Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why Temples?

pWhat's the big deal about temples? Why did God command Moses and the Israelites to build a tabernacle in the wilderness, and why did God command Solomon to build the first temple at Jerusalem and later command Zerrubabel to rebuild it? Was the point of the temple just to have a place to perform the required ordinances and ritual sacrifice of the Law of Moses? Was the point of the temple just to create a concrete point of worship for Israel? Some Christians claim that the need for a temple is now obsolete. They say the temple was old school and old testament. Now, since Christ has fulfilled the Law of Moses, our spiritual focus of worship should be Jesus Christ alone and not associated with any building. And besides, God tore the veil from top to bottom and the scriptures say God does not dwell in temples built by men's hands. Christ is our temple now.

Acts 17: 24 (Acts 7: 48) God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;

Acts 17:24 is being said by Stephen to the Pharisees to remind them that God's presence was not in Herod's temple which wasn't built by the command of God but by the whims of Herod who tore down the second temple of Zarrubabel. Nevertheless, Christ is our temple. There is no denying that. Christ is the main spiritual meaning associated with the sacred structure. But what of the physical building itself. While some say the temple has no more righteous purpose, they misunderstand the major purpose why God himself commands and builds these structures. The problem with discounting the future role of the temple, is that the Bible foretells that God will rebuild His temple in the Last Days. And not just the one temple in Jerusalem, but temples will be built to every nation, kindred, tongue and people (Isa 2:1-2, Micah 4:1-2, Ezek 37:26-28, Rev. 7: 15, Rev 14:6).

But what of the real purpose of the temple? Why would the temple be important after Christ has already come? What could God need with a building? To understand the purpose of the temple, we need to go back to the days of Moses when God was attempting to establish His covenants with the people of Israel. What we see here is God raising up and preparing Moses to lead His covenant people out of bondage in Egypt. But when we look closely at the story, we see God did not intend for Moses to be the only one who would talk with God and everyone else would get God's word second-hand from Moses. What we see before the lesser covenant was made with Israel was that God wanted to establish a personal relationship with each individual person. God wanted everyone to climb the mountain and speak with Him. As Moses confessed, God wanted everyone in Israel to be a prophet, priest and king.

Num. 11: 29 And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!

Ex. 19: 6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.

Unfortunately, a kingdom of prophets, priests, and kings is not what happened. After God invited all the elders up into the mountain with Moses, the people refused. The people feared the Lord and told Moses to go up for them. I am sure our Father in Heaven was disappointed. But not as disappointed as he was at what Israel did next. While Moses was up in the mountain, the people got impatient and said Moses delayeth his coming. Thinking Moses wasn't going to return, Israel convinced Aaron make a golden calf to worship. Upon Moses return, and finding the people worshipping an idol, Moses smashed the plates containing the higher covenant and went back into the mountain and received the lesser or preparatory covenant known as the Law of Moses

Ex. 20: 19 And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.

So, what does the story of Moses in the mountain have to do with Latter-day temples? Temples are called by Isaiah, the mountain of the Lords House. In the same way God wanted every Israelite to go up into the mountain and speak with Him face to face, God desires a personal relationship with each of us. God doesn't just want one person to be the preacher and everyone else to get His word second-hand. God wants a kingdom of kings and priests, apostles and prophets. God wants a church of Abrahams and Moseses, Peters and Pauls. What does the temple have to do with this? The temple is where God manifest himself to His people and establishes his covenants with them.

Mark 4: 11 And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:

Ezek 43:10-12 Thou son of man, shew the house to the house of Israel, . . and let them measure the pattern. . . shew them the form of the house, and the fashion thereof, and the goings out thereof, and the comings in thereof, and all the forms thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and all the forms thereof, and all the laws thereof: and write it in their sight, that they may keep the whole form thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and do them. This is the law of the house; Upon the top of the mountain the whole limit thereof round about shall be most holy. Behold, this is the law of the house.

How does God reveal himself in the temple? The temple teaches the mysteries of God or in other words, the temple teaches us about God, teaches us about who we are, and it teaches us about our relationship with God. But the temple just doesn't come out and say it. Jesus Christ said the mysteries of the kingdom were to be taught by parable. And the temple is exactly that. The temple is one great parable. As was revealed to Ezekiel, everything about the temple, its form, function, ritual symbolism, and ordinances teach something about God and His great plan of happiness for His children.

While studying a Sunday School lesson on the temple, I came across a quote by Joseph Smith who is the great prophet of this last dispensation before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith was called as a prophet like Moses, Abraham and Isaiah and like Moses was commanded to build temples so that God could establish personal relationships and covenants with each of His people individually. Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ at the time of His calling as a prophet, and he had something very interesting to say about the purpose of the temple and its relationship to scripture.

“Could we read and comprehend all that has been written from the days of Adam, on the relation of man to God and angels in a future state, we should know very little about it. Reading the experience of others, or the revelation given to them, can never give us a comprehensive view of our condition and true relation to God. Knowledge of these things can only be obtained by experience through the ordinances of God set forth for that purpose. Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject. … I assure the Saints that truth … can and may be known through the revelations of God in the way of His ordinances, and in answer to prayer.”

Wow, when you ponder what Joseph Smith is saying, his words really ring true. It's not enough to just read about other people's temple experiences, God wants each person to have their own. Temple experiences are just what scriptures are. In the Book of Mormon for example we examples of how the mysteries of God are shown to Lehi and Nephi in what we refer to as their Tree of Life visions. Later we see the people of the Book of Mormon gather around a temple built in America to listen to their prophet King Benjamin and realize the people are having a temple experience. Later on we read of Christ's personal visitation to the Nephites in America and at the temple in the city called Bountiful. There, Christ Himself teaches the same temple principles and covenants that were given to Lehi and Nephi and given to the people of King Benjamin. And there are many more examples like the Brother of Jared, and Moses 1 in the Pearl of Great Price. And while Joseph Smith indicates that while it is both helpful and necessary that we read the experiences that other prophets and Apostles had with God, the temple is a place were each of us can and must have our own personal experiences with God if we are to enjoy the fullness of salvation, eternal life and exaltation.

1 comment:

Anthony E. Larson said...

Fair enough. All you wrote about the temple is true. I'm with you up to that point. But, you failed to add a vital teaching role that temples fulfill, one that modern temples share with those of ancient cultures. Temple worship teaches about the ancient heavens as well as the present heavens. It's a virtual tour through what the ancients called the "cosmos." It's a rehearsal of the vision given all the prophets who are carried up to heaven or caught up to a mountain. It is an "ascension," patterned after the ascension visions given all the prophets, including that of the Tree of Life given to Lehi and Nephi, as you cited. Temple worship connects us with our ancestors who reenacted the same cosmological tour in their temple rituals. The odd thing is that we don't recognize it as such because that part of our Christian culture has been suppressed, as with most gospel truths. That's why Joseph Smith had to restore it in our temples. If you care to know more about this, read my observations on the subject.