God’s Dwelling-place with Men through the Ages

Malcolm C. Davis, Leeds, England

First of all, we need to consider the reason why God requires a dwelling-place with men. For God is Spirit and omnipresent, and therefore in ideal conditions needs no special dwelling-place within His creation, as Solomon recognised in his prayer at the dedication of the Temple in 1 Kings chapter 8 verse 27. Certainly, because He is Love, God desires to share Himself with His creature man and used to delight to commune with Adam in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day, according to Genesis chapter 3 verse 8. But because He is also Light, absolutely pure and good, ever since the Fall of Man in Adam he cannot dwell with man unless man’s sin is put away and forgiven. Separation from sin is necessary for fellowship with God. Therefore, through the ages of time God in His infinite love and grace has designed successive sanctuaries, places or people who are separated to Himself from the rest of the sinful world, in which or in whom He can dwell and so have fellowship with men consistently with His holy character.

Secondly, let us consider the eight successive dwelling-places of God with men through the ages as recorded in Scripture. These are as follows:-

  1. The Tabernacle in Israel
  2. Solomon’s Temple
  3. Christ, the Son of God incarnate
  4. The Church Universal
  5. The Local Church
  6. The Individual Christian
  7. The Millennial Temple in Jerusalem, and
  8. The New Jerusalem

The first two were material, past, and foreshadowed the next four, which are personal and present. The present four will become associated with, or part of, the last two, which will be material and future. All but (3) and (8) will have been marred by man’s sin. The central vessel in the Tabernacle, the ark of the covenant, was separated from it, lost to Israel’s enemies, and, even when recovered, kept separate until the Temple was built. Solomon’s Temple was destroyed in 586 BC by the Babylonians, and its vessels taken into captivity; the ark of the covenant never returned. No other material temple since then has been indwelt by the Lord. Instead, He indwells Christ in His incarnation, the Church universal and local, and every Christian believer in the Church age. Men rejected and crucified Christ, although He rose from the dead. Worldwide the Church has been divided, the local church defiled by sin and false doctrine, as have individual Christians. The Lord’s glory will only return to the earth in the Millennial Temple, which will give way in eternity to the New Jerusalem. Then there will be no separate sanctuary, because there will be no more sin to divide, defile, or disturb God’s holiness. In the beginning of creation this was true, and it will be so in the eternal state, when righteousness will at last dwell in the new heavens and the new earth.

Now, thirdly, let us consider in more detail the Tabernacle in the wilderness and Solomon’s Temple, the two past material dwelling-places of God’s glory, and see how they foreshadow God’s present dwelling-places with men. For the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says that the Tabernacle was a visible copy or pattern of God’s true dwelling-place in heaven. It illustrates both the basic principles according to which God can dwell with men and the Person of Christ incarnate in His humiliation. The Temple, on the other hand, illustrates Christ in His exalted glory. In particular, these sanctuaries foreshadow the glories of the Person of Christ in their materials; the plan of salvation in their ritual and offerings; and the way of approach into the immediate presence of God through Christ in their physical arrangement.

For, as to the glories of Christ’s Person, the fine gold used in both structures speaks clearly of His deity. The shittim or acacia wood of the Tabernacle speaks of Christ’s sinless humanity in His earthly life; whereas the cedar wood in the Temple speaks of His glorified manhood. The innermost curtain covering the structure of the Tabernacle sanctuary is itself called ‘the Tabernacle’ in Exodus chapter 26 verse 1, and the four different materials of which it was made up typify various aspects of Christ’s glory in incarnation as portrayed in the four Gospels. The fine-twined linen represents His perfect Manhood as found in Luke; the blue speaks of His heavenly origin and deity as found in John; the purple probably speaks of His royal kingship as found in Matthew; the scarlet speaks of His sacrificial service as found in Mark; and the interwoven pattern of cherubim speaks of His character as the divinely-appointed Son of Man to judge the world.

Furthermore, as to the plan of salvation, Leviticus chapters 1-5 details the main offerings made in the Tabernacle ritual. Each of them conveys to us a different aspect of the Lord’s sacrifice at Calvary, again corresponding to the different emphases in the four Gospels: the trespass-offering in Matthew; the sin-offering in Mark; the peace-offering in Luke; the burnt offering in John; the meal-offering being their common theme of our Lord’s sinless life on earth. Again, Leviticus chapter 16 details the ritual of the annual Day of Atonement, and at the end of Hebrews chapter 9 the writer indicates how this foreshadowed the three appearing of the Lord in God’s plan of salvation: first, in this world to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself; then in the presence of God in heaven to intercede for believers now as our Great High Priest; and thirdly, in this world again to save all believers and His ancient people Israel from the presence of sin. Finally, Leviticus chapter 23 in its record of the seven successive feasts of the Lord clearly foreshadows the plan of the ages in God’s redemptive programme from the death of Christ to the eternal state.

As to our way of approach through Christ into the immediate presence of God, the Tabernacle and Temple structure and furniture quite clearly portray this truth. God will only dwell with a people already redeemed by blood and by power from the penalty and the power of sin. Christ is our Passover Lamb, the only Door and Way to the Father like the Tabernacle gate. Those who approach must be cleansed judicially by the sacrifice of Christ as on the brazen altar, representing the cross, and morally as at the brazen laver by regeneration initially, and then daily with hands and feet only like the priests in the Tabernacle and Temple courts. Today all believers are priests and can enter the holy place in spirit, to worship as at the golden altar of incense in the merits of Christ’s name. Such are enlightened there by Christ as the true Light as seen in the golden lampstand and sustained by Christ as the Bread of life as at the table of shewbread. The inner veil represents Christ’s body which was rent in death, so that all believers today are invited to enter in spirit the most holy place where God’s holy throne is, as represented by the ark of the covenant with its golden mercy seat. Here we can, like Moses, commune with the Lord in the full light of His immediate presence in the cloud of His glory.

Turning now from these Old Testament and past dwelling-places of God, let us consider His four present and personal dwelling-places in our own times, and in everyday experience today. For these are the realities that the Tabernacle and Temple only foreshadowed in type.

First, there is the Person of Christ, the Son of God, incarnate. John chapter 1 verse 14 states quite clearly that ‘the Word’, who is Christ the eternal Son of God, ‘became flesh and pitched His tent among us’, just like the Old Testament Tabernacle. Christ is ‘verily God, yet become truly human’, and He was fully indwelt and controlled by the Holy Spirit from His conception and birth. In John chapter 2 verses 18-22 the Lord Himself spoke of ‘the temple of His body’; for during His life on earth Herod’s new temple building was never God’s dwelling-place with men, but rather His dwelling-place was Christ’s sinless body, which men tried to destroy by crucifixion, but God raised again the third day. And in Colossians chapter 2 verse 9 the apostle Paul asserts regarding the person of Christ that all the fullness, that is, all the divine attributes and characteristics of Deity, are now permanently resident in Christ bodily. For in His incarnation God the Son became perfect Man forever without detracting in any way from His deity. He simple became more than He had been before, adding redemptive and moral glory to His intrinsic eternal glory. He is truly our ‘Immanuel’, ‘God with us’.

 Secondly, there is the Church universal or dispensational, comprising all true believers in Christ from Pentecost to the Rapture. In Ephesians chapter 2 verses 20-22 this is likened to the Temple of Tabernacle structure, being ‘fitly framed together’, and growing into a holy temple in the Lord, where worship is a priority, and into a habitation of God through the Spirit, this being God’s dwelling-place today. The Church universal is Christ’s Body, His fullness or complement, of which He is the head in heaven, and in which His Spirit dwells permanently. This is the heavenly people of God today, founded on the chief corner-stone, Christ Himself, and the foundation of the New Testament apostles and prophets. Let us maintain the unity of the one true Body of Christ formed on the Day of Pentecost, Eph. 4. 3.

Thirdly, the local church is also spoken of as God’s dwelling-place in 1 Corinthians chapter 3 verses 16-17 and 2 Corinthians chapter 6 verse 16. For this is ideally the representation and expression of the one true Body of Christ on earth in various geographical localities. We are held responsible not to mar it by ungodly conduct, false doctrine, or wrong association with the world, but to contribute to its growth by the exercise of our differing spiritual gifts.

Fourthly, in 1 Corinthians chapter 6 verses 19-20 the apostle Paul speaks of the individual Christian believer’s body as the temple and dwelling-place of God by His Holy Spirit. We are held responsible to avoid its defilement, and instead to cultivate godly character by allowing the indwelling Holy Spirit to fill and control it constantly, and thus produce the fruit of the Spirit – Christlike character – and not the works of the flesh.

The final part of this paper concerns the two future dwelling-places of God with men, namely, the Millennial Temple in the earthly Jerusalem and the New Jerusalem above the millennial earth and in the eternal state beyond the dissolution of the present heavens and earth.

(a) The prophecy of Ezekiel describes in great detail the Millennial Temple, and in Ezekiel chapter 43 verses 4-5 prophesies the return of the glory of the Lord to this future temple in Jerusalem at the beginning of the millennial kingdom of Christ on earth. In that day of the Lord, God will again be dealing with His earthly people Israel after the judgements of the Great Tribulation and His Second Advent to deliver them from their foes. In this Millennial Temple there will be memorial animal sacrifices to remind men of Calvary, similar to the Lord’s Supper celebrated today in local churches to remind Christian believers in the Church age of the basis of our redemption in the Person and work of Christ on the cross. The name of the city of Jerusalem in the Millennium is given in the last verse of Ezekiel chapter 48; it is Jehovah Shammah, which means ‘The Lord is there’.

(b) But the ultimate and eternal dwelling-place of God with all who are redeemed from all ages of time is only described in the book of Revelation chapter 21 as the New Jerusalem in the new heavens and the new earth. Restored and redeemed Israel, and Gentile believers from the Millennial age, will populate the new earth, while the Church as the Bride of Christ, including every individual Christian from the present age of grace, will become part of this scene in a specially privileged place of nearness to Christ in the heavenly city. Since the New Jerusalem will never again be disturbed by sin, there will no longer be any need for a special separated sanctuary, because all will be holy and like the Lord. The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb will be the temple of the New Jerusalem, the sphere, subject, and object of its worship for all eternity. Thus God’s original desire to dwell with men and to enjoy fellowship with them will then at last be realised, and His great plan of redemption based on the blood of Christ at Calvary fulfilled and perfected.

In conclusion, therefore, it remains to say that we as New Testament believers, part of the Church of Christ, should live in the light of these truths and, both in local assembly fellowship and as individual Christians, recognise that we are temples of the Holy Spirit, saved from sin and belonging to God, responsible to live in this our own day for God’s worship and glory alone.

This article was first published in Precious Seed, Volume 52, No. 4, August-October 1997, pp. 104-108. The author has corrected part of the interpretation of the significance of the colours in the Tabernacle veil in relation to the character of Christ in the four Gospels to the wording of his original manuscript. This interpretation has been confirmed by another respected writer on the same subject quite independently since the article was written. The editor had put a footnote about his alteration, which involved omitting part of the sentence as submitted to him, indicating that there was some difference of view on the matter.