The Church: ‘An Holy Temple in the Lord’
John B. D. Page, Harrow
Not the renowned pagan temple of the great goddess, Diana, in Ephesus but the Jewish temple in Jerusalem forms the background of this passage because of Paul's reference to "the middle wall of partition", which was erected in the court of the Gentiles where Solomon's porch was sited along the east side, John 10. 22-25; Acts 5. 12. Herod had constructed this fourth and outermost court when repairing and beautifying the temple, built about six centuries earlier by Zerubbabel and godly Jews who had returned from exile in Babylon, Ezra 1-6.
Next, the court of the women with the "Beautiful gate" as its principal entrance on the east side was not for the exclusive use of women but they were not permitted to go beyond it.
Then, the court of Israel, proportionately smaller than the two already mentioned, was open to all Jews except women.
The court of the priests, the innermost and smallest court, contained the brazen altar and laver.
From this court, the priests entered the temple, passing through the porch into the holy place where there were the lampstand, the table of showbread, and the altar of incense, all of gold. Within the veil, the Holy of Holies had no ark of the covenant, and it was also void of the Shekinah glory.
With this brief description of the second temple in mind, we may subdivide the paragraph, using temple imagery, into two sub-divisions, the first of which concerns the worshippers and the other the temple building.
1. The Temple Worshippers, vv. 11-
18. As Paul reflected upon Gentiles (in the outermost court of the Gentiles) mingling with Jews who alone had the right to enter the inner courts beyond the middle wall of partition, he thought of
The Divisions among the Worshippers, vv. 11-12. Some worshippers, unlike others, were "Gentiles in the flesh", indicating a racial division. They were called "uncircumcision" by "the circumcision" who were Jews practising this God-given rite, and so there was a ritual division. They were "aliens from the commonwealth (or, citizenship, lit.) of Israel", implying a political division. Gentiles were "strangers from the covenants of promise" whilst Jews were participants of covenant blessings, which meant a religious division.
After these divisions—racial, ritual, political, religious, the climax is reached, for the Gentiles were "without Christ . . . having no hope, and without God", and this was a spiritual division between God and them.
Such divisions characterized members of the church in their previous unconverted state.
The Spiritual Unity of the Worshippers, vv. 13-16. Formerly, they were "shut out from Christ" (v. 12, Conybeare), "but now" they are "in Christ Jesus", and so the sphere of alienation gives place to one of reconciliation.
A Hebrew idiom, them that were far off, was used of Gentile worshippers in the court of the Gentiles and unable to go beyond the middle wall of partition, but "them that were nigh", v. 17, referred to Jewish worshippers who had the right to enter other courts beyond the partition wall. But in the spiritual temple, the Church, Gentile believers who were once "far off" are now "made nigh" to God "by the blood of Christ", prefigured by the temple sacrifices.
The reason for such reconciliation follows in verse 14. "For he is our peace, who hath made both one", signifying that Christ is the unifying bond between the divided parties. Continuing, Christ "hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us", which is a metaphorical reference to the 4 ft. high marble screen that formed a limit in the court of the Gentiles, beyond which Gentile worshippers could not go. At intervals, there were gaps, through which Jewish worshippers passed to the other courts. At each gap, there was a tablet with an inscription in Greek and Latin, one of which was found near the temple site in 1872, and a translation reads:
"No foreigner is to pass witnin the partition wall and enclosure around the temple; whoever is caught will be responsible to himself for his death which will ensue".
Hence, "the middle wall of partition" formed a barrier between worshippers.
In the temple, there was another barrier, which was the veil, dividing the holy place from the Holy of Holies, because it formed a barrier into God's presence, and not even the priests could enter "within the veil". But, when Christ died, the veil was rent, and so we, as believer-priests, may now enter into the Holiest, the very presence of God.
The veil, ordained of God, 2 Chron. 3. 14, was a barrier between God and man, whilst the middle wall of partition was made by man and it was a barrier between worshippers. The one was rent, and the other has been broken down!
We may rejoice in the "new and living way" into the presence of God, and yet we may erect walls of partition between one another as the saints did at Corinth, but it savours of carnality and not spiritually, 1 Cor. 3. 4.
Possibly with the brazen altar and its sacrifices in mind, Paul thinks of the Anti-type, who "abolished in his (crucified) flesh the enmity" gendered by "the law of commandments ... in ordinances" of the old economy, so making "in himself" out of two divided and hostile groups of Jews and Gentiles "one new man", a supra-racial people where old distinctions and differences are obliterated, and "so making peace", which means a harmonious relationship between them. Furthermore, "that he might reconcile both unto God", uniting regenerate Jews and Gentiles into "one body", an undivided group of worshippers, "having slain the enmity", caused by the ritualism of the law, by His work on the cross, Eph. 2. 15-16; seel Cor. 1. 10.
The Sphere of Worship, w. 17-18. Having become "our peace", v. 14, and having made peace, v. 15, Christ has come and "preached peace", or, "declared glad-tidings of peace" (New-berry) to both Gentiles and Jews. The stone tablets at each gap in the middle wall of partition were a declaration of death, but in contrast Christ has made a declaration of glad-tidings of peace to Gentiles "afar off" in the outermost court and to Jews "that were nigh" in the inner courts.
To show the effectiveness of this declaration of peace, Paul now appears, in verse 18, to take his readers into the Holiest of the temple, from which even the priests were precluded except the high priest once a year. "For through him", who was prefigured by the veil, "we both", that is, the once divided and hostile groups of worshippers, "have access . . . unto the Father". Both "you which were afar off" and were barred by the middle wall of partition and "them that were nigh" but could not proceed beyond the veil "have access by one Spirit unto the Father".
Our access "through him" is not into a place, a sanctuary made with hands, but unto a Person and into His presence. The word "access" (prosagoge, Greek), occurring only three times in the New Testament, means "literally a leading or bringing into the presence of, ... with which is associated the thought of freedom to enter through the assistance of another" (W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary). For us, there are no restrictions, as there were under the law, but through Christ we have freedom to enter the presence of God at all times, of which the Levitical priests and worshippers knew nothing.
2. The Temple Building, vv. 19-22.
As the temple worshippers and their worship form the background of verses 11-18, so the temple itself is the underlying imagery of these subsequent verses.
The Household of God, v. 19. Gentile believers are no longer "strangers and foreigners" but they are now "fellow citizens" not of an earthly Jerusalem with its temple but of a city whose Builder and Maker is God.
Furthermore, they now belong to "the household of God", which, in view of the context, does not appear to denote a family but is associated with the temple. The term "the house of the Lord" or "the house of God" was used frequently for the building itself during its rebuilding, Ezra 1. 3-4, 7; 3. 8, etc, and it is applied to the local assembly, 1 Tim. 3. 15. Therefore, with the phrase "the household of God", Paul may have in mind the occupants of the temple, both the priests and worshippers, and he applies it to the whole Church.
The Foundation, v. 20. Believers are now told that they "are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets". Does the foundation consist of the apostles and prophets? If so, it gives them a unique position in the Church. But we need to remember that they were men used of God in establishing the Church, and they would not have desired a place of prominence. Alternatively, and no doubt correctly, the phrase signifies "the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets". This is borne out where Paul, as an apostle, says concerning the assembly at Corinth, "I have laid the foundation", 1 Cor. 3. 10. There is no suggestion of his holding a position of privilege as the foundation-member; rather, as a foundation-worker, he laid the foundation. Of the one and true Church, the foundation consisted not of men but their doctrine, and they were faithful in teaching only the whole counsel of God.
Continuing, the writer says, "Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone", or "foundation corner" (New-berry). For stability in the foundation, Jesus Christ should be given the key position, and our responsibility is to give Him pre-eminence in our ministry and work.
The Building, v. 27a. Upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, "ye ... are built", or, "are being built up" (lit.), which indicates that this spiritual temple has not yet been completed, but it is still in the course of being built, having been started at Pentecost and will continue until the rapture.
Looking at this spiritual temple as a whole, Paul says, "in whom all the (or, the whole) building (is) fitly framed together", signifying that believers as "living stones" are not unrelated to the Chief Comer Stone or to one another, but "all . . . (are) fitly framed together", a word which occurs only twice in the New Testament. As a building term, it means that the stones are bonded to one another, and in masonry bonding is essential. A building will collapse unless the stones are laid to a specific bond, and so bonding provides strength and stability to a building. In the spiritual temple, all "living stones" are bonded one to another and, above all, to the Chief Corner Stone, so that not even the gates of hell will ever prevail against it. Being "fitly framed (or, bonded) together" means harmonious relationship between one another and with Christ, and so "endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace", 4. 3.
The Sanctuary, vv. 21b, 22. Paul says this spiritual building "groweth" — and it still grows! —"unto an holy temple in the Lord", by which he expresses the divine Builder's purpose.
Of the two words translated "temple", Paul uses naos, meaning sanctuary, the inner shrine, as distinct from the whole of the temple buildings and courts. The writer says, "an holy temple in the Lord", and not in Christ. The latter phrase, in Christ, refers to our heavenly position through a spiritual union with Christ, but "in the Lord" signifies the Lord's authority over us in all relationships and activities on earth, and the Church, as a holy sanctuary, is here viewed on earth where Christ's Lordship should be acknowledged in our many relationships and varied activities.
In verse 22, Paul says, "in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit", which defines the purpose of this holy sanctuary now being built. Unlike the second temple, Solomon's temple was filled with the glory of the Lord until just prior to its destruction about five centuries later, and so it was the dwelling-place of God temporarily.
The word "habitation", used here by Paul and occurring only twice in the New Testament, means permanency of abode, and so, in contrast to the temple, the Church as a holy sanctuary is the "habitation of God" permanently. There is nothing transitory about this spiritual temple, for it cannot be destroyed by either man or the devil, and the exalted Lord will never abandon it as His habitation throughout time or eternity.