Light from the Sidra

Vayak'hel/Pekudei ('And he assembled...')

Torah: Exodus 35:1-40:38. Haftarah: Ezekiel 45: 16-46:18

‘And now for something completely different…’

If you go to Jerusalem be sure to visit the Temple Institute where all the furniture, vessels and utensils for a third temple are housed. The Temple Institute is not a museum. The exhibits are not models or replicas of the furniture in the first temple. They are being stored for when the third temple is built and priests are being trained to serve in the temple. Members of ‘the Temple Mount Faithful’ have a long-term objective to ‘Rebuilding the Third Temple in accordance with the words of all the Hebrew prophets’ but each year are turned away from the Temple Mount as they attempt to lay the cornerstone of the long-for sanctuary.

But how and where should God be worshipped? In the earliest recorded account of an act of worship, in Gen.4, Cain and Abel approached God at their individual altars. But even at the beginning of history not all worship was acceptable to God. Cain offered fruit from the ground, which had been cursed by God in chapter 3, and his offering was rejected. Abel offered to God a lamb of the flocks and his sacrifice was accepted, establishing at the start of the Hebrew Scriptures the principle that all approach to God must be on the basis of blood sacrifice.

When Abraham arrived in the land of promise after being called by God to leave Ur of the Chaldeans, where many pagan deities were worshipped, ‘he pitched his tent, built his altar and called on the name of YHWH’ (Gen 12:8; 13:18). That was Abraham’s invariable practice wherever he went. The altar was the permanent, ever-present feature of his life wherever he travelled. Isaac and Jacob too pitched their tents and built their altars (Gen. 26:25; 33:18-20). In the period of the patriarchs, worship became a family institution.

After Israel was redeemed from Egypt, a national shrine was established in the form of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. The people lived in tents and so did God, right in the heart of the camp of Israel. Worship for the Jewish people was no longer individualistic or familial, it was national. And at the heart of Israel’s worship was the altar. Later, when the people were settled in the land and living in houses of stone, Solomon built the God of Israel a house, the rituals of which centred on sacrifice. Little wonder, then that according to Pirke Avot, ‘Shimon HaTzaddik… used to say: On three things the world stands. On Torah, on service [of God in the temple, which included sacrifice], and on acts of human kindness.’

In 587 BCE, the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and for seventy years the people of Israel were without a means of atonement. When the exiles returned, before ever they began rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and even before they rebuilt the Temple, they reinstituted the sacrificial system. And when the second temple was erected, inferior though it was to Solomon’s edifice, the important factor was that the people had a place to offer sacrifices to their God.

Ezekiel was a priest who was deported to Babylon with the first wave of exiles. In his thirtieth year he received the first of a series of revelations that culminated with the great vision, recorded in chapters 40 to 48 of his prophecy, of a future Jerusalem and Temple. The city in the last nine chapters of Ezekiel has an area between three or four thousand square miles, including the holy ground set apart for the prince, priests, and Levites. As the area of the city is almost the size of the whole of Judea west of the Jordan, it is highly unlikely that we are supposed to interpret the vision literalistically. So how should we understand the vision?

We have seen that in the Tanakh worship progressed and developed from the individual altars of Cain and Abel to the temple of Solomon. Each development is a progression; so what advance could there be on the stone temple? What if God’s people become the temple? What if they become the material with which God constructs a final temple in which he takes residence?

In the books of the New Covenant, in the second chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus was challenged by the temple authorities to perform a miracle to justify his right to throw the moneychangers out of the precincts of the second temple. His answer was, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The response of the temple authorities was, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’

‘But,’ says John, Jesus ‘was speaking of the temple of His body.’

In his first letter to Diaspora Jews who believed in Jesus, Simon Peter, described those believers as ‘living stone’ in the temple of God. In John’s Gospel chapter 7, Jesus attended the water-pouring ceremony at the temple on the last great day of Sukkot and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’

John explains that the river of living was the Ruach Kodesh, the Holy Spirit that those who believe in Jesus will receive. There is no Scripture which says in so many words that rivers of living water will flow out of believers in Messiah but in Ezekiel’s vision, a river of life-giving water flowed from the future temple. What Ezekiel was seeing was the future, greater temple made of living stones: Messiah’s people from whom life would go to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

At the festival of Shavuot in 33CE, the Spirit of God was poured out on 120 Jewish disciples of Jesus while they were observing the festival of weeks in the temple. On that day, 3,000 Jews and proselytes became believers and since that time the Good News of Jesus the Messiah has gone out as a life-giving river to all nations. And just as the Shekinah came down at the dedication of the Tabernacle in Ex. 40 and at the dedication of the Temple in 2 Chron. 5:13,14), so the glory of God descended at the dedication of the true third and final temple when the Spirit of God came down in the form of fire and wind (Acts 2).

Neither the Temple Mount Faithful nor any other observant Jews need wait for the Dome of the Rock to be removed in order to build a third Temple, nor need they wait for a pure Red Heifer to be bred in order to purify the Temple furniture and its priesthood. The temple seen in the vision by Ezekiel came into existence 2,000 years ago. Jesus was put to death outside Jerusalem in the place where the Red Heifer was offered in order to purify and sanctify his new living Temple and his new priesthood.

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