In his illuminating book Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology, Jeffrey J. Niehaus argues convincingly that a regular and repeating pattern of salvation occurs in the ancient Near East (ANE). This pattern follow this basic order:
A god works through a man (a royal or prophetic figure, often styled a shepherd) to wage war against the god’s enemies and thereby advance his kingdom. The royal or prophetic protagonist is in a covenant with the god, as are the god’s people. The god establishes a temple among his people, either before or after the warfare, because he wants to dwell among them. This can mean the founding (or choice) of a city, as well as a temple location. The ultimate purpose is to bring into the god’s kingdom those who are not part of it.
Developing this basic schema, Niehaus demonstrates how the Old Testament and New Testament follow this eschatological temple-building motif. Or better, so-called gods used God’s own pattern to establish their false temples, which in time God would recover and employ to defeat all competitors who have sought to build their temples in opposition to his. Indeed, as many biblical scholars have observed (see below), this pattern temple-building and divine warfare fills the Scriptures and helps us to understand its message.
Therefore, in what follows, I will trace temple-building and divine warfare to make sense of Ephesians 2:11–22. This glorious passage is a key New Testament example of temple-building. In it, God is seen restoring all creation through his Son’s cross, which then creates a new people (the church), but that people as God’s Spirit-filled temple become a visible witness of his victory over his enemies. Continue reading