The Temple & The Church’s Mission (Book Highlights)
by G. K. Beale
Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004.
In The Temple and the Church’s Mission, biblical theologian Gregory Beale answers two major questions. First, why does “a new heaven and a new earth” in Revelation 21:1 appear as a garden-like temple (Rev. 21:2–3, Rev. 10–22:3)? Second, how does this vision relate “to Christians and their role in fulfilling the mission of the church” (23–25)?
Beale’s thesis is “that the Old Testament tabernacle and temples were symbolically designed to point to the cosmic eschatological reality that God’s tabernacling presence, formerly limited to the holy of holies, was to be extended throughout the whole earth” (26).
The Symbolism of a Temple
In the first portion of the book, Beale examines the cosmic symbolism found in Old Testament and ancient Near Eastern temples. He argues that “the Garden of Eden was the first archetypal temple, and that it was the model for all subsequent temples . . . the Old Testament tabernacle and temples were symbolical microcosms of the whole creation. As microcosmic symbolic structures they were designed to point to a worldwide eschatological temple that perfectly reflects God’s glory. It is this universally expanded eschatological temple that is pictured in Revelation’s last vision” (26).
As Beale shows, “Ezekiel 28 explicitly calls Eden the first sanctuary, which substantiates that Eden is described as a temple because it is the first temple, albeit a ‘garden-temple.’ Early Judaism confirms this identification. Indeed, it is probable that even the similar ancient Near Eastern temples can trace their roots back to the original primeval garden” (79–80).
The mark of the true church is an expanding witness to the presence of God.
Adam, the kingly gardener, priest, and watchman over Eden, was to subdue the earth as God’s image-bearer (Gen. 1:26–28). Adam and Eve “were to reflect God’s kingship by being his vice-regents on earth” (81). Israel is also depicted as “corporate Adam,” as Beal calls it. “The nation’s task was to do what Adam had first been commissioned to do. Israel failed even as had Adam. And like Adam, Israel was also cast out of their ‘garden land’ into exile” (119–121).
Both Adam and Israel were given the role of expanding God’s temple on the earth: “Eden and the temple signified a divine mandate to enlarge the boundaries of the temple until they formed the borders around the whole earth. Sometimes the thought may be that the entire land of Israel, conceived as a large Garden of Eden, was to be expanded” (123). As Habakkuk writes, “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).
Christ and His Church: The Ultimate Temple
The role given to Adam and Israel—to expand God’s temple into all the earth—is fulfilled in the ultimate Israelite, Jesus Christ, and his church: “The New Testament pictures Christ and the church as finally having done what Adam, Noah, and Israel had failed to do in extending the temple of God’s presence throughout the world. Luke 2:32 and Acts 26:23 picture Christ as fulfilling this commission to be a ‘light’ to the end of the earth (an allusion to the Servant Israel’s commission in Isa. 49:6)” (169). Jesus’ Great Commission promise to go with his disciples to the ends of the earth (Matt. 28) gives further support to this conclusion.
The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, with people from a multitude of languages being drawn in, is a reversal of Babel. Moreover, there are hints of the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy of the new temple at Pentecost: “The coming of the Spirit indicates a shift in redemptive history whereby forgiveness of sins derives from Jesus instead of Israel’s temple priests” (204).
We will not bear fruit unless we stay out of the shadows.
From the letters to the Corinthians, Ephesians, and Colossians, we see that the church is the temple of God. “Just as God’s glory uniquely dwelt in Israel’s old temple, so the glorious attributes of God are to be manifested in the Corinthians both individually and corporately, since they are the new temple. Similarly, the consummated temple in the new creation will perfectly reflect ‘the glory of God (Rev. 21:11), and ‘nothing unclean . . . shall ever come into it’ (Rev. 21:27)” (252). The temple of God has received its fulfillment not in a literal structure but instead in the church.
In Hebrews, Jesus is portrayed as the veil of the heavenly end-time tabernacle as well as the end-time tabernacle itself. Moreover, “Mount Zion” and the “heavenly Jerusalem” are pictured as equivalent to the end-time temple. Significant to this is the fact that “Hebrews 12:22–28 says that believers have begun to participate in an unshakeable mountain, temple, and kingdom, which are different images for the same one reality of God’s glorious kingship in a new creation” (306).
In Revelation, the Eden-like imagery describing the city-temple (Rev. 22:1–3) shows that the building of the temple that began in Genesis 2 but was abandoned will be commenced again and completed in Christ and his people, and will encompass the whole new creation. In addition, the Revelation imagery of lampstands points to the church’s temple-expanding mission: “The church symbolized as a ‘lampstand’ in Revelation 11 represents God’s temple-presence that is given power by ‘the seven lamps’ . . . a power primarily to witness as a light uncompromisingly to the world so that the gates of hell (Rev. 2:9–11, 13) would not prevail against the building of God’s temple. . . . The lampstands represent the church as the true temple and the totality of the people of God witnessing between the period of Christ’s resurrection and his final coming” (327).
The Temple and the Church’s Mission
Beale’s conclusion is that all Christians are now spiritual priests serving God in his temple, of which we are part. As priests we are called to fulfill the role originally given to Adam, “to keep the order and peace of the spiritual sanctuary by learning and teaching God’s word, by praying always, and by being vigilant in keeping out unclean moral and spiritual things,” and to continually offer our own bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1), following the example of Jesus” (398–399). Moreover, “Believers are priests in that they serve as mediators between God and the unbelieving world. When unbelievers accept the church’s mediating witness, they not only come into God’s presence, but they begin to participate themselves as mediating priests who witness” (400).
In conclusion, “We as the church will not bear fruit and grow and extend across the earth in the way God intends unless we stay out of the shadows of the world and remain in the light of God’s presence—in his word and prayer and in fellowship with other believers in the church, the temple of God. The mark of the true church is an expanding witness to the presence of God: first to our families, then to others in the church, then to our neighborhood, then to our city, then the country, and ultimately the whole earth” (401).
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