Temples and Sacred Space
Temples and Sacred Space – an Introduction. Part One.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often erroneously called the “Mormon Church”) is known for its temples. With approximately 150 temples being used or under construction worldwide, these sacred locations have interested the general public for generations. Different than our local chapels and churches, only worthy members of the LDS Church are allowed into the temple to perform important ordinances and make covenants with the Lord.
Sacred Space – The Garden of Eden
The modern LDS temple is loosely based upon many of the key concepts of ancient temples and sacred places. From the days of Adam downward, mankind has sought special places or sanctuaries to worship and approach the Lord.
The first sacred place was the Garden of Eden. In the Garden, Adam and Eve were able to dwell in a pristine and beautiful place, where God could call on them and they could see Him. In music, film and art, modern man often envisions Eden as the place where mankind seeks to return.
After Adam’s transgression and the Fall, mankind was no longer in the presence of the Lord. Flowers, trees and shrubs were infested with thorns and thistles. Man had to work by the sweat of his brow. He no longer was in a sacred space created by God, and so found himself needing to create a makeshift place.
Sacred Space – Altars in the Wilderness
Outside of God’s presence, Adam saw the need to make his own special place where he could worship and try to communicate with God. Adam built an altar, and offered animal sacrifices upon it, as he was commanded to do by the Lord prior to being cast out of the Garden. In modern scripture, we read,
“And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me” (Book of Moses 5:6).
The angel then explained to Adam that his sacrifices were symbolic of the sacrifice Jesus Christ would make in the future for all mankind. Animal sacrifice was instituted to prepare mankind to accept the atonement of Christ, which would provide the means for mankind to return back into the presence of God.
After Adam, the other patriarchs in the Bible continued for thousands of years to offer animal sacrifice to the Lord. Perhaps the most noted sacrifice was Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. Commanded of the Lord to sacrifice his only begotten son, Abraham obediently and faithfully complied. He prepared the wood and pack animals and immediately set out to the mountainous wilderness. When Isaac asked what would they sacrifice, for they did not bring a lamb, Abraham explained that the Lord would provide. According to the tradition, Isaac did not struggle against his father when he was bound to the stone altar, but went willingly. Only then did the Lord’s angel appear and provide a ram, as a symbolic replacement for Isaac. In this instance, we see the future symbol of God offering his Only Begotten Son for all mankind.
In a dream as he slept in the wilderness, Jacob saw a staircase with angels walking up and down it. At the top of the stairs, he saw the Lord sitting on his throne. When he awoke, he realized how sacred of a place it was. He set up the stone he used as a pillow as an altar in the wilderness and anointed it with oil, consecrating the spot as a holy place. He named it Beth-El, or House of God (Genesis 28).
Sacred Space – Sinai
With the enslaved Israelites in Egypt, the Lord provided a rescue. Moses became a symbol of Christ, who leads all men out of the slavery of worldly Egypt, and takes them to the Land of Promise. For Moses, one of the most important parts of this journey was to stop at Sinai. There, where Moses first beheld God in a burning bush, the prophet would again speak with God. In fact, Moses desired that all of Israel make itself worthy to enter into God’s presence at the top of the mount. Most of Israel refused, insisting Moses speak to God on their behalf. In his various trips upon Sinai, Moses not only received the Ten Commandments by the hand of God, but he and others saw God.
“Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel:
And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.
And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink” (Exodus 24:9-10).
Sacred Space – The Tabernacle of Moses
Knowing that the children of Israel would not be remaining at the sacred space at Sinai, the Lord commanded Moses to create a portable Tabernacle, or House of God, as a sacred space and spiritual sanctuary (Exodus 25-27). This holy tent was made in such a way that these semi-nomadic people roaming the wilderness could take it down and carry it with them from place to place.
The innermost room was called the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence dwelt. It was separated from the rest of the Tabernacle by a sacred veil. Inside the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant. This was a golden box with the Mercy Seat of God on top. The seat was shrouded by the wings of two golden cherubim, warrior-angels of God. Unlike Egyptian and other nations’ temples, there were no statues of God in the Tabernacle, as God’s likeness was not to be reproduced for worship. Instead, Israel was to worship the “invisible” God, who sat between the cherubim on the Mercy Seat.
In the room outside the Holy of Holies of this portable sanctuary stood other sacred items: the table of shewbread, and the candlestick or Menorah. The table of shewbread had bread and wine upon it, and represents the Savior Jesus Christ, and his atoning sacrifice. The bread represents both the “Bread of Life-manna” that God gave to the people of Moses, and the “Bread of Life-Christ”, who saves all mankind. Today, Christians partake of the Sacrament/communion in memory of Jesus’ sacrifice.
The Menorah represents the light of the Holy Ghost. As we approach nearer to God, it lightens the way for us, preparing us to enter into God’s full presence.
So, the Tabernacle is representative of the Godhead members and our entrance into their presence as we prepare ourselves to enter.
Sacred Space – the Holy Robes of the Priesthood
Holy garments were made for Aaron and his sons, as priests of the Tabernacle: “these are the garments which they shall make; a breastplate, and an ephod, and a robe, and a broidered coat, a mitre, and a girdle: and they shall make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, and his sons, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office” (Ex 28:4).
The breastplate was an ornamental metal piece worn over the breast. The breastplate on Aaron’s garment held 12 stones which represented the Tribes of Israel, and together made the Urim and Thummim, a device used to receive revelation from God. Aaron and his sons would have to be in the temple and wearing their holy garment in order to receive revelation via the Urim and Thummim.
“And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and they shall be upon Aaron’s heart, when he goeth in before the Lord: and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the Lord continually” (Ex 28:30).
The ephod was a linen apron. While most would imagine that all of the priest’s clothing would be white, the ephod or apron was an “ephod of gold, of blue, and of purple, of scarlet, and fine twined linen, with cunning work” (Ex 28:6). The girdle was a long rope of linen that wrapped around the waste to hold the ephod and robe in place. Linen breeches were made as an under garment, “thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach” (Ex 28:42). The outfit included the robe and an embroidered outer coat. The mitre was a hat or bonnet that represented a crown, and had Jehovah’s name written in it.
We find that the tabernacle priests’ robes had a cosmic significance to them. Aaron’s robes did not just represent all of Israel, but according to the ancient text Wisdom of Solomon we read, “upon Aaron’s garment was the whole universe” (Wis.18:24).
The ancient historian, Philo taught,
“Now such was the raiment of the high priest; and both it and its parts have a meaning which must not be passed over in silence. For the whole is in fact a representation and copy of the cosmos, and the parts are representations of its several portions” (Philo, Life of Moses II.117).
Josephus explained that “the tunic of the high priest signifies the earth since it is made of linen, and the blue color signifies the vault of heaven… And I believe that the ephod represents the nature of the universe which God thought good to make of four components; it was woven with gold signifying sunlight which beams upon all things. And he arranged the breastplate in the midst of the ephod after the manner of the earth, for it also has the most central place. And he surrounded it with a girdle, thereby signifying the ocean, for this too comprehends everything (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, III.184).
The priests’ robes, therefore, symbolize all of God’s creations. And when the priest was within the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle, he became a microcosm of all the glories and creations of God. Mankind could return to dwell in God’s presence and through the infinite sacrifice of Christ, could be like their Creator.
By Gerald Smith