Citizens and Family Members in the Temple of God

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So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole building, being put together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you are also being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.

Context of Ephesians 2

Three launchpads for meditation. The first considers who the “you” in verse 19 refers to and what the “so then” should point us back to. From the context, it is clear that these verses refer to new, Gentile Christians. Ephesians 2:19-22 concludes a paragraph of thought where Paul describes the unity in Christ that Jews and Gentiles now have.

It had not always been this way. Before, the Gentiles had been “without Christ, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world” (v. 12). The Gentiles had been far away from the people of God. But through the blood shed on the cross, Jesus “made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility” (v. 14). Jesus came and proclaimed this good news of peace, uniting both Jews and Gentiles through the same Spirit to have access to the same Father.

But what does it mean for Jews and Gentiles to now be united in Jesus? As we will explore in the second launchpad for meditation, Paul’s answer to this question is both beautiful and profound.

Metaphors for God’s People

In the second launchpad for meditation we will consider the three metaphors Paul weaves together to describe the new people of God.

First, rather than being foreigners and strangers, these new Gentile Christians are fellow citizens. Gentiles and Jews now equally share in the rights and privileges of being a part of God’s kingdom.

Second, with the privilege of having access to the Father, Gentiles are now members of God’s household. Rather than being far away from God, these new Gentile Christians experience a close relationship with their Creator.

Third, with the audience now thinking about a household, Paul continues with the metaphor of the Christian community as a house. Since this is not a commonly considered metaphor, we will spend considerably time meditating upon it in the third launchpad.

The Church as a Building

In this third launchpad for meditation, let’s consider three aspects of this final metaphor.

First, we will explore the structure of the house. The cornerstone is Jesus. In buildings the cornerstone determines the position of all the other stones. It gives the walls their line and binds all stones together. With Jesus as our cornerstone, those in the Christian community find their true place and purpose in relation to Jesus.

Second, the house is growing. The house began with Jesus as the cornerstone. Then came the apostles and prophets as the stones forming the foundation. Next came earlier Jewish believers set firmly on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Now, the Gentile believers are being added to this increasingly large structure.  

This growth is not manufactured, but rather it is organic. As 1 Peter 2:5 would confirm, the stones are living stones.

Paul is multiplying the metaphors. This building grows organically and is being put together like how a body is joined together. The Church is like a building but grows like a body.

Interestingly, in chapter 4 Paul mixes the metaphors in reverse. In that later chapter, the Church is a body with Christ as the head. Using the metaphor of a house, this body builds itself up in love. In chapter 4, the Church is like a body but it becomes larger (it grows) like a house. The mixing of metaphors work together to reveal beautiful truths about the nature of Christian community.

The final aspect of the house metaphor to consider is the connection to the temple. As God’s house, the universal Church is the temple – the place where God dwells with humanity. God walked with Adam and Eve. He took up residence in the tabernacle and later in the Jerusalem temple. Now, God’s chosen dwelling place is in the Church – the fellowship of all believers (both Jews and Gentile who embrace Jesus as the Messiah).

What a tremendous transformation this is!

Verse 14 describes how prior to Jesus, there was a dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles. The division of Jews and Gentiles by the law was reflected in the wall in the Jerusalem temple that divided the Court of the Gentiles from the Jewish areas. Separating the inner parts of the temple from the outside was a stone wall with the following inscription: “No one of another nation to enter within the fence and enclosure round the temple. And whoever is caught will have himself to blame that his death ensues”.

Rather than being a place where Jews and Gentiles are divided, now the temple is where Jewish and Gentile believers in the Messiah Jesus are united. The community of Christians supersedes all cultural, national, and racial divisions.

In summary, in the words of F.F. Bruce:

“If the community is viewed as a city, (Gentile believers) are citizens, not resident aliens. If the community is viewed as a house or household, the Gentile believers are full members of the family – not household servants but sons and daughters, with all the rights of inheritance…If the community is viewed as a building, the Gentile believers are integral parts of the structure.”

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