Ephesians – Wayne Barber/Part 34
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©2000|
|Continuing his discussion of our new identity in Christ, Dr. Barber explains what it means to be “the temple of God.”|
We Are the Temple of God – Part 1
We have been talking about the brand new identity we have in Jesus Christ. As we have studied in chapter 2, Christ did not make the Jew a Gentile. He did not make the Gentile a Jew. He took both of them as they became believers and made them into one brand new body, one that has never before been seen. Christians are unique. It is a brand new identity that Christ gives to those who believe in Him.
Look in Ephesians 2:14-15. Paul says, “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man.” That new man is a body of believers. I have a brand new identity when I receive the Lord Jesus Christ. I am birthed into something that is qualitatively brand new, originating only from Christ Himself.
Paul says in II Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he a new creature,” he is a new creation. That’s what I think Paul is bringing out here in Ephesians. He wants these Gentile believers to understand the brand new identity they have in Jesus Christ.
He uses three word pictures of this new identity we have in Jesus Christ. We looked at two of them in the last study in 19: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household.” First of all, we are citizens of a heavenly kingdom. He does not mention the kingdom, but he mentions the fact that we are citizens with responsibilities. We are of a brand new nation. We are fellow citizens. The word “citizen” always refers to responsibility. Yes, privilege is involved, but much more is responsibility. So implicit in that verse is that we are part of a holy nation, a kingdom that is Christ’s and Christ’s alone. That is part of our new identity.
The other picture he gives us is that we are children of a heavenly household. We have been brought into the family. I love where he says we “are of God’s household.” The word “household” means “family.” Actually you can translate it either way. We are a part of God’s family. I am a child of a heavenly household.
We said it last time, but I want to say it again. The family of God is not a hotel which you can pay a price to get into. Oh, no. It is a family, and you have to be birthed into the family. You either are or you aren’t. Paul wants to give the Ephesians this picture of this brand new identity.
The third picture Paul shows us is that we are His Holy Temple. That’s incredible. Verses 20-22 give the whole picture of our being His Holy Temple in which He dwells on this earth. We need to know whose we are, and we need to know who we are when it comes to living in this world. We are brand new creatures. We are His Kingdom. We are His family, but we also are His Holy Temple in which He dwells.
Well, let’s begin to look at it. In verse 20, we are going to look at three things. First of all we are going to look at the foundation of this Holy Temple. Secondly, we are going to look at the cornerstone of this Holy Temple. And thirdly, we are going to look at the stones that are in this Holy Temple.
Verse 20 says, “having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” What is the foundation of this holy temple of God? Each one of us who are believers are a part of that holy temple of God. Something is happening to us as God is constructing that temple.
What is the Foundation
First of all, what is the foundation: “having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets”? When you first read this it appears to contradict another verse that ought to be familiar. It appears to say that the apostles and the prophets are the foundation of this holy temple. Go back to I Corinthians 3:11: “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” So we know that the foundation is Jesus Christ.
Well then, what is he doing telling us that the apostles and the prophets are the foundation of this holy temple? Paul is not talking about the same thing in Ephesians that he is talking about in I Corinthians. He is talking about part of it, but he is not focused the same way. When he says that Jesus is the cornerstone, in a few moments, that is his focus in Ephesians. When he says the foundation, he is talking about the revelation the apostles and the prophets were given which they gave to us in its written form. That is called the New Testament. He speaks of the fact that they were not really the foundation, but they were the ones given the command to lay the foundation.
If you will look at verse 10 of the same, Paul says, “According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But let each man be careful how he builds upon it.” Paul is an apostle. They laid the foundation by transferring to us the divine revelation of truth that God gave to them as apostles and as prophets. I believe what he talks about here as the foundation is the doctrine that we hold to of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the foundation, and the apostles and prophets laid that foundation. He refers to our doctrinal inheritance.
Jesus Himself said that the seed that falls into a person’s heart has got to be the Word of God. You get saved when the Word of God falls into your heart and reveals to you that Jesus died for you and that you are a sinner. Once you see that, understand that, open the door and let Jesus come into your life, that is salvation. Therefore, we all go back to what the doctrine of the New Testament says to us about the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In that sense, the apostles and prophets were the foundation of the holy temple. They were the ones who were given the divine revelation of Christ who is the one that saves each of us.
Well, if the foundation he is referring to is the doctrine of the apostles and prophets, who are these apostles and prophets? We know for a fact that they were a specific group mentioned together three different times in the book of Ephesians. In 2:20, they are the doctrinal foundation. They are laying the foundation of the Lord Jesus Christ. In 3:5 it says, “which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit.” It appears to be a specific group that is being referred to. In 4:11 he still continues to be specific. He says, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets.” They were the two groups that he is talking about, or the one group made up of apostles and prophets, to whom the divine revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ was given. We are founded upon that divine revelation.
This leads us to another question. We can figure out who the apostles are; can wefigure out who the prophets were? Are they the Old Testament prophets? Some people say that, but I don’t believe this is a reference to the Old Testament prophets. There are three reasons why I don’t. First of all, there is the order in which he puts them. He says, “Apostles and prophets.” If he were talking about the Old Testament prophets, he would put the prophets first and then the apostles.
Secondly the statement that the apostles and the prophets are the foundation of the church. The fact that they are the foundation of the church disqualifies the Old Testament prophets. Why? Because in this foundation we are talking about here in Ephesians, it is not just Israel, it is including the Gentiles. That was not a part of the message of the Old Testament prophets. As a matter of fact, they didn’t even understand this body that we are now in. They didn’t understand the church.
Thirdly in 3:5, the fact that it says, “it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets,” shows me that they are not the Old Testament prophets. This was a fresh, brand new revelation given to those prophets who stood before the others and proclaimed that which God gave them.
So who are the apostles and the prophets? Let’s see if we can get a better understanding. Both groups were Christian teachers, but they were not identical. There were many prophets who were not apostles. The apostles are distinctly different than the prophets in the fact that they were the immediate messengers of Christ, invested with infallible authority as teachers and supreme power as rulers of the church. That makes the difference between the apostle and the prophet. The prophets were a class of teachers who spoke by inspiration from time to time as God directed.
What was the role of the apostles and prophets at the time that the New Testament era began, when the New Covenant became in effect? Their function was to authoritatively speak the Word of God to the church during the years before the New Testament canon came to be complete. They had a definite role. They didn’t have the New Testament like we have today. They were the ones God used to put together the New Testament. The fact that they are mentioned with the foundation relates them to that era of Christianity. They are the ones who laid the foundation by the divine revelation given to them by the Lord Jesus who is, in fact, the foundation.
So the foundation of the church, the holy temple of God, is the doctrine of Christ which was given to us by the apostles and prophets. In that light, they are a part of the foundation. Jesus is the substance of the foundation, and the apostles and prophets laid the foundation and told us about Him through the divine revelation God had given to them.
The Cornerstone of This Temple of God
Secondly, I want you to see the cornerstone of this temple of God. In my study of the New Testament every time Jesus is called the foundation, the cornerstone is not even mentioned. Every time He is called the cornerstone, He is not referred to as the foundation. I think it is because both of them complement one another. All the way through they add a little dimension to what the other leaves out. Each one of them speaks of the fact that the church rests upon and depends upon the Lord Jesus Christ, whether you talk about Him as our foundation or you talk about Him as our cornerstone.Oddly enough in my study, Ifound that in ancient times, the cornerstone was actually more important than the foundation. The cornerstone was the major structural part of ancient buildings and was the first stone that was laid. So really, when you talk about Him as the cornerstone, you move it up just a notch. Not only is He that which the building rests upon, but He is the first stone of the building that was laid. He is the chief cornerstone. It had to be strong enough to support what was built on it, so it had to be precisely laid. Every part of the structure was oriented to the cornerstone. There appears to be two functions of the cornerstone of the ancient times. First of all, for support as the whole building would rest upon it. Secondly, and much more so, it was for structure. That is the most important part of it. The whole building depended upon the cornerstone for measurement and for unity.
So you see, you begin to get a picture of Christ being the cornerstone of the holy temple. The doctrine of Christ is our foundation in this passage, but Christ, much more so, is the cornerstone. We rest upon Him, but we totally depend upon Him. We are measured by Him, not by men. Every dimension we have as a believer has to resort back to Christ. We are being conformed into the image of Christ Jesus. He sets the standard. He is the first stone that was laid. He is the one who gives us this brand new identity. Everything about the Temple of God is governed by the cornerstone, who in this passage is Christ Himself. All the growth, all the unity, everything depends upon the cornerstone.
You may be Jewish, but you say, “The Messiah has not yet come. I don’t believe in the New Testament.” Well, friend, go back to the Old Testament and Isaiah 28:16. Isaiah, hundreds of years before Jesus ever came to this earth, prophesied by the Spirit of God that there was going to be a cornerstone. “Therefore, thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed.’” Isaiah didn’t even understand what he was prophesying. We know that from Hebrews. They prophesied in part and in portion. They never fully got the picture of what they were talking about. They knew a Messiah was coming, but they didn’t understand all the ramifications of what He would do and the deliverance He would bring.
Jesus uses Psalm 118 to speak to the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew. Psalm 118:22 says, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone.” That is in the Old Testament. We are not in the book of Ephesians. This was prophesied way back in the Old Testament.
Jesus, in talking to those old skeptical Scribes and Pharisees said to them in Matthew 21:42-43: “Did you ever read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief corner stone;’ This came about from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it.” Jesus is beginning to speak already of that holy nation that He is going to effect after His death and resurrection on the cross.
Well, the apostle Peter puts them all together. In I Peter, he puts Isaiah 28:16, Psalm 118:22 and another one, Isaiah 8:14, together in one passage. Isaiah 8:14 says, “Then He shall become a sanctuary; But to both the houses of Israel, a stone to strike and a rock to stumble over, and a snare and a trap for the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” In other words, he is saying Christ is going to be a stumbling block to the Jew. They thought Jesus would come and set up an earthly kingdom. They couldn’t understand that it was by His stripes and His death upon the cross that we would be healed, spiritually. They missed all of that. Therefore, they were looking for something else. He became a stumbling block to them, especially when He went to the cross. They could not fit that into their theology.
Peter says in I Peter 2:6-8, “For this is contained in Scripture: ‘Behold I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, and he who believes in Him shall not be disappointed.’ This precious value, then, is for you who believe. But for those who disbelieve, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, this became the very corner stone,’ and, ‘A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense’; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.” Jesus is the cornerstone. You can’t have a building that fits or stands up without a cornerstone. He is the foundation, yes, but even more importantly, He is the cornerstone, the first stone that is laid, the stone that determines the measurement of all the other stones.
See how this fits in Ephesians 1 and 2? He talks about how we are saved by grace, not of works lest any man should boast. Everything that we are hooks right back into the doctrine of Jesus and the person of Christ. We can boast in nothing else. We can only boast in the Lord Jesus Himself. He birthed us into His kingdom. He birthed us into His family, and He is building us into His holy temple on this earth.
Do you remember back in the Old Testament when God came to dwell with the people? He dwelt in a Tabernacle. It was a tent of meeting. They folded it up and carried it. There were certain responsibilities about that. Then later on, they moved to a permanent structure called the Temple. In Malachi, God was so mad at the people He withdrew His presence. For four hundred years there was not a word from God. It was called the four hundred years of darkness. Then Hebrews said, “He broke the silence and has spoken to us in this day through His Son, Jesus Christ.”
Jesus, while He was here on this earth, never went beyond the Court of the Gentiles in the Temple of Herod. Why? Because God didn’t dwell in that building anymore. He was there in human flesh. Jesus walked on this earth as the Holy Temple of God, His flesh being the house that God lived in while He was on this earth. We put Him to death on the cross. Jesus said, “When you believe in Me, I will come to live in you. You now are the Temple of God upon this earth.” Individually and collectively, we are the Holy Temple of God, and Jesus is the cornerstone of that Temple. We would not be what we are except for Him who determines the measurement, the unity, and the support. Everything we are, or are going to be, is determined by the cornerstone, who is the Lord Jesus Christ.
So the foundation, as I understand it, is the doctrine of the holy apostles and prophets who gave forth the divine revelation, which when put together in written form is the New Testament. We are grounded and founded doctrinally by what God said, not by what man said. Not only that, the cornerstone is Jesus Himself. We are governed, grown, and united because of Him, the first stone that was laid.
The Stone of This Temple of God
Well, thirdly we are going to begin to look at the stone of this holy Temple of God. Now, Paul does not use the word “stone.” Simon Peter does, but Paul doesn’t. He implies it, because in their culture, you didn’t have a temple made out of wood. You had a temple made out of stone. It was the stones that built the temple. It is implied that we are living stones, if you please, who are being built into this Holy Temple.
Let’s go over to I Peter and see how Peter talks about it. He’s saying the same thing, but he says it in a way that is a little clearer. He wants us to know that we are living stones. By the way, have you ever thought about the fact that if you are dead in sin, you are a stumbling block to somebody? You are a stone, but you are not the living stone. If you are a Christian, you are a living stone, and you can still cause people to stumble. I would rather cause them to stumble because I know Christ than because I am leading them astray from Him. I Peter 2:5 says, “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” We are living stones, and we are being fitted into this spiritual edifice which is called the Holy Temple of God.
Let’s talk about that for a second. Ephesians 2:21 says, “in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord.” What does it mean to be fitted together? In construction terms, in that day and time, that word meant the whole process that stones go through in order to be fitted together. Something is going on in our life. God is fitting us.
Now wait a minute, what do you mean? If you will look at the Old Testament temple, something comes to your mind. In the Old Testament, when they fitted those stones in place, there were no sounds of a hammer or chisel. Why? Does that mean a hammer and chisel had never been used? Oh, no. They were used back in the quarry, but when they came to putting the stones in, the stones were absolutely perfect. They fit into where they needed to fit. The construction term means “the cutting, the rubbing, the testing of the surfaces until they are completely made smooth.” It is the using of the chisel and the hammer and the sandpaper to rub off all the rough edges so that when they are fitted in, they fit in exactly like they are supposed to fit. This includes preparing the little dowel holes that they would use. Then they would put dowels in it and seal it with molten lead. All of this was a part of being fitted, a preparation, so that everything is exactly to order as it is being fitted into the building.
As a living stone, I’ve got no choice but to be sandpapered and chiseled, because you see, right now, I am in the quarry of life. As a living stone, I am still in the quarry. That is what life is all about down here. We call it sanctification. It means the same thing. While I am down here, God knows exactly the vacuum to create in my life that will rub off the rough edges and will sandpaper off all of the things that don’t fit in what He wants me to fit into eternally. Therefore, He creates that vacuum so I have to come to Him and confess sin in my life. I have to see the ugliness of my pride. God tests me and proves me and rubs me and scrapes me and chisels me in the quarry so that I am being fitted. It didn’t say you have already been fitted, it says “you are being fitted.” We are being fitted into this holy temple of God. There is a process going on.
If you are a living stone and you are going through something right now that you don’t understand, relax, friend. Just rest a while. The cornerstone is busy fitting you into the temple, which is the holy, spiritual, eternal, temple of God.