The Sanctuary of God

Apart from the contacts between Jesus and the early church with the priestly authorities from the Temple, the New Testament shows minimal interest in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. More frequent are the applications of temple language to the New Covenant community inaugurated by Jesus and built by his Apostles. What the Temple and the Tabernacle foreshowed is coming to fruition in the “Body of Christ.”

The Apostle Paul, for example, applies the Greek term translated as “Sanctuary of God” to the Assembly in the city of Corinth, and he uses related terms when describing other congregations.

Many similar terms applied by the New Testament to the Church are from the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible when it describes the Tabernacle or the later Temple complex in Jerusalem.

Church Iceland - Photo by Sigurdur Fjalar Jonsson on Unspla
[Photo by Sigurdur Fjalar Jonsson on Unsplash]

While Paul’s language is metaphorical, it illustrates the identity of God’s people under the New Covenant. In his epistles, the English term “
Sanctuary of God” translates the Greek clause, ton naon tou theou, and the noun naos means “sanctuary.” Most often in the Septuagint, it referred to the inner sanctum, the sanctuary proper, and not the entire Temple complex.

Paul applied the term to the local congregation four times in his two letters to the Corinthians. Once he used the noun naos by itself in Ephesians for the Church that consisted of Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus:

  • (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) - “Know you not that you are a SANCTUARY OF GOD, and that the Spirit of God dwells within you? If anyone mars the sanctuary of God, He will mar him, for the sanctuary of God is holy, and such are you – (compare 1 Corinthians 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16).
  • (Ephesians 2:19-22) - “Hence, then, no longer are you strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow-citizens of the saints, and members of the household of God, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, there being for chief corner stone Jesus Christ himself in whom an entire building is in the process of being fitly joined together and growing into a HOLY SANCTUARY in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a habitation of God in the Spirit.

In the last passage, Paul mixes his metaphors. The Assembly DOES NOT consist of men made of stones or goatskins. Tents and stone buildings do not “grow.”

None of this means that his language was not serious, or that he was not describing genuine realities brought into existence by Jesus. The Church is not a building but the assembly of the saints of God wherever they come together for prayer and worship.

The local assembly is the “Sanctuary” of God because, like the ancient Tabernacle and Temple, it is where the presence of God dwells (the “habitation of God in the Spirit”). His presence makes it “holy,” and therefore, something not to be violated, sullied, disrespected, or otherwise desecrated.

THE SANCTUARY IS HOLY


The language about preserving the holiness of the “Sanctuary” and the punishment that awaits anyone who “defiles” the Temple reflects the purity regulations for the Tabernacle found in the Torah. For example, Numbers 19:20 reads:

  • But the man that shall be unclean, and shall not purify himself, that soul shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly BECAUSE HE HAS DEFILED THE SANCTUARY OF YAHWEH.”

In his second letter to the Corinthians, The Apostle Paul is quite explicit:

  • And what concord has Christ with Belial, or what portion has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the SANCTUARY OF GOD with idols? For we are a SANCTUARY OF THE LIVING GOD; even as God said, I will dwell in them, and I will walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” – (2 Corinthians 6:15-17).

Paul summoned believers to live holy lives by learning to remain “separate” from sin and idolatry. As before, he identified the local congregation as the “Sanctuary of God,” and the place where He dwells. To fortify his point, he cited two passages in the Hebrew Bible:

  • (Leviticus 26:11-12) - And I will set my habitation in your midst, and my soul shall not abhor you, But I will walk to and fro in your midst, and will be unto you a God, and you shall be unto me a people.
  • (Jeremiah 31:33) - “For this is the covenant which I will solemnize with the house of Israel after those days, declares Yahweh, I will put my law within them, Yea, on their heart will I write it. Thus will I become their God, and they shall become my people.

Previously, he linked the “Spirit” to the presence of God that now dwells in the Assembly. The Gift of the Spirit possessed by believers demonstrates that God now dwells among His people – Collectively, they constitute the “Sanctuary of God” in each city where they reside.

Church under Stars - Photo by Evgeni Tcherkasski on Unsplash
[Photo by Evgeni Tcherkasski on Unsplash]

Hence, Paul identifies the local assembly of believers as the “
Sanctuary of God,” and that identification is built on promises of the New Covenant found in the Hebrew Bible. As he teaches elsewhere, the institutions of the old covenant were “types” and “glimpses” of the true realities that Jesus is now actualizing in the New Covenant community - (Colossians 2:16-17).

The Tabernacle and the Temple were “types and shadows” of the greater reality of God indwelling His people, so that now, wherever the followers of Jesus are gathered in worship, the Spirit of God is present and working among his people, the “Sanctuary of God.”



RELATED POSTS:
  • One Spirit, One People - (By his death and resurrection, Jesus formed one covenant community - One New Man - based on faith in him, not ethnicity or nationality – Ephesians 2:11-22)
  • Ekklesia - Assembly of God - (The Christian use of the term church or ekklésia is derived from the assembly of Yahweh gathered for worship as described in the Hebrew Bible)
  • Salvation for All - (The Good News announced by Jesus of Nazareth offers salvation and life to men and women of every nation and people)

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