A couple years after 911 my wife Chris and I were in NYC on a Redeemer Church recruiting trip considering planting a church in Manhattan. One of the areas we were asked to consider was Battery Park City, located just west of Ground Zero. At the time of our visit the enormous cleanup had been completed and the rebuilding and repairing of the subway station had begun. Today there are two reflection pools where the twin towers stood, a museum and the recently completed Freedom Tower.
Building projects take considerable time. If you have ever been part of a building project, you know exactly what I mean. The bigger the project, the more time it takes. The Freedom Tower was officially open just last November. Construction on the famous Notre Dame Cathedral began in 1163 and completed in 1345, taking only 182 years to build! Surprisingly, at best estimates it took 7 years for Solomon’s Temple, and 13 years for his palace. The temple of Paul’s day, Herod’s Temple took 82 years to complete.
In Ephesians 2:19-22 Paul gives a picture of a spectacular building project that has already taking longer to build than the aforementioned and is incomplete. The big picture here is that God is in the middle of a massive building project where He is building a temple for Himself that is immensely more spectacular than Solomon’s’ Temple. It is a “holy temple” (2:21) where God Himself lives. This temple is not constructed from stone, wood or any man-made materials, but rather is constructed with God’s people. It may seem somewhat of a bizarre concept at first, however when comprehended will give a new perspective on our place and calling in this life.
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
Taking a closer look at this new temple we find that the structural core itself is Jesus Christ. In this passage Paul writes that Christ is the cornerstone. This was not a novel idea to Paul, as Isaiah prophesied “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation…” (Isaiah 28:16). The cornerstone placed at the corner of two walls is an essential part of the foundation, and in fact the overall structure. Christ holds the structure together – “in whom the whole structure, being joined together” (21 -NIV) giving the building stability, direction and growth.
Built upon and around the foundation work of Christ is the message of the apostles and prophets (2:20a). It was their gospel proclamation that is foundational to the structure. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. . .” (Mt 16:18). And looking at the building having been completed we read “And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Re 21:14).
With the Cornerstone and the foundation in place, Paul moves on to the bricks or façade which are God’s people (2:19, 22). It is fascinating how in this chapter Paul takes the Ephesian believer from being locked out of the temple to being an essential part of its construction. Paul gives them and us a new identity as he goes from “stranger” to “fellow citizen with the saints”. From “alien” to “members of the household of God”. F.F. Bruce comments “The new community, God’s fellowship of reconciliation, transcends all distinctions of race, status, and sex”.
Being part of this new temple not only gives the Believer a new identity, but a new calling. “And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (22), or as the NIV puts it, “… built together into a permanent dwelling place of God by the Spirit”. Note Well the “you too” or “you also”. That remind the Gentiles once again that they were included right alongside everyone else. Paul is giving a beautiful and comforting picture that the Ephesian’s were now part of God’s earthly sanctuary, his dwelling place or home. A place of protection, intimacy and love. It is a very large dwelling place where “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossian 3:11). Peter describes it this way: “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, your yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (1 Peter 2:4-6)
As Paul wrote these words to the Ephesian believers, he knew the splendor of Solomon’s Temple that had been destroyed long ago. The temple that then stood in Jerusalem was called Herod’s temple and though a large complex, it was nothing in comparison to Solomon’s Temple. From 1 Kings Chapter 6 and 7, we see that it was an elaborate and expensive building containing extensive amounts of gold, silver, precious stone and rare wood. Once it was destroyed it could never be rebuilt.
The Ephesians were not as aware of either Solomon’s or Herod’s temples, but lived in the shadow temple of Artemis or Diana. It was a grand building and classified as one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. With that image in mind, Paul tells them that they get to part of something more magnificent then the temple of Artemis and more glorious – better than Solomon’s Temple! The Believers then and now have the privilege of being built up into the holy temple of God.
Christ is busy redeeming people from death to life. This is not simply about race, it is about those who were Gentiles, uncircumcised, it is about those who were at one time separated from God (12), it is all of us, with our sin, brokenness, and pride….. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. . . ” (2:10).
Now that is good news!