There is a strain of modern evangelical theology that looks forward to the literal rebuilding of the Israelite temple and to the re-institution of sacrifices, albeit, in that case, memorial sacrifices. This passage should help us see one of the important reasons why Christians have not historically looked forward to any such thing: Christ is the temple and believers, who are united to him by the Spirit, through faith alone, are being made corporately into Christ’s temple. In other words, we do not need to look forward to a future rebuilding of the temple. It was inaugurated 2,000 years ago and it is underway right now. According to the Apostle Peter, Jesus is the “living stone,” and the cornerstone of this new, living temple. From Hebrews we learn that he is the sacrificial lamb offered-once-for-all on the cross. He is the eternal Melchizedekian priest, who made the offering and who represents us now before the throne in heaven. Our hope is not for a future, earthly priesthood, temple, and sacrifices but in Jesus Christ to whom all those things pointed and in whom all those things are fulfilled.
1 Peter 2:4–6
|4πρὸς ὃν προσερχόμενοι λίθον ζῶντα ὑπὸ ἀνθρώπων μὲν ἀποδεδοκιμασμένον παρὰ δὲ θεῷ ἐκλεκτὸν ἔντιμον, 5καὶ αὐτοὶ ὡς λίθοι ζῶντες οἰκοδομεῖσθε οἶκος πνευματικὸς εἰς ἱεράτευμα ἅγιον ἀνενέγκαι πνευματικὰς θυσίας εὐπροσδέκτους [τῷ] θεῷ διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. 6διότι περιέχει ἐν γραφῇ· ἰδοὺ τίθημι ἐν Σιὼν λίθον ἀκρογωνιαῖον ἐκλεκτὸν ἔντιμον καὶ ὁ πιστεύων ἐπ᾿ αὐτῷ οὐ μὴ καταισχυνθῇ.
|4As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (ESV).
v. 4: The Chosen Rejected Stone
Jesus is the the “living stone” (λίθον ζῶντα) rejected by men. Here Peter alludes to our Lord’s quotation of Psalm 118:22, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Matt 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17). Peter himself had preached this (Acts 4:11) to Annas and Caiaphas et al. This is the apostolic theology of the cross. The Messiah was never to be a conquering hero, driving the Romans out with a whip, but God’s Suffering Servant (Isa 52–53), who drove out the money changers with a whip and who allowed himself to be beaten and abused for our sakes. The temple that God promised to build was not a glorious earthly edifice but, as it were, a building whose glory is hidden from the eyes of this world. Jesus is that cornerstone rejected by men but elected (ἐκλεκτὸν) by God from all eternity, who said to his Father from all eternity: “I will go in their place.” He came as God’s elect to be the substitute for those whom the Father had chosen, in him, from all eternity (pactum salutis).
v. 5: Elect Temple Stones In Christ
Sometimes it is put that either Jesus is the seed or we, who believe, are seeds or that Jesus is the stone or we are stones. These are fall choices. Both are true. Christ is the “the seed” in Galatians 3 and he is “the stone” here but it is also true that we, who believe, are seeds in Christ and here we are said to be like living stones. That word “as” (or like; ὡς) is important. It signals that Peter is speaking metaphorically. Christians ought not to think of themselves as second class citizens in the history of redemption. The Israelites had a temple but that temple was destroyed. The glory was removed. They were exiled. The whole Israelite economy was a giant sermon illustration pointing to Christ. By virtue of our union with Christ we are being made into a temple that cannot be destroyed. It is a living temple, composed of living stones, who are those who are indwelled by the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead. He also raised us from the dead. He is sanctifying us. He is conforming us to the chief cornerstone. This is why Peter calls us a “Spiritual building” (οἶκος πνευματικὸς). It is not so much an immaterial building—humans are real flesh and blood—but a building being made by the Holy Spirit. Hence the capital S. The same Spirit who indwelled the old temple, who made Moses’ face to shine, who led the Israelites through the desert, is upon and within us as the people of God, who are united to Christ.
More than that, as Jesus is the High Priest, we are, in him, a “holy priesthood” (ἱεράτευμα ἅγιον). We have been purified. We have been set apart. We are clothed with his righteous garments. We are, in him, in the holy of holies. We have access to God. We are, as it were, before his face. We have a final, once-for-all offering to bring: Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice on the cross. In light of that we offer “Spiritual sacrifices” (πνευματικὰς θυσίας). These are not memorial, propitiatory sacrifices as Rome false teaches. The sacrifices we offer are ourselves (Rom 12:1), our lives just as Christ offered himself. We offer ourselves “promptly and sincerely to God” (Calvin) out of gratitude for all that Christ has done on our behalf and in the power of all that he is presently doing within us by his Spirit. Our lives are acceptable to God not on the basis of our cooperation with grace (Rome et al), nor on the basis of congruent merit (a false covenant theology taught by some late medieval theologians and by the self-described Federal Visionists) but rather on the basis of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice for us. His sacrifice was not the beginning of sacrifices to offered in continuation by us (Rome) but the sacrifice because of which we are, by our union with him, now daily offering ourselves in thanks.
v.6: Christ The Cornerstone
Every building starts somewhere or rests on something. God’s holy building starts with Christ and rests upon him. Peter quotes Isaiah 28:16. Israel tried to build, as it were, her own temple. Many did not understand that the temple pointed to another. They gloried in the building and not in God’s covenant promise to be a God to those who believe and to their children. Through Isaiah God promised that he was to lay a different cornerstone, a foundation, eternal, precious, tested, and a sure hope for all who believe. Jesus, the rejected stone, is that foundation, that cornerstone promised so long ago. The medieval church fell into the same error as do many today. In many assemblies the cornerstone of God’s house, the foundation, Christ is missing. He is not preached. Messages of self-help and self-improvement or social change may mention him but only as an example and not as the cornerstone or foundation of salvation. A long time ago an old friend not to become an “empire builder.” That was sound advice. It is tempting to gather around popular personalities and hip programs but what have they to do with the Suffering Servant who was rejected by men?
The Christians in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia et were facing pressure of various sorts and they needed to know that insofar as they were suffering for Christ they were not alone. They were part of a great spiritual building that the mockers and critics could not see and they cannot see it today but it is as real today as it was then. It is a real as Christ is true and alive and building it upon himself by his powerful Holy Spirit. Let them say what they will. They cannot tear it down.