Your Body Is a Temple?
There used to be a building that stood on a hill in Jerusalem known as Solomon’s temple. The biblical narrative devotes a significant portion to its construction and unfortunate destruction, and the New Testament uses it as a metaphor for God’s people. But why is this building so important to the biblical authors? What does an ancient building have to do with us today?
This building was a place where God’s people could be in his presence, preparing them to become that holy presence on earth—a crucial role in God’s plan to dwell with humanity. If you identify as a Jesus follower today, your role is the same. You, your body, is a temple—God’s temple. This is probably a phrase you’ve heard quite a bit if you’re familiar with the Church, but let’s unpack what this really means and observe how the temple theme unfolds throughout the biblical narrative.
God Walks With His People
The initial glimpse of temple language occurs with the first image-bearers in the garden of Eden—Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:26-27). We’re told that Adam and Eve were made in God’s image. Images of ancient gods typically took the form of idols placed in ancient temples. So the message of Genesis 1-2 is clear: God created humanity to dwell with him and bear his image to the world. For a brief moment, there was no need for a temple structure. All of humanity lived in harmony with each other, nature, and God.
This idyllic picture doesn’t last long. The first humans choose rebellion (Gen. 3), and they become alienated from the garden, each other, and the presence of God. Will God restore his presence among them?
The Tabernacle and the Temple
Fast forward to the Exodus story. The people of Israel have been in slavery in Egypt for 400 years, disconnected from their identity as God’s image-bearers. As Moses led the people out of Egypt, God commanded the people to build the tabernacle. This tent structure served as a place for God to dwell with his people (Exod. 25:8). Almost like they were back in the garden!
Several hundred years later, the tabernacle was replaced by the permanent structure that King Solomon built in Jerusalem, the temple. This building was labeled “a house of prayer for all nations” (Isa. 56:7). Through this temple, God not only manifested his love and care to Israel but to anyone from any culture who would come there to worship him. Has God finally restored what was destroyed in the garden?
Unfortunately, just like Adam and Eve, Israel’s leaders rebel against God, perpetuating evil and injustice. As a result, the temple is destroyed, and the people are exiled from the land (e.g., Jer. 52:12-13). Many years later, some people return to Jerusalem and build the second temple. However, the temple system quickly fell into corruption once again (e.g., Mal. 1:6-10). The Hebrew Bible ends with more questions than answers. Is it impossible for humanity to dwell with God as he intended?
God Who Tabernacles Among Us
Just when we thought the story was coming to a tragic end, Jesus arrives on the scene. In fact, when the Gospel writer John describes Jesus, he says that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The special word he uses for “dwelt” is the Greek verbal equivalent of the noun used to describe the tabernacle God commanded Moses to make in Exodus. In his Gospel account, Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 in his claim that Jesus is Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” John and Matthew’s message is clear: Jesus is God with his people.
John goes on to record Jesus referring to his own body as the temple, saying that it will be destroyed but rebuilt in three days (John 2:19-21). At Jesus’ crucifixion, the curtain that shielded the inner room of the temple was torn in half. What was the significance of this event? The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was the perfect sacrifice that accomplished what the temple in Jerusalem never could. Through Jesus’ sacrifice and victory, he made a way for God to not only dwell with his people but for God to dwell in his people. Jesus shows us what it means to live as God’s temple, allowing his presence to dwell with his people with no need for a physical building.
The People Are the Temple
The New Testament writers continue to use temple language, but they are no longer concerned with a building. When they write about the temple, they are talking about the people of God. The apostle Paul writes, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you” (1 Cor. 6:19-20)?
At face value, this could be mistaken as an individualistic idea, and that is often how many modern Jesus followers are introduced to this passage. However, in English, we don’t have a grammatically correct way to differentiate between a singular “you” and a plural “you all.” All of the “yous” in this text are actually second-person plurals. That means we should read Paul’s words as, “y’all’s body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.” There are some immense implications here, both for the early Church and us today. Let’s take a look.
There is an inbuilt communal aspect to being a part of God’s family. Paul uses the metaphor of the “body of Christ” to describe the Christian community and how all of the diverse members need each other (1 Cor. 12). There is an inherent assumption of teamwork, cooperation, and unity as the people of God function as the temple today. The temple is where God dwells with his people throughout the biblical story. So if the people of God are the temple, that means it is through these people that God reaches the world.
In the ancient world, people traveled from far and wide to encounter God at the temple in Jerusalem. Now, the people of God are the temple and take God’s presence to the world. If the people are the temple, then they must make his glory known to all nations from now until Jesus returns.
Our Current Reality
So what does an ancient building have to do with you? And what does it mean for our bodies to be temples? If you are a Jesus follower, it frames your entire spiritual life and calling. Do we need to rebuild that ancient building on the spot where it once stood in order to meet with God? Nope. He is calling you—actually, y’all—to function as a little temple today, wherever you are.
In the very last chapters of the Bible, John writes about his vision of Heaven after Jesus returns (Rev. 21-22). He sees an extraordinary depiction of the new city of God, but something is conspicuously missing. There is no temple in the city. And why would there be? Jesus is right there with his people. As we look to the end of the story, what we lost in the beginning is restored. God is once again dwelling with his people.