God’s New Temple, part 5

Worship

This five-part series explores how the early Church separated from the Jerusalem temple, where the first Christians often met (Luke 24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:20-21). Part 5 is about God’s new temple, the Church.

The Church is God’s house

In the early days of the Church, the new believers continued to meet in the temple (Luke 24:53). But in A.D. 70 Rome demolished the Jerusalem temple just as Jesus had foretold: “‘Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. ‘Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down’” (Mark 13:2 NIV). (See also Matt. 24:2; Luke 21:6.)

The ceremonial observances—animal sacrifices—finally were abolished. God had ensured that those who worshiped Him would do so not with regard to place, but in spirit and in truth (John 4:23).

God’s presence was no longer confined to the temple; God would now reach into all the world to build a new temple where the Holy Spirit could dwell and fill all the earth (Eph. 1:22-23).

The Church, the true temple of God

Under the new covenant, the Spirit of God dwells not in any building or structure of wood and stone, but in the spiritual house of the Church—the corporate Body of Christ.

4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—
5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. …
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
–1 Peter 2:4–5, 9–10 NIV

The Church is a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, a spiritual house and temple with Jesus Christ as its Chief Cornerstone.

Paul’s teaching echoes the Body-as-temple motif:

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household,
20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.
22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
–Ephesians 2:19–22 NIV

The Church is a spiritual building made of living stones, whose foundation is Christ Himself. It is a temple where the Spirit of God dwells.

9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.
11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. …
16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.
–1 Corinthians 3:9–11,16–17 NIV

Paul informed the Corinthians that, as a local body of believers, they were God’s temple, a local expression of the Body of Christ where God dwelled by the Spirit.

Later in this same letter, Paul revealed that each believer was also a temple of the Holy Spirit:

15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? …
19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;
20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
–1 Corinthians 6:15a,19–20 NIV

As Spirit-filled believers, we are the temple of the living God—personally and corporately. (See 2 Cor. 6:16; 1 Tim. 3:15.)

God no longer dwells in buildings made of stone. When we step into a church building, we should no longer quote Psalm 122:1: “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (NIV).

A church building is not God’s house or temple; “…WE are his house” (Heb. 3:6 NIV).

Let’s recognize the Lord’s house for what it is—the Body of Christ—and not human structures. Jesus died to set us free from temple worship, and so did Stephen.

Be that temple of the Living God where the Holy Spirit lives and moves and has being. This is new testament Christianity.

More information:
God’s New Temple, part 1
God’s New Temple, part 2
God’s New Temple, part 3
God’s New Temple, part 4

God’s New Temple, part 4

Tabernacle

This five-part series explores how the early Church separated from the Jerusalem temple, where the first Christians often met (Luke 24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:20-21). Part 4 is about the persecution of the Church and the house of the Lord.

Stephen’s death results in persecution

In a strange way, Stephen’s message was confirmed. Place no longer mattered for Jews who had accepted Jesus as Messiah.

Proof of this became apparent when persecution broke out against the fledgling Church, and they scattered everywhere (Acts 8:1-4).

The “house of the Lord”

In the Old Testament it was the tabernacle and then the temple—the “house of the Lord”—where the people gathered to worship God and experience God’s presence.

The phrase “house of the Lord” occurs 234 times in the King James Version of the Bible. All of these references appear in the Old Testament, and they refer to the building of the temple. Here are a few examples:

One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.
–Psalm 27:4 NIV

I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
–Psalm 122:1 NIV

1 Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord who minister by night in the house of the Lord.
2 Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord.
–Psalm 134:1-2 NIV

The house of the Lord was a physical building where the Israelites were required to gather and worship the Lord. It was there that God met the people by God’s Spirit, as in the days of Solomon.

10 When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord.
11 And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.
12 Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud;
13 I have indeed built a magnificent temple for you, a place for you to dwell forever.”
14 While the whole assembly of Israel was standing there, the king turned around and blessed them.
–1 Kings 8:10–14 NIV

God had designated Jerusalem as the place of worship where God’s people must bring their sacrifices. (See Deut. 12:4-7,11-14; 2 Sam. 7:5,13; 1 Ki. 11:36; 14:21.) But God could never be confined to any building.

Jesus predicted that temple worship would come to an end (see John 4:21-24). Those who would worship God would worship “in spirit and in truth.”

Before his stoning, Stephen argued that “‘the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands’” (Acts 7:48 NIV).

When Jesus hung on the cross and surrendered His spirit to the Father, the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies in the temple was rent in two—from top to bottom—showing that this was the work of God, not people. (See Matt. 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45.)

It was the initiation of prophetic fulfillment of this passage from Ezekiel:

26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
–Ezekiel 36:26-27 NIV

See also Jeremiah 31:31-34.

Through Christ’s sacrifice, God opened “a new and living way… for us through the curtain, that is, [Christ’s] body” (Heb. 10:20 NIV).

This new access was not only to lead believers into a deeper worship experience within a special building. Rather, it signified that God was letting His Spirit out to touch the entire world.

How?

Through God’s new house, the Church. We’ll learn more next time.

More information:
God’s New Temple, part 1
God’s New Temple, part 2
God’s New Temple, part 3

God’s New Temple, part 3

Stoning of St Stephen

This five-part series explores how the early Church separated from the Jerusalem temple, where the first Christians often met (Luke 24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:20-21). Part 3 is about Stephen’s rejection and execution.

The rejection of the religious leaders

At his trial, Stephen lambasted the religious leaders: “‘You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!’” (Acts 7:51 NIV). Stephen accused them of betraying and murdering their Messiah.

The Sanhedrin’s rejection of Stephen’s teaching was merely characteristic of their rebellion against all the prophetic messages God had sent them in the past. Jesus had prophesied,

50 “Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world,
51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.”
–Luke 11:50-51 NIV

Ultimately, they refused the One to whom the prophets pointed. In the same way they condemned Stephen, they had executed God’s one true Messenger—the Christ, the Son of God.

Stephen accused them of the utmost hypocrisy: receiving what they considered to be the word of God, but refusing to obey what it said (7:53).

This climax of Stephen’s diatribe was ill received.

The stoning of Stephen

54 When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him.
55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
–Acts 7:54–56 NIV

The focus of Stephen’s teaching had been that God is not confined to buildings. He had quoted Isaiah 66:1: “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.’” (Acts 7:49a NIV).

The moment he finished speaking, Stephen was overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit and, looking up, beheld what he’d been teaching about: He saw the throne of God and Christ standing at God’s right hand.

Stephen had preached that God’s place was in heaven; the Holy Spirit confirmed the word and unveiled the Lord in His heavenly glory.

7:57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him,
58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
8:1 And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. …
–Acts 7:57–60; 8:1a NIV

In essence, Stephen proclaimed that worshiping at the temple and observing the ceremonial laws associated with temple worship were no longer necessary for Jews who had received Christ (Heb. 9:8-14 NIV).

As God revealed this to the early Church, the divine plan for them began to unfold. Yet there was a price for progress; Stephen gave his life for the word of the Lord.

In their sin, the people who stoned Stephen rejected his message and refused to accept what their Scriptures already stated—that God could not be contained in human-made structures. God was building a new house to dwell in.

We’ll learn more about this house next time.

More information:
God’s New Temple, part 1
God’s New Temple, part 2

God’s New Temple, part 2

temple

This five-part series explores how the early Church separated from the Jerusalem temple, where the first Christians often met (Luke 24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:20-21). Part 2 is about the history of “place” and Stephen’s prophetic rebuke of the Sanhedrin.

The history of “place”

Stephen recounted the history of Israel for his listeners in the Jerusalem Sanhedrin, an assembly of rabbis appointed to sit as a tribunal or court system.

He spoke about God’s call to Abraham, who left Ur and traveled to Canaan, and of the hardships the patriarch’s descendants would endure.

6 “God spoke to [Abraham] in this way: ‘Your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.
7 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves,’ God said, ‘and afterward they will come out of that country and worship me in this place.’”
–Acts 7:6–7 NIV

Stephen echoes his accuser’s words, mentioning place, a special location where the Israelite people one day would worship God.

Stephen also mentions place elsewhere in his speech. He refers to the presence of the Lord in the burning bush:

“Then the Lord said to [Moses], ‘Take off your sandals; the place where you are standing is holy ground.’”
–Acts 7:33 NIV

Stephen then recounts a short history of the tabernacle:

44 “Our ancestors had the tabernacle of the covenant law with them in the wilderness. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen.
45 After receiving the tabernacle, our ancestors under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David,
46 who enjoyed God’s favor and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.
47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him.”
–Acts 7:44–47 NIV

The tabernacle was a temporary dwelling place for God among the Israelites during their wilderness sojourn. David’s dream was to provide a permanent place for God to dwell among His people. David gave his son Solomon plans for this “house,” the temple.

Stephen then reaches the crux of his argument:

48 “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:
49 ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be?
50 Has not my hand made all these things?’”
–Acts 7:48–50 NIV

The Jews of that time considered place of utmost importance, but God was never confined to a place, whether it be a tabernacle, a temple, or a house (1 Ki. 8:27).

In the past God had mocked their cries of “the temple of the Lord! the temple of the Lord! the temple of the Lord!” Israel gave lip service to God’s great temple, but they desecrated it by their evil deeds, showing they had no heart relationship with God (see Jer. 7:3-15).

Stephen’s prophetic rebuke

Stephen recounted Israel’s rebellion in the desert (Acts 7:39-43). Even though Israel had the tabernacle, the place where God dwelled with them, they rejected God and refused to obey.

Stephen spoke the truth and accurately assessed the hearts of his listeners. Like their forebears, they “reverenced” the temple but denied their faith in God by spurning what God was saying by the Holy Spirit through Stephen.

Stephen rebuked them.

51 “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!
52 Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him—
53 you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”
–Acts 7:51–53 NIV

Strong words. What happened? We’ll find out next time.

More information:
God’s New Temple, part 1
God’s New Temple, part 3

God’s New Temple, part 1

temple

This five-part series explores how the early Church separated from the Jerusalem temple, where the first Christians often met (Luke 24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:20-21).

Some time after Pentecost (Acts 2), God began to move by the Spirit in a new way in the fledgling Church.

It was time for the new believers to be pushed out of the nest into the world to fulfill the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20). This developed through persecution, brought on by the preaching of Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

Stephen, a man full of God

Stephen was not an apostle, but Acts 6 describes him as a disciple “full of the Spirit and wisdom” (v. 3), “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (v. 5), and “a man full of God’s grace and power” (v. 8).

Stephen was elected as a deacon—someone who waited on tables and distributed food to widows (Acts 6:1-6)—yet he was on fire for God, moving in the revelation of the Holy Spirit and preaching the gospel boldly.

Stephen “did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people” (Acts 6:8 NIV). These signs were God’s confirmation of the message he was preaching.

Whatever the message was, miracles and healings should have brought rejoicing. Instead, Stephen’s message met with opposition.

Stephen’s controversial message

9 Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen,
10 but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.
–Acts 6:9–10 NIV

What Stephen preached was controversial. Some people opposed his message and argued with him.

Stephen wasn’t sharing personal opinions, though. He spoke the wisdom of God by the Spirit of God.

11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God.”
12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin.
13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law.
14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”
–Acts 6:11–14 NIV

These religious leaders persuaded some men to testify falsely against Stephen so they could condemn him. (This is the same tactic the Sanhedrin used on Jesus [see Matt. 26:60-61].)

Jesus had prophesied that the temple would be reduced to rubble (Matt. 24:1-2; Mark 13:1-2; Luke 21:5-6). He also said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19 NIV; see also Mark 14:58). But He was referring to the temple of His body.

The accusations of the synagogue men contained a measure of truth. However, if Stephen spoke the wisdom of God by the Spirit of God, he certainly wasn’t blaspheming Moses or God.

But the message he was spreading did pertain to abolishing worship in the temple—which they called “this holy place” (v. 13), and “this place” (v. 14).

As a result, “they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin” (Acts 6:12 NIV).

Stephen’s prophetic speech before the Sanhedrin is recorded in Acts 7. Next time, we’ll study this passage to discover what exactly Stephen was preaching.

More information:
God’s New Temple, part 2

You Can Prophesy

prophesying

You can prophesy, did you know it? If you desire to bless and encourage others, you can deliver messages from God. Here’s how to get started.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of prophecy

On the day of Pentecost, God poured out the Holy Spirit on the followers of Christ. The Apostle Peter quoted the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.’”
–Acts 2:17-18 NIV

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of prophecy. If you’ve been baptized in the Holy Spirit, you’ve been given the potential to speak for God.

When Paul placed his hands on [the Ephesian disciples], the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.
–Acts 19:6 NIV

Paul told the Corinthians, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. … For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged” (1 Cor. 14:1, 31 NIV).

All Spirit-filled believers have the potential to prophesy. But they must eagerly desire the gift to bless others.

What is the gift of prophecy?

Christian prophet Dennis Cramer defines prophecy as “a supernatural message given for the purpose of ‘strengthening, encouraging and comforting’” (You Can All Prophesy, Arrow Publications, 2003). His definition comes from the words of the Apostle Paul:

But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.
–1 Corinthians 14:3 NIV

The gift of prophecy is available to all believers filled with the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:7). The gift of prophecy is not for foretelling world events, but simply for bringing strength, encouragement, and comfort to those who receive the message. You can prophesy to individuals or groups.

Here are four principles to focus on if you want to prophesy.

1. Esteem the prophetic gift.

First Thessalonians 5:20 says, “Do not despise prophecies.” J.N. Darby translates it, “Do not lightly esteem prophecies.”

The first principle in becoming a prophetic person is to value the prophetic gift. The revelation of the Spirit is precious. Treat it like it’s important and respect the message. (As well as the messenger.)

“I hold prophecy in high esteem.”

2. Believe you can prophesy.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged” (1 Cor. 14:31 NKJV).

You can prophesy. You all can prophesy. You can all practice prophesying so that everybody learns.

Prophesying—speaking a message from the Holy Spirit—is not just for a chosen few who are specially gifted, but for everyone who wants it. That means you. Say with me:

“I can prophesy!”

3. Desire to prophesy.

Believe it or not, a key factor in determining whether you move in prophecy is how badly you want to.

Some believe they’ll deliver a message only if the Holy Spirit overpowers them. It doesn’t work that way. Romans 12:6 says you prophesy “in proportion to your faith.”

You can prophesy. But you must believe it—believe it enough to step out in faith, try, and keep trying. Faith comes to those who prepare for it through desire.

“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy” (1 Cor. 14:1 NKJV). Another version puts it, “you should truly want to have the spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy” (NCV).

If you follow the way of Christ’s love, you’ll want the Holy Spirit to use you to speak inspired words of strength, encouragement, and comfort to others.

“I desire to prophesy.”

4. Be eager to prophesy.

Wanting to prophesy is important, but it isn’t enough. You must be eager to do so every chance you get. This is another area where desire will open the door to opportunity.

“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Cor. 14:39 NIV). The word “eager” is zeloo in Greek, which means “to burn with zeal; to desire earnestly, pursue; to envy; to covet.” Strong words, but good advice.

You esteem prophecy. You can prophesy, you want to prophesy, and you have a burning desire to receive and deliver the message from the Spirit. You must be zealous to prophesy at every opportunity.

“I am eager to prophesy.”

Understand that any prophetic message is instigated by the Holy Spirit, not your own desires. Part of learning to prophesy is being sensitive to the Spirit’s nudgings. So be eager without being too aggressive.

Start by ministering to your close friends, then as you grow in your abilities, branch out to other acquaintances who are on the same page spiritually. Be eager but start slow and learn as you go.

Prophetic principles to promote prophecy

This is my daily meditation. if you make it yours, God will use you to bless others with encouraging messages from above.

  1. I hold prophecy in high esteem.
  2. I can prophesy.
  3. I desire to prophesy.
  4. I am eager to prophesy.

Let me know how this has helped you in your life and ministry. God bless you!

Jesus, Crowned with Many Crowns

Jesus

Sweet visitations of the Holy Spirit came to me early in 2015, and I want to tell you about one vision I experienced the morning of March 18, 2015.

Vision of Jesus on his heavenly throne

I was listening to some worship music (Darlene Zschech, “Worthy Is the Lamb”), and the tangible presence of the Holy Spirit came upon me.

I saw myself ascending to the throne room, and beheld Jesus glorified on his heavenly throne. I bowed at his feet, weeping and worshiping and adoring him. There were so many, many, many gathered around him doing the same.

We crowned him with many crowns, and I saw crown after crown—many thousands of crown—coming from the worshipers, flowing to him and being placed on his head, which was brighter than lightning, brighter that the noonday sun, and being taken in and absorbed, and him growing brighter and more glorious. He ascended high into the heavens, with rays of light flowing down upon us all and over the entire earth.

Later, as I typed this vision and listened to the song again, the holy Presence and weeping came upon me again, and I began to clap and speak in tongues. The interpretation follows.

Interpretation of tongues about coming up higher, the glory

For yea, the Lord says, I am calling you up higher. I’m calling you into the heavenlies. I’m calling you to come up and to be where I am. I’m calling you forth in the Spirit and to step into the Spirit.

I will provide that which you need to be a catalyst for you to step into the Spirit, to launch yourself into the heavenlies, that you might be with me where I am, that you might enter the realm of miracles, that you might enter the realm of signs and wonders, and that you might enter the realm of angels and of the glory of the Lord.

For I desire to reveal my glory unto you in this day and in this hour, and it shall come forth shining as the sun, and it shall come forth and it shall bestow upon you gifts and graces that only have been promised you before by the words of my mouth. And I will surely make good on all my promises to you. I will pour my Spirit through you.

I will anoint you to do the things that I have called you to do. I will anoint you to call in the lost, I will anoint you to speak forth my plan and my purpose, I will anoint you to be my spokesman, to be my prophet, to be my mouthpiece in this day and in this hour.

Here and there, I will take you. Here and there, I will speak through you. Here and there, I will bring them, and I will bring them so that they may sit in your presence and hear from me, says the Lord, for I have a glory to share with you; I have a glory to share through you; I have a glory to share among you, that you might walk in my presence and my power.

And I’m drawing those unto myself. I’m drawing you and I’m drawing those unto myself that you might together come and be that body that I have equipped you to be and to be members of the fold that I have called you to, over which the banner rises, “Accepted in the Beloved.” The banner over you is love.

I’m calling you, says the Lord. Will you not come up higher? Come up higher and rest in me, and you shall find your refreshing, and you shall find the power that you need to fulfill your calling in me, says the Lord.

Lord, let your word come to pass quickly.