This is a massive subject which cannot possibly be covered properly in a short blog post, but I will attempt to outline the basic facts as I believe them to be.
The Bible records the building of three stone temples, and it describes four spiritual temples, plus Ezekiel’s visionary temple (Ezekiel 40-48).
The First Temple
King Solomon built the First Temple. He reigned from 970 BC to 931 BC, and he started building the Temple (1 Kings 6) in his fourth year as king. It took seven years to complete (1 Kings 6:38). The Temple was unbelievably beautiful, and the interior was lined with gold (1 Kings 6:22)
This magnificent structure survived until after the siege of Jerusalem (598-587 BC) by Nebuchadnezzar 11, when it was destroyed in 587 or 586 BC (2 Kings 25:9-17; Jeremiah 52:12-23).
The Second Temple
By contrast, the Second Temple was but a shadow of the former (Haggai 2:3). Nevertheless, it was built where the previous one had been, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Its foundations were laid in 536 BC – that was only two years after 42,360 exiled Jews returned to their homeland under the leadership of Zerubbabel (Haggai 2:3; Zechariah 4:9, 10). There was a short period when they were forced to stop building on account of opposition from the Samaritans. In 520 BC Haggai and Zechariah motivated the people to restart building the temple, and it was finished four years later in the spring of 516 BC (Ezra 6:16).
The Third Temple
The main structure of the Second Temple survived for over five-and-a-half centuries until King Herod the Great demolished parts of it, extended and rebuilt it.
His superior rebuild transformed the Temple into a magnificent structure. Even the disciples of Jesus were captivated by its beauty, and they drew His attention to it. They must of have been taken back when He said, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down (Matthew 24:2).” Sure enough, His prophecy came true when it was destroyed in 70 AD at the end of a siege of Jerusalem by the Roman army under the command of Titus.
Jesus, the Temple
The writings of the New Testament brought a new dimension, a new understanding, of the Temples of God. Firstly, Jesus spoke of the ‘temple’ of His body (John 2:21) which He said He would raise in three days (v 19). The Jews mocked Him saying it had taken forty-six years* to build the Temple; therefore how could it possibly be rebuilt in three days (John 2:17-22)?. They had no idea He was referring to the temple of His body (Matthew 17:22, 23; 20:19; Luke 24:46-48).
The Church, the Temple of God and of the Spirit
Next we come to 1 Corinthians 3:16, 17 which reads as follows: ’Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.’ Here Paul the Apostle addressed the Corinthian church as a whole, and he told them they were God’s Temple in which His Spirit dwells.
2 Corinthians 6:16 accords with the above, ‘And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be there God, and they shall be my people.”’
Ephesians 2:19-22 reveals how the Ephesian church was being built into a ‘holy temple’ and ‘dwelling place of God in the Spirit’.
My understanding of the above is that the whole Church, not just individual churches, is the Temple of God and of the Spirit.
The Body, the Temple of the Holy Spirit
Each believer’s body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 6:19, 20. ‘Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.’
The Temple of the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb
The Book of the Revelation 21:22, 27 tells of the ultimate Temple: ‘But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. ……… But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.’
Exploring the nature of Ezekiel’s visionary Temple (Ezekiel 40-48) is beyond the scope of the short article.
*Forty-six years – Herod the Great started building the Temple in 20/19 BC and it was finished in 26 AD, 22 years after his death.