The day that God poured out the Holy Spirit on believers—Pentecost—marked the beginning of a new ear. On that day, God changed the normative way in which his redeeming presence manifested in the world. At Pentecost, the tabernacling glory of God transferred from a building (the temple) to a people (Jesus’s disciples). The pillar of fire that descended on the temple in the Old Testament came once again, but this time on Jesus’s followers. 

We said in previous sections that the purpose of the Law and tabernacle to restore the missional purpose of humanity to carry God’s glory to the ends of the earth. We will see in this chapter that this too is the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This is precisely why they share the day of Pentecost: because the Law and the Holy Spirit have the same function. The big difference between the Law and temple in the Old Testament and the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, however, is that in the New Testament the covenant stipulations are written on the hearts of believers rather than tablets of stone. Put another way, it is the transformation of the human nature that testifies to the reality of God.

Furthermore, and as noted in the previous section, the ark of the covenant is both the storage place of the covenant stipulations (i.e., the Ten Commandments) as well as the throne of God. It is the place where heaven and earth meet. We will see in this chapter that the ark of the covenant in the New Testament is the circumcised heart of the Christian. With the ethical, holy love law code of God written on the hearts of people, the presence of God manifests in the creation through the church so as to witness to the reign of Christ over death in the world; the sons of Adam become sons of God (Jn 1:12–13).

How will the world know that God is real, and that Christ, rather than death, reigns? They will know by looking at the saints. As the writer of the letter to the Hebrews say, “Without holiness, no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). 

Jesus is the New Temple: The Incarnation of God

Jesus and Moses have a lot in common. To name just a few things:

  1. Both are Jewish
  2. Both fasted forty days and nights
  3. Both spent time in Egypt as kids
  4. Both were born when an evil king ordered baby Jewish boys to be killed
  5. Both performed miracles to testify to the fact that they were sent by God
  6. Both were shepherds

The most notable two things that Moses and Jesus have in common are: (1) God sent both of them to bring salvation after a four-hundred-year period of silence, and (2) both created blood covenants as a means for the salvation of God’s people and the world. 

The fact that Jesus and Moses have so much in common is evidence that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is the offspring of David that God promised would reign over the new creation and the people of God. During the time of Jesus, the Jews had very specific expectations of the Messiah. For starters, the Messiah was to be a member of David’s family (2 Sam 7) and born in Bethlehem (Matt 2:1–5). The main thing they expected from the Messiah, however, was for him to deliver Israel from the oppression of Gentile nations, just like Moses delivered Israel from Egyptian slavery. In Deuteronomy 18:15, Moses says, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people.” And, in Deuteronomy 18:17–18, God says to Moses, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people.” The Old Testament prophets, especially Isaiah, clarify that the Moses-like Messiah was expected to establish the Kingdom of God marked by righteousness and peace (Is 9:1–7; 11:1–9; 42:1–4). In sum, the Messiah would restore God’s creation project by filling the earth with the glory of God. This was the Messiah-authentication factor.

If the Jews of Jesus’s time had a clear description of the Messiah, and Jesus matched that description, then why did they crucify him? They crucified him because even though he fit the description of the Messiah, he did so in ways that they weren’t expecting. One of the things that the Messiah was expected to do was rebuild the temple. Zechariah 6:12–13 says, 

Thus says the Lord of hosts: Here is a man whose name is Branch: for he shall branch out in his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord. It is he that shall build the temple of the Lord; he shall bear royal honor and shall sit and rule on his throne.

Adding to this is the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the divine glory and presence returning to a new temple in Ezekiel 40–42.

Jesus certainly built a temple, but not in the form of a building like they expected. In John 2, Jesus says that he is the temple. John 2 records the story of Jesus driving the money changers out of the temple. This upset people. To challenge Jesus, the Pharisees asked Jesus on what authority he did this. What made him special in such a way that he had the right to run people out of the temple? The text says,

The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken (Jn 2:18–22).

This is one of the main things the Jews missed about Jesus as well as Ezekiel’s vision of the temple. This new temple that the Messiah was to build wasn’t a building, it was a person. As Beale writes, “The special revelatory presence of God, formerly contained in the holy of holies of the tabernacle and temple, has now burst forth into the world in the form of the incarnate God, Jesus Christ.”[1] 

But how is Jesus the temple?

As the Messiah, Jesus isn’t only from David’s line, Jesus is God incarnate. This means that where Jesus is, God is. Because of Jesus, God’s special presence no longer manifests in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and fire at night like in the Old Testament. In Jesus, God became a human being (Phil 2). This is what John meant when he said, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). John also says in 1 John 1:1–3:

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

But how does the incarnation of God in Jesus make him the same as the temple in the Old Testament? Because just like the temple, Jesus is the place where heaven and earth meet. In the Old Testament, if you wanted to be in God’s presence, you would go to the temple. In the New Testament, if you were with Jesus, you were in God’s presence. The same way that God took up residence among the Israelites in the temple, it is now through Jesus that God takes up residence within His church. As Beale says, “One need not go to the Jerusalem temple to be near God’s revelatory presence, but only need trust in Jesus to experience that presence.”[2] 

Furthermore, this is why Paul talks about the church as both the body of Christ and the temple. Describing the church as the temple, Paul says in Ephesians 2:19–22,

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

And 2 Corinthians 6:16 says, “For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will live in them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.’” On the church as the body of Christ, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:12­–14, 

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.[3]

In sum, the church as the body of Christ is the temple, the place where the glory of God is manifest in the world. This is made possible through the Holy Spirit. As Christians are joined together in Christ, by grace through faith, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in them. 

Jesus is the Incarnate Torah

Jesus is not only the new temple; he is also the walking breathing Law of God. He is the Torah in the flesh. We said in the previous chapter that the purpose of the Law (or “covenant stipulations”) was to shape Israel’s behavior into the likeness of God as the new Adam. We also said that Israel failed at this mission and as a result, the image and glory of God could not reach the ends of the earth as God intended from the beginning. Jesus, however, fulfills this mission. Jesus, in his complete obedience, is the likeness of God. He looks like his father. This is what he meant when he said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the father” (Jn 14:9). The author of the letter to the Hebrews furthermore says, 

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs (Heb. 1:1–4; emphasis added).

This means that Jesus accomplishes what the Law could not accomplish in Israel. When people see Jesus, God is glorified. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers

The Death of Jesus: Substitutionary Atonement

There were a number of ways that Jesus revealed the character of God to the world. He healed people, calmed the storm, walked on water, forgave sins, washed feet, and the list goes on. Measured against all these demonstrations of the heart of God, none of them measure up to Jesus’s death on the cross. More than any other event in the life and ministry of Jesus, his death demonstrates who God is. In Jesus’s humble obedience which led to his death, the love of God is on display for the world to see (1 Jn 4:7–12).

The dramatic revelation of the love of God isn’t the only thing that happened on the cross. The death of Jesus also atones for sin. Just like the sacrificial system in the Old Testament, Jesus’s blood, being much more powerful than the blood of animals, purifies the tabernacle so that God’s glory can fill it. Put another way, Jesus’s blood prepares people’s hearts to be a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit—to be a tabernacle. 

Reconciliation is at the heart of the cross. It angers and saddens God when people do ugly things, think ugly thoughts, and have ugly attitudes. As a good Father and Creator, He wants what’s best for his kids and creation. He doesn’t want his signature piece of the creation to live in a way that is self-destructive. We distance ourselves from Him when we do this. The relationship needs reconciled (Col 1:21). 

Jesus’s death is the means of that reconciliation. In his death, Jesus takes upon himself the sins of the world. Jesus offered himself as a substitute for all humanity so as to eliminate the hostility between humanity and God. Paul says it best with this:

For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation (Rom 5:10–11).[4]

Thomas Oden writes: 

In the court, justification is the reversal of a sentence of death for sin. In the family, adoption to daughterhood-sonship is the reversal of an exclusion from inheritance, providing full rights as sons and daughters in the family of God. In the temple, the holy God can be approached by those whose lives are redeemed and set apart for holy love (Oden, 1992, p. 255).

Because of the atoning death of Christ, we can be reconciled to God and He is able to take up residence in our hearts so that we can look like him again. This seems so simply and obvious to so many people today, but is it? If it’s truly that obvious, then why do we talk much more about salvation as being the forgiveness of sins rather than a radically transformed life? The death of Jesus, then, is the means by which God’s creation-rescue plan is accomplished. God’s mission to fill the creation with his children that look just like him can be accomplished because Jesus reconciled us to God. This is why Paul is able to say, 

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God (Eph 2:13–22; emphasis added).[5]

Hays says, 

Jesus is the new presence of God, tabernacling among his people in a new temple, his incarnation body. After he solves the problem of sin once and for all through his death, Jesus transfers the temple function to his new humanity, who are now each individually as well as corporately indwelt by God himself through the Holy Spirit.[6] 

But what about the Kingdom of God that Jesus was always talking about? Before nailing him to the cross, the Romans soldiers dressed Jesus in a purple robe, put a crown of thorns on his head, and mounted a sign above him that said, “King of the Jews” (Matt 27:37). All of this points to the kingdom. How does this kingdom imagery link up to the concept of atonement and the death of Jesus? It has everything to do with the resurrection.

The Resurrection, the Defeat of Death, and the Reign of Christ

Jesus’s resurrection was the greatest “I told you so” moment in all of history. Jesus was vindicated when he rose from the grave. His resurrection reveals to the world that he is who he says he is: the Son of God (Rom 1:4). Jesus’s resurrection furthermore shows the world that he is more powerful than death. In his resurrection, he defeated the tyrannical reign of sin and death that was brought into the creation by Adam and Eve. Colossians 2:15 says that through Jesus’s resurrection, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.”

The resurrection of Jesus established a new order—the Kingdom of God—to the creation. Jesus undid what Adam had done (Rom 5:12–21). Jesus did what the Law wasn’t able to do. The resurrection of Jesus announces to the world that there’s a new king in town. God’s plan for life, light, and order to reign in the creation through His image-bearers is restored in the resurrection of Jesus. This is why Jesus can be called the “new Adam”—because Jesus is what humanity was always intended to be. As Hays says, “The king was expected to administer justice and righteousness by protecting the powerless in society and judging the wicked, resulting in not only the flourishing of God’s people, but also the restoration of God’s entire Creation into harmony and order (vv. 6–9) (Hays, 2014, p. 37).”

Union with Christ

At the end of Jesus’s ministry, he talked a lot about the disciples becoming one with him. John says

As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (Jn 17:21–23).

This isn’t the only time Jesus talked about being one with his followers. He also says, 

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete (Jn 15:1–11; emphasis added).

The phrase “abide in” appears no less than ten times in this short passage. Jesus’s point is clear: his followers are to be united with him.[7] One of the best images that the Bible uses to communicate the union between the church (i.e., believers) and Jesus is the nuptial metaphor for salvation. The Bible says that the church is the bride of Christ, and as we know from Genesis 2, the husband and wife are one.[8]

This is a big deal. It’s a big deal because it is precisely the broken relationship, the separation between humanity and God, that is the source of all the problems in the world. The depraved condition of the human heart is the result of distance between us and God. As Grudem was quoted saying above, “Sin disrupts everything.” When Jesus talks about union between God and humanity, he’s talking about The Solution to The Problem of the universe. Jesus has the remedy, and it is applied by the Holy Spirit. This is why “union with Christ” is a catch-all phrase that describes the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit applies the saving work of Jesus by uniting people with the Trinity via Jesus. 

In being united with Christ through the Holy Spirit, people: (1) are reconciled to God (justification), (2) share in Christ’s nature (sanctification), (3) become a part of the new creation/age of the Spirit, and (4) become a part of Christ’s ministry in establishing the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.[9] Paul says, 

But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom 6:8–11).

Eat My Flesh

This concept of the intimate union between believers and Christ is symbolized in the Lord’s Supper. In sharing the Passover meal with his disciples, Jesus tells them that the bread is his flesh and the wine is his blood (Mk 14:12–26). What better image of abiding, or intimacy can there be? Jesus is so intimate with his followers that it’s as if they have consumed him. In John, Jesus says,

Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever (Jn 6:53–58). 

This imagery, like the nuptial metaphor, demonstrates union with Christ. Not a few interpreters and theologians have made the connection between the symbol of wine and the Holy Spirit. Wine as the symbol of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit links up to the story of the Wedding of Cana (Jn 2:1–12). As we will see later, this symbolism demonstrates that being filled with the Spirit is more than being empowered for Christian service; it’s about being made one with Jesus; it’s about becoming a part of the New Creation through union with the New Adam. 

The Kingdom: Now but Not Yet

But what about evil in the world today? Don’t Christians still get sick? Don’t they still die? Isn’t there still evil in the world? Certainly. This is why the Kingdom of God is both now and not yet. Yes, there’s a new king in town, but his reign is being established in the creation progressively, rather than all at once. We see this dynamic at work in many of Jesus’s parables that teach us about the Kingdom of God.[11]

While the new era of the new creation in Christ has been ushered in through the resurrection of Jesus, the old era of sin and death is still at work in the world, for the time being. The time is coming, however, in which Jesus will put an end to death once and for all. Jesus teaches in the Gospels and in the book of Revelation that the work of God has just begun in the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of the End. Jesus came once as a baby born in Bethlehem, but he will come again. He tells us that he will come again to judge the world (final judgment) in his second coming.[12]

The Kingdom of God, then, is both now and not yet in the sense that now, believers can experience freedom from the power of sin and sinning through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Believers can experience now a spiritual rebirth. At the same time, believers anticipate a future physical rebirth as well. In the same way that Jesus’s physical body raised from the dead in glorified form, so will believers. This is the doctrine ofglorification (1 Cor 15:51–57; 1 Thess 4:15–17).

The Holy Spirit is the agent through whom both spiritual and physical rebirth occurs.

Defeatism and Triumphalism: Living in the Middle

The implications of the Kingdom being both now but also not yet are important. This means to live as biblical Christians, we have to live in a tension between defeatism and triumphalism. Defeatism puts too much emphasis on the reality that salvation is not yet complete while we await the second coming. Defeatism loves the phrase, “Well, I’ll always be a lowly sinner.” This sort of thinking undermines the power of the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s the same as saying, “Sorry Jesus, but what you did just wasn’t enough…” Defeatism interprets Romans 7 as the normal Christian life. It tricks us into thinking that being a middle-class Christian is what’s to be expected while we await Christ’s return. This is a mistake. The Bible clearly teaches that because of the fullness of the Holy Spirit those in Christ can be free from the power of sin and sinning. This is because the Kingdom is now. We do not have to keep on sinning!

It would likewise be a mistake to believe that if someone is poor, sick, or dies it is because they lack faith. This sort of thinking is rooted in the soil of triumphalism. We all know stories of God performing miraculous healings (starting with the stories in the New Testament). At the same time, we all know other stories of when God did not heal people miraculously in the way that we asked or anticipated. This is because the Kingdom is also not yet. Corruption, death, and decay still reign over the physical creation. We all still die (even if miraculously healed)! 

Everett Ferguson writes: 

Through Christ the End, or the beginning of the End, has come. Tomorrow is here today. Something of God’s glory and power has reached down and called people for the coming age. The kingdom of God has created a new people, the church. But all this is only a down payment. Much more always the final consummation of God’s purposes. Nevertheless, the imagery of first fruits and first installment indicates the life in the world to come and its blessings will be in continuity with the present. Those who share the kingdom now will be those to participate in it in the future.[13]

Conclusion

As God’s chosen dwelling place, the tabernacle/temple was the place from which God reigned over Israel and the creation. This changed in the New Testament. In the New Testament, God’s normative dwelling place is collective people of God as the body of Christ. This is possible through the substitutionary death of Jesus. Jesus’s willful death eliminates the hostility between humanity and God thereby allowing the tabernacling presence of God in the form of the Holy Spirit to return to humanity. Hence, the Bible talks about the ministry of the Holy Spirit being to unite believers with Christ. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, believers can participate in the new age of the Kingdom of God marked by freedom from both the guilt and power of sin. Because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit believers also anticipate participating in the final fulfillment of the Kingdom of God in the return of Jesus. All of this is for the sake of restoring God’s good creation—his tabernacle—back to its original state. Because of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Eden is restored.


[1] Beale G. K., 2004, p. 195.

[2] Ibid., 195.

[3] Also see Ephesians 4:1–16.

[4] Cf. Rom. 3:25; 2 Cor. 5:19; Eph. 2:26; 1 John 4:10.

[5] Cf. Col. 1:19–20.

[6] Hays, 2016, p. 186.

[7] Cf. John 6:25–29.

[8] On the church as the bride of Christ see John 3:29; Mark 2:19; Matt. 25:1–13; Eph. 5:22–33; Rev 3:12; 21:2, 9–10.

[9] For an in-depth exegetical analysis Paul’s use of “in Christ” in the New Testament, see Constantin R. Campbells Paul and Union with Christ: An Exegetical Study (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2012). 

[10] Beale G. K., 2004, p. 195

[11] See Mark 4:26–29; Matt 13:3–9, 31–32, 47–50; 20:1–16; Lk 14:7–14.

[12] See Matt. 12:41; John 5:29; Acts 24:25; 1 Pet. 4:5; Rev. 11:18; 20:11–13. 

[13] Ferguson, 1996, 35.


Matt Ayars

President of Wesley Biblical Seminary

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