Filled With His Presence

The priests then brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim. The cherubim spread their wings over the place of the ark and overshadowed the ark and its carrying poles. 

When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.

1 Kings 8:6-7, 10-11

Solomon had just spent seven years building a magnificent temple for the Presence of the Lord. The whole thing was made of cut stone blocks and cedar. The entire inside of the temple, the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place, were covered in gold. Most of the objects in the outer courtyard were made of cast bronze.

Once the temple was completed, Solomon ordered the priests to bring in the ark of the covenant. First they gathered the people, and then they sacrificed so many sheep and cattle to the Lord that their number couldn’t be counted. Finally, the ark was placed into the Most Holy Place. When the priests left the Most Holy Place and the Holy Place, the glory of the Lord filled the temple.

The Presence and power of the Lord came with such intensity that the priests couldn’t re-enter the Holy Place to perform their services. Here is how the writer of 2 Chronicles describes it:

…the glory of the Lord filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord…

2 Chronicles 7:1-3

Their natural response to the Presence of God coming in power was to drop to their knees, bow their faces to the ground, and worship the Lord. Sometimes God shows up gently and brings us peace and comfort. Yet, other times God shows up with ferocity, and when He does we might find ourselves on the ground. It’s probably best to stay there and worship Him in a posture of submission and humility.

Some Christians today have trouble with phrases like “God showed up in power” or “She was filled with the Spirit.” They tend to push back against this language saying things like, “Isn’t God always present?” Or, “How can you be filled with the Spirit if you already have the Spirit in you? Do you get more of the Spirit? Is He like a liquid?”

These responses reveal a misunderstanding about God’s Presence. We could ask the same questions about Solomon’s temple. Scripture says that “the glory of the Lord filled his temple.” Wasn’t God’s Presence already there in the temple? God is omnipresent after all. How could God fill the temple if He was already there? And why did the priests react so dramatically?

What this scene shows us is that, while God is always present, He can, at times, increase how much of His Presence is tangible or manifest. Theologians sometimes call this God’s “manifest presence.” This is sort of a measurement of how much of God’s Presence breaks through the veil between the spirit realm and the physical realm. The tangible Presence of God (or manifest Presence of God) can increase and decrease based on the environment. Because of this, our bodily reaction to God’s tangible Presence can change based on its intensity.

This is why Paul commanded the Christians in Ephesus to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). He wasn’t commanding them to become Christians again by accepting the Holy Spirit into their lives. He was commanding them to allow the Spirit to take over more of their lives. He was telling them to allow the Presence of God within them to become the tangible or manifest Presence of God within them. When we are filled with the Spirit there is naturally going to be an overflow, and this overflow will affect the people around us. Being filled with the Spirit will often, though not always, cause physical manifestations of the Holy Spirit in our body that are beyond our control.

As followers of Jesus we need to accept the fact that God’s tangible Presence, and the Holy Spirit’s tangible Presence, will increase and decrease based on the situation we are in. It doesn’t mean God wasn’t there in one moment and that He is there in the next. But it does mean that God will increase or decrease how much of His Presence we will tangibly experience at any given time. This is what James was trying to explain when he wrote:

Come near to God and he will come near to you.

James 4:8

We know, of course, that God is alway near. James is talking about the tangible Presence of God here. If we draw near to God with hearts and minds that are worshiping, we will often experience an increase in the tangible Presence of God drawing near to us.

Torn

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Mark 15:37-39

The Temple had three main parts to it. First, the priests would put burnt offerings on the bronze altar in the courtyard. The courtyard is also where they would then wash with water in the wash basin made of polished bronze mirrors.

Then they would go from the courtyard into the second part of the Temple: the Holy Place. The Holy Place had gold plating all over the walls. There weren’t any windows in there, so the whole place was illuminated by the burning lamps on the lampstands. In addition to the lampstands, there was also the golden table that held the bread of Presence and the altar of incense just in front of the large curtain at the front of the room. They would burn incense every morning and every evening on the small altar of incense as a symbol of prayers going up continually before the Lord.

The priests would keep the lamps burning, light the incense morning and night, and replace the bread of Presence every sabbath, but they would never go beyond the curtain. Only the High Priest could go beyond the curtain into the Most Holy Place, and he would only do it once a year on the Day of Atonement. The very Presence of God was resting on the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place. To enter in an unsanctified way without permission would have resulted in the priest dropping dead before our awesome and holy God.

When Jesus paid the price on the cross for our sin, He forever removed the separation between us and God. That curtain between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place was torn in two from top to bottom. The people were no longer separated from God, and God was no longer separated from the people. “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ”(2 Corinthians 5:19).

And now, not only can we approach the throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16), but God Himself has busted out of the Most Holy Place to establish a new Temple. Paul reminds the Corinthian Christians, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?”(1 Corinthians 3:16).

The new Most Holy Place, where the very Presence of God dwells, is our spirit. Our spirit “marries” and becomes one with the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17).

The new Holy Place is our soul–our mind, will and emotions. Our mind is the new altar of incense where our thoughts and prayers continually rise to the Father (Colossians 3:2; Philipians 4:8) . Our will is the new bread of Presence as we get nourished by doing the Father’s will, not our own (John 4:31-34). Our heart/emotions are the new lampstands giving light to the rest of our soul. The “eyes of our heart” become “enlightened”(Ephesians 1:19) and the purity of the oil burning in our heart gives us eyes to see God (Matthew 5:8).

The new courtyard is our body, the place we offer our bodies as a “living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God”(Romans 12:1). This is the place where we are not only forgiven of our sin but also “cleansed from all unrighteousness”(1 John 1:9) as we are “washed with water through the word”(Ephesians 5:26).

The curtain tearing from top to bottom not only gave us full access to God, but gave Him full access to us. “You are not your own; you were bought at a price”(1 Corinthians 6:19-20). In Christ, you are a Temple of the Holy Spirit, the new Temple of the Living God.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thessalonians 5:23