Moving day – In Exodus 19 the Lord came out of eternity to meet with Moses on Mt. Sinai. One of the instructions was to build a portable tabernacle where He could dwell, which included a gold covered box called the Ark of the Covenant which was topped with gold covered figures of 2 cherubs – those multi-winged angels seen only around the throne* – and He would be between their wings and talk to Moses there*. (Exodus 25:21-22, Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1, Revelation 4).
Some 400 years later David knew Him as the ‘Lord of hosts who lives between the cherubs’*, and when Solomon built the temple he moved the Ark of the Covenant into the temple, and the Lord also came to dwell right between the cherubs* as He had been since Moses. (II Samuel 6:2, II Chronicles 5:7-14)
Even in the time of Jesus, if you wanted to be near the God of Israel (aside from Him of course) you had to go to the temple in Jerusalem, though no one was allowed to approach the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies but for the High Priest once a year* – it had been that way for centuries. (Hebrews 9:7)
People have become the temples of God
But on the day of Pentecost something amazing happened – the God of Israel who had met Moses on the mountain, the one David knew as the One who lived between the cherubs, the God whose presence was so strong when He moved into Solomon’s temple that the priests could not even stand up – now moved from between the cherubs in the temple into people*. (I Corinthians 3:16, 6:19, Colossians 1:26)
People now became living temples of God. What an amazingly confusing time those first couple of years after Pentecost for the disciples in Acts 2 through Acts 7. They had grown up learning all the stories about the God of the Old Testament, and now He lived in them. Try to wrap your mind around that!
Buildings now irrelevant and they became a counter-culture movement
When people became individual temples it made the temple building irrelevant to them, yet it was still the dominating force in Jewish culture. What a treasure they held in their hearts as they watched pious Jews do their best to obey all 613 Laws of Moses plus all the additional laws of the Pharisees, while they were in the process of adjusting their thinking to the reality that each disciple of Jesus was God’s temple.
Instead of bringing tithes and offerings to a temple building, Acts 2 through 6 records they continued to give, but they gave to the living temples they were in relationship with. Instead of letting the temple priesthood take responsibility for caring for the poor and needy, they realized each disciple of Jesus is a priest and therefore responsible to care for the poor and those in need.
Perhaps the biggest counter-culture reality was they no longer needed the priests in the temple building. Instead they realized they are all priests, just with different functions within the body of Christ. The Temple priesthood was losing the people they had controlled to their own enrichment for generations, and they persecuted this new Way as a result. The apostles and leaders received enough of the offerings for their living as they were included in the giving, but each person could now also give to one another as needed, and this was taking money away from the Temple priesthood.
After Steven was killed in Acts 7, Acts 8:1 says the persecution was SO severe that EVERY disciple left Jerusalem except the apostles, moving outside the city to the country sides of Judea and Samaria. Everywhere they went they shared with other Jewish people that Christ could live in them, making them living temples of God, and the people responded. The ‘revival’ in Samaria with Philip in Acts 8 is a direct result.
But Acts 11:19-30 tells us when everyone left Jerusalem in Acts 8:1, some went beyond Judea and Samaria all the way to Phoenicia which consisted of coastal cities in modern Lebanon and Syria, Cyprus which is an island in the Mediterranean, and Antioch which is in modern Turkey. There they told Greeks about Jesus Christ, and how they could become living temples of Almighty God – no longer having to go to pagan temples to make sacrifices to the gods, they could now become living temples of God Almighty! What amazing news!
These Greek believers became counter-culture to their Greek culture, just as the Jews who had told them about Jesus had become counter to their culture. But the addition of Gentile people to the Lord caused a problem to the Jewish body of Christ. Could a Greek be born again by believing in the Jewish Messiah? And if so, did they have to adhere to any part of the laws of Moses? Jewish men were circumcised to show their covenant with God, Greek men, not being part of the covenant by birth, were not. Now that they believed, did they need to be circumcised? Wasn’t it the act of circumcision that set apart Jews from Greeks, covenant people from non-covenant people? Or was it the circumcision of the heart, the new birth that set them apart?
The Lord appeared to Paul, then Saul of Tarsus, and told him “I have appeared to you for this purpose…delivering you from the people and from the Gentiles, unto whom I now send you, to open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the authority of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith that is in me.” Acts 26:16-18
Paul was accused of heresy because he didn’t require Gentiles who believed in the Lord to be circumcised nor obey the law of Moses, and the whole question was brought before the leaders in Acts 15.
Peter defended Paul, recounting his experience in Cornelius’ house, a Roman, during which the moment Peter taught how Jesus was raised from the dead the Holy Spirit came on them all and they began speaking in unknown languages. (Acts 10:44) Peter said:
“God made the choice to make me first to preach to Gentiles who then believed. And God who knows the hearts, bore them witness and gave them the Holy Spirit even as He did to us, making no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore why are you tempting God to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples (the law of Moses) which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.” Acts 15: 7-11
The determination was that Gentile believers would not have to obey Moses, but they asked they be sensitive to the Jewish population around them so as not to offend them, and to be morally pure.
Even some 10 years later when Paul returns to Jerusalem, the apostles make note of the freedom of the Gentiles while also noting most Jewish believers remain Jewish: “You see brother, how many thousands of Jews there are who believe; and they are all zealous for the law…As touching Gentiles who believe, we have written and concluded they observe no such thing, only to keep themselves from offerings to idols, and from blood and things strangled (dietary sensitivity to the Jewish population in their midst) and from sexual sin.” Acts 21: 20, 25
So we see a growing gap by this time, around the year 60 AD, in which thousands of Jewish believers in Jesus were zealous to obey the law, while Gentile believers were free to not follow it - or to follow it if they wanted. And that leaves us with today’s issues – what is the role of the law in a believer’s life, the Messianic movement in the church, and what role the nation of Israel?
That is where I pick it up next week, blessings,