Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Temple, built by King Solomon as the central place of worship for all Israel, has been destroyed twice. It was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BC. After it was rebuilt, the Temple was then destroyed for a second time by the Romans in AD 70 and it has never been rebuilt since. Many Jews believed it should and would be rebuilt; some still do. Indeed, it is the belief of Orthodox Jews today that before the messiah comes the Temple will be rebuilt with its attending sacrifices and priesthood. They put their hope on what the prophets foretold: that the messiah would come and the true God would return to Jerusalem at last, coming back to live for ever in a properly rebuilt Temple. In fact, it is also a popular belief among many Christians today. Many believe that before the second coming of Jesus, the Jews will rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem on the temple mount and restore the priests and the daily sacrifices.
However, Saint Peter the Apostle understands these prophecies differently. Peter says those ancient prophecies are already fulfilled. He claims that the new Temple is already being built. He says that there is a new priesthood which is already offering sacrifices. What temple was he referring to?
Christ is the Temple
First, why was the Temple so important? The Temple was the beating heart of Israel and Judaism. The temple was where heaven met earth because it was the place where God chose to dwell among his people. God was there, among his people; they belonged to him, and he to them. The Temple was important because that is where you found God. That’s where you heard his Word proclaimed to you. That’s where worship was allowed to take place. That’s where the animal sacrifices were offered and forgiveness of sins received.
But in fact, God dwells in a Temple of stone no more. Jerusalem is no longer the only place we can worship God. Forgiveness of sins cannot be received through animal sacrifices. Jesus and his followers from the very beginning have taught that a New Temple is finally being built. Jesus himself is the true temple: he is the Word made flesh, the place where the glory of God has chosen to make his dwelling. The Jews had ancient prophecies about the Temple being destroyed and rebuilt. Peter takes the prophecies and applies them to Jesus. His death and resurrection are the reality to which the prophecies of the Temple pointed. Jesus is the true Temple, and he is its chief feature, the standard by which everything and everyone else is to be judged. If you want to find God, you find him in Jesus. If you want to worship God, you worship him in Jesus name. If you want to find the forgiveness of sins, it is only the sacrifice of Jesus which makes atonement for you.
Peter is saying that Jesus himself is the cornerstone and the new Temple is already being built up on him. Peter is thinking about the building technique where the cornerstone of the foundation would be the first stone to be put in place. Since both the angle of the walls and the level of the stone courses would be extended from it, the cornerstone must be square and true. If the cornerstone is not square and true, the whole building is is deformed and might collapse. Peter says that the cornerstone is Christ. He is the living Stone, not just because he is a living person, but because he is alive from the dead as the risen Lord. God set his cornerstone in place by the resurrection. Christ, the foundation stone, fulfils the image of the temple as God’s house.
It’s like there are two different building projects, one constructed by human builders, the other by God. The human builders examine Christ and find him unfit for building upon. Jesus was rejected by his own people because he didn’t fit with the plans they had at the time. Despite the fact that Jesus was rejected by men, God has shown him to be the most important stone in the whole building, the one who the entire building is structured around. God set him in place in spite of his rejection by the builders.
This is the case today. Jesus still offends people. His death for our sins and his bodily resurrection are seen as pure nonsense. But that’s not what truly offends people today. What’s offensive are the claims of Jesus. Why? Because the Temple was the only place you were allowed to worship God. The Temple was the only place on earth where the glory of God dwelt. The temple was the only place where you were allowed to receive forgiveness. And Jesus, is the Temple. Jesus is the only way to God. His sacrificial death is the only one which atones for your sins. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me,’” (John 14:6). This means that your response to Jesus, the Living Stone—rejecting him or coming to him—determines your relationship to God and, consequently, your destiny.
Though Jesus died for all and paid off the debt of their sins many will not believe. They don’t want to hear him. They will not listen to him. They stubbornly refuse to believe. Don’t stubbornly refuse to believe. Reject Jesus, and you reject God. Peter makes the same point in Acts 4: Jesus Christ who was crucified and raised from the dead, “is the stone which was rejected by [the] builders, but which has become the head of the corner. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved,” (Acts 4:11–12).
The Church is the Temple built on Him
All God’s promises to Israel have been fulfilled in Jesus, the Messiah, and therefore all who are united to Jesus had now been brought into that ‘people of God’, that true Temple. God is no longer living in a Temple in Jerusalem, but in the ‘spiritual house’ which, made up of ‘living stones’. The one true God is now living among us! The ‘Temple’ had been rebuilt—not in Jerusalem but all round the world! The Church is God’s New Temple. He is the living Stone; we, too, are living stones, born again by Holy Baptism. By faith we come to Jesus and God comes and makes his home in every believing Christian. That is why the church becomes the true house of God. The spiritual Temple is all Christians together, the company of those who are joined to Christ by faith.
When we gather together, we gather together in the name of Jesus. When we gather together to hear God’s Word and receive Jesus’ Body and Blood, Jesus himself is present among us. This means that there are no lone-wolf Christians, instead Christians are meant to be united together in a community. We are the body of Christ and it is only together as a whole that we can properly be what God has intended. This means that as long as we cannot gather together, we cannot truly be what God has intended us to be: his holy people, gathering around his Word and Sacrament, manifesting his presence in this World.
If Jesus is the only way to God, then the Church is the only place where you may receive the forgiveness of sins because the Christian Community is build up upon Jesus, the corner stone. It’s the Christian Community—not building in Jerusalem—which is the only place where we find God’s earthly dwelling. The Church is the a place where we find true worship and acceptable sacrifices. Peter says that all Christians are priests in this Temple. We offer sacrifices to God. We don’t earn forgiveness by these sacrifices. God accepts our sacrifices because we are already accepted by Jesus’ sacrifice for us. What are our spiritual sacrifices then?
What do you do with an animal when you sacrifice it? You kill it! We are to bring ourselves, and present ourselves to God as living sacrifices, (Romans 12:1). This means putting to death all those vices and desires which threaten to destroy our community. What would threaten the community? Peter mentions them in verse one. Things like the ill will may you feel against someone in the church, being duplicitous and hypocritical, envy, slander, talking down to others, gossip, making fun of someone. So Peter says, put your evil desires to death and believe that you are pleasing to God only on account of Christ, who offers you forgiveness.
Christians do not look to the land of Israel and a potentially rebuilt temple as the fulfilment of God’s promises. That would be a denial of the person and work of Jesus. On the contrary, Christ is the Temple. He is the God in the flesh, dwelling among his people. His death is the only sacrifice for sins. He is the only way to God. The Church which Jesus is building is God’s Holy Temple. That new Temple is being built, with its corner-stone already in place. Our faith in Christ makes it possible for us to become part of God’s new Temple. There we serve as priests, praising and giving thanks to God for his indescribable mercy towards us in Christ our Cornerstone.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.