The Bible uses tombs and temples as symbols for who we are as people. A tomb is a symbol of death. A Temple is a symbol of God’s presence and glory. Which best describes you?
Jesus used the symbol of a tomb to describe the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:27-28).
To better understand the significance of what Jesus describes, consider some information about tombs in ancient Israel. Tombs would often be hewn out of a softer rock like sandstone. They would then be whitewashed, as indicated by Jesus in this passage. As beautiful as a tomb was, inside was not. Inside, a tomb housed a dead, decaying body. Usually, a dead body would be wrapped, placed in a tomb, and left for about a year. After a year or so of decaying, the tomb would be reopened and the remains collected. The remains would be placed in a much smaller bone box known as an ossuary. This is the image Jesus used to convey the dead, rotting condition of the Pharisees.
When we live in sin, we become a tomb. We become symbols of death. We decay and rot. The consequences of sin are visible evidence of the coming second death. The sin we commit and the harm we cause is proof of rotting hearts. On another occasion, Jesus connected the sin we commit as evidence of a rotting heart: “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matt. 15:17-20).
Now, consider the symbol of a temple. For Israel, there was no greater symbol of God’s glory than the Temple. King Solomon carefully constructed an ornate Temple. As beautiful and awesome as the architecture of the Temple was, the architecture is not what made the Temple great. The presence of God made the Temple great: the shekinah (1 Kings 8:10-11). The Temple was a place of sacred observances of worship. As lights to the world, Israel would declare the existence and rule of the Creator from this sacred space.
In the New Testament, Paul describes saints as being temples of God and the Holy Spirit. He wrote, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:18-20).
In this chapter, Paul encourages saints to live a life transformed by the Messiah and Spirit. They once lived in sin. They were once tombs. They were symbols of death. However, all of this changed. They were washed, sanctified, and justified. Therefore, they were to live so as to glorify God. But, how is this accomplished in us?
We become temples by filling our hearts and minds with God and the Spirit. In a related passage, Paul wrote, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:17-21).
We must understand God’s will for us. Why has He made us? We have not been made to live for ourselves. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, we have not been made to commit fornication or get drunk. We have been made to glorify God by bearing His image.
In Creation, God gave man His image and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Gen. 1:27, 2:7). Briefly stated, this is what God does for us anew by faith. In John’s gospel, he describes God making a new creation through the Messiah and Spirit (John 1:1-5, 33, 20:22). By faith in what God did through the Messiah, we are given new life by the Spirit (Rom. 8:11). When the Spirit dwells in us, we become Temples of God’s glory in the world (1 Cor. 6:13-20).
By becoming new creations, we fulfill the original purpose for which God made us. What does life as a Temple look like in real time? Using the ideas from Ephesians chapter five, we worship by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. We express gratitude to God through a life of service. Service is rendered by submitting ourselves to one another in the same self-giving fashion as the Messiah submitted Himself to the Father and humanity.
In becoming a Temple, we become symbols of God’s glory. We become symbols of life and vitality. Such a symbol is how we attract others to share in a life of glorifying God (Matt. 5:16). We become signposts pointing to God’s bright future of eternal life for His family.
Well, are you a tomb or a Temple? Is your life a symbol of death or is your life a symbol of God’s glory? If you are a tomb, you can be transformed into a Temple by faith in the Messiah and by the Spirit. Anyone can be made into a beautiful temple which reflects God’s glory into the world. A tomb or a temple…the choice is ours.