In 2 Thess. 2:4 Paul refers to “the MAN OF LAWLESSNESS, who opposes and exalts himself over everything called ‘god’, or object of worship, so that he, as ‘God’, sits in the Temple of God, showing himself to be ‘God’.”
The purpose of this article is to determine what Paul meant when he referred to the Temple of God. Many Christians these days have been reading the numerous books on the market that depict the coming days of the antichrist. And almost without exception these books speak of a literal Temple in Jerusalem, yet to be built on the old site, in which the Antichrist will sit. But we must ask the question – did Paul mean an actual building in an actual city?
The only way to answer questions of this sort is to look up the word ‘Temple’ in a Bible Concordance, and see what the whole of the New Testament has to say on the subject. This project doesn’t take very much time, because the number of occurrences is fairly small. We have performed this exercise, and carefully noted what the writers say in each reference. The following survey is aimed at exhibiting the results in the best way possible.
In the Gospels there are some 16 references which speak of the literal Temple at the City of Jerusalem, which was standing at that time. But we can reject all of these as insignificant to our enquiry for one simple reason. Our Lord, in His Olivet discourse, spoke of the soon-coming day when this Temple would not be standing, and when no one stone would be left standing on another which would not be thrown down. And students of history, who have read the amazingly detailed and horrific story of how this came about, in the works of Josephus, will know that it happened in A.D. 70.
Before we proceed further, some might argue and say that Paul was referring to this very event, and the appearing of an Antichrist in Jerusalem before it was destroyed by the armies of Titus. But although Josephus does mention certain men who were deceivers, he in no way gives credence to the assertion that THE Antichrist made his appearance at that time. There were too many other prophetic circumstances surrounding the Antichrist texts for A.D. 70 to have the significance we are looking for. This is why we say that we are inclined to reject all the Gospel texts and say that they do not refer to the event prophesied in 2 Thess.2:4.
In the book of Acts, the first reference is made by Stephen in his long speech. But he is not speaking of the Temple then standing, but the one built by Solomon. His statement comes from the O.T. and is worth repeating here. (7:48) “The Most High dwells not in Temples made with hands.” Later on in Acts, Paul uses the same argument when delivering his speech on Mars Hill. (17:24)
The wholly spiritual nature of the Temple of God is found four times over in Paul’s writings, and each of these will be quoted in full.
1 Cor.3:16 “Know you not that you (plural) are the Temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the Temple of God, God will defile him, for the Temple of God is holy, which (Temple) you are.”
1 Cor.6:19 “Know you not that your (plural) body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you (plural), whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your (plural) body.”
Eph.2:2 “You are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the Capstone, in Whom all building-work, being fitted together, grows into a Holy Temple in the Lord, in whom also you are being built together into a dwelling place of God in spirit.”
2 Cor.6:16. “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. – – what communion has light with darkness, what agreement has Christ with Belial? – – Arid what agreement has the Temple of God with idols? For we are the Templeof the Living God, as God has said, ‘I will dwell among them and walk among them and I will be their God and they shall be my people.”‘
All these references are to the Greek word NAOS. But Jesus sometimes referred to the Temple as ‘My Father’s House’,and Peter uses this symbol in his first letter.
1 Pet.2:5. “And you also, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
In addition to these references, there are 16 others in Revelation (all of them NAOS), which speak undoubtedly of the spiritual temple of the New Jerusalem. It will add nothing new to our enquiry to quote them all. Their import is identical to that already found in Paul’s and Peter’s letters. In the light of the references that we have quoted, which view seems to be the correct one? Did Paul mean that the Antichrist would take his seat in the literal Temple at Jerusalem, the one that Herod built? Or did he refer to a Temple yet to be built by the Jews in the city of Jerusalem as it is today? Or did he mean that the Antichrist would insinuate himself into the very body of Christ, amongst those who are true believers in the Lord Jesus?
We have already discarded the first of these options. The second one places the activities of the antichrist some way into the future. If this view is true, then there is still a small ‘breathing space’ before things begin to get tough for Christians.(So these books tell us!)
But we believe that the clear message of the New Testament is that of SPIRITUAL understanding as though all the physical symbols of the O.T. days were being exchanged for their true spiritual counterparts. It is our considered belief that the Antichrist has already been at work amongst the members of the Body of Christ and that this has been taking place for a very long time. In its modern phase, we would say that the last two hundred years have been very significant when world history is examined by the searchlight of the Scriptures.
In order to add validity to this argument, we might well bring forward the statements that John made in his first letter. (1 Jn.2:18) “Little children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen, whereby we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us, for if they were of us they would have remained with us. But they went out in order that it might be made manifest that they were not of us.”
Clearly this passage is of the greatest import to our enquiry, and must be taken seriously. Do we have other authority that Satan injects Antichrists into the midst of God’s people? We feel that our Lord’s words in the parable of the wheat and the tares gives exactly the same message. Indeed, it would seem that the SOLE PURPOSE of the Devil was to interfere with what God was doing. In the world he already has total control, but amongst God’s people there is a ‘new ownership’ and this enrages him. As a result, he injects his own agents posing as wheat. Wolves in sheep’s clothing. The two-horned lamb of Revelation 13. And so on. Is not this testimony clear and unequivocal?
What then are the implications of this fact? What lessons are we to learn from the knowledge that Antichrists abound amongst God’s people? Do the Scriptures have more advice to offer? Satan’s work in the Church of God must always be that of counterfeit and deception. What are his options? How best can he pass off his agents as examples of true Christianity? We should like to say that his disguises become less evident as the apostasy advances. Satan is glad of this day and age, because the Church is in a state of serious decline, and therefore he no longer needs to use such devious means of deception. But what means does he employ? The Bible tells us of one particular mode of deception perhaps more than any other. It is the liberal use of miraculous energy. “Powers and signs and lying wonders.” Even his agents themselves are caught up in this deception. They ‘deceive and are being deceived.’ As such they approach the Throne of God with a long catalogue of what they have done, “Have we not done, done, done, – – in your name?” But they are disowned.
Brethren, we speak with urgency. The world is now flooded with miraculous evidences in the Church. But the Bible has given us clear and unmistakable warnings. Not all these miracles emanate from the Holy Spirit. Many of them are the result of the forbidden use of psychic power latent within man. Occultists and those of eastern religions know well how to break into the ‘human safe’ and extract those energies that Adam had prior to the fall, and which God has locked up in the flesh. They use the repetitive ‘hammer blows’ of mantras to release the hidden psyche. But in the Church the relatively modern activities of the Charismatic movement are so similar to those of the occultists. They also favour the constant repetitive singing of choruses, and hand clapping, and progressive exercises of the flesh to create an ‘ atmosphere’ in which the psychical elements of man emerge. Satan has engineered this. He knows that the psychic energy LOOKS VERY MUCH LIKE the spiritual energy released in the genuine miracle of the Holy Spirit. What is more, he knows that the miracle worker is far more likely to be regarded as a ‘great man of God’ than the ordinary average man ‘in the pew’. And so he creates leaders of men who cunningly and progressively manipulate Christians according to their fleshly counterfeit of the true spiritual life.
‘By their fruits you shall know them’ Jesus said. Our advice is to spend more time looking at the LIVES of such men, rather than their MIRACLES. Take away all the miraculous from Jesus’ life, and we are left with the picture of an intensely holy man of God, whose words alone convict man of sin. What happens when we do the same to great men of miracles today? Do we find lives of holiness? Do we hear words of spiritual conviction? What is the lifestyle adopted? This will be the acid test. Finally, we must return to two vital texts in The N.T. which have not as yet been brought forward. The first is in John’s gospel (2:19-21) “Jesus said to them, ‘Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ Then said the Jews, ‘This Temple was built in 46 years, and you will raise it up in three days?’ But He spoke of the Temple of His body.”
Clearly there was an actual fulfilment of the word in the death and resurrection of Christ. He died, and was raised on the third day, according to the Scripture. But the words of John, saying, ‘He spoke of the Temple of His body’ appear to take on a further significance which at that time would not have been known or appreciated. But as the Holy Spirit taught the people of God in the days of Acts, so the truth of the Body of Christ began to emerge. And now, after nearly 2000 years, it may well be that the Lord was speaking of His mystical body AS WELL AS His own body. If a day is like a thousand years, then the second day is all but over, and the third day is almost upon us. Could this have been the significance of the word given to Hosea (6:1) when he prophesied saying, “Come, let us return to the Lord, for He has torn and He will heal us; He has smitten and He will bind us up. AFTER TWO DAYS He will revive us; in the third day He will raise us up and we shall live in His sight.” Do we see here the word of resurrection sounding forth from ancient days?
The second reference is in 1 Peter 4:17. “For the time is come that judgment must begin AT THE HOUSE OF GOD. And if it begin at us, what shall the end be of THOSE WHO OBEY NOT THE GOSPEL OF GOD?”
Where does the judgment of God begin? Is it not in the Temple, the House of God? And what is the House of God according to Peter? Does he not give an exact answer? He says than God’s House is “those who obey God.” And if the people of God today are found the world over and are called Christians, then God’s judgment will start amongst all such. Do we obey God? Basically we must be seen as such by the Lord, but by how much we are obedient is quite another matter. All those who have made a spiritual transaction with the Lord, and have been ‘born again, not of the flesh but of the spirit’ may be called God’s elect church, and all such may be deemed ‘obedient’ but we all know and recognise that as a whole body we have seriously departed from the Lord in many respects. This is perhaps why Hosea was made to write, “Come let us return to the Lord.”
Brethren, some may say that the House of God is in Jerusalem in the Land of Israel. If this is the case, then the Church will not feel the hand of God’s judgment upon her. Does that sound right? Does it have the ring of truth about it? Does not the whole idea fall down when seen in the light of Peter’s words? And does it not imply even further that the N.T. asks us to look at the SPIRITUAL MEANING of things, rather than the mere physical aspect of the words spoken? We believe that if these ideas are given due prayer and thought, then we shall arise into a new understanding of the work of the Antichrist in these days, and not fall into the trap of looking for him to arise in the days to come in the land of Israel. What this will mean in the lives of us all will depend on where we are and what we do, but know one thing, if the words we have spoken are true then the powers of darkness will be angry that we have exposed one of their deceptions. And this in itself will produce its own backlash from the enemy. But even that backlash will be as the authentication of the message.
But having completed this survey, we might well pass on to another question that seems to arise quite naturally out of the first question. Instead of asking “Which Temple” we shall now ask the question
And by this question we are of course posing an associated problem of Christian hermeneutics. When speaking today of ”Jerusalem” are we to understand that city in the Middle East where so much struggle and turmoil is presently taking place, or should we rather be thinking of the “Jerusalem which is above, our mother”?
This is an important question and one which must be answered by each one of us. Today there is a most profound emphasis on the physical Jerusalem. Many books have been written conveying the understanding that prophecy is being fulfilled before our very eyes, and has been since 1948, when the Jews became a nation again.
We must confess that we have also been of this persuasion, and have at times since 1948 been in a state of great excitement at the development of events in the Middle East. We have seen how a polarisation has developed between the Jews and the Arabs, and have thrown our minds back to the everlasting conflicts of O.T. times, thinking that they are now being resurrected once more. Unwittingly we have favoured the Jews as being “God’s people”, and castigated the Arabs as “God’s enemy”. We have done this without very much thought, and have been carried along by the ever increasing tide of popular Christian thinking. But during the last few weeks we have had the privilege of reading a book written by a Palestinian Arab who is also a most sincere Christian, and his testimony brought tears to our eyes as we were presented with facts that had been hidden from us, and facts that had been badly distorted by certain people whose motives seem to be less than pure. The name of our brother in Christ is Elias Chacour, and the name of his book is “BLOOD BROTHERS.” (Kingsway Publications) We highly recommend this book to all Christians, knowing that they, like us, might very well be unwittingly harbouring some erroneous thoughts about both Jews and Arabs.
As a result of the reading of this book, we have been brought to the place where we have had to re-examine some of our prophetic thinking in a most basic way. We have had to search the N.T. in the manner described above as regards theTemple, but this time for the City of Jerusalem, and indeed for the Jews as well. In this article we shall not be able to do justice to the subject, and feel that this must be the beginning of a greater enquiry. But some questions may now be posed, and tentative conclusions offered, so that further discussion may be promoted, and answers found.
One most important passage is found in John’s Gospel, where Jesus was speaking to the woman at the well in Samaria. (4:20-24) We shall quote it in full, because it is a watershed. “The woman said, ‘Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, and you say that in Jerusalem is where men ought to worship.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour comes when you shall neither in ‘This mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship you know not what. We know what we worship, because salvation is of the Jews. But the hour comes and now is when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
There is a sense in which, if we take these words literally, and follow exactly what the Master was saying, we shall never again be interested in ANY PARTICULAR PLACE on this earth as a ‘special’ place of worship. Instead we shall be cultivating a true spiritual worship, from the heart and through the spirit. As Elias Chacour said several times in his book, tourists come to Israel by their thousands and look for the ‘holy stones’ of the past. But so few are interested in building a new place of worship using ‘living stones.’ We echo these sentiments wholeheartedly.
Paul, speaking to the Galatians, accused them of ‘beginning in the spirit and then trying to be made perfect in the flesh.’ He asks how having known God they could ever want to ‘return to the weak and beggarly elements, to be in bondage.’ Then he uses the story of Sarah and Hagar to press his point home. Hagar is the ‘Jerusalem which is now, which is in bondage with her children,’ But ‘the Jerusalem which is above is free, who is our mother.’ Finally he says,“So then brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free woman.”
But in the 0.T. Hagar was the mother of Ishmael and Ishmael was the father of many Arabic peoples. Elias Chacour is descended from such a stock. But Paul said that Hagar represented not the Arabs, but Jerusalem which ‘is now’ and so we are immediately thrown into the necessity of understanding these things in a spiritual way. Elias Chacour, according to Paul belongs to the ‘Jerusalem which is above’ , even though as regards his genealogy and descent he comes from Hagar. But many Jews would be seen by Paul to belong to the Jerusalem which is now, and this makes them the children of Hagar! It is not really so confusing once the point is understood.
In Hebrews 11 Paul referred to many of the 0.T. saints, saying that they desired a “better country, that is a heavenly, wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city.” What city is this? In the next chapter he says “You are come to Mount Zion, the City of the Living God, the Heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, who are written in heaven.”There’s no doubt about which city Paul is referring to in this passage. It is the same city that is found extensively described by John in the later chapters of the Revelation.
Is not this the hope of all those who desire to ‘worship God in spirit and in truth’? Are we really looking for a re-enactment of the earthly scene that once obtained in the land of Israel nearly 2000 years ago? Does God in fact ever ‘go back’ to anything? Does He not evermore open to mankind further riches of His grace? What does the future hold? Does it hold a world that will be governed by the Jewish nation, restored and converted? And will this nation be living in Palestine of old? And if this is the case, what about all the other so-called ‘ten lost tribes’ of Israel, about whom ALL these modern books seem to ignore? Does not the O.T. speak of the future days EQUALLY of Israel as of Judah? If this is the case, then why are the Jews held so much in prominence by Christian expositors, to the detriment of the other tribes. And finally, is it possible to FIND those ten lost tribes today? The British Israel World Federation believes that it is possible, but to us just now it seems a hopeless task. Even the Jews themselves are a very mixed people, let alone the ‘lost tribes of Israel.’
But does it matter? Are we right in saying that the SPIRITUAL understanding of the N.T. is the one that really matters? If so, we shall we worshipping in spirit and in truth and not worrying about any city on this earth. The only other method of understanding this dichotomy is to say that in days to come there may be a two-tier happening, whereby the earthly state of Israel is required by the Lord to become a visible sign to the world of what is taking place invisibly and spiritually in the heavenlies. This would help us to understand what the Lord meant by the “Kingdom of Heaven” ruling on the earth. We know that there are many who despise what is currently called “replacement theology”, and this paper may be dubbed as such, but the N.T. verses displayed in the paper speak for themselves. There is no way they can be understood except in a spiritual sense. And with that, we shall leave the subject, knowing that it will remain a bone of contention to some.