When we speak of the Church, we do not mean a building, a denomination or Christendom, but believers corporately. We shall consider the subject first in a local, and then a universal sense.
The Local Assembly. In 1 Corinthians 3. 9-17, a local assembly is likened to a building, “ye are God’s building”, v. 9. Since the process of building is described in verses 10-15, the thought may be expressed as “ye are God’s building in course of construction”. The building being constructed is a sanctuary, concerning which Paul asks, “know ye not that ye are a temple (or, sanctuary, marg.) of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?”, v. 16 R.V. This means that the founding and building up of an assembly in a town or village is a Holy of Holies indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
It is a profound and sobering thought that “the Spirit of God dwelleth in you”, namely, in a local assembly of the Lord’s people. Let us note that Paul does not say “with you” but “in you”. What is the Holy Spirit’s purpose in indwelling an assembly? Our Lord promised, “when he, the Spirit of truth, is come … He shall glorify me …”, John 16. 13, 14. In this present age, a special ministry of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Christ. As the glory of God was manifest in the sanctuary of former times, so Christ should be glorified in and through an assembly. It is not surprising that there follows a solemn warning against “defiling” the assembly with corrupt conduct or false teaching, “for the sanctuary of God is holy, which (sanctuary) ye are”, v. 17 A.V. and R.V. marg.
The Church Universal. Paganism had a temple, dedicated to the goddess Diana in Ephesus. Judaism had its temple in Jerusalem. Christianity has also its temple, not a man-made edifice, but a building “whose builder and maker is God”.
Looking upon a wider horizon than that of the local assembly, both Peter and Paul view the whole Church of God, composed of both Jewish and Gentile believers during this present day of grace. These two writers refer to the Church as a “spiritual house”, 1 Pet. 2. 4-7, and a “building”, Eph. 2. 19-22, respectively. Both the structure and the purpose of this mystical building are described.
“Ye … are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets …”. In his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, W. E. Vine says that “the ‘of’ is not subjective (i.e. consisting of the apostles and prophets), but objective (i.e. laid by the apostles, etc.)”. This is borne out by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 3.10 r.v. where he says “I laid a foundation” in respect of the founding of the assembly at Corinth. As Vine points out, the foundation is “the ministry of the gospel and the doctrines of the faith”, Christ Himself being die theme of the gospel preached and the doctrine taught, 1 Cor. 3. 11.
In a building, one corner stone is laid first, and the others are laid in alignment with it. In this “spiritual house”, Christ Himself is “the chief corner stone”, but He is also said to be a “living stone”. The former title of Christ indicates His foremost position, His pre-eminence, in this mystical structure, whilst the latter title signifies the nature of His Person; He is “the Living one … alive for evermore”, Rev. 1. 18 R.V.
Believers are also said to be “as living stones”, 1 Pet. 2. 5 R.V., in this spiritual house, because they have been quickened and are “partakers of the divine nature”. As a stone mason places carefully each stone into position for bonding the stones and aligning them to the chief corner stone, so believers, as “living stones”, are “fitly framed together” both to one another and to Christ, “the chief corner stone”. Quoting 1 Corinthians 12. 18, but changing the metaphor to the one now before us, we learn: “But now hath God set (the stones) every one of them in (the building), as it hath pleased him”. The positioning of each “living stone” in this spiritual edifice is according to the pleasure of the divine Master-Builder, whom we must not question.
This divine building “groweth (and continues to grow) into a holy temple (or, sanctuary) in the Lord”, Eph. 2. 22 R.V. marg. All believers corporately, not restricted to a district but age-long, form this divine sanctuary. This mystical building is “for an habitation of God through the Spirit”. Thus, the divine purpose is unchanged from those far off days of the wilderness journeyings – “that I may dwell among them”.
As believers, we are “looking for that blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ”, Titus 2. 13 R.V. Indeed, He will appear in glory when “his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives”, Zech. 14. 4. Our coming Lord says that Israel in that day “shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn” -they will be repentant, not of His coming, but at His coming. Then “all Israel shall be saved”, Rom. 11. 26, and Messiah will then set up His millennial kingdom on earth.
Of this coming glorious age, Zechariah had a vision, in which he saw “a man with a measuring line in his hand … to measure Jerusalem, to see what is the breadth thereof, and what is the length thereof”, Zech. 2. 1, 2. Following this survey, there is this remarkable prediction, “Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls for the multitude of men and cattle therein”, v. 4. An unwalled town was unthinkable in Zechariah’s day and for centuries afterwards. Such a prophecy indicates that Jerusalem will be not only restored but greatly enlarged, extending beyond the boundaries of its ancient walls, owing to its greatiy increased population.
The fulfilment of this prediction must be millennial, because of the two-fold promise that follows, “I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her”, v. 5. Jehovah-Messiah Himself will be as “a wall of fire round about” affording protection to the city against possible attacks from without. Furthermore, the Lord Himself “will be the glory in the midst of” the city. David Baron says that these words “are really an announcement of the return of the glory of the Personal Presence of Jehovah to Jerusalem”. The original coming of that glory occurred when the work of the tabernacle was finished and “the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle”, Exod. 40. 34. The departure of the Shekinah glory is a blot, as it were, on Israel’s history. Its return in the Person of Christ is a glorious prospect for Israel and the nations of the earth.
The climax of this prophecy is in verse 10, “lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee”. The divine Speaker is the Messiah. In the past, Israel was privileged to have the Lord dwelling in their midst, but within a sanctuary made with hands. In the age to come, “the king of Israel, even the Lord, is in the midst of thee”, Zeph. 3. 15. The Lord Jesus will then dwell in the midst of Zion and rule over the nations.
The finale will not be the millennium. The consummation will follow when time gives place to eternity. “The heavens and the earth … (are) reserved unto fire against the day of judgment”, but this will not be until the Son “shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father”, 2 Pet. 3. 7; 1 Cor. 15. 24. This cosmic conflagration, following the millennium, will purge the heavens and earth from the defilement of sin. A renewed heavens and earth will emerge, which will be the prospect, not of Israel nationally, but of all believers. For Peter says: “we … look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness”, 2 Pet. 3. 13. In the millennium, righteousness will rule, Isa. 32. 1, but, in the eternal state, righteousness will dwell in the new universe.
John, too, has a glimpse of this ultimate goal of the plan of redemption, when he says, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth … Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them …”, Rev. 21. 1, 3. Writing of these verses in the Apocalypse, Andrew Borland says, “What the tabernacle of old was to the nation of Israel, a visible indication that Jehovah was dwelling in the midst of His covenanted people, so now, in a more glorious and more intimate sense, God. would dwell with men on the new earth, and the visible evidence thereof would be the presence with them of the tabernacle of God, the new Jerusalem, the company of all the redeemed who had come down from God out of heaven”.
The divine ideal will then have been realised. The purged and renewed earth will be the habitation of God and men. Commenting upon “men”, William Kelly says, “They are no longer Jews and Gentiles then, as in the millennium … Every distinction which had to do with time is at an end”.
In that blissful and eternal age, God will not merely visit the scene as He did in the garden of Eden, nor dwell temporarily in a man-made tabernacle, but, in the new earth, God will dwell eternally with glorified men, “and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God”, Rev. 21. 3.
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