Beale: Reflections on ‘Made with Hands’ vs. ‘Made without Hands’

“Israel’s physical sanctuaries had been ‘handmade’ (Acts 7:44–47) and could never be a permanent dwelling for God. Stephen’s intent in quoting Isaiah 66:1 is to show that, as God’s own hand had created the first world that had become tainted with idolatry (cf.Acts 7:44–47 with 7:41–43 in contrast to 7:50), so God would make a new, everlasting cosmos, not by human hands but by his own hand (so Is. 65:17–19 and 66:22). This explains the reason that Solomon’s temple was not the ultimate fulfilment of the promise about David’s son who would construct for God a temple: Solomon’s temple was ‘handmade’.

In addition to the problem that a human-made structure was an inappropriate home for God’s presence, Israel compounded the problem by making her temples places of idolatry. Since the divine judgment demanded the destruction of idolatrous places and objects (e.g., Exod. 34:14; Deut. 7:5; 2 Kgs. 23:14; 2 Chr. 31:1; 34:4), Israel’s holy places had to be destroyed.

…The stone-mountain of Daniel 2 and the eschatological temple are linked in that both are not made by human hands. Again, it is the New Testament that repeatedly refers to the new, end time temple as ‘not made with hands’. The picture in the Old Testament corresponding closest to this is Daniel’s stone ‘cut out without hands’, referring to a new creational temple.

In this light, it is not surprising that Christ, the true temple, identifies himself with the stone of Daniel (Luke 20:17–18 = Matt. 21:42). Hebrews 9:11 says that Christ entered ‘through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation’ (so also Heb. 9:24).

In this regard, Acts 17:24 states that ‘the God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands’. Paul says this after the great redemptive-historical divide, when Christ and his people had begun to replace Israel’s ‘handmade’ temple. From this point on there could be no human-made structures separating God and his people, in order that he would dwell fully and unfettered with them.

This is the reason that no human can answer affirmatively God’s question in Isaiah 66:1 about his eschatological, eternal dwelling (quoted in Acts 7:49–50), “Where then is a house you could build for Me?” In this respect, it is natural that in the New Testament ‘handmade’ refers to the old creation and ‘made without hands’ alludes to the new creation, most specifically to the resurrection state as the beginning of the new creation.

God’s ultimate goal is to fill every part of his creation with his presence because he is its creator. God’s glorious presence could not dwell completely in the old creation because it was a sin-sullied world. Thus, his special revelatory presence dwelt in a limited way in buildings made by humans. But, when he would fully redeem the world and recreate it, he would dwell in the world in a fuller way than ever before (so Rom. 8:18–25).

Therefore, the new temple would be an everlasting and perfect container for God’s ubiquitous presence because it would be without moral stain and would not be ‘made with hands, that is to say, not of this [old] creation’ (Heb. 9:11). It is for this reason that Revelation 21:22 says, ‘I saw no [structural] temple’ in the new cosmos because ‘the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple’. The earlier sanctuaries that were flawed vessels for holding the divine presence’ are replaced by God and the Lamb in person, so that unrestricted dealings with God are [now] possible.”

-G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, 2004, 375–376

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