Spiritual House, 1 Peter 2. 4-7
John B. D. Page, Harrow
From the Scriptures and history, it is apparent that Jewish life was centred in the Temple with its priesthood and sacrifices. Writing to Jewish believers scattered throughout Asia Minor and far flung from their national Temple at Jerusalem, Peter declares that their Temple had been superseded by "a spiritual house", the temple priesthood had given place to "an holy priesthood" of all believers, and the animal sacrifices had been set aside for "spiritual sacrifices", i Pet. 2. 5. Thus the Temple with all its ritual, ordained of God under the law, was "a shadow of the good things to come" in this day of grace. On account of these allusions to the Temple and its services, Peter has probably the local church in view, and so we shall consider the structure of a local church, its privileges and its responsibilities.
A SPIRITUAL HOUSE
Like Peter, we start with the building, of which he says, they were "a spiritual house", 1 Pet. 2. 5. Instead of the word "house", why did he not use the word "temple" when he has it in mind for the background? The two passages, 1 Kings 5-8 and 2 Chronicles 2-7 devoted to Solomon's Temple, use the phrases "the house" and "the house of the Lord" about one hundred and thirty times compared with the word "temple" ten times. Referring to the Temple at Jerusalem in His day, the Lord Jesus used terms such as "my Father's house", John 2. 16, and "the house of prayer", Matt. 21. 13. Hence, the word "house" was in common use for the Temple.
The word "house" is applied to believers collectively in such phrases as "Christ . . . over his own house", Heb. 3. 6, and "the house of God", 1 Pet. 4. 17. Therefore, to these dispersed Jewish believers, when Peter says that a local assembly is "a spiritual house", the under-lying imagery is the Temple at Jerusalem, with which we need to be acquainted in order to grasp the thoughts implied. Such a phrase is suggestive of several contrasts. That great edifice at Jerusalem was material, but a local church is "spiritual" signifying that, whilst the Temple is visible to people around, the spiritual nature of a local church (not the building where we meet) is invisible to the world. The influence of that great shrine was far reaching, but it did not match the power of a gathering together of believers, because that which is spiritual is greater than that which is material. Such comments are equally true of the one true Church throughout the centuries.
These scattered Jewish believers were probably familiar both with the second Temple at Jerusalem, which had been enlarged and beautified by Herod, and undoubtedly with the Biblical record of Solomon's Temple, but there were important differences between these two temples. Just one will suffice. Solomon's Temple was built of marble and the walls were overlaid with silver, carved cedar wood and gold, both inside and out, and so "there was no stone seen", 1 Kings 6. 18. The second Temple was built of the same white marble, but the stonework was seen, and the disciples so proudly pointed it out to their Master, Mark 13. 1-2.
The Stones. Basically, in all buildings, both of to-day and the Temple era, the materials can be classified as (a) cladding (e.g. plaster), and (b) constructional (e.g. stonework or masonry). Peter ignores the claddings of silver, carved cedar wood, and gold, and he focusses our attention on the constructional stonework. He sees the stones in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem as a foreshadowing of the "living stones" in a "spiritual house".
Referring to Christ as "a living stone . . . chosen of God and precious", Peter continues, "ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house", 1 Pet. 2. 4-7. Whilst the same metaphor is here applied to both Christ and Christians, it does not signify an equality between them. When Christ is said to be a Living Stone, it means that His Life is underived and unoriginated, for "in him was life" from the beginning, and He is able to impart Life, John 1. 4; 3. 16. When Christians are said to be "as living stones", it denotes not natural life but spiritual, derived not from man but God, and imparted by Christ. Therefore, Christ is the Quickener and we are the quickened.
In two different translations, believers are described as "living stones" R.v., that is, not dead spiritually but quickened, and as "lively stones" A.v., that is, not inactive but active for the Lord! In an assembly, it is important to ensure that all persons in fellowship are as "living stones" and none as 'inanimate stones'; that is, all are regenerate and none unregenerate. Otherwise, the situation can be like that of the Israelites when "a mixed multitude" went up with them from Egypt, and later "the mixed multitude . . . among them fell a lusting", Exod. 12. 38; Num. 11. 4. Mixture leads to dissension.
"Made ready before**. Thinking of Solomon's Temple, the stonework was not prepared on the building site, but it was "made ready before it was brought thither: so that there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building", 1 Kings 6. 7. This unusual feature of quietness in building work is suggestive of the silent work of the Holy Spirit which is first convicting of sin and quickening, then fashioning each "living stone" to be conformed to Christ, the "living stone".
The stones for the Temple were "made ready before" in a subterranean quarry. Likewise, the "living stones" for a spiritual temple were "made ready before", not in time but in eternity past, not by man but by God. for "whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to ... his Son . . . Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified", Rom. 8.29-30. "His Son", as the "living stone . . . elect, precious", is the divine pattern to which we, as "living stones", are to be conformed morally now and physically when the Lord comes again for His own, so that we are an expression of His glory both in time and throughout eternity.
White Marble. For building the Temple, marble stones were used, 1 Chron. 29. 2. Marble is often colourful, but the Hebrew denotes "white marble", and so each stone in the Temple was white. What a symbol of the purity that should characterize the "living stones" of "a spiritual house"! For the Philippian saints, Paul's prayer was, "I pray . . . that ye may be sincere... till the day of Christ", Phil. no. Occurring twice in the New Testament, this word "sincere" means unalloyed or unmixed, conveying the thought of purity. Mixture is an abhorrence to the Lord, and it is the cause of spiritual weakness and failure. Some Christians are like Lot, who looked upon the well-watered plain of Jordan which was "as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt", Gen. 13.10. These two metaphors suggest a combination of religion and the world, which are irreconcilable, but Lot ventured along such a path to his spiritual loss. Christians, who attempt to mingle worldliness with their Christianity, displease the Lord, and it weakens their testimony besides leading to spiritual disaster. Concerning our attitude to the world, the Scriptures are specific, teaching that it should be not one of discrimination, selecting the best, but separation.
It has been said that the Pauline word "sincere" is associated with marble masonry in the sense of "not filled with wax". Apparently, in Bible times a crack in marble could be filled skilfully with a special wax, so that it was not detected, but excessive heat from the sun could melt the wax! Therefore, building contracts often included a clause prohibiting such a practice. As "living stones", Paul prays that we should be "sincere", not mixed with any alien matter in our lives, "till the day of Christ". If such mixture escapes detection by fellow-Christians now, it will be detected in that day by the righteous Judge, whose "eyes are as a flame of fire", when we stand before His judgment seat.
The Lord's return is a purifying hope, 1 John 3.3. Therefore, if we think and speak of, and look for, the Lord's coming again, it should promote purity in our lives, and so we should be pure as He is pure.
Varied in Size. The stones in a building vary in size and shape, each having been cut out from a quarry and then dressed by a mason. Stones in the Temple were not uniform in size but varied; some, for instance, were 10 cubits long and others 8 cubits (i.e. about 20 ft. and 16 ft. respectively) in the foundation, 1 Kings 7. 10. Likewise, a spiritual temple consists of many and varied "living stones". They are varied from one another, but they should not be at variance with one another! Such variations amongst us are for the benefit of an assembly as a whole. Being varied, each "living stone" has a function to fulfil, and none should belittle his own function or covet that of another.
To be continued.