Previously, we shared a lesson from the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. We learned that Jesus used figurative language as He talked to this Samaritan woman, telling her that He would give her living water so that she would never thirst. This living water referred to the Holy Spirit, which He would send. The Holy Spirit was first given on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and has been continually given to His people until these present days.
This article entitled ‘Worship in Spirit and Truth’ is the following article of HUB teaching on Understanding Figurative Language Used in the Bible.
Understanding Figurative Language Used in the Bible:
Worship in Spirit and Truth
When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:23-24, He said, "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
After Jesus offered her living water, and then told her that she had five husbands, the woman responded by saying “Sir I perceive that you are a prophet,” and asked the question that was dear to her mind. She said, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where you are to worship.”When most of us read this statement by Jesus we think ‘Oh that makes sense,’ and never think any more about it. But what does it mean? As soon as we try to explain it we realize that maybe we do not understand it as well as we thought. Let us begin by exploring the meaning of ‘Worship in Spirit and Truth,’ and take a closer look at the conversation between the Samaritan woman and Jesus found in John 4:19-26.
After Jesus offered her living water, and then told her that she had five husbands, the woman responded by saying “Sir I perceive that you are a prophet,” and asked the question that was dear to her mind. She said, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where you are to worship.”
Before we look at Jesus’ answer, we should first understand the woman’s question. There are two things we should know about her question before we can fully understand it. The first is, “What is meant by the word ‘worship?’” The second, “Why was there a question about where to worship?”
Prophets speak for God
After determining that Jesus was a prophet of God, the first question the Samaritan woman asked Him was whether they needed to come to Jerusalem to worship God? As a prophet, and God’s representative, He was required by God to speak only what was from God.
What is Worship? What is Meant by the Word ‘Worship?’
Throughout the Bible, whether in the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek languages the word that is translated as worship literally means to bow down with one’s head to the ground. The only thing considered true worship was to come bow down in homage, reverence, and respect before God. Worshipers in Israel would bring their gifts to wherever God was, and give them to Him, then bow down prostrate with their face to the ground in homage and respect; this was called worship.
החשׁ shawkhaw’ (Hebrew) worship, to bow down in homage and reverence דגס sawgad’ (Aramaic) fall down, to prostrate oneself in worship דגס segeed’ (Aramaic) worship, to prostrate oneself, do homage, worship προσκυνέω proskyneo (Greek) worship, to bow down, to do homage or make obeisance
Why was There a Question About Where to Worship?
The Jews had long argued that the worship by the Samaritans outside Jerusalem was prohibited by law. To the Jews, worship could only be done at the Temple in Jerusalem. However, the Samaritans believed they could worship at any place that God considered holy.
It is good to remember that the Jews who had returned from the Babylonian Captivity did not allow the Samaritans to help them rebuild the Temple. Nor did they allow the Samaritans to come to Jerusalem during the time of its reconstruction. The Samaritans were worshipers of God too, and worshiped Him even during the time that the Temple was being rebuilt. So later, when the Jews decided that all worship must be at the Temple in Jerusalem, the Samaritans disagreed. This became an area of disagreement between them for years. So the woman asked her question about the issue, where is it acceptable to worship God?
Jesus answered her in a way that she did not expect. He said “Woman believe me the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem worship the father.” (verse 21) What did Jesus mean when He said, “You will no longer worship God on this mountain or in Jerusalem?”
Jesus continued: "The hour is coming and now is, when true worshipers will worship the father in spirit and truth, for the father is seeking such to worship him. God is spirit and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and truth." (verse 23-24)
Jesus was telling the woman that everything was about to change. Jesus made two significant points.
1.) The place of worship was about to change. 2.) Those who came to worship God were about to change.
Those who came to worship God were about to change:
Let us examine the second point first. We already know from the previous study about the living water, that Jesus promised to give the Holy Spirit to those who came to Him. Soon the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Truth) would come and everything would change forever. Those who received the Holy Spirit would change. They would receive a new birth and became spiritual creatures, even though they were still in their natural earthly bodies.
Jesus was telling the woman that soon only those who had been born in the spirit could be true worshipers of God. God was seeking those who became spiritual beings to bow down in their spirits in reverence to Him.
“But you shall seek the place where the LORD your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go.” Deuteronomy 12:5
Where to Worship was About to Change: Ancient Israel needed to worship at the place God chose, whether at Mount Sinai, Shiloh, or Jerusalem. They did not expect God to come meet them, they went to meet God. There the congregation of Israel would gather together before God in worship. Deuteronomy repeatedly told them that when they came into the land, they were to go wherever God chose to place his name and there offer their gifts and worship. Worship elsewhere was not allowed.
“But you shall seek the place where the LORD your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go.” Deuteronomy 12:5
Was Jesus telling the woman at the well that soon they would no longer need to come to a place where God was present? No, that was not what Jesus was saying. When He said, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.” Jesus was telling her that everything was about to change including the place. No longer would they come to worship the Lord at the Temple in Jerusalem, nor a holy mountain. Soon true worshipers of God would be able to come to Mount Zion the city of living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to a temple made without hands. There they would worship Him. Where is that temple?
Worship in Ancient Israel
In ancient days, all the men of Israel were commanded to appear before God (to worship Him) three times a year. (They may come before Him in worship at other occasions as well, but were required to come worship at the three feasts.)
They went to the place where God chose. When they came, they were required to bring gifts to God and not allowed to come empty handed. [See Deuteronomy 16:16] At Passover they brought the firstfruits from the barley and gave them to God. At Pentecost they brought the firstfruits from the wheat, and at the Feast of Tabernacles they would bring gifts of fruit from their vineyards and their orchards.
Deuteronomy 26:1-3 "It shall be, when you come into the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell in it, that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground, which you shall bring from your land that the LORD your God is giving you, and put it in a basket and go to the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide.”
As they gave their gifts they would recite the prayer that Moses taught them to pray, (Deuteronomy 26:5-10) After they said their prayer, they set their gift before God and bowed in worship.
“Then you shall set it (their gift) before the LORD your God, and worship (bow down) before the LORD your God.”
The Spiritual Temple– A Temple Made with Living Stones
The Gospels record that Jesus prophesized that He would destroy the Temple in Jerusalem (a temple made with hands) and build another which we would later understand was God’s Spiritual Temple, made without hands.
"We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.’ Mark 14:58.
The Jews held Herod’s Temple in highest esteem. So much so that when they wanted to kill Stephen (Acts 6) one of the main charges was that he spoke against the temple. "This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us."
Stephen was only confirming the words of the Lord Jesus regarding the destruction of the Herod’s Temple and the changing of where and how to worship.
In his lengthy reply to the charges, Stephen told about how David asked God if he might provide a dwelling place for Him. But it was Solomon who built the house for Him. Stephen summed up by citing Isaiah 66:1-2.
"However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says: ‘Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? says the LORD, Or what is the place of My rest? Has My hand not made all these things?’Acts 7:48-50
The Temple in Jerusalem at time of Christ was called Herod’s Temple. Herod wanted to build the grandest temple ever built by man. So he laid aside funds for the total dismantling and rebuilding of the Temple. Herod spent eight years stockpiling materials for its construction. In 20 BC, they started systematically disassembling the old temple and replacing it with a new grander one. The construction lasted 84 years, and Herod’s Temple was finally complete in 63-64 AD. Herod’s Temple was destroyed completely a few short years later in 70 AD, when Jesus sent the Roman army to kill all those who had rebelled against God; just as Jesus had prophesized "For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.” Luke 21:22
Stephen was clearly saying that God had never dwelt in any Temple made with hands. God did not even dwell in the Temple that Solomon built for Him. However, God honored it and promised Solomon that it would be the place where the people could come to worship and offer prayers to Him. He promised Solomon that His ears would hear prayers made at that Temple. He also promised to destroy that temple if the kings of Israel did not follow Him. (God kept that promise when He had the Babylonians conquer Jerusalem around 587 BC.)
Isaiah already prophesized that God was going to make things new. He would lay a cornerstone in Zion and build His own house. “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; Whoever believes will not act hastily” Isaiah 28:16.
Jesus was that cornerstone, the solid rock which becomes the strength of a building’s foundation. The Jews who believed in Jesus realized that He was the chief cornerstone of whom the prophets foretold; the cornerstone upon which God had chosen to build His house. The Apostles wrote many epistles elaborating on and expanding our understanding of this new temple. Like Isaiah, they described Jesus as the cornerstone, but went on to say that those who believe in Him were living stones being built into that spiritual house. They as spiritual beings, having received a spiritual birth, became living stones in the spiritual house of God.
Whereas the Jews who rejected Jesus did not count Jesus as that precious cornerstone, they refused to become part of God’s house. So the same stone God chose to build His temple would be the means of their destruction. (Read: Matthew 21:42-45)
The presence of God
When we read the New Testament we understand that the Jews met every Sabbath in the synagogues. They gathered together, read from the Law and the Prophets, listened to a message or exhortation taken from those readings, sang praises and hymns, joined together in corporate prayer, and often even ate together. But the ancient Jews did not call any of those things ‘worship!’
Why? Because worship could only be done in God’s presence. Therefore, for centuries, they would journey to Jerusalem and worship God at the Temple, just as their fathers before them had done.
In Peter’s first epistle, he gave words of encouragement to the Jews scattered throughout Asia, who had faith in Jesus Christ. He told them that they were living stones and being built into the spiritual house.
1 Peter 2:4-8 “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, "Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame. Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone, and A stone of stumbling And a rock of offense. They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.”
God was calling the whole house of Israel to Himself. He was ready to dwell with them. God had already laid Christ as the foundation’s cornerstone. He desired the people of Israel to come to His Christ. Those who did come to Christ received the new birth, and became living stones in God’s house. Together they would become the eternal dwelling place of God.
Ezekiel prophesized about this moment when God would make a new covenant with the house of Israel. With this everlasting covenant came the new temple, His eternal sanctuary. God laid the foundation of this temple with Jesus Christ as a precious cornerstone. He would set His sanctuary in their midst.
Ezekiel 37:26-27 "Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
The Apostles as God’s Workmen Built God’s Temple: In Paul’s epistles, he wrote that he, the other Apostles and Prophets were all God’s workmen. They were laborers building God’s Temple. As God’s workmen, they were to disciple the church, and use its members to build God’s Spiritual Temple.
When building any stone building each stone needed to be carefully prepared by the workmen so that it fit exactly where it was supposed to fit. Likewise, God’s workmen needed to carefully shape and mold each member, so they fit perfectly into God’s Temple. The Apostle Paul referred to himself, Apollos, and others whom God had used to establish the church in Corinth in this way:
1 Corinthians 3:9-11 “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
Gentiles who feared God and came to faith in Jesus Christ from any nation, were not segregated from this blessing. Paul wrote to gentile believers in Ephesus and told them that they were no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. They too were being built together for a dwelling place of God.
Ephesians 2:19-22 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
Building God’s Temple was a Serious Task:As God would abide forever in this Spiritual Temple, the workmen needed to do their job well. Paul told the Church of Corinth that the workmen whom God had used to build them into a temple would be judged according to how well they did. He also told them the reason why.
1 Corinthians 3:16,17Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.
If anyone who worked as a worker building God’s temple defiled the temple (taught heresy, led them astray, etc.) God would destroy him. Because God’s temple is to be holy, as God is holy. A church that does not teach apostolic doctrine (teachings as presented by Jesus and His Apostles) has been defiled, and God does not dwell there. “For the temple of God is holy.”
God is Present When True Worshipers Meet: God’s workers (Apostles, Prophets, and others) built the temple. He was with them as they worked. Christians in those days understood that when they came together as a church, God was in their midst. They knew that when they learned God’s words, and His truths, they were being shaped and molded into God’s Holy Temple. They knew if they kept themselves chaste, holy, and pure before God, He would dwell with them. They were confident, knowing that as they gathered together, God was there also.
God’s Spiritual Temple is also the New Jerusalem: The writer of the Book of Hebrews told the Hebrew Christians that even in their day they had already come to the Heavenly (spiritual) Jerusalem. How? This was a mystery among those who were outside, but those who had a spiritual birth comprehended it. All the generations before them dreamed of seeing the New Jerusalem, a city made without hands. (Hebrews 11:13-16) But they did not see it in their lifetime, nor have opportunity to be a part of this city while alive. But those to whom the writer of Hebrews was writing saw and became part of that New Jerusalem while they were still alive.
Hebrews 12:18,19, 22-24For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest,and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore...
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.
The New Testament authors used God’s Spiritual Temple and New Jerusalem somewhat synonymously. When Peter told the Christians Jews that they were living stones being built into God’s Spiritual Temple they understood.
The author of Book of Hebrews used different terms. He said that they had come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God. Hebrews never mentions the earthly or heavenly temple. Instead Hebrew’s author discusses the Tabernacle and the Heavenly Jerusalem. Christian Jews understood both these expressions: God dwells in the Spiritual Temple, and His Holy City. They understood when they came together as a church to worship God, they as citizens of the city had the right to enter into the Heavenly Jerusalem, and worship God.
God’s Spiritual Temple – New Jerusalem the Place of Worship: Finally, we have come to the answer of the question that the Samaritan woman at the well asked regarding where to worship God. True worshipers must worship God in His Spiritual Temple, or in Heavenly Jerusalem (New Jerusalem).
During the same years that the Spiritual Temple and New Jerusalem were being built, the Jews were building their own grandiose Earthly Temple (Herod’s Temple.) The priests oversaw the work while workmen labored. While they built Herod’s Temple the Jews continued worshiping there. In the same way, once the spirit had been given on the Day of Pentecost, God’s people worshiped in His Spiritual Temple even while it was being built.
Since God had not yet annulled the Old Covenant, and so honored His commitment to the people of Israel, the Apostles still came to the Temple and worshiped there when in Jerusalem. Shortly after Herod’s Temple was completed (64 AD,) the Jews killed James the brother of Jesus by pushing him off the pinnacle of the Temple and then stoned and clubbed him to death. The Romans attacked shortly thereafter and the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed together with the city. It was destroyed completely. God’s Spiritual Temple and His heavenly city, New Jerusalem, which God made without hands, still remains.
Let us make it simple!
To the Hebrew mind, the Temple and Jerusalem are somewhat interchangeable. In ancient days, people could either say they went to Jerusalem to worship or they went to the Temple to worship. It meant the same place. (Just as the Samaritan woman did not ask about ‘worshiping in the temple’ but instead asked about worship in Jerusalem, even though worship in Jerusalem was at the Temple.)
Let us who are today’s born again Christians understand this truth.
God’s Spiritual Temple and the New Jerusalem is composed of His people who are born of spirit and truth. It has continued until this day and more people are added to it daily.
When we come together as the church we are entering into God’s Heavenly City, the New Jerusalem.
When we come together as the church and bow down in worship, we are worshiping in spirit and truth.
When we bow down in worship, we have bowed down before God in Mount Zion, in His Holy City.
When we come together as the church and study His Word and learn of Him, we too are being built up on the foundation of the apostles and prophets; Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone. At the same time, we are being built into God’s Spiritual Temple.