The Temple of God in the Book of Revelation -- By: R. Larry Overstreet

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 166:664 (Oct 2009)
Article: The Temple of God in the Book of Revelation
Author: R. Larry Overstreet

The Temple of God in the Book of Revelation

R. Larry Overstreet

R. Larry Overstreet is Professor Emeritus of Pastoral Theology, Northwest Baptist Seminary, Tacoma, Washington.

Christians in the seven churches of Asia who received the Book of Revelation confronted pagan temple worship daily. People in Ephesus worshipped Artemis in a majestic temple. Smyrna, with its Caesar-cult, built the second Asian temple to the emperor Tiberius. Pergamum’s Caesar-cult held the honor of building the first temple dedicated to Tiberius, in addition to its worship of Aesculapius (also spelled Asklepios) and Zeus. The main deity of Thyatira was Apollo. Ruins of the great temple of Artemis at Sardis, fashioned after the one in Ephesus, speak to its former splendor. Philadelphia was called νεόκορος (“temple warden”) because of its connection with the emperor worship cult. Laodicea was built near the temple of Men Karou, a high god in the local pantheon. In contrast, Revelation emphasizes the temple of the true and living God, including characteristics of this temple that served as poignant reminders to readers of their position before God in their daily lives.

This article first examines elements of the pagan worship in the cities of the seven churches of Revelation. An overview of the references to God’s temple in the book comes second, stressing significant distinctions between God’s temple and pagan temples. Areas of interpretive interest are also considered, culminating in a discussion of the apparent discrepancy of Revelation 21:22 with the other temple texts in the book.

Temple Worship In The Seven Cities

A brief survey shows the contrast between what was visible in the different earthly communities and in God’s temple.

Temple Worship In Ephesus

The seven cities of Revelation 2-3 are arranged in the order a traveler might visit them, starting at Ephesus, and following a somewhat circular route going northward, then east, and finally south. It began at Ephesus since that city was the largest and most influential of the cities in that area.

The population of Ephesus in New Testament times was approximately 200,000.1 The Greek geographer Strabo (64 B.C.–A.D. 24) called Ephesus “the greatest emporium in Asia.”2 Although several temples stood in the city, the temple of Artemis dominated its religious culture (cf. Acts 19...

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