Bezalel was gifted by the Holy Spirit to create a temporary temple for God, during the time of Moses (Ex 31:1-11). Over 1500 years later, Paul saw himself as a temple builder except of a grander kind: an eternal temple of living stones (1Co 3:10-17). Already in Acts, Paul has been working on this temple by proclaiming the good news and seeing folk converted to Christ. Now, he’s in a different phase of his work, returning to churches he’s planted to strengthen them.
Paul’s extended period in Ephesus on the west coast of Asia (Turkey today) has drawn to a close (v1). Soon, he wants to return to Jerusalem (Ac 20:22) to testify in the city of the divinely vandalised temple (Lk 23:45) that Jesus Christ is creating a new temple for God upon the earth. So he travels back to Macedonia and Greece (v2) not only to encourage the churches but also to gather a team who will display the work of Christ amongst the Gentiles (v4). However, his plan to sail directly back to Antioch in Syria (his sending church) has to change due to a plot against him. So, instead, he travels north, back overland to Macedonia where he spends time with Luke in Philippi (v3). His team, meanwhile, travel east to Troas (v5) to wait for him.
It’s a bold move by Paul to take this group back to Israel, where he will be seen as treacherous and his followers will be despised. But he is following Jesus, who was also written off because of those with him (Mk 2:16). The church always brings together the unexpected, and includes the rejected. We do not expect to have a ‘natural’ appeal to others, or leaders that the world admires. But that doesn’t stop the church from growing, because it is the Spirit who converts and unites. Jesus did not come to call life’s obvious winners (Lu 6:20-28) When a church does pursue such success, it loses its soul. The Lord saves a mixed bunch of people (1Co 1:26-29) and teaches us to love one another sacrificially. This is the building technique deployed by the Lord for his home – temple – on earth. When we are obedient to it, God is glorified and Christ is honoured (Jo 13:35).
But what is life like in the new temple? The next verses give us glimpse. Luke writes that he and Paul sailed from Philippi after the feast of unleavened bread (Ex 12:15-20), arrived in Troas (v6) and joined the believers there for the breaking of bread (v7). In these adjacent verses we see a picture of moving from the life of the old temple to that of the new. Jesus said that all that is in the Old Testament finds its completion in him (Lu 24:44) and that is displayed here. The feast of unleavened bread, which followed the Passover (Ex 12:1-14), remembered the Lord’s rescue of Israel from Egypt. Yet the rescue was limited, with almost all the adults dying in the wilderness (Nu 32:13). Jesus, however, transformed the Passover feast into the Lord’s Supper (Lu 22:1-20) which celebrates his greater rescue that gives resurrection life and looks forward to the glorious feast when he returns. Life in Christ’s temple is far better than that which went before.
This truth is also visible in their gathering on the first day of the week. God set one day as holy, at creation (Ge 2:3). In Israel that day was ensured by the fourth commandment (Ex 20:8-11). But Jesus has given his people a better day: Sunday, when he rose from the dead. Christians, with the law written on our hearts (Jer 31:33), rejoice to worship God through the Saviour on the first day of the week, looking forward to our own resurrections. It is the most important thing we do all week; to know God and honour him is what it means truly to be human. Of course, our subjective experience of Sunday worship can feel quite feeble and a let-down in comparison with the drama of ancient Israel’s magnificent temples. However, we must see the reality of the new temple with eyes of faith and regard as truly precious the opportunities we have to come together in this way.
Our final verses capture that sense of weakness and strength. Paul is rushed to say all he wants before leaving (v7). But the warm room and long evening makes it hard to stay awake (v8), until one young man falls out the window (v9). It seems the new temple is not so blessed as one might expect! But Paul rushes to him, pronounces him alive (v10), the gathering continues (v11) and Eutychus goes safely home (v12). There is the powerful reality of the new temple! We are the people of resurrection life, who are looking forward to a wonderful future.