Ephesians 2:19-22. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Because Christ lives in us, we, the church, are the temple of God. Paul uses the unique word for the inner santuary of the temple (naos). For the Jews it would have been the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant was. For Greeks it was the center room where the idol of the god was set up.
In Ephesus the Temple of Artemis loomed over the city. The goddess Artemis ruled over hunting and animals but also chastity and fertility. She was a pretty big deal. Her temple is on the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World list. Everyone is Ephesus would have visited the temple complex. And (almost) everyone would have worshiped Artemis.
The Temple of Artemis – is this the temple Paul had in mind when he called the church God’s temple?
So what happens at a temple? Lots of things including: the deity is invoked. Priests offer prayers to the god. Sacrifices are made for appeasement. Gifts are offered in thanksgiving. All kinds of outward rituals.
But for us the doctrine of union with Christ changes everything.
Ours is not a faith that moves from the outer to the inner.
It moves from the inner to the outer.
Everything we believe in is IN us. Our power source comes from inside. We no longer observe outward rituals in order to receive the power and love of a deity. We are filled in our very spirits with God’s powerful love and it turns into outward acts of love.
This is what makes the church so unique and Christianity so different from every other religion:
We have no temple – we ARE the temple. This is no mere metaphor. God literally yet spiritually lives within our own spirits. Changing us from the inside out. The church is the earthly dwelling place of the Trinity.
We make no holy pilgrimage – we ARE the meeting place of God and man. In us is where heaven and earth meet. And we take this sacred space with us wherever we go. When someone enters into the presence of Christians they enter the manifest presence of God. His presence was meant to be manifest by his image bearers. That’s us. The church. The image of Christ.
We have no specialized priests – we ARE all priests. We’re a kingdom of priests. We have no separate priestly caste that only a few are born into. Everyone in Christ can enter the throne room of God. Each can make petition. All can offer confession.
We have no idols – we ARE the image of God through Christ in us. Jesus, the ultimate image bearer is now the image whose likeness we bear. We are being transformed, changed, molded into his likeness from glory to glory.
We bring no sacrifice – we ARE a living sacrifice. Every moment of our lives is an act of worship. Every thought. Every word spoken. Every decision made. Every action. Whenever the grace of God is displayed in our faithful living it is an offering of praise to God.
We make no atonement- we HAVE the life of Christ in us as the propitiation for our sins. Notice I didn’t say “we ARE” the atonement. Nope. Only Jesus could be the atonement. And he was. Therefore, there is no more offering for sin. No more blood to be shed. No bull or lamb to be killed. And no act of contrition on our part. No self-denial. No penance. No forgiveness to plead for. We ARE forgiven once for all by the once for all blood of the Lamb.
Do you see it? Everything that once happened at the temple now happens in us. How? Because it happened in Christ. In his life. The meeting of God and man, the forgiveness of sins, the offering of our lives to God, it all happened in Christ and in his cross. Not at the Jerusalem temple. Jesus was taken outside of the temple. Outside the city. To Golgotha. There he was crucified. Everything that God had sought to accomplish through the Temple would now be accomplished through the temple of Christ’s life and death. And then through us. His church. His temple on earth today.
“To live is Christ” is to be God’s temple. His Holy of Holies. The inner sanctuary where God sits enthroned in our hearts. The church today is the reality of all that an earthly temple could only shadow. Together in Christ we are the meeting place of God and man. He is our God and we are his people to the praise of his glory.