Filled Temples

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December 8, 2021
Holy Spirit
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The last number of months I've been turning over the kind of mental model of the spiritual world and the Church that I've articulated in some of my more recent articles: Systems & Spirits and Why Should I Go Back to Church? Whenever I've changed the mental map I use to understand something discussed in the Bible, one of the measuring rods I use to verify how seriously I should take these ideas, is the way this new mental framing connects the Scriptures in ways I hadn't seen before and brings new clarity.

In creating the Bible, God weaved the words together in a complex web of interconnected references. There are thousands and thousands of examples of one Scripture pointing to another, each informing each other's meaning and providing clues and keys to interpret and understand what God is revealing in his Word. This illustration is far from the only example, but here is a visual illustration of 63,779 cross references mapped over the 1,189 chapters (Genesis on the left, Revelation on the right):

Source: Chris Harrison | BibleViz

There is a good case to be made that the Bible can almost be thought of as the first "hyperlinked book" - predating the internet by thousands of years, but using the same type of structure to form a web of meaning. Studying these type of cross references can be a valuable way to dig further into the Bible.

To this end, I wanted to take this article and observe an interesting connection that has come through thinking about the spiritual world as a nested set of temples of varying scales.


The Temple Moment(s)

In the Bible, there are two primary physical structures that act as a "Temple" in the Old Testament: The Tabernacle, and later Solomon's Temple. Each of these had a similar general structure: a nesting set of spaces that culminated in the Holy of Holies at the center, where God's presence lived. The temple was the place where heaven and earth came together, where space wasn't heaven or earth - it was heaven and earth. The Temple gave the Israelite people their sense of identity; they were the people entrusted to steward the one place on earth where God's throne was accessible on the earthly plane.

With each of these "Temples", there was a critical moment where God's presence came upon the Temple and filled it in a profound way. The first is the final culminating scene in the book of Exodus after the Tabernacle is finished being constructed:

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Exodus 40:34–35

the second happens as Solomon brings the ark of the covenant into the Temple and dedicates the Temple to the Lord:

As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD’s house. 2 Chronicles 7:1–2

These are such critical and powerful moments in the Scriptures! Notice they both follow a similar pattern:

  1. They happen at the conclusion of the construction of God's house (tabernacle, temple)
  2. There is a visible manifestation of the presence of God (cloud, fire)
  3. "the glory of the LORD filled the (tabernacle/temple)"
  4. Moses/the priests could not enter the place where God lived, because the glory was filling God's house.

A little earlier in the 2 Chronicles account we get a little more of sense of what that last point was about (the scene actually begins before Solomon's prayer and culminates in his prayer)

the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God. 2 Chronicles 5:13b–14

The priests weren't just emotionally overwhelmed; they were physically overwhelmed - unable to stand because the glory of God overwhelmed their bodies.

Any good Israelite would treasure these moments. These were the moments that set them apart as the unique people of God. They were the only people on the face of the earth who had experienced moments like this: the Most High God stepping into his house among the peoples of the earth. This is the temple moment(s).

What about the New Temple?

Do you find it interesting that there are exactly two of these moments in the Old Testament? I do - and it makes me wonder where the third one is. I mean God is all about threes. Well, I believe there is a New Testament moment where God takes up residence in his Temple, and I believe the Israelites would have seen it pretty clearly:

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2:1–4

Notice how exactly this follows the same pattern, and what is clarified in the Biblical narrative by that pattern.

(1) It happens at the conclusion of the construction of God's house

Pentecost happens as the first sovereign event after Jesus is enthroned in heaven. His work is now finished and he has been fully installed as king of all kings and lord of all lords. One of his works was to create a new people, who themselves are the dwelling place of God:

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. John 14:23

God's house has now been finished. Jesus has redeemed a people out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. From this moment forward, the Church is now the new Temple of God.

(2) There is a visible manifestation of the presence of God

There is a sound from heaven (like the fire came down from heaven in 2 Chronicles 7), and there were tongues of fire that appeared and rested on each one of them. There were tangible manifestations of God's presence as the new Temple was filled.

(3) "the glory of the Lord filled the temple"

Notice the exact same language being used here: they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. The language here being the same is not an accident - this is the same event happening, only this time the Holy Spirit is in place of the glory of the Lord. Peter - who was of course there on the day described in Acts 2 - picks up on this thread:

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 1 Peter 4:14

We also should note that the idea of being "filled with the Spirit" should probably be interpreted in light of the two Old Testament passages we explored above. What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit? Don't get lost in the weeds about discussions regarding whether you had the Spirit before or not. God was in the space the tabernacle/temple occupied before he filled it. The Temple being filled was about it being the place of God's manifest presence; the place where heaven and earth are linked together.

Similarly, being filled with the Spirit isn't so much about whether or not you "have God" - it's about whether God's manifest presence is making you the place heaven and earth are linked together. It's about God's special presence coming upon you, and quite possibly again and again throughout our lives.

(4) The priests were physically overwhelmed by the glory of God

Once again we see similarity here. The disciples (priests in the New Covenant) present begin to speak in tongues - an experience that can at times be overwhelming (if you've been around people who dramatically receive the gift of tongues, you know what I mean). Their bodies are so overwhelmed they begin to speak in a language they don't know, something no one in history has done before at this point!

Peter also hints at this when he defends the other disciples behavior:

For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. Acts 2:15

However exactly the disciples are behaving here, something is different enough that the people around them assume they're drunk at 9am! I'm not sure exactly what that was, but I do know that's definitely something physically different from their normal.

So What??

Interesting, right? Probably so, but it also may be important. Knowing the Scriptural arc that culminates in this interesting thing called being "filled with the Spirit" is important because it helps us understand the point and what to look for. This idea doesn't just drop into the Scriptures in Acts 2, it is a biblical thread throughout the whole story, and in that it connects to our present day experience.

For much of the Church, this idea of being filled with the Spirit is treated as a somewhat optional part of Christianity. Go for it if you're into that charismatic thing, but if not, it's kind of an extra thing. It seems likely to me that the Jews become Christians would argue completely otherwise. They had spent hundreds of years mourning an empty temple - the one rebuilt after the return from exile in Babylon was never filled the way Solomon's was, and as a result the Israelites were on the right piece of land, but in a real, spiritual sense, they were still in exile. It was only with the coming of Jesus that a new Temple was filled with the glory and presence of God. This is not an optional part of the Israelite story: this is a critical element to the way that Jesus fulfills and completes Israel's destiny. An unfilled Temple wasn't a Temple at all, and that sobering reality should be more than enough for every believer to realize that living filled with the Holy Spirit is really the only way this whole thing is designed to work. Sure, you can try and do it without if you want to but don't be surprised if it feels like an uphill climb - it will be.

This whole framework also brings another interesting idea into clarity: if there are all kinds of different scales of temples (individuals, partnerships, small groups, large groups, and so on), then we probably ought to be looking for the Holy Spirit to fill up every scale of temple. Put another way, we need to not only be thinking in the category of individual sized temples, people filled with the Spirit, but we also need to be thinking about families and churches being filled with the Spirit. We see both of them attested to in the book of Acts:

Individual Temple
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, Acts 4:8
But [Stephen], full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Acts 7:55
So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 9:17
Collective Temple
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2:4
And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. Acts 4:31
While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. Acts 10:44–45

This is fascinating to me: how is it that we've nearly entirely missed this biblical thread of collective temples being filled with the Spirit? I've never heard anyone talk about this - the idea of "being filled with the Spirit" has always been scoped only to individuals. What would it look like to have a family filled with the Spirit (as in Acts 10), or a church (Acts 4)? It seems to me, this is quite possibly an important part of doing our faith together since all the same arguments that apply in the section above, apply just as much to collective temples as they do to individual ones.

Perhaps even these two ideas are linked. In a passage where the tense might best be translated "keep on being filled with the Spirit", Paul links the individual activity within the collective gathering:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, Ephesians 5:18–19

Much exploration is probably yet to be done in this area of "collective infilling". What I do know is that all of this makes me appreciate and desire to be filled with the Holy Spirit again and again. I want every part of myself to be filled to the brim with God, that I may be the place where heaven and earth are one and the same.

Putty Putman's Spirit-inspired innovative insights come from his wild journey with Jesus from physicist to pastor to entrepreneur to author and speaker. His three main passions are the Holy Spirit, effective communication, and journeying towards the future God has for the church and the world.

Putty founded the School of Kingdom Ministry and spent eleven years as a pastor on the staff team of The Vineyard Church of Central Illinois. He is now serving as a pastor at The Chapel and preparing to church pioneer in Phoenix, Arizona. He is the author of two books, and lives with his wife and three children in Mundelein, IL.

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