Constructing God’s New Temple

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom 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. – Ephesians 2:19-22.

In these verses, the Apostle Paul lists some of the overwhelming new privileges of believers. They are no longer strangers and foreigners. Now they are fellow citizens with all the saints of the NT period, the Church Age. All Christians are first-class citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20-21). They are also members of the household of God. Not only have they been “super-naturalized” into the divine kingdom; they have been adopted into the divine family of God.

Finally, they have been made members of the Church, or as Paul pictures it here, they have become stones in the construction of a holy temple. With great detail the apostle describes this temple—its foundation, its chief cornerstone, its cohesive agent, its unity and symmetry, its growth, and its other unique features.

This temple is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Paul is referring to the apostles and prophets of the NT era; it could not possibly refer to OT prophets, because they knew nothing about the church. It does not mean that the apostles and prophets were the foundation of the church. Christ is the foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11). But they laid the foundation in what they taught about the Person and work of the Lord Jesus. The church is founded on Christ as He was revealed by the confession and teaching of the apostles and prophets. When Peter confessed Him as the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus announced that His Church would be built on that rock, namely, on the solid truth that He is the anointed of God and God’s unique Son (Matthew 16:18). In Revelation 21:14 the apostles are associated with the twelve foundations of the holy Jerusalem. They are not the foundation but are linked with it, because they first taught the great truth concerning Christ and the church. The foundation of a building needs to be laid only once. The apostles and prophets did this work once for all. The foundation they laid is preserved for us in the writings of the NT and in the ongoing teaching of the Holy Spirit, though early leaders themselves are no longer with us. In a secondary sense, there are men in all ages whose ministry is apostolic or prophetic. Missionaries and church planters are apostles in a sense, and those who preach the word for edification are prophets.

pd our foundation

Jesus Christ is not only the foundation of the temple; He is its chief cornerstone as well. No one picture or type can adequately portray Him in His manifold glories or in His varied ministries. There are at least three possible explanations of the chief cornerstone, all of which point to the Lord Jesus Christ as the unique, preeminent, and indispensable Head of the church.

  • We generally think of the cornerstone as one that lies at a lower front corner of a building. Since the rest of the structure seems to be supported by it, it has come to signify something of fundamental importance. In that sense it is a true type of the Lord. Also, it sets the standard, the rule, for the rest of the stones that are to be laid.
  • Some Bible scholars believe that the word translated the chief cornerstone refers to the keystone of an arch. This stone occupies the highest place in the arch and provides support for the other stones. So Christ is the preeminent One in the church. He is also the indispensable One: remove Him and the rest will collapse.
  • A third possible understanding of the term is that it is the capstone of a pyramid. This stone occupies the highest place in the structure. It is the only stone of that size and shape. And its angles and lines determine the shape of the whole pyramid. So Christ is the Head of the church. He is unique as to His Person and ministry. And He is the One who gives the church its unique features.

The words, “in whom,” refer to Christ: He is the source of the church’s life and growth. In him we are added to it; in him we grow in it; in him the whole temple grows towards the final completion.

The unity and symmetry of the temple are indicated by the expression, “the whole building, being fitted together.” It is a unity made up of many individual members. Each member has a specific place in the building for which he or she is exactly suited. The unique feature of this building is that it grows. However, this feature is not the same as the growth of a building through the addition of bricks and cement. Think of it rather as the growth of a living organism, such as the human body. After all, the church is not an inanimate building. Neither is it an organization or denomination. It is a living entity with Christ as its Head and all believers forming the Body. It was born on the day of Pentecost, has been growing ever since, and will continue to grow until the Rapture.

This growing building of living materials is described as “a holy temple in the Lord.” The word Paul used for temple referred not to the outer courts but to the inner shrine (the Greek word, naos), not the suburbs but the sanctuary. He was thinking of the main building of the temple complex, which housed the Most Holy Place. There God dwelt and there He manifested Himself in a bright, shining cloud of glory.

pd God's church

There are several lessons of types for us here:

  1. God indwells His church, His temple. Saved believers form a living sanctuary in which He dwells and where He reveals His glory.
  2. This temple is holy. It is set apart from the world and dedicated to Him for sacred purposes.
  3. As “a holy temple,” the church is a center from which praise, worship, and adoration ascend to God through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul further describes this holy temple as being “in the Lord.” In other words, the Lord Jesus is its source of holiness. Its members are holy only as they abide in Him, and they should be holy practically out of love for Him.

In this wonderful temple, believers have an equal place with one another. The tremendous dignity of the believers’ position is that they form “a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” This is the purpose of the temple—to provide a place where God can live in fellowship with His people. The Church is that place.

And notice the ministry of each of the Persons of the Godhead in connection with the church:

  1. “In whom,” that is, in Christ. It is through union with Him that we are built into the temple.
  2. “A dwelling place of God.” This temple is the home of God the Father on earth.
  3. “In the Spirit.” It is in the Person of the Holy Spirit that God indwells the church (1 Corinthians 3:16).

In the beginning we see a description of unbelievers who were dead, depraved, diabolical, and disobedient, and then these verses show us those same unbelievers cleansed from all guilt and defilement, and forming “a dwelling place of God in the Spirit!” A new temple, not built with hands!

pd Christ's new temple

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture taken from the New King James Version®, NKJV © 1982 by Thomas Nelson.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.

About Roland Ledoux

Pastor of Oasis Bible Ministry, an outreach ministry of teaching, encouragement and intercessory prayer from the Holy Bible, the written Word of God and author of the ministry website, For The Love of God. He lives in Delta, Colorado with his beautiful wife of 50+ years and a beautiful yellow lab whom they affectionately call Bella.
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