The Bible is full of descriptions and metaphors of how God sees the church. Each one helps us to understand a facet of the church’s spiritual identity and God’s love, care, and communion with the body of believers.
1. A Holy Priesthood (1 Peter 2:5, 9-10)
In Israel, priests had a special relationship with God. They were the ones who interceded on behalf of the people and offered animal sacrifices, and the High Priest could enter the most sacred part of the temple once a year to stand in God’s presence. Christ came as The Sacrifice that bought entrance into God’s presence for all people.
Everyone who believes in Christ is the Son of God who died and rose again is now part of a holy nation where everyone can enter God’s presence. The church, the new Israel, is God’s holy nation, his special chosen people who see him now with the eyes of faith but in the future face-to-face.
2. A Holy Temple (Ephesians 2:19-22)
The one Spirit who dwells in believers unites all believers together into the dwelling place of God. When Christians come together to worship God, they are literally forming the house of God. God’s presence is spiritual and mysterious through the power of the Holy Spirit, but it is nonetheless very real. This is why Paul tells the Corinthian church, “For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Cor. 3:17).
3. Children and Heirs (Luke 18:15-17; Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:1-7)
God sees the church as his adopted family, his precious children who will inherit his kingdom. He gives the church is Holy Spirit so they can call upon God as Father. God also cares for the church as a loving Father. As his children, the church depends upon God for his care and protection. As God’s children, the church waits eagerly to inherit the kingdom of God, their beautiful inheritance.
4. A Pillar of Truth (1 Timothy 3:15)
A pillar and buttress is something that supports or holds up a building, keeping it from collapsing. God sees the church as a pillar for the truth, standing upright in a world on the verge of collapse even if it means enduring persecution and abuse for doing so. God sees the church, this pillar of truth, as his ambassador in the world, proclaiming the gospel and calling the world to come to know God and receive his salvation (Rev. 22:17).
5. Branches of His Vine (John 15:1-6)
In John 15, Christ compares his relationship to his church to the relationship between a vine and its branches. As branches derive all their nutrients and genetic material from the vine they grow out of, so Christ’s church derives its life and bears the fruit of the Holy Spirit because the church is connected to Christ, the life-giving vine. This is an intimate and dependent relationship that makes the church special in the eyes of God.
6. A Treasured Possession (Deut. 7:9; 1 Pet. 2:9-10)
In today’s world, “possession” of human beings brings negative things to mind; however, when God “possesses” his people, it means they are presently under God’s leadership, care, protection, and oversight. God considers us his treasured possession; we are God’s most precious and cherished people whom he loves dearly. In a terrifying and dangerous world, being in God’s treasured possession is the best place to be.
7. Christ’s Bride (Hosea 16; Rev. 19:6-9)
While not a bride in the romantic sense, the church is Christ’s bride in the sense that he has vowed to be with her, to care for her, and to protect her for all eternity. The comparison to marriage helps us to understand the kind of commitment and care Christ has for the church.
This doesn’t mean God wears rosy glasses, so infatuated with his church that he doesn’t see her faults, her unfaithfulness, and her hypocrisy. Rather, he sees these issues and provides her with the righteousness and holiness she needs through His Son Jesus (Eph. 5:26-27). His bride will be made perfect in the new creation when his sanctifying work will be finished and he will be with her forever.