About Temples, Living Stones and the Priesthood of All Believers
In his first apostolic letter, Peter uses the imagery of the Temple and the priesthood of the Jewish religion as metaphors to explain our calling as Christians. It is an exciting challenge to see our homes and gatherings as places where God is present, and our lives as a holy calling to serve God and others everywhere and anywhere.
Let me start off by explaining a few things about the Biblical concept of Temple, starting in the Old Testament. There are a few different Temples in the Bible.
The first one is the Tabernacle which served the Israelites between the time of Moses and David. After that, during the rule of Solomon, the Temple was built. This Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC.
Seventy years later, after the exile, the Israelites rebuilt it. You read about this in the book of Nehemiah and Zechariah. Although it wasn’t as glorious as the first one, it was a time of great spiritual renewal among the Jews. This Temple later was renovated by Herod the Great, and this is the Temple Jesus visited often, where He taught, and where He turned the tables of the salesmen. This then was destroyed again by the Romans in AD 70 and never rebuilt again.
The Temple for the Jews was the center point of their religious activities. This is where they brought their sacrifices and their worship. The Temple was understood to be the place where God dwells, and where He reigns from. The Temple was the house of God – and for the Israelites, the central point in the universe. Key to understanding the Biblical concept of Temple is the presence of God.
A Temple is a place where heaven and earth overlap
After the Temple of Solomon was built, it was consecrated – made usable – when the glory of the Lord filled the Temple. It’s this beautiful scene in 1 Kings 8 where the Ark is brought in, and the cloud of God’s presence fills the Temple and people are completely overcome by the glory of God.
In the same way, the Temple is made unusable in the time of Ezra when he has a vision of the presence of God leaving the Temple – this as a result of all the scandalous things that happened there. You could see the Temple as the place where heaven and earth overlap. The place where heaven touches the earth.
This is why this Temple was so important for the Jews. Based on this idea, some people smarter than I have argued that, actually, the Garden of Eden, could be understood as the first Temple. And much of the symbolism in the Temple building would refer back to Eden as well.
Jesus as a Temple
In the Gospels, Jesus also refers to Himself as God’s Temple. The Pharisees ask Him about where His authority comes from, and Jesus responds: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
The Pharisees ridicule Him, reminding Jesus that it took a couple of decades to build it. But the disciples later understood that Jesus wasn’t referring to the building, but to His own body. Jesus was talking about His death and resurrection as the ultimate proof of His authority.
There is a lot of language in the New Testament that confirms this idea of Jesus as the Temple. Take for example Colossians 2:9 which says: For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily. This word ‘dwelling’ has a strong connection with the concept of Temple.
We can understand it this way: during the time of Jesus, He was the place of God’s dwelling. Wherever Jesus went, there was the presence of God, and with Him came the rule and reign of His Kingdom.
New Testament understanding of Temple
Yet, the New Testament even stretches the idea of Temple even further. Paul, in the first letter to the Corinthians, reminds the believers they need to stay away from sin that corrupts the body, because their body is a Temple of God’s Spirit. The Holy Spirit lives in us, so we have become places of God’s dwelling.
In the passage that we are studying today, the apostle Peter is speaking about the church community as a temple, and us as priests. He takes the symbolism of the Old Testament of temples and priests, and applies that to the functioning of us as a church community in this world.
1 Peter 2:4-5 (NLT)
You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor. And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.
There is an invitation here, to be part of what God is doing in this world. The Temple is no longer a physical building, it is now a spiritual temple that God is building, and we are the living stones of that building. The presence of God is no longer limited to one location, but God is erecting temples of His presence all over the world.
The cornerstone of this spiritual Temple is Jesus. What is a cornerstone?
The cornerstone is the first stone laid when a new building is built and everything leans on it. In this same way, Jesus is the first stone of this new Temple, as the first to be raised from the dead, and the whole building rests on who He is and what He has done. Jesus may be rejected by many, but for us, He is the cornerstone we build our lives on.
We Are Living Stones
I believe that this imagery of Temple and us as the Living Stones applies to multiple layers of what God is doing in this world.
Firstly, we can understand this spiritual temple that is talked about to be the worldwide church – the people of God. We were never meant to be so segregated and divided. I love how during this corona-crisis, technology is used to bring churches together. I loved those videos of the UK Blessing and the other day I saw a Dutch version of It Is Well With My Soul come by where people from all kinds of church backgrounds sing together.
Secondly, this idea of a spiritual temple that we are built into as living stones applies to local church communities. As a church community, we are not only the Body of Christ, but also a Temple of God’s presence. When we come together, the presence of God is in our midst – however big or small that gathering is.
Lastly, every house, every family, is a temple that God is erecting in this world. The Greek word oikos translated as ‘temple’ could also be translated as ‘house’. Actually, it’s most often translated as house. This helps us to understand that a temple is a God-house.
It points us to the idea that the house of every believer is a place of God’s dwelling.
Your house is a location in this world where the presence of God rests.
Even though I deeply long back for all of us to be gathered in one building again and worship our hearts out – I think that one of the things that we have undervalued, and God is highlighting again during this time, is that our homes are supposed to be sanctuaries, and that church is not a Sunday service, but a gathering of believers around Jesus.
We Are Priests
In this verse, we are referred to as God’s holy priests, bringing spiritual sacrifices well pleasing to God. What a beautiful privilege.
A few verses later, Peter picks up on this imagery again, and actually applies the calling into priesthood of the nation of Israel, in Exodus 19, to Christians, as the people of God.
1 Peter 2:9 (NLT)
You are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.
Based on the verses we focused on today, the Reformers rediscovered a very important principle: the priesthood of all believers. Their eyes were opened to the fact that the way church was organized in their time was not in line with how the Bible understands it. Their system of religion used ordained priests and saints as intermediates between believers and God.
Now, this exactly what priests are: intermediates. They are serving, praying, worshiping and blessing on behalf of the people.
Yet, what the Catholic church system of that time didn’t understand was that Christians don’t need priests – they are priests! And as priests, they are intermediates between the world and God. We represent God, and lead people into His presence.
Christians don’t need priests – they are priests!
The Reformers saw that this group of ordained intermediates this was hindering people, first of all from an intimate relationship with God, but secondly, it was hindering believers taking up personal responsibility and calling as priests.
Now, even though our understanding of this concept of the priesthood of all believers has profoundly changed the way churches are organized since the Reformation, I believe that we are at a point where we need a personal reformation, where we no longer shy away from God’s calling as priests in our families and our world.
And this is where I want to close off. God is calling you and me to step into priesthood.
I’m going to give you three questions to consider and discuss in your small groups. This is where the rubber hits the road, where you make practical what you have learned today.
Consider the roles that you have in your family (of spouse, parent, son/daughter) - how does your calling to priesthood change the way you approach this?
Consider your role as a colleague or class mate - how does your identity as a priest of the living God change the way you interact with people?
Consider your neighbourhood - how is your house a place of God’s dwelling, and how are you functioning as intermediates to those who don’t know Jesus yet, but desperately need him?