Most people rightly see two Temples in the Bible. The first would be the temple constructed by Solomon in 1 Kings and the second would be the Temple of Jesus’ day, originally constructed by the returning exiles under beginning with Ezra/Nehemiah and extensively remodeled by Herod. They are typically referred to as Solomon’s Temple and the Second Temple (or Herod’s Temple). IN reality there are at least 5 “temples” in the Bible. Here are the 5 temples referenced in the Bible:
1. The Garden
2. The Tabernacle
3. Solomon’s Temple, The “First” Temple
4. Herod’s Temple, The “Second” Temple
5. The Church
Two thoughts to form as a foundation for our brief look at temples in the Bible. First, Hebrews 9:23 says that the Temple and Temple furniture were “copies of the things in the heavens.” Second it was common for ancient temples (not just the Jewish temple but many ancient temples) to use the “cosmos” or the universe as the architectural inspiration. The idea was that the heavens (dwelling of the gods) and the earth (dwelling of man) met in the temple. Temples were replications of “the heavens and the earth.”
The First Temple: The Garden
The first three chapters of the Bible contain the creation and fall accounts. The famous opening of the Bible: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth invite us to look at the creation as initially encompassing the two realms. God doesn’t need a place to live, so the heavens as a reference to God’s dwelling place would more be referencing his touch point with humanity and creation. He creates the heavens and earth as the initial and prototypical temple. A place where God meets with and walks with His people.
In Genesis 3:8 we see God looking for Adam and Eve after they sinned. This implies a pattern of meeting. Adam and Eve anticipated His coming and hid. The appearance of God occurs in the cool of the Evening, corresponding with the later practice of evening sacrifices (Psalm 141:2 May my prayer be counted as incense before You; The lifting up of my hands as the evening offering). This practice may have evolved into what we see as the time of prayer in Acts 3:1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer. Since a predominant symbol of the temple was the presence of God, the Garden may be seen as a sort of a temple.
An apparently random reference in the creation/fall account is the information about the location of the Garden:
10 Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers.
11 The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold.
12 The gold of that land is good; the bdellium and the onyx stone are there.
13 The name of the second river is Gihon; it flows around the whole land of Cush.
14 The name of the third river is Tigris; it flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. (Genesis 2:10-14)
There are three options for us to consider when attempting to understand the inclusion of this information. Like all information like this in the Bible, it can hold literal value for us (locating the actual garden, the statement being, this is a real place) or symbolic value (rivers and precious stones and metals stand for something meaningful beyond the literal) or both. For our purposes here I want to emphasize the symbolic value, especially as it relates to temples, and the especially how it connects us to the end of the Bible and John’s symbolic attachments to the New Jerusalem.
The building blocks of temples are precious metals and stones (see 1 Corinthians 3:12, where Paul makes mention of the appropriate building materials for a temple). So possibly this seemingly extraneous detail is intended for us to think about the Garden as having temple properties.
When Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden, angelic guards are placed at the east entrance to Eden. Angelic figures also decorate the Holy of Holies, as the cherubim surround the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. The tabernacle and temple along with their articles contained many representations of cherubim (Exodus 25:17-22; 26:1, 31;36:8; 1 Kings 6:23-35; 7:29-36; 8:6-7; 1 Chronicles 28:18; 2 Chronicles 3:7-14; 2 Chronicles 3:10-13; 5:7-8; Hebrews 9:5). In Solomon’s Temple there were two cherubim 10 cubits high (About 14 feet high) that served as guards to the inner sanctuary.
The entrance is to the east, as was the entrance into the Temple. If the Garden is a temple, then the tree of life/knowledge of good and evil in the center corresponds with the inner sanctuary, God’s dwelling. The sentence of death is the expulsion from God’s presence (spiritual death). The Cherubim restrict entry into the presence of God. Sin has caused a separation.
Finally, if we move forward in the story, the first account we have after expulsion is the sacrifices of Cain and Abel. The connect here is that without sacrifice we don’t gain access back into the presence of God. I could surmise that the sacrifices take place at the entrance to the Garden. Cain and Abel are appealing to God for forgiveness; there is an appropriate and inappropriate form of sacrifice.
All of these items lead us to see the connection between the Garden and the Temple. The Garden is in fact the temple prototype; it is the heavens and earth.
The Second Temple: The Tabernacle
The Tabernacle is the first man made structure to represent the heavens and the earth (the place where heaven and earth meet). Detailed instructions are given for the construction of the Tabernacle in Exodus 25-30 or so and a detailed almost identical accounting of the construction of the temple is given in chapters 35-40.
The Tabernacle could also be referred to as Moses’ temple. The only significant difference is in the mobile nature of the structure. The architectural features as far as layout remain the same. The major idea associated with this temple would be as a symbol of God’s presence with His people and as their guide to the promised land. Up until now the nation followed the “presence” of God as fire and cloud. In order for God to “be” with His people they were to follow His instructions for building the Tabernacle.
Here we have been given the layout for all future Israelite temples. An inner sanctuary (Holy of Holies) where God dwells. The Temple proper, the sanctuary known as the Holy Place. A courtyard surrounded (and protected) the Sanctuary. In this courtyard was a brazen altar for sacrifices and a laver which contained water for ceremonial washing. The entrance to the court of the Tabernacle was to the east. The person offering the sacrifices would not go beyond the altar, he would hand over his sacrifices to the priests who would offer it up for him in the tent/sanctuary proper.
When Moses completed the construction…
then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 36 Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; 37 but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. 38 For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel. (Exodus 40:34-38)
The Third Temple: Solomon’s Temple (commonly referred to as the First Temple)
The description of the building of the Temple of Solomon is found in 1 Kings 5-9.
The description of the temple in the account of the building is “house.” This is an emphasis on God’s dwelling, in these passages in contrast and corresponding to the fact that Solomon built himself a house.
The building materials of the Temple were Cedar and Cypress wood imported at great human cost from Lebanon; great and costly stones, and gold (Trees, stones, gold, remind us of Eden). The whole house is said to be overlaid in gold (I Kings 6:22). There are descriptions in this section of carvings that resembled “gourds and flowers” (1 Kings 6:18) reminiscent of a garden. The doors of the Sanctuary So he made two doors of olive wood, and he carved on them carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers, and overlaid them with gold; and he spread the gold on the cherubim and on the palm trees (1 Kings 6:32). Again, the garden connection is obvious.
When the priests come out of the sanctuary after depositing the ark of the covenant there we read this description:
10 It happened that when the priests came from the holy place, the cloud filled the house of the LORD,
11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.
12 Then Solomon said, “The LORD has said that He would dwell in the thick cloud.
13 “I have surely built You a lofty house, A place for Your dwelling forever.”
(1 Kings 8:10-13)
This is a clear reminder of the Tabernacle and the elements of presence and guidance. Along with the building of the temple comes the following dire warning:
3 The LORD said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your supplication, which you have made before Me; I have consecrated this house which you have built by putting My name there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually.
4 “As for you, if you will walk before Me as your father David walked, in integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you and will keep My statutes and My ordinances,
5 then I will establish the throne of your kingdom over Israel forever, just as I promised to your father David, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’
6 “But if you or your sons indeed turn away from following Me, and do not keep My commandments and My statutes which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them,
7 then I will cut off Israel from the land which I have given them, and the house which I have consecrated for My name, I will cast out of My sight. So Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples.
8 “And this house will become a heap of ruins; everyone who passes by will be astonished and hiss and say, ‘Why has the LORD done thus to this land and to this house?’
9 “And they will say, ‘Because they forsook the LORD their God, who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt, and adopted other gods and worshiped them and served them, therefore the LORD has brought all this adversity on them.'”
(1 Kings 9:3-9)
This dire warning is realized in the destruction of the Temple of Solomon in 587 BC by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians.
The Fourth Temple: Herod’s Temple (Commonly known as the Second Temple)
This temple was built in the years after the Exile from Babylon, starting around 538 BC. Herod began an extensive rebuilding project around 20 BC that lasted around 40 years. This would be the temple that Jesus walked in and prophesied about.
The Temple’s return to glory would have boosted the morale of a centuries long oppressed people. Israel had undergone very little self determination and suffered under the rule of multiple foreign nations. The Temple would have given the people a rising confidence and expectation of a return to glory. The disciples certainly would have thought that Jesus, if he was the messiah, would lead them back to prominence.
The Olivet Discourse begins with the disciples marveling at the beauty of the temple.
Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him.
2 And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”
3 As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”
This revelation would have been devastating, disconcerting, and confusing to the disciples. These words of Jesus were words of judgment; a repetition of the warning to Solomon in 1 Kings 8-9 and the message of the Prophets. Jesus tells his disciples that his pronouncement of judgment would come to pass within a generation (normally a generation was approximately 40 years). Herod’s Temple was destroyed by the Roman armies under the leadership of Titus in AD 70.
The destruction of the Temple marked the end of an age, the age marked by the Old Covenant and the status of the nation and Temple (the religious structure of Israel). They no longer serve as the vehicle for God’s presence to be made manifest in the world. God shuts the door by destroying the Temple. Israel rejects Messiah and break their covenant with Yahweh. This leads to the creation of a new Temple by Christ.
The Fifth Temple: The Church
The Church is the final “Temple” of God. Three significant passages can be referenced here, passages that explicitly identify the Church as the Temple of God.
The first one is 1 Corinthians 3:9-16
9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. \
16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1Corinthians 3:9, 10, 16)
The “you” in verse 16 are plural. They are not referring to individual Christians who are independent temples, rather the church as a whole is being built into a temple.
Second would be Ephesians 2:19-22:
19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household,
20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone,
21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord,
22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
This passage emphasizes the universal nature of the Church from a national perspective, it includes both Jews and Gentiles.
Third is 1 Peter 2:4-10
4 And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God,
5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
6 For this is contained in Scripture: “BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”
7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, “THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone,”
8 and, “A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.
9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.
Each believer is referred to as a living stone, together being built into a spiritual house where spiritual sacrifices are made. This is a clear reference to a temple.
The Temple references in Revelation
A reading of Revelation 21 and 22 in light of this is a description of a temple using all the forms of temple listed above. There are Garden references, Tabernacle references, Temple building references, and church references throughout the passage. It is a clear matching bookend to Genesis 1-3.
This new temple is magnificent and in the others pale in comparison.
It is called the new heavens and new earth in 21:1.
There is no sea here (sea would be a symbol of chaos and evil, it would also represent distance from God – an uncrossable barrier). 21:1
The New Jerusalem, the home of the Temple, is described as a bride. The bride is the church, which is the fifth temple (21:2)
It is called the tabernacle in 21:3.
John hears a voice which says that he will show John the bride of the lamb, then proceeds to describe the Bride as the new Jerusalem and describes here with a picture of a high wall, 12 gates on every side (lots of access points as opposed to just one guarded access point), jewels in the walls and finally no physical temple because the Lord God almighty and the Lamb are its temple (21:22).
Chapter 22 has strong Garden analogies: Rivers, Trees, No Curse. The Throne of God is in this garden.
Revelation 21-22 is the classic and extreme mixed metaphor. All of the temple symbolism is wrapped up in this ultimate description of the desire of and purpose of God in restoring his original creative purpose. The Five Temples find their summary in Revelation 21-22. God is directly present with His people.