A Commentary by John Stott
Paul moves on from the whole structure of the temple to its individual stones. In both cases union with Christ is indispensable: *Christ…the chief cornerstone in whom the whole structure is joined together…in whom you also are built into it…* The apostle Peter, who also develops the picture of the church as a building, describes individual church members as ‘living stones’ needing to ‘come to him (Jesus)…and be…built into a spiritual house’ (1 Pet.2:4-5). Here in Paul’s picture the extra stones being built into the structure are *you also*, by which he means his Gentile readers. The Jerusalem temple was an exclusively Jewish edifice, as we have seen, which all Gentiles were forbidden to enter. But now Gentiles are not only admitted; they are themselves constituent parts of the temple of God. And since one of the cornerstone’s functions was to bind two walls together, it may be that Paul is using this imagery to set Christ forth as the key to Jewish-Gentile solidarity.
What is the purpose of the new temple? In principle, it is the same as the purpose of the old, namely to be a dwelling place of God (verse 22). Of course spiritually minded Israelites knew that God did not dwell in man-made temples and that the whole universe could not contain his infinite being? (cf. 1 Kgs. 8:27; Acts 7:48,49; 17:24). Nevertheless, he promised to manifest his glory (the shekinah) in the temple’s inner sanctuary, in order to symbolize the truth that he dwelt among his people. The new temple, however, is neither a material building, nor a national shrine, nor has it a localized site. It is a spiritual building (God’s household) and an international community (embracing Gentiles as well as Jews), and it has a worldwide spread (wherever God’s people are to be found). This is where God dwells. He is not tied to holy buildings but to holy people, to his own new society. To them he has pledged himself by a solemn covenant. He lives in them, individually and as a community (Contrast 1 Cor.6:19; 3:16 and Eph. 2:21-22, where the temple of God is identified successively as the individual Christian’s body, the local church and the universal church.). What, then, has replaced the shekinah glory in the temple, as the symbol of God’s presence and the means of its manifestation? Paul answers the question here. The church is both *a holy temple in the Lord* (meaning, as always in the New Testament when not otherwise stated, ‘the Lord Jesus’) and *a dwelling place of God in the Spirit*. Once more the Holy Trinity claims our attention. For God dwells in his people as his temple ‘in the Lord’ and ‘in the Spirit’, or through his Son and by his Spirit.
As Paul was dictating his letter, there stood in Ephesus the magnificent marble temple of Artemis (‘great is Diana of the Ephesians’), one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and in whose inner shrine there was a statue of the goddess. At the same time in Jerusalem there stood the Jewish temple built by Herod the Great, barricading itself against the Gentiles, and now also against God, whose shekinah glory it had housed in its inner sanctuary for centuries, but whose glory as revealed in its Messiah it had sought to extinguish. Two temples, one pagan and the other Jewish, each designed by its devotees as a divine residence but both empty of the living God. For now there is a new temple, *a dwelling place of God in the Spirit*. It is his new society, his redeemed people scattered throughout the inhabited world. They are his home on earth. They will also be his home in heaven. For the building is not yet complete. *It grows into a holy temple in the Lord*. Only after the creation of the new heaven and the new earth will the voice from the throne declare with emphatic finality: ‘Behold, the dwelling of God is with men.’ (Rev.21:1-5).