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Meditation 14*

The Temple of the Holy Spirit

...built on the foundation of the apostles
and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself
as the chief cornerstone. In Him the
whole building is joined together and
rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.
Ephesians 2:20-21

Pentecost is the feast of the Holy Spirit, but what is it that the Church confesses about the Holy Spirit on that day?

That Spirit was poured out after having been promised by Jesus, poured out from the Father by Christ. This was an outpouring unlike the way He descends even now, just once for all, never to be repeated, in a totally different and unique manner.

He descended with a sound like a rupture and a shaking of the spheres. The light beams and sparks that accompanied all that descended from on high, formed themselves into divided tongues as of fire, hovering over and cleaving to every believer present. The most miraculous of it all was that tongues were released, holy enthusiasm began to glow, the languages of the nations appeared to have become the commonwealth of the Church. Everything turned into praise and worship and in magnifying the holy name of God.

Isn’t this what all of us agree on? These were the facts. These were the wonderful happenings. This is the content of what we tell each other and our children on Pentecost.

But where do we go from here? Surely, we can’t leave it at this? After the birth of that Child in the manger in Bethlehem all kinds of questions arose. Where did this Child come from and why did it come only now. Why was it born in a manger? Similarly with Pentecost the questions multiplied. The spirit of each of God’s children tries to live into the story and relive what this outpouring actually was. They ask why it took place only now and how these happenings relate to the life of our own hearts.

Do not ignore that behind the wonder of Pentecost there lies an entire history during which God laboured in Israel, among the Patriarchs, and as far back as the Garden of Eden. During that period, chosen ones were also saved. Today it can only be due to the Holy Spirit and His descent, when a soul arises from its spiritual death. We thank the Spirit of God and of the Son every time the warmth of faith returns to our own lukewarm hearts that had become lifeless and arid but now have once again revived.

What are we to make of all of this? I will put it this way: It’s one of two things. What if Pentecost was nothing more than a revival of the souls of the believers in the room where this took place? Of what interest would that be to us? Or: This was the one and only outpouring ever of the Spirit; none before, none after. But then, what do you do with Israel and what of the work of the Spirit in our own day?

We know with certainty from John’s Gospel that the second point of the above two is the correct one, not the first. We read, “Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified” (John 7:39). This obviously does not mean that the Holy Spirit was not yet on earth. This is a mysterious statement that always sort of haunts us each time Pentecost comes around.

There is an unavoidable question that the Church constantly struggles to answer on basis of God’s Word: Since the Holy Spirit descended on the Jerusalem’s Pentecost well over 2000 years ago, how can we distinguish its manner of operating before, during and after that wonderful point in time? It is in order to find the answer to that question that we ask for your attention for what is hopefully a short and understandable answer.

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The beneficiaries of the Lord’s salvation that will one day enter into glory are not mere loose individuals that stand on their own without any relationship to other souls. They constitute a community, a body, a people, a flock. All saved and souls yet to be saved together form one whole, they belong together and exist in a relationship to each other established by God. This does not mean that all souls are, can be or must be alike. Not at all, for they differ from each other in every aspect. Just as in the human body a nail is completely different from an eye or a hair from an artery, so also is every member of the Body of Christ different from everyone else, each having their own function and life purpose. But on Pentecost we may not for one moment forget that, regardless of those differences, the saved are all comprehended in that one Body to which we must pay special attention.

The Scripture constantly speaks of this and has basically only two images of the Church, namely those of body and temple. A temple is the insertion of a few stones in the framework of a building that, as per God’s plan, rises high and in which God Himself dwells. But in order to show that the temple image is too mechanical and too external, while the image of body mirrors the deep thoughts of God in a much richer way, the Scripture does not avoid speaking of a temple that rises up (Ephesians 2:21) and of living stones (I Peter 2:5). When you press the point, both expressions really envision a temple as a body, for a body grows, not a temple, and parts of a body can live, but not parts of a temple or building.

The Apostles constantly return to the image of temple, a practice that has its basis in the Old Testament dispensation. When you come right down to it, a temple is merely a shell for an idol, a stone structure in which the idol appears on earth. Relating to that, there was also a temple in Israel, but it was empty, without an idol image, with only the brilliant glory of the Lord filling the roof vaults and arches. That temple was no more than an example; it pointed to Christ, whose flesh and blood would be the real temple in which God would appear on earth. “Temple” is thus the proper term for the dispensation of shadows, while “body” is the natural word for the dispensation of fulfillment. But both terms point to that one great comprehensive fact that the Lord God does not simply turn His chosen into a string of loose pearls, but He gathers them and unites them into a whole as the Church of the living God, the flock of the Good Shepherd, the people of His possession, the host of His saints.

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If we agree on the above, then it should be pointed out in the second place that the Body of Christ, like all bodies, does not only grow but also has its conception, hidden formation and birth. A child has an existence before it is born. According to Psalm 139:15-16, at first, it is wonderfully woven from an unformed clump in its mother’s womb. After that, there comes the moment, still months before its birth, that life creeps into that unformed clump. And after it remains hidden in its secret place a few more months, does it finally exit into the life of the world, begins to breathe on its own and opens its eyes to the light.

The above represents, almost to the smallest detail, the simple and obvious example of the origin and growth of the Body of Christ. The Body was originally born with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but it did definitely not begin its original existence on Pentecost. The birth of that body was preceded by a lengthy hidden existence, enveloped by swaddling clothes and bonds in the shadows, hidden in the mother’s womb. Its existence can be traced back all the way to Paradise. That’s where it was conceived. Since then it developed over the centuries as just an unformed clump. It was not until Abraham’s arrival on the scene that its own movement of life, after slowly developing and strengthening, became noticeable.

However, that Body of Christ, that Body of His Church, made its first public appearance on Pentecost Day. That is to say, until then it remained hidden in Israel’s womb. Thus far, it led an unconscious life without breathing independently, having its own spirit or seeing the full light with its own eyes.

That is exactly what happened on Pentecost. By this time, the Body was prepared and ready, but it still did not have its own breath, its own spirit or, in general, its own full life. That is precisely the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, that the Body of the Church on that day, freeing itself from womb of Israel, appeared on the scene, receiving the breath of life, consciously beginning to move on its own steam and opening its eye to the eternal light.

Foreknown from eternity; conceived at creation; hidden in Israel till it began to move, and then born on Pentecost—there you have, in summary, the birth record of the Body of Christ. From there on, it grew and expanded itself and at the right time, developed and clothed in righteousness and bejeweled with her fineries, shall be introduced as the Groom.

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If we are not deluding ourselves, then this simple disclosure should put an automatic stop to all demurral. For one thing, this shows how already in Israel the Holy Spirit was working in a natural way, while simultaneously it could be said, “Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified” (John 7:39). This is exactly the same as with the child that was not yet born but later was born. Even during its incubation it lives definitely from the air outside, but only through the mediation of its mother. Once it has been born, it breathes directly and it takes in oxygen in its lungs on its own. So the Church of God lived also beforehand in the womb of Israel without experiencing any workings of the Holy Spirit, except those that came to her through the mediation of the national existence of Israel. On Pentecost this working became immediate, direct; the mother’s function had reached its goal and fell away; the Child was born and the Holy Spirit now streamed into the Body itself in order to animate it from within.

Then there is the apparent difficulty in the question about Jesus’ role in the outpouring of the Spirit. That one solves itself just as easily. What was Jesus’ business with this? Is the Holy Spirit not from God? If so, can God the Holy Spirit not come to His Church on His own? Those who speak thus forget one thing: A body once born can breathe only through its head. Before it is born, the fetus obtains oxygen through the mother’s blood, not through its own head but through the mother’s arteries. Thus in earlier days the Holy Spirit could do His work on the Church in which Jesus played no role, but that is no longer the case after the baby is delivered and the Church has arrived on the scene. Do not forget: the Church is the Body, but that Body is unthinkable without the Head and can only breathe, feed, grow and be governed through the Head. In addition, it is impossible to pour breath into the lungs of a child already born, except it opens its mouth, which is, again, located in the head. Similarly, it is unthinkable and impossible for the Holy Spirit to infuse the Body of Christ except through her Head. First, if you will, the Head must breathe in this Spirit and from there it will automatically be poured from the Head through the lungs and arteries into the Body.

This, then, constitutes the outpouring on Pentecost: Through His Ascension Jesus has been appointed Head of His Church. Herewith the moment arrived at which that Church could be delivered from Israel’s womb. Now that this has occurred, two things happen. First, the Head absorbs in Himself and receives the Spirit from the Father. Secondly, He who Himself has breathed in that Spirit and absorbed it, now pours it out into all His members and thus makes it flow throughout His Body.

Thus, on Pentecost, there was not in the least anything external that Jesus sent down. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit was simply out of the Head, through the lungs and arteries, into the Body of the Spirit that He Himself had received from the Father.

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With all this the difference between the Pentecost event and the present working style of the Holy Spirit in us through the ages has become abundantly clear. As the oxygen we breathe in has no effect on the members of the body unless it flows through the body, so also comes the Holy Spirit to us, the members of the Body, only through the Body of the Church. Repeated outpouring of the Holy Spirit is absurd. It is possible that a fetus keeps living without breathing independently, but that is impossible for one already born. After Pentecost, it is wholly impossible for there to be even one moment during which the Holy Spirit would be absent from the Church. That would deprive her of breath and she would be dead. Sometimes the living Spirit may appear to be absent, but in fact never is. Even during times of revival, the Holy Spirit never comes from outside the Church, for He always revives from within the Body.

When your foot grows numb, is perhaps frozen, the warmth of life can only return to that foot from within the body. You can rub it, brush or prick it, but revived life must always come from within the body. And that Spirit comes only from within the Body, out of the Head.

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Thus all difficulties literally disappear; everything becomes clear and transparent. If after this you ask finally for what purpose that Body of Christ stays on earth, well, here’s the ready answer. “Behind the work of the Holy Spirit you will always find the work of the Son, while behind the work of the Son always lays the work of the Father.”

The gathering of the chosen into a Church is thus not as if you find some disparate pieces of cloth which you then sew into a garment. Rather, it is like assembling shards of a piece of ceramics of which you know that, once assembled, they will constitute a beautiful vase. Since it was conceived already prior to Paradise, the image of the whole Church lies in the plan and foreordination of the Father. Each chosen member is not only called into her, but is also naturally inclined to fulfill precisely that spiritual life function in the Body of Christ that is indispensable for the growth of the whole.

Oh, the depth of wisdom and knowledge! Lord, how unsearchable are Your ways! What overflowing comfort for your poor Church! Comfort also for our souls!

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