We are God’s temple on earth, our bodies the dwelling place of His Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19). Certain things don’t belong in our temple, however, things that can overtake our passion for Him.
When Jesus began overturning tables in the Temple (see John 2:13-17), He was overturning more than the money changers’ trade. He was overturning a religious system that for millennia had relied on animal sacrifices to please God. Christ was stating, in essence, “Your relationship to the Father will no longer be based on sacrifices of sheep and goats and doves. It is going to be based on My once-for-all-time sacrifice for you.”
That scene in the Temple offers an analogy for our time. Many congregations today are filled with noise and activity. Many programs are in place, from overseas mission trips to local outreaches, to dozens of small fellowship groups. The worship services can be full of bright lights, powerful sound and amazing energy. Yet, sometimes amidst all this lively activity, something is missing at the center: Jesus Himself.
Without Christ as the focus of our activities, our churches are dead. No matter how hard we work to do things that serve and honor His name, none of our “sacrifices” in themselves can achieve true kingdom results. From the outside our fellowships may look righteous, but if we don’t maintain a focus on Jesus, we’ll be churches full of dead men’s bones.
The system of animal sacrifice was never God’s fullest intention to represent His reconciliation with sinful humankind. Like the institution of kings in Israel, it was an imperfect system, yet God allowed it, using it symbolically to point to something higher and better.
God demonstrated this with Abraham. In that ancient time, eastern cultures sacrificed animals and even children to appease their angry gods. When the Lord instructed Abraham to take his son to the mountain to sacrifice him on an altar, Abraham obeyed unquestioningly. That reaction may seem strange to us today, but it suggests a trembling fear that ancient people had toward their gods. When your god spoke, you jumped—otherwise, you might face famine or pestilence. It was fear-based obedience.
But Abraham sensed his God was different. And, in truth, God was about to show Abraham He wasn’t like Moloch, to whom people sacrificed children. When Abraham raised the knife over Isaac, God stopped him (see Genesis 22:11-12). God then provided a ram to be sacrificed. He declared to His servant—and to every believer in every age—“I don’t need you to sacrifice for Me. I’m going to sacrifice for you.” God turned the tables completely, just as Jesus did when He entered the Temple.