Why God's City Has No Temple
When Ezekiel saw the River of God, it flowed out from the temple to the places that were stagnant and to the land that needed healing. When John saw the River of God, and the tree with its leaves for the healing of the nations, it was flowing through the city of God, the New Jerusalem, but He said, “I saw no temple there.” Why?
I believe it is because when the River of God carries the glory of God and of the Lamb to the centre of the city, there is no need for a temple.
THE REASON FOR THE RIVER
It is time for us to understand the intention of God for the River. The Psalmist clearly describes it for us. “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, The holy dwelling places of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.” (Psalm 46:4-5) While the River of God makes the city of God glad, we also need to understand the meaning and purpose of Jerusalem in the scripture. It means four things: (1) the geographical Jerusalem past, present and future, (2) the heavenly Jerusalem existing now in the spirit, (3) the church today and (4) our city.
I believe that God chose Jerusalem to demonstrate His desire for cities, just as He chose the Jews to demonstrate His desire for every family, tribe and nation. They were explicitly chosen so that through them every family on earth would be blessed. In the same way He chose their capital city to demonstrate His desire that all cities would be places of blessing for the families that lived in them. The way that this blessing comes is not by having a temple in the city where people go to worship, but by having a people in the city out of whom flows the River of God’s Spirit!
Tragically the members of the body of Christ have made the mistake of thinking that they are supposed to center their activities around a structured program of events that usually occur in a building. While buildings and structure are necessary, they are essentially the temporary servants of the churches’ primary task: to fill the city up with the glory of God.
POSITIONED IN THE CITY
One of the most exciting results of the outpouring of the last ten years is the growing emphasis on believers being called into the marketplace and the other spheres of the city which include the suburban and rural areas around them.
This is not just a new emphasis on evangelism where businessmen and teachers are being encouraged to witness at work. Nor is it an exciting new way to get people to take their jobs more seriously and give their resulting salary rises to the local church. Rather it is a whole new understanding of the good news of the kingdom of God and how the church serves it.
God wants to save individuals, but he also wants to save whole cities, regions and nations.
So what does this mean? I first started to understand this just before the current outpouring of the Holy Spirit. I had been one of the founders of a church planting movement based in London, England. We had seen growth and blessing, growing from a home group of 16 folk to a thriving multi-congregational church of more than 2000 people. But during the 17 years of our growth, London had grown worse not better. It was not that we had not won some wonderful people. We clearly had. We had demonstrated in meaningful and important ways that Jesus was alive and well and living in London. I believe that we had played our part in bringing the body of Christ in London to a point where the Lord could move us on to the next stage in the work of the kingdom.
But beyond the confines of our group, we had failed to impact the city enough to stem the rise of spiritual decay and to turn it and change it. We preached a gospel that was directed only to a comparatively few individuals and did not include the corporate expression of humanity that is London. But God was about to begin a new season, and the outpouring of the River of God was the sign and manifestation of that season.
A GOSPEL FOR CITIES AND NATIONS
One morning in the early nineties, I was reading in Luke 24 the words “...And He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:45-46)
I noticed that the Lord spoke of preaching to nations and not just individuals.
At first I was worried that I might be reading something into the text that wasn’t there, that I was unduly influenced by my growing burden for London that it might be changed and saved. I asked the Holy Spirit, “Where is it written in the scripture that Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day?’” Obviously it is written elsewhere in the New Testament, but this had to be in the scriptures of Jesus’ day, which were the Old Testament ones! After serious study I came to the conclusion that there is only one scripture that He could possibly be referring to. This was Hosea 6:1-2: "Come, let us return to the LORD. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, That we may live before Him.”
It is a surprising application of scripture, but since Jesus is the author we have to take it seriously. Two things stand out immediately. The first is that the verse refers to a plural, corporate people who need saving. Secondly, that it is this corporate people who are raised on the third day. If you go to the context, it is a city and a nation that needs salvation and that is raised from the dead.
“Listen to the word of the LORD, O sons of Israel, For the LORD has a case against the inhabitants of the land, Because there is no faithfulness or kindness or knowledge of God in the land. There is swearing, deception, murder, stealing and adultery. They employ violence, so that bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, And everyone who lives in it languishes, Along with the beasts of the field and the birds of the sky, And also the fish of the sea disappear.” (Hosea 4:1-3)
The salvation of a city does not mean that its inhabitants need no individual repentance or salvation. It refers to the change in the spiritual climate of a city from one where God is excluded, and grieved away, to one where He is welcomed and dwells. This is the kind of city where individual people can hear the gospel in the way that the Lord spoke of when He said that the Holy Spirit would come and convince the people that it was sin not to believe in Jesus. This is what the Holy Spirit wants, this kind of city. So when He is poured out, this is what He works to achieve. This must be why the Lord instructed the disciples to “stay in the city until you receive power from on high.” He knew the plan of God. This must also have been why He set His face as a flint to go to Jerusalem and why He spoke to the city and wept over it.
THE NEW JERUSALEM
In chapter eight of Zechariah’s prophecy, he describes the New Jerusalem as a place of reconciliation between men and women, between generations and between races and classes. He speaks of it as a place where the truth that makes for peace is established in its gates.
This is the kind of city the Lord desires your city to be. This is why He is calling and anointing His people to understand and to embrace their callings to the market place, education, the arts, law, the media and the political arena. He is determined that His manifested glory will penetrate to the very heart of the city.
What will this look like? When will it happen? In the same way that it takes a lifetime for a Christian to be sanctified, it can take a generation to see a city transformed. But this is how the gospel is preached in all the world before the end comes. Evil men will get worse and worse and like some individuals, some cities and nations will turn out to be goats not sheep. The work of the Kingdom of God will not be welcome there. However, although it will cost the cross in numerous ways, in the hearts of the people and places that welcome the Holy Spirit, I believe that before Jesus returns there will be a new level of manifestation of the kingdom. This move of God will signal a cosmic transformation, and then the Lord will come.
A TIME FOR THE CHURCH TO RESHAPE
This is the time for the church to reshape so that it can properly equip and support its individual members, the body of Christ, with all their different gifts and ministries. This requires new paradigms for church.
The priority must become the church in the city, not the church in the temple.
In order to do this, we need to ask ourselves some hard questions. ‘Does the way this church operates really support, equip and encourage the body in its task to penetrate every sphere of the city with the gospel?’ And ‘Is the vision of this church to see the kingdom of God manifested in the city in as many ways as are necessary to transform it?’ If these questions express the vision and direction of the church, then the priority will not be the success and growth of our particular expression of the body of Christ. Rather we will exist to promote and to serve the work of the kingdom of God in our city. If that prospers we prosper. This is a Joseph, Daniel, Esther kind of day where in the words of Jeremiah:
“Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. “ Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. ...Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.” Jeremiah 29:7
This is exactly what is happening in many cities of the earth where the River of God is flowing. It is only a trickle yet that is pouring out from under the gates of our temples, but it will become a flood. For those with eyes to see, from Minneapolis to Mississauga, from Burton on Trent to the London Borough of Harringay, the church in the city is coming forth!