Review: The Temple and the Church’s Mission (NSBT)

The Temple and the Church’s Mission; G.K. Beale

G. K. Beale is the professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. He’s well known for his commentary on Revelation (and a shorter one too) and books on the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament [Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament and Handbook of the NT Use of the OT], and a New Testament Biblical Theology.

Beale poses this question as his thesis for TTATCM: If John sees a new heaven and a new earth in Revelation 21.1, what is the ‘holy city, new Jerusalem’ that comes down from heaven? Verse 3 says the dwelling place of God is with man, and in 21.10-22.3 “he sees a city that is garden-like, in the shape of a temple (p. 23). How does John provide an explanation for all this?

Beale proposes that the first temple we see in the Bible is the garden of Eden, for that is where God’s presence is located. God’s command to Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” is seen a a command to expand that garden, thus expanding God’s presence to fill the earth “with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2.14). Everything we see after dealing with the tabernacle and “temple” is thus God expanding His presence across the earth, looking toward the consummation of Revelation 21-22 where His presence fill the entire universe in the New Creation.

Outline (The Pre-Chocolate Milk)

One could think, “How can someone write a 458 (really 379) page book on a biblical theology of the dwelling place of God?” Could anything be more boring than the temple? Have you ever actually read the last third of Exodus (chs 25-31; 35-40)? Or 1 Kings 5-7? Those are the chapters we wish we could avoid when we read our Bibles, yet Beale has written a monster of a book in the NSBT series. Why read this book? As the outline shows, there is plenty to write about on the temple.

Chapter 2; Cosmic Symbolism of Temples in the Old Testament

Israel viewed Israel’s earthly temple to be a symbol of the heavenly cosmic temple (Ps 78.69), and the objects inside it also represented things God made on earth and in the universe (Ex 25.9; Isa. 66.1-2; Heb 8.5; 9.23-24). Beale proceeds into showing why God ‘rested’ on the seventh day, how the importance of that action would come to be known as ‘the Sabbath’ command, and how it is seen in other Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) writings as well (more on that later). We also look at how the tabernacle/temple reflected the first temple in the garden of Eden. The first priest was in the Garden. The “golden lampstand” and precious stones are first found in and around the Garden. Even the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple are decorated with garden-like features.

Chapter 3; The Expanding Purpose of Temples in the Old Testament

How the theme of mankind’s kingly/priestly role of serving God in the temple and the mandate to “be fruitful and multiply” to expand the Garden and thus God’s glory is seen and passed on to the patriarchs in their altar building, to Israel at Mt. Sinai, to David and Solomon at Mt. Moriah, and in how Israel should live post-exile.

Chapter 4; The Expanding End-Time Purpose of Temples in the Old Testament

How the OT authors saw the mandate to expand Eden may mean that even the borders of Israel were to be expanded to the whole world. If God is too big for a physical temple (Isa 66.1-2), where is He supposed to be? This mandate is seen in Numbers 24.5-9, Isaiah 66, Jeremiah 3, Ezekiel, Zechariah 1-2, and in Daniel 2‘s view of an expanding Kingdom (Dan 2.34-35,44-45),   This is a dense chapter (at least with plenty of biblical references) and I’m still excited to go back and look through all of the references again. There is plenty to look through in the book, and even when you’re done, you’re never really done.

Chapter 5; The ‘Already and Not Yet’ Fulfillment of the End-Time Temple in Christ and His People: The Gospels

How Christ is the last Adam and the temple (Jn 1.14, 2.19-21) of New Creation. Beale looks at the significance of the temple veil being torn at Christ’s death, along with the significance of the parable of the vineyard and Jesus as the ‘cornerstone.’ What did Jesus do that pointed to Him being the greater temple? Some examples would be Matt 9.1-8; 16.19; 18.15-20; 28.20. I encourage you to read them yourself and see how they give witness to Jesus being that greater temple, the place of God’s presence.

Chapter 6; The Inauguration of a New Temple in the Book of Acts

How Pentecost relates to Mt. Sinai in Exodus. How does Pentecost fulfill Joel’s prophecy of the latter days? Or the destruction of the old order and the creation of the new? And how does Peter know to interpret it this way? We see how Stephen (Acts 7) and James (Acts 15) views Christ as the temple and New Creation. What is the OT background for the Gentiles’ relationship to Christ’s rebuilt temple seen in Amos 9.11-12, Hos 3.5, and Jeremiah 12.15-16? There’s more there than you ever would have thought.

Chapter 7; The Inauguration of a New Temple in the Epistles of Paul

The use of Paul’s temple imagery in 1 Cor 3, 2 Cor 5-6, Eph 2, Col 2, and what that means for the Church to keep pure as New Creations who are unified in Christ and who bear fruit and increase by proclaiming the gospel to all the world.

Chapter 8; The Temple in 2 Thessalonians 2

The use of Paul’s temple imagery in 2 Thess 2. What do we do with the ‘falling away’ and the ‘man of lawlessness’ who exalts himself in the temple? While many may agree with Beale’s conclusions on most of Paul’s letters, many will also disagree with his conclusions on 2 Thess 2. All I can say on it now is that his case is compelling, and the reader should be willing to wrestle with the text.

Chapter 9; The Inauguration of a New Temple in Hebrews

Brings us to the ‘greater and more complete tabernacle’ which Christ as a priest walked through ‘not made with hands, that is to say not of this creation.’ In an excursus, Beale explains what Acts 7.48-49 tell us about OT ‘handmade’ temples and how this relates to Hebrews.

Chapter 10; The World-Encompassing Temple in Revelation

Reflects the temple in Rev 11.1-4, its background in Zech 4, and a few other texts in Revelation which give us information on the temple of Rev 21-22.

Chapter 11; The Temple in Ezekiel 40-48 and its Relationship to the New Testament

This will be of great interest to many people (which is probably why Beale puts it near the end of his colossus). Will Ezekiel’s temple (chs 40-48) be literal, or is it figurative? Why or why not? Beale gives his reasoning, and if you know anything about Beale, this is a very interesting chapter.

This chapter, more than the chapter on 2 Thess 2, gives reason to wrestle with the text (depending on where your eschatology lies, though all should wrestle with these passages despite which ‘end-time’ view you hold to).

Chapter 12; Theological Conclusions: The Physical Temple as a Foreshadowing of God’s and Christ’s Presence as the True Temple

How the NT interprets the Old (which I found very interesting). What does it mean for John to look back at the OT for descriptions of the New Jerusalem in Rev 21-22? Why is the city made of gold (Rev 21.18)? Why are the ‘unclean’ outside the gates (21.26-27; 22.14-15)? What is the relationship between the old temple and the new? All of this and more is expounded upon in this chapter.

Chapter 13; Practical Reflections on Eden and the Temple for the Church in the Twenty-First Century

Now that we are in Christ, how is the church supposed to live? What does God’s temple do?

The Chocolate Milk

As the size of this review may tell you, I enjoyed this book very much. One might think it would be easy to write a review on a book this size, but the trouble is finding where to start and where to end! There are so many god points that one can only surrender defeat and hope he gets the point across.

Beale hands the reader plenty of scriptural references to back up his points. It’s rare for him to be without scripture. This is immensly helpful, for I’ve read my fair share of books where a point was made yet no scripture was used to back it up (James Jordan’s Through New Eyes, and a few times in Peter Leithart’s A House For My Name). This way, when Beale makes a claim, he backs it up, and the reader can come to their own conclusions without being left in the dark.

I enjoyed that there was even a chapter 13. Beale doesn’t want to fill our heads with only “head knowledge” (although what he does give us at least provides a strong foundation for the unity of the whole Bible, even if one doesn’t agree with everything he says). I was impressed that he gave us some good practical application with his book. Being in Christ, we can be like Christ who resisted testing from Satan (Matt 4; Lk 4), and not be like Adam who allowed sin to reign (Gen 3). He relates the OT to Christians in Christ (the True Israel who completely obeyed) and how we live today. The temple is a house of prayer for all the peoples (Is 56.7)? Then we are to be ‘continually prayerful’ today (p. 398).

ANE Literature

The help Beale gives in comparing and contrasting what the OT biblical authors say to other ANE writings (also the NT authors to other non-canonical church writings) is fantastic. Its point of placement here in my review isn’t so much a critique as it is a tip-off that these sections may be hard to read. However, they are not as frequent as one might expect. Yet I will elaborate a bit on this to show the importance of this in Beale’s book, while hopefully not boring you.

However, reading parts of the Enuma Elish is less thrilling than reading about furniture arrangement in the Tabernacle. So why is it in here? It shows us that the biblical authors weren’t way ahead of their times. While some might say the OT authors copied from the other writings, Beale rejects that notion.

Cajun Example

Let’s say there are two authors who live in Louisiana who are both going to write separate non-fiction books. One lives in and writes about Lafourche parish; the other Bienville parish. Though their stories may be completely different, some parts of the book will still be similar. Concepts of architectural structures, the Louisiania government, the USA government, education, transportation, grocery stores, electronics, etc. Neither of them are borrowing from each other inasmuch as they simply live in the same era of time. Everything looks similar to them. And 1,000 years from now a historian could compare and contrast the two ways of live to show his students how people in Louisiana lived.

What now?

So looking at how the Sumerians and Egyptians viewed the concept of their gods ‘resting’, gives us a clearer idea of how the biblical authors viewed the true God as He rested over creation.

“The pagan religious material suggests further that after God overcame chaos and created the world and after he overcame Israel’s enemies and built the temple, he ‘rested’ as a true sovereign on his throne in contrast to the pretending, false deities whom pagan worshipers believed had done the same”

Beale: 66.

Israel lived in the same time period as other nations. Why would Israel’s day-to-day life be much different than the Sumerian day-to-day life? It’s not like Israel obeyed YHWH and then received iPads for Christmas. Both had temples, both grew crops, and both had to live like everyone else.

The difference between Israel and the other nations is that Israel knew the true God, YHWH. The biblical authors throughout the OT took what He said and they expounded on it as His Self-revelation progressed through the ages.

Recommended?

Though this book is quite dense and academic, I was immensely encouraged by it. Growing up, I always wondered why the biblical authors used the terms they used. In 2 Corinthians 5.1 when Paul says, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” what does “a house not made with hands” mean? Is it simply that God is making our resurrected bodies? This is true, but is there more to it? the subject matter of Paul’s letters is often times the tip of the iceberg, with the rest of the information lying under the surface (and throughout the OT). Beale shows the inter-connections of the New Testament with the Old, giving more confirmation that the Bible really is one unified book. And that even the most seemingly boring of subjects (like the temple) can be one of the most fascinating when viewed in light of Christ’s person and work.

To quote Beale and Clowney,

“While it is true that Christ fulfills what the temple stands for, it is better to say, ‘Christ is the meaning for which the temple existed'”

Beale: 374-75, Clowney: 177.

Lagniappe

Buy It on Amazon

[Special thanks to Chris at IVP UK for sending me this book for review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]


“Do we come by faith to God’s word daily, as did Jesus, in order that we may be strengthened increasingly with God’s presence in order to fulfill our task of spreading that presence to others who don’t know Christ? Believers express their identification with Christ’s Adamic kingship when they spread the presence of God by living for Christ and speaking His word and unbelievers accept it, and Satan’s victorious hold on their heart is broken”

– Beale: 396-97.

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