… the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. Eph 2:21-22
As Paul concludes his description of the new society which God created in the church, he employs three familiar illustrations, which are developed in many other Biblical passages. He paints the new community, first in terms of being fellow citizens of a new kingdom, secondly the household, or family of God, and thirdly the habitation or temple – a dwelling place for God in the Spirit. What a remarkable contrast this is from the way chapter 2 begins – dead in trespasses and sins, slaves to a carnal nature, and children of wrath. As a result of the peace initiative authored and implemented by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are no longer counted as aliens and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.
The double sense of the Greek word oikos (household or house) makes for an easy transition for Paul to move from family-life of verse 19 to a building, specifically a temple, described in verses 20-22. First we find that the foundation which this temple is built upon is that of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone. As a foundation cannot be tampered with once it is laid, the apostles and prophets mentioned are those responsible for the New Testament Scriptures; so the church stands or falls upon its dependence upon the words of the apostles and prophets, preserved in Scripture. Secondly Paul describes the structure as a whole as being joined together. Since Christ himself, is the cornerstone, He supports the whole superstructure, joining together the two primary walls upon which the structure is built. Moving then from the whole structure to the individual stones, Paul writes that you also are being built together. God is doing this great work in his church, and He is involving you also – that is you, in your church – you are part of the display of His glory. John Calvin sees verse 22 as an exhortation to the Ephesians “to be a part of that new temple which through the Gospel was then being built by God in every part of the world.” The apostle Peter also speaking in terms of worship, describes individual church members, as living stones, needing to come to Jesus in order to built into a spiritual house of worship (1 Peter 2:4-5).
The Temple and its purpose then, become an illustration and type of the mission of its antitype, the church. What was the purpose of the Temple? For nearly a thousand years the Temple in Jerusalem – first Solomon’s, then Zerubbabel’s, then Herod’s – was the focal point of Israel’s identity as the people of God. Before that, God presence dwelled amidst His people through the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle. But now Paul is telling us that the focal point of the worship of the people of God could no longer be localized, but has become a new and international community, so that a localized center is no longer appropriate. Further, the physical Tabernacle and temples never fulfilled the end for which they were prophesied (see Ex 15:17-18, 2 Sam 7:10-16). Also, spiritually minded Israelites knew that God did not in fact dwell in man made temples (see the words of Solomon’s dedication prayer in 1 Kings 8:27, and of Stephen in Acts 7:48-49); in fact the whole universe could not contain the infiniteness of His being. Nevertheless, the manifestation of the Shekinah glory which radiated from the Holy of holies symbolized the truth that God dwelled in the presence of His people as an ever present help in time of need. And the prophets and faithful Israelites in the Old Testament were filled with the expectation of a restoration of an end-time temple that would finally and fully complete that which the Temple was prophesied to do.
For now there is a new temple – it is God’s redeemed people scattered throughout the world – we are His home on earth. Our function, like that of the temple of old, is to be a display of His glory. This building project is not yet complete and will not be complete until the coming of the new heave and the new earth where it is finally and fully announced, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. (Rev 21:3-4).