Why Christians Don’t Worship God in Temples Made with Hands
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you…Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father and you in me, and I in you. [And] If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. —John 14:16–18, 19b–20, 23
Few things are as striking, if we have ears to hear, than the words of Jesus, the Galilean Carpenter, written in John 14; for in this chapter we have not only unashamed claims by Jesus to divinity by nature for himself but also the invitation, yea rather, the guarantee of that same divinity by grace extended to those who love him. In John 17:22 Jesus says it this way, “The glory that you have given me I have given them.” This is especially important given the context in which we find Jesus speaking.
John 12 mirrors the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) in that, the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday into the temple, and spending time there, he shows us that Jesus leaves the temple – never to return again. Herein the Holy Spirit hearkens us back to Ezekiel 10 when the glory of the Lord left the temple through the east gate before judgment was declared for wicked leaders. It is therefore as the very “radiance of the glory of God” (Hebrews 1:3) that Jesus leaves the temple signaling its judgment and rejection. “Behold, your house is left to you desolate.” (Matthew 23:38) It is not until Ezekiel, starting in chapter 40, sees a vision of the glorious new temple that the glory of the Lord enters and the shutting of the east gate by which he left – never to leave again and making it forever sanctified.
With that context set, we hear the words of Jesus now with acuteness; for whereas Jesus the glory of God, left the temple, he now promises, as the same glory of God, to indwell these ragtag disciples as he had the temple – for they are the new temple! “In that day you will know that I am in my Father and you in me, and I in you.” (John 14:20) Instead though, of being like a lifeless building, they will live when indwelt because of him. “Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19b) The same Spirit who rested on and anointed kings and moved prophets to speak and write – the same Spirit who moved Ezekiel to see the glory leaving the old and entering the new temple – it is this same Spirit of God who would be with and indwell people! “You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:17b) This is one of the glories of the New Covenant to which Hebrews 8:13 speaks to saying, “In speaking of a New Covenant, [Jesus] makes [the Old Covenant and the temple with it] obsolete.”
Mary the Virgin, the birth-giver to Jesus, our God in the flesh, was the first to experience this indwelling and sealing of the East Gate (Ezekiel 44: 1-3; Matthew 1:25). Then on the day of that first Pentecostal Feast after Christ’s Ascension, Jesus fulfilled his promise to not abandon all of his disciples. “I will not leave you as orphans.” (John 14:18a). “The Helper…the Spirit of Truth” (John 14:16, 17) was sent by Jesus, as a precursor to his glorious bodily return and his very own presence with them. “I will come to you… In that day you will know that I am…in you.” (John 14:18b, 20) And because the Spirit “proceeds from the Father” as source (John 15:26) the Spirit is also the very presence of the Father. Together, by the Spirit, the Father and the Son bring the presence of divine love that they share into the very heart of the believer that we may share in that loving relationship as well. “In that day you will know that I am in my Father …and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:20, 23)
The Spirit indwells them forever (the Father… will give you another Helper, to be with you forever [John 14:16]) to thereby make them, by grace, partakers of the life of God. As it is written, “he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Peter 1:4) And now, via baptism into Christ by faith and into the Holy Spirit, the whole Church in heaven and on earth lives in this reality.
[[ Side note: This is why Orthodox Christians accept relics as conduits of divine grace. This is also why Orthodox Christians bury our dead and do not practice cremation. The Holy Spirit ever indwells the believer bodily. ]]
This reality is the doctrine which the Apostle Paul takes up as ‘glorification’ – that is, the indwelling of God in the believer, the adoption into both Israel’s and, Jesus’ enveloping divine Sonship and receiving immortality in our physical bodies. “…your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you.” (1 Corinthians 6:19a) We become heirs of the Kingdom of God, the living temple of the living God; becoming by grace what God is by nature.
The Apostle John further records the words of Jesus saying:
The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. —Revelation 3:12
With all of these blessed truths and glories it becomes clear why Christians then do not and cannot worship in earthly temples. “The Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands…” (Acts 7:48, 17:24) Aside from the heavenly temple in which Christ our only High Priest ministers, we have no temple that can be made with hands in which to worship – for we are the temple! We have buildings in which we gather to worship but be sure, they are not temples. In fact, if we are to be accurate, we do not worship in churches. We are the Church that gathers for worship!
This does not mean we do not have sacred space that have been consecrated for worship. We do indeed have sanctified space. As we pray in the Divine Liturgy, “For this holy house…let us pray to the Lord.” We worship in Bethel, the house of the Lord; for now, the shadow of the Old Bethel gives way to the True Bethel. Each sanctuary of worship is an outpost on earth of the True Bethel, the house of the Lord in heaven.
This holy house of worship communicates two truths: First, we see the familial truth of the Body of Christ gathered around a common Table. The Eucharist is the expression of our unity. Second, is the kingdom truth that we have gathered in house of the King, that is, the palace, to worship the One True God.
Let us worship God in every place of his dominion. Let us ascribe glory to his name. Let us walk in a manner that is suitable to house the Holy Spirit. Let us reverence God and imitate him as we find him in fellow Christians. And let us marvel at the God who would dare to love us enough to offer us not only his blessings but his very self. Glory to you Father, Son and Holy Spirit – One God. Glory to you.