The Temple in Heaven

“Then I looked and saw that the Temple in heaven, God’s Tabernacle, was thrown wide open. The seven angels who were holding the seven plagues came out of the Temple. They were clothed in spotless white linen with gold sashes across their chests.”
Revelation‬ ‭15:5-6 NLT

For anyone who is of a religiously non-conformist outlook, all these references to the Temple, “God’s Tabernacle”, may seem a bit strange. Particularly if their church-going involves a rented room in a hotel or conference centre, or even a bare utilitarian building of the Presbyterian faith. But to the Jews of old, the Temple had a significance far beyond its architecture.

John’s vision of Heaven was incredibly detailed and he seemed to be able to zoom in and out picking up details of this wonderful place. So far we have seen God’s throne there, with other thrones occupied by twenty four elders. We have seen a glassy sea intermingled with fire. Countless martyrs with harps. Four “living beings” of a form unknown in our earth-bound experiences. And the music and song emanating from Heavenly choirs was breathtakingly beautiful. But now John’s vision exposes the Temple. John rubbed the spiritual sleep from his eyes as he noticed that the Temple was wide open. A bit like one of these artist’s impressions of how a building looks inside but from without. Even like a film set, where the cameras have unfettered access from outside a room but giving the impression that the viewer is inside along with the actors. The Temple was wide open. God’s Tabernacle was internally visible to all those qualified to be in Heaven with Him – and of course John through his vision.

There was another time when God exposed His earthly home. When Jesus died on the cross, something significant happened in the Temple, the building in Jerusalem at that time. We pick up the narrative in Matthew 27:50-51, “Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom…”. The curtain was a very heavy and thick piece of fabric that hid the Most Holy Place from outside scrutiny. It was only entered once a year by the priest on duty. He entered with considerable fear and trepidation, to the extent that he had a cord tied to one of his ankles, so that he could be pulled out by those outside the curtain, in the event that God had zapped him because of some misdemeanour. There’s a fascinating story about one of the priests in Luke 1, called Zechariah. He was the father of John the Baptist. We read, “One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar….. Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah to come out of the sanctuary, wondering why he was taking so long. When he finally did come out, he couldn’t speak to them. Then they realised from his gestures and his silence that he must have seen a vision in the sanctuary.” (‭‭Luke‬ ‭1:8-9, 11, 21-22‬ ‭NLT). The Jews expected something significant to be associated with the Temple, God’s Tabernacle.

But here we have in John’s vision God’s Temple exposed for all those in Heaven to see. God and His presence totally transparent and visible. Any relevance here for 21st Century pilgrims? Yes there is, because when Jesus died, the veil, that heavy and dense curtain, was torn in two. Not just a little tear in a corner, but a total schism from top to bottom. I visualise it as the complete disintegration of the curtain, which ended up as a pile of dust on the Temple floor. We read about the significance of this in Hebrews 10:20-22, “By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.” There is now no veil to stop blood-bought Christians from entering God’s presence. Through Jesus’ death at Calvary, He took on board our sins and instead made us righteous in God’s sight, to the extent that we can enter His space, and refer to Him as “Abba”. We read in Galatians 4:6, “And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.”” What does this word “Abba” mean? It means “Daddy” or “Papa”. Folks, we have the opportunity to enter into the very presence of our Heavenly Dad. How amazing is that? Let’s not hold back. Let’s rush in and grasp all that He has for us. He’s the perfect Dad!

Dear Dad, thank You for allowing us to enter the presence of the One who loves us and cares for us. We may hold back in awe from You but nothing delights You more than to welcome us in to Your very home. We are so grateful. Amen.

Kingdom of Priests

He has made us a Kingdom of priests for God his Father. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.”
Revelation‬ ‭1:6 ‭NLT‬‬

This verse mixes adoration and worship with an affirmation of who we are, and a declaration of praise and worship to God for all He has done.

Let’s start with where we should always start, proclaiming the wonder and majesty of Jesus. John declared that all glory and power should belong to Jesus for all eternity. And so it should be. What other religion has a God who leaves His throne and comes to earth as a human being, born in humble circumstances, living a peasant life and ending up crucified on a Roman cross? And why would He want to do such a thing? So that you and I would have the opportunity to embrace His loving sacrifice, in grateful acknowledgment that what He did, He did for us, to forgive us our sins, and give us His righteousness so that we can enter His Father’s presence. All because of His love for us, a love that knows no bounds. So we echo John’s words and proclaim, “All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen”. We can do nothing else!

With our elevated status as God’s children, comes a new role, that of being a priest. Immediately, we get an image of a person, usually a man, wearing strange clothes and an odd-looking hat. Or perhaps someone dressed in black wearing what has become to be known, a “dog collar”. But nothing could be further from the truth. Traditionally, a priest acts as a representative of God, acting as an intermediary for a people who do not feel they have direct access to God. But in our Christian context, the coming of Jesus, God’s Son, changed all of that. Because of Him we can go fearlessly into God’s presence, as it says in the book of Hebrews. In the old Jewish religion, there was a very heavy and thick curtain that separated the place where the ark of the Covenant was located and where the Jews believed God resided, from the people. And once a year, the High Priest entered God’s presence behind the curtain to offer sacrifices for the sins of the people. Such was their reverence for, and fear of, God, that a chord was tied to the High Priest’s ankle, so that in the event he did something to offend God, his dead body could be pulled out by those outside the curtain. But coincident with Jesus’ final act at Calvary, the curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom, signifying that all people, through Him, could now access God directly.

Our role in the Kingdom of priests, is simply to introduce others to Jesus. We share the Gospel message, and our stories of what He has done for us, with the world around us. And we do it all for our Father God. Because he loves us, and we love Him. So no extended period of training in a seminary. No funny clothes. No regrets that we can’t access God directly. We have all become His children, adopted into His family. Given a new role as priests in His Kingdom. And there’s more. It says in Galatians 4:6, “And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father””. Folks, we can call our loving Heavenly Father “Abba”, or in our language, “Daddy”. That somehow seems a long way from the separation of God and man, before Jesus came to this world. No wonder John couldn’t continue with his writings without offering his praise and worship to God.

Dear Father, we thank You that You loved us so much that You put in place a plan to enable us to enter directly into Your presence. All through Jesus Your Son. We’re so grateful and we give You all the glory and power, forever and ever. Amen.

A Stern Parent

“Moses and Aaron were among His priests; 
Samuel also called on His name. 
They cried to the Lord for help, and He answered them. 
He spoke to Israel from the pillar of cloud, 
and they followed the laws and decrees He gave them. 
O Lord our God, You answered them. 
You were a forgiving God to them, 
but You punished them when they went wrong.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭99:6-8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This is the Old Covenant, the Old Testament. There were priests who called on the name of the Lord, on both their own behalf and on behalf of the people. And God spoke to His chosen people from inside a pillar of cloud, perhaps of smoke. As an aside, I wonder how big it was – its diameter, its height. Was it totally opaque? But come what may, it must have been an amazing sight. The Psalm continues with the statement that God’s laws were being followed, and God answered the people, presumably when they cried for help. Was it an audible voice, like the thunder at Mount Sinai? Or Elijah’s still small voice?  But here’s the thing, when they followed His laws and decrees, God forgave them. But when they didn’t He punished them. 

How do we view our wonderful God? As a stern parent who praises us when we do right in His eyes, but punishes us when we don’t? The society in which we live will leave us largely alone if we abide by what’s written in the statute book, but will apply “the full force of the law” when we don’t. Keeping to a speed limit when driving through a town will invoke no penalties, but exceeding it will result in fines and points on our licence (if we’re caught). And that’s the thing. In our societies, getting caught out if we commit a misdemeanour may or may not happen, but in God’s Kingdom, our actions will always come before His gaze. 

So back to our question, what picture, what impression, do we have of God in our minds? I meet people who never knew their fathers, or who never had a good experience with them. And they have then projected their bad experiences into the image they hold in their minds of God. They are fearful of God’s response to their behaviour, good or bad. 

Thankfully, through Jesus, God’s love and concern for us shines through with the light of the New Covenant. The New Testament bulges with the excitement of the Isalm 99ncarnation, bursting out with the news of our God who came to this earth to save us. No longer do we need to fear a stern and remote parent. Through Jesus we have the very means to enter God’s presence at any time. We can call Him “Abba” or “Daddy”. We can have an intimate personal relationship with Him, enjoying Him as a true Father. Can we feel His love and grace today? He’s ready and waiting to delight in us, His children.

A Great Name

“God is renowned in Judah; 
in Israel His name is great.
Psalms‬ ‭76:1 ‭NIVUK‬‬

We read those first few words and get as far as “His name is great”. How does that sit with us this morning? We live in a society that has largely turned away from God into secularism. There is little mention of the name of God, except as a blasphemous swear word on the lips of people who fail to understand the awesomeness and significance of His name. I once had a conversation with a lady in my office, who was a confirmed atheist. She was unmoving in her belief that there was no God. But she was very fond of using the expression “Oh my God!” And one day, I reminded her that, for someone who didn’t believe in God, she called upon His name an awful lot. I never heard her use that expression again. The significance of using His name suddenly dawned upon her.

To me, the name of God is sacred. His name is holy, loving, gracious. And I can call Him “Abba” or “Daddy” (Romans 8:15). How can that be, that I, a mere mortal human being, can call the Creator of the universe, “Daddy”.? That’s breath taking. That’s totally beyond human comprehension. But the Bible is full of references to the name of God and His attributes are limitless. And as I write these words, I feel a lift in my spirit, as I think about Him. If we spend time exploring the names of God in the Bible we will obtain a glimpse of who our wonderful God is. But when we do that we only scratch the service of what He is really like. All my Christian life God has never ceased to surprise me, to amaze me, and when I have needed it, when I have called out His name, I have felt in my spirit a gentle whisper and His loving touch. Sometimes in my early morning walks I whisper the name, “Jesus”. And I seem to receive an echo of agreement from the trees and undergrowth around me, as though they too want to hear His name.

So what do we all think about God and His name today? Is it a great name, one we revere, one we love and embrace? Or is it an irrelevance in our busy human activities? We would all do well to put the mention of His name at the top of any task list that we possess.