The Sanctuary in Biblical Worship

Featuring Worshipedia Posted on June 1, 2010

When we appreciate the importance of the sanctuary in biblical worship, we can understand why the New Testament authors draw upon the imagery of Jerusalem and its temple to convey the significance of the church. Addressing Christian believers as a body, the apostle Paul asks,  "Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple" (1 Corinthians 3:16–17). Again he declares, "we are the temple of the living God" (2 Corinthians 6:16). (In both these passages he uses the plural form, speaking not to individuals but to the church collectively.) As a temple, the church of Jesus Christ is "a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit" (Ephesians 2:22). These are not simply moralistic expressions; they point to a reality that transcends the idea of the church as a mere human association.

John the Revelator most fully develops the picture of the church as "the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God" (Revelation 21:2). As the bride of the Lamb, the new sanctuary displaces the harlot "Babylon, the old temple, and its religious establishment. The appearance of the new holy place brings a renewal of the covenant, in the declaration that "the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people" (Revelation 21:3), words that echo the covenant formula of the Israelite prophets. The sanctuary is a picture of the covenant God living among his own, enthroned on the praises of his people (Psalm 22:3). As John takes the concept further, we are brought face to face with the numinous brilliance of the Holy City (Revelation 21:10–11), "for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp" (Revelation 21:23). So overwhelmed is John by the vision that his description strains at the limitations of language. The Holy City is a temple yet not a temple: "I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple" (Revelation 21:22). There is a numinous, awesome aspect to the church as a bearer of the holy, a vehicle through which we may encounter the fearful presence of the King of kings.

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