It has always been God's intention to dwell with mankind. It was His plan from the very beginning, when He walked with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. His presence was with them – He walked with them.
But then the snake came in. The enemy always tries to undermine your relationship with God and to disconnect you from it. Once Adam and Eve believed the snake's lie and sinned, they were banished from the garden – from the place where God dwelt – but even right back then, God promised that one day heaven and earth would once again be joined up and the presence of God would once again return to mankind.
God starts to do this with Abraham, taking hold of him and his family and blessing them. They go through ups and downs, including slavery in Egypt. But God promises to dwell with them again, among them, in the tabernacle. This was a foretaste of what was to come.
Later, when they were in the Promised Land, they made a physical representation of the tabernacle – when Solomon dedicated the temple, God's glory came. But only one man, once a year, could go into the heart of the temple where the presence of God dwelt. All of this was foreshadowing Jesus.
God told them that if they didn't follow His ways – His good ways for living – that He would remove His presence. And that's exactly what happened. The presence of God left the temple, and there's no record in the Bible of the glory returning when the Israelites rebuilt the temple. In fact, those who had seen the first temple wept when the rebuild was finished, because God's presence wasn't there.
But God promised it would return, and 400 years later shepherds suddenly saw the glory of the Lord when angels appeared and announced the arrival of the Messiah, Jesus. And Jesus lived with the knowledge that He was the glory of God on earth – He was the temple in person, the One who hosted the presence of God, who connected heaven with earth once again. His disciple John described Him as coming to dwell among us – the word is 'tabernacled'; in the Message version it says He pitched His tent among us.
When Jesus cleared out the temple, it was a direct challenge on the temple's authority, and it was this that eventually cost Him His life. Whatever the temple stood for, Jesus referred to Himself as: Jesus said He was the way to God. This was outrageous! Instead of going to the temple, Jesus said: "Come to me." He walked around doing temple business – healing the sick, forgiving sins, and offering Himself as a sacrifice.
When Jesus died on the cross, He said: "It is finished!" And as He died, the temple curtain was torn from top to bottom, no longer barring entrance to the place where God's presence could be found. The barrier between heaven and earth was removed and now the new temple, the new place where God would dwell, could be built. That place is in every believer.
What marks us out as believers, more than anything, is that we carry God's presence – we are indwelt with the Holy Spirit. We are now "living stones" being built in a temple (1 Peter 2:5, 9; 1 Corinthians 3:9, 16). This is who we are: together we are the temple, the place of God's dwelling. That's why we plant churches and want to see churches grow – to fulfil the promise of the Lord that one day, as the waters cover the sea, so the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will cover the whole earth. How's God going to do it? Through you!
We need to treasure the fact that we are, collectively, the temple of God. God lives and dwells within us. We need to value His presence among us. Don't dial it down! Jesus is the Light of the World and He told His disciples that we are now the light of the world. We are called to do good works! "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." (1 Peter 2:12)
We are those who carry the presence of God – we are all like 'mobile temples', all called to do temple business wherever we are, because we carry the presence of God with us!Download the sermon on this subject here.