United in God’s Temple
having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. (2:20–22)
The foundation of the apostles and prophets refers to the divine revelation that they taught, which in its written form is the New Testament. Because the Greek genitive case appears to be used in the subjective sense, signifying the originating agency, the meaning is not that the apostles and prophets were themselves the foundation—though in a certain sense they were—but that they laid the foundation. Paul spoke of himself as “a wise master builder” who “laid a foundation” and went on to say, “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:10–11; cf. Rom. 15:20). These are New Testament prophets, as indicated by the facts that they are listed after the apostles and are part of the building of the church of Jesus Christ (cf. 3:5; 4:11). Their unique function was to authoritatively speak the word of God to the church in the years before the New Testament canon was complete. The fact that they are identified with the foundation reveals that they were limited to that formative period. As 4:11 shows, they completed their work and gave way to “evangelists, and … pastors and teachers.”
The corner stone of the foundation is Christ Jesus Himself (see Isa. 28:16; Ps. 118:22; Matt. 21:42; Acts 4:11). The cornerstone was the major structural part of ancient buildings. It had to be strong enough to support what was built on it, and it had to be precisely laid, because every other part of the structure was oriented to it. The cornerstone was the support, the orienter, and the unifier of the entire building. That is what Jesus Christ is to God’s kingdom, God’s family, and God’s building.
Through Isaiah, God declared, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed” (Isa. 28:16). After quoting that passage, Peter says, “This precious value, then, is for you who believe … you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” (1 Pet. 2:7, 9).
It is Christ Jesus Himself as the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord. Sunarmologeō (fitted together) refers to the careful joining of every component of a piece of furniture, wall, building, or other structure. Every part is precisely cut to fit snugly, strongly, and beautifully with every other part. Nothing is out of place, defective, misshapen, or inappropriate. Because it is Christ’s building, the church is perfect, spotless, without defect or blemish. And that is how He will one day present the church, His own holy temple, to Himself (Eph. 5:27).
Christ’s Body, however, will not be complete until every person who will believe in Him has done so. Every new believer is a new stone in Christ’s building, His holy temple. Thus Paul says the temple is growing because believers are continually being added.
Many cathedrals in Europe have been under construction for hundreds of years. In a continuing process, new rooms, alcoves, chapels, and so forth are built. That is the way with the church of Jesus Christ. It is in a continual state of construction as each new saint becomes a new stone. “You also, as living stones,” Peter said, “are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). As kingdom citizens, family members, and living stones, believers in Jesus Christ are a holy priesthood who offer up spiritual sacrifices in God’s holy temple. As a living, functioning, and precious part of that temple, we also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (see also 2 Cor. 6:16).
The term a dwelling (katoikētērion) carries the idea of a permanent home. God in the Spirit makes His earthly sanctuary in the church, where He takes up permanent residence as Lord. This would be a vivid perception for people living amid temples in which pagan deities were believed to dwell, as in the temple to Artemis in Ephesus (see Acts 19:23–41). But the church is no small physical chamber in which an idol is kept; it is the vast spiritual body of the redeemed, wherein resides His Spirit. (It should be noted that this is a distinct truth from that of each believer being the individual temple of the Holy Spirit, as taught in 1 Cor. 6:19–20.)
Through the blood, the suffering flesh, the cross, and the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, aliens become citizens, strangers become family, idolaters become the temple of the true God, the hopeless inherit the promises of God, those without Christ become one in Christ, those far off are brought near, and the godless are reconciled to God. Therein is the reconciliation of men to God and of men to men.
MacArthur New Testament Commentary