This five-part series explores how the early Church separated from the Jerusalem temple, where the first Christians often met (Luke 24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:20-21). Part 5 is about God’s new temple, the Church.
The Church is God’s house
In the early days of the Church, the new believers continued to meet in the temple (Luke 24:53). But in A.D. 70 Rome demolished the Jerusalem temple just as Jesus had foretold: “‘Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. ‘Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down’” (Mark 13:2 NIV). (See also Matt. 24:2; Luke 21:6.)
The ceremonial observances—animal sacrifices—finally were abolished. God had ensured that those who worshiped Him would do so not with regard to place, but in spirit and in truth (John 4:23).
God’s presence was no longer confined to the temple; God would now reach into all the world to build a new temple where the Holy Spirit could dwell and fill all the earth (Eph. 1:22-23).
The Church, the true temple of God
Under the new covenant, the Spirit of God dwells not in any building or structure of wood and stone, but in the spiritual house of the Church—the corporate Body of Christ.
4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—
5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. …
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
–1 Peter 2:4–5, 9–10 NIV
The Church is a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, a spiritual house and temple with Jesus Christ as its Chief Cornerstone.
Paul’s teaching echoes the Body-as-temple motif:
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household,
20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.
22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
–Ephesians 2:19–22 NIV
The Church is a spiritual building made of living stones, whose foundation is Christ Himself. It is a temple where the Spirit of God dwells.
9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.
11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. …
16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.
–1 Corinthians 3:9–11,16–17 NIV
Paul informed the Corinthians that, as a local body of believers, they were God’s temple, a local expression of the Body of Christ where God dwelled by the Spirit.
Later in this same letter, Paul revealed that each believer was also a temple of the Holy Spirit:
15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? …
19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;
20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
–1 Corinthians 6:15a,19–20 NIV
God no longer dwells in buildings made of stone. When we step into a church building, we should no longer quote Psalm 122:1: “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (NIV).
A church building is not God’s house or temple; “…WE are his house” (Heb. 3:6 NIV).
Let’s recognize the Lord’s house for what it is—the Body of Christ—and not human structures. Jesus died to set us free from temple worship, and so did Stephen.
Be that temple of the Living God where the Holy Spirit lives and moves and has being. This is new testament Christianity.