Christ, the Church, and every Christian is God’s temple
Amos 9:1-15; Acts 15:12-17
August 19, 2018 • Download this sermon (PDF)
Dear Congregation of Christ: Concerning the end times, someone wrote, “the Antichrist will allow the religious Jews to rebuild the Temple and to initiate daily sacrifices… Now the rebuilding of the Temple constitutes an enormous political and religious problem, for the place the Bible decrees for the location of the Temple is currently occupied by the Dome of the Rock.”
This was written by John Hagee, a well-known evangelical Zionist. Another evangelical pastor says, “the ‘Tabernacle’ of David was in the City of David where Solomon was anointed. If Solomon’s and Herod’s Temples were in the same place, then the Amos 9:11 verse would seem to be an accurate indication that the Messiah will reign from the very same spot.” [note]Matt Leasher, “The Temple in the City of David?”, Rapture Ready, 9/30/2014. Accessed 8/17/2018. http://www.raptureready.com/2014/09/30/the-temple-in-the-city-of-david-by-matt-leasher/[/note]
Most evangelicals have been taught and sincerely believe that in the end times, Jews will rebuild the temple on the very same site in Jerusalem where Solomon built the temple. This action, they say, will hasten the Second Coming of Jesus, because he will reign on earth for a thousand years from this rebuilt temple. And one of their often-cited Biblical bases is none other than verses 11 and 12 of our text in Amos Chapter 9, where Amos says that God will “restore David’s fallen shelter” (NIV) or “booth” (ESV) or “tabernacle” (KJV).
But this teaching of a physical rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple is very much flawed. The reason why it is a bad interpretation is that the New Testament writers plainly reject this interpretation. These bad interpreters often ignore how the New Testament interpret the Old Testament prophecies. In so doing so, they make the New Testament writers liars.
Amos 9 is the last chapter of the prophecy of Amos, to whom God revealed his condemnation and wrath against the northern kingdom of Israel. In Chapters 7-9, God revealed five visions to Amos. In the first two visions, the visions of the locusts and fire, God relented from his judgment. In the next two visions, the plumbline and the summer fruit, God’s punishment of Israel was at hand. Here in Chapter 9, the vision of the Lord standing beside the altar of a temple, God shows Amos the actual destruction of the nation.
However, this book does not end without hope and without a promise. In verses 11-15, God promises that he will rebuild the ruins of the temple and the nation and restore his people to their promised land. And the New Testament, especially Acts 15:12-17, tells us that this rebuilding and restoration started when Christ came 2,000 years to build his Church. So I preach to you the Gospel in three points: first, The Pillars Brought Down, None Will Escape; second, The Broken Walls Repaired, the Ruins Restored; and third, They Will Be Planted in Their Own Land.
The Pillars Brought Down, None Will Escape
In this last vision, Amos sees the LORD shake the thresholds of a temple in Israel so that the pillars are destroyed. The whole temple then crashes down on the worshipers, killing all of them. Those who are not inside the temple will be killed by a foreign army. Therefore, Amos says that no one will be able to escape the destruction of the temple and the sword of the invaders.
What does this remind you of? Remember the last day of Samson the judge? The Philistines captured him, gouged out his eyes, and made him a slave. They then brought him to their pagan temple to make him a spectacle. In this terrible condition, Samson pleaded to God to restore his strength one more time to avenge his two eyes. God answered his prayer, and Samson regained his superhuman strength to destroy the two middle pillars of the pagan temple. The temple then crashed down on the pagan worshipers killing all the rulers and the people.
In the case of Samson, God acted on behalf of his chosen people. But in the case of the vision of Amos, why would God destroy the temple in Israel and kill his own people? As we have seen in all of the book, God was wrathful against the multitudes of sins of Israel: idolatry, sexual immorality, injustice against the poor and powerless, and living in affluence by oppressing the same poor and powerless people. These sins are all against the Law God revealed to Moses, which Israel violated repeatedly for many centuries.
As they violated God’s Law, they thought that as long as they have their temples, God would not punish them. God would forgive them because they were God’s chosen people. They ignored God’s warnings before they even entered the Promised Land that God would punish them for disobedience and unfaithfulness. But their most heinous crime is idolatry. They worshiped pagan gods in their temples. They built pagan altars in high places. And even when they worshiped the LORD God, they only went through the motions, and their hardened hearts were far from him.
In verses 2-4, God speaks in extremes about the destruction of the people. If they are able to hide in the depths of the earth or in the heights of heaven, God will find them. The highest mountain will not keep them from God’s eyes, and even in the deepest ocean, God will send the sea monster to devour them. If they were captured, the invaders will kill them.
Like Israel, most people try to run away and hide from God. They think that good works will bail them out on Judgment Day. They bury themselves in their careers, money, relationships. They try to drown their loneliness and despair with drugs and alcohol. But their conscience witnesses against their sins. They know there is a day of reckoning, a day of judgment, and there is no escaping or hiding from God. On Judgment Day, all the unrepentant peoples of the world will hide in terror in the rocks and mountains to escape the wrath of God and Christ (Rev 6:15-17). But there is only one hiding place for those who stop running and hiding from God. After he confessed his sins against God, King David praised God with joy for forgiveness and said, “You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance” (Psa 32:7). Through faith, Christ dwells in you, so that you may know the “breath and length and height and depth” of his love and forgiveness (Eph 3:17-19).
In verses 5-8, Amos speaks of God’s almighty power and sovereignty. He does to the earth, the sea, the great rivers, and the heavens whatever pleases him to accomplish his purpose. All the peoples of the earth – Israel and all other nations Cushites, Egyptians, Philistines and Syrians – are under his providential control. With Israel, God is wrathful because it is a sinful kingdom, and his purpose is to destroy them.
Verses 9-10 are somewhat difficult to interpret. God will put Israelites and the other nations through a sieve. The pebbles, representing those whom God will destroy, will be caught in the sieve. These are those who shall be killed by the invaders. They are the ones who are so smug and arrogant to say, “Disaster will not overtake us,” even when they continue their gross sins. The small grain, representing those whom God would spare from destruction, will fall to the ground and be scattered throughout the nations. Yet, they will always be marked as God’s people even when they are in the midst of unbelieving nations (Isa 27:12-13). How comforting is this knowledge!
The Broken Walls Repaired, the Ruins Restored
But there’s a small hint of something good out of all this gloom and doom for Israel. While almost the whole chapter says that God will totally destroy his people for their unabated sins, we read in verse 8, “Yet I will not totally destroy the descendants of Jacob.”
Why would God say this? Because he had a plan from eternity to restore and rebuild a remnant, a few out of all the Israelites that were as numerous as the stars in the heavens and the sand on the seashore. We read this in verse 11, where God, after destroying Israel, promises, “In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old.” The term “in that day” in Scriptures often refers to Judgment Day or the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The “booth” of David that God will restore is a temporary tent or shelter made of wood and fabric like the tents that Israelites lived in during the wilderness years. They also made them out of sticks and leaves during the Feast of Booths to commemorate God’s protection in the wilderness. But “booth” is also used to refer to the tabernacle (2 Sam 11:11). This is why Luke used the same word for the tabernacle in the wilderness (Acts 7:44). And in Acts 15:16, he again used the same word in quoting our text, when he wrote that James said, “After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it.”
James was explaining that when Paul and Peter preached the gospel of Christ to the Gentiles, he was fulfilling the prophecy of Amos 9:11-12. But James used the Greek translation of our text, using “the remnant of mankind” instead of “the remnant of Edom.” It is a good translation because Edom was sometimes used to represent all the nations under God’s judgment (Isa 34:1-8; 63:18). Out of all the nations of the world, God will choose a few who would believe in the good news of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. They will believe and so bear his name, and so be called “Christians.” From that day when the Jerusalem Council voted to preach the gospel to all the nations, Gentiles were included in God’s chosen nation.
What did Amos mean by David’s “fallen tent”? It could be two things. One is that the dynasty of David was ruined and weakened when the kingdom was divided into the northern kingdom, called Israel, and the southern kingdom, called Judah. This happened after Solomon died, and one of his servants rebelled against his son. The second is the destruction of both kingdoms by foreign invaders. Israel and its temple in Bethel were destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 B.C; Judah and its temple in Jerusalem were destroyed by the Babylonians 136 years later (586 B.C.). Back in Chapters 2 and 6, Amos already prophesied the destruction of Judah. Since that time, the temple in Jerusalem had been rebuilt twice: when the exiles returned from Babylon, and when King Herod made majorly renovated the temple to its magnificent state during the time of Jesus. But in 70 A.D., about 30 years after Jesus was crucified, the Romans destroyed the temple.
This destruction was prophesied by Jesus in Matthew 24:1-2, when he said that no stone of the temple will be left standing. But Jesus also prophesied the rebuilding of David’s “fallen tent” remind us of Jesus’ saying in John 2:19, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews were astonished because they assumed that Jesus was speaking of the Jerusalem temple. But John says later that Jesus was talking about “the temple of his body,” his death on the cross. He himself is God’s temple. John says that Jesus was God who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), which literally said, “and tabernacled among us.”
The Apostle Paul also calls each of us Christians as God’s temple, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16-17), and “a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6:17-19). He also calls the Church as “the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16). Peter calls the church as a temple made up of “living stones being built up as a spiritual house” (1 Pet 2:4-5). When we come to worship God, Hebrews 12:22 says we “come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” Mount Zion is the location of the Jerusalem temple, so it is a picture of the Church. In the end, Revelation 21:3 fulfills John 1:14, saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them.” Jesus will “dwell” or “tabernacle” with us as God’s temple. John also says there is no temple in the new heaven and new earth, “for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Rev 21:22). Therefore, Christ, the Church, and every Christian is God’s temple.
All of these tell us that the idea of a physical temple to be rebuilt in Jerusalem is science fiction. It will never happen. If the temple is rebuilt, and Jesus returns and reigns on this temple for 1,000 years, what will happen to this temple after this 1,000 years? It will have to be destroyed again, because it will be of no use since in eternity, there will be no temple!
They Will be Planted in Their Own Land
Finally, in verses 13-14, Amos tells of God’s people restored in a beautiful and bountiful land. God promised that the survivors of the invasion and exile will return to the Promised Land. They will rebuild their cities and their fortresses. They will plant vineyards and gardens and raise cattle and sheep. They will bear children and grandchildren. Most importantly, they will rebuild the temple, where they would worship God with priests and sacrifices.
The land will be so fertile that as soon as one harvest is finished, another crop is planted. As soon as the grapes are made into wine, another harvest is gathered. This language reminds us of the imagery of the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve had all the abundance of God’s perfect creation. Before they fell into sin, all the trees, plants, flowers, fruits and animals are theirs for their nourishment and enjoyment. Work would be a pleasure, not a toil. There would be no pestilence, weeds, famine, drought and disasters.
All of these were promised by God to Israel even before they settled in the Promised Land. But the promise was conditional: if they obeyed God’s covenant laws, they will be blessed and prosper in the land; but if they disobeyed and rebelled, God will send curses upon them, including being uprooted and exiled to foreign nations. In verse 15, God promises that after their restoration, they will never again be uprooted, “I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them.” It is clear from Israel’s history that this has never happened, for after they resettled back in Canaan in the 5th century B.C., the Romans destroyed their cities and temple again in 70 A.D.
This means that Amos was looking far beyond the return of the Babylonian exiles. This is why he refers to that day as “in that day” and “the days are coming,” terms that point to the eternal future after the return of Christ from heaven. As God has promised his chosen nation Israel of a land of milk and honey, so he has promised all believers an abundant and prosperous life in the new heaven and new earth.
Beloved friends: The prophecy of Amos, written more than 2,700 years ago, has both warnings and comfort for us. The warning is judgment against continuing sin and unrepentant hearts. The people of Israel were so smug and arrogant because of their special status as God’s chosen nation that they can do no wrong. “No disaster will come to us,” they thought, even if they were idolaters, adulterers, and living in gross affluent by oppressing the poor.
This is also a warning against our complacency when we think we are God’s special people by virtue of our baptism and membership in the church. Do you think God will ignore our sins? Do you think God will ignore the sins of a nation who vote for abortion and same-sex marriage, and approve of lawlessness, anarchy and absolute disrespect of civil authorities? Do you think San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose, and all the ultra-liberal cities of California will not be judged by God even if over 70 percent of its residents approve of all these gross sins? Do not be deceived! God will not be mocked. He has reserved his eternal wrath for them.
But be also comforted. God will also restore you for eternity in the new heaven and new earth. He will restore the whole earth to a state of perfection that is more perfect than the original Garden of Eden. He will give you all the beauty and abundance, all the joy and love of his kingdom after you persevere in the faith, and in all the persecutions and sufferings in this sin-filled world.