Saturday, March 20, 2021

The Body, the Temple, and the Bride

Christians, as God’s people, are fellow citizens with the Old Testament saints (Ephesians 2:19). But the figure of citizenship cannot describe all that we are in Christ. In Ephesians Paul uses three metaphors to describe us as Christ’s church: We are God’s temple (2:21–22), Christ’s body (1:23), and His bride (5:23–33). Paul ties the Old Testament images of temple and marriage (Psalm 27:4; Isaiah 62:5; Hosea 2:19–20) to his teaching about our union with Christ in His body.

The theme of our being united to Christ is the great mystery explained to us by the Apostle to the Gentiles, but Paul did not originate it. Rather, he put the capstone on the great truth that fills the Scriptures and shines in its glory in Jesus Christ. The truth is that in His Son, God came not only to join Himself to us but also to join us to Himself. This is the heart of the covenant that God made with His chosen people. When God said, “I will be your God, and you will be My people” (2 Corinthians 6:16), He was both claiming them for Himself and giving them a claim on Him.

He gave His memorial name to Moses at the burning bush so that His people might know Him personally and call on Him by name. God called Himself I AM, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; He took their names and gave them His name for their own.

The Lord’s time with Israel in the wilderness was a time of courtship, a tryst of divine love (Hosea 2:14–20). On Mount Sinai, God spoke to them and gave to Moses the stone tablets of His covenant. But even while Moses was with the Lord on the mountain, Israel turned to worship a golden calf. God threatened to withdraw His presence from their midst. He would go before them, He said, in the Angel of His presence and give them their inheritance in the land, but He would not dwell among them. No tabernacle would be built. Instead, God would meet with Moses at the door of Joshua’s tent, outside the camp.

But Moses cried in anguish: “If your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here” (Exodus 33:15). He begged the Lord to show His presence in glory and to declare His name. The Lord heard Moses; in glory He proclaimed His name as Yahweh, the faithful God, full of grace and truth (Exodus 34:6; John 1:14). What Moses asked for was God’s presence, not just that God would give them their inheritance, but that He would be present with them to make them His inheritance (Exodus 34:9).

This is the message of Exodus. The tabernacle was built, and God’s glory filled it. It is also the message of the Old Testament. In spite of the rebellion of Israel, in spite of the judgment of exile, God would at last bring His people into close fellowship with Himself. He would give them new hearts and dwell among them. To do this He had to make a new covenant. He had to come as their Savior to claim them. But the covenant needed to be renewed from their side, too. If God was to be their God, they must be His people. How could there be a pure and faithful servant to be joined to the holy Lord? A greater mediator than Moses, a greater king than David was required. The prophets declare that just such a one would come: God’s Anointed, the Son of the woman, the Seed of Abraham, the Son of David, the Son of God. Isaiah describes His coming as the chosen Servant of the LORD. He bears the name of Israel, and yet He will restore the preserved of Israel and be a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 49:3, 6). He fulfilled the calling of Israel as the One who is the true Vine, the true Israel. Through His sufferings He made atonement for the sins of His people (Isaiah 53); by His righteousness He will bring them up God’s holy hill. His name is “The Lord our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6).

Paul’s thought about the body of Christ begins at the cross, where Christ died in the place of His people (Ephesians 2:16). We were joined to His body there, as our representative; and we are joined to His body now, as our life. In the body of Christ, union between God and His people is sealed. Christ’s body is that temple where God dwells with His people (John 2:19). Paul speaks of Christ as the foundation upon which the house of God is built (1 Corinthians 3:11). He describes the church as the temple in almost the same words He used to describe the church as the body (Ephesians 2:21; 4:16). He also joins the image of the body to that of marriage (Ephesians 5:23–33), for in marriage husband and wife become one body, not only in physical union, but in the unity of love. The theme that blends these pictures is the great theme of the Old Testament lifted to triumph in the New: The desire of God’s love to make us His and to make Himself ours. He does it in Jesus Christ and in the gift of the Spirit.