What is a temple? A temple (from the Latin word templum) is a structure reserved for religious or spiritual activities such as prayer and sacrifice, or analogous rites. So in short, a temple is a place of worship, and for the Christian, the temple is the house of God.
The first Israeli temple was a permanent worship center built by King Solomon, the second king of Israel, four years into his reign. It was built four hundred and eighty years after the Israelites came out of their captivity in Egypt (see 1 Kings 6:1). David, his father, had wanted to be the one to build the temple, but God had other plans. God said to David, “Your son whom I will put on the throne in your place will build the temple for my name” (1 Kings 5:3 NIV). In preparation for this project, King David put together most of the materials and supplies the builders would need for building the temple.
That structure was huge and magnificent! (See 1 Kings 6:2-36) Unfortunately, the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon destroyed it by fire during the reign of King Zedekiah (see 2 Chronicles 36:17-20).
The temple was later rebuilt at the command of Cyrus, king of Persia, who proclaimed throughout his kingdom that God had appointed him to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem in Judah (see Ezra 1:1-4). Some of the Israelites in captivity returned home to undertake that project. When the foundation was laid, the Israelites who had seen the first temple many years prior wept bitterly, because the foundation of the new temple was no match for the first one (see Ezra 3:12-13).
The temple remained a place of worship and sacrifice, and a place where God met with His people. Anything or anybody considered unclean for health or other reasons was not allowed in the temple, an indication that God wants the temple to remain holy at all times.
During the time of Jesus, the temple area had become a trading place. Offended by the practice, Jesus overturned the tables and benches of the traders, and drove them out, saying to them, “It is written my house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers” (Matthew 21:13 NIV).
It is obvious that the temple at this time was a physical structure visible to the human eye, built by humans: with human hands, human effort, and physical materials. But there is another temple; it is invisible, made without human hands, or human efforts. It is not built over time, but rather instantly.
This temple, of course, is a spiritual temple. It is erected as soon as a person makes a confession of faith in Jesus Christ. At that moment, God comes to indwell the believer in the form of the Holy Spirit. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit makes one’s heart the temple of God. God didn’t live there prior to conversion, because it was cluttered with sin. Jesus’ blood cleanses us from all sin, making our heart a suitable dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. So now God’s dwelling place is no longer a physical structure, but a spiritual one: our heart. The apostle Paul, teaching the people of Athens about the true God, said, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands” (Acts 17:24 NIV).
Just as God demanded His temple be kept holy in the Old Testament, so He requires us, in the Church age, to keep the temple of our bodies clean. It is important to note that there are consequences for destroying God’s temple.
On warning the Church of Corinth about godly living, the apostle Paul said to them, and to all Christians, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NIV). On the topic of sexual immorality, Paul again wrote to them, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19).
If we constantly remind ourselves that we are God’s temple, we’ll be a bit more careful about what we do with and to our bodies and what we subject our bodies to. For instance, some of the conversations and music we listen to, some of the things we think about, and some of the things we watch have the ability to contaminate our thoughts. Let’s remember, “We are the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:16 NIV). Paul reminds us in his letter to the Philippians, “Whatever is true, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8 NIV). May God help us to respect His house and keep it clean!