Model of Herod's temple

What dispensationalism gets wrong about the temple

The New Testament teaches that Jesus is the true Israel and David’s greater son (Matthew 2:15 as a fulfilment of Hosea 11:1; Acts 2:29-33, Galatians 3:16, Philippians 3:3; Hebrews 8-10 as a fulfilment of Jeremiah 31:31-34).

It is in Christ’s church — as Jesus’ mystical Spirit-filled body — that we find the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies regarding Jerusalem and the Mountain of the Lord (Hebrews 12:18-24). 

The promise of a land (Genesis 12:1, 13:15-17; 15:12-21) will be fulfilled by a universal kingdom (cf. Romans 4:13; Hebrews 11:9-10).

The New Testament is clear that Christ is the New Temple. Any new order of commemoration involving the ceremonies that is tied to the earthly temple found in a future millennium can only commemorate the types and shadows, which, unintentionally or not, denies the reality: at his return, the risen and ascended Jesus brings about the final consummation (the resurrection, the judgment, and the creation of a new heaven and earth).

This is a serious interpretive problem for those dispensationalists who argue, in effect, that redemptive history takes a U-turn in the millennial age, as the reality, which is found in Christ’s fulfilment of the Old Temple imagery in his own body, supposedly returns to the types and shadows of the Old Testament.

How, then, is the temple imagery from the Old Testament fulfilled by Jesus Christ in the New? In Exodus 40:34, we read that the glory of the Lord filled his temple. When viewed against the overall backdrop of redemptive history, from the hindsight of fulfilment, we see how this expectation pointed forward to the day of Pentecost, when, through the indwelling Holy Spirit, the glory of the Lord filled his true temple, the church, which is the mystical body of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12 ff.).

If Christ’s body is the true temple — as Paul puts it, “For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:16) — what use remains for a future rebuilt temple in Jerusalem? That to which the temple had pointed is now a reality through the work of the Holy Spirit. Why return to the type and shadow?

It is also clear from chapters 8-10 of Hebrews, that in his death Jesus fulfilled the priesthood typology of the Old Testament. In his own shed blood, Jesus put an end to the sacrificial system, once and for all! Says the author of Hebrews, “Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man” (Hebrews 8:1-2).

If the reality to which the Old Testament sacrifices and priesthood pointed is to be found in this heavenly true sanctuary and tabernacle, why look for a return to the types and shadows of an earthly temple with its bloody sacrifices, which served throughout Old Testament revelation to point us to this very heavenly scene?

Contrary to the view of dispensationalists, the prescribed New Testament commemoration of the ratification of the New Covenant is not to be found in a new order of temple worship, which includes a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, a new Levitical priesthood and further animal sacrifice, supposedly yet to be re-instituted in an earthly millennial kingdom in which Jesus rules on David’s throne in Jerusalem. Rather, when Jesus utters the words of institution, “this is my body, this is my blood, do this in remembrance of me,” he institutes the divinely approved method of commemoration of his sacrificial work, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, about which Jesus declares, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).  It is in this way, through faith in Christ’s promise, the people of God feed on the Saviour in their hearts through faith and commemorate his doing and dying on their behalf.

When Jesus tells the Samaritan women that he can give her living water and that “everyone who drinks from this water will never be thirsty again”, Jesus is self-consciously declaring that he fulfils that prophetic image of which Ezekiel had foretold in the forty-seventh chapter of his prophecy, when he spoke of the water flowing from the sanctuary. If Jesus is the true temple of God, then he alone gives us that “living water” which takes away human sin and longing for forgiveness.

Therefore, the dispensationalists’ insistence upon a return in the millennial age to the types and shadows associated with Old Testament prophetic expectation amounts to a serious misreading of the course of redemptive history. By arguing for a new commemorative order based upon Old Testament typology which is yet to begin in the millennial age, dispensationalists see the future millennium not as a consummation, but as a return to the past. And this, of course, obscures the person and work of Christ, seeing the ultimate reality not in him, but in those types and shadows that were destined to pass away when the reality himself had nearly completed his messianic mission and declared to unbelieving Israel, “something greater than the temple is here”. Read the full article by Kim Riddlebarger.