The principle of a place where man meets with God in worship is established in Eden. In his unfallen state in the garden of God, Adam was able to converse and commune with Jehovah Elohim. For a time, he gave God His rightful due in obedience, honor and respect. All of this changed when sin was committed. Adam and Eve were driven out from that holy environment, as part of sin’s penalty was an enforced distance from God.
God later took up Abram to build from him a nation of priestly worshipers as His peculiar treasure. In faith, Abram came into the land of Canaan to the place of Shechem, where he worshiped and built an altar unto the LORD. Driven to Egypt by a famine, there is no indication of worship from Abram until he returned “unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first: and there Abram called on the name of the LORD” (Gen 13:4 KJV). We again trace the principle of a place of worship established in the land and a place of testimony, as the Canaanite was then in the land.
When the nation of Israel was called out of Egypt, God said, “Let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them” (Exo 25:8 KJV). The tabernacle was a portable tent structure that would be erected in a place of God’s choosing. “There shall be a place which the LORD your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there” (Deut 12:11 KJV). This was the place of worship for that time.
Later, Solomon would build a more permanent temple in Jerusalem, “of which the LORD said, In Jerusalem will I put my name” (2Kings 21:4), thus carrying on the idea of a literal place where God could be worshiped on His terms and in the prescribed manner. However, Israel’s disobedience and rebellion against God resulted in the destruction of the first temple in 586 BC by the Babylonians.
Temple worship was again restored in the same place under Zerubbabel when the second temple was completed 70 years later in 516 BC It was later renovated by Herod the Great. Although the ark of the covenant and the Shekinah glory were not recovered, the Lord Jesus emphasized its significance when He called this structure “my Father’s house” (John 2:16). That house was left desolate (Matt 23:38), and the Romans destroyed it in AD 70. Jerusalem will not be the center for Messianic worship of God until the coming Millennial Kingdom.
The Day of Grace has brought in a new era in which God is now not found secluded in temples made with hands. Nevertheless, the metaphor of a temple is used to convey the concept of God’s presence, realized and enjoyed by His people in worship, obedience, honor and respect. The universal Church is characterized as a growing temple (Eph 2:21-22). However, this Church has never been together in one place, as it comprises every saint of this dispensation from Pentecost until the Rapture. Differences in history, time and location have precluded such a coming together. Its first gathering together will be when we set eyes on Him for the first time in our glorified bodies, when “we all gather home in the morning” and we gladly meet Him in the air (1Thes 4:17). Ephesians and Hebrews teach us that now our place of worship is in Christ in the heavens, where Christ sits on the right hand of God (Eph 1:20; 2:18; Heb 10:19-22).
The believer’s body is described as a temple (1Cor 6:19). Again, the principles of worshiping and honoring God in our behavior and lifestyle should govern us in all that we do and wherever we are. We are not free to use our bodies for our own pursuit of pleasure. If we belong to the Lord and we are to enjoy His presence in our souls from day to day, we will walk “trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph 5:10 NASB).
The term “church of God” is always a NT assembly of Christians in a locality (Acts 20:28; 1Cor 1:2). Simply stated, it is God’s pattern for collective gathering today. It too is a temple of God (1Cor 3:16-17). The Greek word used (naos) equates with the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle and the temple. It is God Himself dwelling among His people who willingly, reverently and lovingly display obedience, honor and respect towards Him, which is His due.
Scripture details the conditions that please Him and should be found in such comings together. Believers are baptized and added to the fellowship, which is formed by glad adherence to the apostles’ doctrine. They will display the headship of Christ in God’s order (1Cor 11:2-16). The Lord’s Supper is kept once a week (Acts 20:7), and calls to remembrance that He was once here but He has now gone. Elders are recognized and respected for their godly maturity, approachability and wisdom in guiding and leading the company. The gatherings are marked by a simple obedience to Scripture and the absence of additional religious trappings not found in the apostles’ teaching. We live in a day when extra-biblical ideas found in the evangelical world seem to have more appeal than the plain provisions of Scripture. The local assembly belongs to God and carries the character of God’s house. His authority, His order of administration, and His awesome presence are realities in the place that provides accommodation for Him on His terms. We are not free to imitate the sophisticated arrangements and “tech savvy” programming that often are franchised across the evangelical world and labeled as worship. It is always a cause for sadness when simple assembly practice is given up for more liberal “man-centered” forms of gathering. May Christ always have the preeminence among His people as we gather in His Name and seek to honor Him as Lord in all we do.
Ultimately, our place of worship will be in the New Jerusalem, that heavenly city of which John heard, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Rev 21:3 KJV). Our eternal occupation will be worship. As we anticipate the radiant glory of heaven, we say, like John, “Amen, even so come Lord Jesus.”