2 Corinthians 6:16
Sam Storms comments on our passage:
On the one hand, I don’t want to be guilty of unwarranted exaggeration. On the other, I am hard-pressed to think of a more theologically important, spiritually encouraging, and eschatologically controversial statement than that of Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:16: ‘For we are the temple of the living God!’
In this study we will be considering this incredible statement because there truly is in this statement, as Storms says, so much theological import, spiritual encouragement, even as there is also controversy among brothers regarding the meaning and implications of these words.
But, Paul is grounding his exhortation to cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of the God (an exhortation that we will pick up next time) in this massive statement that we are the temple of the living God.
In order to feel the weight of this statement we really need a thorough soaking in the Old Testament. Which is one reason we should each be diligently reading through God’s Word all the time, even as it is sometimes hard going. Because if we do not know what God has said and done and revealed about Himself and His interaction with this world as it is revealed to us in scripture starting in the Old Testament and building into the New, when we come to passages like this in the New Testament that inform us about who we are in Christ we will not hear them, understand them, or be built up by them as we should.
So consider with me some of the weight and wonder of how God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, the great three in one, has manifested His glory and made His dwelling among us.
The Drama of Redemption
If we start in Genesis 3 we read that Adam and Eve were driven from the presence of God and He cut them off from the tree of life because of their sin and ever after mankind is dead in trespasses and sins and physical death follows. And here we have the necessary context for all of God’s future engagement with humanity.
God is absolutely holy. He is holy, holy, holy (Isaiah 6:3) and cannot abide sin in His sanctuary. Man was cut off from the life of God because of sin. God set cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:23-24). Because of sin all mankind was barred from the presence and life of God, …But God being (not only Holy but also) rich in mercy did not utterly abandon us, His image bearers, to destruction. He promised the Serpent that one day a special offspring would come from the woman and he would destroy the works of the devil – the Devil’s work of enslaving mankind in sin and death away from the presence of God (Genesis 3:15; 1 John 3:8).
And so we find as we read the Old Testament that the God of all holiness and the God of all mercy had His sovereign hand on the line of Seth down through to Noah. And we see God preserving mankind alive through one man, Noah. In the flood we are given a picture of God’s plan to preserve and restore mankind not just physically but spiritually by a Redeemer, the special offspring.
But in Noah’s day we are shown, graphically, what our sin deserves; we are told that God’s heart was grieved because of man’s sin and He justly destroyed everything with the breath of life in it because the wickedness of man was great on the earth, corrupt, and filled with violence. We are told that every intention of the thoughts of mans heart was only evil continually – this is the natural bent of all humanity. But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord – we have a God of great mercy! The Lord preserved Noah and his family, eight, alive.
From Noah God had His hand on Shem his son down through to Abram who would be called Abraham, the father of faith. Though mankind is full of wickedness and darkness and sin the God of all holiness did not abandoned His promise to defeat Satan by sending a special offspring and we read in Genesis 12 and following that God clarifies His plans.
At this point the Father of Mercy promises to bless all the families of the earth in/through Abraham. And God promises to bless Abraham, to be his very great reward, and to grant him offspring as numerous as the stars and to make him a blessing (Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1,4-5) and God promises Abraham’s offspring an inheritance, a place (12:7) and God establishes His covenant with Abraham and his offspring – an everlasting covenant, to be God to him and to his offspring after him. God promised to give him and his offspring the land Canaan forever and that He would be their God (Genesis 17:8). And none of this was not dependent upon Abraham’s obedience but upon God’s merciful promise.
I hope you can you feel the tension in these events. How can God be making these promises to sinners? Mankind was justly barred from the sanctuary of God because of sin and yet God pursues sinners with these great and many promises to bless mankind. How will God be God, holy and transcendent and dwell with man?
Well, we read that God faithfully preserves the line of Abraham through Isaac and then Jacob (called Israel) and then Jacob’s twelve sons and multiplies and preserves them in Egypt and finally delivers them with a strong and might and merciful hand through Moses the servant of God.
And, it is under Moses that God added the Law Covenant, given at Sinai, to govern the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob because of transgressions until the promised offspring should come (that is what we are told in Galatians 3:19), who would destroy the works of the devil and vindicate God’s holiness.
But we must mark carefully that the Law Covenant was added 430 years after the unconditional promises given to Abraham and did not render that covenant of promise invalid. The Law Covenant could not make the previous promises of God void (Galatians 3:17-18). Rather the government imposed at Sinai was a ministry intended to serve the descendants of Abraham by driving them and confining them and pressing them to that promised offspring, the Christ.
As we have see in 2 Corinthians, the Mosaic Covenant served the people of God by demonstrating the crushing holiness of God. It served the people of God by killing them and condemning them and shutting every mouth before God and driving the to His unconditional promise of a Savior. Truly it was to eliminate boasting and demonstrate that it would not be by the obedience and merit of fallen people that God would keep His promises, but by one Man – the special offspring long promised.
And so at the same time that the Mosaic Covenant was serving to condemn, it was also intended to teach about what was needed to keep God’s promises and restore fallen, sinful people back into the presence and life of God. The Mosaic Covenant was, as the letter to Hebrews says, an earthly covenant with copies and shadows of the heavenly realities, patterned after the heavenly realities (Hebrews 8:5). And so the law, the prophets, the priests, the kings, the tabernacle, the temple, the sacrificial system, all these things were designed both to foreshadow the heavenly realities and to demonstrate the need for a better more perfect covenant, one that depended not on us, but upon God.
So let us learn well from the types and shadows of the Old Covenant and allow it is teach us of our need and of the glorious provision of the new and better covenant which has now come.
Temple of Old
So consider with me now specifically the dwelling of God with the people of Israel under the Old Covenant. Even before the temple was built by Solomon, God who dwells in unapproachable light dwelt with the people of Israel by means of a tabernacle or tent. “It was there [at the tabernacle] that, ‘the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle’ (Exodus 40:34). The tabernacle was where the people of Israel would draw near to hear from God, to worship God, and to stand in his presence (see Leviticus 9:23; Numbers 14:10)” (Sam Storms).
And so even as man was barred from the garden of God, cut off from the life and presence of God, God made provision to come and dwell among this people Israel, but as we have seen even this dwelling was truly only a shadow, a picture of what God had planned for the future.
[And] what was true of the tabernacle during the days of Israel’s sojourn was even more the case in the temple of Solomon [some 480 years later]. When the ark of the covenant was brought ‘to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the Most Holy Place, underneath the wings of the cherubim’ (2 Chronicles 5:7), ‘the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God’ (2 Chronicles 5:14) (Sam Storms).
So, God visibly and physically manifested the splendor of His glory among His people so that the priests could not even enter the temple to minister. In chapter 6 of 2 Chronicles Solomon prays and praises God for dwelling among them, but even on this day Solomon acknowledges that this temple that he has built on earth could not contain the sum and fullness of glory of God. He says, “But will God indeed dwell with man on earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built” (2 Chronicles 6:18)!
Yes, the temple of the Old Covenant was intended to reveal something of the majesty and transcendence and holiness of God come to dwell with His people. But even Solomon understood it was but a kind of picture of the true sanctuary, not made by human hands.
Now, it is with this Old Testament backstory that we must come to the New Testament where we learn of the New Covenant.
Hearing the New Testament
Listen to John 1:1-5 and 14 as John brings the sweep of history together in Jesus Christ:
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made thought him, and without him was not anything and that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
It is important to know that the word John uses here to say the Word became flesh and ‘dwelt’ among us, literally means He tabernacled or pitched His tent among us. Even as Yahweh took up residence among the people of Israel under the Old Covenant by means of the tabernacle and then the temple, these were but pictures of and pointers forward to what God would do and now has done with the coming of the only Son from the Father, that special offspring long promised in whom all God’s promises find their “Yes!” and “Amen!” (2 Cor 1:20). John is telling us that God took up residence among us. God the Son took on flesh and dwelt among us.
We Are the Temple of the Living God
Sam Storms is worth quoting at length here:
The Word, Jesus of Nazareth, is the true and ultimate shekinah glory of God, the complete and perfect manifestation of the presence of God among his people. The place of God’s glorious dwelling is the flesh of the Son! The glory that once shined in the tent/tabernacle/temple of old, veiled in the mysterious cloud, was simply a foreglow, a mere anticipatory flicker, if you will, of that exceedingly excelling glory now embodied in the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ (see Colossians 1:19).
“God no longer lives in a tent or a tabernacle built by human hands, nor will he ever. God’s glorious manifest presence is not to be found in an ornate temple of marble, gold, and precious stones, but rather in Jesus. Jesus is the glory of God in human flesh, the one in whom God has finally and fully pitched his tent.
“The point is that the temple of the old covenant was a type or foreshadowing of the glory of Christ. It was the place where the Law of Moses was preserved, of which Jesus in now the fulfillment. It was the place of revelation and relationship, where God met and spoke to his people. Now we hear God and see God and meet God in Jesus. It was the place of sacrifice, where forgiveness of sins was obtained. For that we now go to Jesus. Israel worshiped and celebrated in the temple in Jerusalem. We now worship in spirit and truth, regardless of geological locale.
To meet with God, to talk with God, to worship God, you no longer come to a building or a tent or a structure made with human hands. You come to Jesus! Jesus is the Temple of God!
But the story doesn’t end there. We, the church, are the body of Christ and therefore constitute the temple in which God is pleased to dwell. The shekinah of Yahweh now abides permanently and powerfully in us through the Holy Spirit. When Paul describes this in his letter to the Ephesians, he refers to Jesus Christ as the cornerstone, ‘in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit’ (Ephesians 2:21-22). Simply put, God’s residence is ‘neither a literal temple in Jerusalem nor simply heaven, but the Church, of which the Gentile Christian readers in Asia Minor were a part’ (Andrew T. Lincoln).
“This formation of the [New Covenant] temple is an ongoing divine project, a continuous process (Ephesians 4:15-16). Although it may seem strange to speak of a ‘building’ experiencing continuous ‘growth,’ Paul surely want us to conceive of the church as an organic entity. Recall that Peter also refers to believers… as ‘living stones’ (1 Peter 2:5)!”
I hope you are even now rejoicing in the wisdom and mercy of God throughout His history to lead us to Jesus and the perfect covenant He has now established in Jesus Christ the promised offspring. And I hope you see the incredible privilege of where we find ourselves in this history of redemption.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
And in our 2 Corinthians passage Paul again exhorts the Corinthian believers, grounding his plea with this truth: you are the temple of the living God!
What we have seen is this:
beginning with the incarnation and consummating in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, together with the progressive building of his spiritual body, the church, God is fulfilling his promise of an eschatological temple in which he will forever dwell” (Storms).
What Paul is declaring to the Corinthian church is that a glorious and decisive transition has taken place in the coming of Jesus Christ. The glory that drove fallen Adam and Eve out of the garden, the crushing glory of the smoking mountain, the glory that was so great that the priests could not enter the physical temple of old, the glory of God that dwelt in the most holy place where only the high priest could enter and only once per year and then only with blood, that same transcendent glory of God has now come in the promised offspring of Eve, through Seth and Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David, not to crush and kill and judge, but to uphold God’s holiness and justice and righteousness and to deal fully with our sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
The coming of Jesus the Christ was not just another prophet like all the rest. He was not a judge and deliverer like all the others. He was not a priest like all the rest. He was not a king like all the rest. Jesus Christ is the Prophet, the Judge, the Deliverer, the Priest, the Sacrifice, the King, the Temple, (etc) that all the others where pointing to.
And the curtain in the temple of old has now been torn from top to bottom and the pictures have given way to the reality. Those who will come to God to worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth through Jesus Christ.
And so the great dilemma and tension in the universe has been answered and resolved. The dilemma was that the pervasive sinfulness and moral bankruptcy of mankind was met with rich mercy by the God of transcendent holiness and unwavering righteousness. How can God make these opulent promises to sinners and still be holy holy holy? That question has fully and finally been answered in Jesus Christ.
The cross, is where God meets with us. All God’s promises pour through the cross of Christ.
And the glorious victory and vindication of God by means of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus means that God can and does now dwells with us through Jesus Christ! The glory of God dwells here in us and abides with us not because of what we have done or can do, but because we are in Christ by faith.
And God has now taken up residence in each one who is a believer in Jesus Christ. And so we are the living stones of the one true and everlasting temple built upon Jesus Christ the Great Cornerstone.
Do you realize what you are and who you are?!? Do you realize that you are a participant in a covenant far more glorious than the one that the Old Testament saints participated in? They had the copies, the foretaste, the preparation; we have the the reality.
And the application I hope that we go away with and meditate upon this week is that we are not in any way withheld or barred from God because of Jesus. We are not second rate citizens, we are full heirs with Christ. And we need not search for God in distant and far off lands – No. Through the Spirit of Christ God is here in power and love and for our good – He is our God, He is our refuge. He is our very great reward.
We need not grope toward God through a complex of religious rituals – No. Through faith and faith alone, in Christ alone God is fully and unchangeably our strong tower, our loving Father, our closest friend.
We need not despair that God is far off or that God is too transcendent and unapproachable and we too sinful and too small – No. In Christ we have been brought near and God is attentive to our needs and prayers and eager, delighted to do us good and there is nothing holding Him back. Satan may accuse you of sin, but God has silence him and proved for you white robes and made you a living stone in His temple – Not because of what we have done, but what He has done.
Oh, I pray that every soul here this morning is clinging to Christ by faith and that you know how blessed you are in Him! Let us not run past praising God for what He has done through Jesus Christ. We are the Temple of the Living God!
When you think of those who are privileged to share in the promises and inheritance of Abraham, do you realize that you are fully among them by faith in Jesus? When you think about those who are privileged to be chosen by God and beloved and cared for and provided for and protected and blessed by God, do you realize that you are fully among them by faith in Jesus Christ? You are not a second class citizen – you are a decedent of Abraham! He is our father by faith and the promises to him and his offspring forever belong to us!
In Christ Jesus we who were far off are full heirs with the saints! God is our God and we are living stones in His true temple, the temple of the one true and living God!
Listen to Ephesians 2:11-22 with fresh ears and embrace your privileged identity:
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles (not Jews) in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
This message is for every man, woman, or child from any nation or background in all the world: we all have access in one Spirit to the Father through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord. He has reconciled God and made peace by the blood of His cross for everyone, Jews and none Jew alike, who will trust Him. So we are no longer barred from God. We all, as one new man, one redeemed people, one household built on the foundation, the cornerstone Jesus Christ are being gathered from every tribe and tongue and people into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Do you know the privilege that is yours in Christ Jesus?
Do not cower in fear and guilt – the offspring has come. Lift high the name of Jesus and boldly approach the throne of grace by faith! Do not think wistfully that others are more privileged and more blessed then you! Lift high the name of Jesus and rejoice that you are a citizen and full member of God’s house and all things are yours! Lift high the name of Jesus and recognize that if you are a believer in Jesus Christ you are already a living stone in the temple that God is building- a temple in which He will dwell forever – and there is no other temple nor ever will be.
… you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant…
Do we realize the glory what we have in Jesus? Let us press on to better understand the glory of what God has done in Christ Jesus and the privilege that is now ours and is now for everyone who will call upon the name of Jesus.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the thing of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.
Next time we will see some of the implications of these things for our lives until Christ returns.