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Morning Sermon: The Church As Temple: An Introduction, Ephesians 2:19-21 

Old Testament Reading: Psalm 118

“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! Let Israel say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’ Let the house of Aaron say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’ Let those who fear the LORD say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’ Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free. The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? The LORD is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes. All nations surrounded me; in the name of the LORD I cut them off! They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side; in the name of the LORD I cut them off! They surrounded me like bees; they went out like a fire among thorns; in the name of the LORD I cut them off! I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the LORD helped me. The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous: ‘The right hand of the LORD does valiantly, the right hand of the LORD exalts, the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!’ I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD. The LORD has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death. Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD. This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it. I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD. The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar! You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 118, ESV)

New Testament Reading: Ephesians 2:11–22

“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 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.” (Ephesians 2:11–22, ESV)

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Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.

Introduction

I have stated that my intention is to preach through the Gospel of Luke. That is still my plan. But before we begin that series I would like to preach a few sermons (maybe five) on the doctrine of the church. 

When we speak of the doctrine of the church we are taking up the question, what do the scriptures say about the church? What is it? Who belongs to it? What is its purpose? What is its mission?, etc. 

These are very important questions, brothers and sisters. There are many institutions in the world today that call themselves a “church”. And if we consider the word “church” etymologically I suppose they all have a right to use it, for the word “church” simply means, assembly, gathering, community, or congregation. Considered in this generic sense, I suppose that any community that assembles together regularly and for some stated purpose may call itself a “church”. 

But of course, we do not use the word “church” in this generic way. No, when we speak of “the church” we are speaking of a specific kind of society. We are speaking of the church of Jesus Christ, or the church of the living God, that is to say, the church as it is defined by the Holy Scriptures. 

One thing is clear. In fact, it is so clear it should hardly need to be stated, but sadly it does. The church of Jesus Christ is an assembly, a gathering, a community, or a congregation, for this is what the word “church” (ἐκκλησία) means. So then, when Christ said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18, ESV), he did not mean that he would build a building (though churches do often meet in buildings), nor hold a service (though churches are to conduct worship services). No, his promise to build his church was a promise to gather to himself a community of believers who would assemble in his name. The simple meaning of the word “church” makes this clear. And of course, when we examine the scriptures we see that this was the practice of the early church. They assembled. 

Sadly, many who claim to be followers of Christ today have forgotten this most basic truth. “Church” means assembly or congregation. Christ did not come into the world to merely save individual sinners, but to lay down his life for his church (see Ephesians 5:25) and to build his church on earth until the consummation (see Matthen 16:18). This is why the writer of Hebrews warned Christians against “neglecting to meet together”(Hebrews 10:25, ESV), as was the habit of some. 

This is perhaps the most basic thing we can say about the church, for this is what the word means! The church is an assembly or congregation. But there are many more questions to address. For example: Who belongs to the church? When is the church to assemble? What are they to assemble around? In other words, what unites this society? What is the nature of the church? What is the church to do? What is her purpose? What is her mission?     

I will not be able to articulate a full-blown and detailed doctrine of the church in this little series. Time will not allow for it. My objective is simply to say a few important things about the nature and purpose of the church. And I would like to do all of this under the heading, The Church as Temple. 

Yes, this will be a bit of a follow-up from the last part of our study through the book of Exodus. In that series, we spent a significant about of time considering the tabernacle which God gave to Old Covenant Israel. And not only did we consider the details of that tabernacle and how it was to be used by Israel under the Old Covenant, we also traced the theme of “tabernacle” (or “temple”) beginning with the garden of Eden and the Covenant of Life that God made with Adam in that holy place, and concluding with the new heavens and earth which Christ has earned through his obedience to the Covenant of Redemption. In that series, it was demonstrated that the story of the Bible begins and ends with God’s temple. God’s eternal temple was offered to Adam but lost by the breaking of the covenant. The good news is that God’s eternal temple has been earned by Jesus Christ, the second Adam. All who are united to Christ by faith – all who have Christ as their head and representative – will enter into that worldwide and everlasting temple when Christ returns to bring everything to a conclusion. At that time it will be said, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3–4, ESV).

So then, having heard all of this, the beginning and end of the story of the Bible should be more clear to you. The thing that was offered to Adam, but lost, and the thing that Christ earned through his obedient life and sacrificial death, was communion with God in his worldwide and everlasting temple. This is about the enjoyment of God’s presence. This is about beholding his glory. This is about giving him the praise he so deserves as our Creator and Redeemer forever and ever in the realm he has prepared for his people.

And having considered the tabernacle that was given to Old Covenant Israel in the days of Moses, and by way of extension the temple that was built by Israel in the days of Solomon, the purpose of those physical structures should also be clear to you. Yes, Old Covenant Israel worshipped God at the tabernacle and temple according to the command of God given through Moses. And yes, a kind of purification was provided for them through the animal sacrifices that were offered there by the Levitical priests. They were cleansed according to the flesh, but not the conscience. They were made clean and upright according to the terms of the Old Covenant by the blood of bulls and goats, but not before God eternally. But you know that those structures were also filled with symbolism. They pointed back to Eden, up to heaven, and forward to Christ and to the new heavens and earth which he has obtained. 

Under the Old Mosaic Covenant, Israel was given a physical, earthly tabernacle and temple, and the clear teaching of the New Testament is that these physical and earthy structures have found their fulfillment in Christ, in his finished work, and ultimately in his eternal reward. This is why the writer to the Hebrews says that “the law [of Moses] has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities…” (Hebrews 10:1, ESV). In another place, Paul speaks of the festival days of the Old Mosaic Covenant when he says, “These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:17, ESV).

You know, considered in an earthy way, and through eyes of unbelief, the New Testament seems to have things backward.

 If you were to close your eyes and imagine Old Covenant Israel, their redemption from Egypt, the land of Israel, and the kingdom of Israel; and if you were to imagine the worship of Old Covenant Israel with its many festival days and Sabbaths, its priesthood, and its sacrifices offered up continually at the tabernacle, and later temple; and if you were to compare all of that in your minds with the New Covenant people of God, their deliverance from the domain of darkness,  and the worship of the New Covenant, which of the two would you label as shadowy and which would you label as having form and substance? 

Again, considered in an earthy way, and through eyes of unbelief, we would be tempted to say that the Old Covenant had form and substance, whereas the New Covenant is shadowy. It’s difficult to even imagine the New Covenant people of God, for they, considered in a universal sense, are not confined to one nation on earth, but are scattered throughout the whole earth, and some are in heaven now, not bodily, but in the soul. Israel had prophets, priests, and kings. They were visible and on earth. Where is our Prophet, Priest, and King? He is hidden from our sight in the heavenly places. And the worship of the New Covenant is spiritual and unadorned, especially when compared to the worship of the Old. Yes, we have two visible and symbolic ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But this is very plain when compared to the complexity of Old Covenant worship. We do not have a physical temple. We do not have a city or a mountain. No, we may worship anywhere in spirit and truth. 

Indeed, to the natural and unbelieving eye, it is the Old Covenant that seems to have form and substance, and it is the New Covenant that seems to be shadowy. But the New Testament insists that the opposite is true. Again, Hebrews says that “the law [of Moses] has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities…” (Hebrews 10:1, ESV). And speaking of the festival days of the Old Mosaic Covenant, Paul says, “These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:17, ESV). So then, the physical and earthy things of the Old Covenant are to be regarded as shadows cast backwards upon the history of redemption, whereas Christ, his finished work, and his reward (which we cannot now see), are to be regarded as the form and substance of these shadows. Clearly, we will need eyes of faith to see and believe this.

And I suppose this is my objective in this little series on the doctrine of the church. I want you to see the New Covenant church of Jesus Christ as the beginning of God’s worldwide and eternal new creation temple. 

God’s worldwide and eternal temple was offered to Adam in the Covenant of Life, but forfeited by his breaking of the Covenant. 

After the fall, God’s worldwide and eternal new creation temple was promised to Adam and to Abraham. 

In the days of Moses and under the covenant that God made with Israel through him, God’s worldwide and eternal new creation temple was prefigured in a shadowy way. 

When Christ was born into the world, and after he had finished his work by living for sinners, dying for sinners, rising for sinners, and ascending for sinners, he poured out the Spirit, not upon a temple of stone, but upon his people. At that moment, God’s worldwide and eternal new creation temple was inaugurated or begun. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:16–17, ESV)

 And finally, God’s worldwide and eternal new creation temple will be consummated or brought to its completion when Christ returns to judge and to make all things new. 

We have devoted a considerable amount of time to the consideration of God’s temple offered to Adam but forfeited, promised to Adam and Abraham, prefigured within Israel, and consummated at Christ’s return. I wish to spend some time considering God’s temple as it is now in the era in which we live.  

When Christ was born into the world, having finished his work, and ascended to the Father, his eternal kingdom was inaugurated, the new creation was ushered in, and the construction of God’s worldwide and eternal temple – the one that is shown to us in its final form in Revelation 21 and 22 – was begun. 

Where is this temple? It is made visible in the church whenever she assembles for worship. That is what our text for today says. Ephesians 2:17: “And [Christ] came and preached peace to you who were far off [that is, to the Gentiles] and peace to those who were near [that is, to the Jews]. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father [that is temple language]. So then you [Gentiles] are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints [that is kingdom language] and members of the household of God [that is family language], 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.” (Ephesians 2:17–22, ESV)

In my experience, which is admittedly limited, we are accustomed to speaking of the church in the terms of the kingdom of God, the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, God’s vineyard, etc. And these truths are all very important, and not to be neglected. But I am afraid that the theme of “church as temple” has been badly neglected in our day. And it’s a shame. 

It is a shame because the New Testament makes much of this.

It is a theme that Christ himself made much of in his public ministry as recorded for us in the Gospel (this is especially evident in John’s Gospel). He “tabernacled” amongst us when he took on flesh. He claimed to be God’s temple when he said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up….  he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:19–21, ESV). He was baptized as our great High Priest. He told the woman of Samaria, “the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father… But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth…” (John 4:21–24, ESV). In his public ministry, he declared the temple in Jerusalem to be “desolate” (uninhabited, deserted) (Matthew 23:38). When he breathed his last, the veil on the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). And in his resurrection he promised to poor out his Spirit as he taught that all of the law, prophets, and Psalms find their fulfillment in him (Luke 24).  

This theme of “church as temple” is picked up and emphasized in the book of Acts and by the Apostles of Christ as they wrote their epistles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Hebrews makes much of this theme, as has already been noted. And Paul also makes much of it in 1 Corinthians 3, 2 Corinthians 6, and Ephesians 2. Peter also speaks of the church in this way when he says in 1 Peter 2, “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you 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” (1 Peter 2:1–5, ESV).  And we have already mentioned the book of Revelation. Indeed, temple imagery is found throughout that book from beginning to end, and it is applied to Christ’s church.  

The point is this: the church of Jesus Christ is described in the New Testament as the inauguration or beginning of God’s worldwide and eternal new creation temple. And it is spoken of in this way, not as an analogy or metaphor, but as fact. 

I think we need to let that sink in a little. 

The church is called God’s temple, not in a metaphorical way, but really and truly. Granted, this temple is not a temple of stone. No, it is a “spiritual temple”. It is a temple made up of people assembled together on earth. But this does not make it any less of a temple, for what is a temple except a dwelling place for God? The temple which God made in the beginning was not made of cloth or stone – it was the temple of God’s creation. There Adam and Eve communed with their Maker. And the eternal temple which will be brought into being at the end when Christ returns will not be made of stone either – no, all of heaven and earth will be Jerusalem, the Temple, and even the Holy of Holies, for God’s glorious presence will illuminate that place, and those who have believed upon Christ will enjoy him forever and ever in that place. So then, the tabernacle and temple of Old Covenant Israel which were constructed of cloth, stone, and other precious things were in fact symbolic of the temple that was in the beginning and the temple that will be at the end of time. But the building up of that temple – God’s worldwide and eternal new creation temple, as it is described in Revelation 21 and 22 – has begun. Perhaps you heard it when I read Ephesians 2:22: “In [Christ] you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:11–22, ESV).

Perhaps I can drive this point home by asking a couple of questions. 

One, which temple is connected to the temple that will be brought into existence at the end of time when Christ returns? Is it the temple that King David’s son Solomon built out of stone and precious things? Or is it the temple that King David’s son, Jesus has built and is building, not out of stone, but out of people who have faith in him who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit?  

I think we should say that both temples – the temple of stone that Solomon made under the Old Covenant and the spiritual temple which Jesus is building now under the New Covenant – are connected to the eschatological end eternal temple that will be brought into existence when Christ returns. 

The question then is this: how are they connected? Answer: The temple of stone that Solomon built prefigured or symbolized the eschatological and eternal temple. So then, the connection between the two is symbolic in nature. But the temple that Jesus Christ is now building under the New Covenant by his shed blood and through the pouring out of the eternal Spirit on all flesh is in fact the beginning of the eternal temple. The temple of God that is now being built is the inauguration of the new creation temple. The two are not connected in a symbolic way, therefore, but in a substantial way. 

Just as it is with God’s eternal kingdom, so it is with God’s eternal temple: both are here now in an inaugurated form. When Christ finished his work, died, rose again, and sent the Spirit, God’s kingdom and God’s temple were then present on earth substantially and with power. The new creation earned by Christ has broken into history and is present now in the church. It is already here, but not yet in fullness. God’s kingdom, temple, and the new creation are expanding now through the preaching of the gospel as the Spirit works. Whenever a sinner is effectually called by the Spirit, turns from their sin, and places their faith in Christ, they are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), they are made citizens in God’s eternal kingdom (Hebrews 12:28), and they become living stones in God eternal temple (1 Peter 2:5).

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Conclusion

In this little sermon series, I wish to explore some of the implications of this truth that the church today, under the New Covenant, is the inauguration or beginning of God’s eternal temple. I think the implications are very great. And I think it is especially important for us to reflect upon them in our modern age where reverence for God, his church, and the worship of his name is so greatly lacking. 

This thought occurred to me. Perhaps it will illustrate my concern. If the temple of stone that Solomon built were rebuilt in Jerusalem today, I imagine that many Evangelicals would flock to that place and would enter with a sense of reverence, awe, and even fear and trepidation. And yet so many of these same Evangelicals think very little of the church, her officers, membership, discipline, ordinance, and worship. That is the word that I would use to describe the modern church – irrelevant. 

And yet, if we understood what the church is – if we, with eyes of faith, could only see that church is the inauguration of God’s eternal temple and is therefore much greater and more substantial than that temple of Old – and if we would only contemplate the implications of these truths, believe them, and strive to live according to them – then we might begin to regain a sense of reverence and awe, for God, his church, and the worship that is to be offered up to him in his temple in this New Covenant era.  

Notice that this was the concern of the writer of the book of Hebrews. After laboring to demonstrate that Jesus Christ and the New Covenant that he mediates is greater in every respect than Moses and the Old Covenant which he mediated, he says this: “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken…” And I think it could also be said, let us be grateful for receiving a temple that cannot be shaken… “and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28–29, ESV).

Brothers and sisters, may our understanding of what Christ has done and what he is doing now through the church increase. And may the end result be this: that we “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16–17, ESV) 

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