In my latest sermon on Haggai 2:1-9, I spoke about different Temples throughout history. Here I’d like to focus on what a Temple actually is, and how they have been identified through biblical history. To repeat what I said previously:
The true glory of the Temple is God Himself. What makes a Temple a Temple is not the silver and gold and other decorations, just as our congregation is not dependent on how nice the chalice and paten look on the altar. Rather, it is the presence of God that makes a Temple a Temple.
The first Temple was the Garden of Eden. As described in Genesis 1, God and Adam spoke with one another face to face somehow. It was a sacred haven, a place where work and worship was the same thing. The creation of Eve to complement Adam’s role even has a Temple-like feel to it as we see both a priest to lead worship and another to respond.
The second Temple was the Tabernacle. After Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden, there was no guaranteed location where God and humanity would converse. There were special moments of theophany (God-made-visible) experienced by a few people along the way, and usually an Altar would be built at that site as a memorial of that visitation; but there was no special promise from God about where, when, or how such events would ever take place. It wasn’t until the Exodus when God ordered the building of the Ark of the Covenant and the Tent of Meeting (or Tabernacle) to house it, that a specific location was designated by God as his “house.” And so, just like in the Garden, there were holiness requirements for being there and regulations on what work (or worship or liturgy) was to be carried out there. Those rules notwithstanding, mankind finally had a place to go where they could know they’d meet God.
The third Temple was the Temple of Solomon. After a few centuries with God “living in a tent”, King David felt a call to build a big house (or palace or temple) for God instead. But God delayed that project, preferring for various reasons to have it built by King Solomon instead. That Temple in Jerusalem was a larger and fancier version of the Tabernacle, and the liturgy set out in the Law of Moses continued in its larger form, with a few additions directed by King David, particularly in the role of the Levites assisting the Priests.
The fourth Temple was the Second Temple of Jerusalem. After Solomon’s Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586BC or so, the city lay in ruins for fifty years before the first Jewish exiles started trickling back and began building a new Temple. It was completed around the year 516BC, ending the 70-year exile ordered by God through the Prophet Jeremiah. Although God’s Spirit never filled this Temple in the same glorious way that He had the previous building, God’s promises of being present there were reaffirmed by the prophets. This Temple stood for 350 years until it was desecrated by the Greeks in the 160’s BC, though it was not entirely destroyed. It was purified and repaired bit by bit over time until the year 70AD when it was desecrated again by the Romans and subsequently demolished.
The fifth Temple was the Blessed Virgin Mary. When Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb, God was physically existent in creation for the first time ever. This made Mary the most temple-like Temple to date. Although there was no way for people to enter this Temple and worship God, veneration of God’s presence from outside did occur from outside by, for example, the Wise Men (in Matthew 2) and Elizabeth (in Luke 1).
The sixth Temple was our Lord Jesus Christ. In one of his predictions of his own death, he referred to his own body as a Temple. He can be accounted a Temple because of the fact that Jesus not only fully God (hence the presence of God) but also fully man (hence the created thing in which God could be found). His disciples worshiped him in person after his resurrection, and though we cannot interact with him face to face anymore, we continue to worship the God-who-is-man, Jesus Christ.
The seventh Temple is the Church, and by extension, every Christian. The New Testament epistles teach us that we, as the Mystical Body of Christ, are built together into the Temple where God the Holy Spirit dwells. Thus we have promises of God’s presence in the gathering of the faithful, in the proclamation of the Word, and in the celebration of the Sacraments. And on top of that, Saint Paul calls our bodies (individually) as Temples, because though the Spirit resides in the Body of the Church, each of us are the Church in microcosm. When we sin against our bodies, we are defiling a Temple. Thus our reverence for the Church is to be matched by a reverence for our fellow Christian brothers and sisters.
The ultimate Temple is “heaven.” When the Bible speaks of heaven, it refers to that “place” where God is. Every earthly Temple is some sort of echo, portrayal, or extension of heaven. At the end of the book of Saint John’s Revelation, a new heaven and new earth is seen to be combining together as the heavenly Jerusalem descends to earth like a bride to her groom. This indicates that the final destiny of creation is be the Temple, like it was in the beginning. No Temple building will be needed, no Sacraments will need to be celebrated, no Bibles will need to be studied, because God will be all-in-all. There will still be work and worship, but somehow the life of all the cosmos will be caught up in perfect harmony as one great unending liturgy – glorifying God with one heart, mind, and voice.
What does Haggai contribute to all this?
God’s promise of a glorified Temple greater than the first building features heavily in Haggai 2:1-9. Verses 7-9 repeatedly emphasize the word of the Lord:
And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.
The promise of a more glorious Temple stands on the fact that God is sovereign over all the world, and can therefore pull together the resources needed to out-do himself in the previous building. But also, when we see reference to glory and peace, we as Christians know that there was a greater Temple than the 2nd Jerusalem Temple. Greater glory and peace were expressed at the Annunciation, when Mary said “be it unto me according to Your will.” Greater glory and peace were revealed at the birth of Christ, and throughout his ministry; especially at his death and resurrection. A greater glory and peace is found in the Church, where sinners are reconciled to God. And the greatest glory and peace will reign in the life to come, when heaven and earth are united as one order, when Christ returns to earth.