Monday, February 4
A Tale of Two Temples
This week we begin to pick up the pace as we work our way through Acts, but before we continue much further, let’s pause and observe the forest, rather than peering intently at each individual tree. Throughout the first seven chapters of Acts, Luke alternates between events happening among gathered believers in homes and events happening at the Temple, and he is setting the two up on a collision course. If you have time, you read all of chapters 2-7, but here’s the highlights:
Acts 2:1-4a: When the day of Pentecost had arrived, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like that of a violent rushing wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were staying. 3And tongues, like flames of fire that were divided, appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. . .
Acts 2:46-47: Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, 47praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved. . .
Acts 3:1: Now Peter and John were going up together to the temple complex at the hour of prayer at three in the afternoon. . .
Acts 4:1-4: Now as they were speaking to the people, the priests, the commander of the temple police, and the Sadducees confronted them, 2because they were annoyed that they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3So they seized them and put them in custody until the next day, since it was already evening. 4But many of those who heard the message believed, and the number of the men came to about 5,000. . .
Acts 5:17-21a: Then the high priest took action. He and all his colleagues, those who belonged to the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18So they arrested the apostles and put them in the city jail. 19But an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail during the night, brought them out, and said, 20 "Go and stand in the temple complex, and tell the people all about this life." 21In obedience to this, they entered the temple complex at daybreak and began to teach.
Acts 5:42: Every day in the temple complex, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.
In first-century Judaism, the Temple was the center of all religious activity because the Temple was where Yahweh God resided on earth. It was the location where heaven and earth met. The system of sacrifices, offerings, and increasingly restricted spaces separated the holy from the profane—separated God’s perfection from the common, impure, human, death-tinged reality of earth. The system also protected impure humans from the absolute purity of God. This idea of the Temple as God’s residence was not some pagan idea that had infiltrated Judaism, but was initiated by God Himself. After the Israelites left Egypt, while they were still in the desert, God gave instructions for a dwelling that would allow Him to be present on the earth, yet remain separate as His holiness demands. That structure was a movable tent known as the Tabernacle, and when it was completed the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. . . the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and there was a fire inside the cloud by night, visible to the entire house of Israel throughout all the stages of their journey (Exodus 40:34, 38).
Clouds and fire signal the presence of God throughout the Old Testament. From the burning bush to the top of Sinai to the Temple, these dual phenomena are the visible signs of an invisible God’s presence. Centuries after the Tabernacle, Solomon built the Temple as a permanent dwelling, and a similar expression of God’s glory occurred as God filled the Temple. Before that Temple’s destruction in 586 BC, Ezekiel saw a vision of that glory—with cloud and fire—leaving the Temple.
The Temple was eventually rebuilt and once again became the center of Jewish faith and worship. This is the Temple where Luke opens his gospel; Zechariah reports for service at the Temple, and receives word via angel that God is about to enact His salvation plan. The Temple is also where Luke closes his gospel; the disciples gather for prayer and worship there every day, awaiting the power Jesus had promised.
The Temple is not where Luke opens the second part of the story, though. At Pentecost, the believers are not at the Temple—and yet wind and fire descend upon them. Sound familiar? God is back in town, but He’s not staying at His old place. Because of Jesus’ perfect, purifying sacrifice, humans no longer needed to be protected from God’s holy presence. The Temple was no longer the place where earth and heaven met—each Spirit-filled believer was.
The Temple would continue to serve as a meeting place for early believers, but, in the early chapters of Acts, Luke shows the growing conflict between the old Temple—with its systems and powers and priests—and the new Temple—the people of God. The next two weeks, we will read these chapters and see this conflict come to a deadly climax, leaving the old building and systems behind.
Unlike the Gospel of Luke, Acts is no longer a story enclosed by the Temple. It is the story of a new, living, moving, breathing Temple spilling into all nations. God has broken out of His box.
Have you kept God in a box? The Temple is no longer the center of our faith and practice, but have you kept God confined to a physical structure, a system of rules, or to only certain areas of your life? Where is God longing for you to experience His breakthrough into the entire world? Where is He encouraging you to spill out as His presence into all the world?
Holy God, we cannot comprehend that, by Your Son’s death, You have come to reside in each one of us. Your living presence within each believer is a mystery and honor we do not deserve and do not understand. In spite of our deficiencies, fill us with Your presence that we might go out into all the world as ambassadors of Your holy presence. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Pick Four More Activities
Listen and Worship.
Pray a Psalm.
Read a Book.
Retell the Gospel to Yourself.
Take Some Notes on Today's Devotional.
Pray for Yourself, Your Family, Your Church, and the Lost.
Memorize a Verse.
List Five Things You're Thankful For.