The Foundations of Three Temple Theology

Chassidic thought analyzes creation into three essential dimensions: time, space and the human soul.

A Temple is a seat of Divine Presence. In Judaism, there are two Temples, one for the dimension of time, the Sabbath, and one for the dimension of space, the Temple in Jerusalem. Christianity adds a third, the Son of G-d incarnate in the nature of man: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." (John 2:19)

The temple which came first was the Temple in Time: the Sabbath. It sanctifies time. After that, the Temple in Space was established, the Sanctuary in the desert followed by the Temple in Jerusalem. It sanctified space and all things that are spatial, i.e., the natural world. The Third Temple came later with the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity. The Third Temple sanctifies humanity.

Shabbat TableJudaism also counts three temples: the Temple of Solomon, the Temple built by the returning exiles from Babylonia in Jerusalem, and the Temple that will be rebuilt when the messiah comes. They are 3 “generations” of what I call the second temple, the Temple in Space. The three temples that I count are three kinds of temples: a temple in time (the Sabbath), and temple in space, and a temple in the nature (the soul) of man, the Incarnate Son. When I refer to the First Temple, I mean the Sabbath, not the Temple of Solomon. When I refer to the Third Temple, I mean, the Incarnation, not the reconstructed Temple for which all observant Jews hope and pray. I mention this to avoid confusion.

The traditional Jew believes in the first two temples, the Christian Jew believes in all three. He observes the Sabbath and shares in the hope of the traditional Jew for the rebuilding of the Temple in Space, the Temple in Jerusalem. The New Covenant Perfects the Covenant of Sinai with the Temple of the Incarnate Son. Since creation has only these 3 essential dimensions, the Third Temple, the Incarnate Son, is the last Temple. There will be no fourth Temple, and there will be no additional comprehensive covenant comparable to the Covenant of Sinai, which established the first two temples, the Temple in Time and the Temple in Space, and the New Covenant, which established the Third Temple.

The Three Temples are progressively more inclusive. The first established of the three temples, the Temple in Time, was the Sabbath. The halachah forbids Gentiles to keep the Sabbath in all the strictness it prescribes. Much as Eucharistic Communion is only for members of the Church, the complete observance of the Sabbath is only for Jews. The second of the three temples was the Temple in Jerusalem. It was open to Gentiles—but not all precincts. It was “a house of prayer for all peoples,” and Gentiles could also offer sacrifices, but only burnt offerings (holocausts, “olot”). The Third Temple is Jesus. He gathers all people into the Presence of G-d of equally.

Much as the consecrated species of the Eucharist in the Tabernacle sanctifies a church, G-d sanctifies time, space and the human soul through His Temples, and made it possible for us, in turn, to consecrate moments in time, objects in space, and, in a special way, our souls to G-d. Because G-d sanctified time when He sanctified the Sabbath, Israel can consecrate time to Him and determine the dates of the Jewish holidays. Because G-d sanctified space (the natural world) when He commanded us to build the Temple, we can consecrate objects (such as animals for sacrifice) to Him and make them holy. Because G-d sanctified man when the Son assumed human nature, the Christian can renounce the world and consecrate himself to G-d in a way that has no parallel in Judaism.

All three temples (the Sabbath, the Temple in Jerusalem, and the Incarnate Son) are analogous (Jesus explicitly compares Himself to the Temple in Space). They differ according to the essential dimension of reality through which G-d offers His Presence. Anyone who believes in the sanctity of the Sabbath and the sanctity of the Temple should have no intellectual difficulty believing in the sanctity of Jesus of Nazareth. Of course, each temple, because it sanctifies a distinct and essential dimension of creation, is entered in its own way, has it’s own meaning, bestows its own gifts, and requires its own form of devotion.

Time and Eternity are one in the first temple, the Sabbath, the Temple in Time. The Sabbath is a holy day because although it is a period of time, it is one with the Eternal. Heaven and Earth are one in the second temple, the Temple of Jerusalem. The Temple is holy because although it is located on earth and constructed from stone, it is one with the Heaven it reveals. G-d and man are unified in the third temple, Jesus of Nazareth, which sanctifies human beings. Jesus is a Divine Person because in Him G-d and man are one, and he belongs to the Divinity He reveals. Of course, time, space, and the soul of man are one with G-d in different ways, and because G-d made man in His Image, G-d is one with the Human nature of the man He Chose to be His Temple in an especially intimate way. G-d (the Son) is incarnate in Jesus. He is not incarnate in the seventh day or the stone of the Second Temple.

Miracles are associated with all the temples because each reveals the dominion and power of the spiritual over the physical, the Divine over the created.

The sanctity of a temple was conferred from the moment of creation by G-d’s choice to use one unit of each essential dimension of creation to make His Presence known to man. The Jewish calendar counts a seven day week. G-d chose one of those days, the seventh day, the Sabbath, to reveal the eternity which transcends the time which is counted by the days. Through the seventh day, everyday partakes in the eternal. The Sabbath sanctifies time.

The entire creation belongs to G-d and, in that sense, is holy. The Holy land is holier, and the Temple of Jerusalem, one small location in the Holy Land, is especially Holy because it was set apart by G-d to reveal the glory and existence of the spiritual plane, (His Presence and the spiritual dimension) through the material world He Created. Through the Temple, the entire world participates in the Glory of Heaven.

Man was made in the image of G-d. In that sense, all men are holy. But Jesus of Nazareth, one man out of the many billions who have existed, is holy in a special way, because his humanity was created by G-d to reveal Himself (The Second Person of the Trinity) as a man. Through Jesus, all mankind participates in the Divinity Incarnate in Him.

We Enter the Three Temples in Three Different Ways. The First Temple, the Sabbath, bears witness to the mystery of creation and its Creator. We celebrate the Sabbath by entering that mystery, by relating to all creation as a witness to the mysteries of existence and the Transcendent Divinity which is the source of all created existence. To enter the Sabbath, to dwell in that mystery, we have to relate to the world in a way which is incompatible with the practical, work-a-day point view, so on the Sabbath we do no work, nothing creative or constructive. The primary focus of First Temple devotion is the mystery of the Transcendent Divine Creator as it is revealed through the world He Created.

The Temple in JerusalemThe Second Temple, the Temple in Jerusalem, bears witness to the holiness of creation and the Presence of G-d in the world. We enter the Temple in Space by walking into it after purifying the body and the heart as prescribed by the Law, so that they are compatible with the heavenly purity of the Temple precincts. The primary devotion of the Temple in Space is sanctification and repentance, sanctification by using the body and all created things in the service of G-d, and repentance for the negligence that allows the body to act without regard for that sanctity, in violation of G-d’s commands. That’s why the Temple is also the center of a rite of atonement for inadvertent sin, sins which are attributable, not to an evil or corrupt will, but to the indifference of our natural impulses to that holiness when they are not vigilantly directed to the service of G-d. Of course, the spirituality of the Temple in Space also requires holiness of will, for a corrupt will corrupts the body and banishes G-d’s Presence from the world.

We enter the Third Temple, the Temple of the Incarnate Son, by being baptized in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and by believing that G-d assumed the nature of man in Jesus of Nazareth--really believing, deeply believing, so that our thoughts, our feelings and even--and especially-- the moral choices we make express the Glory we find there. Much as the Temple in Space sanctifies the natural world, the Temple of the Incarnate Son sanctifies man. Through the Divine Presence revealed in one human being, all men were sanctified. The primary devotion of the Temple of the Incarnate Son is to treat human beings in a way that is worthy of the sanctity of man revealed through the man whom G-d chose to be His Temple, Jesus of Nazareth, to respect and to love them as we respect and love the G-d who revealed Himself as a man.

The Law of Moses requires us to discipline ourselves to the holiness of a world sanctified by the Presence of G-d, i.e., to use it in a way that is consistent with that holiness. G-d’s Commands teach us how. The effort to do that sanctifies the observant Jew. The commandments of Jesus, the Law of the Third Temple, require us to discipline ourselves to the holiness of human beings, who are now revealed to carry the Presence of G-d in a unique and most intimate way, so that in the presence of a man we can discern the Presence of G-d. Accordingly, the primary devotion of the Temple of the Incarnate Son is charity: the self-effacing love for others that is a fitting offering and response to the Divinity revealed through the nature of man.

The Letter to the Hebrews rejects the Second Temple, the Temple in Space, and its sacrificial ritual in favor of Jesus and the Cross. Is this Three Temple Theology, which finds a religious value in the Second Temple which is not replaced by the Incarnation, compatible with the Letter to the Hebrews?

He entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Heb 9:12-14)

Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. (Heb 9:23)

Christ, the Temple of the Son IncarnateYes, the atoning rituals of the Temple act through externals (“the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh”). The sacrificial ritual of atonement is not effective and is not commanded where the will is positively sinful, but only where the will is insufficiently vigilant in grave matters. It atones (almost exclusively) for shgagot, not for sins committed by a corrupted will, but for sins committed because the will was distracted or insufficiently vigilant, allowing externals to take over: habits, routines, or natural events that inadvertently results in grave but unintended violations of Divine commands, violations punishable by “karet,” being cut off (just exactly what that means is much discussed by commentators), when they are intentional, i.e., when they represent the sinful choice of a corrupt will. Sacrifices are not brought to atone for grave, intentional sin because the will is the innermost part of a person, a power that arises out of the depths of his soul, and the ritual atonement of the Temple doesn’t reach in that far.

The Temple in Space, the Temple through which the natural world is sanctified to G-d, is also the center of a sacrificial ritual of atonement for the sin of insufficient vigilance for that sanctity. The sacrificial ritual of atonement purifies the flesh, i.e., it subordinates it to the will of G-d, by enhancing the sinner’s awareness of sanctity so that he will be more attentive and more careful to prevent the inadvertent violation of that sanctity. The sacrifice of the Son on the Cross is, of course, a much deeper sacrifice, deep enough to purify not only the flesh, but also the will corrupted by sin, deep enough to atone not merely for lack of vigilance and an inattentive will, but for a will corrupted by sinful choices in grave matters, corrupted by mortal sin. But that does not mean that the Temple ritual becomes redundant.

The Temple ritual was a kind of penance which immersed the negligent sinner into a matrix of sacred realities: a pilgrimage to a sacred place (Jerusalem and the Temple Mount), a sacred building complex, Levitical purity, the sanctity of sacrificial animals, the sanctity of the priests, and, of course, a sacred ritual of confession and sacrifice whereby the sinner gives himself to G-d through an animal or grain offering. He emerged not so much chastised, as profoundly alerted to the sanctity of creation and his responsibility to pay attention where, for lack of attention, his body might act without regard for that sanctity. The Church as no comparable corrective, penitential rite which addresses venial sin in grave matters.

Second Temple faith - faith centered around the Temple in Space - is the faith bestowed on the Children of Israel by the visions and commands they received at Mt. Sinai. Much as the Temple in Space sanctified the natural world, those commands teaches us how to use the natural world in the service of that sanctity. Obedience to the Commandments and the desire to know G-d’s Presence as it sanctifies the world (as it is revealed in the Temple in Space) go together. The wisdom of the Temple of the Incarnate Son is exemplified in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It has nothing comparable to the ritual commandments of the Law of Moses because it does not address the question of how to use the natural world in the service of G-d, but rather, how to relate to other human beings in the service of G-d. (Of course, the foundations of Jesus moral teaching lie in the Law of Moses: love of G-d, love of neighbor and the Ten Commandments, and there were many Jewish saints who exemplified the excellence which Jesus requires of us.) But Jesus did not limit the obligations of His Jewish disciples to the commands He gave us in the Sermon on the Mount, for He reaffirmed the authority of the Law of Moses and the authority of the rabbis to interpret the Law of Moses. The Wisdom of the Temple in Space, the commandments that teach us how to use the natural world in the service of G-d, remain an essential component of the religious life which Jesus envisioned for Jews who believe in Him. That Divine Wisdom prescribes the normative counterpart to the Divine Presence which sanctifies the world through the Temple in Space. Much as obedience to Jesus is animated by the desire to see G-d revealed through the nature of man, whether in this world or the next, Jewish devotion to G-d through the Commandments is animated by a desire to see the Presence of G-d revealed in this world, in a way that sanctifies the created world, through the Temple in Jerusalem.