The Gospel of John, while the Jewish people are still waiting for the glory of Yahweh to return to His temple, begins with the word, “In the beginning..”
Any faithful Jew would have immediately recognized the book’s introduction as the same introduction to Genesis — the book of beginnings and creation, when God sealed the earth with His presence. John is invoking the Genesis language to get his readers ready for a new story about another beginning, or a new beginning.
Skip down a few verses from that first verse and we see one of our most famous Christmas verses. In the beginning there is this “Word” being, John says. And this Word being is somehow like God, with God, and is God. As a believer you’ve probably quoted John 1:14 at least once…
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
But the Greek word translated as “dwelt” in that verse is eskenosen, which can literally mean “to fix a tent.”
John is saying loud and clear that Jesus Himself is pitching His tent (that is, His holy tabernacle) among us. His body is now the place where Heaven and earth crash together. The temple system has reached its fulfillment and was always a signpost pointing to the great temple Jesus. The glory of God has returned to His temple, and it looks like a Jewish rabbi in Judea. How strange is that?
So John, in just a few verses, is purposely saying things to draw strong echos. Jesus is the new genesis, the beginning of a new creation; and God Himself is pitching His tent with its — to be with His people.
What if we believe that?
Growing up I believed that Jesus was very far away. That He was standing up in Heaven with His arms crossed waiting for me to get it right. Or even if He did show me grace, I imagined Him rolling His eyes, saying, “Ugh, not the same mistake for the twenty thousandth time.”
But John’s words say otherwise. God really does want to dwell with me. He really wants to pitch His tent in my life. And when I continually fall, He says, “Hey, I’m in this for the long haul.” He is God with us, Emmanuel.
In the Gospels, we see Jesus as the walking temple. God in flesh. The dwelling place of God now walking among us. But many of the Jews missed Him. They wanted power more than they wanted love and justice and mercy.
In fact, they went so far as to kill Him. They put God on the cross. We put God on the cross.
You would think God would have reached His tolerance limit and gotten rid of us all. Can you see all the pain and grief from God’s point of view? Just think of a friend or sibling who’s making poor decisions and choices, and how it literally hurts you. Now multiply that by billions, over thousands of years, and that’s the pain we’ve caused God. He could have stayed high and lofty, but he knows love isn’t possible without vulnerability.
So instead of blowing us off the planet after hundreds of years of rebellion, He resurrects Himself from the grave and then sends His very Spirit to dwell in us! It doesn’t get much more vulnerable than that. We can grieve the very Spirit of God because we are now His dwelling place, His temple.
God is forever taking one more step toward us, and every time He reveals Himself it’s in a less guarded way. He wants to make Himself known, and to do that He makes Himself vulnerable.
The other gods seem high, mighty, and untouchable; they leave us to move first, to initiate, to appease them.
But thus God, Jesus says, “No. I’ll go first. I’ll lean in. I’ll risk being hurt. I’ll come down to you.”
And He relentlessly pursues and chases. He shows that sooner or later, love will woo a human heart. Might we lean back into Him?
God in the temple, God in Jesus, and now God in us. And the Scriptures keep going all the way to Revelation 21, where it says we don’t need a temple because God is our very dwelling place.
The conclusion next time…