Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?…for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple (1 Corinthians 3:16,17).
The Ark of the Covenant was an important Jewish religious object – and is a deep mystery – long before Indiana Jones brought it to the big screen in the action-adventure movie Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).
We were recently thinking about it in our Monday night men’s group as we studied 1 Samuel together. That book concludes with Saul’s final battle, a conflict in which his three sons were slain, the Israelite forces were roundly defeated, and Saul (Israel’s first king) concludes an inglorious chapter by taking his own life.
In that battle, the Philistine forces had gathered for war at Aphek, a town 10 miles east of the Mediterranean coast. Mentioning this rather obscure location was a signal of foreboding: it was there that in a disastrous battle, the forces of Israel were routed and the Ark of the Covenant had been captured by the enemy over 90 years before.
It was recovered – or rather returned when the Philistine leaders recognized that it represented the power of the God of Israel, and it spelled certain trouble and calamity in the temple of their idol Dagon – it twice crashed to the floor on its face in front of the ark – in their towns, and among their people.
To the Hebrews, the Ark represented the presence of God. Although He is omni-present – He exists in every conceivable place and fills the universe – the Jewish understanding was that in a unique way, God was on Mount Zion, in Jerusalem, within the Temple, specifically in the Holy of Holies.
But in a sense, God’s earthly throne was the Ark – on the Mercy Seat.
The Ark rested for over 8 centuries in the Holy of Holies, or the Holiest Place, first in the moveable tabernacle, and then in Solomon’s Temple. The historic mystery: where did the Ark go after Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the armies of Babylon in 586 BC??
There are various theories as to its present location, including speculation that it was – and is – safely buried under the Temple foundations still visible on the Temple Mount, currently the location of 2 of Islam’s iconic sites: the Dome of the Rock and the El Asqa Mosque.
The Temple Mount was the holiest ground within Jerusalem. It was the location where the God’s house was built by Solomon beginning in 966 BC. When it was destroyed by the Babylonians, it was replaced on a much smaller, more crude scale by the Jews led by Zerubbabel, returning from exile. It was a day paradoxically characterized by rejoicing and mourning. The younger Jews were elated that the holy building had been erected again. However, others remembered the grandeur of the former Temple. “But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid” (Ezra 3:12).
This structure was completely revamped by Herod the Great, a project that he began in 20 BC, and the site continued to be enhanced and developed long after his death. The Jerusalem Temple was among the most glorious structures on earth when it was destroyed by the Romans as they conquered and razed the Holy City in 70 AD. History records that the Roman general Titus, wanting to save the complex instructed his officers accordingly; but exuberant soldiers ignited the Temple, and literally tore the foundation stones apart to retrieve the gold that melted off the eastern wall and into the footings. [One is reminded of the words of the Lord Jesus as He viewed the Temple from the Mount of Olives: “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2)].
Here’s the point: To the Hebrew people, the Temple and the Ark were physical, tangible reminders of God being with them, and of His immense power among them. But they are both long gone.
For some reason – a reason about which we can only now speculate – God decided that in place of a magnificent structure or valuable portable chest, He would be represented by people.
Those of us who follow Christ are now the physical manifestation or evidence of the presence and power of God.
What a massive risk He took! That weak, inconsistent, sometimes hypocritical humans would represent the Lord Jesus tangibly – the One who hung in place each of the 400 billion stars in our galaxy – that we would be trusted to be His Body on earth, is beyond comprehension!
Why would God take the chance of having His presence removed from its traditional and majestic site in Jerusalem, and since Pentecost live where His people live – in Nazareth, or Naples, or North Bay?
John Piper has part of the answer: “We were made to be prisms refracting the light of God’s glory into all of life.”
Takeaway – when my family, friends and colleagues look at me – at you – what do they see that would truthfully teach them of God’s power and presence? Of His character and cosmic majesty? How accurately does my life reflect the glory of God?
God’s Temple was sacred. As followers of Christ, we are now God’s Temple. His Spirit lives in each of us. We are the tangible Body of Christ on earth.
As I contemplate that, the words of Paul carry a special burden: to the believers at Ephesus, he said, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1).
~ graphic:Tres Riches heures du Duc de Berry(15th century)
*this blog has been lengthened and modified from an original entry in September 2012.