A Call to Holiness
Robert Wurtz II
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. (Hebrews 12:14–17 ESV)
“But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” (1 Peter 1:15 NKJV)
One of the great tragedies of religion is when its elements are stripped from their context and used to create something other than what God designed. As we read the Bible, especially the New Testament, we must keep it firmly set within its context. When I say “context,” I don’t mean only the verses before and after a text, but the historical context in which it was originally written. The context of the New Testament is the Old Testament and the Second Temple period, which spanned from 516 BC to 70 AD.
Reading the New Testament through the lens of 21st Century western culture has caused enormous problems. The problem that concerns me most is a near-complete loss of what the Bible calls holiness. Understand that God created the universe and humankind to bring many sons to glory (Hebrews 2:10). God made Adam and placed him in the Garden of Eden to guard and keep it. Unfortunately, he failed and allowed sin to defile the Garden and destroy his relationship with God. He became unholy. Cherubim were sent to do the job that Adam failed to do.
God intended to fill the earth with human beings who represented Him in the earth as Divine imagers. Thus, the Garden was holy, and God intended to fill the earth with holy people and expand the Garden proportionally. But, unfortunately, Adam’s sin derailed that process, and humankind became sinful rather than holy. Therefore, from Adam’s fall in the Garden, we learn that God will not dwell with sinful people.
Be Ye Holy
Modern ideas and views of God generally neglect to consider that God is holy and demands holiness from humankind. “Be ye holy for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16) should be front and center in every Christian’s mind. We should be holy in all of our conduct (1 Peter 1:15). I suggest that the failure in this regard stems from removing Christianity from its ultimate context. God has not changed course over time. Instead, he is creating a city that has foundations and is filled with holy people. Abraham looked for this city, but it was yet far into the future (Hebrews 11:10).
In Revelation 21:15, we have God’s plans from Genesis fulfilled. John saw the New Jerusalem coming down from Heaven as a bride adorned for her husband. What strikes me most is that it’s four square or a cube. This fact brings to mind the Holy of Holies, the only other cube in the Old Testament (1 Kings 6:20). The Holy of Holies was where the Ark of the Covenant rested. The cube symbolized the Garden of Eden, with garden greenery (I Kings 6:29-36), guarded by the Cherubim (Exodus 25:18, 26:1, 26:31), and entered from the east. The Ark of the Covenant represented God’s throne or, more specifically, the footstool for His throne, which extended down from Heaven. Like Bethel, it was a place where Heaven touched earth (Genesis 28:16-20).
A cursory study of the Old Testament will demonstrate the seriousness of God’s holiness regarding the Holy of Holies. In fact, the closer to the Holy of Holies a person came, the more holy they needed to be. It was the one place where God did not tolerate sin, where God’s will was done on earth as it is in Heaven. God ordered every detail. It wasn’t the place to innovate or introduce popular culture. Keep this in mind when you think of the city coming down from Heaven. The whole earth will know and do God’s will as it is known and done in Heaven. These truths should come to mind when we think of the New Jerusalem where all the saints will live for eternity.
On Earth as in Heaven
It is sobering and scary to consider that many who name the name of Christ have no idea that the Heavenly Host obeys God in the absolute sense. We are to pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven” (Matthew 6:10) Yet, disobedience is marginalized and normalized in our times. How can this be when the expectation in the New Testament is holiness and obedience? There is no Wilderness tabernacle or Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple was destroyed in 70 AD by Titus, just as it had been destroyed before by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC. The pattern was simple, the Temples were built, the people defiled them with their sin, God departed and then He destroyed the Temples as He said He would. (2 Chronicles 7:19-22)
Jesus introduced a change in temple concept when He called Himself the Temple (John 2:19-20). We know that the Wilderness Tabernacle and Solomon’s were supposed to be holy; what about Jesus?
“For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.” (Hebrews 7:26 ESV)
Our passage is a summary of Jesus’ life on earth. He was a friend to publicans and sinners, but He never allowed their evil influence to defile Him. When He ascended to Heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to take up residence in those who received Him. Before this, the people went to the Temple in Jerusalem to be with God, now God was in them (John 14:17). The implications of this change are astounding. With the body as the Temple, a whole new expectation of holiness came to be.
Building the “Living” Temple
One of the reasons it’s so important to preach repentance is that God needs living stones in His Temple (1 Peter 2:5). Think of how the Temple was unlike any place on earth. God’s will was done in the Temple as it is in Heaven. It was a holy place and free from defilement. If it became defiled, it had to be cleansed by the blood of a spotless lamb (See Leviticus, Hebrews 9:21-22). I think of people who abused the Temple and its artifacts and were struck dead by God for it (Leviticus 10:1-2, 2 Samuel 6:6-8, Daniel 5:23-28).
People who have repented of their sins, turned wholly to God, and trusted Christ have had the blood of Christ applied to their conscience (Hebrews 9:14, 10:22). As a result, the inner chambers of the person (as it were) have been cleansed and made ready for the indwelling of God. Thus, Paul speaks of being “filled with all of the fulness of God” (Ephesians 3:19), an allusion to the glory of God filling the Temple at the dedication (2 Chronicles 5:13-14). How then should we live if we are filled with all of the fulness of God?
A Holy Temple and a Holy City
Paul asked the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16 ESV) This truth should provoke us to study holiness regarding the Temple and then filter those truths through the teachings of Jesus regarding true defilement (Matthew 15:11-20). Moreover, we should take Paul’s warning seriously, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:17 ESV) This is a reminder of 2 Chronicles 7:19-22 and Ezekiel chapters 8-11.
What do you think would happen if someone recklessly or intentionally damaged the Wilderness Tabernacle or Temple? We need to apply these truths to us as individuals and as the Church, the Temple of the Living God. The Old Testament emphasis on Temple purity was written for our learning and our example. Sin separates us from God, but a life of true holiness enables us to function as a place of God’s rest (where He reigns). All of these great truths should be in focus as we draw nearer and nearer to that cubed city.
And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:23–27 ESV)