In Philippians 4:8 we are told to think on things that are lovely. In that verse, Paul uses a word that has zero other occurrences in the New Testament. Since there aren’t any other uses of that specific word for “lovely”, I don’t really have any cross references to work from. But as I began to think about the theme of loveliness, I had one verse that really became prominent to me. In this post we’ll be talking about God’s presence; the dwelling place of the Lord. I’m excited to present this subject in a few different ways.
Before I get into any of the specifics, I say at the outset that I do not limit God’s presence to a specific physical location, time, or people. For my purpose here, God’s presence is being considered as the place where He manifests Himself; the place where He reveals Himself and makes His glory known; the place where He causes His face to shine on us so that we may know and experience Him. God is spirit, eternal and infinite, so His actual dwelling place cannot be limited to a physical location. “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” (Acts 17) Even during the Old Testament period, when the temple was in use as the specific place of worship, it was said that “the whole earth is full of His glory!” (Isaiah 6) So with that said, let’s consider God’s dwelling place.
1. God’s dwelling past
How lovely is Your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! – Psalm 84:1
In this Psalm, when David says “dwelling place,” the word used there literally means tabernacle. He most likely has in mind the tabernacle that Moses was instructed to build in the wilderness. Up until David’s time, the tabernacle of Moses was the only tabernacle/temple the Israelites knew. It was when David’s son, Solomon, built one in Jerusalem that they finally had a permanent temple location. What made the tabernacle of the Lord lovely, is that this is where you could meet with the God of heaven and earth. He would speak and make Himself known. God did not show up in a cloud of glory and manifest Himself in pagan temples, or in people’s personal tents. After the exodus from Egypt and the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, Moses is instructed to take an offering from all the people that would provide the materials for the tabernacle. Then God said,
And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. – Exodus 25:8
This was truly a special work, it represented God’s special presence among the people of Israel. The Lord did not just come to Israel’s rescue by delivering them from Pharaoh and his army, and then leave them on their own. But He showed that He had chosen them as a people and wanted to continue to bless them with His presence among them. Moses was given very specific instructions for how it was to be made, and commanded not to deviate in even the smallest detail. Moses and all the builders involved followed all the instructions exactly, and when the tabernacle was finally erected and inaugurated, this is what happened:
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. – Ex. 40:34-35
The tabernacle was the heart of Israelite worship. It was the place where sacrifices and offerings were to be made. It was where you would place your hand on the head of your animal, representing your sins being imputed to it. It was where guilty persons would go for atonement and cleansing. So as we move on to the next section just keep in mind, in Biblical language, the tabernacle/temple represents the dwelling place of God, His manifest presence, His glory, and atonement.
2. God’s dwelling present
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? – 1 Corinthians 3:16
It’s incredible how much this verse means when you have in mind what the temple meant in Old Testament times! The temple was divided into two sections by a veil. The outer section, the holy place, and the inner section, the most holy place. The Israelites in general would come to the alter in the outer court to bring their sacrifices, however it was really only the priests and Levites that would minister inside the temple. And the most holy place, representing the most immediate access to God’s presence was only entered once a year, and that only by the high priest. However, when Christ came and was crucified, there was a huge change.
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. – Matthew 27:51
This is such a symbolic moment. Christian, because of Christ’s perfect, once and for all sacrifice on the cross, “you are God’s temple” and “God’s Spirit dwells in you.” Outer court, holy place, or most holy place, it doesn’t matter. There is no distinction or separation any more. Think back now to all that the temple represents: God’s dwelling place, manifest presence, and glory. There is no longer a specific physical location designated for the worship of God. God now dwells in “temples”, His people, all over the world. Under the Old Covenant, the person offering a sacrifice was sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice representing that they were cleansed of their guilt.
Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. – Hebrews 9:23
I mentioned briefly earlier how Moses was given specific instructions as to how the tabernacle was to be constructed, even down to minute details. And it was not without reason. In Hebrews 9 we learn that the plans for the tabernacle, and the order of worship and sacrifice were instituted to represent greater realities already in the mind of God. The cross of Christ was not an afterthought. Earthly temple worship is revealed to have been “copies of the heavenly things”. Along with the festivals and dietary guidelines the Israelites were given, we can also say of the temple ceremonies that, “These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Col. 2:17)
Jesus Christ was always the true, substantial, spiritual reality that the whole temple system pointed to. Temple worship was repetitive. All the ceremonies were performed daily. Christ has only come once to die. Everything the temple pointed to is consummated in Christ. Those who believe in Him are covered by His once and for all perfect sacrifice, and sprinkled with His cleansing blood.
3. God’s dwelling future
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. – Rev. 21:3
And now I end by looking forward to the only thing that could possibly be better than the fact that we as believers are the temple of God. I think it is a totally fair question to ask, “What is better than God dwelling in you?” This verse from Revelation looks forward to when the old has passed away, and the new heavens and new earth are established. It is an unspeakable privilege to have God’s Spirit living in us. However, it can be depressing to be personally experiencing something in our lives, but then look at the world around us and not see the manifest glory of God in ever corner of the earth. For sure, the whole earth is full of His glory, in the sense of His creation, though not in human language, praises Him day after day. But there is a stain upon the earth through the fall, and the constant wickedness of man. People still reject His truth and commit horrendous acts. But it will not always be so. Jesus Christ will come again, and He has promised to establish an eternal kingdom in which righteousness dwells. A time is coming when the Lord alone will be worshiped and obeyed. His manifest presence will fill every part of His eternal kingdom. I encourage you to take comfort in this truth; to look forward to the day when we can say from personal experience:
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. – Rev. 21:22
*Scripture readings for further meditation: Psalm 84, Hebrews 9, Revelation 21