The Carpenter’s Son Builds a House
Jesus was the son of a carpenter; a fact attested to by the local residents of Nazareth, the town where he grew up (Matt. 13:55). There is little doubt that the wood craftsman skills of his father Joseph were also learned by Jesus. The custom in those days among the working class was that a trade be passed down from father to son, and was often done through several generations. The scriptures make reference to this custom in Mark 6:3 where we see Jesus visiting his hometown of Nazareth. While there, Jesus is actually called a carpenter by the local residents. It is possible, even likely, that Jesus was himself employed as a carpenter before he began going about His Father’s business (Luke 2:49), but it is almost certain that he learned the trade and was thought of as one who was carrying on his father’s chosen craft.
The Greek word translated carpenter in the passages cited above is defined as “a worker in wood” (Greek –English Lexicon-Baurer, et.al.). In R.C.H. Lenski’s commentary on Mark the word is defined as “one who makes things out of hard material . . . almost always a carpenter. Yet one who makes utensils, furniture, and house fittings, for in Palestine all the houses are constructed of stone, the country being full of rock” (p. 236). In the normal course of events, therefore, Jesus would have become such a carpenter himself and lived his life in fulfillment of that role. He didn’t, of course, but nevertheless become a great builder in his own right! We now turn our attention to the house that the carpenter’s son built.
There are several New Testament passages where the building skills of Jesus play an interesting role in the language. In John 2:19 for example, Jesus is asked by the Jews to give a sign of His authority. He answers by referring enigmatically to the temple of Herod, a great structure built of stone, and says, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Of course, as verse 21 bears out, Jesus was really speaking of the destruction (death) and rebuilding (resurrection) of his own body, not the stone structure built over a period of forty-six years by King Herod.
Again, In Matthew 16:18 Jesus makes a promise that involves the greatest building project ever undertaken. In response to Peter’s confession that He was the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus declares, “. . . on this rock I will build my church.”
The Scriptures go on to reveal that indeed Jesus fulfilled his promise to build the church. He first purchased the material from which his church was constructed (Acts 20:28; Eph. 2:13). In speaking to those who made up the church in the city of Corinth, Paul assures them that the foundation upon which they were established was none other than Jesus, For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:9-11; see also Acts 4:11; 1 Pet. 2:6,7).
Jesus built the promised church. He alone is the architect, builder, owner and Lord. The church he promised to build began on the first Pentecost following the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. The event, which is recorded in Acts 2, was accomplished and accompanied by many wonderful events: the promised (Acts 1:4) Holy Spirit; gospel preaching by Peter and the other apostles; an invitation to repent in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; the initial response to that invitation on the part of 3,000 people who were baptized into the body of Christ; a picture of that early group of Christians working together, and the addition by the Lord into his church of those who were subsequently and likewise being saved.
Thus Jesus built his church. He did so in keeping with his promise, and by virtue of his resurrection, exaltation and declaration as Lord and Christ (Acts 2;32-36).
We can see this house building language used in reference to the church in other New Testament passages as well. Some wonderful details of the church that Jesus built are provided in Ephesians 2:19-22. Within this context there are six distinct Greek terms that are based on the same root word. That Greek root is a word that deals with a dwelling or a house. In the case of Eph.2:19-22 Paul has labeled that dwelling “The Household of God.” Of that household, Jesus is the chief cornerstone.
Paul’s main point in this passage is that believing Gentiles, once distinct from Israel, are now God’s people (a part of His house) along with the believing Jews. The “house and/or construction” language is used to illustrate this fact in several different ways.
The text reads as follows. (Words that describe various characteristics of the house that Christ built are in bold type.)
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
Even though the context uses such language as the household of God, and describes Jesus as the chief cornerstone, it is still describing the church which was promised, built and continues to be ruled by Christ. Very few passages emphasize the aspect of the church as the house built by Christ the way that this one does. Notice how various points about the house that Christ constructed are made through the carefully chosen language of the passage.
The most interesting word in the context is foreigners. The Greek word translated here as foreigners (aliens) originally meant something like “along side the house” in the sense of “separated from or away from the house,” a nuance not present in the English translation (Windham, p. 70). It is used here to describe how at one time the Gentiles were separated or away from the house of God. Next, Paul points out that the Gentiles are now an integral part of the household of God, no longer “away from it.” Thirdly, it is an accomplished fact that the Gentiles are in Christ, as their place in it being spoken of in the past tense with the word built. Paul goes on to say that the whole building (edifice) will grow into a holy temple in the Lord, emphasizing the spiritual as well as the living aspect of the building which Christ built. In verse 22, the idea expressed by the term being built together places emphasis on the expectation of continued growth by both Jew and Gentile who are the living building blocks from which the house of God is built. Finally, the term dwelling place is employed, in yet a sixth usage of the same Greek root, indicating the special purpose for the house built by Christ as the dwelling place of God. Thus, in all of these interesting terms we see Jesus the carpenter at work. He has constructed a house, spiritual in nature, that is much greater than anything he or his father could have constructed from the wood or stone of ancient Palestine.
Jesus, the son of a lowly carpenter from Nazareth thus became a great builder. He has built a living and continuing house that we can benefit from and become a part of yet today, two-thousand years after the original foundation was laid. It is an everlasting house made up of all who are saved.
(Sources: A Greek-English Lexicon of the NT. Baurer, et al.p.995. Commentary on Mark’s Gospel. R.C.H. Lenski. p. 236. New Testament Greek for Preachers and Teachers. Neal Windham. pp. 70-72.)