If one of God’s purposes is to bridge the gap between God and man, bringing heaven and earth closer together, and if the Kingdom in its fullness will be earth and heaven joined into one, then worship is anything that helps that to happen — anything that narrows the gulf between God and man.
How does that happen? When does that happen? Well, when and where is God most near to man?
In New Testament times, one answer is surely in the possession of the Holy Spirit by Christians. God the Spirit indwells the individual Christian — language that plainly harkens back to God dwelling among the Israelites in the form of the column of fire and smoke and in the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle.
(Rom 8:9-11 ESV) You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
This dwelling of the Spirit within the individual Christian is also spoken of in terms of indwelling the congregation.
(Eph 2:19-22 ESV) 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
(1Pe 2:4-5 ESV) As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Just as the Creation itself was built to be a temple of God, the church is pictured as God’s temple — indwelt by the Spirit. There is something about the church that is more than just people. God himself lives within the church just as he once lived within the Temple in Jerusalem.
Now, “church” is not just the assembly. The church is the church whether or it’s gathered. And the Spirit is active all the time, not just Sunday morning.
So what does the Spirit do? What did God do when he indwelt the tabernacle and the Temple? Well, he —
* Spoke. Moses would go to the tabernacle to speak with God. Israelites went to pray because God had a special presence there (Exo 29:42-43).
* Accepted sacrifice. OT worship seems to have been centered on the sacrifice of food to God, and once the tabernacle was built, sacrifice was not allowed just anywhere. It had to be at the tabernacle — or later, at the Temple.
* Taught. The priests at the Temple were charged with instructing the people in Torah (Lev 10:11; Deu 33:10; Mal 2:7).
* Declared the formerly leprous clean.
* Led Israel through the desert.
And so what does the Spirit do today? Well, it leads the church.
(Rom 8:14 ESV) 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
And the presence of the Spirit shows us to be forgiven, that is, clean.
(Gal 4:6-7 ESV) 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
The Spirit instructs —
(Rom 8:6 NIV) 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.
(Heb 8:10 NIV) 10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
The Spirit accepts sacrifice —
(Rom 12:1 ESV) I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
(Rom 15:15-16 ESV) 15 But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
And so we begin to see that the church, as temple of the Spirit, somehow acts in the place of the Jerusalem Temple of the Mosaic law. In fact, early Christians — who were mostly Jews — would have seen the connection very plainly. Paul seems to have been very intentionally making this point. To refer to a congregation of the church as a “temple” was a powerful metaphor among a people whose religious life centered on the Temple. The metaphor was all the more powerful given that Jesus had predicted the destruction of the Temple within the same generation as his ministry (Luk 21:32).