The Building Work of God, by Witness Lee

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Now let us look at the New Testament. The first matter in the beginning of the New Testament is the incarnation, which is God’s coming into man. This is a marvelous matter! Today’s Christianity constantly pays attention to the story of Bethlehem, saying that a Savior was born there for us. Surely this is right, but it is not enough. The story of Bethlehem is not only about a Savior but also about the mingling of God and man, about God coming into man. The significance of what happened in Bethlehem is that God became flesh and entered into man to be mingled with man and to become one with man. It is a mystery that God comes into man to be God to man. Whereas formerly God was outside of man, now God has entered into man. This is not a matter of God’s descending from the heavens to the earth. God’s descending from the heavens to the earth is a human thought, not a divine concept. The significance of what happened in Bethlehem is not merely that God came from the heavens to the earth but that God entered into man. Incarnation is God’s coming into man, entering into a union with man, and tabernacling among men.

We need to remember that the Word becoming flesh and tabernacling among men is related to building. When the Word became flesh, a substantial building, a practical building, began. God began to build Himself into man. Now there was a man who could say, “God is in Me. Outside of Me you cannot find God and you do not have God. I am a man born of Mary, and I am a Nazarene whose name is Jesus, yet there is God in Me. Within Me is the very God. I am the tabernacle; I am the temple; I am the building of God. Have you ever seen the tabernacle? I am the tabernacle. Have you ever seen the temple? I am the temple.”

One day the Jews asked Him, “What sign do you show us, seeing that You do these things?” He answered, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:18-19). He had no other signs to show them except this one. The Jews did not understand what He meant. All they saw was the temple before their eyes, which was the temple built by King Herod. The temple in the Old Testament had three stages. The first stage was the temple built by King Solomon and destroyed by the Babylonians. The second stage was the temple rebuilt by Ezra and his companions after their return from the land of captivity. The scale of that temple was very small. The third stage was the temple reconstructed by Herod when he became the king of the Jewish people shortly before the birth of the Lord. In order to please the Jews, Herod rebuilt and enlarged the temple, spending forty-six years to complete it. This was the temple the Jews saw at that time. They said to the Lord, “This temple was built in forty-six years, and You will raise it up in three days?” This was because they did not understand that the Lord was speaking of the temple of His body (vv. 20-21). God was mingled with Him, and He was the temple of God.

Satan, however, hated this temple and wanted to get rid of it and to destroy it. Therefore, when the Lord Jesus was being judged, the Jews cried out, “Take Him away! Take Him away! Crucify Him!” (19:15). Satan thought that he could destroy the temple of God, the building of God, by destroying this man. After three days, however, the Lord resurrected. Through the Lord’s resurrection the small temple became enlarged. Originally the Lord was one grain of wheat, but now through death and resurrection He produced many grains. Formerly the Lord alone was the temple, but after He resurrected from the dead and imparted His life into His people, they also became the temple of God. Before the Lord’s resurrection, only Jesus the Nazarene was the temple. However, after the Lord’s resurrection, the Galileans who belonged to the Lord and all those who had received the Lord’s life all became a part of this temple. This is what the Lord meant when He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Therefore, after His resurrection, the Lord’s physical body became His mystical Body, which includes Peter, James, and John, as well as all of us, the saved ones. After His resurrection the Lord’s Body is an immense Body, an immeasurable temple. This Body, which He raised up in His resurrection, is His church. The church is His Body, His temple.

Dear brothers and sisters, we need to see clearly this matter of God’s building in the New Testament age. First, the Lord as the Word became flesh to be a tabernacle, a temple. God mingled Himself with Him and dwelt within Him. At that time, however, the scale of that temple was very small. It was limited to one man, whose name is Jesus, the Nazarene. In the entire human race, the building of God was within Him alone. He alone was the tabernacle of God, the temple of God. God dwelt in Him, and He dwelt in God. Then God caused Him to go through death and resurrection so that He could impart His life into His people. In this way, what happened in Bethlehem in the incarnation could also happen in them. Thus, God entered into these people and was constituted into them. They were also brought into God, and they became the temple of God. As a result, the temple has been enlarged. It is no longer limited to one person but has been enlarged to include thousands and thousands of people.

Since that day that He entered into His people, God has been building this temple. The Lord said, “Upon this rock I will build My church” (Matt. 16:18). What is this rock? This rock refers to the resurrected Christ. Immediately after Peter received the revelation and knew that the Lord was the Christ, the Son of the living God (v. 16), the Lord said, “Upon this rock I will build My church.” The church is being built upon Christ, the Son of the living God. Since that day God’s work has been to build the Body—the church as the temple of God—upon this rock as the foundation.

In this divine building the Lord Himself is not only the rock, the foundation, but also the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20b; Matt. 21:42). Every stone in this house is joined to Him. Therefore, 1 Peter 2:4-5 says that the Lord is a living stone, and that all the saved ones as living stones are joined to Him and are being built upon Him as a spiritual house for God and His people to dwell in.

For two thousand years God has been doing this building work in the church. The apostle Paul told us that after the Lord’s resurrection and ascension, He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as shepherds and teachers. All these gifts are for the building up of His Body, which is the church (Eph. 4:8-13). Furthermore, he said that in Christ all of us who are saved are being built together into a dwelling place of God in spirit (2:21-22). He also said that we are the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16), and that “he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit” (6:17). Therefore, this building is the union of God and man in spirit. It is man and God becoming one spirit. This one spirit is a building, a spiritual house, which is the church. Both God and man are in this spirit and dwell in this spirit. This is God’s work of building in the New Testament age.

(The Building Work of God, Chapter 2, by Witness Lee)