Human Temple, Human Glory PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter J. Leithart   
Wednesday, 19 May 2010 08:53

When Moses finished the tabernacle, the cloud of Yahweh descended on the completed tent and filled the Most Holy Place.  The Spirit of Yahweh came, hovering over the tent as He had hovered over the formless void of the original creation, and consecrated the tabernacle by His glory.

After Solomon finished the temple, the same thing happened.  The cloud of glory filled the inner sanctuary so intensely that the priests could not remain in the house.  The Spirit of the Lord, again appearing in the form of a cloud of angels and cherubim, consecrated the temple.

Ezekiel saw the same process going on in the visions that close His book.  In the early chapters, the prophet watched as the cloud moved from above the cherubim, to the threshold of the temple, east to the Mount of Olives, before it abandoned the land completely.  Yahweh had left the house, and in His leaving He had left the house desolate.  The house that had been consecrated by the presence of Yahweh’s Spirit-glory was now desecrated by the removal of that presence.

In his final visions, Ezekiel saw a splendid unearthly temple-city, with thick walls and elaborate gateways and a new altar and a new house for Yahweh.  And as the prophet watched, the glory that had abandoned the temple returned: “And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of Yahweh filled the house” (Ezekiel 43:4).

Oddly, when Joshua and Zerubbabel actually completed the second temple (Ezra 6:15), there was no glory.  No cloud filled the house.  Does this mean that the glory had not really returned?  Does this mean that the exile was still ongoing?  Why is there no visible glory?

Those specific questions raise larger ones about the progress of redemptive history.  Calvin followed the mainstream of the Christian tradition when he wrote that the progress from Old to New was a progress from the physical, earthly and temporal to the spiritual, heavenly and eternal (Institutes 2.11).  To be sure, that language is found the New Testament, which speaks of “spiritual sacrifices” (1 Peter 2:5) and “spiritual good and drink” (1 Corinthians 10:3-4) and a covenant of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:6).

Yet that language is often misunderstood. In describing the “spiritual” realities of the New Covenant, the New Testament writers are not highlighting the immateriality of the new but the role of the Spirit in giving, empowering, guiding, renewing.  Spiritual food is not non-food, but food that communicates the Spirit by the Spirit.  A Spiritual sacrifice is still physical, involving bodily actions and audible sounds, but it is a sacrifice enlivened by the breath of God.

Focusing on the progress of the temple helps to guard against the Gnosticizing tendency of some traditional hermeneutics.  The Old Testament does not record a progress from visible to invisible glory, nor from visible to invisible temple.  The progression is from a temple of stone to a temple of flesh.  Over the course of centuries, Yahweh prepared Israel to become His human house.

Zechariah helps us see this.  In Zechariah 8:3, Yahweh promises, “I will return to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem.  Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth, and the mountain of Yahweh of hosts will be called the Holy Mountain.”  Just a few verses later, at the end of the section, He says, “I will bring [My people] back and they will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem and I will be their God in truth and righteousness” (8:8).

Yahweh will return in glory to dwell in the city and temple that He abandoned, but Zechariah tells us what form this glory will take.  When Yahweh returns, no one will see a cloud of angels.  No whirlwind or as a fiery pillar will be observed.  Rather, He will come in the form of His people: Yahweh will “dwell in the midst of Jerusalem” because He will be in and among His people who “dwell in the midst of Jerusalem.”  Yahweh’s glory that consecrates the new house will be the glorious people of Yahweh who have been glorified by His presence.

That process is immeasurably deepened with the coming of Christ.  At the conception of Jesus, the Spirit forms the flesh of the incarnate Son in the womb of Mary.  The body of Jesus is the temple of the Spirit, consecrated by the glory of God.  Jesus is also the glory of the Father.  Glory, temple, people were separated in the Old Covenant.  The temple was made of stone, the glory filled it, the people stood outside.  In the New, these three are one in Jesus, who is the temple and glory and Israel personified.

And when the Spirit falls at Pentecost, He incorporates the church into that incarnate Son.  In Christ by the Spirit, we are the living temple of God.  In Christ by the Spirit, we are the cloud of glory around the Father’s throne.  With Israel’s return from exile we see the first stage in the “humanization” of the temple and glory of Yahweh.  At the return from exile, we see the beginning of a new movement that is consummated in the church after Pentecost, a process that might be called (cautiously and analogously, not technically) the “incarnation” of the Spirit in the flesh of Israel.

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