Showing posts with label Acts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Acts. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Tabernacle and Altar as Holy Mountain

In his ambitious and inspiring book, Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World, James B. Jordan presents an intriguing case of the Tabernacle (and Temple) being structured according to Israel's encounter with Yahweh at Mount Sinai, where Yahweh came down and visited His people. And as a "cosmic house," it symbolized the place where the heavens met with earth as God's dwelling places. Concerning the former, Jordan writes:

Illustration from Through New Eyes, p. 208
  While the altar complex was a holy mountain, leading toward heaven, in a wider sense the entire Tabernacle complex was a holy mountain, or extended ladder to heaven. What makes this clear is the connection between the Tabernacle and Mount Sinai. ...Mount Sinai was a world model that transferred itself to the Tabernacle. When the people left Mount Sinai, they took the Mountain with them. 
  God's cloud covered the top of the mountain, thus establishing it as a Most Holy Place. Moses and Moses alone was allowed to enter this place, just as later on the only the High Priest would be allowed to enter the Most Holy of the Tabernacle (Exodus 19:19-24). At the top of the mountain God gave the Ten Commandments, which were later put in the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle. 
  Midway down the mountain was the Holy Place. ...The courtyard of the mountain was marked off with a boundary, and anyone who trespassed was put to death (Exodus 19:12). Inside this boundary was placed an altar, and only certain select young men might approach it (Exodus 24:4, 5; cp. 19:22, 24). ...The boundary around the mountain correlates to the boundary inside the courtyard that kept the people from approaching the altar.
  In this way, then, the Tabernacle (and later the Temple) were models of the ladder to heaven, of the holy mountain. Israel did not need to go back to Mount Sinai, or regard it as anything special, after the Tabernacle was built. The Tabernacle was God's portable mountain.1 

Concerning the latter, Jordan writes: 

Illustration from Through New Eyes, p. 162
  The Bible tells us that the Tabernacle and its courtyard symbolized the heavens and the earth, God's dwelling places. Heaven was God's throne, and the earth His footstool (Isaiah 66:1; Matthew 5:35; Acts 7:49). This was set out in two ways in the Tabernacle. In the Most Holy Place, the heavenly throne was pictured by the winged cherubim. God sat enthroned on the outspread wings of the cherubim, with His feet on the mercy seat that covered the Ark of the Covenant.
  ...Second, the whole Tabernacle proper was a model of heaven (Hebrews 8:5; 9:23-25). The Most Holy Place itself was a model of the highest heavens, with the firmament or earthly heavens pictured in the Holy Place, and the earth pictured in the courtyard. The Courtyard altar was the holy mountain that reached toward the sky, pictured in the Holy Place behind the first veil, a veil of blue sky. ...As we pass through the firmament-heavens of the Holy Place, we come to a second altar, which is as it were a second ladder stretching from the firmament-heavens to the highest heavens. Beyond the cherubic second veil, behind this golden altar was the Most Holy Place, the Highest Heavens.
  The courtyard thus represented the earthly garden-sanctuary. Adam had been cast from this sanctuary; and it was only under very tight restrictions, codified in the laws of cleanness, that anyone might be admitted to it in the Mosaic system. Even so, the layman might only come into the forecourt. He was forbidden on pain of death the approach the holy mountain of the altar.2 

1.  James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes: Developing A Biblical View of the World [Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999] pp. 212-3
2.  Ibid. pp. 207, 211

Friday, May 31, 2013

Matthew 10: The End Was Near (Cosmic language & the old covenant age)

In this post, I would like to identify two important aspects of biblical literature which I have not yet touched upon in this series: 1) Scripture's non-literal cosmic language of judgment & deliverance, and 2) its related themes about the end of tabernacle/temple worship and the old creation/old covenant. These are important for understanding Jesus' prophecy to his twelve apostles in Matthew chapter ten: "When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes."

In order to appreciate this statement a bit more, let's start with the first aspect mentioned above. 

Throughout the Old Testament we find multiple references to Yahweh coming in judgment and/or deliverance for His people: Isaiah 19:1-4; 31:1-7; 64:1-4; Psalm 18:1-19; 144:1-8. Perhaps the most important example among these is Psalm 18, which speaks in very clear cosmic and apocalyptic language:

A Psalm of David, the servant of the Lord, who addressed the words of this song to the Lord on the day when the Lord rescued him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry. Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water. Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds. The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire. And he sent out his arrows and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings and routed them. Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils. He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters. He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.

Let's stop and think about this imagery for a few moments. David describes the Lord "coming" down to deliver him according to his prayer. He also describes the earth rocking and the mountains shaking at the anger of the Lord. Glowing coals shoot out of the Lord, and smoke rises out of his nostrils. The Lord even rides on a cherub (an angel) that flies, and he "comes" swiftly on the wings of the wind. Thunder, hailstones, and coals of fire shoot down through the thick, dark clouds which surround Him. The Lord shoots out arrows of lighting, and by the breath of His nostrils the sea parts so that the ocean floor is laid bare before everyone. And all of this, as David says at the beginning of this Psalm, is a description of the Lord rescuing him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of King Saul. Obviously, this apocalyptic language is not literal, nor was it ever intended to be interpreted as literal occurrences at the time of the Lord's deliverance. Such language is describing a mighty deliverance --a deliverance so mighty that extraordinary cosmic language suits it best-- but it is not a description of literal cosmic events. 

This is but one Old Testament example cosmic and apocalyptic language which describes the Lord's judgment upon His enemies and the deliverance of His children. This, I contend, is virtually identical to the cosmic and apocalyptic language mentioned in Matthew 24, Luke 21, Acts 2, I Peter 3, and Jude 17. 

Second, we find themes surrounding the end of tabernacle/temple worship and its relationship with the old creation/old covenant. These themes become very apparent through a comparison of multiple new covenant references about the “last days,” “last time,” and end of the Old Covenant "age": I Cor. 10:11; Heb. 1:1-2; 9:1-10, 23-26; 10:19-25; Acts 2:14-21 (referencing Joel 2:27-32); II Tim. 3:1-5; I Peter 1:3-9, 20; 4:7-11; 5:4 (w/ reference to I Jn. 2:28-29); I John 2:18; Jude 17-23. Perhaps the most important examples among these are found throughout the book of Hebrews:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he framed the ages. (1:1-2)
Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron's staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section,1 performing their ritual duties, but into the second2 only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is a parable for that time into the present).3 According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various baptisms, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. (9:1-10)
...Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. ...He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (9:23-26)
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain... let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith... Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who is promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (10:19-25)

In these passages, the author of Hebrews sees a certain "Day" drawing near, and the people of God are encouraged to stir up one another to love and good works, and to meet together regularly, and to hold fast the confession of their hope without wavering because that Day is drawing near. Before that the author speaks of Christ appearing at the "end of the ages." What ages? The ages which led up to the New Covenant and the inauguration of the Kingdom of heaven on earth. This "end of the ages" is also described as a "time of reformation" in which Jesus would pass through the first "tent" and into the real "Holy of Holies"; and these laws pertaining to the Old Covenant priesthood (with the high priest passing through the first "tent" into the "second" tent) are said to be "a parable of that time into the present.

In I Cor. 10:11, the apostle Paul uses similar language when he references God's judgments upon the disobedient people of Israel in the wilderness. And Paul says that "these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come." Clearly then, according to the apostle Paul, his own generation was living in the time when "the ages" would "end." But what "ages"? Well, in the mind of the author of Hebrews (and many people have argued that Paul was it's author), the answer was simple. The Mosaic tabernacle and it's laws taught the people of Israel that its own system of worship had to end and a better system had to be inaugurated at the end of that age. Ages would pass operating under the old covenant and it's tabernacle/temple system of worship, but a "time of reformation" was promised, according to the Mosaic Law's own "parable."

All of these references, I contend, are describing the end of the Old Covenant along with it's essential tabernacle/temple, sacrificial, and priestly structure. Furthermore, I contend, that the cosmic and apocalyptic language of Matthew 24, Luke 21, Acts 2, I Peter 3, and Jude 17 describe the end of the old creation as it is symbolized and foreshadowed in the destruction of the temple/tabernacle system and it's laws which are structured with cosmic symbolism.4

1.  i.e. the Holy Place was the first section, or "tent," of the Tabernacle
2. i.e. the Most Holy Place (or "Holy of Holies") was the second section, or "tent," of the Tabernacle. According to the Law of Moses, the High priest was the only priest allowed into the second "tent," and he had to walk through the first tent to get to the second "tent." The author of Hebrews argues that this symbolism engraved in ceremonial law was "symbolic of the time now present."
3.  The Greek text says ἥτις παραβολὴ εἰς τὸν καιρὸν τὸν ἐνεστηκότα, which, if woodenly translated  would say: "which is a parable into the time then-to-now-present." That is why I translated the passage as saying: "which is a parable for that time into the present." The ESV translates this parenthetical remark as "(which is symbolic for the present age)." The NASB translates it this way: "which is a symbol for the present time." The NIV translates it this way: "This is an illustration for the present time." And finally, the NLT translates it this way: "This is an illustration pointing to the present time." 
4.  See L. Michael Morales, The Tabernacle Pre-Figured: Cosmic Mountain Ideology in Genesis and Exodus [Leuven-Paris-Walpole, MA: Peeters, 2012]; G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church's Mission: A biblical theology of the dwelling place of God [Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2004]; N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God [Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996]; Peter J. Leithart, A House For My Name: A Survey of the Old Testament [Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2000]; James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes: Developing A Biblical View of the World [Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1999]

Friday, April 12, 2013

N.T. Wright on Weather Forecasting

When we read an Old Testament text which says 'the sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood and the stars will be falling from heaven,' we ought to know as a matter of literary genre that the next line is not going to be that the rest of the country is going to have scattered showers and sunny intervals. This is not a primitive weather forecast.
-- N.T. Wright, speaking in a panel discussion at the 2010 Wheaton Theology Conference

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Matthew's List of the Twelve

And [Jesus] called to himself twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these:
First, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother;
Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector
James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (Matthew 10:1-4)

There are a number of interesting features concerning Matthew's list of "The Twelve." If we limit ourselves to Matthew's narrative alone, we only learn a handful of relevant facts which aid our understanding of the discourse which follows:

1)  Jesus called twelve existing disciples to himself, and he did so for a purpose which was more special than their previous position as "disciples." He called them to himself to "give them authority." He called them to himself to delegate authority to them, not to empty himself of authority or to transfer his own authority to others. 

2)  These "twelve" were men. I know this chides with the spirit of our age and it's acceptance/tolerance of "biblical feminism," but it's a matter of historical fact. Jesus chose twelve males to represent him, not twelve females. Make of that what you will. I'm merely stating what was most obviously Jesus' desire for those who represent him before others. He could have chosen a woman. He could have chosen twelve women. Instead, he chose no women whatsoever.

3)  These "twelve" men were given authority by Jesus to do the things He had been doing previously, namely casting unclean spirits out of people to heal various diseases and burdens which caused suffering. 

4)  These "twelve" are not simply "disciples"; they are now "apostles." As apostles, these men have been chosen as new rulers for and representatives of the people of Israel on behalf of Jesus, the King of Israel. They have been selected and called to represent the twelve tribes of Israel on behalf of Jesus and to "spy" out the land for giants and enemies of Yahweh, and to bring healing and restoration to those in want and need.

5)  The "first" of these twelve apostles is Simon, whose nickname was "Rocky." In Greek, the name "Peter" literally means "a Stone," along with its adjectival meaning of "Rocky" or "Stoney." Simon is always mentioned first on the lists of the twelve apostles (Mark 3:16ff., Luke 6:14ff., Acts 1:13ff.) most likely because he was considered a leader among all twelve. This doesn't mean that he was the leader -- the one and only sovereign arbiter over all twelve (or even the Christian churches). But it does clearly infer that Peter was known to be a leader among the twelve. In other words, this "Rocky" apostle had characteristics of one who functions as a leader. This shouldn't surprise us if we are familiar with the gospel narratives. All throughout the gospels, Peter is vividly portrayed as the most inquisitive and outspoken disciple, as well as the most ambitious one, the most confident one, and the one who takes the initiative most often before anyone else. Even with all of Peter's legitimate weaknesses -- weaknesses of spiritual blindness and vulnerability, doubt and skepticism, impetuous speech and zeal -- the Lord used them all to eventually shape him into a strong, mature leader of the faith. We should never forget that we often attribute faithlessness to Peter because of common misunderstandings. Even at times when Peter seems to be lacking the most faith among Jesus' apostles -- times like when he attempted to walk on water and he sank -- he is actually manifesting the characteristics of a leader. Remember, even though Peter attempted to walk on water, and sank, he was the only apostle with enough faith to get out of the boat and try!

6)  Next we learn that some of the apostles are brothers. Simon's (Peter's) brother is Andrew. The apostle John's brother is James. Matthew was "the tax collector" mentioned earlier in chapter nine. Another Simon is listed, and his nickname is given too. He is "the Zealot," or "the zealous one" (not to be confused with the first century anti-Roman terrorist group called "the Zealots").

7)  And last of all, we learn a couple things about Judas Iscariot. The first thing we learn is that Judas was the one who "betrayed" Jesus. Of course, this statement takes two things for granted: first, this Judas would eventually betray Jesus, and that, secondarily, until this man's name pops up again (and the next  time will be in chapter 26), we are supposed to keep his betrayal in the back of our minds.  We are supposed to be considering his ministry among the twelve with suspicion without having to diminish the powerful work of God through him. If the ultimate betrayer of Jesus can cast out demons and heal the sick in the name of Jesus, does that not give us the right to be suspicious about those who claim the same power and authority for themselves today? 

Also, we learn one more thing peculiar to this Judas Iscariot. This Judas is the only one of the twelve which always has his hometown annexed to his name. His "last name" (so to speak) is not Iscariot. Iscariot is simply the way our Bibles translate his surname (i.e. the name which indicates his birthplace and location among the twelve tribes of Israel). Iscariot literally means "a man of Kerioth," which is a town located in the southern portion of Judea about ten miles south of Hebron. In other words, this Judas who betrayed Jesus was from Judea. This has multiple implications for Matthew's Palestinian-Jewish audience. First, this gives the strong impression that this Judas remained intimately connected with his family roots in the land of Judea, it's capital city being Jerusalem. It also might mean that Judas was the only Judean Jew among the twelve. After all, no other apostle is ever listed with his hometown annexed to his name in order to distinguish him from the others. The other gospels also give the strong impression that the other eleven apostles are from the land of Galilee, not Judea.

Ultimately, what this list of "the Twelve Apostles" confirms is that Israel was in need of new rulers and new shepherds to lead them safely into greener pastures; but not some rogue rulers. Israel clearly needed Jesus, but Jesus was becoming burdened with too much responsibility to handle it all himself, and so he delegated rulers to represent him as they went throughout the twelve tribes of Israel to "cast out unclean spirits, healing every disease and every affliction."