The Temple of God Is His People

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19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are [fellow] citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually [literally, in the Spirit] into a dwelling place for God. (Ephesians 2:19–22 NRSV)

Understanding the Word

What is the most precious place to you? What makes it so special? How often do you get to spend time there?

God’s favorite place is with his people. He enjoyed walking with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. He enjoys our company too; he made us, after all. Historically, God has allowed a centralized place for people to come and worship him at his tabernacle and later in his temples. There have been two temples. This physical location unified people, and allowed the Israelites a space and time to learn about God. God was slowly revealing more and more about himself. The temple was a sacred place, a special place; however, God also needed to teach his people that the temple was not to be trifled with; when the people of God rejected him, so also did God reject the temple. God was more than a temple dweller; he is bigger than that. He did not need a temple, but was simply accommodating us as humans, who like special, sacred places. Human religions often have such temple places, holy sites, and shrines. We like them; it helps define where God is. The problem is that God is bigger than we think. Also, God loves all people more than we think.

God has taken great measures to restore us into fellowship with him, to reconcile us back to him. Jesus is the key. Jesus ended the alienation and allows us no longer to be “strangers and aliens” but rather “citizens.” The terms used here are political in nature; just as once the Gentiles were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel” (Eph. 2:12), now that former political status is fulfilled in believers becoming fellow “citizens with the saints,” that is, God’s people. We now can become full members of God’s household; we have a place to belong. This is why we can call each other brothers and sisters. This is no trite statement; it is our new reality.

But more than this, Jesus’ sacrifice of himself initiated the formation of a new structure of life, a new sacred space, a new temple place: humans themselves. Of course, in Jesus God fully dwelled. Jesus was a full human being, and God inhabited him. Jesus himself was a walking temple, bringing God’s presence to people! Thus, Jesus opened the way for all people to be the place where God dwells. This occurs individually for each one of us and corporately for us as a body of believers. We together are the temple of God. This must have been mind-blowing for the earliest believers, since they saw temples all over. Now they were walking and talking temples.

While Paul was speaking metaphorically to some extent, there were tremendous implications for believers living on the ground in Ephesus. It was wrong for them now to go into the temples and participate in pagan worship. What replacement for this existed? Well, they had no need for a physical temple space; God resides in each one and among all believers. We are well-connected to God: we all have the Father, the Son, and the Spirit dwelling within us.

Questions

  1. What is your most precious place? Where do you experience God?
  2. Why do humans need temples? Does God need a temple?
  3. In what ways are believers the temple of God?

Did you enjoy this entry? Discover our OneBook: Daily-Weekly Bible studies, of which this entry is a part. The OneBook: Letter to the Ephesians by Fredrick Long study takes readers through one of the most important and most commented on parts of the Bible, paragraph by paragraph. Order the book and video studies from our store here.

This 12-week study Dr. Fred Long takes learners through Paul’s grand vision of the Church as Christ’s body, a people called to be holy and blameless in love. As the political head of the church Body, Christ exemplifies virtue and the church aspires to grow to be like him in sacrificial love and service. Paul, as an ambassador of Christ in chains, depicts the church assembly as a holy temple filled with God, Christ, and the Spirit, and then stands firm wearing divine armor ready to withstand all evil forces and to spread the peace of the gospel of Christ to the whole world.

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Dr. Fredrick J. Long is Professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary. His research and writings cover the areas of Biblical and Greco-Roman literature, Greek grammatical and discourse analysis and translation, and biblical commentary. He is currently writing a commentary on 2 Corinthians in the new Brill Exegetical Commentary series.

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