By Timothy Rucker
Last week’s post detailed the New Testament’s use of New Covenant Temple imagery. Today’s post looks at some implications of this imagery for our lives as Christians today.
The Church is the New Covenant Temple (NCT) on earth. The “already” of the NCT strongly influences its moral exhortation to holy living, and the “not yet” gives eschatological hope for sacrificial living. These are each explored below.
A Moral Exhortation for Holy Living
In the “already,” New Testament authors employ NCT imagery to admonish their readers to live wholly consecrated lives to YHWH. As the Holy Place of the NCT, the Church is the locus of God’s presence on earth under the New Covenant, and one’s actions have extra weight when they are performed in the temple. Through the presence and work of the Holy Spirit, the Church’s character should mirror YHWH’s.
Following are two key passages that connect NCT language and holy living.
In 1 Pet. 2:1-12, Peter sandwiches his moral exhortations around obvious NCT language. Jesus is the “living stone,” and those who believe on him become as “living stones” being built into a spiritual house and a holy priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5). Peter then clarifies the building plan for these living stones by quoting from Isa. 28:16, Ps. 118:22, and Isa. 8:14 in succession: they are not just being built up as any other house, they are being built up as the NCT. Their priesthood is not only holy (2:5), but also royal (2:9), therefore, they must keep away from passions of the flesh.
In 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1, Paul begins by listing several dichotomies for why members of the Corinthian church should not be unequally yoked with unbelievers (6:14-16a). His closing dichotomy is between the temple of God and idols. Since the holy and living God dwells in the Church, the members of the Church should take every precaution in order to be holy. God’s presence is a great promise, but his presence should also create a healthy fear among his people (2 Cor. 7:1). The Church is the official place on earth where YHWH is worshipped, and all other temples, religions, and gods are treason. Therefore, individual believers should be characterized by their consecration to YHWH.
Eschatological Hope for Sacrificial Living
The NCT’s “not yet” aspects help to provide the hope needed by YHWH’s people in order to live as sacrifices in two ways: (1) expanding the sacred space of the earthly Holy Place (evangelism), and (2) caring for the NCT on earth (building up other saints, i.e. sanctification).
The Holy Spirit not only binds the Church together as the NCT’s Holy Place, but also empowers the Church to continue Christ Jesus’ mission to reconcile creation through sacrificial love (2 Cor. 5:16-6:13). In other words, YHWH’s reconciled sacred space is expanded through the Spirit-empowered sacrifice of his people. YHWH’s priests are to serve by being living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1).
Similar to Hezekiah in 2 Chr. 29:3-19, YHWH opens doors (temple doors) to potential sacred space, and he bids his priests to enter and to serve, trusting that he will provide what they need in difficult circumstances (Rev. 3:8). Those who conquer, by the empowerment of the Spirit, will be made pillars in the temple of God and will have the name of the New Jerusalem and Jesus written on them (Rev. 3:12).
The hope of being part of the future consummation of the NCT should drive the Church to sacrifice for those in need as the Lord leads. The Church as the NCT on earth has a mission to reclaim creation as sacred space for YHWH, but – at the same time, as the NCT on earth – the Church must also allocate appropriate energies inwardly as well.
Not only is the Church part of the expansion of the NCT’s Holy Place through sacrificial living, but also, the Spirit uses the members of the Church to build itself up (1 Cor. 14:12). The Church should continually care for its members, for in doing so, the Church is actually caring for the hallmark of Jesus’ kingdom: YHWH’s NCT. Until the king returns, the Church should be more dedicated to the NCT than the faithful Davidic kings of the past were to the OCT because she knows that in caring for herself, she is a partaking in YHWH’s work and mission on earth. YHWH will bring it to completion (Philip. 1:6).
All in all, the Church should emphasize both (1) holiness for its members in order to be a pure and spotless Bride, and (2) sacrificial living to expand and care for the NCT on earth. The Spirit is once again making a new creation as the dwelling place of God – through the Church – as the NCT is being expanded and built up. The final consummation is coming, and the NCT eagerly awaits its rest in the undisputed coronation of Christ.
The New Testament authors employed NCT imagery throughout the New Testament in order to morally exhort the Church to holiness and to provide eschatological hope for sacrificial living. The New Testament authors believed that this language was especially effective because it accurately described the current inaugurated eschatology of God’s kingdom, and how humanity was being reconciled to its creator.
The Church’s privilege of being the NCT has many theological implications: it is the official place to worship YHWH, the sign to all of YHWH’s enemies that they stand no chance (Eph. 3:10), and the community where humanity is beginning to realize its goal. The NCT and the kingdom of God are both “already but not yet,” which will not be fully consummated until Christ Jesus returns.
Come Lord Jesus!
Timothy Rucker earned a Th.M. degree from Western Seminary. He currently lives in the Tampa Bay Area with his family, where he worships with and serves the congregation of Keene Terrace Baptist Church.