Why does God call his temple a house of prayer?

Question

Why does God call his temple a house of prayer?

Answer

Isaiah 56:7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Matthew 21:13 He said to them, "It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers."

In the Old Testament, the temple was designated as the house of God as this was where God chose to meet with his people (cf. Ezra 5:2; cf. Psa. 132:13-14). The temple represents God’s holy presence. And since prayer is about approaching the presence of God, there is a very close relationship between the temple and prayer (1 Kings 18:29-30, 38; Luke 1:10; 2:37-38; 18:10; Acts 3:1). Prayer, including adoration, thanksgiving and praise, were all part of Old Testament temple worship.

Prayer is for all of God’s redeemed people. At Pentecost individuals from various nations were gathered together (Acts 2:6-10), and throughout the remainder of the book of Acts, the gospel came to various people groups: the Samaritans (Acts 8:5-6), Ethiopians (Acts 8:26-40), Romans (Acts 10:1-2) and Greeks (Acts 11:20-21), etc. The gospel is to go throughout the entire world (Matt. 28:18-20). Ultimately, there will be a great multitude of redeemed from every nation, from all tribes, peoples, and languages standing before the throne and before the Lamb (Rev. 7:9; cf. Matt. 2:1-11; Rev. 5:9). Prayer is for God’s people from all nations.

Worship is a central tenant of Christianity, and God desires his people to worship. Spiritual worship consists of many things, such as the preaching of the Word, the sacraments, singing, and, yes, even prayer. In fact, prayer is an essential part of worship, not only individually, but corporately as well (Acts 12:12). It is God’s calling and a Christian’s duty.

Today people gather together in dedicated places to call on the name of the Lord in prayer. While this is very fruitful, we should recognize that the church is not limited to a physical building, because it is a spiritual place. According to the writer of Hebrews, "Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory" (Heb. 3:6). God’s people are God’s "building" (1 Cor. 3:9, 16-17) and the household of God (1 Tim. 3:15). We are God’s temple. God’s gathered people are his building and his house of prayer (1 Pet. 2:5).

How the visible church has robbed itself of so much power today! How spiritually improvised the church becomes without corporate prayer. Communion with God through prayer should be continuous (1 Thess. 5:16-18). It helps to keep us humble before our Maker (Luke 18:9-14). It assists us to understand and more fully rely upon God’s mercy. Prayer is one of many examples Christ set in his ministry (Matt. 6:9-13; Heb. 7:25). Even he humbled himself before God. So then, we should "approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Heb. 4:16).

Prayer is intimately connected with God’s temple, which is his presence. Wherever we pray to God, whether corporately or individually, we should understand and visualize ourselves as part of a larger group calling upon the Lord’s name (Matt. 18:20; Eph. 2:19-22). We are part of the household of prayer that gathers before God’s holy throne.

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Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).