Through Christ, God dwells intimately with mankind

Father John A. Kiley

The Book of Exodus reveals that at Mount Sinai, Moses was given instructions for a portable tent or tabernacle that was to be a sanctuary, a holy place, and the center of Israel’s worship. This tabernacle could be taken up and moved each time they changed locations while wandering in the wilderness. The word tabernacle is an English rendition of the Hebrew word miskan, or “dwelling place.” Even before this tabernacle was constructed, God had met with Moses in a temporary “tent of meeting” set up deliberately outside of the camp reminding the people that they had broken fellowship with God at Sinai when they had worshipped the golden calf. After the later, larger tabernacle was built, Moses no longer needed his temporary tent, yet the term tent of meeting was often applied to the larger, newer tabernacle. The new tabernacle was a sign of God’s renewed commitment to the Jews even after their sin. For the remainder of the desert journey, the new dwelling place or tabernacle was happily erected inside the Hebrew campsite, another sign of God’s largesse.
The courtyard of the Tabernacle was 150 feet long and 75 feet wide, and it contained a large wash basin for the priests and an altar for burnt offerings. The Tabernacle itself was 45 feet long and 15 feet wide, and it was divided into two parts. The forecourt or outer sanctum contained a lampstand, incense altar, and a table with 12 loaves of bread. The court or inner sanctum housed the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written. The Israelites took the tabernacle tent with them as they traveled through the wilderness from Mount Sinai to Canaan.
Although King David finally united all twelve tribes of Israel into a united nation, it was his son Solomon who finally replaced the portable tent with the first Jewish temple, a grand structure on Mount Moriah, the Temple Mount, claimed as holy by Jews, Christians and Moslems. The Bible’s description of Solomon’s temple suggests that the interior was 180 feet long and 90 feet wide. The highest point on Solomon’s temple was actually 20 stories tall. This first temple was sadly destroyed by the Babylonians some four hundred years after Solomon, ending the ritual sacrifices that had been the Temple’s chief occupation. Seventy years later, when the Jews returned from exile in Babylon, a second temple was completed on the same site, and sacrifices again resumed. During the first Christian century, King Herod greatly enlarged and expanded this temple, which became known as Herod’s temple. It was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70, during the siege of Jerusalem. Only a small portion of the retaining wall remains to this day, known in Jerusalem as “The Wailing Wall.”
The Hebrew temple from its humble beginning as a tent to its splendid construction as a monumental edifice was always central to Jewish life. While there were many neighborhood synagogues, there was always only one meeting tent or temple. The temple was the dwelling place of God with man and could never be overshadowed by any other shrine or grotto or sacred place. The temple was heaven on earth. Certainly the pious Jew expected that the presence of God would remain permanently in the temple built by Solomon. But, as the Scriptures themselves testify, the temple became defiled by Israel’s infidelity to the Law and insensitivity toward the poor. God eventually allowed the grand temple to be destroyed by the Babylonians. Although Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem, the second temple still witnessed much corruption and the goal of salvation history — the formation of a truly priestly people — was never fully realized.
The reply of Jesus to his critics after he disrupted the temple’s shady business practices reveals that Jesus foresaw another dwelling place of God with man, that is, himself. “Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body (Jn.2:21).” Now, marvelously, God would be continuously present to his people through the human nature of Jesus Christ. Jesus was the new and timeless temple. Through Christ, God would dwell intimately with mankind. And today, through Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, God continues to abide in the midst of mankind. The Church is that priestly people, that worshipping community, especially when celebrating the Eucharist, whom God had planned through Moses and Solomon but was finally realized only through Christ and his Gospel and his disciples.