A Contribution by Randy Blackaby
People sometimes confuse the Lord's tabernacle, His temple, the Jewish synagogue, and the New Testament church. Each is different. Each served a somewhat different purpose. But they also have much in common. In fact, the worship pattern God set before men has evolved over the centuries, and we see that evolution in these four worship places/forms.
The tabernacle was the first formal worship place ordered by God. It was a large, elaborate tent, a portable worship center. The Ark of the Covenant resided in the innermost part of this tent, and God's presence was there, among His people. They could approach Him and worship.
God precisely described how He was to be approached and worshipped. No one who was unclean or unholy was to approach Him. God designated special mediators-priests--to lead and conduct much of the worship. The tabernacle served its purpose for more than 40 years as the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness and later crossed the Jordan River to take the land of Canaan.
After several hundred years of living in the Promised Land, King David wanted to build a more permanent structure--a temple-in which to worship God. God would not permit this; but later, He allowed David's son, Solomon, to build an ornate house of worship in Jerusalem. The manner of worship continued largely as it had in the tabernacle, except that God insisted on the major components of sacrifice and worship being centered in Jerusalem, the nation's capital, the seat of government, and the "city of God." Priests were still central in the worship.
This temple worship continued for several hundred more years until the nation divided into two nations--Israel in the north, and Judah in the south. Later, because of idolatry, they were taken into Assyrian and Babylonian captivity.
The Babylonians destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and carried back to Babylon many of the gold artifacts of daily worship. So temple worship ceased for at least 70 years. But during the days when Ezra and Nehemiah lived, under control of a Persian king, a few Jews were allowed to return to Judah to rebuild the Jerusalem walls and, eventually, the temple. Following a reformation and repentance among the Jews, sacrificial worship was restored.
Sometime prior to Christ's coming, the Jews established another facility
the synagoguefor keeping Israel's faith alive. In Hebrew, the word means "an assembly or a place for assembly." Unlike the tabernacle and the temple, the synagogue was not a place for sacrifice and full-fledged worship. Its services were more similar to our Bible study classes.
We do not know the exact origin of synagogues, or the time when they began. But by the time of Jesus and the apostles, almost every significant city had a synagogue from which Old Testament scrolls were checked out, read, and then explained (Luke 4: 16-22; Matthew 9:35). The Priest did not play an active role in the synagogue. Rather, the synagogues had "rulers" (Mark 5:22; Luke 8:41; Acts 13:15) and "attendants" (Luke 4:20). Rabbis were "teachers" who likely were involved in synagogue activities.
At least once-in James 2:2--the word synagogue is used to refer to a New Testament assembly. To avoid confusion, most translations just say "assembly." Remember, a synagogue was an assembly of God's people for study and edification.
The word church also refers to an assembly or "called-out" body. So, to some degree, it is similar to the word synagogue, but there are some differences. These called-out people are the "body of Christ," the sum of those saved by His blood, or a portion of that sum that meets in any given locality.
The church is very different from the tabernacle and temple. While the church worships, it is a body of worshippers, not a place. Under the covenant of Christ, the body or church, and its individual members, are referred to as the "temple of God" (1 Corinthians 3:16-17,6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:5). Peter's description of the church as a "spiritual house" focuses on the major difference. The old temple was a physical structure. It was destroyed. In Matthew 24, Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.
When that temple and the Jews' genealogical records were destroyed, there was no longer a place for Old Testament worship or the ability to identify the priests to serve in the temple. (Priests had to demonstrate that they were of the Levitical tribe.) Further, the new temple, which is within men, is available both to Jews and Gentiles. It is part of God's universal kingdom on earth and is ruled from heaven.
Brother Blackaby has shown the different places-past and present--where God's people have worshipped Him. The spiritual nature of His kingdom was one of the features that made it difficult for the Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah.
Read the following passages carefully and ask yourself the question: were the scriptures overwhelmingly clear in their predictions that the coming kingdom would be spiritual?
"And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. Inasmuch as you saw that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold--the great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation is sure." (Daniel 2:44,45)
"Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here." (John 18:36)
"For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:12)
"Far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all." (Ephesians 1:21-23)
Yes, those who wrote the scriptures, guided by the Holy Spirit, made it crystal clear that the "church" would be a spiritual kingdom. Let us continue to seek to broaden the borders of that kingdom. (KMG)