A newly engaged
couple discuss where they will live after they are married. The bride-to-be
asks her fiancé, “What sort of house are you going to buy me?” This is not an
unusual question. But what if the bride-to-be is wealthy and already has
everything she could want or need? This changes the context of the question
completely; the house is no longer a necessity but serves as a token of love.
When God posed
this question to His chosen people, there was a similar implication:
“Heaven is My
And earth is My footstool.
Where is the house that you will build Me?
And where is the place of My rest?” (Isa 66:1)
God has everything in His possession; what
more can we offer Him?
In recent years,
the True Jesus Church has seen many places of worship spring up across the
globe, as more congregations have acquired buildings for their worship and
evangelism needs. Many see a newly built church as a sign of growth and an
expression of the members’ devotion and commitment. However, the splendor of a
church building does not directly correlate to the spirituality of its
occupants. What matters to God are the hearts of the believers:
“For all those
things My hand has made,
And all those things exist,”
Says the LORD.
“But on this
one will I look:
On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit,
And who trembles at My word.” (Isa 66:2)
When God’s nation
prospers and the borders of His land expand, He is glorified (Isa 26:15). But
is this purely a numbers game, represented by an increase in believers and
churches, or is there more to it? Ultimately, in what ways should the church
grow to bring glory to God?
UNREALIZED PROMISE: THE GLORY OF THE LATTER TEMPLE SHALL BE GREATER
When the exiled
Jews returned to Jerusalem from Babylon, they endured much hardship and had
meager resources with which to rebuild the temple. On its completion, God asked
those who had survived the destruction in 586 B.C. to compare the new temple
with Solomon’s temple. His question was rhetorical because the second temple
obviously paled in comparison to the original (Hag 2:3). But it set the scene
for a prophecy: the glory of the latter temple would be greater than the
former. This was the promise of the Almighty God who would fill the temple with
glory (Hag 2:5–8).
As we know, the
physical temple was eventually destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70, without
God’s prophecy coming to pass. Instead, this prophecy was to be fulfilled
spiritually in the coming of the church (1 Cor 3:16–17; Eph 2:20–22). But how
would the latter temple be greater than the first, and to which epoch of church
history does the prophecy refer?
above, Isaiah 66:1–2 shows that our hearts matter more to God than physical buildings.
The people of God cannot find glory by their own means; God is their glory,
just as He is glorified through His people (Isa 60:19, 21). They are the work
of His hands, created in Christ Jesus for good works (Eph 2:8–10). When Jesus
accomplished His work of salvation on earth, He was glorified and God was
glorified in Him (Jn 13:31; 17:4). In the same vein, those who belong to Jesus
bring glory to Him through their actions (Jn 17:10; 2 Thess 1:11–12). If we
live a Christ-like life by demonstrating good works and godly nature, we
showcase the glory of God. We are glorified in Him, and He in us.
Does the glory of
the latter temple refer to the apostolic church? Without a doubt, the apostolic
church started with a bang when the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost (Acts
2). As Jesus had prophesied, the kingdom of God was established with power (Mk
9:1). However, the church gradually became institutionalized and deviated from
the truth as heresies crept in. The Holy Spirit eventually departed and no longer
dwelled with the secularized church. Nevertheless, God’s will cannot be
Isaiah and Micah spoke of how the mountain of God’s house would be established
and exalted above the hills (Isa 2:2–4; Mic 4:1–3). These prophecies point to the
glory of the future church, to which all true believers will stream. This is
realized in the True Jesus Church, which was established by the Lord Jesus
through the Holy Spirit in the time of the latter rain, and is the restored
However, by no
stretch of the imagination could we describe the present church as having
surpassed the glory of the apostolic church. During a recent spiritual
convocation, a preacher cited the example of an exemplary church where brethren
and truth-seekers gathered for a whole week to study the truth from morning to
midnight. He also testified of a third-generation True Jesus Church member who
rejuvenated his faith by joining a missionary trip to Africa. Witnessing God’s
work firsthand inspired this brother to truly believe in God for the first
time. We view these two examples as rare occurrences today, but such
experiences were commonplace in the apostolic time.
A cursory look at
the early apostolic church, the model church, reveals what the glory of God
looks like (Acts 2:40–47). The members were steadfast in the apostles’
doctrine; they continued daily with one accord and had everything in common so
that no one lacked anything; they feared God and possessed gladness and
simplicity of heart. As a result, God blessed them with wonders and signs,
adding to their numbers daily.
Many in the West,
including True Jesus Church members, have never experienced events like those
mentioned in the Book of Acts. To them, God is remote, only to be discovered in
the distant past or in a far-off land. In the prophet Jeremiah’s time, he had
to convince his countrymen that God was not just the God of Israel, but also
the all-powerful God of the universe (Jer 23:23). Today, it is the reverse: we
need to persuade our members that God is not just the ruler of the heavens far
away, but is also nearby and personal. We can experience Him right here and now
without the need to go abroad. So what is stopping us from knowing God
intimately and being inspired to glorify Him through our actions?
A LACK OF URGENCY
truly believed that the second coming of Jesus would occur in their lifetime.
Before Jesus’ ascension to heaven, they asked Him, “Lord, will You at this time
restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). The imminence of God’s kingdom was
never far from the apostles’ minds. Jesus preached that the kingdom of God was
at hand and that some of the apostles would witness its arrival (Mk 1:15; 9:1).
Paul wrote, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand” (Rom 13:12a), and even
encouraged those who had wives to be “as though they had none” because time was
short (1 Cor 7:29). Luke notes, before sharing the parable of the minas, that
his contemporaries thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately (Lk
19:11). In hindsight, we know that their thinking was incorrect. But today, the
pendulum has swung the other way.
A branch of
eschatology known as “realized eschatology” holds that the New Testament
passages discussing the last days do not refer to the future, but to the rebirth
of the world, instituted by Jesus’ ministry, and His lasting legacy. This line
of thinking is attractive to liberal Christians who focus only on the love and
goodness of God while disregarding His judgment. Such a view is contradictory
to the Bible and the beliefs of the true church. However, some True Jesus
Church believers behave as though they agree with this type of theology, going
about their lives as though Jesus’ second coming will never happen. For them,
now is the time to be rooted in the world. God can wait; the church can wait;
spiritual cultivation can wait; and Christ’s second coming can wait. Such
believers feel no sense of urgency whatsoever.
ourselves? We often prioritize our life and work, and allocate any remaining
time and energy to church. When our personal schedule clashes with the church
timetable, it is usually our service to God that suffers. How many times have
we skipped church services or rushed off early because of private or work
engagements? Church projects are delayed and deadlines missed. Yet, we defend
our actions by stating that we are mostly volunteers, after all. Surely, such
delays are inevitable.
is not new. When the exiles returned to Jerusalem, they busied themselves with
building their own homes and livelihoods, while God’s house lay in ruins (Hag
1:4). Paul reminded the members to set their minds on things above (Col 3:2),
knowing that those with families would always put the latter before God (1 Cor
7:33). John likewise exhorted believers, “Do not love the world” (1 Jn 2:15).
We need to reset our life’s direction and reignite our zeal for the coming
kingdom. Paul’s heavenly hope enabled him to experience the power of renewal (2
Cor 4:16). The early church was devoted to God’s teaching and fellowship (Acts
2:42, 46). Luke used the term προσκαρτερέω (proskartereó), which is translated
as “devote, continuing, steadfast, persevere and be constantly diligent.” If we
reawaken this desire to draw near to God (Jas 4:8), then God will manifest
Himself to us, just as He did in the apostolic church.
A LACK OF LOVE: SELF-CENTEREDNESS
that the love of many would grow cold in the last days because of deception,
betrayal, hate and the increase of lawlessness (Mt 24:4–12). Today, we
constantly hear news of terrorist attacks, scams, social injustice, and
allegations of misinformation. We simply do not know what or whom to trust.
Individuals take a defensive stance to safeguard their own interests, as well
as to protect themselves and their families from harm. In the last two decades,
society has been trending towards self-centeredness. Reality television and
social media sway the public towards narcissism and exhibitionism, rewarding
the individual’s pride and vanity. Paul called these people of the end time
“lovers of themselves” and “lovers of money” (2 Tim 3:2).
extreme behavior is rare in the church, an insidious sense of apathy towards
the needs of others and the common good of the community can creep into the
congregation. This is one of the greatest dangers in the end time—the growing
apathy and disinterest towards our brethren. Some members are only interested
in their own matters, doing the bare minimum for the church and leaving the
“heavy lifting” to the ministers and church board members.
is the complete opposite to Jesus’ nature. He took the form of a bondservant,
the likeness of man, humbling Himself and becoming obedient to the point of
death (Phil 2:7–9). He became poor so that we could become rich (2 Cor 8:9). We
should emulate this self-sacrifice. We need to progress from being unlike
Christ to “Christ-lite,” and, eventually, to Christ-like. Paul exhorted the
Ephesian members to transition from merely learning about the theoretical
aspects of being like Christ to actually becoming like Him, by putting on the
new man in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:20–24). True righteousness is
not accomplished through word alone, but also action. And even when we carry
out acts of righteousness and love, we do not do it to gain admiration from
others (1 Jn 3:18; Rom 12:9). God is love; hence, we should abide in His love
(1 Jn 4:16). We imitate His love by loving our brethren and serving the church,
both of which often require self-sacrifice (1 Jn 4:20–21). While doing such
acts, we do not expect repayment; rather, we love and serve because Jesus did
the same. If we manifest His love to others, then He is glorified (Mk 10:45; 1
apostolic church was blessed by God. He increased their number daily and gave
them signs and wonders because they knew how to love, share and give (Acts
2:44–45). Today, we encounter many obstacles to our growth, but often, we set
up our own roadblocks. We have insufficient manpower, insufficient funds for
church buildings, and insufficient numbers of volunteers dedicating themselves
to full-time ministry. These result from self-centeredness, because we care for
ourselves and our families more than we do for the body of Christ. We need to
learn from the early church’s spirit of offering, trusting that the Lord will
provide and will multiply the seeds we sow and the fruits of our righteousness
(2 Cor 9:10).
A LACK OF PURITY
efforts of God’s people did not produce a magnificent second temple (Hag 2:3).
But God did not associate their failure with a lack of material resources; after
all, gold and silver belong to Him. The disappointing outcome was a product of
their uncleanness (Hag 2:13). As a result, fifty measures became twenty, and
twenty became ten (Hag 2:16). Their effort was ineffective because they did not
turn to God and set their heart on Him (Hag 2:17–18).
We can clearly
see how God responded to Israel’s uncleanness and half-heartedness. During
those times, the Israelites suffered much loss. When the people turned from
God, Moses warned them not to fight the Amalekites and the Canaanites because
God was not with them. They did not listen and suffered defeat (Num 14:43, 45).
Later, they would again be defeated by the men of Ai because of the sin of one
person, Achan (Josh 7:5, 11–13).
When a church is
not progressing, her members should reflect on why that might be. The church
could be lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, like the church in Laodicea. God
described the Laodiceans as poor, blind and naked (Rev 3:16–17): poor because
they were spiritually impoverished; blind because they could not see their
faults (Rev 3:18); and naked because they lacked good deeds and righteousness
(Rev 16:15; 19:8). The prosperity of a church does not depend on her material
wealth and the grandeur of the building, but on her spiritual vitality. A
spiritually vibrant church is able to project her faith within her four walls
and beyond, serving as an example for others to follow (1 Thess 1:8). The three
greatest Christian attributes are faith, love, and hope (1 Cor 13:13); and
these intangible attributes are manifested in the form of work, labor, and
patience (1 Thess 1:3).
The author of
Hebrews exhorts the believers to regain their spiritual vitality and
“strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees” (Heb 12:12–13).
The way to do this is to pursue holiness (Heb 12:14). God is holy, so He
expects His people to be holy (1 Pet 1:15–17); but when His children are
stiff-necked and corrupt, He will not dwell with them, lest He consume them (Ex
33:3–5; 32:7–9). To become holy, we need to control our minds and be obedient
(1 Pet 1:13–14). He who sanctifies himself will be considered a “vessel for
honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work” (2
Tim 2:20–21). A sanctified church will be blessed with God’s abidance and
power, which bring forth fruits of righteousness, to the glory and praise of
God (Phil 1:11).
HOW CAN WE BECOME A GLORIOUS
When we reflect
on our spiritual state and that of the church, it can seem a long way off from
the glorious latter temple that God foresaw. We want to dedicate our life to
God, but we are easily distracted. We want to believe, but our faith is
insufficient. We want to love, but we only love those who love us (Mt 5:46). We
proclaim that we uphold the truth, but we tread the same path as the Jews, who
prided themselves on knowing the Law but failed to instruct themselves in it
(Rom 2:20–24). Love, hope, faith and purity are the key building blocks of our
belief. But the greatest danger for believers today is not practicing what they
preach, and know, to be the truth. Belief is tainted with disbelief (Mk 9:24),
actions are inhibited by procrastination, and our desire to draw near to God is
hindered by our love of this world (Mt 13:22).
We need to
overcome this inertia by not just knowing or doing God’s will, but by
transforming and renewing our minds (Rom 12:2). Knowing the truth is important,
but we focus more on knowledge at the expense of action. Doing good is
important, but we do it inconsistently, sometimes reluctantly. This attitude
can only get us so far.
prophesied that in God’s holy mountain, the church, there would be no pain. The
wolf, bear, lion and leopard will become harmless—not because they are tamed,
but because they are transformed (Isa 11:6–10). In the same vein, Paul exhorts
the believers to be renewed in spirit, to put off the old man and put on the
new man created in righteousness and true holiness (Eph 4:22–24). But where do
we get the motivation to transform? We are motivated by God’s love.
Paul was deeply
touched by God’s love, as he viewed Christ’s death from a personal perspective:
“[Christ] loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2:20). Again, he writes:
For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if
One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live
should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose
again. (2 Cor 5:14–15)
Paul’s love for
God is demonstrated by his “earnest desire” and “groan[ing]” to be with Christ
(Phil 1:23; 2 Cor 5:2; Rom 8:23). We need to have this same desire in order to
be transformed by the love of Christ.
Can we experience
the same love that transformed Paul? Absolutely! God has given us His Holy
Spirit, the same Spirit who transformed Paul. By this Spirit, the love of God
has been poured out in our hearts (Rom 5:5). We simply need to open our hearts
and allow God’s love to be poured in and to overflow. The Holy Spirit has not
only allowed us to imbibe God’s love, but His transforming power has also set
us free from sin (Rom 8:1–2). The word of God can sanctify us, but we need
God’s power to carry out the word and to obey the truth by which our souls are
purified (Jn 17:17; 1 Pet 1:22). With this transformation, God’s law is
imprinted on our hearts and minds (Jer 31:33). With our fleshly heart sensitive
to God’s love, we will be saved from defilement (Ezek 36:26–27, 29). If we
fulfill His goodness and the work of faith with power (2 Thess 1:11–12),
practicing brotherly love with purity and sincerity, then Jesus will be
glorified in us, and us in Him.
When the first
temple was completed, God made His presence felt by filling the temple with His
glory (1 Kgs 8:11). In the apostolic church, God’s glory was manifested
inwardly in the unity of the believers, their fellowship, gladness, simplicity
of heart, and their steadfast adherence to the apostles’ teachings. Outwardly,
God’s glory was manifested in selfless sacrifice, signs and miracles, praises
to God, and the steady increase of believers (Acts 2:40–47).
When many accept
the grace of the gospel, their thanksgiving abounds to the glory of God (2 Cor
4:15). If we wish to see Haggai’s prophecy realized, then we need to have the
same conviction as Paul, who, quoting Psalm 116:10, writes: “I believed and
therefore I spoke” (2 Cor 4:13). The early church flourished not because the
members were eloquent or well-versed in the Scriptures, but because they played
their part in propagating the gospel. Ordinary believers took the initiative to
spread the word without waiting for instruction. They took up the ministry to
preach to the Greeks and the hand of God was with them, bringing many to
believe (Acts 11:19–21). Their devotion, obedience, liberal sharing and
selfless service did not go unnoticed, so God was glorified in all things (Acts
2:46; 2 Cor 9:13; 1 Pet 4:11).
His believers that they would go on to do greater works than He has done (Jn
14:12). The prophecy of the Bible is not a futile hope; the glory of the latter
temple will surely surpass that of the first temple, but only when we revive
the zeal for God’s coming. We should “groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting”
for it, with perseverance (Rom 8:23, 25). With this renewed focus and
transformed mind and heart, we shall willingly dedicate our life to God (Rom
12:1–2). If we can lead this holy and selfless life, steadfast in the teaching
of the Bible, God will manifest His glory in our life and in the church.