more like how you’d expect a temple to look. Yet in Herod’s time, God had come live with his people in a way no one expected.
God had another temple in mind—better than Herod’s temple, better than Zerubbabel’s, and even better than Solomon’s. This temple wouldn’t even be made of stone and wood. Instead, God would come to live among his people in a person (John 1:14; 2:21).
Jesus Christ said he was the new temple, the place where God’s people would meet God (John 2:18–22). Through the sacrifice of Jesus’s death, God’s people have now gained entrance into God’s special presence (Heb. 10:19–22). But since Jesus has returned to heaven, where does God meet his people today?
I live less than an hour from Philadelphia. What if I learned Jesus would be at the Eagles stadium in a few days? I’d rush to be there. Traffic would stretch for miles, and we’d all expect amazing reports of what our Lord would do.
God had another temple in mind. His temple wouldn’t even be made of stone and wood. Instead, God would come to live among his people in a person.
The New Testament tells us Jesus has promised to be with his people every time we gather as his church (Matt. 18:20). By “church,” the Bible doesn’t mean a building with rows of seats but the people who belong to Jesus through faith, whether they meet together in a church building or “from house to house.” (Acts 20:20–21, 28). The Bible teaches that God’s people form a “temple” (1 Cor. 3:16–17), and it tells us God is with his people in the Word, through the gifts, and at the table (1 Thess. 2:13; 1 Cor. 10:16; 12:7). What do you expect each week when you gather with God’s people? When his people gather, he’s uniquely there.
The present Lord intends for his church to be a taste—a sample and preview—of what’s to come. A bit of heaven on earth. One day, God will set everything right by bringing heaven down to earth (Rev. 21:2–3). The garden of Eden will be restored—and improved. God’s people will live with the Lord in perfect fellowship and joy forever and ever. Finally, all God’s people will enjoy heaven on earth.
Get a FREE eBook to strengthen your family discipleship!
The back-to-school season is stressful for moms and dads. New rhythms of school, sports, and other extracurricular activities can quickly fill up a family’s already busy calendar. Where do busy parents look for resources on discipling their family well? Aside from prioritizing church, what else can Christian parents do to instill healthy spiritual habits in their household?
Matt Chandler and Adam Griffin cover these questions and more in Family Discipleship: Leading Your Home through Time, Moments, and Milestones. And we’re excited to offer this book to you for FREE as an eBook today.
Click on the link below to get instant access to your FREE Family Discipleship eBook now!