The Temple: Metaphor for Union with God
There are a number of metaphors in the Greek scriptures which emphasize our unity with Christ. One of these is the image of the Temple. The Temple metaphor appears in Paul and Peter, and is embedded in some passages which do not use the actual word. These passages emphasize the difference in the placement of the stones used to build the Temple, but mention no intrinsic difference between the stones. Only their differing locations in the Temple are mentioned. Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone, Apostles and Prophets are stones in the foundation, but we are all made of the same material.
After describing how the wall between Jews and gentiles was demolished by the work of Christ, Paul continues:
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 2:19-21, NIV)
The first two metaphors describe the solidarity between Jews and gentiles, first as fellow citizens, and then as members of the same household. These refer basically to the “horizontal plane” people talk about. On the vertical plane, however, we are “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”
- Christ Jesus = Stone (chief cornerstone)
- Apostles and Prophets = Stones (foundation)
- Jews and gentile believers = Stones
In Jesus the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. Notice again the in of complete unity. The Jews and gentile believers, the apostles and prophets are all in Jesus, who himself is the chief cornerstone of the building, and the holy temple is, yes, in the Lord. While the household metaphor is ubiquitous in Paul, appearing on virtually every page, the metaphor of building is strong, too, and may be more relevant to Paul’s ministry than the household metaphor. In the following passage, Paul compares himself to a “wise master builder” who laid the foundation, and the necessity to do quality work, quality spiritual work, in building on that foundation.
According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be, careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (I Corinthians 3:10-11 NASB)
In this context, Jesus Christ is the only foundation upon which to build the Temple, which is the Lord’s people. No other foundation is adequate. Those who attempt to build on another foundation will see their work incinerated like wood, hay, and stubble. Other foundations include church tradition, their faith in a book (the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life, and the Lord is the Spirit), oaths to presbyteries and connections, priestly vows, etc. Many other foundations are possible, but only Jesus Christ will do for believers and disciples.
Temple Destroyers = Community Destroyers
It is possible to do severe damage to a community of believers. And just as Luke warns against anyone who causes “one of these little ones to stumble,” so too Paul warns against community wreckers.
Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you (plural) are. (I Corinthians 3:16-17 NASB)
Note that the true temple of God is not made of brick and mortar, wood and hay, but is made of the living stones of believers in union with the Son and the Father. Jesus Christ is a stone among many, but with an exalted position. No organization or building is the temple of God. Moves of God occur, disregarding the stability or solvency of institutions and religious buildings. The passage above cannot be legitimately invoked against a movement of God which threatens the stability or continued existence of any element of Christendom.
One Cornerstone among other Living Stones in God’s Temple
The Spiritual Temple image is also employed by the Apostle Peter. As in Paul, Christ is the living cornerstone of God’s temple, among a host of other living stones. Not only do we comprise the Temple, our spiritual sacrifice is offered up in that very same Temple made up of us. That spiritual sacrifice reminds me of laying down our lives for our friends. The Apostle Peter wrote:
You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor.
And you (plural) are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say,
“I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem, chosen for great honor,
and anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.”
I Peter 2:4-6 (NLT)
The Temple: Not Alone among the Metaphors
The Temple metaphor for the idea that we are essentially the same as Christ is not unique in the Greek scriptures. For example,
- I am the vines, you are the branches,
- . . . that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters,
- I am the light of the world; you are the light of the world,
- As the Father sent me, so send I you,
- I no longer call you servants, but friends.
If there were only one metaphor in the Greek scriptures pointing to the lack of any intrinsic difference between Jesus and his Body, I would not feel comfortable holding that thesis. But this network of metaphors, together with other passages, are sufficient scriptural evidence for this understanding.
- The chief cornerstone, certain unique foundation stones, and the stones of Jews and gentiles only differ by virtue ofthe symbolic status of their placement in the Temple; there is no other difference mentioned.
- In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in is one of the key words in the vocabulary of complete unity.
It may seem to some like I am putting too much weight on a single metaphor, that it cannot support the thesis. Fortunately there is more than one metaphor, and other language less “metaphorical.” Again, if the Temple metaphor, even though it appears in the writings of both Peter and Paul, was the only evidence for the complete unity of Father Son Spirit Bride, then it would be insufficient. There is, however, much more.
To Read More in this Series, click on The Bride of Christ is God.