Two different religious traditions use the same Scripture. One tradition says the text points to a man named Jesus who preached in Roman occupied Judea a little over two millennia ago and was God’s only begotten son came to save people from themselves. The other tradition rejected these claims and still waits on Elijah to return as a prelude to the arrival of the Messiah.
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” (Malachi 4:5-6)
Note the choices in the passage above. There’s option a) repentance and changed hearts, or option b) face total destruction. And, depending on perspective, there might be an option c) both.
We know that Judaism was split in two because of Jesus (some believing him, others rejecting him) and also that Jerusalem was destroyed in the year 70CE. The glorious temple, the very center of Jewish worship, was completely dismantled as Jesus had foretold and has never been rebuilt.
Temple #1: Symbolic, representation of truth, built out of stone and sweat of men, located in Jerusalem:
“As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!’ ‘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 13:1-2)
Clearly Jesus is referring to the destruction of buildings that the disciples were admiring and that destruction literally happened.
But, there’s more…
Temple #2: Figurative, fleshed out truth, the life work and example of Jesus, located in history:
“The Jews then responded to him, ‘What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’ They replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:18-22)
Jesus also used the temple as a metaphor for himself, predicts his own death and promises to resurrect his body.
Then at the trial of Jesus…
“Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: ‘We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.'” (Mark 14:56-58)
Note, in the third passage, we are told that the witnesses at the trial of Jesus spoke falsely. However, we see in the prior two Gospel accounts quoted above that the words they spoke were half-true—It is indeed true that Jesus spoke about the destruction of the temple and probably said something about a new temple not built with hands—The false part is where they claim he would do it by his own hand.
Jesus foretold his own death using a metaphor of himself or his body being the temple. But he was also prophesying about the literal building of stone in Jerusalem. His words a double entendre, one meaning of the word “temple” was figurative about his own death and resurrection and a second concrete meaning about the literal destruction of the temple built of stone. However, there is a third use of temple and not the temple of the body of Jesus or the temple in Jerusalem built of stone.
Temple #3: Spiritual, a truth experienced, lived practically and today, located in the heart of believers:
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 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 3:16)
“Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.'” (John 14:23)
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27)
That is a radical message. It takes us from a man-made building of stone and religion. It takes us to the man named Jesus “the stone the builders rejected” (Psalm 118:22, Matthew 21:42, Acts 4:11) and then finishes with us being the place where God dwells and being Jesus. It is the message that got Stephen killed:
“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, who enjoyed God’s favor and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for him. However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says: ‘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? Has not my hand made all these things?‘ You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:45-51)
I can imagine why that was insulting. Stephen basically just invalidated the entire religion of his audience using their own Scripture.
The destruction of the temple in Jerusalem marked the end of a religious system. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus was the beginning of something very different: A chance to be a dwelling place for God, and an opportunity to be a true child (adopted, not begotten) of God.
Jesus, talking to a woman who asked about the proper place to worship, said:
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24)
Oddly enough, many professing Christians today are waiting on a literal temple of stone and a literal bodily second coming of Jesus. They seem to me like those who wait on a literal Elijah, who did not recognize John the Baptist as the spiritual Elijah, and rejected the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They have a Bible-based religion, they diligently study Scripture, yet they seem to be missing something as far as understanding and faith.
Bible-centered religion and regulation is false security. Jesus never told anyone that Scripture would replace him as teacher. Jesus did, however, promise that the Spirit would “teach you all things” (John 14:26) and will come to all who believe. I believe many have been deceived and believe their ‘Biblical fundamentalism’ will save them. What they actually have is fundamental misunderstanding, they are relying on their own human religious traditions. They have a Biblical religion only and not the true faith described therein.
“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16)
It is the Spirit that makes the Bible discernable. Those who place their security in the Bible itself (or their fundamentalist book-based religion) are not fully submitted to the Spirit and cannot fully understand the things of faith that are described in Scripture. They bind themselves up in “false humility,” create “regulations” that have “appearance of wisdom,” (Colossians 2) yet they are false and—like those who “study the Scripture diligently” (John 5:36-40) that Jesus rebuked—they do not have the word of God to discern truth from it.
“Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:15-18)
The truth that brings freedom is of the Spirit. Religions give adherents false security, but true faith that originates from the indwelling Spirit gives freedom and ability to experience God first hand. Bible-based religion leads men to talk about Jesus. Spirit-led faith allows men to *be* Jesus and bring salvation to a lost and hurting world.
Religion relies on rituals, one size fits all prescriptions and manipulation through fear. Faith is dynamic, applies grace as liberally as necessary and motivates by being an example of a love that transcends. Religion hides behind a veil of human inadequacy and attempts to legislate morality into existence without ever changing hearts. Faith overcomes fear and produces fruit out of passion that comes from true unity with God.
The Bible is a book that can only be understood properly by those with the “mind of Christ” and Spirit. Knowing when the language of Scripture is figurative, metaphorical, spiritual, concrete, literal (or some ‘all of the above’ combination) requires the indwelling of the word. Discernment through any other means but a mind renewed in Christ (be it be an old tradition or a new commentary) is incomplete.
“…without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
No amount of religion finagling or diligent study can replace the indwelling word. Jesus made it possible to remove the veil of religion and experience the full presence of God. Seek after Spirit-led faith, not Bible-based religion.
Have you experienced the promise and freedom of faith?
Or, are you still waiting on Elijah to return?