Symbolic Illustrations of the Universal Church

The New Testament uses various symbolic illustrations to describe the relationship between the universal Church and Jesus Christ. Because these symbolic illustrations can help one to get a better understanding of our relationship with Christ, we will discuss eight such symbolic illustrations.

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The Universal Church As a Building

Google the word “church” and images of physical buildings appear. The Church, however, is not a physical building. Still, the relationship between Christ and the universal Church can indeed be illustrated by a building, but this should be understood figuratively. Christ has been building his Church since Pentecost by adding believers to it.

Christ is the Cornerstone

Without Christ there is no universal Church for Christ Jesus himself is the chief Cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20; cf. Acts 4:11). In ancient times, the cornerstone was the first stone laid, the “primary foundation-stone at the angle of [the] structure by which the architect fixes a standard for the bearings of the walls and cross-walls throughout” (Lloyd cited by Hoehner 2002:407). The cornerstone is that stone of testing (cf. Isaiah 28:16) by which every other stone in the foundation and the superstructure will be measured (Hoehner 2002:407). If one is without Christ, one is not a stone in the universal Church building.

Not only is Christ the chief cornerstone, but He is simultaneously the main stone in the foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11). The apostles and New Testament prophets are the other foundation stones of this building (Ephesians 2:20; cf. 3:4; 4:11; Fruchtenbaum 2005:13). Christ gave his apostles the authority to bind and loose (Matthew 16:18; 18:18; John 20:23); some of the apostles and prophets were inspired to record the New Testament Scriptures. Christ gave these apostles and prophets to build the Church up in love (cf. Ephesians 4:11).

Upon Christ Jesus the cornerstone-foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 2:20) and the foundation of the apostles and New Testament prophets, which has already been laid, the whole structure is being built (Ephesians 2:21). At the time a person becomes a believer that new-born babe “in Christ” becomes a “living stone”, built together with other believers into a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5). The universal Church is being built “into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22).

Christ is the Builder

As the builder of his Church (Matthew 16:18), Christ adds new believers to it (cf. Acts 2:47; 5:14). Believers are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). When living stones appear before the judgment seat of Christ, their works will be tested based on whether they built on the foundation, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

Christ is our peace and — having broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility —Jew and Gentile believers are united in this building (Ephesians 2:11-18). Even though Christ Jesus draws people to Himself from every tribe and tongue, this diverse group of believers out of all the nations is united in Christ. Christ has been building his Church since Pentecost but when He has completed the building, the rapture will occur. To Christ be the glory, great things He has done, great things He is doing and great things He will yet do!

Our next article in this series about the symbolic illustrations of the universal Church will focus on the universal Church as a holy and royal priesthood with Jesus Christ as the High Priest.


If you would like to read more about the Universal Church, we suggest you read the original article and source of this short series, The Universal Church, written by Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum.

We also made use of Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary by H.W. Hoehner, which was published in 2002 by Baker Academic, Grand Rapids.

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