A Holy Temple | Ephesians 2:19-22

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 2:19-22 ESV

Thus far in his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul has praised God for the innumerable riches that we possess in Christ, he has then prayed for us to know those blessings more through the enlightening work of the Holy Spirit, he has detailed how we came to enter into our blessings by the grace of Christ, and finally, he has described how the same work of Christ also gives us peace with one another in Him. As we conclude chapter two, these final four verses naturally flow from the glorious reality that Christ’s blood has killed the hostility that existed between Jews and Gentiles, creating one new man in the place of two. Our present text now declares to us the beautiful vision of who that new man is, namely, the church, and to do this the apostle presents this vision of the church through three powerful and rich images.

CITIZENS AND FAMILY // VERSE 19

The words so then indicate that this verse is directly predicated upon the previous one, which said: For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. As we discussed last week, the gospel kills hostility between people just as it killed the hostility between the Jew and the Gentile. The gospel accomplishes this by rescuing us from the same sin by the same Savior through the same Spirit bringing us to the same Father. Through the gospel, we see that we each have the same problem, the same solution, and the same reward. By this, it removes the causes of strife. It eliminates the grounds for hostility, killing them upon the cross with our Lord.

Because of this salvation through Jesus Christ, we are no longer strangers and aliens; instead, we are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. From strangers and aliens to citizens and family, this is the power of the gospel. Yet we should be quick to ask the question: citizens of what nation? The commonwealth of Israel. After all, notice that by declaring that we are no longer strangers and aliens Paul is purposely bringing us back to what we were in verse 12: “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” (emphasis added). We who were once alienated from God’s people and strangers to God’s covenants are now, in Christ, fellow citizens. Though Gentiles, we have been grafted into the true Israel, the kingdom of God, the church.

This provides a glimpse of insight as to why we have this series, Kingdom Come. While it may seem odd that we have used this title, especially since the word kingdom is only used in Ephesians 5:5, I believe that it is a fitting description of what Paul is discussing here and has been so far in the letter. Belonging to the kingdom of God, after all, means being a part of God’s people, belonging to Christ’s church, and the first three chapters of Ephesians very much center upon the blessings of our entrance into the church. Therefore, they present how the kingdom of God has come to us. Of course, there will come a day when the kingdom will come in its finality with the return of Christ as King; however, our partaking of the spiritual blessings of being in Christ through His reconciling us to both God and one another is the present and active coming of the kingdom. It is the process of our naturalization and the benefits of our citizenship in the kingdom. Also, appropriately when Paul moves into descriptions of how we are to live in chapter four, we will call that section of our study Kingdom Life.

Notice also who forms the citizenship of this kingdom, the true Israel: saints. The kingdom of God is composed of the people of God, who are the holy ones that God Himself has made holy through the person and work of Christ. Our acceptance into God’s kingdom, our naturalization as citizens, is not based upon our ability to live a holy and blameless life before God. Instead, solely by the grace of God in Christ has our slavery to sin been abolished and we have now been chosen by God to be a people for His own possession. The saints of God are not primarily a morally upright people (although that is the inevitable fruit); instead, we are a purchased people, a people that now belong exclusively to God.

Yet Paul also provides another metaphor for the people of God: we are members of the household of God. We are not only a kingdom; we are a family. God is not only our King; He is also our Father. Recall that one of our blessings in Christ is being adopted as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ. Since we are each adopted in Christ by the Father, we are now “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17), and we are brothers and sisters with one another. This is a powerful image for understanding the unity of the church because as anyone who has a family knows, being related does not mean agreeing with one another. In fact, it is not uncommon to find our boldest arguments being given to our family, to those that we are closest to. And doesn’t this appear to be true of the church as well? With so many denominations and divisions, can we really say that we are family and that Christ has killed the hostility between us?

First, it is crucial that we remember that our peace in Christ will not be complete until He returns again to make all things new. On the cross, the peace was purchased and applied, but like our salvation, it is both already and not-yet. Second, we should understand that some divisions actually promote a greater unity. I would argue that a clear and charitable acknowledgement of secondary and tertiary doctrines of disagreement actually creates a more fertile ground for uniting around the fundamental beliefs of the faith. Third, sometimes heated arguments actually reveal the depth of love within a family. You may be able to disagree with a family member more boldly than with an acquaintance because despite the argument, there is a foundation of unity, a deeply rooted knowledge that you are both permanently bound together.

But what is that foundation of unity? For that answer, we must move on to verse 20.

THE FOUNDATION & CORNERSTONE // VERSE 20

The church, the household and kingdom of God, is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. Paul has now switched over to his third image of the church as a holy temple, which we will discuss more thoroughly in verses 21-22. For now, we must address the foundation and cornerstone of this living temple. It may be almost automatic for us think of Jesus as being the foundation of the church, yet Paul directly describes the apostles and prophets as being the foundation. We should, therefore, first ask the question: who are the apostles and prophets?

As we discussed briefly from Paul’s opening greeting, apostles were those who received a personal commission of Jesus Christ and had a unique office and authority within the New Testament church. Like the prophets of the Old Testament, some of the apostles were used by the Holy Spirit to write Scripture, the very Word of God. Furthermore, once the apostles died, they have not been replaced within the church. There is certainly an apostolic succession of truth, but the office of apostle has ceased.[1]

As for the prophets, there are two main thoughts. For much of church history, the prophets here were assumed to be in reference to the Old Testament prophets, but the common view has now become that these are New Testament prophets, especially given how Paul uses this phrase again in 3:5 and 4:11. Of course, there are others, like Lloyd-Jones, who believe that Paul has both in mind. Regardless of which understanding we come to, the role of a prophet in both Testaments is to proclaim boldly the Word of God. Too often, we assume that prophesying means predicting the future by divine revelation, but even within the Old Testament, that has never been the primary goal of a prophet. Rather, the prophets were sent by God typically to either comfort the afflicted or to rebuke the unrepentant.

We should further note that neither office of apostle nor prophet held authority within the person. Peter, for example, as an apostle was not infallible. In fact, Paul recounted to the Galatians how he once rebuked Peter for acting hypocritically toward the Gentiles. Neither was Peter the rock upon which the church is built, as Roman Catholics teach; instead, Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, is the church’s rock. Paul confirmed this again to the Galatians by warning them that even if one of the apostles “or an angel from heaven should preach to you another gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (1:8). Apostolic, and prophetic, authority is rooted in the validity of the message, not the messenger.

The fledgling church understood this too. Even though the apostles were still leading them directly, Acts 2:42 notes that the early believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers.” They devoted themselves to the doctrine of the apostles, not specifically the men themselves. This is why the martyrdom of nearly every apostle did not cause the church to collapse. Through the Holy Spirit, they laid the foundation for the church, but the church did not revolve around them. Their teaching continued far beyond their own lives.

The doctrine of the apostles is preserved for us today within the New Testament, and the New Testament clearly and repeatedly affirms the authority of the Old Testament as well. Therefore, our security that we are upon the same foundation as the apostles and prophets lies in our submission to God’s Word. The Scriptures are the final authority over God’s people.

Yet notice that Paul goes on to say that Jesus is the cornerstone. As one commentator notes, “The cornerstone was the most important stone of the foundation, bearing the weight of the building and tying the walls firmly together.”[2] Jesus is the centerpiece of the entire structure, which we know is true of the Scriptures as well. The Bible is the church’s supreme authority. Yet the Scriptures are authoritative because they are spoken by God and reveal Him to us. The Word of God is a means to an end, and that end is God Himself. We come know and love the triune God through His Word.

This, of course, also means that God Himself governs the church through the Scriptures. Jesus is the true Pastor of His church, and He leads and guides us through His Word. Pastors, like the apostles, only hold authority in so far as we are faithful in proclaiming this Message. We should, therefore, take warning of what authority we submit ourselves to.

Of course, this does not mean that if a church abandons the Bible as its final authority that there will be an immediate collapse into a rejection of the gospel and of the faith. A sheep’s wandering from the shepherd does not necessarily mean that it is immediately eaten by a wolf. However, rejecting the foundational authority of God’s Word can only result in an inevitable departure from the true faith entirely (which history has proven time and time again). A sheep without a shepherd will not long survive on its own. We too need the voice and authority of our Shepherd.

Furthermore, the Scriptures alone provide our basis for and conditions of unity. Standing upon the solid foundation of the apostles and prophets, we rightly declare that Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, while claiming to be among Christianity, do not belong to the church, to this household of faith. By rejecting the Trinity (among many other beliefs), they place themselves outside of orthodoxy. We are not built upon the same foundation, and we are not brothers and sisters in Christ.

A DWELLING PLACE FOR GOD BY THE SPIRIT // VERSES 21-22

Because Jesus alone is the cornerstone, in Him the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. The temple, as we saw in Haggai, was the dwelling place for God with His people. Eden’s garden was kind of temple, where Adam and Eve could walk with God, but their sin exiled them from God’s presence. Yet through the tabernacle and then the temple, the LORD provided a new place for God to be present in the midst of His people. Imagine the wonder of such a place! We were created to know and love the LORD, to seek after His face. And the temple provided a place where God was sure to be found. It was a place of consistency, a place of security. The LORD was there. He was with His people.

Yet there remained a problem. God’s presence resided in the temple, but He was still detached from them. Just as the angel barred entrance into the garden, a great curtain separated the people from the Most Holy Place. Sin cast them out of Eden, and sin kept them still from God’s presence. God was with them but disconnected from them all the same. The temple was a visible declaration that God was with His people, but it also reminded them of the lost communion with God.

But Jesus changed everything. He promised to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, which was exactly what He did. Just as animal sacrifices were made in the temple for sin, Jesus offered up His own sinless and divine life as a sacrifice for our sins. After a brief description of the high priest’s sacrifice for sins once a year in the Most Holy Place, the author of Hebrews shows how Jesus’ sacrifice is different:

he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

Hebrews 9:12–14

The blood of Christ is a wholly sanctifying and purifying sacrifice. His sacrifice did not need to be remade each year; rather, it stands for all time, cleansing all sin so that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). The tearing of the curtain in two upon Jesus’ death only confirms this atonement. His death was the destruction of temple. The presence of God no longer resided within the Most Holy Place. And furthermore the temple was rebuilt three days later as Jesus rose back to life. We no longer need a physical place to meet with God because Jesus Himself is our mediator.

Yet another incredible event occurred in Acts 2. Following Jesus’ ascension, the Holy Spirit came upon His disciples. This was the Helper whose coming Christ had promised. His indwelling is now the seal of our salvation and our guarantee of the inheritance still to come. Just as one day upon the new earth there will be no temple because God Himself will dwell with mven, even now we do not need a temple because God the Spirit dwells within us. Indeed, with God’s Spirit within us, we are the temple, even as we are also Christ’s body upon the earth. We, the church, are a holy temple in the Lord.

This reality has staggering implications when we also consider the mission of Christ’s church. Before ascending to the Father’s right hand, Jesus commanded His people to go to all nations, making disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Triune God, and teaching them all that Jesus has spoken. This is the Great Commission. It is the mission of the church. It is how the kingdom of God goes forth. He has sent His disciples to rescue those who belong to the domain of darkness by making them disciples of His kingdom.

We often speak of Christianity’s distinctiveness being that all other religions require a person to work their way to God, while the Christian God comes down to us. Jesus is, of course, the absolute epitome of this truth. Yet for the past two thousand years, God has not stopped seeking and saving the lost. He did not give us Christ and the Bible and wish us well. No, He has placed His Spirit within us so that we live constantly in His presence, and then He sent us out into the world to reach others. All other temples require the seeker to come in order to meet with their god, but the true and living God sends living temples into the world to meet with them.

Brothers and sisters, consider the impact that this truth should have on our evangelism. Sharing the gospel is not merely about fulfilling some religious quota or checking another item off the to-do list. No, by sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with someone, God’s temple has come to them. Indeed, it is “God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). It is God calling traitors to His throne to find forgiveness at the cross, becoming instead the kingdom, family, and temple of God.


[1] This can be seen with Polycarp and Ignatius, both of whom were disciples of the apostle John, yet they did not consider themselves as carrying on the office of apostle. Instead, they carried on the truth that the apostles declared.

[2] Merkle, 53.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s