In this message we will look at the relationship of Christ & the Church through the analogy of the temple where they come together.
Christ & the Church: Together We Are a Temple
The bible often compares spiritual realities to features of our day to day existence to draw out some feature of that spiritual reality... Jesus compared the work of the holy spirit to the wind "you can't see the wind but you can see the results of the wind". Sometimes a variety of different comparisons are made about the same thing. Each drawing attention to a different aspect of the spiritual reality.
The relationship of Christ and the church is just such a subject. It is compared to a marriage, it is compared to human anatomy, it is compared to a shepherd with his flock, it is compared to a city with citizens, and it is compared to a temple.
SPS: Today we will look at the relationship of Christ & the Church through the analogy of the temple where they come together.
Christ is the Foundation of the Temple [Church]
The structure begins and ends with Christ, then we who are "in Christ" are the living stones that make up the rest of the building. This biblical analogy emphasizes themes of being fit together in unity, oneness of construction, sharing the same foundation and capstone which is Christ.
The word or phrase cornerstone was used in two ways:
- A stone laid to begin the building of a foundation for a building. Often it would be accompanied by a sacrifice and dedication ceremony. Even in America you can still see older buildings with a corner foundation stone that has and inscription of dedication carved into it This is how the phrase is applied in Ephesians 2:20-22.
- The phrase cornerstone was also used to refer to the topmost finishing stone put on top that finished the project. So, sometimes you'll see this “ben eber” translated as "head stone” Psalm 118:22. Jesus applies this to himself in Matthew 21:42. In this context, Jesus enters Jerusalem for the final time, seated on a donkey's colt, hailed as king and Messiah verses 8-11. Yet within a few days the Jews would reject the Messiah who would complete God’s purpose For Israel. And He would be put to death by the Romans.
Both of these ways of understanding a cornerstone are valid and applicable. Christ says " I am the Alpha and the Omega"... literally means "I am the beginning and the end"... "I am the stone that establishes the foundation and the stone that finishes off the building".
- Isaiah 28:16 Christ is the most important stone in the building... but He is also a stone that has been rejected by the Jews of the first century Romans 9:33 [quote of Isaiah 28:18 and Isaiah 8:14].
- Jesus has been rejected not only by Jews, but by humanity as a whole 1 Peter 2:4.
His Church however, is built on foundational principles rejected by the world at large. Even by those who cry out "Lord. Lord". The true Church of God will always be on the outside looking in... so do not be dismayed by our relatively insignificant position and influence within society.
What the Temple Meant For The Jews [People of the Old Covenant]
The temple was the focal point of Jewish religious interests even if they lived in far away places. Jews directed their prayers and hearts towards Jerusalem and the temple there. It was there that the ordinances of sacrifice, the holy worship, and the mediation of the priesthood were carried out.
So, in those days… using the temple as an analogy for Christ would have a strong emotional connection with ideas of national pride and identity. Some of these feelings needed to be corrected and in many cases terminated... yet, some of these OT ideas simply needed to be reinterpreted in the new covenant.
- At the time when Jesus was on the scene and the Church was initiated the temple was actually a reconstruction built by a king named Herod in the years just before Jesus was born. IT was similar to, but not the same as the previous temples: the original built in 966 B.C. by Solomon based on God's plan, and the restored temple built in 538-515 B.C.by Zerubbabel - a smaller version of the original.
- In Jesus’ day the Sadducees controlled the position of high priest and cooperated closely with the Romans. The Sadducees themselves had little popular support but the temple activities were held in high regard by most Jews because it was an important outworking of the divine law which regulated Jewish life.
- Jews from all over the empire would gather at the temple in Jerusalem to observe the feasts. Think of Pentecost 31 A.D. when the holy spirit filled the disciples and they were able to preach to thousands of people from all over the known world who were gathered in Jerusalem for the feast.
What the Temple Meant for Jesus and His Followers [People of the New Covenant]
New testament references to the temple can be grouped under three headings: reverence, criticism, and reinterpretation.
- Reverence & Respect for a Divine Institution
In many ways the NT shows Jesus and the early Christians as faithfully sticking to the temple and its worship service. Jesus and His disciples demonstrated an attitude of respect and reverence for the temple, which was also, respect for God who put the system in place... respect for god’s temple was respect for God's authority.
Yes, there were problems. There was corruption... but there was still respect. Note: it is important to remember that God allows for failure. He grants authority to fallible human beings and does not take away their freedom to make bad decisions.
Here's a modern day parallel to consider: if the Church is in some way to be considered as the present temple of God… do you have respect for it as God ordained institution?... even if you have disappointments or criticisms of what its up to? How do you handle that tension in attitude and in speech? Do you still show honor and respect?
Examples of respect:
The gospel begins in the temple: a prophetic announcement is given to Zechariah about the coming Messiah Luke 1:9-17. The Gospel record also ends with the disciples teaching in the temple Luke 24:53.
- Jesus would go up to the temple at the appointed times Luke 2:22-24, 7:10,14.
- Jesus used the temple as a place for healing and instruction Matthew 21:14, 23
- Note: in Jesus day the local Jewish synagogue had become the true center for religious, ethical and moral instruction as well as practical worship for most of the people. So, we see Jesus and the Church that followed using the synagogue as a platform for teaching and proclamation.
- Matthew 5:23 presumes the propriety of bringing gifts "to the altar" ie. the temple.
- Matthew 23:32 affirms OT understanding that the temple was to be considered God's throne, throne room, royal residence on earth.
- Even after the resurrection of Jesus the disciples consider it appropriate to praise God in the temple and to participate in its service Acts 2:46, 3:1, 5:12, 42 [used as a forum for meeting, instruction, and personal worship].
- Acts 21:26-28 followers of Christ, like Paul, still participated in temple worship practices. It appears that full understanding of the change in the administration of sacrifice and priesthood was not yet fully understood by the Church. These issues would later be fully worked out and explained later in the book of Hebrews.
Hebrews spells out a new and better priesthood to replace the old… a new and better sacrifice for sin to replace the old. There would also be a new and better temple to replace the old!
Matthew 12:6 there was nothing wrong with the old order of things [except for the abuses and sins of the people running the show]. But the replacement would be better... a better and more complete sacrifice for sin... a better more helpful High priest... and a better location for gathering place, for worship, for instruction. That better temple is the Church of God.
- Criticisms of Current Abuses & Condemnation
In both the old and new testament a major problem with people's attitudes about the temple was that it gave a false sense of God’s approval... “God’s temple is among us so we are safe... both spiritually and physically”.
A possible parallel to our present situation: if we were to put too much emphasis on being in the right Church on the right day… and not enough emphasis on allowing our full participation in that Church change us.
John 2:13-22 this is an example of both reverence for the temple... at the same time a criticism of it's corruption and abuse. They were turning the temple into a market... even if they were providing a helpful service they were using abusive and dishonest business practices... Plus, they were taking over valuable space in the courts of the temple and crowding out people who came to worship.
A parallel for us: we are warned not to treat the Church of God as a means of gain... whether its corrupt leaders who want money and status, or people who hang around looking for a handout, or those who use their personal wealth as a means to gain status within the church. Also, we must be on guard that we are not making it difficult for people who want to approach God in spirit and in truth.
Mark 13:2 Jesus announces condemnation upon the temple in clear and graphic words. The very stones would be torn down. But as we read earlier Jesus also used this prophecy as an indication that the temple would be replaced by that which is better. His prophecy was big news... lots of people knew about it, it was used as a charge against Him on the night of His trial Mark 14:57-58… “this man blasphemes and says He will destroy the temple”
Note: Jesus did not say He Himself would tear down the Jerusalem temple and build it back in three days. This is false charge as Mark tells us.
Only later would the Church understand that He was referring to His own death, 3 days and nights in the tomb, and His resurrection. In both cases the actual destroyers were the Romans. They conducted the execution of Jesus in 31 A.D. and they destroyed the Jerusalem temple in 70 A.D.
- The Replacement of the Temple
Jesus words were also a proclamation that the material temple made of stones and timbers would be replaced by a better dwelling place for God...within and among the believers, His Church, His Body.
We understand this change to a new and better temple in two ways:
- Individual Believers as temple 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16-17 - in both cases understanding the individual as the temple of God is a call to have a new seriousness about sin, personal holiness, purity, order and authority. This is as important today as it was yesterday.
- The Church of God collectively as temple 1 Corinthians 3:10-16 the context implies this refers to the collective body of the congregation [those who disrupt the unity of the Church are destroyers of the temple]... Ephesians 2:19-22 [the Church is a temple made up of all races]... 1 Peter 2:5-7 [it is a place where spiritual sacrifices are performed -
Spiritual sacrifices are not real when they are only in your mind. Spiritual sacrifice becomes real through your interaction with other people. This is especially so within the Church where members meet face to face.
Together Christ and His People Are a Temple
It is time for you to take your presence in God’s household seriously. It is time to enter into the courts of the Lord with respect for the foundation it is built upon, with honor towards who is present there with you, with joy that you are included, and with zeal for its reputation and success. Hebrews 12:18-29.