"In those days, when your numbers have increased greatly in the land," declares the LORD, "men will no longer say, 'The ark of the covenant of the LORD.' It will never enter their minds or be remembered; it will not be missed, nor will another one be made. At that time they will call Jerusalem 'The Throne of the LORD', and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honor the name of the LORD. No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts." – Jeremiah 3:16-17
In this passage from Jeremiah, God speaks of a time that is coming when no one will speak the name of the ark of the covenant, nor will it be remembered or missed or rebuilt. Why? How? What could possiby bring such a thing to pass?
The ark of the covenant was the place where the Holy Presence of God rested. Behind the thick veil of the tabernacle, and within the temple in Jerusalem, it was placed. Only the priest could enter in at specific times to offer the sacrifice for God’s people. No one else was permitted to stand before the ark of the covenant, and even the priest who stood near it was in danger of falling dead if he failed to deal with his own sin accordingly.
Yet, God tells us that the day is coming when the ark, and all it represents will be forgotten, and never remembered or spoken of again among God's people.
This is the significance of the tearing of the veil at the crucifixion. Because of the finished work of Christ upon the cross, the Holy of Holies where the ark of the covenant sat was suddenly wide open to any who would receive Christ and allow Him to enter in and dwell (tabernacle) with them.
In 1 Chronicles 28:2, we read, "King David rose to his feet and said: "Listen to me, my brothers and my people. I had it in my heart to build a house as a place of rest for the ark of the covenant of the LORD, for the footstool of our God, and I made plans to build it."
The ark was considered the footstool of God, the place where His presence rested.
However, God clearly says in Isaiah 66:1 - "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?"
God's response to David regarding the need to build Him a temple is:
"I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?" - 2 Sam 7:5-7
Clearly, God never asked for a temple to be built for His presence. He wants to be "the God who is with us", Emmanuel. Not kept in a structure built by human hands.
Yet, we continually insist upon building great structures and temples for God.
In Daniel 2:44-45, King Nebuchadnezzar's dream about the future is interpreted for us:
"In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces."
This prophecy reveals that God's Kingdom will be established, first as a small stone, cut from the rock "but not by human hands" and that it will grow to destroy every earthly kingdom and it will "never be destroyed" but "it will itself endure forever."
Jesus came as a stone, a small child that grew and became "the stone that the builders rejected" (Psalm 118:22). The Gospel that Jesus came preaching was about God's Kingdom, and Jesus gave rise to a nation of people who were once not a people, but through Him would become a "chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God," who "were once not a people but (who) now (were) the people of God." - (1 Peter 2:9-10)
The prophecy of Jeremiah is in harmony with God's promise to David; that God Himself would build the house of God, and that this new temple would be one "not made by human hands" but made up of "living stones (who) are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." - 1 Peter 2:5
The Temple God has always dreamed of is the one He Himself is building. It is a building of living stones, it is a spiritual house. His resting place is within the human heart.
As Dr. G.K. Beale writes, concerning the Jeremiah passage:
"The reason the ark in the temple is not remembered is that a greater temple than the more physical one will encompass no only all of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 3:17) but the entire world. This future temple will be so incomparably greater than the former that God’s people will not even "remember it nor shall they miss it" (Jeremiah 3:16). Furthermore, a physical ark within a small temple will "not be made again" because everything to which it pointed has been realized.
In this light, the verse in Jeremiah 3:16 is affirming that once the greater glory of the eschatological temple comes, one will not focus on the lesser glory of the earlier temple, much less should one ever desire to rebuild it."
-(From the book, “The Temple and the Church’s Mission”, page 140, InterVarsity Press)
As Jesus said, "I tell you that one greater than the temple is here." (Matt 12:6) and when Jesus had fulfilled the role of the High Priest and offered himself as the final Lamb of God, and the veil in the Temple was ripped in half, from top to bottom, He made a way for us, the people of God, to become the new temple, not made with human hands, but spreading out over the whole earth, and living as the new priesthood of believers, to make known His Glory among the nations.
We do not need a temple because we are the temple. We do not need a priest, or a pastor, because we are all priests of God, empowered and filled by His Holy Spirit. We do not need an animal sacrifice to be made, because He was our final blood sacrifice, and we are now the living sacrifice, daily dying to ourselves and carrying our cross to follow Him.
Let us not return to the rubble and rebuild the man-made temple. Let us not take up needle and thread and repair the veil that was torn. Let us not commission special priests and clergy who will stand before God in our place.
Our identity, as followers of Jesus, runs deeper than brick and mortar. It transcends a building. It goes beyond ceremony. Our identity as disciples of Christ is defined by a relationship between a Loving God, and a Living Temple made of people who love God, and love others.