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The Temple - a bigger topic than we think

For many Christians the Jerusalem temple is of little interest. Since being destroyed in AD 70 it is merely a historical item they needn’t think about. Others, by contrast, get excited about it, believing that a new temple, on the site of the previous ones, will soon be built on the Temple Mount in alleged fulfilment of biblical prophecy.

Between these extremes is a place for the serious student of God’s revelation in Scripture, who sees the temple as a key theme with important pointers to Jesus himself. If you are in this category you will enjoy Heaven On Earth: The Temple In Biblical Theology by T.D. Alexander & S.J. Gathercole, eds. (Paternoster, 2004, ISBN 1842272721).

This is not an easy bedtime read but it repays careful study. It comes as a series of essays by different biblical scholars covering every aspect of the topic. You will enjoy insights into how the temple echoed the earlier tabernacle, why it gets so little mention in 1 & 2 Kings, what is the meaning of the gigantic temple portrayed in Ezekiel, why Hebrews says much about the tabernacle and virtually nothing about the temple, how the temple reflected the Garden of Eden - and much more.

You might like to skip, as I eventually did, the chapter on Karl Barth’s treatment of the temple in his Church Dogmatics, but go on to be gripped by Stephen Sizer’s outline of the temple in contemporary Christian Zionism.

I read the book in my Logos Bible Software. At the time of this review the hard copy was available from Amazon in the USA but not in the UK, though you could doubtless obtain it through the latter.

The ‘classical’ Christian interpretation of this theme: the Temple is valued as a central part of Old Testament revelation but is now seen as fulfilled and rendered redundant by the coming of Christ.  (p9)

[Re 2 Kings 12]  Joash is the patron saint of those who imagine that the way to do God’s work is to have a fabric committee and a fund-raising programme.  (p52)

…the attitude to ‘institutions’ which emerges in 1 Samuel–2 Kings. The author of Kings regards the Temple in a similar way to that of the author of Samuel to kingship. Both these institutions are not part of God’s primary purpose, but both can be manifestations of his rule and his presence. Both have the inherent danger of focusing on the wrong object, but both, at their best, can point to ultimate reality.  (p57)

[Re Ezekiel 40-48]  The thought of a spring of water emerging from a mountaintop is far-fetched enough, but a stream that deepens as it goes, without the aid of tributaries (which in any case would contradict the intended symbolism), is beyond belief. So all this is of a piece with the interpretation of these nine chapters as idealized and essentially symbolic in character and intention. Those literalists who cherish the hope that they will one day be able to turn them into some kind of fulfilment in a Third Temple are doing a disservice both to the text and to the intention of the prophet.  (p69)

The Christian rejection of (literal) temple space as sacred space is a feature of Luke’s account of early Christianity (cf. Acts 7:47–50) and, of course, is ultimately a defining feature of New Testament theology: sacred space is overtaken by sacred person(s).  (p98)

The Temple was…the place where the relationship between a holy God and a sinful people was maintained through the sacrificial system. In John 2 we see the Temple cleared of the animals necessary for this to take place, and in their place standing the one who has just been announced as the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (1:29).  (p129)

Whereas in the gospels there are indications that Jesus himself fulfils the new Temple expectations of the Old Testament and various Jewish writings, in Ephesians and 1 Peter Christians in union with Christ are that Temple.  (p160)

Anyone who claims to have said the last word about anything in the last book of the Bible should repent.  (p190)

Christ is the Temple toward which all earlier temples looked and which they anticipated, as Revelation 21:22 comes close to saying explicitly.  (p204)

Christian Zionists consistently ignore the way in which the Temple is invested with new meaning in the New Testament as a ‘type’ for Jesus Christ and his church (Eph. 2:19–21). Instead they advocate a return to the very practices made redundant by the, once and for all, atoning work of the Son of God.  (p253)

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