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Overview of Beale’s The Temple and the Church’s Mission

August 19, 2012

In this post I provide an introduction and overview of G. K. Beale’s The Temple and the Church’s Mission with the intention of giving potential readers a reason to pick it up. Check back later for my actual review.

A biblical theology of the dwelling place of God

In line with the book’s subtitle (above), Beale follows the theme of the dwelling place of God in the temple throughout the Old Testament and New to see what it tells us about God’s plan for expanding His glory throughout the cosmos and the part His people play in this goal.

Beale himself provides a great summary of the book’s message and contents in a lecture at Christ Reformed Church. It was this lecture that first spurred my interest in reading this work, so I’d highly recommend listening to it if you need convincing.

MP3 Lecture: The Temple and the Church’s Mission (right-click to save)

Thesis and structure

Beale begins with noting two problems in Revelation: first, why does Revelation 21:1 present a new heaven and new earth, but from verse 2 onwards describes “a city that is garden-like, in the shape of a temple?” (p. 23). Secondly, “how does this vision relate to Christians and their role in fulfilling the mission of the church, an issue with which John has been absorbed throughout Revelation?” (p. 23)

Beale’s study in attempting to resolve these questions resulted in this book and his thesis (the underlining is mine):

My thesis is that the Old Testament tabernacle and temples were symbolically designed to point to the cosmic eschatological reality that God’s tabernacling presence, formerly limited to the holy of holies, was to be extended throughout the whole earth. Against this background, the Revelation 21 vision is best understood as picturing the final end-time temple that will fill the entire cosmos. If this is correct, the thesis provides not only the answer to the above problem in chapter 21, but also gives crucial insight into an understanding of the biblical theology of the temple in both testaments.

The rest of the book sets out to argue in favour of this conclusion. In chapters 2 through 4, Beale argues that in the Old Testament the tabernacle and temples contained symbolic imagery that indicated they represented God’s plan to fill the entire cosmos with His presence, that the Garden of Eden was the very first temple (dwelling place of God) which Adam was charged to cultivate in order to cover the entire earth, and that the prophecies and symbolism of temples were designed to point to a future “worldwide eschatological temple that perfectly reflets God’s glory” (p. 26), solving Adam’s failure.

Chapters 5 through 10 examine relevant passages about the temple in the New Testament, noting a shift from the architectural OT temples to God’s indwelling of Christ and His people as His temple in the NT onwards, that the mission of spreading His name and presence throughout the earth is through individual salvation, and that God promises in Revelation 21-22 that the mission will be fulfilled with His complete dwelling in the very creation itself, a creation devoid of sin and death.

Chapter 11 deals with Ezekiel’s temple vision and where it fits in with the overall thesis of the book.

Finally, in chapter 12 Beale summarises his theological conclusions and in chapter 13 he provides some practical observations for Christians today fulfilling our mission as the dwelling place of God.

Should I read it? 

I’ll provide more reflection in my review but to answer briefly, this work sheds new light on a multitude of passages and provides a deeper understanding of the storyline of the Bible. Particularly, it better illuminates God’s plan for His dwelling place. While the exegesis and content is quite heavy, the concluding message of the book is very practical in regards to our mission as the church.

Summary:

  • Author: G. K. Beale
  • Title: The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A biblical theology of the dwelling place of God
  • Publisher: IVP
  • Series: New Studies in Biblical Theology
  • Page count: 402 (458 inc. bibliography and indexes)
  • Recommended audience: Anyone wanting to better understand the purpose of the temple in the church’s mission
  • Reading level: Academic/Seminary level
  • Read the first 50 pages: PDF (right-click to save)
  • Buy Now: UK: Amazon, USA: WTS Books

Table of Contents:

  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Cosmic Symbolism of Temples in the Old Testament
  • 3. The Expanding Purpose of Temples in the Old Testament
  • 4. The Expanding End-Time Purpose of Temples in the Old Testament
  • 5. The “Already and Not Yet” Fulfillment of the End-Time Temple in Christ and His People: The Gospels
  • 6. The Inauguration of a New Temple in the Book of Acts
  • 7. The Inauguration of a New Temple in the Epistles of Paul
  • 8. The Temple in 2 Thessalonians 2
  • 9. The Inauguration of a New Temple in Hebrews
  • 10. The World-Encompassing Temple in Revelation
  • 11. The Temple in Ezekiel 40–48 and Its Relationship to the New Testament
  • 12. Theological Conclusions: The Physical Temple as a Foreshadowing of God’s and Christ’s Presence as the True Temple
  • 13. Practical Reflections on Eden and the Temple for the Church in the Twenty-first Century
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