Jesus - Cornerstone, Shrine, and Temple
Fr. Thomas Hopko · September 1, 2010
Several places in Holy Scripture, there are architectural images given to describe our Lord. Fr. Thomas reflects on them in today's episode.
When we reflect on Jesus as shrine, “naos” in Greek, or temple, “hieron” in Greek, “naos” meaning more like “shrine” or “sanctuary,” “temple” meaning the building. And there even is the term “building,” “oikos.” It could mean a house as a building or a household, and then there’s even “oikodomē,” meaning a building.
So when we think about buildings and temples and shrines relative to Jesus, then we also start thinking about cornerstones and the main, what’s called in architecture, the stone of the corner, which may not be a cornerstone on [a] foundation; it may mean the main connecting stone in an arch, so it would actually be at the top. The stone of the corner can not necessarily be on a foundation corner, but it can be the corner of an arch on the top. There’s different meanings of these terms. Then we speak about stones and rocks, different words in Greek for all those terms. And when we read the Holy Scriptures, we see how these words are used in various ways and what they can possibly mean.
First of all, let’s go to the Old Testament. Let’s think about the Old Testament, because when we think of the Old Testament, we know about the Passover, the Exodus, Moses leading the people out of Egypt into the promised land. And when they’re in the desert and the people are thirsting and they have no water, there’s that famous incident where the Lord God Almighty tells Moses to strike the stone with his hand. And Moses strikes the stone, but not with his hand. He strikes the stone with his rod, and immediately water comes out of this rock. So water emerges out of the rock, and that will become a very important thing in the New Testament, because the Apostle Paul will allegorically even say, “The rock was Christ.” The rock that brings for the living water is Christ.
So you have a meaning of the term “rock” like that. And when we were talking about Jesus as the Truth, we also made the point that “rock”—God is called the rock many times in the Old Testament: my rock, and the rock of my salvation and so on—that rock is connected with the word “truth.” It’s what you’re depending upon, what is unshakeable. What is sort of permanent, which cannot be destroyed: like a rock. So you have the imagery of rocks and stones in the Old Covenant, but we don’t want to speak about that now. That’s not what we’re speaking about. The symbolical meaning of a rock relative to truth or the fact that in the New Testament by St. Paul, the rock out of which the water sprung forth is allegorically seen as a prefiguration of Jesus himself.
By the way, I can’t resist saying that that was the reason Moses did not enter the promised land, because he disobeyed God. Not only [did he disobey] God by not slaughtering all the people as God had told him in that one battle, but also because God told him to strike the rock with his hand, not with his rod. And some allegorical interpreters of Scripture in the ancient Christian tradition would even say that the rod that Moses had and the rod that Aaron had, that [budded], those things prefigure the Cross of Christ, the issue of the staff or the rod. But that’s one thing, and it’s interesting to think about, but that’s not what we’re reflecting on now.
What we’re reflecting on now is cornerstones and foundations and foundation stones and temples as buildings, and then shrines and sanctuaries within temples. We want to see how all of this relates to Jesus Christ as the New Testamental Scriptures interpret the Old. When we go to the Old Testament, we know that God ordered the people to build tabernacles in the wilderness. They had tents; they carried them around. There were holy places, called in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture, a “naos.” “Naos” means a shrine or a sanctuary, a holy dwelling place, and that term was even used generally among the idolaters and what we call the pagans. They had their shrines. There [were] various shrines all over the place, and then shrines were built to Yahweh in different places. You had Shiloh and you had Shechem, and you had all these places where holy places and sanctuaries were built.
But then we know that Yahweh, Elohim, the Lord God Almighty, is commanding that when David is connected with the city of Jerusalem, that then there is the commandment that in this holy city, this very special holy place, the kind of eye of the universe, as it were, the place where Yahweh will dwell, that a Temple should be built. A Temple should be built there. And so we read about this in the Old Testament, of course, how Solomon builds the Temple unto God, and it’s the place where God himself is going to dwell. It’s the place where people are going to come. It’s going to be up on top of a mountain, and the people are going to have to ascend up there.
That’s why the psalms always say, “I look to the hills from where my help will come.” Well, those hills don’t just mean any hills, although all hills stand for especially holy places, because they’re closer to heaven, but the hills that the psalmist speaks about are the hills of Zion, Mount Zion in the far north, the city of the great king. And whenever you are going to Jerusalem, you’re going to go up. You go up; you ascend, even if you’re coming from the north, you go up. You always go up to Jerusalem, whatever direction your coming in on at: north, south, east, west, you’re always going up, because you’re going up to the mountains.
In that city of Jerusalem, the city of peace, David is connected legendarily, traditionally, with its foundation, and then David’s son, Solomon, and so on. Well, they are told to build there this Temple, and in the inner part of the Temple there will be a shrine. So you have a hieron in the center of which is a naos, and this is the oikos tou Theou. So you have a Temple with a shrine in the middle, and this is the house of the Lord, the house that is to be built. You have these different words used in the Holy Scripture. And then in the holy place within that Temple, and you have the Holy of Holies, you had the mercy seat in there; you had the Ark of the Covenant placed in the box; you had the manna; you had the rod, Aaron’s rod that budded. And all this is [in] the sanctuary, holy place, and it says that the kabod Yahweh, the glory of God, enters into this holy place, the shekhina, the dwelling of God is in this holy place, in this Temple.
For example, Solomon says, when the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord, Solomon says, “The Lord has set the sun in the heavens, but he has said that he will dwell in thick darkness. But I have built thee an exalted house, a place for thee to dwell in forever.” And so you have this Temple, and the Temple had many parts. It had outer courts; it had inner courts; it had the inner shrine; it had the Holy of Holies; it had the Temple precincts; it had places where sacrifices were offered, where, let’s say women who had babies, they came in and offered them.
And they did not go into the naos; they did not go into the sanctuary. When it says, “They went into the Temple,” or “Mary and Joseph offered Jesus into the Temple,” it meant the Temple precincts, the Temple courts. They were not into the holy place where only the priests were going, where the sacrifices were offered. And then, later on, it became the practice that in the Holy of Holies, the Sanctuary of Sanctuaries, within the inner naos, the inner shrine, it was there even that the name of the God would be said.
The name, the Tetragrammaton, the YHWH name that they weren’t supposed to say except the high priests, and then even, later on, only once a year, and was never said when the Scripture was read. Whenever those four Hebrew letters were there, the reader said, “the Lord.” They didn’t dare say that Name, which means “I am who I am” or “I will cause to be what I will cause to be; I will be what I will be,” which is the name that God gave to Moses on the mountaintop.
But what we see now is that you’ve got this Temple, and when Solomon builds the Temple, he says a prayer:
O Lord God of Israel, there is no god like thee in heaven above, on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to thy servants who walk before thee with all their heart; who has kept thy servant David, my father; what thou didst declare to him, yea, thou didst speak with thy mouth, and with thy hand has fulfilled it to this day.
Now therefore, O Lord God of Israel, keep with thy servant David, my father, what thou hast promised him, saying that there shall never fail you a man before me to sit upon the throne of Israel. If only your sons take heed to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.
Now therefore, O God of Israel, let thy word be confirmed which thou hast spoken to thy servant David, my father. But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heavens cannot contain thee. How much less this house, which I have built (this oikos, this house).
Yet, have regard to the prayer of thy servant in his supplication, my Lord, my God. Hearkening to the cry and to the prayer which thy servant prays before thee this day, that thine eyes may be open night and day toward this house (this oikos), the place of which thou hast said, “My name shall dwell there.”
That’s the holy presence, the name.
That thou mayest hearken to the prayer which thy servant offers towards this place.
People even prayed toward the Temple. They might even [have] been at a very far distance away, but they turned to pray toward thy holy Temple, towards God’s holy Temple.
Hearken thou to the supplication of thy servant and of thy people Israel, when they pray toward this place, yea, hear thou in heaven, thy dwelling place. When thou hearest, forgive.
And then he speaks about people coming there for forgiveness, coming there for thanksgiving, coming there to pray for rain, coming there to pray for food, coming there to pray for victories in battle. They come there to pray against everything. The prayer goes on for paragraphs and paragraphs. And then it even ends:
That all the peoples of the earth may know thou art the Lord God; there is no other.
So Solomon held this great feast day when this Temple was offered.
Now we know, very well, reading the Scriptures, that that Temple got destroyed. God was miffed at them. In the time of the prophets, when the people were blaspheming the Temple, taking idols into the Temple, where they were offering defiled animals, where the priests were cheating the people, like in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah… In fact, Isaiah begins his prophecy by saying how God can’t stand that Temple. He can’t stand the solemn assemblies. He can’t stand the incense offerings. He said, “Your incense stinks! I won’t accept your sacrifices.” In Jeremiah, they say, “The Temple, the Temple, the Temple!” He says, “All you know is the Temple. You honor me with your lips, but your heart is far from me.”
So one of the most outrageous things that happens is God Almighty himself destroys his own Temple. He destroys it, razes it to the ground. All the holy things are defiled. They’re taken to the Babylonian exile and so on. And then there develops a kind of a spiritual vision of the Temple. But then it’s the prophecies like Ezekiel, that God will restore the fortunes of his people; he will raise the dead bones. He will reconstruct Israel. He will take them back into their land. In fact, the prophets even buy property in Jerusalem when it’s run by the Babylonians, to show that God will take it back again.
And then, you know, we can’t go into this in details, but in Ezra and Nehemiah—I Esdras, II Esdras, called Ezra and Nehemiah in [the] Masoretic, Hebrew text—you have the rebuilding of the Temple in the time of Ezra, Nehemiah. It’s described in Holy Scripture. Darius orders that the Jews rebuild their Temple, and that’s why in Scripture, Darius and Cyrus, they’re even called God’s christ, God’s anointed. The christ of God is Darius, the savior, who allows the rebuilding of the Temple. And then in the time of the Prophets Haggai and Zachariah, they were prophesying in Judah and Jerusalem about the reconstruction of the Temple. And then Darius makes this decree:
Be it known to the king that we went to the province of Judah and the house of the great God. It is being built with huge stones and timbers laid on the walls. This work goes on diligently and prospers in their hands. So we are the servants of God, of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the house (the oikos) that was built many years ago, which a great king of Israel built and finished (meaning Solomon).
But because our fathers had angered the God of heaven, he gave them into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house, and carried away the people to Babylonia. However, in the first year of Cyrus, king of Babylon, Cyrus the king made a decree that this house of God should be rebuilt. And so, the gold and silver vessels of the house of God which Nebuchadnezzar, the most wicked king who ever lived, had taken out of the Temple that was in Jerusalem, had to be brought into the temple of Babylon. But Cyrus the king took all those things from the temple of Babylon and delivered them again to the Temple that was going to be rebuilt, the house of God in Jerusalem.
So you have this decree of the rebuilding. Cyrus and then Darius makes the decree, and then the house has to be rebuilt, the place where sacrifices are offered and burnt offerings are brought. So you have that written in the Holy Scripture, of the rebuilding, the restoration of the Temple, the reconsecration of the Temple.
It will get defiled again by Antiochus and the other [Babylonians]. They’ll even offer pigs in the holy place later on, but at least the Temple itself will not be destroyed anymore, until after the crucifixion, death, resurrection, and glorification of Christ. Then it’s destroyed by the Romans in the year 70, never to be rebuilt again. You have this Temple, this House of the Lord, and it has… It’s a large place with a lot of rooms, and that’s called “the Temple.” And then you have within it the shrine or the sanctuary, the holy place; that’s called the naos. And, by the way, the term “naos” is the term that’s popularly used for a church building among the Orthodox Christians who speak Greek. In [the] Russian language, that word would be hram, the physical temple building, and it’s called the temple.
I frankly think—I’ll just say my opinion here again; [these] are not dogmas or anything—but I think it’s kind of sad that we Christians called our church buildings “temples.” I think it gives the wrong impression. There was only one Temple of God. Solomon built it, it was destroyed, it was rebuilt by God’s command, and then it was destroyed by the Romans. There ain’t any temples for Christians.
And it’s interesting that the Jews themselves, they could not offer sacrifice, they could not have the atonement, they could not have the priesthood after the year 70 of the Common Era when the Temple was destroyed. They had synagogue worship. “Synagogue” meaning the place where the people gathered together to hear the Scriptures and hear preaching and to say prayers, but they had no Temple. But it’s interesting that among the liberal-type of Jews, certainly in America, they began calling their buildings for worship “temples.” Like you have “Temple Israel” or “Beth-el,” and you go to New York City, it’ll say, “Temple Emmanuel” or something, “God with us,” but the Scripture would never call that kind of a building a temple.
And it seems to me we should not call Christian church buildings temples, either. And, hopefully, as we proceed with this meditation, we will see why that might be very misleading and perhaps even incorrect, and something we ought to think maybe about in our English vocabulary, how we call our church buildings. And by the way, that church, that word would not be used in Orthodox Liturgy.
For example, in the Great Litany, where it says, “For this holy house, and for those who enter here with faith and love, let us pray to the Lord.” And in Slavonic, it’s: “O svyatem hrame sem”—for this temple, hram, which is the naos-word in Greek: this holy sanctuary.” So it could mean “for this holy place,” but not [necessarily] a temple building.
And anyway, it doesn’t even say that in the original Greek; it says “oikos”: “[Hyper ...] oikou toutou—[for ...] this oikos.” And that could mean household or family house or simply a house, like a building: “This holy house.” It would [be much] better to translate it: “For those who enter into into this holy household, to this sanctuary of the people of God,” but not to call it a “temple.”
In any case, let’s just proceed here; and it’s something to think about. Now, let’s get to Christ; let’s get to the New Testament. In the New Testament, Jesus, of course, preaches at the Temple. He goes and he cleanses the Temple. He chases the people out of the Temple, and he calls that Temple a house, an oikos tou Theou, or “the house of my Father.” So when Jesus cleanses the Temple, in the Matthew, Mark, and Luke, he does it at the end of the Gospel, after the entrance into Jerusalem; in St. John’s Gospel, he does it right in the beginning, because St. John’s is the theological Gospel, to show that the Temple has been cleansed, and there’s a new Temple here, something that’s greater than the Temple is here, it will say: greater than Solomon, greater than Jonah, greater than the Temple is here, and that meant Jesus Christ himself.
So you have in the theological Gospel of St. John a kind of theology about the Temple, a theology about the Father’s house. In Matthew, you have that Temple standing there, and we will see how, when Jesus has his Passion, one of the things that the false witnesses will speak about is that “He will destroy the Temple.” Let’s go to that first.
In the synoptic Gospels, when Jesus is on trial, and they’re trying to find reasons, drumming up reasons in order to have some kind of reasons, at least legal reasons to kill Jesus, they bring up false witnesses. The false witnesses come, and they say, “This man said he will destroy the Temple and raise it up again in three days.” And that was considered a kind of sacrilegious thing for them to say. I’ll read you Mark’s version (Mark 14:55-58):
The chief priests and the whole council sought testimony against Jesus to put him to death; (but they didn’t find any) they found none. For many bore false witness against him, and their witness did not agree. And some stood up and bore the false witness against him, saying, “We have heard him say, ‘I will destroy this Temple that is made with hands, and in three days, I will build another, not made with hands.’ ”
Perhaps it would be interesting for us just to look at that in Greek, because [we want] to see what the words are, that are actually used there, about this particular Temple. This is what it says in Greek. It says:
There arose a certain bearing false witness against him, saying, “We have heard him saying, ‘I will overthrow ton naon touton, this shrine, this holy place, ton cheiropoiēton, the shrine that was made by hands, and dia triōn hēmerōn, through, during, after three days, allon, another one, acheiropoiēton oikodomēsō, and I will build up another shrine, acheiropoiēton, not by hands, not made by human hands.
In the King James it says, “I will destroy this Temple that is made with hands, and within three days, I will build another made without hands.” That you have in Matthew and Mark. You have this said at the trial. The false witnesses, this is what they were saying.
In the theological Gospel of John, the same way the cleansing of the Temple takes place in the beginning of the narrative, so also there’s a theological discussion about this issue, relative to the Temple. So what does that say? This is what it says in the Gospel according to St. John. I’ll read it from the Revised Standard Version. This is what it says in the Revised Standard Version. The Revised Standard puts it this way (John 2:13-22):
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the Temple, he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the moneychangers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and the oxen, out of the Temple. And he poured out the coins of the moneychangers and he overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away. You shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade, a house of commerce.” His disciples remembered that it was written: “Zeal for thy house (oikos) will consume me.”
“Zeal for thy house will consume me.” This is a prophecy about Christ himself, that this zeal would be there for the house of the Father. For example, in Psalm 69, you have this said. That’s where they quote it from. And then it says:
The Jews then said to him, “What sign have you to show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this Temple….”
“Destroy this Temple, this naos,” it says in Greek. “Destroy this naos, this shrine…”
“...and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken 46 years to build this naos (this sanctuary, this dwelling-place). And you will raise it up in three days?”
But he spoke about the sanctuary, the shrine. It says in English here, every time “temple.” See, that’s the problem. You can’t distinguish. They’re using the word “temple” for both the whole Temple building, all the structures on the Temple mount, whereas the text is very often using the word for the inner sanctuary, the holiest place of that Temple. But in any case, [they say], “It has taken 46 years to build this Temple (this naos), and will you raise it up in three days?”
But he spoke of the temple of his body. When, therefore, he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.
So in the theological Gospel of St. John, it says that Jesus very specifically says that “I will destroy this Temple, and I will raise it up in three days.” But the false witnesses in Matthew, Mark, and Luke say, “Yeah, he said that because he was really going to destroy this physical Temple.” But in John’s Gospel, it says, yes, he said it, but he meant the temple of his body, that he will die, and in three days, or on the third day, depending how you read that, that he would rise again. So there is this connection already in the Holy Scripture with this reality of identifying Jesus with the Temple.
If we looked a little bit more carefully at this passage in the second chapter of John, we find three different words are used: “Hieros” is used, “hieron,” rather; and that’s where they’re selling the pigeons and cattle and so on. They’re not selling them in the inner shrine; they’re selling them in the courts of the Temple, which is simply called, also, “the Temple.” So when he’s driving them out of the Temple and turning over the tables and all that, it means that building called the hieron.
Then when he quotes the Scripture, “You will not make my Father’s house a house of merchandizing (or of business),” the word there is “oikos,” which means “the house of my Father.” And that word will be used later in the New Testament for the Church itself. The Church, the Ekklēsia, the Church, the gathering of people, will be called the oikos, the household of God, tou Theou. And that’s what we pray in the Great Litany when we say, “For those who enter into this oikos.”
But then when he speaks about destroying the Temple and raising [it] up in three days, then the word is “naos,” as I said already; then the word is “shrine.” It’s not the whole Temple thing; it’s the holy place. He becomes the holiest place within the Temple, and then he himself becomes that dwelling-place of God. So what we have here is certainly that a title or a name for Jesus can be the Temple or the Shrine or the Holy Place within the the Temple. That is what he is, and we will see that that is what is specifically going to be said in the Apocalypse, at the end of the New Testament, where, in the coming kingdom of God, when Christ returns again in glory, in the new, heavenly Jerusalem, there will be no naos, because God and the Lamb, Christ himself—God and Christ, Christ and God—will be the Sanctuary. There’s no Temple. So actually what it says in the Book of Revelation about the coming kingdom, it says this. I’m quoting now from the 21st chapter:
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon, either, to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.
When the Book of Revelation, however, speaks about having no temple in the city, it still speaks about the city having foundation stones, and it will say that the foundational stones of the New Jerusalem are the Twelve Apostles. And we’ll find that in the writings, as we’ll see in a minute here, by St. Paul as well.
Before we continue with that, we just want to interrupt here to mention another thing, and that has to do with the cornerstone of this Temple, this house, the building where the shrine is, where the holiest place is, because in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and in the Book of Acts, and in the First Letter of Peter, there is a quotation of the great praising psalm of the Old Testament, 118, which is one of the most important psalms in the Old Testament because it’s used in the Orthodox churches on Pascha. It’s the great Paschal psalm, and in the old days it was indeed the Paschal psalm. And some people think it was even the psalm that was sung by the disciples with Jesus at the Mystical Supper, at the Last Supper.
And that is the psalm where you have the words, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” It’s the psalm where you have, “Yahweh is God; he has revealed himself to us. Bind the festal procession with branches.” It’s the psalm where you have: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” It’s the psalm where you have: “This is the gate of the Lord. The righteous shall enter through it.” This is the psalm where it says, “I shall not die, but shall live and recount the deeds of the Lord.” But this is also the psalm that says:
The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner ([eis] kephalēn gōnias). This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Blessed is he who enters in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house (oikos) of the Lord. God is Yahweh. Yahweh is God. God is the Lord, and he has manifested (or appeared or revealed) himself to us.
So this text, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes,” this is chanted in the Orthodox Church every single morning at matins, except during Great Lent, when “Alleluia” replaces it. But it is also referred to several times in the Holy Scripture: in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts, and I Peter. This very text is quoted verbatim. So the stone that the builders rejected that is the head of the corner is Jesus himself. He’s the cornerstone. He’s the one who is rejected. And in other texts, the expression is not used—kephalēn gōnias, head of the corner—but is used the term “akrogōnaios.” “Akrogōnaios” means literally “cornerstone” or “keystone.”
The keystone or the head of the corner need not be on the bottom, may not be a foundation stone. It can be a hanging stone. It can be the stone on the middle of the arch that holds the building up. It’s not only the stone on which the building rest, but it’s the stone in the roofs that holds up the walls and the arches of the building.
In the new testament, this is simply identified with Jesus. This is one of his names. He is the stone that the builders rejected. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, that text is always read after the parable of the vineyard, where the man plants a vineyard, gives it out to tenants, goes far away; the tenants keep all the fruits for themselves; he sends his servants that came from far away; they kill and beat up all the servants; finally, he sends his own son who is the heir, and when the heir comes they kill him and try to get the inheritance from him, and then the Lord Jesus says that when the [owner of the vineyard] returns, they will be utterly destroyed for their iniquity. And then it ends with: “And he looked at them and said, ‘What then is this that is written: The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner’?”
“Everyone,” it says in Luke, and only in Luke, “who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” Now you don’t find that in Matthew and Mark, but you do have in Matthew and Mark, definitely, in that same place, with that same parable about the vineyard and the heir and killing the son, you also have in Mark, definitely, that reference to the stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is how it sounds in Mark:
What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others who will bring forth fruit. Have you never read in the Scriptures: The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner. This was the Lord’s doing and it’s marvelous in our eyes.
And in Mark it proceeds and says immediately:
And they tried to arrest him, but they feared the multitude, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them. So they left him and ran away, they went away.
So you have that text quoted in the New Testament, used liturgically: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Now that is picked up by the Apostle Paul in his epistles. So let’s first read what the Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians on this very same theme. This is what the Apostle Paul says. He says, “For we are laborers together with God.” It’s a wonderful sentence in Greek: “Theou gar esmen synergoi—we are God’s co-workers,” literally. And then he said, “You are…” He changes from “we” to “you”—“You are God’s field,” it says in RSV. In King James it says “husbandry” or “tillage” or “harvest field.”
Then it says, “You are God’s building,” and the word there is “oikodomē.” “Oikos” is “house,” and “oikodomia” means edification or building up. So: “You are the house, the building that God has build up.” Then he continues here, and he says, “According to the grace of God which is given to me”—this is King James—“as a wise master-builder (architektōn).” “Architektōn” means a carpenter. And, by the way, “architektōn,” as chief carpenter, that’s a name for Jesus, too, that he was a carpenter, and the son of a carpenter, a tektōn. And an architektōn means the chief, master of all carpenters.
Then it says, “And I have laid the foundation (”themelion” in Greek, the foundation); another builds upon it.” Then the Apostle continues, “Let every person take heed how he builds upon it.” So there’s a foundation laid, and then they’re building on it. Then you have this very famous sentence. King James version: “For other foundation can no man lay, than that which is laid which is Jesus Christ.” In the RSV, I believe it says, “And no man can lay no other foundation than that which is laid which is Jesus Christ.”
So Christ here is the foundation, and “themelion,” it says, “hos estin Iēsous Christos—Jesus Christ is the foundation.” Then the Apostle continues in [First] Corinthians:
If any man builds on this foundation—gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble—every man’s work will be made manifest, for the day shall reveal it, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire shall test every person’s work, what sort it is. And if a man’s work abides (and survives, as it were), the fire will prove it; the fire will test it, and that person will receive a reward.
But then it says: “If any man’s work will be burnt up, it will suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved even so, but by fire.”
Then the Apostle says, “Do you not know that you are God’s naos?” Now in English it says “temple,” but again, as we already said many times, “naos” means shrine or sanctuary within the Temple, the holy place within the Temple. So: “Do you not know that you are a shrine of God, and that the Holy Spirit dwells within you?” And that word, “dwell, oikei,” means you’re the house. He has made you the house. He has made you a sanctuary, a holy house, where God dwells. Then it says, “If any man would defile this naos of God (this shrine, holy place of God), God will destroy him, for the Temple of God is holy and that temple you are.” You are that naos. So that’s what St. Paul says in [First] Corinthians.
We noticed in Luke that when you had that text, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” We had a continuation in Luke: “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” So you have this, not only Jesus as the keystone, the cornerstone, the stone of the corner, the stone that holds up the [arch] and holds up the roof, the stone which is the foundation on which the whole building rests, but then it says that stone can fall upon you and you can fall upon it, and it can become a skandalon; it can be a stumbling-block. And if you crush yourself on that stone, you’re really crushed.
And here I can’t resist saying how once, many years ago, when I was a parish priest at St. Gregory’s Church in Wappingers Falls, New York, we adopted a ward in the mental hospital. And we would go visit the people in the mental hospital, and, you know, bring them cookies and sing songs and talk with them and visit them, and sometimes we would arrange to bring them out, take them to church for a service, and bring them back. Once I was preaching and we did that, and one of the people from the mental hospital fell into an epileptic fit, and then they wouldn’t take him back into the mental hospital; we had to take him to the regular hospital. It was a big to-do.
But in any case, we used to go there, and the story I want to tell now is: Once I met a young man there. His father was a preacher, a Protestant preacher, kind of a fundamentalistic-type preacher. And apparently, this boy’s father used to preach so much about getting crushed by that stone—“Anyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces! And when it falls on anyone, it will crush him!”—and apparently, he used that so much, so much that he traumatized the boy, and because the boy was sinful in some way, maybe he was having trouble with sex or God knows what, but that boy became convinced that the Lord Jesus wasn’t his loving, merciful Savior, but he was the stone that was going to crush him; he was going to get crushed by Jesus; that he was a child of hell, he was a son of perdition; that he was going to burn in fire.
And that poor man was mentally ill. He was very young; I think he was a late teenager at the, perhaps at the oldest and the earliest… I felt so sorry for that boy. To this day, I remember him and pray for him. How he ended up in a mental institution because of the teaching about the wrath of God smashing the sinners and Jesus being the stone that crushes everybody. Well, it’s the truth. Jesus is the cornerstone that the builders have rejected. He is the foundation stone. There isn’t any other stone. And, indeed, if someone would oppose Jesus, they would get crushed by that stone. But it isn’t that Jesus is out to crush people, and God is going to smash them with the rock of Jesus or something. God forbid. Let us not go into that direction.
In the Letter to the Ephesians, you have this imagery also being used. And this is what it says in the Letter to the Ephesians, where the Apostle is speaking to Gentiles, to those who were grafted into the covenant by faith and by grace. It’s the famous epistle where you have: “We are saved by faith, through grace, not by works.” And it’s the famous epistle where the wall is broken down between Jews and Gentiles: “God has made of Jews and Gentiles all one. He has abolished the enmity in his own flesh, and he reconciles all in one Body, through the Cross.” This is the Letter to the Ephesians. And that we all, Jews and Gentiles, who are believers, “have access in one Spirit, to God the Father.”
So then it is written, 19th verse, “So therefore you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God” or “members of the family of God.” In Greek, it’s very nice. It says, “You are no more xenoi (foreigners, strangers) or paroikoi (sojourners or pilgrims), but you are sympolitai (fellow citizens, co-citizens) tōn agiōn (of the holy ones, of the saints) and you are oikeioi (members of the household, family members, people who belong to the oikos) tou Theou (of God), epoikodomēthentes (having been built up foundation) epi tō themeliō (on the foundation)—you are built as a building, you are made to be a structure, a building on the foundation of the apostles and of the prophets.” And then it says: “ontos akrogōniaiou aftou Christou Iēsou—you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets in this building of which Jesus Christ himself is the chief cornerstone.” So there you have it: Jesus is the chief cornerstone, the akrogōniaios, the chief cornerstone.
Then it says, “in which you are all built together, fitted together, into a naos, into a shrine, that is holy (hagion) and [en] kyriō (in the Lord) in whom you are also builded together (or co-builded, synoikodomeisthe).” In other words, made into a building together with, co-built together with the apostles and the prophets, of which Christ is the chief cornerstone, to be the dwelling-place (the katoikētērion).” See: the oikos in which is the dwelling tou theou (of God) and pnevmati (in the Spirit: in the Spirit of God). That’s just a fantastic mouthful there.
And read it again; it’s Ephesians 2, about how we are no longer strangers and foreigners; we’re fellow-citizens with all the holy ones, and we are members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom we are all the building, fitly framed together, growing into a holy temple (a shrine, rather: naos) of the Lord, in whom we are also builded together for a dwelling-place (a household) of God in the Spirit.
Now you have the same thing said in the pastoral epistles. For example, in Timothy: in I Timothy 3, you have a very famous sentence about the Church, I Timothy 3:15, where it says that we are all members of the household of God, and it’s written so that we would know how to behave in the household of God, which is the pillar and the bulwark of the truth. Let me find that and read it to you, also. It’s in the First Letter of Timothy, where he says:
These things are written to you so that you may know how you ought to behave yourself in the house of God (en oikō theou; it says “household” in [the] RSV) which is the church of the living God, the pillar and the foundation of the truth.
So the church of people is now called the house of God. The people are now the dwelling-place of God. The people all together form the living temple of God. That’s the teaching of the Apostle. There is no more physical Temple. Jesus Christ has died; he has risen again; the Temple of his Body becomes his people; the people become his members; they become living stones in his Body, as it will say in Peter, which I’ll read in a minute; and therefore the Temple now are those who are members of Christ who is the living Temple risen from the dead. And so all together, and the way Peter will put it in his letter is: Christ is the foundation-stone, the cornerstone, the keystone, and we become living stones, built into that living Temple, that living building, which is the Church of Christ, the people of God. So this is what it says in the First Letter of Peter, the second chapter. This is what it says; it says:
And so you have tasted that the Lord is good.
That’s Psalm 34: “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” We sing that in the Orthodox Church when we receive Holy Communion. It used to be the main communion hymn in the earliest Church, the ancient Church, and now it’s used almost exclusively at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. Other psalm lines are used for [the] communion [hymn] at other times. But here it says:
You have tasted that the Lord is good. And coming to him as unto a living stone (lithon zōnta, a living stone), rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious. And you also, as living (lively) stones (you see? lithoi zōntes) are oikodomeisthe (are being built together, constructed together as a building) into a pnevmatikos oikos (a spiritual house, a spiritual household) eis hieratevma hagion (into a holy priesthood) to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Then it continues:
Therefore also is contained in Scripture: “Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone: chosen, precious.
It says, you know, “lithon eklekton, chosen stone, akrogōniaion,” and you have that word again: cornerstone, the chief chosen stone, a cornerstone, precious cornerstone, it says. “And that he who believes in him will never be put to shame.” So Jesus again is called the chief cornerstone, and the foundation is there, and the foundation are the prophets and the apostles, and then Jesus himself is the cornerstone.
We already mentioned the Book of Revelation where it says in the new city of Jerusalem, the spiritual one that will come from heaven, which St. Paul says is our mother, there’s no more physical Temple, there’s no more physical building. Christ becomes, himself, the living Temple, the living building. We become his members. He’s the cornerstone, we become stones in the building, and we’re all built up to be this living shrine, living sanctuary of Jesus Christ himself, so that in the Book of Revelation, it will say there’s no Temple in the New Jerusalem. God and the Lamb, God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, are the Temple. The Son and the light of the Temple is Christ himself, the light of the world.
But it says in the Book of Revelation that the foundations of this particular city, the New Jerusalem, are the Twelve Apostles. And there are twelve gates and there are twelve doors and there are twelve stones and there are twelve… Everything is twelve there because of the Twelve Apostles building upon the twelve tribes of Israel. But here again, the claim is that the foundations are the Twelve Apostles. And here I’ll just read one sentence from that particular chapter, the 21st of Revelation: “The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb were written.” But Christ himself is constituting it.
In some sense, these symbols, they kind of interact. They’re not very neat. You have them used different ways, in different contexts, but to sum up, here, what we would want to say very, very clearly is this: Jesus is the living Temple. When it says, “I will destroy the Temple made by hands and build up a Temple not made by hands,” he was speaking of his own Body. Then it will be the teaching that we are the Body of Christ, so we become living stones in that Temple, and we are built up into that Temple by becoming members of Christ. Then the imagery will be used, that in that Temple, the keystone, the cornerstone, the arch, the one that holds the arch together in the ceiling and upon which it’s based, is Christ.
Then there are other foundations laid, prophets and apostles. In the Apocalypse, it’ll say the Twelve Apostles are in fact the stones, foundation stones, of this living Temple. But we are all members of this living Temple in him. So you have exactly the same thing that we have in every other name and title. It belongs to Jesus himself, as the Cornerstone, the Keystone, and even the Temple in his own Body, being the Temple. But then we become by faith and grace what he is. We become living stones. We become temples, individually and all together as the Church, as the fellowship of Christians, the community of Christians, that we make up [an] oikos of God, a household of God. When we gather as Church we are constituting that household, and then we’re becoming the naos, we’re becoming the shrine, we’re becoming the sanctuary. And that is what Jesus himself claimed for himself in the Holy Scriptures.
In St. John’s Gospel, he says, at the Passion of John, John’s Gospel, when they’re beating him up, he says, “I spoke in the Temple courts. I spoke in the precincts. I didn’t hide anything. And if I’m wrong, show me what’s wrong, but if I’m right, why are you beating me? Why are you beating me?” But he has to be beaten and destroyed so he can be raised from the dead and become the spiritual Temple in which we have access to God and in which we grow into [ourselves] by faith and grace through the gift of the Holy Spirit, and constitute the living Temple of God in the coming age in the New Jerusalem that comes down from heaven. That’s how the Scripture teaches.
So in the Old Testament—the Tabernacle, the Temple, the one Solomon built, the one that was destroyed, the one that was rebuilt—those are prefigurations of what’s going to happen ultimately, eschatalogically, finally, and fully, in a purely divine way in Jesus and in a living way made up by human beings. So it’s not going to be a Temple made with stones. And Stephen is going to say that when he gets martyred as the first Christian martyr: “The God who made heaven and earth does not live in buildings made with stones.” And even in the Gospels when the apostles look at the physical Temple, and they say to Jesus, “Look how beautiful that Temple is.” Jesus says, “The day is coming when there won’t be one stone upon the other. It’ll be razed to the ground.” And that happened historically in the year 70, when the Romans simply destroyed the whole city of Jerusalem, ploughed it under and destroyed the whole Temple with its shrine and holy place and everything else.
And that’s why, for Christians, in a sense this destruction of the Temple is theologically very important. When Julian the Apostate wanted to try to rebuild the Temple, he wanted to do it because he felt if he could do it, he could prove that Jesus was not the Christ, was not the Messiah, because there would be then a physical Temple of stones again, and that would prove the New Testament wrong. But they were never able to do it, and some people think they want to try to do it now. They’re looking for a red heifer, and all this kind of thing.
But the Christian teaching is very, very clear: The city of Jerusalem on earth means absolutely nothing to us any more. St. Gregory of Nyssa even spoke against pilgrimages. He says, “Our Jerusalem is heavenly, it’s divine, it’s God’s own presence with us.” In that sense, it’s spiritual, but you don’t want to simply call it spiritual, because it’s physical. Our bodies participate in that Temple, our resurrected, glorified bodies. The whole of the cosmos that is groaning in travail will be part of that Temple, too, physically. There’s not just a spiritual as opposed to physical, but it’s divine, it’s holy, it’s precious, it’s blessed. But it is not a physical building. That’s the point. It is not a physical building.
What is it? It’s a living Temple in which God dwells, and that Temple is Christ himself, his Body. And when we become members of his Body, both physically, spiritually, carnally, emotionally, passionally, spiritually, mentally, when we by grace become one flesh and one body and one mind and one spirit with Christ, then we constitute, ourselves, the living Temple. We become members of Christ who is the Temple.
But in that Temple, the keystone, the cornerstone, the stone of the corner, which the builders rejected, the stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, the head of the corner, the kephalēn gōnias, the headstone, one which it all hangs together. This is the Lord’s doing. It is marvelous in our eyes. But he is rejected by the builders, but by doing that he becomes not only the cornerstone, the foundation stone, with the prophets and apostles being the foundation stones with him, but he becomes the living Temple himself which we become, the Temple of God, also.
This is the Christian Gospel. This is our faith. And so the cornerstone, the head of the corner, the foundation which is laid which no one else could lay which is Christ, with his prophets and apostles, and the very Temple itself is Christ, which we become together in and with him, co-Temples, co-houses, co-buildings, so to speak. We are God’s building. We are God’s Temple. We are God’s shrine. We are God’s holy place. But we are that because of the one who is that, with a definite article: the Christ. That’s what it is.
And by faith and grace with him, and by his Holy Spirit, by the will of God his Father, we worship and adore him as the Temple raised, not made by hands, the cornerstone of the building in which God himself dwells, which is a divine building of living stones and living people in the coming kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem in which there is no physical Temple, for God and the Lamb are its Temple, and we become deified, and we become christs, and we become sons of God, and therefore we become precious stones in that very Temple, because of Christ, our Savior. We become, ourselves, members of Christ and of that Temple.