We tend to think of the Old Testament tabernacle and temple as places where the people came to worship God. While it’s true that worship occurred there, and rightly so, the tabernacle and temple were the places God chose to be present.
After painstakingly following God’s instructions concerning the construction and equipping of the tabernacle in the wilderness, Exodus 40:34-35 describes God’s presence in the form of a cloud moving in and inhabiting the place.
Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
Later, under King Solomon a great temple was built. In 1 Kings 8:10-11, once again, God’s presence in the form of a cloud, moves in and inhabits the place.
And it came to pass, when the priests came out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.
In the New Testament, Jesus asserts that He is the temple, not the building where worship occurred, but the physical presence of God.
Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. John 2:19-21
After Jesus ascended to heaven, what happened to the presence of God? An amazing thing happened. God chose to dwell in individual believers. We became the temple of God.
Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17
Often we read these verses as an encouragement to eat our veggies and exercise, or an admonition not to smoke or drink. Gotta take care of the temple, after all. And yes, we should be good stewards of the body, health and life God has entrusted to us, but being a temple is so much more.
Remember the temple is where God dwells. God has chosen to live IN us. Not in a faraway place. Not a place we only visit a few times a year. IN us. As wondrous as the Incarnation is, the Indwelling is even more marvelous. The glory that filled the tabernacle, the glory that filled the temple … lives in us. Moses couldn’t go inside, the priests couldn’t minister because the glory was too much. That glory was displayed on the cross, and revealed in resurrection three days later.
That glory lives in us.