The First and Last Temples
Written by: Nathaniel Wall
Backstory on the Temple
The Biblical Temple is the place God’s presence dwells. The Hebrew word for temple means “Sanctuary” or “God’s palace”. Another Old Testament phrase used for God presence was “Tabernacle”. Tabernacle means “dwelling place”.
Shortly after Israel made the exodus out of Egypt under Moses, God directed Moses to build a Tabernacle (Exodus 26). The Tabernacle was a mobile tent-like structure that Israel carried through 40 years of wondering in the wilderness. It was the place God’s presence dwelt with his people. It was sacred. If someone wanted to meet with God, they went to the Tabernacle.
The Tabernacle only had two rooms. One room was for making offerings to God, and only priests were allowed in this room. The other room was called the Holy of Holies. This room was where the presence of God dwelt. These two rooms were separated by a large thick curtain called a veil. Only the high priest could enter behind the veil into the Holy of Holies one time per year.
Later Solomon turned the Tabernacle into the Temple made of stone (1 Kings 6). The reason it’s “The Temple” is because Israel only had one temple. Just like the Tabernacle, the Temple had only two rooms for worship.
The First Temple
While it is good to know about Moses’s Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple, it is also good to know about the first temple in scripture. It predates Solomon and Moses by several years. In fact, the first temple is as old as creation itself, because the first temple was the Garden of Eden. This is strange to consider, but it’s true. For many people who picture a temple, they picture a building. However, what makes a temple is not a building but rather God’s presence.
God’s presence dwelt in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 3:7-8 the Garden of Eden operated as a temple (the place of God’s Presence). In verse 7 Adam and Eve disobeyed God and “they knew they were naked.” Originally Adam and Eve were clothed in the Garden with the presence of God. Once they sinned, they were no longer holy, and God’s presence no longer clothed them. Losing God’s presence, they knew they were naked and they were no longer “in temple”.
Verse 8 tells us that “they (Adam & Eve) heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD.” Notice Adam & Eve are hiding from God’s presence. God’s presence is the mark of a temple (God’s dwelling place). Additionally the word “walking” and “cool” in verse 8 are significant. “Walking” is translated as “coming toward” and “cool” is commonly translated as “wind or Spirit”. Out of the 300+ times the Hebrew word “ruwach” is translated, Genesis 3:8 is the only time it is translated as “cool” rather than “wind or spirit”. Throughout the Bible, the Holy Spirit is commonly described as wind (John 3:8, Acts 2:2). What this means is that Adam and Eve were hiding from the presence of God’s Spirit moving toward them in the temple we call the Garden of Eden.
The Last Temple
Why is it important to understand the Temple in the Garden of Eden? Because it shapes our idea of a temple as something more than a building. It also important because the New Testament establishes itself on the Temple in the garden of Eden and not the Temple in Moses’s or Solomon’s days. In the Gospels, Jesus said, “Destroy the temple (physical building) and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). What Jesus was demonstrating was that he is the temple. He is God’s presence on earth (John 1:14; Col 2:9) and not even death could stop him.
As Jesus hung on the cross, the Bible tells us the Temple veil was torn from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). The tear from top to bottom was a symbolic demonstration done by God. God was declaring that his presence no longer dwelt behind a curtain in the temple. Now God’s presence dwells in his people. Therefore Paul says (1 Corinthians 3:16), “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” Peter says, “You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5).” Finally Luke says, “It was Solomon who built a house for Him. 48 However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands (Acts 7:47-48).” Luke is showing us that the idea of temple is not found in a building but with God’s presence in his people.
Jesus tore down the veil of separation between God and man. He alone is enough, and he alone turns his people into the place where he dwells. True believers are the Temple. Remember, God told Moses to build a Tabernacle because Adam and Eve had been separated from God in the Garden of Eden. Under Moses, God wanted to provide a place where man could draw near to him. The earthly building called a temple was where God’s presence would dwell. While God wanted mankind near to him, this temple served as a reminder that mankind was still distant from God’s presence. Remember, the Temple only had two rooms. One room was for making offerings to God and the other room called the Holy of Holies was where God’s presence dwelt. However, only one person in Israel could go into the Holy of Holies just one time per year.
Now that Jesus has become our sacrifice for sin, he restores our broken relationship with God. Whoever embraces Jesus can now go straight to God. No building is needed or necessary. Hebrews 4:16 says “Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace”. Why rebuild what Jesus fulfilled? God dwells in His people and you can experience his presence anytime. The last temple in Revelation is like the first temple in the Garden. Rest in this promise, and dwell in his presence. One day we shall all be together with Him as Revelation 21:3 says, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them.”