Previously, we explored symbols the Bible uses to describe the church, helping us to understand how God looks upon us and how we should look at ourselves as members of His church. We can better grasp the reality of becoming God as co-heirs with Christ if we can make proper comparisons between what we have experienced on earth and what we will experience in the Kingdom of God. This time we will continue to explore these earthly images of heavenly reality.
1. Does God use physical Old Testament examples as symbols for New Testament spiritual understanding? I Timothy 3:15; I Peter 4:17.
Comment: A house is a familiar part of our lives. Jesus Christ describes the church as a house He has built for Himself to live in. Isaiah 5 tells of houses that will be torn down because too many have been improperly built. From this comparison, we can understand from Old Testament references how Christ builds and what He expects of a house He dwells in—along with how He reacts if the house is not built according to His code or standard.
2. Can the same comparison be made of the Temple of God? I Corinthians 3:17; Ephesians 2:19-22; Habakkuk 2:20; Matthew 21:13.
Comment: Paul makes it plain that the church and its members are the Temple of God in which He dwells. Thus, when Habakkuk says, "the Lord is in His holy temple," we know that prophecy applies not only to the physical Temple, but that He dwells in us as His Temple. This should spur us to keep our relationship with Him pure, realizing how Christ reacted when greedy men made the physical Temple "a den of thieves"!
3. Besides the more permanent Temples of Solomon and Herod, is the Tabernacle in the wilderness compared to the church and Christians? II Corinthians 5:1-6; II Peter 1:13-14; Hebrews 9:11.
Comment: Paul says we groan and moan in our transitory "mobile home" on this earth, longing for the permanent Tabernacle of God's Kingdom. Though God eventually destroyed even the "permanent" Temples for sin, the mobile Tabernacle gives us an even greater sense of our transitory life and mortality. Conversely, if our lives do not reflect Christ's presence in us, no matter how solidly and permanently we think we have built, our house will be torn down just like Solomon and Herod's Temples (Matthew 24:1-2). So Christ admonishes us not to build on sand, but on the Rock, Himself (Matthew 7:24-27).
4. Is the human body also a type of the church? I Corinthians 6:19; 12:12-27; Ephesians 4:12; 5:30-32; Colossians 1:18; 3:15.
Comment: Our human body is probably the most intimate of objects in our personal world. We are more familiar with its workings and coordination than of any other organism. Through our ability to use its various parts to perform intricate and difficult tasks, we learn how intimately we must work with God and fellow man to accomplish God's purposes. I Corinthians 12 teaches us how we should interact, to feel what the rest of Christ's body, the church, feels—and rush to aid any who hurt physically, emotionally or spiritually.
5. The Bible contains many references to trees. Do they have significance and prophetic meaning to the church today? Song of Songs 2:3; 4:12-14; 7:7-8; Jude 12.
Comment: The imagery of Jesus Christ and His bride is very strong throughout the Song of Songs. The bride describes Him in glowing terms as a fruitful tree, and He in turn describes His bride, the church, similarly. In contrast, Jude describes false teachers as "late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead [candidates for the second death, burned as dead trees in the Lake of Fire], pulled up by the roots."
6. Does the Bible use tree imagery as a measure of spirituality in God's people? Psalm 1:1-3; 92:12-14; Proverbs 11:30; Isaiah 61:3; Matthew 7:17-20; Luke 3:9; Romans 11:16-24.
Comment: God frequently instructs us to judge by the fruits. Those who live in agricultural surroundings quickly grasp this symbolism. Expectantly, we approach a tree to enjoy its ripe, sweet, succulent, juicy produce, but if it produces no fruit, we are extremely disappointed. Is it odd Christ uses such familiar examples to help us understand what He expects of us?
7. Armed with this knowledge, can we understand Old Testament references to the Temple, house of God and trees as important for today? Isaiah 41:19; Ezekiel 20:45-49; Haggai 1:8-9; 2:18-19; Zechariah 4:1-3, 11-14; 11:1-3.
Comment: Knowing the symbolic meaning of trees, we can see that some unfruitful churches will be cut down, but God will build the church back from wood (pieces of fallen trees), through the Two Witnesses, the olive trees of Revelation 11:4. In Zechariah 4, they produce oil for all seven candlesticks (churches, Revelation 1:20) when God plants seven trees (churches) in the wilderness. Apparently, God will cause the Two Witnesses to gather a remnant of the torn-down churches, as Haggai describes, and build the latter Temple (church) in a spiritual wilderness—maybe even in a physical one since the rebuilt church flees to the Place of Safety (Matthew 24:16).
Understanding a few biblical symbols can open a whole world of meaning!