The word of God teems with imagery. From Pharoah and Nebuchadnezzar’s prophetic dreams, to Revelation’s well-known apocalyptic symbolism, to Jesus’ many memorable parables (“The kingdom of heaven is like…”), God employs imagery throughout Scripture to reveal His will. Speaking to the mind’s eye, the Bible’s imagery encourages us to first envision its truths that we might then be enlightened by them. Through pictures, God captures our attention that with His word, He might capture our hearts. It is interesting that one of the most common words in the Bible is “behold”. What’s more, seven times in Scripture we encounter the question, “What do you see?”
One thing we see in the New Testament is that the church is depicted in architectural terms. Seven times the church is called a “temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16, 17; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21; 2 Thessalonians 2:4), six times a “house” (1 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 3:3; 3:6; 10:21; 1 Peter 2:5; 4:17), two times a “building” (1 Corinthians 3:9; Ephesians 2:21), once a “dwelling place” (Ephesians 2:22). Though not a physical structure (it is a “spiritual house”, 1 Peter 2:5), the church is nonetheless to be viewed in a structural sense. And this makes sense; Jesus said He would “build” His church (Matthew 16:18).
The church is an edifice that can be edified (1 Corinthians 14:4), a building that can be built up (1 Peter 2:5). It is, also, a temple that will never be torn down (Daniel 2:44). Built by Him who is eternal, it was built to last, and its foundation is firm: “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). Creeds come and go, movements wax and wane, preachers rise and fall, but this foundation–the apostles, the prophets, and Jesus Christ–is as sure and unshakeable as the God who gave it. And any church built on more or less compromises its integrity.
The foundation consists of these three:
The apostles. Jesus communicated His will not only verbally, but vicariously. During His ministry, He commissioned the apostles with Divine authority (Matthew 18:1, 18), and after His ascension, issued His commands through them. The apostle Paul could rightly write that his commands were “the commands of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37). The apostles’ place was prominent. And it still is. Though they are no longer present in the flesh, the apostles continue to live through their writings as did Moses and the Prophets (Luke 16:29). They, being dead, still speak. And we must listen. Any who will not hear the apostles “is not of God” (1 John 4:6).
The prophets. Peter wrote that “prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). Every true prophet of God, from Samuel and Elijah to the unnamed local prophets of the first century church, spoke by inspiration. The prophets’ messages were Divine, thus authoritative, thus legitimizing their place in the foundation. Several New Testament books (Mark, Luke, Acts, James and Jude) come from the pens of these non-apostolic prophets. According to the apostle, their words must be heeded (2 Timothy 3:16).
Jesus Christ. “Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). Builders in the ancient Near East sometimes began their buildings with the placement of a large, so-called “cornerstone”. Preferably square, this foundation stone served as a guide for the proper positioning of the other stones in the structure. It was the starting point, it was the guide, it was the connecting-point for two of the building’s walls. In similar fashion, the Lord’s church began with the Lord Jesus’ work–He was its beginning (Matthew 16:18). Furthermore, through His recorded words and examples, He served, and serves, as its guide. And in Him the words of the apostles and prophets find their significance, and are brought together into one cohesive whole—the Old Testament prophets looking forward, the New Testament apostles and prophets looking backward to Him. In this way, the three are One: “For no other foundation can anyone lay that that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corithians 3:11).
For over 19 centuries now, layers of “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5) have been rising upon this foundation. Spiritually-minded men and women have been committing themselves to Christ, taking their place in the walls of “God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:9). Someday, the last stone will be laid, the house will be complete, and the world as we know it will cease to have purpose. In that Day, “the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). Every building of human design will be consumed. Every church built on a foundation different from “that which is laid” will be destroyed. Only one structure will endure, the one “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20)–the one, true church.
The Day of the Lord is coming. Is your church fireproof?