Some time ago, Jared White wrote a comprehensive and detailed review of The Black Swan Effect: A Response to Gender Hierarchy in the Church. I was amazed and blessed at the amount of work he put into it–it might easily be the best review I’ve seen. Since that time, he and I have corresponded over various matters. So when he offered to write a guest post for me, I jumped at the opportunity.
Here’s what Jared writes:
When you hear the phrase “house of prayer,” what do you think of? The famous scene where Jesus drove the money-changers out of the temple? Perhaps a special event at your church? Your own house? Pancakes…I mean, IHOP (aka the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, MO) or related movements?
Follow me on a little rabbit trail, and I’ll paint a picture for you that may surprise you.
When Jesus drove the money-changers out of the temple because of their greed and hypocrisy, he quoted from the prophet Isaiah:
“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:7)
The common understanding of this passage is that Jesus was referring to the Temple in Jerusalem since that’s where the incident took place. But this understanding is based on an Old Testament mindset, not a New Testament revelation of Jesus. Numerous times in the Gospels, Jesus prophesied about the nature of the Temple, and this is the what He said:
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (Matthew 26:61, Mark 13:2, Mark 14:58, John 2:19)
Furthermore, Jesus foretold the destruction of the Temple, saying “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” What was Jesus talking about?
In A.D. 70, 37 years after Jesus’ death, the Temple in Jerusalem was demolished by the Roman army. To this day, there are no sacrificial offerings being made in a Hebraic Temple in Jerusalem. Thus, the temple Jesus referred to when He said “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” was not a building or a location. He was referring to Himself!
Yes, Jesus is the Temple! Indeed, He was destroyed by dying upon a Roman cross at the instigation of the religious authorities, and He was raised up on the third day by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, the true date of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem was not the year 70 (the time of its physical destruction), but the year 33 (the time of its spiritual conclusion). What am I talking about? At the moment of Jesus’ death, the veil in the Holy of Holies was ripped in two (Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, Luke 23:45), signifying the religious system as established in the Old Testament had been fulfilled in Christ as the complete and final sacrifice for all sin for all time, and that God’s Holy Presence would be with all of His people—now a Holy Priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices through Christ. (1 Peter 2:5)
There is much more to be said about the significance of this revelation, and the letter written to the Hebrews in the New Testament goes into it in great detail. It would be glorious indeed if our story stopped there and we grasped the magnificence of this doctrine that Jesus is both Temple and High Priest. But the story continues!
The Apostle Paul takes things a step further in his first letter to the church in Corinth. In the context of addressing divisions and jealousy in the church, Paul makes this startling statement:
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)
Crazy talk! What is Paul really saying? That you are the holy temple of God? You?!?! Not a church building, not a place to congregate, not a sacred altar in a sacred location, but you?
Incredible, isn’t it? Your very person, your very life, is a vessel which God prepares to receive Himself through the process of sanctification. When you believe in Jesus Christ and are born again by the power of the Holy Spirit, you are transformed into a sacred place, a dwelling place for the Divine.
Paul repeats this again a little later on, this time in the context of sexual immorality. Paul entreats the people in the church to glorify God in their bodies by fleeing from sexual immorality, saying “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
Now I realize that we all have at various times felt shamed or guilty due to this verse. It’s not a comforting thought to think of our messed up lives as a temple of God. “Gee God, your temple is looking pretty shabby and in disrepair.” But Paul reminds us that we were bought with a price. What price? “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” God loves us, even in the midst of our pain, our barrenness, our shame. It is Christ who cleanses us and makes us clean, not our own efforts. He paid a high price to make you His Temple, to make me His Temple.
So, a quick recap: Jesus Christ is the Temple, and as little christs (Christians), you and I are temples of the Holy Spirit. Which brings us back around to my original question: what do you think of when you hear the phrase “house of prayer” now? Here is what you should think of:
You are a house of prayer. There is no religious obligation to attend a house of prayer at your church or a “missions base” or anywhere else in order to commune with the Almighty. God has no desire to dwell in a house built by human hands. To the contrary, “the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands” (Acts 7:48) but “we are His house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.” (Hebrews 3:6)
Now let me clarify, I am completely in favor of gathering together for prayer. To those saints who labor day and night in prayer meetings seeking the Lord, be blessed mightily in Jesus’ name! My point here is to present an ecclesiology which places a low emphasis on buildings and programs and events and a high emphasis on spiritual relationship and identity. Our very identity as Christians is that we are a house of prayer and we are God’s Temple. (2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:21)
On a practical level, what does it mean to be a house of prayer? I’ll be honest with you. This is where I am still “in process” and learning what God wants me to know about this rich topic. I can say this, however—when this revelation of being a “house of prayer” first came to me, my prayer life which had previously been rather stagnant entered into a new renaissance! You see, I’d had this idea that prayer is something I do. Now, I’m beginning to realize that prayer is something I am. Before, I thought, I had to bring to God an impressive-sounding list of petitions and conjure up a lot of faith for Him to notice. Now, I simply bring myself and my heart. Prayer then is simply me and God being together, sharing each other — hopes, fears, concern for others, desire to love more, everything.
I’ll leave you with these verses to meditate on:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)
“As you come to him [the Lord], a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5)
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19-22)