Worship: Replacing the Temple’s Monopoly

cainandabelPrior the tabernacle, going back to Cain and Abel, we read about God’s people offering sacrifices on any convenient pile of rocks. Abraham and his descendants piled up rocks as an altar to God as they felt the need. But this practice expired once Joshua led Israel across the Jordan.

In Joshua 22, we read this fascinating account of an altar to God built by the tribes that lived east of the Jordan.

(Jos 22:10-12 ESV) And when they came to the region of the Jordan that is in the land of Canaan, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, an altar of imposing size.  11 And the people of Israel heard it said, “Behold, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built the altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region about the Jordan, on the side that belongs to the people of Israel.”  12 And when the people of Israel heard of it, the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to make war against them.

Who saw verse 12 coming? The eastern tribes built a large altar to God, and so the western tribes prepared for war?! Why? Well, because God wanted to be worshiped only at the tabernacle, and so to built a second site for worship was to divide Israel.

The western tribes demanded an explanation —

(Jos 22:28-29 ESV)  28 “And we thought, ‘If this should be said to us or to our descendants in time to come, we should say, “Behold, the copy of the altar of the LORD, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you.”‘  29 Far be it from us that we should rebel against the LORD and turn away this day from following the LORD by building an altar for burnt offering, grain offering, or sacrifice, other than the altar of the LORD our God that stands before his tabernacle!” 

In other words, they built the altar as a reminder of the only true altar associated with the tabernacle. Hence, sacrifice and worship would thenceforth only take place at God’s one altar in his one tabernacle served by his only priests.

Thereafter, when we read of “worship” in the Old Testament, it’s a reference to worship at the tabernacle or the Temple. To worship anywhere else was unthinkable.

(Psa 99:9 ESV) 9 Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the LORD our God is holy!

(Psa 132:6-8 ESV)  6 Behold, we heard of it in Ephrathah; we found it in the fields of Jaar.  7 “Let us go to his dwelling place; let us worship at his footstool!”  8 Arise, O LORD, and go to your resting place, you and the ark of your might.

And what does this have to do with Jesus? Well, if Jesus himself replaces the Temple, then Jesus becomes the exclusive site where God may be worshiped.

Though Jesus’ action in [cleansing] the Temple must naturally be seen within this wider context of disaffection, it goes way beyond it into a different dimension. His attitude to the Temple was not “this institution needs reforming,” nor “the wrong people are running this place,” nor yet “piety can function elsewhere too.” His deepest belief regarding the Temple was eschatological: the time had come for God to judge the entire institution. It had come to symbolize the injustice that characterized the society on the inside and on the outside, the rejection of the vocation to be the light of the world, the city set on a hill that would draw to itself all the peoples of the world. …

I have already suggested that, during his Galilean ministry, Jesus acted and spoke as if he was in some sense called to do and be what the Temple was and did. His offer of forgiveness, with no prior condition of Temple-worship or sacrifice, was the equivalent of someone in our world offering as a private individual to issue someone else a passport or a driver’s license. He was undercutting the official system and claiming by implication to be establishing a new one in its place.

N. T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 64–67.

We Christians are so accustomed to living in a relationship with God where forgiveness is obtained regardless of geography that we forget that, under Moses, forgiveness could  only be obtained at the Temple. When John the Baptist began immersing for repentance “into the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3), John challenged the Temple’s unique place as a source of forgiveness. In fact, he challenged the exclusivity of the Temple cult — making clear that God could and would act outside his announced rules and regulations to accomplish his purposes.

Jesus, of course, took this far further. He forgave whenever and however suited him. Unlike John, Jesus generally did not even require baptism or any other ritual. He often didn’t even make explicit demands for repentance. In fact, he sometimes forgave when no one even asked for forgiveness!

(Mar 2:1-12 ESV) And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.  2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.  3 And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.  4 And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.  5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  

6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts,  7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  8 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts?  9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?  10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he said to the paralytic — 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.”  12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

Jesus offered a generous, lavish forgiveness free from animal sacrifice, a trip to Jerusalem, the payment of tax, or the involvement of the priests or Temple. It’s no wonder those in authority found Jesus confounding. How did he dare offer what only God could provide? And dare to do so without the rituals and other conditions God himself had imposed? How could God break his own rules for how to forgive and still be God?

Of course, what the scribes were missing is the nature of God. Jesus was demonstrating the true nature of God to a people who’d missed the lesson entirely.

Jesus declared,

(Joh 2:19-22 ESV)  19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”  21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body.  22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

Today, we refer to our bodies as a “temple” because Paul described our bodies as temples in 1 Cor 6:19. The Jews had no such concept. To them, there was but one Temple for God — the Temple in  Jerusalem. All other “temples” were false idols, insults to the true and living God. To call oneself a “temple” was blasphemy.

When Jesus referred to his own body as “this temple,” the Jews were outraged because Jesus’s words seemed to minimize the Temple on Mt. Zion.

How could [the Temple] then symbolize, as Isaiah had said it should, the desire of Israel’s God that it should become the beacon of hope and light for the nations, the city set on a hill that could not be hidden? Jesus saw the present grievous distortion of Israel’s vocation symbolized catastrophically in the present attitudes toward the Temple: a symbol that had gone so horribly wrong could only be destroyed. The mountain—presumably Mount Zion—would, figuratively speaking, be taken up and cast into the sea.

N. T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 64–67.

And so Jesus himself replaces the Temple — as amply evidenced by God’s decision to allow the Temple to be destroyed — and to remain destroyed for 2,000 years — and still continuing. Even when the Jews have the political, financial, and military capacity to rebuild the Temple, events conspire to make it quite impossible.

As a result, worship is no longer possible on Mt. Zion. Worship happens in Jesus. Sacrifice is no longer possible on the altar. Sacrifice happens in Jesus. Forgiveness no longer requires a trip to Jerusalem. Forgiveness happens in Jesus. But just as the Temple was once the exclusive locus for worship, sacrifice, and forgiveness, Jesus is now the exclusive place for worship, sacrifice, and forgiveness. There is no worship, sacrifice, or forgiveness anywhere else.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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31 Responses to Worship: Replacing the Temple’s Monopoly

  1. Not sure if this fits with what you’re saying, but it’s interesting to note that the typical Greek word for temple worship was “proskuneo”; that word isn’t used in the epistles to describe Christian worship. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that the time was coming when “proskuneo” wouldn’t be location based, but would be done in spirit and in truth.

    Seems to me that “proskuneo” was very tied to the temple in the minds of Christians, a physical worship done in a specific place.

  2. Jay Guin says:


    I have a post coming on that very topic. It’s interesting that when Bartimaeus is healed of blindness by Jesus he responds with proskeneo.

  3. Monty says:

    We offer our bodies(what we do in these bodies) as a living sacrifice. Our reasonable worship.

  4. Monty says:

    When we give a cup of cold water in Jesus name, is that not worship, or when we visit those in the prisons or hospitals? When we swim upstream in a down stream world, is that not worship? We crucify the flesh with it’s desires? When we cut the neighbors grass when they aren’t physically able or maybe because we just want to be salt? Still think Andy Stanley has some good stuff on this idea.

  5. Dwight says:

    Monty, I think the things you mentioned are examples of servitude, but when we direct the things we do towards God’s glory, then that is worship.
    There are many in the conservative coC that try to argue that not everything we do is worship or service, such as brushing our teeth or watching TV, but they miss the point of the concept. While the individual things we do on a day to day basis might not be service or worship, our life as a whole should be in worship and of servitude. We spend too much time in dividing our life into secular and Christian, when being a Christian is what we are, not what we do. It is a 24 hour job, even when we are doing menial things. We should be a living sacrifice, which shows commitment towards the goal of being Holy and in Christ and of Christ. We may do secular things, but we aren’t secular people.

  6. Alabama John says:

    Monty and Dwight,

    I’ve heard that from so many who are doing exactly what you just wrote about. I have come in contact with many who have left the church as we knew it and are actually doing something because of the freedom due to the change.

    Interestingly they are baptizing grown men and women instead of almost exclusively regular members young children. Nothing wrong with baptizing young children, its just that those practicing what you say here are going after many times, long time lost, by reaching out of the church.

    One of the first things I hear them say to those in prison is how practically all those following God in the New Testament served time, including Jesus himself.

    Same for those dying in hospitals, nursing homes, lessons on those last minute saved.

    That gets their attention. gives them hope and they move on from there.

    Unusual circumstances will present themselves and that bothers many as its not clear how to handle it exactly so they do not want to put themselves in that position for fear of doing something wrong. WE are against a works only salvation but we should be equally against a totally knowledge, debate winning salvation too.

    Remember, as so many need to remind ourselves, God will be the final judge.

  7. Dwight says:

    AJ, its true. As an assembly we should be focused on each other, but as people of God, the church, we should be focused on bringing Christ to the lost. We spend much time in trying to save the saved or preaching about others in other groups that aren’t doing right due to doctrine. We should seek to expand God’s kingdom rather than just our own church. Unfortunately when we think of it as “our church”, then that is how we see the world and other people and we divided it up between us and them.

  8. Randall says:

    New American Standard Bible (Hebrews 9:24)
    For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us;

    Suggests the Temple was a copy of the “heavenly” one


  9. Dwight says:

    Heaven is where God is, but the Temple was where God’s presence dwelt on the earth, as the Ark was the seat of God and dwelt within the Holy of Holies. Then Jesus came, God in the flesh, and dwelt among us. Then Jesus the sacrifice and veil went to Heaven as the mediator and High Priest to give us each ultimate access to God.
    Whew…what a plan.

  10. Kevin says:

    I listened to Andy Stanley’s first three sermons in this series (Brand New). I agree in many respects, but I wonder what NT Wright would say in response, especially with regard to the Temple being the location where heaven and earth meet and Christians being outposts of the actual Temple (Christ). I am not so sure that we can completely dismiss the notion of a Temple in the New Testament.

  11. Monty says:


    We are the temple. We carry God around in us everywhere we go. We don’t have to go to a certain place, at a certain time and be beholding to anyone else. We meet together and we become a collective temple for love’s sake. We are all equals in importance to one another. No hierarchy of men(man). Shepherds, lead through love and service, not by might. No holders of the sacred text we have to bow down to(in a sense). No Gus Nichols or Foy Wallace Jr.’s to deliver the tablets down from Mt. Sanai. But what counts as Paul said , “Is truth expressing itself in love.” We seem to have contrived this whole system of rules and regulations that aren’t given,(for power’s sake and control) and we’ve missed loving one another from the heart. Brothers and sisters in Christ meet together every week bound by the (in their mind) right church doctrine, at the right place, doing the right things(other groups don’t do). They often don’t even like some of the others in the same group. It’s not love holding them together, it’s fear that if they don’t uphold the system, they’re doomed.

    Stanley’s 4th lesson drills home that the most important way to please God, is to love HIs children and you can’t please God, and not love his kids. The vertical aspect can’t happen without the horizontal being in place. Nothing new here accept his ability to make this so crystal clear. We all know it, it’s just hard to practice it. It’s just easier to come to church and focus on me and my relationship with God, separate and apart(pun intended) from my brother.

  12. Kevin says:

    I agree with everything you wrote. I’m just not sure that Andy would agree that Christians are the Temple today. He mentioned that our bodies are a temple, but that’s subtly different from what this series is discussing. Andy’s seems to articulate a “No More Temple” position other than our bodies (i.e. the sense that we shouldn’t defile our bodies because we are made in the image of God). NT Wright articulates a much more dense meaning and importance for the Temple in the NT. Nevertheless, I have greatly enjoyed the series. Much of what he says is highly relevant for Churches of Christ.

  13. Dwight says:

    If Andy argues that there is no more Temple, even in our bodies, then what does He do with the fact we are called priest and that we are to be sacrifices and the fact that God now lives within us, which seems to connect to the whole Temple concept?
    This all allows us to worship God without needing a fixed place to worship as we are the place.

  14. Kevin says:

    I don’t know how he would respond; it would be interesting to hear his thoughts. Perhaps he would concur wholeheartedly. He just didn’t address today’s manifestation of the Temple in any detail, other than saying that “There is no Temple model today.” I would disagree, but perhaps the disparity is resolved in the way in which we define Temple.

    BTW, Stanley’s series made it to Jesus Creed:


  15. Jay Guin says:


    I agree that Stanley does not say that Jesus replaces the old physical temple as our new temple, but he does say that the old temple is replaced by Jesus. On that we have common ground.

    My problem with his analysis is his suggestion that the “temple model” is entirely about the relationship of the individual worshiper with God rather than “Love your neighbor.” “Love your neighbor” comes from Leviticus — which is the book that tells us how to conduct ourselves in the temple! It’s a misreading of the OT temple model. In fact, the Jews thought in far more corporate terms and understood the Temple to be very much about God’s relationship with Israel. The Day of Atonement was for the sins of all Israel. The daily sacrifices on the altar were for all Israel.

    In short, Stanley makes the classic mistake of treating the OT as the source of all he disagrees with, when in fact the error he wished to confront has other sources. I would cite two:

    First, Western individualism, largely from the Enlightenment and later Western thought. Our radical individualism is a fairly new thing in historic terms. It arose, ironically enough, from the need to let individuals think independently on Christianity so that the European religious wars — Christian on Christian — could be ended. It was a solution to a very corrupted form of Christianity. Unfortunately, by creating the autonomous individual, while we ended the wars, we set the stage for constant division. Better than killing each other, I’m sure, but hardly ideal.

    Second, Greco-Roman paganism. The pagans needed priests to access their gods. Soon after apostolic times, Christian bishops claimed a monopoly on baptism and the Eucharist — probably to protect the church against heresy, but with the unintended result of making the church look more like a pagan religion, opening the door to other syncretic error. Pagan Christianity is a book that lays out much of this history. Very interesting even though its agenda is autonomous house churches.

    None of that comes from the Jewish temple, and it’s a mistake to demonize Judaism as something to flee rather than something to learn from.

    (2Ti 3:16-17 ESV) 16 All Scripture [including especially the Old Testament] is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

    We would do well to learn to think more corporately and to see Jesus as not only our personal Savior but our corporate Savior. We need to see the church as a single body with a single mission in which we participate — corporately and individually. I think seeing Jesus and his church as the new Temple helps with this — as well as being far more true to the scriptures.

    This vision would reduce the division and discord we struggle with today and encourage us to study the biblical understandings of other Christian traditions — since we are but one body.

    And it would push us to find where the Bible really draws the lines between lost and saved in something other than denominational rallying cries and distinctives. It would push us toward unity and enhance our ability to serve God’s mission immeasurably.

    So Stanley has put his finger on a very real need, but he’s not theologically sound in his solution. But he’s headed in the right direction. “Love your neighbor” really is where we should land. That is, we need to learn to get along — which to me, in the modern idiom, more directly makes the point that we aren’t really loving our neighbors if we’re fighting and dividing among ourselves. We can’t help those in the world find redemption unless we first clean up our own house.

  16. Alabama John says:

    Does this mean Mother Teresa will be judged right by God for what she was doing?

    How many lessons have we heard that she was hell bound, still a nice person, but in error.

  17. Larry Cheek says:

    I notice that you are regularly communicating about the church in a fashion which displays a corporate image. Notice this concept is in the following statement twice. “We would do well to learn to think more corporately and to see Jesus as not only our personal Savior but our corporate Savior. We need to see the church as a single body with a single mission in which we participate — corporately and individually.” Also, your latest post displaying the decline of The Church of Christ is still a communication supporting divisions in the church which is Christ’s body. Of course I would have been totally unable just a few years ago to imagine the concept that I am attempting to explain to you now. As you explain the health of the church the identifiers that are being observed is the number of locations and the number of attendees at those meeting places, all associated with a (particular corporate identity). One of the concepts that I had been so highly indoctrinated into in my past was the (corporate power of the church which is being discussed), you were in that one and only body of followers of Christ or you were destined to damnation. Now, because of much of the teaching and comments here, I have been able to see that there are others, (individuals) who are in the body of Christ, who entered correctly even though the corporate identities where they received instructions taught them contradicting instructions from Christ’s Word. How could that be? First, Christ did not come to save the church he came and died to save individuals. Second, he did not give the churches the power to save anyone. Third, the Church that Christ established was not made up of (corporate assemblies), it was made up of saved individuals. Fourth, I do not see that the assemblies of Christians in any one locality spoken of in scriptures displayed the likeness of Christ as a body as we are admonished to be individually.
    As we observe these things about the identity of Christ that we are to display to the world, and the lack of that display by the (corporation of the church). Which church assembly can we attend that will uphold the identity that we want to display to the World? I am fully assured with my research in my surrounding community there is no assembly of the (corporations) with which I would feel comfortable identifying with and supporting the doctrines they are teaching. I believe that even you have had a very hard job attempting to guide the congregation (assembly) where you attend away from much of the (corporate) stigma from the past.
    Christians meeting in small groups such as was in the earliest church are the most capable of leading the lost to Christ. Individuals leading individuals not to the church but to Christ they become members of the Church through God’s addition. Yes, they become the Church but not the churched. I believe that God had a total different concept of the members of the Church than we have created. Men can argue that the large bodies of members can do so much more and accomplish much more than these small bodies. But, an individual cannot become attached to one of these bodies without accepting the identity of that body.

  18. Dwight says:

    Sorry Larry, I sent the article to Hank, but I will send it to you as well to look over if you want. It goes the same direction as you seem to go in regards to the church.

  19. Larry Cheek says:

    I’d be glad to look it over.

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