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Significance of the Temple

by Susan Budensiek  
1/04/2018 / Bible Studies

A Simple Description of the Spiritual Significance of the Temple


1 Corinthians 3:16 (CJB) Don't you know that you people are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? 

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (CJB)

19 Or don't you know that your body is a temple for the Ruach HaKodesh [Holy Spirit] who lives inside you, whom you received from God? The fact is, you don't belong to yourselves;

20 for you were bought at a price. So use your bodies to glorify God.


We live in a day when people are encouraged to hold any religious beliefs that “work” for them and that they are comfortable with. But the directions given by God for building and furnishing the temple show that God must be worshiped on His terms – not ours. The temple of Israel made it clear that God must be worshiped with a clean heart.


The temple is and always has been an illustration of God living among His people, and gives us a pattern, which was ultimately fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. The message of worship on God's terms is clear: the manner in which we approach God is as important as what we believe and do.


When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai he brought with him the Ten Commandments and detailed specifications for the tabernacle, which was a collapsible, portable temple for worship. When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments He also gave him the plans to build a sacred structure to be a companion to the moral law.

The design for this structure, called the tabernacle shows God's mercy in providing for people who could not live up to His rules. Not only does it show the terms by which God lives with His people, but also how His people could in turn, prepare to meet and live with their God.


As a pattern, the tabernacle shows us the need for (1) a sacrificial death, (2) regular spiritual cleansing, (3) daily dependence on God, (4) all encompassing mercy, and (5) the presence of God Himself.


(1) The need for a sacrificial death – the Bronze Altar of Sacrifice


Just inside the only gate into the tabernacle was a bronze covered altar of sacrifice where innocent animals were sacrificed in a ceremony that symbolically transferred the guilt of the human to the head of a certain animal.


This altar of sacrifice was not involved in social or civil justice (meaning, if a man stole his neighbor's donkey, he could not satisfy the requirements of justice by sacrificing an animal on this altar. The Law of Moses states that a thief makes generous restitution for this crime.) but when an individual realized his inability to live up to the requirements of God, the guilt would be covered through the blood of a “sin offering”. (Leviticus 17:11)


Consider the symbolism involved here. A person would bring an unblemished animal to the priest, place his hands on the animal's head (to be identified with the sacrifice), and then slit its throat. Then the priest collected the blood and disposed of the carcass, all in a particular manner.


In the New Testament the significance of the bronze altar of sacrifice is explained. In Hebrews we are told that the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin (Hebrews 10:1-14) and that animal sacrifices were simply “shadows” of another sacrifice that could take away sin. Of course, we know they were symbols of Jesus Christ being crucified. (II Corinthians 5:21, I Peter 1:17-20, 2:24).


(2) The need for regular spiritual cleansing – the Bronze Basin


A second condition for God to live among His people is represented by a large bronze basin of water placed between the altar of sacrifice and the tent of the Holy Place. This was used by the priest, as a representative of the people, to wash his hands and feet before offering a sacrifice or entering the Holy Place.


The basin's significance is that it illustrates God's attitude toward spiritual defilement. Multiple washings portray a principle revealed throughout the whole Bible: In order to have a close relationship with God, His people must learn to have the same attitude toward sin as God does. (James 4:8-10)


We would not accept food at a restaurant if we had seen the waiter drop it on the floor and then scoop it back up on the plate and bring it to us; nor would we be likely to walk into a friend's house with mud-covered shoes. We are, nevertheless, inclined to try to come into God's presence with our hearts covered with the filth of our disobedience, lust, or lukewarmness.


(3) The need for daily dependence upon God – The Holy Place


The outside of the Holy Place was draped with drab animal skins and looked as inviting or appealing as the Godly life does to an outsider. Inside, however, was found rich color, embroidery, and gold, just like the person who draws near to God in faith by separating from sin and obediently entering the Holy Place can know the rich pleasures of close communion with our Father.


The first thing found in the Holy Place was a lamp, (“candlestick” In the KJV, correctly translated from the original Hebrew as “menorah”) of gold which represented the valuable source of light that God is to His people. Because of its seven-in-one design it also suggests the way the people are to depend on God for enlightenment, and the fact that not only is God a source of light to His people but also through them. God mad it clear that His people would receive His enlightenment only when they remained open to the prophets, priests, judges, kings, counselors, etc. who spoke in His behalf.


Paul taught this same principle in Ephesians 4:1-16 and even more direct evidence is found in Revelation 2 and 3, where the seven churches are likened to candlesticks/menorahs.


Keep the overall view of the Bible in mind and visualize the symbolism in the design of the lamp. The seven-branched lamp was hammered out of one piece of gold with three branches on each side extending out from the center shaft, and is carved with images of almond branches and blossoms. Put all of the elements together and see if it doesn't suggest a shared oneness and interdependence, as well as the light and life that are found in God.


The second article in the Holy Place, the golden table of shewbread, (“shewbread” in KJV correctly translated from the original Hebrew as “the bread of the presence”) also symbolizes dependence on God with its twelve flat loaves of bread stacked on it. The twelve loaves were to remind the twelve tribes of Israel that when they separated themselves to God and relied on Him for their needs, they would be able to eat at the table prepared for them. The key is that this bread represented the daily provisions promised to those who trust God. Moses emphasized this principle in Deuteronomy 8:2-3 and many years later King David would pray Psalm 23:5-6.


“Our daily bread” includes everything we need to live day by day from the hand of God – food, of course, health, housing, time, relationships, spiritual encouragement, and so on. Always, the “Bread of God” points to Christ. (John 6:32-33, 35)


The third article in the Holy Place that stands for dependence on God was a golden altar of incense which stood next to the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place or Holy of Holies, and was to be lit from the Bronze Altar (“brasen” in the KJV) of Sacrifice.


Incense was burned to show honor and recognition for a king or dignitary so, as it stood facing the Holy of Holies, it represented the need for the child of God to honor God continually, recognizing our dependence on Him with praise, requests, and thanksgiving.


Since the incense was to be lit from the Bronze Altar of Sacrifice we are to be reminded that it is because of God's sacrifice that we are able to come into His presence with our prayers. Now, in New Testament times, our prayers are lit from the fires of Christ's sacrifice for us, enabling us to “come boldly to the throne of grace...” (Hebrews 9:5)


(4) The need for mercy on God's terms – The Ark of the Covenant


The Ark of the Covenant was a chest covered with gold to keep the stone tablets of the law in. On top was a cover of gold called the mercy seat and on each end of the cover were gold cherubim.


Together these symbolic objects represented the only conditions whereby God would live with His people.


Hebrews 9:4 tells us that the Ark contained the tablets of the law, a golden pot of manna, and Aaron's rod that budded. These things are to remind us of the value God puts on His principles (Deuteronomy 28), on the persons who speak in His behalf (Numbers 16 and 17) and on His daily provision (Exodus 16).


The tablets of the law given to Moses remind us that God is a God of principle. His laws tell us all we need to know about His desires and character; they define His expectations of us and make the reasons for His actions clear. His words show His desire to bring us into a relationship with Himself.


The Bible reminds us that just who God is, is reflected in His teaching and that to reject His teaching is to reject God. (I Thessalonians 4:3-8) And God allows us the freedom to do that, but when we do, we not only break the laws of God – they have broken us.


The higher purpose of the law is discovered in such brokenness. Meditating on the laws of God we see what is right about God and what is wrong with ourselves. By taking God's laws seriously we see the necessity of the truths of sacrifice, purification, dependence and mercy, all illustrated in the tabernacle.


Once a year on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest sprinkled the blood of a sacrificed animal on the mercy seat. The symbolism here is that God showed us He would live among His people on the basis of mercy. He already knew His people would break His laws and sin against His ways, doubt His provision of life's necessities, and ignore His leaders and prophets.


And they did. Our forefathers resisted the prophets, complained about what God had provided for them, got tired of the manna, tired of God's laws and tired of those God chose as their leaders.


We do the same thing when God's provisions become old to us and our appreciation dwindles, and when we resist His servants. Yet He still provided the blood on the mercy seat for us when the Lamb of God fulfilled the sacrifice of Israel's bulls and goats.


The cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant also point out God's mercy. The eyes of the cherubim were to look down on the atoning blood on the cover of the Ark. The guardians of God's holiness were now to look on the blood of God's atoning sacrifice rather than on the sinner.


(5) The need for the presence of God

The details of the tabernacle take up several chapters of the book of Exodus, but the details in and of themselves were not that important. Of primary importance is what all the details were pointing to. After all of the tabernacle was set up in its correct arrangement Moses said, “On the day the tabernacle was put up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, that is, the tent of the testimony; and in the evening, over the tabernacle was what appeared to be fire, which remained until morning.  So the cloud always covered it, and it looked like fire at night.  Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tent, the people of Isra'el continued their travels; and they camped wherever the cloud stopped.  At the order of ADONAI, the people of Isra'el traveled; at the order of ADONAI, they camped; and as long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they stayed in camp.  Even when the cloud remained on the tabernacle for a long time, the people of Isra'el did what ADONAI had charged them to do and did not travel.  Sometimes the cloud was a few days over the tabernacle; according to ADONAI's order, they remained in camp; and according to ADONAI's order, they traveled.  Sometimes the cloud was there only from evening until morning; so that when the cloud was taken up in the morning, they traveled. Or even if it continued up both day and night, when the cloud was up, they traveled.  Whether it was two days, a month or a year that the cloud remained over the tabernacle, staying on it, the people of Isra'el remained in camp and did not travel; but as soon as it was taken up, they traveled.  At ADONAI's order, they camped; and at ADONAI's order, they traveled -they did what ADONAI had charged them to do through Moshe.” Numbers 9:15-23 (CJB).


The prophets tell us that eventually the temple and the freedom and peace of Israel were lost because God's chosen people did not honor the spiritual principles illustrated by “God's house of symbols.”


God had chosen Solomon to build the temple which took a huge workforce seven and a half years to complete. Then Solomon himself violated God's standards. (Deuteronomy 17:14-20) when his heart was turned aside to the pagan gods of his many wives.

(I Kings 11:1-10)


In one way or another his spiritual lapse would be repeated time after time when “the kings, priests, and congregation of God dishonored the sacrifice (altar) and refused to wash themselves (basin) from the filth of the surrounding nations. They didn't surrender to God's terms of mercy (mercy seat). They didn't honor the laws (tables of the law) nor depend on God's daily provision (jar of manna), nor obey the leaders God gave them (staff of Aaron).” As a result, they lost the protection and provision of God.


Bronze Altar of Sacrifice – Christ's sacrificial death on the cross

Bronze Basin – purify our hearts

The Holy Place – and in the Holy Place:
    Golden Menorah– God's light to and through His people
    Golden Table of Showbread – our daily needs provided
    Golden Altar of Incense – our prayers lit from the fires of Christ's sacrifice for us

Ark of the Covenant – and in the Ark of the Covenant:
    Tablets of the Law – God's teachings
Mercy Seat – God's mercy in providing the ultimate sacrifice.
Cherubim – look at the atoning blood on the mercy seat rather than at the sinner



I was raised in church but always felt like I was missing something. Now the Word of God excites me! My curiosity enhances pursuance of discernment. I have often felt discouraged, but not totally defeated knowing that in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.

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