In the previous post we looked a the theme of creation – saying that any eschatology must be connected to the protology – we must have an eschatology that is founded on creation. The theme that I opened up there was of creation being God’s Temple. It is this theme we continue with in this current post.
There are parallels to the Genesis story in ancient near eastern cosmologies and one that resonates will is how Rikki Watts has contrasted Genesis / Creation with that of Egypt’s mythology about creation. He shows that there is a direct connection to the events of the Exodus and the undoing of Egypt’s world: the uncreation of that Empire. For those who wish to follow this rich theme through go to Regent”s College, Vancouver site and purchase an MP3 of Rikki Watts’ talk from there.
A summary about Egyptian cosmology (and trusting that I can represent Watts correctly):
If the Pentateuch is the work of Moses – or at least if the writings have their origin with him then the parallels to Egypt are considerable. As God acts in the Exodus so there is both an undoing of the myth of Egypt and revelation about creation. Those parallels run from creation to the Exodus to New Creation.
Here then is the mythology of Egypt. The story told of origins that gave Egypt the divine mandate. [All empires tell a story that legitimises their authority and therefore mandates them.]
Amon-re, the sun god, brings light and life to Egypt. He travels across the sky and in evening he sinks into the sea of reeds. The sea of reeds is the original cosmic ocean. He descends into the great cosmic ocean – the water that surrounds the land. There he meets the chaos monster (Apophus). He is protected by 2 fire-breathing cobras as he descends into the chaos. In the dark hours he does battle with the chaos monster, rising in the East next morning in triumph, bringing life and light to Egypt. Often the Egyptian temples were laid out facing the East so that the light would come down the passage into the heart of the Temple – in some that light would travelling down a path of water and reeds.\
The temples become mini-maps of the universe (as per Israel’s temple).
Pharaoh is the son of the Amon-re. He is the image of the Amon-Re – the physical embodiment of the god. Walking presence of Amon-Re. On his head-gear Pharaoh wears an enraged female cobra, and contained within the cobra was the power of Amon-re.
Moses, Aaron and Israel come out of Egypt to the sea of reeds (the yam suph)… this is the place where Amon-re and therefore Pharaoh has authority. He cannot be afraid to go after Israel into that place for this is the place where Amon-re conquers day by day. But it is here that Yahweh with a strong wind blows the sea apart and separates the waters from the dry land (creation theme). Pharaoh has the power to defeat the chaos monster who resides in the sea of reeds – so he pursues Moses. The parallels with Egypt are chosen deliberately. It is the dethronement of Amon-re, it is the disestablishment of Egypt, the empire and the gods that legitimated the nation. The sovereignty of Yahweh is demonstrated here over all other gods.
The Exodus is the establishment of a people under Yahweh, the sovereign God of all creation and the putting into their place of every other god. Israel becomes the new Adam – the son of God.
The parallels with creation are there within the Exodus… Pharaoh with his claim to be the image of the sun-god is exposed; and Israel is to know that humanity is the image of the Living sovereign God. The radical pulling down of hierarchy and the raising up of the last and the least.
Creation and Exodus are linked… and they foreshadow the end.
Palace building is common in ancient creation narratives. The gods build palaces: these palaces are their temples. The Temple in Scripture is known as the house of the Lord.
The language for creation is architectural language: Job 38:4-6
Where were you when I laid the earth”s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone?
This is what the LORD says:
Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
Where will my resting place be?
Heaven and earth the throne and footstool. Creation is God’s house. What is the place of his rest? The rest at the end of creation (Day 7) is illustrative / points forward to the rest of God within creation.
So the universe is to be seen as and treated as a Temple.
Last thing placed inside a Temple – the image of the god – humanity created and placed in the Temple: the image of the invisible God.
The Cosmic Temple
If God’s original intention is that creation would be God’s temple, and creation’s ultimate destiny is for this to be fully realised in new creation, this helps us understand Israel’s tabernacle and temple.
Ancient Israel understood that the temple was patterned after creation. Psalm 78:69 speaking of the temple says,
He built his sanctuary like the heights, like the earth that he established forever.
The temple is a microcosm of the cosmos – a small picture of a much larger reality. It represents the ultimate truth – all creation exists for and will be filled by God.
The final act in the Tabernacle and in the Temple was that it was filled with the glory of God:
Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. (Exodus 40: 34-35.)
When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the LORD because the glory of the LORD filled it. (2 Chronicles 7:1-2.)
The Tabernacle in the midst of Israel was to be fashioned by Moses just as he saw it in heaven (the journey from Exodus 33 onward is about the presence of Yahweh among his people, and of accepting no substitutes.
Another parallel we can pick up on are the verbal parallels between Genesis 1 (creation) and Exodus 39-40 (the making of the Tabernacle). These intentional similarities again show how creation is seen as the dwelling place of God and the Tabernacle is seen as a microcosm of creation:
God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good (1:31)
Moses saw the work, and behold they had done it, as the Lord had commanded it (39:43)
The heavens and earth were finished, and all the host of them (2:1)
All the work of the tabernacle of the tent was finished (39:32)
God finished his work which He had done (2:2)
So Moses finished the work (40:33)
So God bless… it (2:3)
And Moses blessed… (39:43)
…and hallowed it (2:3)
You shall… consecrate it (40:9)
‘Creation as Temple’ theology informs us that the form of the cosmos is perfectly suited to be filled, not only with a seemingly endless variety of creatures, but with the divine presence. The cosmos is God’s temple.
New Creation realities
This new creation begins with the new light – the ‘uncreated light’ of Christ:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness (John 1:1-4)
The purpose of the cosmos foreshadowed in the creation account comes to its fullness in the incarnation. God fills creation with divine glory in the person of Christ. A new move of God’s Spirit brings about new creation through Christ.
John 1:14 then uses the term ‘tabernacled (dwelt) among us’. Creation (in the beginning) and Exodus are linked together. John soon follows this with the first miracles where his glory is revealed: water (that substance from Genesis) into wine in the context of a marriage.
Paul puts it this way in 2 Corinthians 4:6:
For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. And it is Christ who brings “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17 – not just a new creature but kaine ktisis). To be ‘in Christ’ is to share in the beginning of God’s new creation. Through God’s saving work, we are illuminated and enlightened by the ‘uncreated light’ – the light not of the sun, but of the Son. We are filled with the Spirit and long for the day when God will be all in all:
And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb (Revelation 21:23; cf. 22:3-5).
Christ opens the door to the return of all creation to its original divine purpose – to be filled by God. This is the reason that the cosmos exists – in order to be a sanctuary for God. We participate in this future reality now by seeking to be filled with God’s Spirit in the temple of our bodies.
The Great Commission (Go into all the world: Matt. 28:18-20) has its parallel in Mark (Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation, 16:15). The first might be easier to think is closer to that of preaching the Gospel in a conventional evangelical sense, and we could then try to make sense of Mark in the light of that. However, Matthew’s Gospel is structured in a way that does not allow us to do that: and in a way that re-enforces that the Great Commission is the Creation mandate (fill and steward the whole earth).
Matthew’s Gospel is one centred around Scriptural fulfillments: this was done to fulfill the Scripture is a common comment throughout the Gospel. (It begins with the anouncement of a new beginning – the ‘genesis’ of Jesus Christ; the end of Exile, and the coming of God to be with his people: ‘Immanuel shall be his name’.)
The parallels, though, in the Great Commission to that of the commission that stands at the end of the (normal) Jewish canon are remarkable:
Matt. 28:18 – 20
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
2 Chronicles 36:20-23
He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his sons until the kingdom of Persia came to power. The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah.
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing:
“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you—may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up.”
And in closing this post we have a final but quick look at Revelation 21 where the new city comes down to earth… in the context of a new heaven and a new earth (kainos not neos: indicating not brand new in the sense of never before in existence, but renewed, a new quality). The manifestation is a cube (the shape of the Holy of Holies); Beale suggests that the dimensions are the size commonly associated with the then known world.
Creation now reaches the destiny that God intended: a Temple for his presence.
Temple theology has implications for our vision; implications for ecology; and is a major critique of how we treat people who are in the image of God.
Is there a hope for the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem – I don”t think so.
- because God never called for a temple / or a king / or a priesthood, and unlikely
- because of Creation, and really unlikely because now
- a Temple is being built across the earth and then it will be completed at his appearing.