During His earthly ministry, Jesus Christ never utters the words for “idol” and “idolatry.”
My friend Rev. Bill Dennison pointed out this omission a few days ago. What makes it so intriguing is that idolatry is mentioned many times and in many ways throughout the Hebrew Bible. And idolatry comes up again later, repeatedly, as the Gospel spreads in the New Testament Apostolic church.
Why is that?
To try to see what God means with this, here’s the way: first we go back, and then we go forward. Back again to the garden, where God created Adam and Eve in His own image. In the image of God He created him; male and female He created them (Gen. 1:27). And God placed these perfect images, formed by the power of His Word, into the first Temple of the Garden, a place of the perfect communion of worship, where there was no sin of idolatry.
But this perfect worship would not last. The evil one entered the Temple, tempting Adam and Eve to exchange the truth of God for a lie, and to worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever (Rom. 1:25).
With this one devastating event, war between the two kingdoms, of God and of Satan, began to rage. The image of God in humankind was corrupted, and so also the Temple. Humankind could no longer stay there, so the Lord drove our first father and mother out. And at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life (Gen. 3:24).
But hope was not lost.
As sin and death spread across the world God had made,
though Satan attempted many times over to snatch God’s people from His hand,
the Triune God began calling His people forward to the defeat of the kingdom of Satan and the restoration of God’s perfect presence among His people.
Though this revelation was in words, not images (Deut. 4:12), God in His kindness gave Israel a foretaste of His physical presence in a cloud and in fire.
He appeared to the prophet Moses, to the elders, to Joshua.
He recreated for Israel the Temple of the Garden, first in the Tabernacle in the wilderness and then in Solomon’s Temple.
His Holy Presence filled these sacred spaces, on earth as in heaven.
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.Exodus 40:34, 1 Kings 8:10–11
It happened that when the priests came from the holy place, the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.
And all the while, God reminded Israel, many times over, that they should not follow in their father Adam’s footsteps. They must never again make a graven image, for God cannot be formed by human hands (Ex. 20:4-5).
This was perhaps nowhere more important than in the Temple. We see this when the Spirit of the Lord takes Ezekiel in a vision to Jerusalem. There, Ezekiel enters and looks. And “behold, every form of creeping things and beasts, detestable things, with all the idols of the house of Israel, were carved on the wall all around” (Ez. 8:7-10).
Yet again, Israel had welcomed the evil one into a sacred space. And what was the result? The glory of the Lord departed from the threshold of the temple (Ez. 10:18).
There are many other places where God condemns the idols of men, symbols of allegiance to Satan’s kingdom. At times God removed His presence, divorcing an unfaithful people (see Isa. 40:18–25, Jer. 10:2–5, Mal. 2).
So idolatry is a significant theme in the Hebrew Bible. But having gone back, now we go forward. On to Jesus Christ, when God’s revelation in words takes on flesh.
Look closely here at what God teaches us through the Apostle John! In Jesus Christ, the Temple took on flesh and pitched His tent among us, the Last Adam in the flesh of the New Temple (Jn 1:14). As Jesus says,
“Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9, 8:19, 12:44ff).
So why does Jesus not mention idolatry?
As Bill Dennison explained as we worked through this, God in Human Flesh on earth is “a face to face confrontation with the two spiritual entities,” the two spiritual kingdoms at war. His point is made beautifully explicit in Micah 1:2–3, which envisions the Lord coming down from “His holy abode,” from “His dwelling-place” to “stride upon the heights of the earth.”
In the Messiah’s presence, then, by His work, we meet the victory over the evil one, over all idols. Even more, we meet the Temple into which no idol can enter, against which no idol of the kingdom of Satan can stand.
And now, made one with Christ in His death and resurrection, like Adam and Eve we reside in the Perfect Temple of Christ’s Body. As He filled the Temple with the cloud of His glory, God’s presence now fills us through the power of His Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16). We join in Christ’s victory against the evil one who still crouches at the door, as he did in the days of Adam and Eve (Gen. 4:7).
In the light of Jesus’s glorious victory, guard, then, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in you, the treasure which has been entrusted to you (2 Tim. 1:14).
What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.2 Corinthians 6:16
For look here, what vision Ezekiel gives us of Christ’s victory now and at His return, pictured here in King David.
Look what hope Ezekiel offers in God’s name, even now, of the place Jesus has prepared for us, when the Lord’s sanctuary will be in our midst forever.
They will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them.Ezekiel 37:24-28
They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons’ sons, forever; and David My servant will be their prince forever.
I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them.
And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever.
My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever.