Jehovah’s Great Spiritual Temple
“We have such a high priest as this, . . . a public servant of the holy place and of the true tent, which Jehovah put up, and not man.”—HEBREWS 8:1, 2.
1. What loving provision did God make for sinful mankind?
JEHOVAH GOD, out of his great love for mankind, provided a sacrifice to take away the sins of the world. (John 1:29; 3:16) It required transferring the life of his firstborn Son from heaven to the womb of a Jewish virgin named Mary. Jehovah’s angel clearly explained to Mary that the child she would conceive would “be called holy, God’s Son.” (Luke 1:34, 35) Joseph, who was engaged to Mary, was told about the miraculous nature of Jesus’ conception and learned that this one would “save his people from their sins.”—Matthew 1:20, 21.
2. What did Jesus do when he was about 30 years old, and why?
2 As Jesus grew up, he must have grasped some of these facts about his miraculous birth. He knew that his heavenly Father had a lifesaving work for him to do on earth. So, as a full-grown man of about 30 years of age, Jesus came to God’s prophet John to get baptized in the Jordan River.—Mark 1:9; Luke 3:23.
3. (a) What did Jesus mean by the words, “Sacrifice and offering you did not want”? (b) What outstanding example did Jesus set for all who want to become his disciples?
3 Jesus was praying at the time of his baptism. (Luke 3:21) Evidently, from this point on in his life, he fulfilled the words of Psalm 40:6-8, as later indicated by the apostle Paul: “Sacrifice and offering you did not want, but you prepared a body for me.” (Hebrews 10:5) Thus Jesus showed his awareness that God “did not want” animal sacrifices to continue being offered at Jerusalem’s temple. Instead, he realized that God had prepared a perfect human body for him, Jesus, to offer as a sacrifice. This would remove any further need of animal sacrifices. Showing his heartfelt desire to submit to God’s will, Jesus continued praying: “Look! I am come (in the roll of the book it is written about me) to do your will, O God.” (Hebrews 10:7) What a magnificent example of courage and unselfish devotion Jesus set on that day for all who would later become his disciples!—Mark 8:34.
4. How did God show his approval of Jesus’ offering of himself?
4 Did God show approval of Jesus’ baptismal prayer? Let one of Jesus’ chosen apostles give us the answer: “After being baptized Jesus immediately came up from the water; and, look! the heavens were opened up, and he saw descending like a dove God’s spirit coming upon him. Look! Also, there was a voice from the heavens that said: ‘This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved.’”—Matthew 3:16, 17; Luke 3:21, 22.
5. What was pictured by the literal temple altar?
5 God’s acceptance of the presentation of Jesus’ body for sacrifice meant that, in a spiritual sense, an altar greater than that in Jerusalem’s temple had come to the fore. The literal altar where animals were presented for sacrifice foreshadowed that spiritual altar, which was in effect God’s “will” or arrangement for accepting Jesus’ human life as a sacrifice. (Hebrews 10:10) That is why the apostle Paul could write to fellow Christians: “We have an altar from which those who do sacred service at the tent [or, temple] have no authority to eat.” (Hebrews 13:10) In other words, true Christians benefit from a superior sin-atoning sacrifice, which most Jewish priests rejected.
6. (a) What came to the fore at the time of Jesus’ baptism? (b) What does the title Messiah, or Christ, mean?
6 The anointing of Jesus with holy spirit meant that God had now brought forth his entire spiritual temple arrangement, with Jesus serving as High Priest. (Acts 10:38; Hebrews 5:5) The disciple Luke was inspired to pinpoint the year of this momentous event as being “the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar.” (Luke 3:1-3) That corresponds to the year 29 C.E.—exactly 69 weeks of years, or 483 years, from the time that King Artaxerxes had given the command for Jerusalem’s walls to be rebuilt. (Nehemiah 2:1, 5-8) According to prophecy, “Messiah the Leader” would appear in that marked year. (Daniel 9:25) Many Jews were evidently aware of this. Luke reports that “the people were in expectation” about the appearance of the Messiah, or Christ, titles that come from Hebrew and Greek words that have the same meaning, “anointed one.”—Luke 3:15.
7. (a) When did God anoint “the Holy of Holies,” and what did this mean? (b) What else happened to Jesus at the time of his baptism?
7 At the time of Jesus’ baptism, God’s heavenly abode was anointed, or set apart, as “the Holy of Holies” in the great spiritual temple arrangement. (Daniel 9:24) “The true tent [or, temple], which Jehovah put up, and not man” had come into operation. (Hebrews 8:2) Also, through his baptism with water and holy spirit, the man Jesus Christ was born again as a spiritual Son of God. (Compare John 3:3.) This meant that God would in due course recall his Son to heavenly life, where he would serve at his Father’s right hand as King and High Priest “according to the manner of Melchizedek forever.”—Hebrews 6:20; Psalm 110:1, 4.
The Heavenly Most Holy
8. What new features had God’s throne in heaven now taken on?
8 On the day of Jesus’ baptism, God’s heavenly throne had taken on new features. The identification of a perfect human sacrifice to atone for the sins of the world emphasized God’s holiness in contrast with man’s sinfulness. God’s mercy was also highlighted in that he now showed his willingness to be appeased, or propitiated. Thus God’s throne in heaven had become like the innermost compartment of the temple, where the high priest entered once a year with animal blood to atone for sin in an illustrative way.
9. (a) What did the curtain between the Holy and the Most Holy picture? (b) How did Jesus enter in beyond the curtain of God’s spiritual temple?
9 The curtain that separated the Holy from the Most Holy pictured Jesus’ fleshly body. (Hebrews 10:19, 20) It was the barrier that kept Jesus from entering into his Father’s presence while he was a man on earth. (1 Corinthians 15:50) At the time of Jesus’ death, “the curtain of the sanctuary was rent in two, from top to bottom.” (Matthew 27:51) This dramatically indicated that the barrier preventing Jesus’ entry into heaven had now been removed. Three days later, Jehovah God performed an outstanding miracle. He raised Jesus from the dead, not as a mortal human of flesh and blood, but as a glorious spirit creature “continuing alive forever.” (Hebrews 7:24) Forty days later, Jesus ascended to heaven and entered the real “Holy of Holies,” “to appear before the person of God for us.”—Hebrews 9:24.
10. (a) What happened after Jesus presented the value of his sacrifice to his heavenly Father? (b) What did the anointing with holy spirit mean for Christ’s disciples?
10 Did God accept the value of Jesus’ shed blood as atonement for the sins of the world? Indeed he did. Proof of this came exactly 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, on the festival day of Pentecost. God’s holy spirit was poured out upon 120 disciples of Jesus gathered together in Jerusalem. (Acts 2:1, 4, 33) Like their High Priest, Jesus Christ, they were now anointed to serve as “a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices” under God’s great spiritual temple arrangement. (1 Peter 2:5) Furthermore, these anointed ones constituted a new nation, God’s “holy nation” of spiritual Israel. Henceforth, all prophecies of good things about Israel, such as the “new covenant” promise recorded at Jeremiah 31:31, would apply to the anointed Christian congregation, the real “Israel of God.”—1 Peter 2:9; Galatians 6:16.
Other Features of God’s Spiritual Temple
11, 12. (a) What was pictured by the priestly courtyard in the case of Jesus, and what is it in the case of his anointed followers? (b) What does the water basin picture, and how is it being used?
11 Although the Most Holy pictured “heaven itself,” where God is enthroned, all the other features of God’s spiritual temple relate to things on the earth. (Hebrews 9:24) In the temple in Jerusalem, there was an inner priestly courtyard containing an altar for sacrifice and a large basin of water, which the priests used to cleanse themselves before performing sacred service. What do these things picture in God’s spiritual temple arrangement?
12 In the case of Jesus Christ, the inner priestly courtyard pictured his sinless condition as a perfect human Son of God. Through exercising faith in Jesus’ sacrifice, anointed followers of Christ are credited with righteousness. Thus, God can justly deal with them as if they were sinless. (Romans 5:1; 8:1, 33) Hence, this courtyard also pictures the imputed righteous human condition that individual members of the holy priesthood enjoy before God. At the same time, anointed Christians are still imperfect and subject to committing sin. The water basin in the courtyard pictures God’s Word, which the High Priest uses to cleanse the holy priesthood progressively. By submitting to this cleansing process, they have attained a splendid appearance that honors God and draws outsiders to his pure worship.—Ephesians 5:25, 26; compare Malachi 3:1-3.
13, 14. (a) What does the Holy of the temple picture in the case of Jesus and his anointed followers? (b) What does the golden lampstand picture?
13 The first compartment of the temple pictures a condition superior to that of the courtyard. In the case of the perfect human Jesus Christ, it pictures his rebirth as a spiritual Son of God destined to return to heavenly life. After being declared righteous on the basis of their faith in Christ’s shed blood, these anointed followers also experience this special operation of God’s spirit. (Romans 8:14-17) Through “water [that is, their baptism] and spirit,” they are “born again” as spiritual sons of God. As such, they have the hope of being resurrected to heavenly life as spirit sons of God, provided they remain faithful till death.—John 3:5, 7; Revelation 2:10.
14 Priests who served inside the Holy of the earthly temple were unseen by worshipers on the outside. Likewise, anointed Christians experience a spiritual condition that is not shared or fully understood by the majority of worshipers of God, whose hope is to live forever on a paradise earth. The golden lampstand of the tabernacle pictures the enlightened condition of anointed Christians. The operation of God’s holy spirit, like the oil in the lamps, sheds light on the Bible. The understanding that Christians gain as a result, they do not keep to themselves. Rather, they obey Jesus, who said: “You are the light of the world. . . . Let your light shine before men, that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heavens.”—Matthew 5:14, 16.
15. What is pictured by the bread on the table of showbread?
15 To remain in this enlightened condition, anointed Christians must regularly feed upon what is pictured by the bread on the table of showbread. Their primary source of spiritual food is the Word of God, which they endeavor to read and meditate upon daily. Jesus also promised to provide them with “food at the proper time” through his “faithful and discreet slave.” (Matthew 24:45) This “slave” is the entire body of anointed Christians on earth at any particular time. Christ has used this anointed body to publish information on the fulfillment of Bible prophecies and to give timely direction on the application of Bible principles in modern daily life. Hence, anointed Christians appreciatively feed on all such spiritual provisions. But the sustenance of their spiritual lives depends on more than taking knowledge of God into their minds and hearts. Jesus said: “My food is for me to do the will of him that sent me and to finish his work.” (John 4:34) Likewise, anointed Christians experience satisfaction by daily applying themselves to doing God’s revealed will.
16. What is pictured by service at the altar of incense?
16 In the morning and in the evening, a priest offered incense to God upon the altar of incense in the Holy. At the same time, nonpriestly worshipers would pray to God while standing in the outer courtyards of his temple. (Luke 1:8-10) “The incense,” explains the Bible, “means the prayers of the holy ones.” (Revelation 5:8) “May my prayer be prepared as incense before you,” wrote the psalmist David. (Psalm 141:2) Anointed Christians also treasure their privilege of approaching Jehovah in prayer through Jesus Christ. Fervent prayers that flow from the heart are like sweet-smelling incense. Anointed Christians also praise God in other ways, using their lips to teach others. Their endurance in the face of hardships and their integrity under trial are especially pleasing to God.—1 Peter 2:20, 21.
17. What was involved in the fulfillment of the prophetic picture provided by the first entry of the high priest into the Most Holy on the Day of Atonement?
17 On the Day of Atonement, Israel’s high priest had to enter the Most Holy and burn incense on a golden censer containing fiery coals. This had to be done before he brought in the blood of sin offerings. In fulfillment of this prophetic picture, the man Jesus kept absolute integrity to Jehovah God before offering his life as the one lasting sacrifice for our sins. Thus he demonstrated that a perfect man could keep his integrity to God no matter what pressure Satan brought upon him. (Proverbs 27:11) When put to the test, Jesus made use of prayer “with strong outcries and tears, and he was favorably heard for his godly fear.” (Hebrews 5:7) In this way he glorified Jehovah as the righteous and rightful Sovereign of the universe. God rewarded Jesus by resurrecting him from the dead to immortal heavenly life. In this lofty position, Jesus gives attention to the secondary reason for his coming to earth, namely, to reconcile repentant human sinners with God.—Hebrews 4:14-16.
The Greater Glory of God’s Spiritual Temple
18. How has Jehovah brought outstanding glory to his spiritual temple?
18 “Greater will the glory of this later house become than that of the former,” Jehovah foretold. (Haggai 2:9) By resurrecting Jesus as an immortal King and High Priest, Jehovah brought outstanding glory to his spiritual temple. Jesus is now in a position to bring “everlasting salvation to all those obeying him.” (Hebrews 5:9) The first to show such obedience were the 120 disciples who received holy spirit at Pentecost in 33 C.E. The book of Revelation foretold that these spiritual sons of Israel would finally number 144,000. (Revelation 7:4) Upon death, many of them had to lie unconscious in the common grave of mankind, awaiting the time of Jesus’ presence in kingly power. The prophetic chronology contained at Daniel 4:10-17, 20-27 points to 1914 as the time for Jesus to begin ruling in the midst of his enemies. (Psalm 110:2) For decades in advance, anointed Christians keenly awaited that year. The first world war and accompanying woes on mankind furnished proof that Jesus was indeed enthroned as King in 1914. (Matthew 24:3, 7, 8) Shortly thereafter, the time having arrived for “judgment to start with the house of God,” Jesus would fulfill the promise to his anointed disciples who had fallen asleep in death: “I am coming again and will receive you home to myself.”—1 Peter 4:17; John 14:3.
19. How will the remnant of the 144,000 gain access to the heavenly Most Holy?
19 The 144,000 members of the holy priesthood have not all been finally sealed and gathered to their heavenly home. A remnant of them still live on earth in the spiritual condition pictured by the Holy, separated from God’s holy presence by the “curtain,” or barrier, of their fleshly bodies. As these ones die in faithfulness, they are instantaneously resurrected as immortal spirit creatures to join those of the 144,000 already in heaven.—1 Corinthians 15:51-53.
20. What vital work are the remaining ones of the holy priesthood performing at this time, and with what results?
20 With so many priests serving along with the great High Priest in heaven, God’s spiritual temple has received added glory. Meanwhile, the remaining ones of the holy priesthood are performing a valuable work on earth. Through their preaching, God is ‘rocking all the nations’ with expressions of his judgment, as foretold at Haggai 2:7. At the same time, millions of worshipers described as “the desirable things of all the nations” are flocking into the earthly courtyards of Jehovah’s temple. How do these ones fit into God’s arrangement for worship, and what future glory can we expect for his great spiritual temple? These questions will be examined in the next article.
□ What outstanding example did Jesus set in 29 C.E.?
□ What arrangement went into operation in 29 C.E.?
□ What is pictured by the Holy and the Most Holy?
□ How has the great spiritual temple been glorified?
[Picture on page 17]
When Jesus was anointed with holy spirit in 29 C.E., God’s great spiritual temple began to operate