We witnessed the tragic burning of Notre-Dame in Paris this week. Its construction was begun 859 years ago and took 100 years to complete. 12 million people visit Notre-Dame annually, making it the most-visited monument in Paris. While undergoing renovation and restoration, its roof caught fire and burned for 15 hours, including the destruction of the iconic spire.
Notre-Dame isn’t the first majestic house of God to be destroyed. In 587 B.C. the Babylonians destroyed the temple in Jerusalem built by King Solomon, the place of God’s special presence on earth among his people. That temple was even more grand than Notre-Dame. It had a solid gold interior—its walls and floor covered by 22 tons of gold. Like Notre-Dame, Solomon’s Temple was covered inside and out with pictures and icons. Those carvings were reminders to the people of the Garden of Eden, the original place where God lived with human beings.
When the exiled Israelites returned to Jerusalem, they built a replacement temple. 500 years later, Jesus stood in the shadow of that temple in Jerusalem and said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days. . . . But the temple he had spoken of was his body” (John 2:19, 21). Using this temple language, Jesus prophesied his own death and resurrection, which we are celebrating this week. God’s presence among his people is not now in the Garden or the Temple or any church building, but in the person of Jesus, who has promised to “be with us, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Today, the body of believers is the new temple of God. The tongues of fire on Pentecost Day are mini-manifestations of God's glory taking up residence in his temple through the Holy Spirit (as in Exodus 40:34–38, Leviticus 10:2, and 1 Kings 8:10). We are all now mobile units of God's presence, taking him out into the world and putting him in contact with people, through the power of Jesus’ resurrection.
Notre-Dame was a beautiful building, which I hope can be restored. But it is only a pointer to the true church of God, which is in you.
Built on the Rock the Church doth stand
Even when steeples are falling;
Crumbled have spires in ev’ry land,
Bells still are chiming and calling,
Calling the young and old to rest,
But above all the soul distressed,
Longing for rest everlasting.
Surely in temples made with hands
God, the Most High, is not dwelling,
High above earth His temple stands,
All earthly temples excelling.
Yet He whom heav’ns cannot contain
Chose to abide on earth with men—
Built in our bodies His temple.
Still we our earthly temples rear
That we may herald His praises;
They are the homes where He draws near
And little children embraces;
Beautiful things in them are said,
God there with us His cov’nant made,
Making us heirs of His kingdom.