What Dispensationalism Misses About The Temple

When Jesus declared, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here,” (Matthew 12:6) and then told a Samaritan woman that he can give her “living water” (John 4:10-14), we are given a major clue that the pre-messianic understanding of God’s temple must be reinterpreted in the light of Jesus’ messianic mission.

The temple occupies a significant place in the witness of Israel’s prophets regarding God’s future eschatological blessing for the nation. This witness points forward to the coming of Jesus. When Jesus connects his mission to this prophetic expectation, we are greatly aided in our understanding of the nature and character of the millennial age as a present reality—not a future hope.

We begin with the Old Testament expectation regarding the temple in Jerusalem at the commencement of the era of “Second Temple” Judaism. Isaiah (2:2-4) and (Micah 4:1-5), both speak of God’s future blessing upon Israel in the last days, depicting it as a time when God’s people will go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the rebuilt and reconsecrated temple, where God’s people will once again renew themselves in the ways of the Lord.

In Isaiah 56, the prophet speaks of those who hold fast to God’s covenant (v. 4), and who love the name of the Lord and keep his Sabbaths (vv. 6-8). They will be brought to the holy mountain and house of the Lord, which is the temple and the house of prayer for all the nations (v. 7). A similar vision is given in Isaiah 66:20-21. Isaiah speaks of how the Israelites will bring their grain offerings to God’s temple, as God renews the priesthood (vv. 20-21). In Zechariah’s prophetic vision, we are told that one day the sacrifices of Israel will once again be offered and will be acceptable to God (Zechariah 14:16-19).

With such prophetic expectation in the minds of virtually every Jew living in first century Palestine, it is no wonder that Jesus’ declaration of God’s coming judgment upon the magnificent temple as rebuilt by Herod came as both a shock and an offense. “Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2). How dare this man say that the prophetic expectation of a glorious temple is fulfilled in his own person. Jesus challenged this misguided expectation, by declaring “destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). It was not until after Jesus had died and was raised from the dead, that the meaning of these words became clear; when Jesus spoke of the destruction of the temple, he was speaking of his own body (John 2:22). This self-identification is what he meant when he said that one greater than the temple is here! Read more»

Kim Riddlebarger | “Jesus Christ—The True Temple” | December 8, 2021

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3 comments

  1. It’s interesting that KR seems to be saying that Jesus fulfills the OT expectation via His mystical body being the true temple. That’s true, but I would have expected KR to explain that Jesus Himself is first of all the true temple by virtue of the hypostatic union (e.g., Colossians 2:9). I realize KR believes that, but it seems curious that he would omit it here.

  2. I love all of this. In last night’s Bible study we went over the idea that the temple is the vineyard (Mark 11 & 12). In Isaiah 5 the vineyard was destroyed, but in Mark 12 the vineyard was given to others. And in Mark 12 this connection is made explicit: “What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this Scripture: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.'”

    So we see that vineyard being given to others IS the rejected stone becoming the cornerstone.

    He is the vine, we are the branches being built into a vineyard.
    He is the rejected cornerstone building us into a living temple.

    KR says that ” through the indwelling Holy Spirit, the glory of the Lord filled his true temple, the church.” That’s 1 Peter 2 4-8, even without citations.

  3. This is why we need to return to a solid understanding of Covenant Theology and Eschatology. It knocks away all the dust and cobwebs of unnecessary speculations and unedifying fearmongering about whether we are soon to be raptured away or not. Dispensationalism was my background and the more I studied, the more I came to a realization that Christ is presently sitting on his throne here and now (Acts 2:30-36) and the devil is presently cast out (John 12:31).

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