“Heaven” on Earth
Scripture: Exod. 25:8-9; Heb. 8:5; 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 12
Leading Question: Do heavenly things tell us about things on earth? Or is it the other way around: things on earth tell us about things in heaven?
The official study guide for this week’s lesson dips into “typology,” a method of Bible study that can be a great blessing to some, but offers little meaning to others. In brief, typology tends to start with things we already know to be true from elsewhere and then reads them back into other passages of Scripture or into other events. It is a kind of meditative approach to Scripture, one in which known truths suggest other truths that are not apparent in the text of Scripture itself. The garden of Eden, for example, is cited as an earlier parallel with the sanctuary on earth. One can find the parallels, but they would not be self-evident from the creation account in Genesis 1-2.
There are, however, two areas which we will explore, namely, the relationship of the wilderness tabernacle to other non-Israelite tabernacles, and also the church as a people-centered model replacing the brick-and-board sanctuary of the wilderness era.
1. The Pattern in the Mount. According to Exodus 25:8-9, Moses was instructed to make the tabernacle according to the pattern shown him in the mount. One could easily be tempted to see Moses copying a “real” sanctuary in heaven; yet archeological discoveries in the Middle East have shown that the Israelite sanctuary showed remarkable points of contact with Canaanite sanctuaries.
2. The Body of Christ as a People-centered Sanctuary. Paul’s first letter to Corinth presents a powerful picture of the church as the body of Christ. Instead of a particular place of holiness, i.e. where a literal sanctuary stands, Paul argues that the people of God constitute God’s temple. In that connection, 1 Cor. 3:16-17 is an important passage. The “you” here – “you” are God’s temple – is plural, a point that does not come clear in most English translations. The NIV is one translation that does it right:
3. God’s “Temple” as a Model of Diversity. Both in 1 Corinthians 3 and in chapter 12, Paul presents the body of Christ as a “temple” built out of many different parts. But his choice of metaphor in chapter 12, namely, the human body, is particularly enlightening, for each part, no matter how small, is a significant part of the whole. Thus God’s people become a community where God meets them. No “literal” sanctuary on earth is required.