Lesson 2: A Theology of God’s Presence (The Architecture of Reality: Sacred Time & Sacred Place in Holy Scripture)


The Architecture of Reality: Sacred Time & Sacred Place in Holy Scripture
Lesson 2 – A Theology of God’s Presence
Wednesday, October 25th, 2023
Christ Covenant Church, Centralia, WA


Father, we thank you for this opportunity to contemplate the many ways in which you are present to us. We ask that you would purge us of thoughts unworthy of You, and inspire praise in us for Your love and goodness. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Review of Lesson 1

Before we get into Lesson 2,let us review and refresh our minds with what we studied in Lesson 1. I will begin by restating the twofold goal/purpose for this class:

  1. To become familiar with some of the most important symbols in the Bible, namely the Tabernacle and Temple (and all that is inside them).
  2. To understand what those signs/symbols signify.

In Lesson 1 we looked at the creation week of Genesis 1 and said that the creation week is the foundational pattern and archetype for everything that comes after. Moreover, the telos or purpose of the creation week is: God building a home so that we can live together with Him. This is signified by the language of God “resting” on the seventh day and inviting man to enter into that rest. Rest signifies communion, fellowship, and friendship between Creator and Creature. And rest is what all of God’s works of creation and redemption are pointed towards (see Hebrews 4).

The two key takeaways from Lesson 1 were:

  1. The Tabernacle and Temple are physical models of spiritual realities. They are types/shadows/figures of something more real and more true (Col. 2:16-17, Heb. 9:23-24, Heb. 10:1).
  2. The Tabernacle and Temple are the places where God makes His special presence to dwell.
    1. As it says in Deuteronomy 16:11 of the Tabernacle, it is “the place which the Lord thy God hath chosen to place his name there.”
    1. Likewise in 1 Kings 8:2 it says of the Temple, “My name shall be there.”


If the whole point of these sacred structures is to teach us something about God’s presence, the next question we should be asking (if we are good theologians) is: If God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, then in what sense is God said to be in the tabernacle, or in the holy place, or inside of us? What does it even mean for God to dwell with us or in us? How do we do justice to all that Holy Scripture makes us to say about God, in that He is both everywhere (omnipresent), and yet in some places (like the Tabernacle/Temple) in some other way? Or as the New Testament says, we are in Christ and Christ is in us, what does that even mean?

It is these kinds of questions that we are going to meditate upon and try to answer over the new few lessons, but we begin this evening with a crash course in how to do theology. That is, I want to walk you through the process of how good theologians arrive at truth based upon divine revelation.

  • We could summarize the work of a theology in the famous maxim, “faith seeking understanding.”
    • That is, by faith we believe what God says simply because God says it (He is supremely trustworthy, our ultimate authority and therefore He gives us maximum certitude). And then because God said it, our will is determined to hold tightly to the truth (we believe and confess, we become Christians!). And then from that position of faith (already knowing what is true because God says so), we start to ask questions and exercise our reason in the light of faith, and we do the hard intellectual work of trying to understand the truths we already believe.
  • That is ultimately what theology is. Faith seeking to understand.
    • One example of this is that we believe that God is Trinity because Scripture tells us God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But exactly how God is Trinity, and in what sense God is three and one, takes enormous amounts of difficult intellectual work to grasp. So by faith we believe God is Trinity, and indeed we are not Christians unless we believe that truth. And then the work of theology is to achieve the diverse causes of these truths (formal, final, efficient, etc.). In theology we are trying to get to the formal explanation for the truths we confess.
  • So for us who are studying God’s presence in the tabernacle and temple, we take Scripture as our point of departure, and try to harmonize and distill everything that Scripture says about God and bring it to bear on one question before us: In what sense (or senses) can we say that God is present?
    • If you were to read your whole Bible with that question in mind, you would come to the conclusion that there are basically three senses in which God is said to be present.
      • 1. God is present in every reality as giving them being (efficient cause). We call this “Common Presence.”
      • 2. God is present in a special way by grace in believers. We call this “Special Presence.”
      • 3. God is wholly present in Christ. We call this the “Hypostatic Union.”
    • So there is Common Presence, Special Presence, and God’s Presence in Christ, and within these three headings/buckets, we can adequately deal with every Bible verse about God’s presence. There might be subdivisions within these three headings, but for all intents and purposes those are the three ways in which God is said to be present in Holy Scripture.
    • Now before we try to understand these three kinds of presence (which we’ll unpack in future lessons), let me first give you proof texts for each. We’ve already read some passage that tell us God is present in the tabernacle and temple. But consider those passages in light of these other ones and think about how you would bucket/heading God’s presence in the tabernacle falls under.

Of God’s Common Presence

  • Acts 17:24-28 says, “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26 And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being…”
  • Isaiah 26:12 says, “Lord, You will establish peace for us, For You have also done all our works in us.”

Of God’s Special Presence in Believers

  • Romans 8:9-11 says, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. 10 And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”
  • John 14:20, 23 says, “At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” And  “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”

Of God’s Presence in Christ

  • Colossians 2:9 says, “For in him [Christ] dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.”
  • John 1:14 says, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”

Question: If those are the three ways in which God is said to be present, under which heading should we place God’s presence in the temple or tabernacle?

  • If God is present everywhere insofar as He causes them to be, we can say that God is present in the tabernacle and temple, just like He is present everywhere else. Of course, God is present there as efficient cause, but that doesn’t give us any insight into the sense of Scripture when it says that “God’s name is there.”
  • Upon further reflection, we discover that God’s presence in the tabernacle/temple is a sign of God’s future presence in Christ (the Incarnation) AND God’s special presence by grace in believers (our union with Christ). And it is this insight which we must keep before us as we meditate on these structures. There is a two-fold signification in these structures, they are shadows of the substance that is Christ and The Church.
  • This is why both Christ and believers are called temples of the Holy Spirit.
    • John 2:19-21 says, “Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. 20 Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? 21 But he spake of the temple of his body.”
    • 1 Corinthians 3:16-18 says, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? 17 If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”

Next Time

In our next lesson, we will work from the ground up to understand these different ways in which God is present. We will consider what it means to say that God is far from us or close to us, etc.