Part 16 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians
You can listen to this sermon here.
"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit" (2:19-22).
No Longer Outsiders
In Eph. 2, Paul uses many metaphors for the church: (1) a race (“one new man,” v. 15), (2) a body (“one body,” v. 16), (3) a kingdom (“fellow citizens with the saints,” v. 19), (4) a family (“members of the household of God,” (v. 20), and (5) a temple (“a holy temple in the Lord,” v. 21).
The “church” (sometimes referred to as the universal, invisible church) is “the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one under Christ the head” (Westminster Larger Catechism).
The metaphor of the church as a temple has its roots in the OT. The purpose of the tabernacle in the wilderness and then the temple in Jerusalem was to show the people of Israel that God’s presence was with them. God said to Moses, “Let them make me a sanctuary [holy place], that I may dwell in their midst” (Exod. 25:8).
The church is the new temple of God.
“God’s people are God’s temple. The ones formerly kept out of the temple now are the temple” (Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians, p. 139).
Believers are the temple of God individually and corporately. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you [individually], whom you have from God?” (1 Cor. 6:19). “Do you not know that you [corporately] are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you” (1 Cor. 3:16).
“The relevance to the people of Ephesus is obvious. Before their conversion the Jews thought of God as dwelling in the temple made by hands. On the other hand, the Ephesians though of the goddess Artemis as the one who dwelt in the renowned temple at Ephesus. This temple was considered one of the seven wonders of the world. These were two diametrically different views of who God was and where he resided. After conversion, both believing Jews and Gentiles must view God and his dwelling place in a drastically different way. They have been made one new person, growing into a holy temple. God’s abode is in this new creation. Before, both Jews and Gentiles could see the stone buildings in which their God or gods dwelt, but now the one true God is dwelling with them, the collective entity called the church” (Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, p. 415).
What does Paul say about the church as God’s temple?
1. The church is an indestructible temple.
The church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus being the cornerstone” (v. 20). The foundation of the church is truth—the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the teaching and revelation from the apostles and prophets.
“What is the significance of a cornerstone? In today’s world the cornerstone is sometimes positioned into place at the time of the dedication of the building, after its construction is completed. That was not the case in ancient times. The cornerstone was the first stone laid. The builder was very careful to properly set this stone…. It is that stone by which every other stone in the foundation and the superstructure must be measured” (Hoehner, Ephesians, pp. 406-7).
“For it stands in Scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believe in him will not be put to shame.’ So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ and ‘a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.’ They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do” (2 Peter 2:6-8; cf. Ps. 118:22-23; Isa. 28:16; Matt. 21:42).
2. The church is an unfinished temple.
“In [Christ] the whole structure, being joined together, grows” (v. 21a). The temple is still under construction. It is growing.
“When the house [temple] was built, it was with stone prepared at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the house while it was being built” (1 Kings 6:7). The church is often built silently as God works within the hearts and minds of unbelievers.
3. The church is a holy temple.
The church grows “into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (vv. 21b-22). The church is “holy” because God dwells there; it is a temple set aside by and for God.
Not only are we a temple, but we are also priests (v. 18) who offer sacrifices (Rom. 12:1; Heb. 13:15-16). “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house [temple], to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).