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The topic of God’s temple isn’t just an Old Testamentpreoccupation. The gospels are full of references to the temple in Jerusalem, and on at least one occasion, Jesus drew a parallel between it and his own body: “Destroy this temple and in three days, I will raise it up,” he said. John, who included this detail in his gospel, goes on to explain, “He was speaking of his body. Therefore, when he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this to them, and they believed the Scriptures and the word that Jesus said to them” (John 2: 19, 21-22 NKJV with all ref. below). Paul would later develop the point, saying: “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you have been bought at a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s (I Cor 6: 19-20).
Christians have many reasons to pay close attention when the Bible speaks of God’s temple. In the Jewish community, the loss of the temple, first to Babylonian conquest (586 BC) then to the Romans (70 AD), was tragedy indeed. It still is. In fact, the Ninth of Av, or Tisha B’Avwhich was August 6-7 this year, is a time of general mourning. Expressions of grief have become a tradition—sitting on nothing higher than a low stool or even on the floor, for example, or eating bread dipped in ashes. “In Israel, restaurants and places of entertainment are closed on the eve of Tisha B’Av and the following day by law. Establishments that break the law are subject to fines” (“Tisha B’Av,”Wikipedia).
This month, whether we think of the loss the God’s temple or follow with interest news stories about actual preparations for another temple to be built at some point in Jerusalem, for Christians the overriding significance of the temple topic is Jesus’s reference to his own body as thetemple. Paul’s further explanation of the point is a vivid reminder that we are precious to God–in fact, a locus of worship! Indeed, we have, in Paul’s words, “been bought with a price,” and we are to honor God both with spirit and withbody.
What does it mean to view one’s body as “the temple of the Holy Spirit”? In the broadest sense, of course, Paul is explaining the nearness of God to a person who has received Jesus Christ as his or her Savior. Preachers refer to the “indwelling Holy Spirit” and the expression is apt. I don’t know of a better way to put this astonishing truth. When we acknowledge that all humans sin, ourselves no exception, and worse, that we sin by our own constant choosing as well, the gospel message comes alive: “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief,” Paul declares (I Tim 1: 15).
When Paul calls himself the “chief of sinners,” we can readily take his words as our own. Whether or not we want to admit it, we all know more about our own sins than those of anyone else. Indeed, without Jesus Christ, the guilt, blame, shame, regret, anxiety, and grief typical of human misery would plague us to one degree or another—in fact, all the time. It is a glorious actuality that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. To be able to approach God, to know the great Creator as our Father as Jesus taught us, would be impossible apart from the cross. “The life of the flesh is in the blood,” Scripture says: “for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” (Lev 17: 11). This is why Christians revere the cross and sing hymns about the blood. John the Baptist explained all this in biblical terms that still apply: “The next day, John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’” (John 1: 29).
And all this is just the beginning. With salvation, wedon’t just have pardon, release and cleansing, we have theSpirit as a gift! This fact is the basis of Paul’s description of the human body—his, in particular—as the temple of the Holy Spirit. Luke speaks of the gift Cornelius received with salvation: “the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also” (Acts 10:45b). The Spirit of God is his giftto us. The gift is for life and for fellowship. The Spirit is Teacher, Counselor, Comforter. Each word describes the Spirit’s work in us. When Jesus called his body “the temple,”he clarified what salvation fully means.