“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. “
The apostle is still directing his attention particularly to the Gentiles who were called the uncircumcision by them who were of the circumcision, Jews, according to the flesh. Because they had been so called, they also had been reckoned strangers and foreigners in respect to the covenants of promise. They had been reckoned to be without Christ, without hope, and without God in the world.
But now this all has been changed. Though they are still Gentiles according to the flesh, they have been brought nigh by the blood of Christ. Christ has broken down the wall of partition, and they have been reconciled to God through the blood of the cross. Peace has been proclaimed to them who once were afar off. They as well as the Jew have access to the Father in one Spirit, the Spirit of Pentecost.
Therefore they are no more foreigners and aliens, as they had been formerly categorized by the commonwealth of Israel, and as they undoubtedly had judged themselves. But they are made to be fellowcitizens with the saints and of the household of God. And that means that they have equal legal rights to dwell in God’s house. It means also that they are constituted God’s household, His family, with whom God is pleased to dwell. Such is the implication, the logical conclusion to which the apostle is drawn, according to the first part of the text, and as is indicated in the word “therefore.”
Important it is also to observe how the apostle makes use of figures, and how he changes these figures. In the context (verse 15) he speaks in terms of one new man. The reference, of course, is not the new man of regeneration as such but to the formation of the church. That church, so he explains, is composed now of both Jew and Gentile, and with emphasis particularly on the entirety, the wholeness of the church. Thus the church is become one new man.
But in our text the figure changes into that of a building. In our text the apostle draws the lines of God’s building process. He speaks, first of all, of a household, that is a family. He also sets that family in a house built upon a solid foundation. And remarkably, according to verse 21, that building grows into a holy temple in the Lord. And so we also, as Gentiles, are incorporated, are become a habitation of God in the Spirit.
Verily we are in God’s holy temple!
When the text speaks of that holy temple, the reference, of course, is to a spiritual structure. This is the general reference to the temple in the New Testament. It is not to a physical, material building. We remember that, through the Old Testament, the tabernacle (and later the temple) was such a physical structure. The tabernacle designed at Sinai was a portable sanctuary, set on wood frames, covered with animal skins, approximately forty-five feet long, fifteen feet wide, and fifteen feet high; divided into three compartments: having an outer court, a holy place, and the holy of holies; and possessing specially designed furniture: candlestick, table of shew bread, altar of incense, ark of the covenant, and, of course, in the outer court the great altar of sacrifice.
The temple built by Solomon, which came later, was a more permanent structure, but it was also of material substance. It was constructed of cedars of Lebanon, and stones cut out of the quarry of the north country by Hiram. A magnificent structure, it was overlaid with pure gold. This building was destroyed when the children of Judah were taken into captivity to Babylon. It was rebuilt after their return by Zerubbabel, and again destroyed and rebuilt under the direction of Herod the Great. Its final destruction took place in the razing of Jerusalem, A.D. 70.
Peculiarly this temple began to pass away forever with the rending of the veil at the time of Christ’s crucifixion. From this time forward the earthly, material sanctuary is replaced through the wonder of Pentecost by the spiritual house of God, which He builds in the hearts of His redeemed people—now as He is pleased to gather them out of all nations, composed of both Jew and Gentile.
Basically the temple is a covenant idea. This is expressed in the text in terms of “the household of God.” Here the emphasis is not on the temple as such, but on the fact that God has a family. The fellowship, or, as it is expressed in the text, the fellowcitizens with the saints, constitutes the household or the members of God’s family. God is the Father, and the saints are His children.
God’s family becomes the temple in which He pleases to dwell. To be noticed here is the fact that the building is fitly framed together and grows. While the text speaks of the temple in the figure of an earthly, material building (for it is fitly framed), the temple nevertheless is not a physical building, as is evident from the fact that it grows into an holy temple. To be noticed, too, is the fact that it grows “in the Lord.” The Lord is the very sphere in which the temple grows. This must mean also that, apart from Christ, there is no growth and therefore no temple.
Now according to verse 22, this growing temple becomes the habitation of God, that is, the dwelling place of God. The saints, therefore, constitute not only God’s family, but also the holy temple in which He pleases to dwell.
Much richer than the mere fact that God is the Creator, the Former of that people! To the latter wonderful truth Isaiah gave expression in Isaiah 43:21: “This people have I formed for myself, they shall show forth my praise.” Indeed, God is the Creator of this people, and as His creation they shall show forth His praise.
But in the text the marvelous truth is expressed that God dwells in that people. Not only does He dwell with them or among them, but He dwells in them. And this is, as we suggested earlier, a covenant idea. The covenant God dwells in His covenant people.
A fact it is now, but so it will be throughout all eternity!
Make no mistake about it, what the apostle says in the text is reality now. As the church grows, not only in numbers, being gathered out of all nations, but also spiritually under the proper means of grace. God dwells in His people as literally as He dwelt in the holy of holies. But when the church has reached maturity, according to the counsel of God, God shall dwell in them, all of them for ever.
So, while we dwell in God’s holy temple, it is also true that we are that temple in which God pleases to dwell.
Well founded temple!
Indeed, God’s holy temple has a firm foundation.
It may be said in general that every building has a foundation which supports the building, and upon which the building rests. And that foundation determines much respecting the building. The foundation determines its form and its size. A building cannot be greater or smaller than its foundation. Nor can one build a round structure on a square foundation. The foundation also determines its weight. One cannot put a large and heavy building on a weak or frail foundation, but he puts up a building which is commensurate I with the foundation.
The all-wise God also builds His holy temple on a foundation which is going to determine precisely the temple He is constructing.
That foundation, according to the text, is the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief corner stone.
This must not be understood to mean that the temple of God is built upon man, not even the Man, Christ Jesus. When the Lord, for example, said to Peter (Matt. 16:16-18), “Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” He could not have meant that He would build His church on Peter. That may be the doctrine of Roman Catholicism, but it is not the truth. The truth is that the rock on which Christ would build His church is the confession which Peter, standing in the room of all the disciples, made, the confession, namely, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” So it is also in the text. Not the apostles and prophets, not mere man, is the foundation, but the Word of God spoken by the prophets and apostles and written by infallible inspiration in the Scriptures. That is the immovable foundation of which Christ is the chief corner stone. The prophets pointed forward to Him, and the apostles pointed backward to Him. In Christ the Word of God spoken by the prophets and apostles meet.
Nor is it sufficient to say that God in Christ builds His temple on the Scriptures. The Bible, as such, is not the foundation. Nor does God build His church on the Bible, be it that the Bible contains the words of the apostles and prophets concerning Christ.
But the temple of God is built through the Word of God spoken by the apostles and prophets of which Christ is the heart and substance. And that means also that through the preaching of the Word first spoken by the prophets and apostles, through the lively preaching of the gospel concerning Christ, God forms and builds up His church. Hence, it is the preaching of the gospel concerning Christ as the God of our salvation that is the sole, divine means through which the temple of God is built, and the solid rock upon which the temple of God rests. Against that church and temple of God, resting on that foundation, the gates of hell shall never prevail.
In connection with Christ the building process has been going on throughout the ages.
It began with Paradise lost, and the so-called mother promise of Genesis 3:15. Thus Adam, according to the election of grace, fell into the arms of Christ.
It continues in the pre-deluvian world, when God establishes His covenant with Noah and his family. Significantly then in the sign of the rainbow extending from one end of heaven to the other, even the entire creation of God becomes involved. Always the Scriptures point to a new heavens and earth, wherein righteousness shall dwell, as being the site of the temple of God when it is perfected.
In the old dispensation the building process continues in Abraham and Israel. First in Abraham and later in Israel we see the typical realization of God dwelling in His people in the tabernacle and the holy of holies. In them the promise of the gospel is fulfilled: I will be your God and ye shall be My people. Even in those days the prophets, standing in the midst of the typical apparatus, sent forth the word that God had something better and greater in mind when He would realize His temple spread over all nations.
And in the days of the incarnation, when the Son of God unites Himself to our flesh, and literally dwells in the midst of His people, He sends forth His apostles, endowed with His Spirit and the mighty Word of the gospel, the good news of salvation, that must go into all the world, calling and forming that people in whom God pleases to dwell. On the day of Pentecost the promise of the gospel is fulfilled in principle, when the temple of God is spread over all peoplesï¿½when God no longer dwells in a temple made with hands, but in His people gathered out of all nations. So the apostle could say in truth to the church of Ephesus, and through them to us, “In Whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”
That includes the church of Christ today.
In the sphere of the Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, and His working power, the preaching of the gospel forms the temple of God. In that sphere you and I and our generations stand. In us and our generations the growing process will go on, until all the saints are gathered by the pure preaching of the gospel.
The apostle Peter (I Peter 2:5) also envisioned that building process when he addressed the church with these words: “Ye also as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” And he concludes with: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of Him Who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
Indeed, by the mighty impetus of the gospel, preached in all nations, the temple of God is steadily being erected. The saints, as living stones, are being fitted into an holy temple in the Lord. As the stones of Hiram’s quarry were cut out of the rock, measured and fitted into Solomon’s temple, so by the preaching of the gospel and the power of the Spirit of Christ the saints are being formed and placed into the habitation of God.
Presently, when the last saint, according to the election of grace, is called, saved, and fitted into the holy temple, then God will come and take up His abode in us forever.
Then God shall be glorified in His people, world without end!
And we shall abide in His temple forever!