Joy-Full Fellowship (Part 7): Pentecost

In the Old Testament, the altars of the patriarchs, the tabernacle constructed under Moses, and the temple built by Solomon were all sufficient and efficacious means by which the people of God experienced the covenantal and joy-full presence of the Lord their God. All of the spectacular and mighty acts of redemption that God worked on behalf of his people were always unto this end of union and communion. In other words, redemption served the covenant promise: I will be your God and you will be my people. This promise is the refrain played on the pages of Scripture as the mighty hand of God beats down upon the enemies of his people and gently orchestrates Israel’s entrance into the land of Canaan.

Notice, for example, how the exhortation in Psalm 105 to seek the LORD’s presence continually (v. 4) arises from God’s work of (1) rescuing his people from their Egyptian bondage and (2) bringing them into the land in which he promised to dwell with them. He brings his people out with joy, as the Psalmist recounts in v. 43, for he brings them out to dwell in his presence in which there is fullness of joy (Ps. 16:11).

Nevertheless, while these means of God dwelling with his people in the Old Testament were good as both sufficient for the time and effectual in administering the covenantal presence of God, they were still only temporary and provisional (Heb. 8:13). They ultimately foresignified Christ to come, as foretold by the prophets (see Westminster Confession of Faith 7.5). In the incarnation, the Son of God “tabernacled” among us as the true and eternal, the final and permanent dwelling place of God (John 1:14). For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily (Col. 2:9).

With this redemptive-historical transition from what was good, yet provisional, to what is now better and permanent, that is, from the shadows to the substance, which is Christ, the joy-full presence of God is experienced in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, even extending to all nations (see Westminster Confession of Faith 7.6).

With all that in mind, we can consider the event of Pentecost with its momentous background as the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the church by the risen and ascended Lord, Jesus Christ. If it is by a Spirit-kindled faith that we share in Christ (Belgic Confession art. 22; Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 53), who is himself the end-time temple of God, then what does that tell us about the nature of the church?

Pentecost and the Church as the Temple of God

The apostle Peter writes, “As you come to [Jesus Christ], a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house” (1 Pet. 2:4–5; cf. Isa. 8:14; 28:16; Ps. 118:22). In a similar vein, the apostle Paul asks the Corinthian church, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you…?” (1 Cor. 6:19; cf. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:20–22; Rev. 3:12; 11:1–2). The point is that as believers are united to Jesus Christ by faith they too are built up as the temple of God. The church is the eschatological temple where God now dwells in the power of his Spirit. This is the reality that the tabernacle and temple prefigured. However, God is not just dwelling with his people, as he did in the past, but within them in an unprecedented way.

This indwelling of the Spirit in the church transforms the church into the dwelling place of God, which takes place at Pentecost. Pentecost closely parallels the Sinai theophany when Moses received the blueprint for building the tabernacle.[1] But rather than Moses coming down from the mountain with a blueprint to construct a shadow of the heavenly reality, Jesus comes down from heaven in the power of the Holy Spirit[2] with the heavenly reality itself.

Pentecost also parallels those occasions in the Old Testament when God came to fill with his presence the tabernacle (Exod. 40:34–35) and temple (1 Kgs. 8:10–11). This is why Peter on the day of Pentecost uses the prophecy of Joel to explain the significance of this extraordinary event (Joel 2:28–32). The church as the eschatological temple of God is totally dependent upon Jesus Christ and filled with his resurrection joy (Ps. 16:11). Clowney helpfully writes,

The church’s existence as the body-temple depends totally on the resurrection body of Christ in which the church is raised up, and on the Spirit of Christ by which the church lives. Paul’s appeals for the unity of the church are drawn from the unity of the body of Christ as the true and final temple. For Paul the body and the temple go together: the breaking down of the middle wall of the temple creates one body; the New Temple grows as a body (Eph. 2:21); the body is built as a temple (Eph. 4:12, 16). Christ is the cornerstone of the structure, the Lord in whom the New Temple exists.[3]

Pentecost and the Mission of the Church

The substance has superseded the shadow, the church has superseded the Solomonic temple as the eschatological end-time temple with people from all nations being built up as a spiritual house. “Subsequent to Pentecost, when people believe in Jesus, they become a part of Jesus and the temple, since Jesus himself is the locus of that temple.”[4] Consequently, as the church expands throughout the earth by Christ’s Word and Spirit, God’s dwelling place is also extended and the creation mandate is fulfilled in the form of the Great Commission (note, for example, the allusion to Gen. 1:28 in Col. 1:6).[5] G. K. Beale powerfully captures the impact of this theme on the mission of the church today:

Jesus … becomes the cornerstone of the new temple, and Christians are like living stones being built into the dwelling place of God (Eph. 2:22; 1 Pet. 2:5), which ‘grows into a holy temple in the Lord’ (Eph. 2:21) through the proclamation of the word of God during the church age. Through faithful witness, even in the midst of suffering, the church expands with power, eventually to fill the entire earth.[6]

Pentecost tells us most emphatically that God is a missionary God (Ezek. 20:34; John 3:16; 4:23) who has sent his missionary Spirit (John 16:8ff) to testify to and apply the work of his missionary Son (Luke 19:10) to form a missionary people (John 20:21; Acts 1:8; 1 Peter 2:9) to fulfill his mission for the world (Gen. 1:28; Matt. 28:19–20). At Pentecost the church became the eschatological temple set ablaze by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the gospel during the already-not yet until the mission of God is complete.

 

For more on this topic check out this episode of Vos Group with Drs. Camden Bucey and Lane Tipton as they expound upon the insight of Geerhardus Vos regarding the redemptive-historical significance of the tabernacle and God dwelling with his people.


[1] For a defense of relating the two events see G. K. Beale, “The Commencement of the Spirit’s Building of Believers into the Transformed Temple of the End-Time New Creation,” in A New Testament Biblical Theology, 592ff.

[2] For a discussion of the close relationship between Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit see Richard B. Gaffin, “Pentecost: Before and After,” Kerux 10, no. 2 (September 1, 1995): 3–24.

[3] Clowney, “The Final Temple,” WTJ 35 (1973), 184–85.

[4] Beale, New Testament Biblical Theology, 634.

[5] It can be said that the church inherits the creation mandate in the form of the great commission.

[6] Beale, God Dwells Among Us, 135–36.

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