The Holy City (4)

“I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light.”
‭Revelation‬ ‭21‬:‭22‬-‭23‬ ‭NLT

There will be three things missing from the New Jerusalem. No temple, no sun and no moon. As we think about the implications of this, our minds start to struggle a bit. To Western Christians, the lack of the Temple, or even any churches, would not seem to be too much of a big deal. But to the Jews, the Temple was the focal point of their experience of God. So for there not to be one, in theory it could be a great disappointment for them. 

The lack of a sun and moon would be a problem for everyone. We look at the sun as a celestial body that has always been there, a fundamental object providing us with light and warmth, and the presence of the moon a reassuring constancy during the dark and sun-less hours. But we have to remember that earlier in this chapter John “ … saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone.” (Revelation‬ ‭21‬:‭1‬ ‭NLT‬‬). We don’t know if all the celestial objects that fill the universe disappeared as well. But we do know that there will be a new Heaven and a new earth. There will be a New Jerusalem there and “the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light”. 

So what does the glory of God look like? If we are thinking of a sun or moon replacement, then we have fallen far short of what the glory of God is. It’s not a natural light and heat source that will be illuminating the Holy City. Our perception of the sun is bounded by our human senses – our eyes for the light and our nerves within our skin to detect heat. If we look in the Bible we can get a glimpse of what the glory of God is. It’s His beauty, and His character, for starters. It says in Isaiah 43:7, that we are His glory – “Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory. It was I who created them”.  Hebrews 1:3a tells us about the glory of God’s Son, Jesus. We read, “The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, … ”. And in a sense, His glory is within us. We read in 2 Corinthians 4:6, “For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” There was an intriguing dialogue between Jesus and His Father, that John recorded in his Gospel. Jesus said, “Father, bring glory to Your name.” Then a voice spoke from heaven, saying, “I have already brought glory to My name, and I will do so again.”” (John 12:28). But all of this hardly scratches the surface of what God’s glory is. We may be able to have a go at listing all the attributes and adjectives that describe God’s glory, but what will be lacking from our words is that complete experience of what it means to see at first hand the glory of God.

When we pilgrims consider the glory of God I’m sure we agree that it is something far beyond anything we can get our minds around. The Apostle Paul perceptively summed up our limited God-experience, as we read in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely“. 

But we pray that we will get to know God better. One day we will find out what His glory is really like and I suspect we will be saying “Wow!” for all eternity.

Father God. What can we say or do other than fall on our knees in worship to You. words cannot describe Your wonder, Your glory. Amen.

The Temple of the Holy Spirit

“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

God’s house in Heaven is open. Wide open. But why should there be a Temple in Heaven? One reason could be that it has been ordained by God. He gave Moses detailed instructions about what would be a suitable place for Him to live in when on earth. It’s a fascinating set of ancient blueprints delivered, not as a set of architectural drawings, complete with material specifications and fabric requirements, but as a written set of instructions, embellished with guidance from the Holy Spirit when needed. In Exodus 25:8-9, God said to Moses, “Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them. You must build this Tabernacle and its furnishings exactly according to the pattern I will show you”. Perhaps God gave Moses a picture of how the Tabernacle would look and he wrote down the “pattern” for subsequent generations to follow, if necessary. But notice it wasn’t either God or Moses who built the original Tabernacle – it was the people. Ordinary, everyday, people who used to be slaves in Egypt. The instructions that God gave Moses for building the Tabernacle were incredibly detailed, even down to the quantities of materials. Don’t forget that Moses was not a qualified architect, designer or quantity surveyor – he had been a sheep farmer for most of his life. But God is our Heavenly Architect who knows everything. So Moses, and the obedient people, built a home for God.

Are we pilgrims Tabernacle builders or do we lack interest in doing such a thing? Do we need a Tabernacle today, to act as a home for God, or do we find such a concept unnecessary? Of course, in these times of the New Covenant, there is no need for a physical building to focus our worship, though this has not always been the case. Just look at the amazing cathedrals and churches that have been built over the centuries, to act as places of worship. That fact that so many of them are still standing today is a testimony to the skills of the architects and construction workers of bygone years. 

So we can, rather smugly perhaps, look back at the paraphernalia of the Old Testament accounts of the Tabernacle and the Temple and think such things are of no relevance for modern day pilgrims. That is, until we read in 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Don’t you realise that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself,”. The Temple of the Old Testament becomes our bodies in the New Covenant. And all of a sudden, as the penny drops, as the implications of what this means hits us, we see the importance of the Temple, God’s Tabernacle. There was nothing impure and unholy in the Old Testament Tabernacle and Temple. And the Temple within us has the same requirement. We are called to be pure and holy, a fit place in which God can dwell. In 1 Peter 1:14-16 we read, “So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy””. Of course, no-one can ever achieve this holy state, totally conforming to God’s definition of holiness, through their own efforts. It is only through faith in the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood that we can stand righteous and holy before our Heavenly Father, becoming a temple fit for Him to live in.

Dear Lord, how can we ever thank You enough? You gave up Heaven to join mankind on earth so that You could show us the way home. Thank You. Amen.

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.

The Ark

“Then, in heaven, the Temple of God was opened and the Ark of His covenant could be seen inside the Temple. Lightning flashed, thunder crashed and roared, and there was an earthquake and a terrible hailstorm.”
Revelation‬ ‭11:19 NLT

Look at the sequence of events in Revelation 11 regarding the third and last terror. The trumpet sound penetrated loud and clear over the earth. Then shouts were heard in Heaven, declaring that the time for the rule and reign of Christ had come. The elders gave praise to God, thanking Him that together with Christ’s reign comes the judgement of the bad and rewards for the good. And this chapter in Revelation then bows out with another confirmation of what is about to happen. We read that the Heavenly Temple of God is exposed for all to see, and, even more, the inner place where the Ark of His covenant is kept, will also became visible. But who will be able to see it?

All those residing in Heaven would have been no strangers to God’s Temple. They were in Heaven with God Himself. So this mighty Temple edifice must have become visible to all those on the earth. Imagine the process of looking up and seeing the Temple of God, and its inner parts, even those parts that were the most sacred. And as though to emphasise the event, there was a terrible tropical storm, complete with thunder, lightning, and hail. An earthquake completed the impact of this amazing event. But is that really what John saw in his vision?

In the beginning of chapter 11 in Revelation, John wrote about being asked to measure the Temple. And we concluded in a blog a few days ago that the Temple referred to God’s people. But we know that from 1 Peter 2:5, “And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple… “. As an aside, we thank Him that all we have to do is make ourselves available as living stones. He is the Master Builder. He will do the building. Making us fit into the living stones either side, above and below takes a lifetime of diligent attention. Thankfully God is very patient!

The elders, in their prayer in the previous verse, defined the people who make up the Temple – “…Your servants the prophets, as well as Your holy people, and all who fear Your name, from the least to the greatest…”. So at long last, by the visibility of God’s Temple, we have a public demonstration of who God’s people really are. And their relationship with God is exposed, as portrayed by His Ark. Presumably within the “Temple” there would also be all of God’s attributes there to see. His grace and mercy. His love and kindness. But also His righteousness and awesome presence, enough to instil a deep sense of foreboding, even fear, in those who don’t know Him. God’s holy people will experience the thunder, lightning and earthquake as well, but with a joy because of what was coming.

Is it too late for all those who didn’t know God to turn to Him? Having lasted this long through all the terrors and woes, perhaps they have become even more hardened of heart. But in this pre-End-Times season of grace, we have the time to turn to God, if we haven’t done so already. God’s love will always soften hearts, if we let Him.

Paul wrote in Romans 13, “Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbour, you will fulfil the requirements of God’s law“. And, “This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armour of right living“. (Romans 13:8,11-12). If Paul wrote two thousand years or so ago that the time for salvation was limited, how much more that must be the case today. God’s patience with mankind will one day come to an end, and the season of grace in which we live will end. We don’t know when the seventh trumpet blast will be heard. But it’s coming.

Father God. We thank You for Your love, always there and available for us to embrace. We join together in praying for our neighbours and friends, that they too will feel Your loving touch, while there is still time. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

God’s House

So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are His house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in Him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through Him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by His Spirit.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭2:19-22‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Can we imagine what it must have felt like? Knowing that there was a God in Heaven but being excluded from being able to know Him. It was like a religious apartheid, with signs saying “No Gentiles” plastered everywhere. Life would have been much like those racially segregated times in South Africa and the US. The Jews claimed that God was exclusively their God. No-one else’s. But an amazing thing happened. God had a plan, as we read earlier in this Epistle. Through the wonderful act of mercy of Jesus’ sacrifice at the Cross, all of a sudden, God was accessible to everyone. No exceptions. But Paul was now saying to the Gentiles, the “strangers and foreigners“, that they were citizens of the Kingdom of God. However, we know that this new and wonderful status comes with some responsibilities. 

Paul said that as members of the same family, God’s family, we become His house. And we get this foundational picture of Jesus being the main support, the “cornerstone” with the apostles and prophets completing the substratum, the bedrock. Solid stuff, certainly. And Paul completes the house building analogy by saying that God’s people are carefully and exactly joined together forming the house. A house which then, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, becomes “a holy temple for the Lord”. And Paul couldn’t resist pointing out the Gentiles forming the Ephesian church were also made part of it.

But coming back to the responsibilities. A bit scary really. Any member of a house and family, has responsibilities. We all know what it must be like to have a rebellious and aggressive person in our houses. My wife and I fostered difficult children with challenging behaviour for many years. When everyone of them was following the house rules and were doing and behaving as they should, peace reigned and all was well. But when one of them decided to smash up his or her bedroom, all mayhem broke loose. It’s the same with God’s Temple. We are each “bricks” that dovetail into the next “bricks”. A brick that decides to be something else will cause some difficulties for the house. In today’s verses, we see that “we are carefully joined together in Him”.  And that is the secret of being part of God’s Temple. Our relationship with Jesus. Our constant referral to, and our relationship with, the master builder, who is carefully joining us together in Him, will ensure a Holy Temple. And God lives with us by His Spirit. 

In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul wrote,  “Don’t you realise that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honour God with your body.” So God is using “bricks” that are in themselves places where the Holy Spirit lives. 

At this point, we would be forgiven for thinking that we can never measure up to these standards. And in our own strength that is right. But we serve a loving and gracious Heavenly Father who understands our human frailties, and who has given us the means to become suitable building material. As we read earlier in this Epistle, through Jesus we are made anew. So in humble thankfulness we praise and worship Him. There is no alternative.