Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Solomon's Temple, Forever, and Sacramentology

“What about the ‘forever’ promises in the Old Testament? At the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, the LORD says, ‘I have consecrated this house which you have built by putting My name there forever [1 Kings 9:3].’ God knew that Temple would be destroyed, so what did He mean? Is it using ‘forever’ in a different way than we do?”

This is the question I get from a church member at the door as I’m shaking hands and hugging necks after the service. I love stuff like this, so sorry to all you folks who walked by without my acknowledgement – you could probably tell I was excited about something, I’m sure! I gave the inquiring church member an answer, and thought I’d jot it down here.

In this case, it isn’t that we need to redefine “forever.” Instead, we need to let the whole counsel of the Bible inform us about the idea of “temple.” The duration of “forever” doesn’t change, but by the time we come to the new covenant Scripture (the New Testament), the dwelling place of God with man comes into its fullness. I’ll give you a quicker version of the quick answer I gave her, and then expand it a little to explain how I got there: Solomon’s Temple is sacramental for Jesus Christ, Who is the true and eternal Temple (along with His “Body,” the Church – those united to Him by faith). The “forever” promise given concerning Solomon’s Temple (a building to be destroyed in just over 300 years) applies to the Person signified (Jesus Christ) through the sign itself (Solomon’s Temple).

Let me tell you where I got the language I quickly pulled out of my theological toolbox Sunday morning.

The Second London Confession (1689) describes the elements of old covenant worship as “those promises, types, and sacrifices wherein [Jesus] was revealed” (8.6). Further, the S.L.C. confesses that the “covenant of grace…is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament” (7.2,3). The Old Testament is a movement from the announcement of the covenant of grace (Genesis 3:15) to its fullness in the first advent of Jesus Christ and His continuing work for His people. Every element and theme in the O.T. leads us to Jesus.[1] The LORD pronounces one of “those promises…wherein [Jesus] was revealed” over Solomon’s Temple, which was one of the “farther steps” in revealing the “covenant of grace.” The Temple was not the point, but it served as a symbol and sign, and, in its old covenant time, communicated the grace of Christ to those worshipers who came to the Temple as commanded and by faith – it both pointed forward to Christ but also brought Christ to those who gathered to worship at the Temple.[2]

There’s a helpful word not used in the S.L.C. to describe this: sacrament.

The Westminster Confession of Faith (1644) describes sacraments as “holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and His benefits” (27.1). The W.C.F. also says “there is in every sacrament a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified” (27.2). While the Particular Baptists omitted this language in the S.L.C., they had no problem using the word “sacrament” in other places.[3] I like the word, so I invoked it last Lord’s Day.

I would say that Solomon’s Temple was sacramental – that is, it represented in a real and beneficial (to those in the old covenant) way the fullness of both God-with-us (Immanuel, Jesus Christ), but also us-with-God in faith-union with Jesus Christ, and therefore brought them into the union between Father and Son, even though Christ’s earthly work had not yet occurred.[4]

When we hold up the bread and repeat the words, “this is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (1 Corinthians 11:24), we do not consider the bread to have the promises of Christ’s sacrifice for us. Those promises come to us in Christ alone. The bread represents that, and we are drawn to Christ through obedience to His command to partake of the Supper. We are, by the Spirit, connected to His body on the cross (Galatians 2:20), and we are, by the Spirit, connected to the “Lamb standing, as if slain” (Revelation 5:6) in heaven. Christ’s Presence and benefits are ours through faith-union with Him (now and forever), a union sealed and made real by the heaven-sent Holy Spirit, Who works in us through the ordinary means of grace in the Church. This is displayed in the parallelism we see on the day of Pentecost:
“Repent, and each other you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
“…those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (2:41,42).

The visible and physical act of baptism showed forth the faith that brings one into union with Christ. That union is sealed by the gift of the Holy Spirit, Whose Presence unites us with Christ – that union is manifested by corporate devotion “to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” The actions are not the union, but are a God-commanded means by which God the Holy Spirit manifests that union for our benefit.[5]

Just as “this is My body” is pronounced over bread, and just as “baptism now saves you,” the worship at Solomon’s Temple (the fellowship of God and His covenant people through sacrifice-mediation) and “forever” promises that attended that worship rested not on a building, but on the coming Christ and His work as the “one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).

Reading the temple “forever” promise as stand-alone is an incomplete (and, therefore, erroneous) hermeneutic. We have a whole Book in our hands. Where does the temple lead? What’s the point of the whole story, and how does the temple connect us to that point? Here’s a vital, indispensable point for interpreting your Bible: what comes later is key to what comes earlier.[6] Jesus saw His resurrection as the building of the true temple (John 2:19-22; see also Mark 14:58; 15:29). Similarly, Jesus is described as the “cornerstone” (Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10-12; Luke 20:17,18; Acts 4:11; Romans 9:32,33) of the true Temple, which is the Church (the people of God, not a building, 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:20-22; 1 Peter 2:5). In union with the resurrected Christ, the true and eternal Temple (locus of fellowship with God), the covenant people of God become part of that Temple, and receive the promises symbolically given to Solomon’s Temple in their fullness forever.

Solomon’s Temple, and the promises proclaimed at its dedication, was symbol/type of the coming Christ, but also sacramental in that those worshipers benefited from the future work of Christ on behalf of His people through the Temple worship by faith.

If your understanding of any Old Testament promise, commandment, God-action, or God-statement doesn’t take you to Jesus, read the whole Book.

[1] A more current Baptist confession, one I appreciate and ascribe to in my fellowship and service in the Southern Baptist Convention, says, “All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, Who is Himself the focus of divine revelation” (Baptist Faith & Message [2000], I).
[2] “Although the price of redemption was not actually paid by Christ till after His incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefit thereof were communicated to the elect in all ages, successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices wherein He was revealed, and signified to be the Seed which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, being the same yesterday, and today and forever” (Second London Confession, 8.6).
[3] For example, Nehemiah Coxe (d. 1688) says, “Unto the public work and charge of a bishop or elder belongs also the administration of the sacraments, or ordinances of positive institution in the church, as baptism and the Lord’s Supper” (Biblical Elders and Deacons). When Hercules Collins (d. 1702) adapted the Heidelberg Catechism for his Baptist Congregation’s use, he retained the original language concerning sacraments: “Q.65 What are the sacraments? A. They are sacred signs and seals set before our eyes and ordained of God for this purpose, that He may declare and confirm by them the promise of His gospel unto us, to this, that He gives freely remission of sins and life everlasting to everyone in particular who believes in the sacrifice of Christ which He accomplished once for all upon the cross.” I give these two examples just to show that Particular Baptists, while not using the word “sacrament” in the Second London Confession, still used it without reservation in other places.
[4] It was going to occur – God had promised it in the Garden (Genesis 3:15). It was going to occur – God purposed it before the first pages of the Bible (Ephesians 1:4; 2 Timothy 1:9).
[5] This is the only way you will understand Peter’s words rightly: “…baptism now saves you - not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience - through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven” (1 Peter 3:21,22). Baptism is a real and indispensable (I know I’ve used that word in this post already) part of the “appeal to God for a good conscience – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” A Zwinglian view of the ordinance as “mere symbol” doesn’t adequately explain Peter’s strong language “baptism now saves you.” As Baptists (and I suspect we’re not alone among Protestants), our weak doctrine of sacramentology has hobbled our understanding of the ordinances, the role of biblical Christian practice, our union with Christ, and our fellowship with the Trinity here on earth.
[6] “…the final authoritative interpreter of a specific Scripture is the rest of Scripture…the NT finally clarifies and authoritatively interprets previous OT type and shadows…there must be a final dependence upon the NT revelation to determine how the OT is fulfilled in it…the NT claims priority to teach how the Old is fulfilled in it as the inspired commentary on the OT…the priority of the NT for interpreting how the OT if fulfilled in it is fundamental to consistent biblical and systematic theology.” Frank A. Malone, “Biblical Hermeneutics and Covenant Theology,” in Covenant Theology: A Baptist Distinctive, ed. Earl M. Blackburn (Birmingham, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2013), 67-76. Or, as Calvin succinctly says it, “the apostles are better interpreters” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.13.7).

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