Pentecost in the Temple

The festival of Shavu’ot arrived, and the believers all gathered together in one place. Suddenly there came a sound from the sky like the roar of a violent wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Acts 2:1-2

A few days ago, a dear friend of mine mentioned something to me that – I have to confess – at the time did not cause a great outflow of joy in my heart. An interesting fact. But since then I thought about it and the impact it had on ourselves.

What did he tell me? The one place the believers gathered in, the house they were seated in, when the Spirit fell, was the – temple.

For all of our christian lives we heard that the 120 were gathered in the upper room when the Spirit fell. It seems so clear. They were gathered in the upper room, the place of cutting covenant with Jesus in the night of his betrayal. That is the place they prayed, they replaced Judas to regain the fullness of 12 apostles. But is it the place they gathered in when the feast of Pentecost came?

Remember, the feast of Pentecost was called feast of weeks in the Old Testament. And it was required of all Israelites to appear before God that day.

Three times in the year let all your males come before the Lord your God in the place named by him; at the feast of unleavened bread, the feast of weeks, and the feast of tents:and they are not to come before the Lord with nothing in their hands. Deu 16:16

As we learn from Acts, the early christians followed the law and respected the feasts of the Lord. Why should they not go to the temple that day?

Maybe you say, because Jesus told them to wait. So he did, but he told them to wait in Jerusalem, not in the upper room. The temple therefore was not off limits.

Even the Greek word oikos – meaning house – can and is used for the house of God, the temple.

That day – 50 days after Jesus’ death, and 10 days after his ascension – the church was founded and started to be established. The new house of God.

The new order house of God was birthed in the old order house of God. God – even though no house built by men could ever contain him – had chosen the Holy of Holies as his dwelling place and the meeting place between men and himself, through the high priest. 50 days earlier, entry had been given to everybody to the Holy of Holies when God tore the veil. Now, God chose a new dwelling place, leaving the old.

May I make a parallel to my own life? We just moved from Winterthur, Switzerland to Diessenhofen, still Switzerland, but at the German border. As I know from the letter to the Ephesians, I am seated with Christ in heavenly places. My real dwelling place is heaven. But I have an earthly dwelling place as well. And here, I had to move out from the old apartment to move into our new house. Just like God: he moved out of the temple into his church. It makes perfect sense to do so right there in the temple. The journey had to start there.

Jesus was a Jew. All his disciples were too. Jesus followed the law to its perfection and fulfillment. And he acknowledged the temple as his Father’s house. He had his troubles with the ground personnel, and he prophesied that the temple would be destroyed, but he saw the temple as a prayer house and habitation of God so much that he twice cleaned it with rigor. Thus the temple was still the gathering place of God’s people of the day, the centre of the old order, the place God chose for his priesthood and his sacrifices.

If now God chose the temple as the stage for the birthing of the church, it is a reminder to us that nothing is birthed apart from his house. Dreams, visions – so closely knit to the birth of the church through Joel’s prophecy and Peter’s interpretation – can and will only be both given and fulfilled in the confines of the church. Only in relationship with each other in his house our purpose and callings will come true. And I am not talking buildings, but people.

Another aspect of this: the birth of the church, the falling of the Spirit was a very public act of God. That day, all believing or religious Jews were expected in the temple. God chose this public display, this sign of the change of an order, this symbolic and powerful act to make it clear: new days, new ways. A new house of God had been founded. He did not hide the church in a house in some small alley in the outskirts of Jerusalem, but put it right in the center of the universe. Granted, the house was not a small one – it hosted 120 people in the upper room alone. Or did it? We are only told that Jesus had been seen by as many as 500 people, and that 120 were gathered when they chose a replacement for Judas. But it does not tell us that the 120 were in the upper room. The 11 were, together with some women and Jesus’ siblings. Maybe they met with the greater crowd in the temple?

Just to rattle your chains: we do not even know how many people were gathered at the day of pentecost.

We privatized the church. Instead of being in the center of life, it has been divided from our public life or politics, which are the things that concern the state and our public lives. Today, faith needs to become the center again. The house of God once again will be the place of council and rulership.

Three thousand were baptized that day. If it happened in the outskirts of Jerusalem, where did the water come from? Did they go down to Jordan, to the pond of Bethesda, or did they just sprinkle the people with water?

If it was in the temple, there was the laver. Big enough to baptize even 3000 people. And symbolic.

Peter tells us in his letter that we are a kingly priesthood, a people of kings and priests. The laver was used by the old Levite order of priests to clean themselves for the duty in the temple. What a picture: baptizing the new order of priests, priest after the order of Melchizedek, the righteous king of peace and king of Jerusalem, in exactly that laver. To clean them for their ministry as priests in the kingdom of God.

From that moment on, the new order was well founded. A new house of God, big enough to hold him, because not made by men. A new priesthood. A new kingship. The birthing process had been fulfilled. It started when Jesus was born, the prototypical house of God. It grew – just like a baby in the womb first being one cell, then many – when he started to multiply himself in his disciples, especially the apostles. The birth pangs started on the cross. He broke through when he ascended, and the baby was delivered when the Spirit fell. A body. His body.

What is founded has to be established. That is what we are doing since then – with more or less success. It is important that we as the church come of age, become sons, and found yet a new order. The order of the sons of God. The next feast’s order. Tabernacles. And it can only be done within the confines of the house of God.

The church, the wife of Jesus, is pregnant. Actually, the birth pangs have started. They start when we fully give our lives to him. We break through when we recognize and believe that we – together with him – have ascended and are seated with him. Now lets bring heaven to earth and deliver the baby.

What other implications does the fact that the church was born in the temple have for you? I am looking forward to your comments.

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By Ralph Rickenbach

Accompanyist | Pastor in Exile | Iconoclast — I am a Gallup certified CliftonStrengths coach and a Spiral Dynamics practitioner.