“Take the vessels of the Lord, return them to the temple that is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be rebuilt on its site.” (Ezra 5:15)
Have you ever wondered why, when Cyrus issued the decree allowing any Jew who was willing to return and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, they couldn’t just rebuild it anywhere they wanted? In other words, why not rebuild it there in Babylon? It would have made things much more convenient, after all. Or how about Syria, Egypt, or any of the lands to which the Jewish population had been dispersed?
The answer is found way back in Deuteronomy 12:5: “You shall seek the place the Lord your God chooses out from among all your tribes to place His name and dwell.” In all the land God gave to Israel, one particular piece of real estate was marked out as special and unique. There God said He would place His name. In other words, out from that plot of earth-or rather, what was built upon it-God would express Himself in all His glory.
So the temple couldn’t be built just anywhere. It had to be in Judea, on Mt. Zion. Nowhere else. Otherwise it wouldn’t be legit. This had special significance in the purpose of God. Jerusalem was intended to be something of a unifying factor to the nation of Israel. Every year the people were directed to drop what they were doing and embark on a pilgrimage to the Holy City for the annual feasts. At this time they brought their tithes, their offerings, their sacrifices, ect., and they all came together as one man to present themselves before the Lord.
After the death of Solomon, when the kingdom was split between Jeroboam and Solomon’s son Rehoboam, Jeroboam did something unprecedented. Knowing the significance of the temple at Jerusalem-what God had originally intended, what it meant to the people-Jeroboam set up altars in the cities of Dan and Bethel and instructed the people to go there instead of Jerusalem to offer their yearly sacrifices to God. Why? Because he knew that if the people went up to Jerusalem, their hearts would be turned back to their brothers and sisters in the southern kingdom, and Jeroboam would lose his dominion. Scripture calls it “the sin of Jeroboam, by which he caused the people to sin.” (This is for another day and another blog, but suffice it to say that in our day and age there are many leaders out there in Christendom, who, like Jeroboam, will never allow for a return to the practical unity of the Body of Christ, for fear of losing their own little kingdom.)
So we see that Jerusalem, and the temple in particular, was something of a unifying factor in the life of the Jewish nation. There God placed His name, and out from there He desired to give an expression of Himself to the nations. What was the unique revelation of God which Israel bore to the surrounding nations? “Hear, Oh Israel! The Lord your God is… one.” The testimony had to do with the oneness of God. That He alone of all the “gods” of the pagans was really God.
What does any of this Old Testament stuff have to do with the church, you might ask? Well, I’m a firm believer in 1 Corinthians 10:11, that all these things are written for our learning. In my personal view the entire history of natural Israel as laid out in the Old Testament is presented as a foreshadowing of spiritual reality-namely, of Christ and the church. I feel strongly that the history of Israel under Solomon pictures the “glory days” of first century Christianity. Her ensuing history foreshadows the church’s decline in the following centuries, climaxing with what has been referred to as the “fall” of the church (so to speak) with the union of church and state under Constantine. Then the long road of captivity, and the eventual return of a remnant to rebuild the city as it once was.
When we speak of the Lord’s recovery, of His call to return and rebuild the House of God, the first issue we are met with is the ground. What is the proper ground on which the church is built? Is it the house (as in, house church)? Is it a particular denomination as over against another? Or is it a certain theological system (such as Catholicism, Lutheranism, or Calvinism)? What is the true and unique ground of the church?