Category Archives: Temple

Study 9 – 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Using your temple wisely

Discussion Question

What sort of things do you think every person has a right to?

Background

Let’s not forget how Paul greeted the church in Corinth back in chapter 1. They are the church of God, sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy. Yet the way they are thinking and behaving does not fit with that description. They were quarreling over which leader is the greatest and thinking like people of this world. They were even taking one another to court over matters that could have been resolved with Christian wisdom and unity. And they had somehow allowed sexual immorality to become commendable! Things that even pagans would condemn were being practiced by members of the church. They were not behaving as the people of God.

Paul had instructed them to celebrate and nurture the community of God, cleansed by the blood of the Passover Lamb and love being a community devoted to pursuing holiness – keeping the Festival as though they themselves are unleavened bread. In Chapter 6 Verses 1 to 11, it seems that they were more concerned with their rights than they were with Christian living and forgiveness.

Read 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

12 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.”d 17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.e

18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. They were once sinners but now they have been justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God. They need to learn to be the people that God has made them to be.

What did you see?

Structure

  • Rejecting hyper spirituality (12-13)
  • The melding of body and soul (14-17)
  • Trashing someone else’s property (18-20)

Rejecting hyper spirituality (12-13)

“I have the right to do anything” This sentiment is quoted twice by Paul to mimic what he believes the Corinthians to be saying. How pointed to the age that we live in. Which comes as no surprise because sin, when left unchecked, grows into a tree of self worth and the rejection of care for others or God. Human rights is an important topic but to say that we have the right to do anything is not thoughtful on the implications on others. What did the Corinthians have in mind? Well, if you have been taught that Christ’s death has paid for your sins completely (Romans 8:1) and that keeping the Jewish laws are no longer included in the New Covenant, (Acts 19:9-15), then this surely gives us liberty and freedom to eat and enjoy the good things in life without concern. “We are free in Christ” has become for them: “We have the right to do anything.”

“…but not everything is beneficial…I will not be mastered by anything.” Paul has two responses to the statement, “I have the right to do anything”, which are both about discipline and wisdom. From the very beginning, mankind has been given the challenge to be wise. Think about the test in the garden of Eden with regards to the fruit. Binge TV watching is a Christian liberty but is it really beneficial? Enjoying the things of this life is excellent but if something becomes an addiction, is that really helpful? Something may begin as a liberty but grow into a demand. Should I mention coffee? Alcohol? Candy-crush? What about TV and movies with nudity/course language and anything that can train us in ungodliness? What other things could fit the category of not beneficial or possibly addictive?

“Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” This local man-made proverb is capturing the idea that we are just inhabiting a temporary body which will disappear one day and so let’s not care about it. Faith and worship are about the spirit. The body is for food (and sex) and they will not be coming to heaven with us – or so the idea goes. What Paul goes on to talk about is a push-back on the idea that the body does not matter.

“The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” Paul has moved from the proverb about food to what he’s really concerned about: sexual immorality. This is the theme of chapters 5 to 7. We are not made in order to abuse sex. All things that are good in this world come from God. Sex, money and power all have their place when used for the glory of God. But all three can be misused and abused to the detriment of ourselves and others. Our bodies – our fleshly, creaturely matter – are meant for the Lord. And Paul will continue to explain what he means by “and the Lord for the body.”

Notice in Verses 12 and 13 how the Corinthians are celebrating a transient life – what they do in the here and now has no effect on eternity. This is an extreme misuse of the doctrine of grace. But pushes back on this hyper-spirituality and says that the body matters!

The melding of body and soul (14-17)

“By his power God raised the Lord from the dead…” In order to place emphasis on the body, Paul goes to the resurrection! It is no light matter that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead! It is also no light matter that Jesus was made flesh to begin with in order to die! Salvation occurred through the body of the Lord Jesus Christ.

“…and he will raise us also.” The bodily resurrection. A Christian doctrine that says we will not be spirits in the sky but, with a new heaven and a new earth, we will also have new bodies. This current passage is putting emphasis on the point of bodies. The body is meant for the Lord and the Lord for the body. When God gave us life, he also gave us bodies. Our flesh and bones mean something to God. When mankind was made, we were described as being in the image of God. When Adam first laid eyes on Eve, he said “Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” This can have multiple implications but he is saying that they are both flesh! As Christ was raised in bodily form, so we will be raised in body. Jesus is described as the firstborn from among the dead (Colossians 1). His resurrection is not the only one, but the body of Christ will rise in Him also. So, I’ve opened a can of worms, I’m sure. Cremation vs burial. Do we sleep when we die or do we rise straight away? How old will we be in the new heaven and earth? Good questions which I will not answer here.

“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?” Now Paul introduces a new level of complexity. We are not simply talking about his body was important and so ours is also. Paul now reminds us that, as Christians, we have died with Christ and we rise and live with him (Romans 6)! Being part of the body of Christ is not just an illustration for church life! There is something extremely practical and real about actually being attached or united with Christ.

“Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!” So, the sexual immorality is unveiled a little here and we see that prostitutes are involved. Unfortunately, some people even in our church may need to hear Paul’s words here. Let’s quickly remind one another also that Jesus equated the thoughts of the mind with adultery in Matthew 5:27-28. The Corinthians may have had easy access to prostitutes in temple worship (most commentaries will talk about that) but we have so much access to virtual prostitution through porn.

“Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body?” This is an amazing statement. It’s all too common to here the idea that sex is just biology. Paul is arguing for a deeper connection with the body and the spirit in this passage. We are united with Christ in the body. When we unite with somebody in sex, there is a connection that transcends probably anything else. Paul wants us to hear that it’s not just biology.

“For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.”” Paul quotes from Genesis 2:24. Sex is for marriage and marriage is the place for sex. Our society has so cheapened sex and likewise cheapened marriage. In God’s wisdom, he has created us to be united closest through this physical act. That does not mean that every sexual act is a highly spiritual one. Life is messed up because of sin. But, all things being equal, sex is a wonderful gift of God given for the purpose of bonding two human beings together – for life. Does that mean that if someone has engaged in casual sex is now married with that person in the eyes of God? No. But understanding the place, purpose, and origin of sex teaches us that our bodies were made for a reason. We are not spirits, we are flesh and blood. Our bodies are united with Christ and they are also the temple of the Holy Spirit…

“But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.” This sounds awfully new agey and quite bold to think that we can say, “I am one with the Lord in spirit!”  Ever thought that? Paul wants us to stop thinking 2-dimensionally (or 3 or 4 for that matter). When we are here in body, we are also one with God in spirit. There is a unity between body and spirit. Paul wants us to understand the link between our bodies and our spirit and the union of our body with the Spirit of God.

Trashing someone else’s property (18-20)

“Flee from sexual immorality.” I love these direct applications in the bible. Get out of there! See some sexual immorality threats? Run the other way. In case of personally engaging in sexual immorality – run for your freaking life. In the positive, cultivate habits and thought patterns that entertain godly living. In the negative or defensive mode, shut out opportunities for sexual immorality, learn to cry out to God for help when tempted and speak to someone about dangers that you might face. Paul continues to stress why sexual immorality is particularly harmful.

“All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.” Paul takes his lesson to the next level. And it is quite a curious thing to say. It fits perfectly with the train of thought so far…if sex means that the two will become one flesh…that sounds quite huge. But gluttony might seem similar. Or self-harm? So, sexual sin is categorised as something that changes you. Let’s remember the two things that Paul said to begin with: not everything is beneficial and I won’t be mastered by anything. Two pair oneself with another liberally is by no means beneficial once we’ve heard Paul’s teaching of the union which that creates. Sexual immorality in deed or in thought can be quite dominating and a dangerous master. For Paul to say that it is a sin against your own body! That’s sobering to hear. Then he says:

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” Wow! The great promise of Christ to his disciples was that he must go and he will send the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are not alone because the Spirit of Christ and of the Father are with us (John 14:26; 15:26). I have not the space to talk in detail about the temple and its purpose through the scriptures – except that it is where God dwells with his people. While once it was a physical structure in the centre of Jewish life, Christ declared himself to be the temple when he said, “knock that down and in three days I will rebuild it!” John 2:19-21. Paul has taught us that the Spirit of Christ is in us. This is not to say Christ’s Spirit but the Spirit sent from the Father in the name of Christ. Our bodies are the dwelling place of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. This verse has been abused to teach against smoking cigarettes and eating healthy etc. But clearly the context is about sexual immorality! Can you extend the principal though to smoking? I don’t think you can. Paul said that all other sins are outside the body but sexual sin is different. (it is not a good idea to smoke cigarettes nor eat an unhealthy diet – not all things are beneficial).

“You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” This is perhaps the mic-drop moment of Paul’s talk here. We’ve come from the thought that we have the right to do whatever we want with our bodies to this final statement that you don’t even own your own body. Salvation has come to you at a price. It was through the death of Christ physically on the cross. Because of that, we have the Spirit within us. In what sense are we free to do whatever we want? The conclusion, though, is not then to be told what to do with our bodies but to honor God. That is surely what we would want right? If not, then why turn to Christ? We have been given a new life through Christ. Paul is not asking us to become prunes, but to honor God with our lives. Like he says in Colossians 3:17, “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

What did we learn?

Freedom in Christ does not mean that we begin to ruin our souls through sin. We are saved by grace and now live sanctified lives through the Spirit of God and our bodies are involved in the plans of God. He created us with bodies and the resurrection will somehow include resurrected bodies. The place of sex is also a sacred thing in the eyes of God. We now live with the Spirit of God within us and we ought to think like the sanctified people of God, thinking and acting with wisdom and self-control.

Now what?

Topic A: Where might we find the freedom we have in Christ being subverted with unwise living? See the notes for examples like TV watching. How do we spot the difference between being wise and being a prune?

Topic B: Live your spiritual life naturally and your natural life spiritually. This is a quote seen on a sign in front of a church somewhere in Australia. What do you think of this saying? Does Paul agree with this statement according to 1 Corinthians 6:12-20?

Topic C: Understanding the balance between grace and discipline. Grace means that we get rewarded despite not deserving nor earning it. Christ paid the price so that we could be rewarded with his righteousness – not what we have done but what Christ has done. Not who we are but who Christ is. We stand uncondemned because of Christ and we can never repay him for what he has given us by grace. Discipline is about choosing wisely and acting with thought and self-control. Making plans and sticking to them. Deciding to do productive and beneficial things and saying no to other things which we could become enslaved to. These could appear contrary to one another. However, all the discipline in the world will not save us – we need the grace and mercy of God. Once saved, we recognise that we do not want to be married to sin any longer and so we must flee. Living a disciplined life does not make us any closer to God than a fish. Living a saved life will spur us on to love and good deeds because of the hope we have for eternity.

Study 5 – 1 Corinthians 3:1-22

Building Believers

Discussion Question

If you could build anything in your backyard, what would you build and why?

The connection here is to the building of the church by Paul.

Background

In Chapter 3 Paul returns to his concerns in 1:10-17 about quarrels and divisions. He seeks to provide a solid theological understanding of WHO they are and WHOSE they are so they might put off their worldly and immature ways of thinking and grow up in Christ. He will implore them not to abandon or ignore the human leaders they have followed but to recognise that human leaders build on God’s work, according to God’s plans towards God’s goals.  The key urging from this chapter is really in 3.21 – no more boasting about human leaders! God is central to your life, death and every breath.

Talk of the temple in 3:16-17 requires some careful consideration. The temple/ tabernacle was the place where God dwelt in the midst of Israel and at which God related to his people (remember our study in Leviticus!). It was a mobile tent until the days of Solomon when he built a glorious and enormous temple in which God’s people could worship God. But as Israel forgot God the temple was overrun by injustice and idolatry. After the glory days of Solomon, evil godless kings closed the doors, destroyed the altars and killed the priests; eventually it was destroyed. In the later OT (cf Haggai) people long for a new temple to be built of greater glory than the first. As the NT opens, Jesus says he is that temple (John 2:13-25). Jesus is the place where God reveals himself, through whom God relates with his people and in whom his people worship. Now Paul takes this a step further and says “you yourselves are God’s temple”. In light of the background, that is a pretty incredible thought.

Read 1 Corinthians 3:1-22

3 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?

5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours,

What did you see?

Structure

  • God’s servants do God’s work among God’s people (3.1-9)
  • The builders and their building (3.10-15)
  • The temple and a warning (3.16-17)
  • Lift your eyes to God (3.18-23)

God’s Servants do God’s Work among God’s People (3.1-9)

“Brothers and Sisters…” Paul is addressing the Corinthian Christians but he is getting them to recall his former ministry among them when he addressed them. There is a softness to his rebuke – you’re brothers and sisters but you’re being idiotic!  

“…people who live by the Spirit…” This is a great little description of Christian people (who have the Spirit of God in them (2:12) and who keep in step with the spirit (Eph 5:16)) connects into the end of chapter 2 where Paul contrasted Spirit-filled judgements and worldly judgements. The end of chapter 2 prepared us for Paul’s stinging rebuke here in 3:1-4)

“I gave you milk, not solid food”  Sometimes people have tried to be definitive about what milk content is vs solid (meaty) content. Is it plain gospel vs difficult doctrinal issues (like election or the Trinity?). In my experience this has happened so people can make a judgement about the content of this or that sermon, or church or the ability of a preacher. “He preaches milk!” This thinking is just the Corinthian error in another form. I don’t think it is helpful (or the point of this passage) for us to try and work out what teaching is milk and what is meat.  Rather, the issue is, are we still worldly like the Corinthians or walking in the Spirit?

“…mere humans…” Get your group to recall the discussion you had on 2:13, 15-6.

“…servants through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task…” Here is the introduction of Paul’s argument. Humans are but tools in the hands of God, servants assigned a task by the master, the Lord. They don’t decide on their work, the Lord gives them a ministry to do (2 Corinthians 5:16-20). There is no indication of anything mystical or miraculous here, just that they are preachers of God’s gospel. Therefore they should not be exalted but the Lord should be. The servant word here is the word used of deacons in 1 Tim 3:8 and not the “slave” word.

“…God has been making it grow…only God who makes things grow.” Always pause and look carefully when you see repeated ideas close together. Often this will be the key point of teaching the author wants you to grasp. In this case, the power in ministry is not in the preacher or personality or persuasive power of the person but in God who makes things grow. God makes Christians. God grows Christians. God saves Christian. He just uses people to do the preaching and teaching work.  Our attention should not be fastened on people but on the Lord they serve.

“…each be rewarded according to their own labour…” There are several passages in the NT that indicate a specific reward for those who labour for Christ. But the reward is never clearly stated; of course this has not stopped people from guessing! Some say a better place in heaven, some say a better experience of heaven, some say something else. I say, wait until you get there and see. Note though that the issue is not fruitfulness or success but reward is for labour. This makes sense as it is God who makes things grow and human ministry is done in God’s strength for God’s purposes according to God’s plans for God’s glory.

“…co-workers…” The translation of this verse in the NIV hides a profound reality that God is mentioned three times emphatically. It might read “God’s co-workers are we, God’s field, God’s building you are.” Humans are put at the end of the sentence to emphasise strongly that human instruments do not matter but God is all in all. The field/ building language prepares us for what comes next.

The Builders and their Building (3.10-15)

“builder…building…builds…”  The big question in this section is what is being built and thus what is this building. Some think it refers to a body of doctrine or understanding (linked to the milk/meat point); others think it is the church itself. Likely, neither are out of view for the church is built through right teaching both numerically and in maturity. That building takes place by the proclamation of the Gospel and the Word of God which Paul and others are doing. All this is founded on Jesus Christ who was first preached by Paul – thus he is the one who laid a foundation!

“gold, sliver, stones, wood, hay, straw…” Again, people like to try to identify all the different component parts here and define what is a good building material and what is bad. I think this misses the point. Paul is listing a variety of building materials (in two groups – flammable and inflammable) in order to point out that quality of building will be shown up on the Day. Leaders with Jesus as the foundation can still do a bad job.

“Day…” The day of judgement when Christ returns. When he comes the true character of the building work will be revealed and the efforts of the builder revealed for what they are. Again quality not quantity is what counts. Faithfulness to the foundations is key.

“Reward… burned… saved… flames.” All those being addressed here are Christian and will be saved. But the reality is that some builders do dodgy work. Some will receive a reward (see previous discussion) and some will not. The quality of ministry is what is key. People should not engage as a co-worker of God without ensuring they build carefully, wisely and in accordance with God’s plans. (It is possible that Paul is laying the ground work for future rebuke of leaders who will not deal with sin in the community [cf. 1 Corinthians 5]) Note that there is no inkling here that purgatory is being referred to. Purgatory is a late invention of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Temple and a Warning (3.16-17)

“Temple… Spirit…”  See the Background for an initial discussion of temple. If Paul had teachers and preachers in view, he now ensures the whole church is engaged in this discussion and that they see themselves as being at least somewhat responsible for the sort of teaching (building etc) going on among them. They can’t just blame others for their errors but they need to ensure that they as God’s temple are being built well. (Again, this may prepare for the future rebuke in chapter 5).

…God will destroy that person.” Here Paul’s attention is also turned to unbelievers who may come into the church and seek to do it damage. Some teachers are false teachers who do not know the Gospel or the God who owns the Gospel or the God who works in the midst of his people.

“You together are that temple”  No Christian is an island and no Christian can claim to be the place where God dwells but it is the church that Paul is referring to. The church is the dwelling place of God by his Spirit in his Word. This elevates the importance of the building, the importance of protecting the building, the importance of building well and the importance of carefully receiving good building as the church.  It is God’s work but we are all held responsible for our own actions.

Lift your eyes to God (3.18-23)

“Do not deceive yourselves.”  Paul now clearly is addressing the church and calling on them to see clearly who they are and whose they are and who it is who is working in their midst. They ought not think they are wise for the decisions they have made about how to do church but their wisdom comes only through Christ as they are built on the foundation that is Christ.

“He catches the wise…. The Lord knows that the thoughts…”  It is worth looking up Job 5:13 and Psalm 94:11 to see the broader context of these verses. They underline the reality that no human leader has ever been wiser or better than God. Humanity is characterised by foolishness. God is characterised by wisdom.

“No more boasting…”  This is Paul at both his elegant and furious best. Simple language making a profound point.

“All things are yours…”  This seems like a strange way to conclude this section. You might expect Paul to say “Glory only in God!” But he actually does something more profound – he points out how the Corinthians are ripping themselves off by lining up behind only one teacher when in fact all things (not just all teachers) but everything is theirs in Christ! This may hark back to 1:7. Either way, far from making themselves wiser by choosing one teacher they are impoverishing themselves.  For when you are in Christ you have conquered all that assails you and possess all that is needed for wisdom and life.

“…you are of Christ, and Christ is of God!”  The story does not end with the great possessions we have by faith in Christ but with the reality that we belong to Christ! Wow! You are not your own master stumbling in weakness, you belong to the Lord of the universe and have his strength and power and wisdom as yours. And as one who is in Christ, you are connected ultimately with God. Perhaps this is the great final rebuke or the great final encouragement – either way – STOP lining up behind human leaders and line up with the one who owns you! God in Christ!

 

What did we learn?

You have been saved by Christ. You belong to Christ. Human leaders lead for Christ and lead you toward Christ. Stop focussing on human leaders and start being who you are – God’s building and temple – and live in all he has given you which is much more than any human can give you!

Now what?

Topic A: Are you Spiritual or Worldly? You could have a discussion about this or spend some time sharing with each other about whether you are growing as a Christian and pursuing godliness or not and if not, why not. What is holding you back? How might you change where you are? What needs to happen that you might say you are ready for the meat and living by the Spirit?

Topic B: What is the danger of treating preachers as celebrities and do you do that? How do we see this danger in our context in Sydney, in Campbelltown, in our church? How do we protect against it? How can we encourage our ministers not to take on celebrity status and enable them to keep viewing themselves as Paul views himself?  

Topic C: Living with the reality that all things are yours. Are you short-changing yourself and not living life fully focussed on Christ? The world and life and death are all yours in Christ. Are you living like that is the case? Are you seeking satisfaction in other things in the world? Are you treating Jesus as someone to be tacked onto your life or as the one who is the centre of your life and who is your life?

Ezekiel 37:15-28 – One King and One Temple

Context

TIP: When you pick up a book and read it from where you last left off, say chapter 10, you want to recall all that’s happened previously otherwise chapter 10 won’t make any sense. You don’t begin reading a book at chapter 10! But you don’t need to recall everything – you only need to recall the things pertinent to chapter 10. So, recalling context for a bible passage doesn’t require spewing out every fact you know about the book so far, but to recall the bits that will shed light on the section you are looking at. That’s why we start with context and choose to talk about the bits we do.

Abraham had a son named Isaac who, in turn, had a son named Jacob. Jacob came to be known as Israel, therefore, Jacob and Israel are the same man. Jacob/Israel had twelve sons (and a daughter) who later made up the twelve tribes of Israel. So, the nation of Israel consisted of twelve regions. See Genesis 35:23-26 for a list of the twelve sons including who their mothers were. It might help if you draw up a family tree.

While David served to rule as king over all of Israel, David’s grandson, Rehoboam, created a division in the kingdom which resulted, under God’s sovereignty, in two kingdoms: the Southern Kingdom and the Northern Kingdom.

The Southern Kingdom contained two tribes: Judah and Benjamin.

The Northern Kingdom contained the other ten tribes including Joseph whose son was Ephraim. (Small confusion: the twelve sons included Levi and Joseph but the land division excluded Levi, since his was the priestly line and was given no land – Joseph had no land named after him but his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, were given land each. So there are 12 sons and 12 land divisions but Levi and Joseph are substituted with Manasseh and Ephraim.)

The Southern Kingdom was known as Judah and followed the kingly line of David while the Northern Kingdom was known as Israel and followed the kingly line of Jeroboam, an Ephraimite (1 Kings 11:26).

The Northern Kingdom (Israel) was destroyed and scattered in 722BC. The Southern Kingdom (Judah) went into exile in 586BC and this is who Ezekiel is speaking to.

Ezekiel 25 and 33 marked the day that the Southern Kingdom with the Temple was destroyed by Babylon.

I see that this is a lot of info to digest but it makes the reading of Ezekiel 37:15-28 much easier to understand. Judah and Joseph became heads over two divided kingdoms. But they were both brothers under Israel.

Observation

  • Verses 15-17 – A visual prophecy
  • Verses 18-23 – The visual prophecy explained
  • Verses 24-28 – One King and One Temple!

Verses 15-17

“Take a stick of wood…” Earlier in Ezekiel, the prophet was instructed to perform various tasks which would be a sign to the people he prophesied to. They were all for the warnings against Israel and their idolatry. Now, the prophet is asked to make a sign which is for the blessing of Israel. As an exercise to get people in your group talking, you might ask for a list of things Ezekiel has previously been asked to do.

“Belonging to Judah/Belonging to Joseph…” See the context for the explanation of how this refers to the Southern Kingdom and the Northern Kingdom respectively.

“to Ephraim…” again, see the context above.

“…and all the Israelites associated with him…” In both cases, both sticks ultimately represent two halves of the one kingdom: Israel! Whether Northern or Southern, all have family ties back to Israel (Jacob).

“Join them together…” The conclusion of Ezekiel’s demonstration is for the two sticks to become one stick. The visual prophecy is pretty straight forward: there will no longer be two kingdoms but one. The rest of the passage will amplify this simple message by expanding on the implications.

Verses 18-23

The first few verses here, 18-20, are straight forward. Given the context above, I see nothing to add to these verses.

“I will…” Firstly notice who will make this happen: The Sovereign LORD. Simple point worth making.

“…take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone.” Both sticks are a representative of Israel as a whole. Both the North and the South have been taken one way or another – by being scattered abroad, by taken captive in exile in Babylon, by a very small remnant fleeing from attack. But God will see them as two kingdoms no more!

“…back into their own land…” This brings back the covenant made by God to Abraham which included both a great nation and a promised land. God is not changing his mind but remembering his covenant.

“…one nation…one king…never divided…” Verse 22 is the key verse I suppose. Taking up the heart of what will happen as well as the key to the unity – they will be under one king. Verses 24-28 will take up this further.

“…I will save them from all their sinful backsliding and I will cleanse them. They will be my people and I will be their God.” This is a wonderful promise but raises the question of how God will do it. These are exactly what went wrong with Israel to begin with. They backslid and became mixed with the other nations and defiled by their practices. They let go of the covenant relationship and committed adultery with other so-called gods. How will God prevent this from happening again?

Verses 24-28

“My servant David will be king over them…” Without declaring that Judah was right, God sets straight that the kingdom that he had established was David’s. So, the heir to the throne is in the line of David and not Jeroboam. But more importantly, we are told that David will be the king. Now, since he has been dead for hundreds of years, what could this mean? It is to do with the promise to Judah (Genesis 49) and to David (2 Samuel 7) that there will be a forever king on the throne. When he comes, the throne will never be taken away from him. It is impossible for the kingdom to divide once the true Davidic king comes. His name is Jesus (Philippians 2).

“…they will live in the land of Jacob…” Remember that it is no longer two kingdoms called North and South but one kingdom now – the whole land of Israel.

“I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant.” God promises peace that is eternal. Jesus will be the king and peace will be the flavour of the kingdom.

“…and I will put my sanctuary among them forever…” Now, if this promise were literal, then we would find King David being the king – risen from the dead and seated on his throne. We would also see the Temple or sanctuary of God rebuilt and forever remaining. Neither of these things have come to pass in a literal sense. But the purpose of the sanctuary was to illustrate that God is dwelling with his people. Therefore he says, “My dwelling place will be with them…” Ezekiel 10 described the withdrawal of God from the Temple to show his disgust with the people of the promise. Now he promises eternal peace, with an eternal king ruling the one kingdom forever. And in this kingdom, God himself will dwell with the people. And there will be no end to this promise.

Meaning

God promises to reverse the many years of idolatry and rebellion by recovering his people into one nation with one king and the return of the sanctuary with God dwelling there forever. God will gather his people from everywhere to be the holy people of Israel.

New Testament Perspective

Now, in 2015, Jews are scattered all over the world, Israel is a war zone, no king is seated on any throne in Israel, the Temple is torn down and peace is quite unlikely in any age. But there is one man who is descended from David (Matthew 1) who is called Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), God With Us (Matthew 1:22), and who John spoke of as “the Word become flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).

When Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God he said that it is here (Mark 1:15) and called people to repent. He spoke with a Samaritan woman from the northern region of Israel and said, “Woman, believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” In saying this, Jesus declared that no mountain or building will be the sanctuary of God but that every true believer will know the presence of God. The fulfilment of Ezekiel 37:15-28 is not to be found north, south, east or west of here but with the Spirit of God dwelling in us. This was the promise of Ezekiel 37:14. This is how God will cease the backsliding and rebellion. It will not be the kingdom of God based on human descent but by the Spirit. See Paul’s words on this in Romans 9! “…it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.”

The promise goes beyond the nation of Israel and into the whole earth. Anyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved. The people of God will be one people with one King and one eternal destiny which is called ‘peace’.

Application

  1. Ezekiel 37:15-28 is a key passage used by the Mormon church (Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints) to show that the book of Mormon is also part of God’s word. They say that one of the sticks represents the scriptures of Judah and the other stick represents the scripture of Ephraim and those Israelites who ventured to America. By telling Ezekiel to perform this prophecy, he is letting us all know that these two scriptures are part of the one word of God. Do you think they have a good argument? Which makes more sense: that the sticks represent two books or two kingdoms? One lesson from this passage is that the true people of God will come together because of the one king, one shepherd, one promise. The Mormon church does not represent this kingdom. Their church claims to be part of the Christian faith but their teaching discredits them. One commentator on Ezekiel, Iain Duguid writes, “We are not to welcome all professing Christians indiscriminately, as if what you believe was a matter of small importance. Instead, the New Testament teaches us that we are to refuse to have anything to do with those who teach false doctrine (2 John 10-11).”
  2. Jesus and the believer as the Temple. John 1:14 tells us that God became flesh and dwelled among us. It says that God “tabernacled” among us. Jesus compared himself to the Temple when he told the Jews to tear down the Temple and he would rebuild it in three days. We know that he was referring to himself (John 2:19). Jesus was transitioning our thinking away from bricks and mortar and to himself as the very place where God dwells since he himself is God. Believers are said to be the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) because the Spirit has made us alive in Christ. As we read through the book of John later this year, we will hear Jesus promise the coming of the Holy Spirit to dwell within the believer. This all points to the incredible closeness between God and his saved people. Our backsliding and rebellion can indeed be stopped because God is working in us to be his new creation (Ephesians 2:8-10). We don’t need to worry about what is going on in any particular place in the world as if God will recreate something special there because God is recreating something tremendous right here in our hearts.
  3. Jesus as our King. This is where our unity is found and where division flees away. When the true body of Christ looks to the head, then we can be united and get busy building one another up in Christ! We don’t find unity in common language or social backgrounds. Not in personal likes or hopes to make a better world. No, our unity comes when we call on the name of Jesus as King. Is Jesus your King? Do you salute him, listen to him, talk wisely about him, share the good news about him, rejoice with others who also call him their LORD. Every small obstacle is laid flat when we stand together to call Jesus the King. Our opinion on matters is not what is king – Jesus is King. Our connections with people is not what defines us as a people – King Jesus calls you to live in peace with him. The activities we do at church do not make us the people of God – Jesus is our King who saved us to gather as the people of God and worship him in Spirit and in truth. Knowing how to serve Jesus and how to know him in truth is the only way to inherit eternal life.

Prayer for the week

Father of all creation, we give you thanks and praise for your promises to all mankind – that in Jesus Christ your Son, we can know and find peace. Please teach us to live in peace and unity with each other in the church because we call on the name of Jesus to be saved.  Thank you that Jesus is our peace, our saviour, our shepherd and the very presence of God. Teach us to love and obey you, through your word, by your Spirit and through your Son. Amen.