The following is an excerpt from some material I composed for the teaching ministry of South City Church. You can listen to the sermon on which this material is based here — Our Identity and Calling in Christ (1 Peter 2:4-10).
In our passage this week [1 Peter 2:4-10], Peter makes use of this idea of temple.
Our understanding of temple begins in the Garden of Eden. If we were to look at Genesis 1-3 carefully, there are signs that we are suppose to see the Garden of Eden as something like a temple — a place where God dwells with humanity. Later when God gives Israel the tabernacle and temple, interestingly enough he tells them to decorate them with trees and things that make them look like a new Eden of sorts. The Garden of Eden is a “garden-temple.” And it is in this garden that God dwells with humanity without hindrance, without the intrusion of sin. Humanity experiences God’s presence and worships him perfectly.
When Adam and Even rebel, however, sin enters the equation. And this breaks the relationship between God and mankind. God, who is immeasurably holy, cannot tolerate sin. God’s, in his perfection, cannot dwell in the presence of sin without destroying it. This is why in the Old Testament, the levitical (temple) Law speaks of things being “unclean” and the sacrifices and their blood “cleansing” and “purifying.” It was through the temple and its sacrifices that God was able to dwell with his people again, despite sin. This is why God gave the temple, so that he could dwell with his people. And this is why he ordered the sacrifices, to deal with their sin.
The whole aim of Biblical history is God restoring his creation back into right relationship with him. The temple is a small-scale version of this. But it is not the full experience. As such, from the beginning, the temple was anticipating the full-on version of this restored (“temple”) relationship with God that we find in Christ.
Christ takes on the sin that separates us from a right relationship with God (1 Peter 2:24; 3:18). He is the ultimate temple sacrifice, and thus achieves for us the final “temple-relationship” that the old temples always anticipated but could never fully achieved — that place where an immeasurably holy God can once again dwell with his people who were once polluted with sin, a people that now dwells with God as he always intended them to since Eden, that first
“garden-temple”: a people experiencing God’s presence and living lives of unhindered, unrestricted, full-on obedience and worship.
As such, Peter describes Christ as the “cornerstone” (i.e., foundation) of God’s final temple (1 Peter 2:4). It’s not a literal building, but it’s a literal fulfillment of what the temples were always anticipating.
Peter says that as we embrace Christ — this foundation of God’s saving temple-building project — we become stones in this temple (1 Peter 2:5). That is, we experience this “temple” salvation — restored relationship with God, experiencing God’s transforming presence in our lives, etc.
See The Bible Projects’ “Heaven & Earth” video for a helpful visual/video explanation of this Biblical theology of God restoring his presence with humanity and the role of the temple in that aim as it plays out across the pages of scripture.