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I am new to this site, having just found it today.

I have a question about whether God's presence was still in the temple during Jesus' earthly ministry.

In Ezekiel's vision in Ezekiel 10, God appears to leave the temple, which seems to be a fulfillment of His warning to Solomon in 1 Kings 9:7.

From 2 Kings 25:9 and Ezra 5:12, we know that Solomon's temple was destroyed by Nebudchanezzar, so it seems like what Ezekiel saw in his vision must have taken place before the destruction.

With that understanding, I am always confused when I get to Matthew 23:21 where Jesus uses the present tense to say "He who dwells in it."

Edit: To clarify my question from Bradimus' question, perhaps I should ask how Matthew 23:21 could be viewed in light of the verses I have referenced above.

Thank you!

  • Hey, my knowledge isnt complete so i wont make an answer, but one thing to note is that part of the book of ezekiel includes prophetic instruction for the building of a new Temple, which was the one that was around during Jesus life( i think), but was not built yet at the time of ezekiel. – L1R Jul 17 '17 at 20:45
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    Possible duplicate of Did God still dwell in the temple while Jesus was on Earth? – bradimus Jul 17 '17 at 21:32
  • Welcome to Christianity.SE! Please be sure to take the tour, and find out how we differ from other sites. Your question is an intriguing one, though perhaps it might be a bit difficult to answer it as it is, since it might be that different Christian groups have different answers to it. Do you have any point of view which would be particularly relevant to you, like Reformed or Eastern Orthodox? – Wtrmute Jul 24 '17 at 13:44
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It would be easy enough to simply spiritualize Christ’s comments to the hypocrites in Matthew 23 because of two things. We have no Scriptural record that God ever indwelt the Second Temple, aka Herod’s Temple, which stood in the time of Christ’s earthly ministry until 70 CE. We know Christ referenced the temple elsewhere, but was referring to His body. But we might miss the full message.

BACKGROUND

We clearly know that God indwelt the tabernacle of Moses.

Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Ex. 40:34

We also clearly know that God indwelt the temple of Solomon.

So that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of the LORD. 1 Kings 8:11

But where does the Bible record that God ever dwelt in the Second Temple? Scripture does not record it, so it would be a mistake to argue or assume something from silence. In fact though, we know from tradition that after the destruction of Jerusalem that led to the Babylonian Captivity, the Holy of Holies was empty (see Josephus and Tacitus accounts); no ark, no mercy seat, no presence.

But what about Matthew 23:21; doesn’t this verse indicate God dwelt in the Second Temple?

And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein.

Dwells is in the present tense, which may imply that he dwells there now at the time of Christ. Given there is no other indication of indwelling, how can this verse be explained?

SPIRITUALIZING

There are two ways of looking at this. And each is true and symbiotically complements the other.

One way is to understand from other Gospel accounts that Christ was referring to the temple of Himself. God’s presence so to speak was in Christ (this is not to speak Christologically about the nature of Christ). The point is they simply failed to recognize Emmanuel; that is, God with us.

This was like when Christ referred to the temple of Himself and destroying it in three days, while His listeners mistook Him to refer to the physical temple.

Thus when Christ was speaking about “him who dwells in the temple”, He was referring to Himself, though in a spiritual way, not as referring to the nearby temple.

REALIZING

This second view recognizes that what was being said is what was being said. A hypocrite is someone who goes through the motions, was a pretender, a stage player or actor. Christ is telling the hypocrites exactly what they already knew. The hypocrites knew there was nothing in the Holy of Holies. They acted out on the Day of Atonement, but the Holy of Holies was empty. There was no Ark or mercy seat; no place to sprinkle the animal blood, but they did it anyway.

So, in Matthew 23 when the hypocrites were saying those who swear by the altar should instead swear by the gift or those who swear by the temple should swear by the gold, they were simply telling it like it was, but without saying the whole truth. The gold was more important to them. The gift was more important to them. Except of course it shouldn’t be that way!

Christ would have none of it. He wants people to know the truth. And then He really pours it on them. If you swear by the temple, He was forcing them to admit the error of their ways. You swear by heaven and God who dwells there, well if you swear by the temple, you swear by the One dwelling there, except there was no one there! Christ is calling them out.

Christ then seals the deal. You hypocrites strain a gnat and swallow a camel. You clean the outside, but on the inside you are dead. But how can this be solved; that’s what they should have asked! You hypocrites who play act are really whitewashed tombs of dead men’s bones; they are unclean. Behold, Christ says, your house is left desolate.

Like the verb tense in the one who dwells there, your desolation is also present tense, even though Christ’s resurrection was future, even though 70 CE was yet to come. Christ is telling the hypocrites exactly the way it is; the house is desolate; no one is there.

SUMMARY

The depths of hypocrisy know no limits. Swear by the gold, not the temple, of course, because the temple is of no effect. Swear by the gift, not the altar. The hypocrites in charge, however, never informed the people of the truth. We got nothing. Look for Messiah. The signs all point to Jesus Christ. Here He is! Here is the Temple of the Living God. Instead, their house is left desolate. They failed to recognize the day of His visitation.

Sources

Mat. 1:23

Mat. 23:13-15, 23, 25, etc

Mat. 27:40

John 2:19-21

Hypocrite

Vines EDoNTW: corresponding to the above, primarily denotes "one who answers;" then, "a stage-actor;" it was a custom for Greek and Roman actors to speak in large masks with mechanical devices for augmenting the force of the voice; hence the word became used metaphorically of "a dissembler, a hypocrite." It is found only in the Synoptists, and always used by the Lord, fifteen times in Matthew; elsewhere, Mar 7:6; Luk 6:42; 11:44 (in some mss.); 12:56; 13:15.

Outline of Biblical Usage: one who answers, an interpreter an actor, stage player a dissembler, pretender, hypocrite

http://www.josephus.org/works.htm

http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/tac/index.htm

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This is a facinating question, but let's start with some context about Matthew 23. Jesus has pretty much had it with the Pharisees, their hypocrisy, and their willfully ignoring all the signs of His coming. So Jesus is chastising them. This one particular accusation is Matthew 23:16-22. Here it is (KJV):

Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?

And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?

Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.

Jesus is not declaring that God's Presence literally dwells within "that temple over there." He's making a really important point. Let me shink that down a bit to make the point more visible.

...Ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing.... [When, in reality,] whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein....

What is His point? That the Jewish leadership had lost their way, declaring implicitly that Jehovah no longer mattered when swearing oaths in the temple, but He should! (When you simplify the Lord's elegant chastizement, it's fairly easy to see why He was so frustrated, possibly even angry. The Pharasees had really missed the point of the faith!)

Christianity fundamentally believes that the ancient Hebrews had fallen into apostasy. This is supported by statements such as 1 Sam 8:6-7...

...For they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.

And there is perhaps no stronger statement against the general righteousness of the Jews than Jehovah's commandment to Jeremiah (which He says several times throughout the book of Jeremiah). From Jeremiah 7:8-16 we read:

Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me: for I will not hear thee.

Can you imagine a chosen people so out of touch with God that He would command His own prophet not to pray for them? It is clear that the Chosen People drove the spirit of God from their temple long before Jesus walked the earth. The people should have been able to find the spirit of God in their temple --- but they couldn't, due in no small part to Jewish leadership. This is one reason why the ancient Apostles taught so often that through sanctification the spirit of God will dwell within us ... because the temples of the day were no longer sanctified.

So, short answer to your question: Jesus was chastizing the Pharisees for pushing the people away from their God, the spirit of Whom should have been found in the temple, but because of wickedness, could no longer be found.

(BTW, you should go read the accepted answer to the question @bradimus pointed to. It's good, and covers a perspective I do not cover here.)

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