top of page
  • Writer's pictureTuezong Xiong

The Magic of Gathering: A Biblical-Theological Case for Why We Gather

Updated: May 3

Enchantment-Breaking Magic 

Do you remember the time when you and I used to experience the world as magical? Meaning, the world felt enchanted, filled with meaning and purposes, inhabited by other entities and beings with whom we could encounter but not control.

This is what the world used to be. When we didn’t understand how things worked, we attributed it to something outside of us—something Transcendent. But as we get older and become more inundated with our sin, the world, and Satan, we no longer experience the world as enchanted (Eph. 2:2–3; 2 Cor. 4:4). The trifecta induces us with a dark enchantment.

Even Christians, though born again and delivered from the kingdom of darkness, can fall prey to dark disenchantment and, thus, fall off the mission if they’re not careful—if they don’t remember the signs (Deut. 6:4–9). Complacency can easily set in, veiling their sight with dark enchantment, making them miss out on the magic of gathering.

Gathering with the saints on the Lord’s Day reminds us of the signs—and is itself a sign—by which we endure to the end (Heb. 10:24–25). We need enchantment-breaking magic, and beneath the gathering, we unearth Deeper Magic.

The Temple Tale as Old as Time

Gathering on the Lord’s Day is not arbitrary. There are reasons beneath the rules. Or, to put it more accurately, there’s a story beneath the rules—a tale as old as time.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” and the earth is his dwelling place (Gen. 1:1). The garden of Eden is the first temple—a divine sanctuary where humans meet God. Though it is certainly true that God is present everywhere, the temple pictures God’s unique kind of presence in which God lives and talks with his people. 

God creates Adam and Eve and commissions them to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it (Gen. 1:28). Their commission was to expand the “temple-garden.” However, in the fall, Adam, the covenant representative of mankind, sinned and, thus, plunged mankind into exile and away from the temple (Gen. 3:23–24; Rom. 5:12–19). But God, in his purposeful sovereignty, has a plan for the exile that will glorify himself.

As the story progresses, God delivers his exiled and enslaved people—Abraham’s family—from Pharaoh. God goes before his people by day in a pillar of clouds to lead them along the way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light so that they might travel day and night. (Exod. 13:21–22). For the first time since the fall, God’s unique presence was with his people again.

As part of the covenant that he gave them at Mount Sinai, the Lord instructs his people to build the tabernacle as the place for his presence to dwell during their time in the wilderness. God gave his people specific instructions for building the temple. At the heart of the tabernacle is the “Most Holy Place,” housing the ark of the covenant (Exod. 25:22). This was God’s throne room, and his presence was limited to just that place in the temple in which only the high priest entered this room once per year to make atonement for the people.

When priests served in the tabernacle, a large barrier—the inner veil—kept them from seeing into the Most Holy Place. The veil protected Israel from God’s glory consuming them. The veil made it possible for God in his white, hot holiness to dwell with his unholy people. 

On the veil, you can see cherubim woven into the curtain which is just one of the many clues indicating that the Most Holy Place parallels the garden of Eden: “He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen. 3:24; cf. Exod. 26:31).

The cherubim woven into the inner veil symbolizes that sinful humans can’t enter this temple either, and the temple itself serves as a reminder that God’s intimate presence has not yet been restored. Though it points back to the garden, the limited presence of God points forward to a greater experience of the presence of God still to come.

The True Temple

In the outskirts of the Samaritan city of Sychar, a Jewish rabbi crossed paths with a Samaritan woman near a well. In an attempt to deflect the conversation away from her own sin, the woman asked the rabbi about God’s presence in the temple at Jerusalem. The Samaritans had set up a different temple in which to worship God, but the rabbi confirmed that the temple in Jerusalem is—or was—the place where God’s unique presence was with his people (John 4:22).

The rabbi continued and said, “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). The rabbi was none other than Jesus. In other words, Jesus is saying that God’s special presence among his people is no longer limited to the temple. God’s people no longer have to meet him in a particular place but rather through a particular Person—or in a particular way—and Jesus is the way (John 14:6). 

John 1:14 says Jesus, the living Word of God, “became flesh and dwelt among us.” The word “dwelt” is literally “tabernacled.” God himself came to live among his people. During Jesus’s earthly ministry, he claimed that his body is the temple (John 2:18–22). 

When Jesus died on the cross, the veil that barricaded others from the Most Holy Place was torn in two, from top to bottom (Matt. 27:51), and that torn veil pictures what Jesus’s death accomplished. The massive curtain blocked access to God, and Jesus removed the barrier.

The veil was the type or shadow. Christ’s body was the antitype or the reality that the shadow anticipated (Col. 2:17; Heb. 10:1). The only way to approach God was to go through the veil. Now that veil is torn, and the only way for us to approach God is through Jesus.

So, the temple rituals and the Mosaic covenant are now obsolete. Jesus is our temple. Jesus is our sacrifice. Jesus is our priest. Therefore, Jesus is the true temple.

The Word-Abiding People as the Temple

In Christ, we become a part of the new temple. Put another way, because of the penal substitutionary atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross, individual Christians and the church collectively are God’s temple (1 Cor. 3:16–17; 2 Cor. 6:14–7:1; Eph. 2:21–22; 1 Pet. 2:4–10). Therefore, the gathering of the saints is not merely a sociological phenomenon. Rather, the gathering is a picture of the gospel—an outward expression of us being the temple. 

Moreover, since the temple is where God’s people meet God, and at the center of the temple is the word of God, then the word of God must be apparent. The word is the symbol by which the covenant people know that God is with them and God is dwelling in their midst (1 Kings 6:11–13).

In John 15:7, Jesus tells his disciples to abide in him, and his words to abide in them. Why? Because to abide in his words is to abide in Christ himself! If we want God to be in our midst, if we want to be faithful in our covenantal relationship with God, the word of God must be central. Because the church is God’s temple, the church must be unified and pure, washed by “the washing of water with the word” (Eph. 5:26).

Throughout redemptive history, God’s people have always gathered around God’s word, desiring to encounter the living God. This remains unchanged, whether in the old covenant or the new covenant. What’s new is the final, climatic revelation of Jesus (John 5:39; Heb. 1:1–4).

The God of Deeper Magic

The world conditions us to forget the story—to miss the magic.

There is magic in gathering, and the magic is that when we gather in Jesus's name, we image our communal Maker (Gen. 2:18; 1 Cor. 5:4; Matt. 18:20). As we behold the glory of the Lord, we are “being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). 

Enchantments are real, and they matter. Beneath the magical warfare is the Deeper Magic of law and love. The gathering reminds us that penal substitution is a kind of magic—a deep, mysterious, and supernatural force that transforms our world, overcoming every dark enchantment.

We need to gather because we need to be reminded to put away childish things, including the fear of childlikeness (1 Cor. 13:11; Matt. 18:3). We need to gather because dark enchantment crouches by the door, wanting to numb us, lull us to sleep, and devour us (Gen. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8). We need to gather because it is where we grow and obtain the bricks to build our house on Christ, who is the head and cornerstone (Eph. 4:15–16; 1 Pet. 2:4–7).

Nothing grows a Christian like a serious commitment to a local church week in and week out for years and years. The gathering is where mature Christians are slowly forged in the fires of magical, mundane faithfulness because, in our gatherings, we meet with the God of the Deeper Magic.


Tuezong Xiong is an M.Div. graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary and writes regularly at He, along with his wife, Pa Kou, resides in Circle Pines with their two sons.


bottom of page