I wrote also of the “manifold wisdom of God,” of which Paul spoke. Without a doubt, there is still much that we do not understand when we speak in reference to Christ and the church. The truths concerning the church are very deep.
The Idea Behind the Building
Nevertheless, there is one way in which we can encapsulate all of this information under one single theme. This theme is the one distinct purpose concerning the people of God that runs throughout not only the New Testament, but also throughout the Old. If we would come to understand this single concept, it would help us a great deal to understand all that God has done in the world, what his is doing in the present, and what he will do in the future.
Among all the various ways in which the church is described to us, common in every one of the teachings of the church is the concept of God dwelling with his people. God desires to abide with us and be close to us. He created us in his image for a purpose. He wants to have fellowship with us and be our Father and friend. This has been the purpose of God from the very beginning, and it is a theme that is carried throughout the entire Scripture.
So common is it, that theologians have defined it as the “Tripartite Formula.” Do not let that sterile name detract from this three-point wonder: “I will be their God,” God says in several places, “they shall be my people, and I will dwell in the midst of them.”
It will help in our understanding of the church and all that God is doing if we keep this simple desire of God in mind. All that God does is because of his supreme desire to dwell with us in peace. We may not understand all of the phases of the building project, we may not understand all the ways in which a body operates, we may only see imperfection in the church, but we do know the end.
The end is that God will dwell with a church who will be “in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.”
The Church As a City
In addition to all of the other illustrations for the church that we have already seen from the Scripture, I must add one more passage to this discussion of the mystery of the church. This picture that we have of the church is the most enigmatic of all. It is at once exciting and confusing, and I have read no explanation of it by any author that has clarified its meaning for me. It is found in the very last pages of the Bible:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:1-4 ESV)
We believe it was the Apostle John who was the author of these words. After writing this introduction of his vision, he proceeds to tell us that an angel approached him and said to him, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
The angel then took him up to a great and high mountain and showed him the city of Jerusalem descending from heaven from God. The passage continues to describe this city. In fact, it is described in great detail.
The city that John saw had a brilliance like “crystal-clear jasper.” His description tells of the city’s great, high wall and its twelve gates. In the explanation of the New Jerusalem, an angel even takes a gold measuring rod and measures the dimensions. We learn that the city is twelve thousand stadia square (which works out to about fourteen hundred miles). However, it is more than a square, because it is also twelve thousand stadia high. So it is a cube, or some say that it is a pyramid.
We are told of the many costly and precious stones that make up the foundation. We do not know what many of these stones are. The gates are made of pearl. They do not seem to be a composite of many pearls, but each a single pearl. How is this possible? Is this figurative language, or is there something here that we have never before experienced?
The street of the city is of pure gold, so pure that it is like clear glass. This statement brings another question to our minds: if it is gold, should it not be gold in color? Any pure gold that we know is not like clear glass; in fact, it is the very purity of gold that gives it the rich color. Perhaps it is a reference to the fact that the writer saw no blemish in the gold, but there is something here that we do not know.
The description of the city continues. Some of the things we can understand to a degree, and others we cannot. It is always described to us in this passage as a literal city. It is a city where people seem free to come and go, but where “nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination and lying shall ever come into it.” But John said that he saw no temple in the city, for “the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb are its temple.”
The City as a Dwelling Place
We will notice that in all of his descriptions, John spoke of what he saw as a “city.” However, the identity of the New Jerusalem seems to be more than what we at first can see. It remains, in large part, a great mystery.
It can be said that the redeemed will dwell there, for Jesus told his disciples of the many rooms of his Father’s house and that Jesus was to go and prepare a place for them (John 14). I believe this to be literally true, but the relationship of the inhabitants to the city is much more than just as citizens. Our relationship with the New Jerusalem is not as simple as some have made it out to be.
I read one man’s opinion where he calculated how many Christians there have been through the ages. He then divided that number into the cubic feet of the New Jerusalem (1400 miles cubed) and concluded that each Christian would have X number (I do not remember the answer to his calculation) of cubic feet for his/her dwelling!
I do not think it is quite so ordinary as all that. There is a sense that, not only do the redeemed dwell there, but in some way we are even more closely associated with the New Jerusalem. There is a sense that the city is intimately connected with the church. It is an intimacy that goes beyond anything that we have ever before seen. There seems to be a sense that not only do the redeemed of the Lord live in the city, but that they are even part of the city.
Believers as a Dwelling Place
This is a difficult concept to comprehend, but consider the existence of the church itself. Through the teaching of the apostles, we have come to realize that in God’s great desire to dwell with his people, he has made our very bodies his temple! This extraordinary fact should not become ordinary to us.
Before the coming of the Holy Spirit, the people of God could never imagine any such thing as this. To these people, God may have dwelt among them, but he dwelt in the temple on the Ark of the Covenant. How it could be possible for God to dwell inside of them is something that they could never understand.
Yet that is what we see in the church. The amazing fact of the church is that there is a sense that we as individuals retain our distinction, and that, individually, the Holy Spirit of God dwells within us. At the same time however, collectively as his church and as the body of Christ, we are the temple of God.
We see something that is not so very dissimilar in the New Jerusalem. It has no separate and identifiable building as a temple, for as we read, “The Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple.”
The presence of God is in the city. “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them.”
Today, the church as the body of Christ represents the presence of God. It is in the future day when God will dwell in the New Jerusalem, but in addition to these things, the New Jerusalem itself is closely and intimately associated with the church. Clearly, these are difficult concepts for us to understand. There is much that is yet to be revealed. But common in all of these concepts is the fact that God is dwelling with his people.
Despite our inability to understand many of these things, we have here a glimpse of what is to come. The glimpse is enough to let us know that God has more in mind for his church than we can ever imagine. It is with great honor that not only are we a part of this great mystery of the church, but that we are also called to serve the church of Jesus Christ here on earth. When we serve the church, we serve the temple of the Holy Spirit, the body of Christ, and the holy and blameless bride of Christ.
Let us Show Deference to the Bride of Christ
It is for these reasons that I am appalled that some are often so careless with their condemnation of the church. Do they not realize that they are attacking the very bride of Christ? It is true that there is much that needs changing in the church, just as we ourselves need yet to change many things in our own individual lives. But let our criticism be intended to bring about positive change in the church, and not meant to bring disparagement.
And it is for these reasons that I have given my life to serve the church. I see that to God, the church is the most precious thing in all of creation. The church is his people, created in his image, with whom he desires to dwell and have fellowship. If the church is this important to God, then it is important to me. God has invested everything in the church. That is why I also have invested my life into serving the church.
As it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9 NIV)
And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost. (Revelation 22:17 NAS)
This mystery is great, but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:32 NAS)
If there is one thing that we should be able to learn from the Scriptures, it is that God desires to have a close and intimate relationship with his people. It is his people whom he has created in his image and is working to bring perfection. It is the story of the Bible, and it is the theme of the next post.