Because G. K. Beale talks, toward the end of The Temple and the Church’s Mission, about the Apocalypse and other last-things literature, it would be easy to get side tracked into a discussion of the various schools of millenialism. Beale is an amillenialist or idealist, maybe a partial preterist. If you care, you can look all those terms up on a search engine.
The main point is that he takes biblical predictions about the future as figurative. But he takes them seriously. His belief is that when the Bible talks about the temple, and is not specifically referring to the stone-and-mortar temple, it is talking about the people. This is clearly correct, at least some of the time. 1 Peter 2:4-10, for instance, makes it clear that people are living stones being built into a temple.
So his big picture is that God’s ultimate goal is to be present in the whole universe as in a temple.
In his own words:
…the redemptive-historical development may be explained as proceeding from God’s unique presence in the structural temple in the Old Testament to the God-man, Christ, the true temple. As a result of Christ’s resurrection, the Spirit continued building the end-time temple, the building materials of which are God’s people, thus extending the temple into the new creation in the new age. This building process will culminate in the eternal new heavens and earth as a paradisal city-temple. Or, more briefly, the Temple of God has been transformed into God, his people and the rest or the new creation as the temple.
But the title of Beale’s book contains a promise that he will apply this to the mission of the church. In his 13th and final chapter, he takes this up.
I was a little surprised by his approach. If he had fallen in with he spirit of our times, he would have gone in a political direction. Since, the kingdom of God is to fill the whole earth we need to push social justice (if you are on the left) or traditional or family values (if you are on the right) until the whole world reflects God’s own politics.
It was refreshing that he did not do this. He stayed very biblical. He pointed to all the times the New Testament refers to spiritual sacrifices, particularly to Paul’s priestly offering of the Gentiles (Romans 15:16) or the idea of the sacrificial “aroma” of the knowledge of God in every place (2 Corinthians 2:14). The world is becoming a temple in which God’s people offer the sacrifice of evangelism. Also, Beale sees the sufferings of the church as a priestly sacrifice.
So this author applies the traditional missionary, great-commission imperative of the church to the idea that the church has the role of a levitical priesthood in expanding the boundaries of God’s temple and incorporating more people into that temple. This last chapter of the book is like a sermon. It has some illustrations from nature and appeals to God to “give us grace to go out into the world.”
Beale puts a new theological vision behind the old evangelical understanding of mission. Perhaps he could have made it more clear that this mission includes, not just verbal proclamation, but acts of love and benevolence as well. But I think he would agree with this. His chapter was brief and could not include everything.
His approach is especially unique (and commendable in my view) in the light of the way he has used ancient Near Eastern mythology and temple motifs as well as non-biblical Jewish sources to inform his view.
Now some caveats:
First, I simply do not grasp his idea that the sin of Adam and Eve was somehow a refusal to expand the garden/temple of Eden. This makes their sin a sin against the command to be fruitful and multiply and have dominion (Genesis 1:28). The view may come from midrash. But I just don’t see it in the text, which emphasizes the first couple’s attempt to be godlike instead.
Second, although I find much of Beale’s exposition compelling, it seems to me that he tends to make one biblical metaphor dominate the others. Certainly the temple is an important motif. But there are others. When the New Testament applies imagery to the atonement, for instance, it uses sacrificial imagery. But it also uses imagery drawn from family relationships, forgiveness of debt and obligation, and liberation from slavery. The sacrificial and temple imagery does not dominate the others.
Finally, he sees Israel fulfilled in the church. I do not see him grappling with the reality that Judaism and Christianity took a while to fully separate, or that there continues to be something real behind the phrase Judeo-Christian. The judgment upon temple-based Judaism that seemed to fall in the year 70, does not have to mean the end of God’s covenant with ethnic Israel anymore than the fall of the first temple did. To just subsume the Jews into the unsaved general population seems unsatisfactory to me.