In Exodus 25:8, speaking to the children of Israel, the Lord said, “And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” When the sanctuary was completed, the glory of God filled the tent; and even Moses could not enter. (See Exodus 40.) Similarly, when God met Moses at the burning bush, He told Moses to take off his shoes because the place where he was standing was holy ground. Wherever God’s presence is, the place is holy.
Later, Solomon’s temple was built. It was a much larger structure and more permanent than the first sanctuary, but the thing that made it holy was the presence and the glory of God that filled it. We are told in 1 Kings 8:10, 11 that the glory of God was so manifested that the priests were unable to enter it. Again, this sanctuary was also a symbol of the presence of God that was among His people.
Then, as today, God’s people seemed to be unable to understand spiritual truth except in terms of what they could see. As they looked at the temple, the symbol came to be the all-important thing in their minds; and they failed to remember that the truth it symbolized had the only real value. It was not the gold or the expensive tapestry that gave it value, for all of these were merely symbols. Even the ark of the covenant containing the tables of the Law was to Israel but a symbol of the divine presence. “The ark of the covenant, containing the tables of the Law,—the ark which was to Israel the symbol of the divine presence, and the pledge of victory in battle.” Signs of the Times, June 3, 1863
If you had the presence of God with you, were you going to have victory in battle? Yes, you were. Jonathan and his armor bearer, though they were only two people, attacked the Philistines. They had the presence of God with them, and they won a great victory. Gideon and his three hundred men attacked a 120,000-man army; but the presence of God was with them, and they also won a great victory. Hophni and Phinehas, on the other hand, confused the symbol with the reality; and they lost the battle.
Symbol Mistaken for Reality
The people in Jeremiah’s time again failed to see beyond the symbol to the reality. Jeremiah said to them, “Do not trust in these lying words, saying, ‘The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these.’ For if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, if you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt, then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever. Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit.” Jeremiah 7:4–8. In spite of the sins that they were committing, they believed that the temple assured them of God’s presence and power.
Today there are people who think that same way. They have failed to learn the lesson that it is possible to have the symbol without having the reality.
For three hundred years, Shiloh, in the tribe of Ephraim, was the center of God’s worship. Three hundred years is a long period of time, and the people had no doubt begun to believe that the worship of God was going to go on in Shiloh forever; but it did not. Through Jeremiah, the Lord told them, “The same thing that I did to Shiloh I am going to do to you if you do not repent and change your ways.” (See Jeremiah 26:6.)You see, the people were again looking at the symbol, making it the all-important thing. They thought that religion consisted in offering sacrifices, going through ceremonies, and worshipping at the temple. They failed to realize that when they did not have that which was symbolized, their religion was worth nothing. They had to learn to focus their attention on something other than what they could see. In order to teach them this lesson, the Lord allowed the temple to be destroyed; and during their captivity, the whole symbolic system was largely suspended. For this reason, some people thought that there was no more religion.
Following the captivity, they returned and again built the temple. It was only a few hundred years, however, until they again had the very same problem. Jesus spoke of this in Matthew 23:16, 17. “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’ Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold?” Even in Jesus’ day, His brethren could not understand how anyone claiming to be the Messiah could not be involved in all of the ceremonies, because that is what most people thought religion to be. (See The Desire of Ages, 449, 450.)
A Reoccuring Deception
This misunderstanding has almost always been a point of deception among God’s people. Of the cleansing of the temple, Ellen White says, “In the cleansing of the temple, Jesus was announcing His mission as the Messiah, and entering upon His work. That temple, erected for the abode of the divine Presence, was designed to be an object lesson for Israel and for the world. From eternal ages it was God’s purpose that every created being, from the bright and holy seraph to man, should be a temple for the indwelling of the Creator. Because of sin, humanity ceased to be a temple for God. Darkened and defiled by evil, the heart of man no longer revealed the glory of the Divine One. But by the incarnation of the Son of God, the purpose of Heaven is fulfilled. God dwells in humanity, and through saving grace the heart of man becomes again His temple.” The Desire of Ages, 161
In Ephesians 3, Paul tells us that God’s eternal purpose, designed at the beginning of the ages, is going to be fulfilled today and that it is going to be fulfilled through the church.
God desires to have His people be a temple for the indwelling of the Deity. It is very interesting that the apostle Paul speaks of His purpose as applying to individuals and to the group of individuals that composes the church. The church, as well as each individual, is to be a temple. “But the Jews had not understood the significance of the building they regarded with so much pride. They did not yield themselves as holy temples for the Divine Spirit. The courts of the temple of Jerusalem, filled with the tumult of unholy traffic, represented all too truly the temple of the heart, defiled by the presence of sensual passion and unholy thoughts. In cleansing the temple from the world’s buyers and sellers, Jesus announced His mission to cleanse the heart from the defilement of sin.” Ibid.
God’s Eternal Purpose
Oh, friend, is God’s eternal purpose going to be fulfilled in you? Remember, “The living church of God is individually a habitation of God through the Spirit that man may become a well-built temple for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God; that the Lord Jesus Christ may dwell in his innermost being, ennobling and sanctifying his human nature by His divine attributes.” In Heavenly Places, 283
If God, through His Spirit, is in your heart, then you are a temple for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. If He is in your church, then that church is a holy place; but if the Holy Spirit is not there, you are just pretending to be a Christian. It is only when you have been baptized by the Holy Spirit that you are really part of the church. We read in 1 Corinthians 12:13, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”
When I was a young minister, I just assumed that this text was referring to baptism by water, but as I read it carefully, I realized that that is not what it says. It does not say when you are baptized by water; it says when you are baptized by the Spirit. Until you are baptized by the Spirit, you are just professing; you are not really part of the church.
“Where Christ is, even among the humble few, this is Christ’s church. For the presence of the high and holy One who inhabiteth eternity can alone constitute a church.” Upward Look, 315. Symbols are wonderful things because they help us to understand the reality. Jesus used symbols all of the time; but unless you have the presence of God’s Spirit in a place, it cannot really be a church.
Many people have a misunderstanding on this point. For hundreds of years the Antichrist power has taught that you obtain salvation by participating in the sacraments and by entering in through these symbols. During the Dark Ages, people were killed for refusing to believe that the symbol was a reality. The Anabaptists were asked, “Do you believe that the bread and wine are the actual body and blood of Christ?” If they said, “No, I think it is a symbol,” they were killed. There will be multitudes of people in heaven who were martyred for the simple belief that the bread and the wine were symbols.
“Oh,” somebody says, “I can prove to you that the church is still the true church whether the presence of Jesus is there or not.” Then they read this statement, “Our Redeemer sends His messengers to bear a testimony to His people. He says, ‘Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.’ Revelation 3:20. But many refuse to receive Him. The Holy Spirit waits to soften and subdue hearts; but they are not willing to open the door and let the Saviour in, for fear that He will require something of them. And so Jesus of Nazareth passes by. He longs to bestow on them the rich blessings of His grace, but they refuse to accept them. What a terrible thing it is to exclude Christ from His own temple! What a loss to the church!” Testimonies, vol. 6, 262
Yes, it is still the church; and we read in James 2 what kind of church it is. “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” James 2:26. You can have the buildings; you can have the organization with all of the committees; you can have all of the machinery of the church; but if the Spirit is not in it, it is dead. Actually, it is worse than being dead. Ellen White wrote to our ministers that every one of us is going to be under the control of one supernatural spirit or the other. (See Testimonies to Ministers, 79.) This is why we are still here. “The Lord has a time appointed when He will bind off the work; but when is that time? When the truth that is to be proclaimed for these last days shall go forth as a witness to all nations, then shall the end come.” Now read carefully the next sentence. “If the power of Satan can come into the very temple of God, and manipulate things as he pleases, the time of preparation will be prolonged.” The 1888 Materials, 1525
That which makes a church a church is the presence of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus walked out of the temple the last time, He said, “Your house is left to you desolate.” Matthew 23:38. Why? Because He was not coming back.
“Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod. And the angel stood, saying, ‘Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there.’ ” Revelation 11:1. What does it mean to measure the temple? It is talking about judgment. It is not talking about any temple in Jerusalem because when this was written, the temple of Jerusalem was already destroyed. The very next verse speaks about the forty-two months that the holy city was going to be trampled. It is not talking about the church that apostatized; it is talking about the true church. You see, until you understand what we have been talking about, you cannot understand Revelation 11:1, 2. It is talking about the Christian church that will be trampled for forty-two months by the little horn power. The Lord said to measure it. What does it mean when you measure something? We read from the pen of Ellen White, “His [God’s] gaze is piercing every heart. He is measuring the temple and the worshippers thereof, weighing all their actions in the golden scales of heaven and registering the results in the books of record. All things are open to the eye of Him with whom we have to do. He is a discerner of the thoughts, intents, and purposes of the heart. No deed of darkness can be screened from His view. Sin undetected by man, unsuspected by human minds, is noted and registered by the great heart-searcher.
Measuring the Temple
“The grand judgment is taking place and has been going on for some time. Now the Lord says, ‘Measure the temple and the worshipers thereof.’ Remember when you are walking the streets about your business, God is measuring you. When you are attending your household duties, when you engage in conversation, God is measuring you.” Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 7, 972
The work of measuring is going on. How do you measure up? Let me tell you something; if the Holy Spirit is not inside, there is nothing to measure.
The apostle Paul tells us that our conscience is to be purged from dead works. Anything that you do is dead works unless the Holy Spirit is inside. You are going to be judged according to your works; so if there are no works to measure, there is no way that you are going to get past the judgment. What needs to happen? The soul temple needs to be cleansed. The message that God gave to Adventists about the sanctuary being cleansed has a much more profound meaning than we generally realize.
In the temple in heaven is recorded every sin that each person has ever committed. One of two things has to happen; either the record of the sins must be blotted out, or the individual’s name has to be blotted out. It is just that simple. If the sanctuary is going to be cleansed and purified, something has to happen to the sins.
There are two ways that we individually and as a church can be cleansed. Here is the first way. “Will you suffer Jesus to cleanse the soul temple of its rubbish? Will you permit the Holy Spirit to take possession of the human habitation?” Manuscript Releases, vol. 2, 274–275
Speaking of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Ellen White said, “There was a large work to be done in cleansing the temple and the court thereof, but this work was not done. The life and power of God cannot be manifested until there is seen that faith which works by love and sanctifies the soul. As far as the work went, it was done with earnestness, fervor, and true zeal; and so far God’s blessing was given. But in the case of a large number, especially those in responsible positions in our institutions, the work of the Spirit was quenched by deception of the enemy. There was a reaping of anguish that had been sown. These things need to be studied.” Spaulding and Magan Collection, 152
But here is the other way that “the Lord will work to purify His church. I tell you in truth, the Lord is about to turn and overturn in the institutions called by His name. Just how soon this refining process will begin I cannot say, but it will not be long deferred. He whose fan is in His hand will cleanse His temple of its moral defilement. He will thoroughly purge His floor.” Publishing Ministry, 170. It happened to the Jews; and when it was over, they were destroyed.
Whenever I hear people say, “God is going to purify the church,” I feel like shaking inside. I think, Do you know what you are talking about? Certainly God is going to purify His church; but when He finishes, the only people who will be left will be holy. Where are you going to be then? The church is going to be cleansed and purified; there is no question about that. The only question is, What is going to happen to you when it takes place? In which way will the Lord cleanse His temple in you?
Do not let anybody distract you or deceive you by placing the emphasis on the symbol and forgetting what the reality is. You can have buildings; you can have organizations; you can have all of the machinery of religion; but if you do not have the Holy Spirit inside, you are on your way to destruction. God is looking for a people who actually have in their character and in their life what they profess. That is what you and I want to have.