When we hear the word temple we might think first of our regional temple, the Salt Lake Temple, Solomon’s Temple, or Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem. But New Testament writers describe three other temples, too.
Paul wrote that each individual is a temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16–17), and in another epistle he characterized the household of God as a holy temple (Eph. 2:21). Finally, in the book of Revelation, John recorded his vision of the temple of heaven. (Rev. 3:12; Rev. 11:19; Rev. 21:22.) Each of these temples tells us a great deal about the plan of salvation, the meaning of the temple experience, and the divine vision set forth in the New Testament.
A brief historical overview of the use of the house of the Lord will put these three other temples in perspective. The name temple signifies the house of the Lord.1 The temple is the sacred place where Jehovah reveals Himself to His people and where prescribed ordinances of the priesthood are solemnized.2
Central to the performance of those priesthood ordinances prior to the Atonement was the blood sacrifice of unblemished bulls, rams, and male lambs on the Day of Atonement. (Lev. 22:19–24; Num. 29:8.) The celebration of the Day of Atonement epitomized the temple’s importance. Israel’s high priest entered the Holy of Holies once a year. There he performed several acts, symbolically cleansing himself and all the people. He sacrificed animals and sprinkled their blood on the mercy seat and before the altar, representing the great ransoming sacrifice the Savior would perform.3
Blood sacrifice in the temple came to an end when He whose atonement the ordinance of blood sacrifice had foreshadowed actually fulfilled His mission, having offered himself “a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law [of Moses].” (2 Ne. 2:7.) Ever since that great Paschal sacrifice, the sacrifice the Savior has required of us is a broken heart and a contrite spirit. (3 Ne. 9:19–20.) Indeed, the law of Christ requires not only clean hands, but a pure heart also.4
The guiding principle of Christ’s message is set forth in the Old Testament: “For as [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (Prov. 23:7.) Righteous thoughts produce righteous actions. Not only are we not to kill, but we are to avoid anger (Matt. 5:21–22); not only are we not to commit adultery, but we are not to lust. (Matt. 5:27–28.)
With the Atonement accomplished, the veil of outward performances and ordinances was rent. Since then, man has been challenged not to rely only on outward performances and ordinances, but to use them to achieve the often painful transformations of the soul that those ordinances are meant to effect. (Alma 25:15–16.) These transformations are the only way man can extricate himself from the confining prison of the natural man and become an agent unto himself, acting freely to choose good over evil, rather than being acted upon. (2 Ne. 2:26.)
Now, as a result of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice, individuals make far-reaching commitments to the Lord in latter-day temples. In return, the Lord promises eternal blessings if we fulfill our covenants with Him. This temple experience, which has to do with the inner man, presupposes that each of us has made the new sacrifice the Lord requires of us. In this process, we cleanse our individual temple-bodies in which we make the new sacrifice.
Though misunderstood when He first said it, Jesus described His body as a temple His enemies would destroy but He would raise after three days. (John 2:18–21.) Perhaps referring to Jesus’ analogy, Paul wrote the Corinthian Saints that their bodies, too, were temples of God and, as such, were holy. (1 Cor. 3:16–17.) To remain undefiled, the temple-body must be spiritually cleansed again and again that it might remain a fit habitation for the Holy Ghost. The question is: How do we cleanse our temples?
The new sacrifice required of man, a broken heart and a contrite spirit, bears a striking similarity to the first two Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me” and “Blessed are all they that mourn.” (3 Ne. 12:3–4; Matt. 5:3–4.) A broken heart and a contrite spirit result when we recognize the discrepancy between who we are spiritually and who we should be. As we feel our spiritual poverty and mourn it deeply, we are offering our hearts on the inner altars of our individual temples.
Those who feel their spiritual poverty and come unto the Savior will, as the Beatitudes testify, be blessed with the kingdom of heaven. God feels great joy when one of his children puts off the natural man of sin and is born again a new creature in the Lord. (D&C 18:13; Mosiah 3:19; Mosiah 27:25–26.) It follows that all the forces and resources of heaven would be brought to bear in support of such a repentant soul. Lest their mourning threaten to inundate and sink them in a morass of self-pity, the Lord promises comfort to those who are truly repentant—the kind of comfort that came to Nephi when he recognized his spiritual imperfections. (2 Ne. 4:17–35.)
Wanting to change is the key. Recognizing their ignorance, repentant souls are meek and teachable. (Matt. 5:5.) As they learn about the Lord’s ways, they begin to see the earth as God’s schoolroom to prepare them for joint inheritance if they fulfill their covenants with Him.
Their sincerity manifests itself as a hungering and thirsting after righteousness. These are they who, in cleansing their inner temple and tasting a little righteousness, desire more and more of it. They begin to hunger after that sweet fruit of eternal life which contrasts so sharply with the bitter fruit of worldliness. Their hungering and thirsting result in an increasingly clean temple filled with the Holy Ghost. (3 Ne. 12:6; Matt. 5:6.) The Holy Ghost—the Spirit of truth—testifies of the Savior, flooding their souls with the light of truth. (John 15:26.) This truth is synonymous with the glory of God. (D&C 93:35–36.)
The objective of the children of God is to cleanse their individual body-temples that they might become as perfect as our Heavenly Father and our Savior. (Matt. 5:48; 3 Ne. 12:48.) This process of perfection is charted by the Beatitudes, which, according to President Harold B. Lee, form “the constitution for a perfect life.”5 If we follow the course they chart, our temple-bodies become ever cleaner.
But a cleansed temple does not represent an end in itself. How we use our temples determines how much we contribute to the second type of temple about which Paul wrote: the household of God. (Eph. 2:19–22.)
The Lord’s church, or “household of God,” has a distinctive architecture: it is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” (Eph. 2:20.) What makes a household of God a temple is not easily discerned by the untrained eye, because to meet specifications it must be “fitly framed together.” (Eph. 2:21.)
Such a temple “fitly framed together” is one in which the many members of the body of Christ are united, working together harmoniously. (1 Cor. 12:12, 21–24.) To this end, the Lord endows each member with diverse gifts, “that all may be profited thereby.” (1 Cor. 12:4–11; D&C 46:9–12.)
If we use our diverse gifts to serve one another—bearing one another’s burdens, mourning with those who mourn, standing as witnesses of God at all times (Mosiah 18:8–10)—then we “may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
“From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” (Eph. 4:15–16.)
And so “the body hath need of every member, that all may be edified together, that the system may be kept perfect.” (D&C 84:110.)
When thus fitly joined together, the household of God grows “unto an holy temple in the Lord.” (Eph. 2:21.) It does not happen all at once; it develops line upon line into the kind of structure that can be a “habitation of God through the Spirit.” (Eph. 2:22.) The phrase “habitation of God through the Spirit” seems to refer to the same blessing that President Joseph Fielding Smith noted in discussing the confirmed member of the Church as one “back again in the presence of God, through the gift of the Holy Ghost.”6
Communities of Saints who have grown into such temples have the potential of becoming like those who experienced the day of Pentecost (Acts 2–4) or those who enjoyed the nearly two hundred years of peace recorded in 4 Nephi. Perhaps the most ennobling possibility of all is to become like the City of Enoch. (Moses 7:18–21.)
Of greatest interest regarding these temple-households are their common denominators. First, the Saints in those communities were united; they were of one heart and one mind—fitly framed together. (Acts 2:1, 46; 4 Ne. 1:16–17; Moses 7:18.) Second, they had all things in common (Acts 2:44–45; 4 Ne. 1:3), suffering no poor to be among them (Moses 7:18). There were “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” (Eph. 2:19.) Third, as they hungered and thirsted after righteousness, they learned to dwell in righteousness, as the brief descriptions of their behavior indicate. (Moses 7:18.)
To such communities of saints the Lord applies the sacred title of “Zion.” (Moses 7:18.) One definition of Zion is the pure in heart. (D&C 97:21.) Members of such a righteous community have followed the course charted by the Beatitudes: their clean hands derive from pure hearts and unconditional love. Purity of heart and Christlike love are constants that unify the saints and unite them with Jesus. (Acts 4:32; 1 Pet. 1:22; John 13:34–35.)
Like the temple-body, such a temple-household is not an end in itself, but has objectives beyond itself. First, it is “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” (Eph. 4:12.) “Be ye therefore perfect” applies to groups as well as to individuals. Second, it brings the group to “the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:13.) Third, it protects them from being “tossed to and fro … with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men.” (Eph. 4:14.)
This temple grows as Good-Samaritan Saints share their time, talents, and means in serving others. Typically, they are anxiously engaged in good causes, using the power in them to bring to pass much righteousness. (D&C 58:27–28.) As they collectively serve together in righteousness, their temple becomes ever more fitly flamed, and they prepare themselves for the temple of heaven.
Due to the filtering haze of mortality, the temple of heaven may be more difficult to envision than the other two temples. But if we think of this celestial temple as the culmination of a cleansed temple-body and a fitly framed temple-household, then we can understand why it is central in John’s vision.
The City of Enoch, that archetype of Zion, will descend from heaven at the time of the Savior’s second coming. (Rev. 21:2, 10; Moses 7:62–64; D&C 84:100.) In that heavenly Zion, John “saw no temple … for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.” (Rev. 21:22.)
Both in the temple-body and in the temple-household, the Holy Ghost fills men with the light of truth that radiates from the throne of God. Those worthy to be counted among the pillars of the celestial temple (Rev. 3:12) will have progressed to a level of righteousness that will allow them to enjoy the unfiltered light of the Father and the Son, that everlasting burning the Prophet Joseph described.7 Thus, “the city had no need of the sun … to shine in it: for the glory of God [intelligence, or light and truth] did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.” (Rev. 21:23; see D&C 93:36.)
God’s residence is a great Urim and Thummim, which John described as a sea of glass mingled with fire. (D&C 130:8; Rev. 15:2.) In that residence, truth—“knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come”—is eternally present before God. (D&C 103:7; D&C 93:24.)
One becomes a pillar in this celestial temple by faithfully overcoming all things. (D&C 76:53, 60.) We begin overcoming all things by being “baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name.” (D&C 76:51.) We continue to cleanse our temple-bodies “by keeping the commandments [so that we] might be washed and cleansed from all [our] sins.” (D&C 76:52.)
This we do because we love our Savior. (John 14:15.) At baptism, we covenant to take upon us His name and serve Him to the end. (D&C 20:37.) We serve Him by serving others in building the community of Saints into a holy temple in the Lord. (Matt. 25:40; Mosiah 2:17.) Thus, we keep the first commandment by keeping the second.
Those who faithfully overcome all things receive the ultimate fulfillment of their baptismal covenant: they will have the name of God, Man of Holiness, and of the New Jerusalem, City of Holiness, written upon them—in other words, they will inherit eternal life. (Rev. 3:12; Moses 7:19, 35.) Clothed in white raiment that has been washed “white in the blood of the Lamb,” they will be clearly identifiable. (Rev. 3:5.) This washing process is the result of their faith in Him (1 Ne. 12:11), a faith which they nourished until the word of God became in them a fruitful “tree springing up unto everlasting life.” (Alma 32:41.)
Those who overcome all things, including persecution for His name’s sake (3 Ne. 12:10), will experience the “great joy” (3 Ne. 12:12) of having their hungering and thirsting for righteousness satisfied by the Savior, who grants them a steady diet of righteousness from the “living fountains of waters,” which represent the love of God and whose source flows from His throne in the temple of heaven. (Rev. 7:16–17; Rev. 22:1; 1 Ne. 11:25.) This is the living water that quenches the spiritual thirst everlastingly. Like the seed that becomes a fruitful tree (Alma 32), so this living water can be in men “a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).
With the phrase “springing up into everlasting life,” the progression of temple-building comes full-circle: Truly repentant souls first recognize the defiled state of their temple-bodies and want to cleanse them. They feel spiritually malnourished. Absorbing the love of God flowing from the fountains of living waters, they thirst for the righteousness of that divine love and use the living water to cleanse their temples.
As they progress, they begin to share that love, that living water, with others until their hearts, purified in the refiner’s fire of adversity and service, mirror, in the words of Elder James E. Faust, “the divine image … from the soul.”8 Their inner temple light radiates gospel testimony. That light and the living waters of love flowing through the pure in heart attract others to hunger and thirst after righteousness. The temple-household grows more fitly framed. And as the pure in heart progress, the power of their faith and love intensifies, becoming as a well of living water flowing from its ultimate source, even the temple of God, whose name is clearly written upon the pure in heart by the quality of their service.