May 25, 2011
When Christ was taken to the Temple to be circumcised eight days after he was born of Mary, it was by no means his first visit. Christ had dwelt in the Holy of Holies enthroned on the ark of the covenant in glory from the time the Tabernacle was built by Moses. The pre-incarnate Christ was the LORD, the God of Israel, and the Tabernacle/Temple was a living sermon on the subject of his Person and work.
The Glory of the LORD
Christ Jesus is the radiance of the Father’s glory (Hebrews 1:3); he is the outshining majesty of the Father revealed in Person. When we read at the end of the book of Exodus that the glory of the LORD filled the Tabernacle (40:34), we are not to imagine the arrival of a divine emanation, a or dramatic representation of the presence of God, but rather the Person of the Son taking residence in the Holy of Holies.
For we read in Exodus 14:19 that the cloud that covered the tent of meeting had always enveloped none other than the Angel of the LORD, the Son sent from the Father to lead the Church in the wilderness. It was the great Angel of God’s presence who moved into the Tabernacle, and whose glory flooded it. When Isaiah saw a vision of the LORD seated on the throne with his glory filing the Temple, we can be certain that the Person he saw was indeed Jesus, as John declares in John 12:41.
Jesus Christ is himself the Glory of God, and Jonathan Edwards argues that often ‘the Glory of the LORD’ is simply a title of Christ in many of his Old Testament appearances. The Temple is the house of the Glory of the LORD (Ezekiel 3:12); the Glory of the LORD is said to have eyes (Isaiah 3:8); the Temple is home to the throne of God’s Glory (Jeremiah 14:21). And so Edwards says that while God the Father dwelt in heaven, his Glory, the Person of the Son, dwelt on earth.
So far from being an abstract emanation or representation of God, the Glory of the LORD is indeed the Father’s personal representative and revealer, the LORD Jesus Christ. What has confused many in attempting to clearly articulate this is the association with Christ’s appearances of brightness, clouds, smoke, shining splendour, and especially what has become known as the shekinah.
This concept has often been used to denote an impersonal divine ‘presence’ that was sent into the Temple as a token of God’s nearness, while he himself remained essentially distant. This is an over-complicated and shaky ceonception; a solution usually offered by those who feel they must deny the personal, physical presence of the Son in the Temple for reasons of scholarly or philosophical commitment. Yet the shekinah is easily explained and understood. It is not a biblical word, but is derived from the Hebrew shakan, ‘to dwell’. In Exodus 3:2, the Angel of the LORD is said to ‘dwell’ in the midst of the fire of the burning bush, and Deuteronomy 33:16 refers to the goodwill of ‘him that dwelt in the bush’. Moses met the Angel of the LORD in the bush, and the Angel inhabits the fire, the shekinah, the visible glory that shone from him.
Hence, Edwards says that while Christ is himself the Glory of the LORD, that phrase can also refer to the shekinah; the firey brightness which he often inhabits during his appearances to the Old Testament Christians. There is the Glory of God, and the glory of Christ. From the shekinah fire Moses saw in the bush, the LORD Jesus also led the Church through the wilderness in the pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21), similarly protecting them from behind (Exodus 23:20–23). This is the bright glory with which he filled the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple.
The LORD enthroned on the mercy seat
What was the purpose of Christ dwelling in the Tabernacle/Temple in his shekinah glory? He was enthroned there as the King of Israel, the Head of the Church. Psalm 99:1 tells us that he is ethroned on the cherubim, and 2 Samuel 6:2 refers to him as ‘the LORD of Hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim’; and here we are to understand the cherubim which were on the lid of the ark of the covenant. The ark is the throne of the glorious Christ as he dwells in the Temple as his own house in the centre of the Israelite camp.
What is the significance of this? It is a typological prefiguration of the cross he would later bear for us. God the Son sits enthroned on the ark where once a year the high priest brings the blood of the sacrifice of atonement. Here, seated in the Holy of Holies, Jesus enacts the future part of the Father who is enthroned in heaven, and the priest bringing the blood enacts the future part of the Son. As the priest passes from the Holy Place (earth) through the curtain into the Holy of Holies (heaven), we are to recognise the ascension of Christ with the blood of the eternal covenant to his Father on the heavenly throne– the Tabernacle not made with hands, of which Moses’ was just a copy (Hebrews 8:5; 9:11–12).
The lid of the ark on which Christ sat was the ‘mercy seat’ (Hebrews 9:5), the Greek word hilasterion, ‘propitiation’ or ‘sacrifice of atonement’. This is deeply resonant since Christ is the propitiation, the mercy seat, the sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10). As he sat enthroned inhabiting his shekinah on the ark in ancient Jerusalem, receiving the blood of bulls and goats, he awaited the day he would mount the true throne of his glory: the cross. On that same mountain of Moriah, he was to experience the hour of his greatest glory (John 17:2), as the Temple received its fulfillment and retirement. Far from the brightness of flashes of fire , the sky turned black as the Son of God bore the wrath of his Father for the sin of the world, and we are freed from sin’s penalty and power.
The heavenly throne of the Most High’s glory is thus to us a throne of grace, as God’s Glory gives himself to us in self-sacrificial love. We may know not only the goodwill of him who dwelt in the bush, but also the love and acceptance of his most holy Father. The pre-incarnate Christ sitting in the Temple preaches to us of his body broken for us: the true Temple (John 2:21) where the Glory of God may dwell with man.
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!
May 4, 2011
What is the great problem within evangelicalism today? A lack of convincing action in the world that would back-up our faith? Increasing laxity on doctrines such as hell and the atonement? The decline in church attendance, giving, and sending? Perhaps these are serious problems. But they’re just irritating shards of shrapnel compared to the seriousness of the mortal wound: evangelicalism is Christless. Not everywhere, and not everyone– but evangelicalism is walking wounded with a limping Christless gospel, biblical hermeneutic, and discipleship.
A Christless gospel
The gospel is the Person of Christ himself– his gracious giving of himself as a Bridegroom to his Church, a Head for his Body, a King for his people, a Saviour for sinners. Yet many evangelicals unwittingly wrench Christ from the gospel, making it no gospel at all. It is drawn as ‘God’s faithfulness’, or ‘God’s sovereignty’. We are encouraged to trust ‘the gospel’, or ‘grace’, or ‘God’s promises’– anything but Christ!
Of all that poison which at this day is diffused in the minds of men, corrupting them from the mystery of the Gospel, there is no part that is more pernicious than this one perverse imagination, that to believe in Christ is nothing at all but to believe the doctrine of the gospel…
John Owen, Christologia IX
Grace is a ring of gold, and Christ is the pearl in that ring; and he that looks more upon the ring than the pearl that is in it, in the hour of his temptation will certainly fail. When the wife’s eye is upon he rings or jewels, then her heart must be set on e husband. When grace is in the eye, Christ must at that time be in the arms. Christ, and not grace, must lie nearest to a Christian’s heart.
A Christless biblical hermeneutic
In the history of the Church, the overwhelming and near total consensus is that revelation of God and salvation are given to us in the Person of Christ, the eternal Son. The recent past, especially the critical theological enterprise, has made the incarnation the sole referent of ‘Christ’, and the New Testament the only domain where faith in this Person is an appropriate discussion. The unity of the Bible is completely undermined when evangelical believers, hand-in-hand with classical liberalism, affirm that the Old Testament saints trusted in ‘God’ in general, rather than specifically and consciously in Christ.
The principle and spring of this assignation of divine honour unto Christ, in both the branches of it, is faith in him. And this has been the foundation of all acceptable religion in the world since the entrance of sin. There are some who deny that faith in Christ was required from the beginning, or was necessary unto the worship of God, or the justification and salvation of them that did obey him. For, whereas it must be granted that “without faith it is impossible to please God,” which the apostle proves by instances from the foundation of the world, Heb. 11–they suppose it is faith in God under the general notion of it, without any respect unto Christ, that is intended. It is not my design to contend with any, nor expressly to confute such ungrateful opinions–such pernicious errors. Such this is, which–being pursued in its proper tendency–strikes at the very foundation of Christian religion; for it at once deprives us of all contribution of light and truth from the Old Testament.
John Owen, Christologia X
A Christless discipleship
So often, walking with the Lord is construed in terms of personal holiness, reformation of character, and the battle with sin. Evangelicalism’s constant tendency is towards a pietistic worksiness which leaves the weak Christian empty of all assurance and love for God, fearing his disappointment with their efforts in discipleship. Yet, it is beholding and loving Christ which can be the only route for Christian in need of the only Saviour. Only here is true godliness.
And our love unto Christ being the only outward expression and representation of this love of the Father unto him, therein consists the principal part of our renovation into his image. Nothing renders us so like unto God as our love unto Jesus Christ, for he is the principal object of his love,–in him does his soul rest–in him is he always well pleased.
John Owen, Christologia XII
Even Christians need Christ. And so long as Christ is not the context, content, and control on all we think, say, and do, then we are a dying–if not already dead–evangelicalism.
November 26, 2009
At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!’
Cyril of Alexandria argued against Nestorius that Mary was properly called theotokos- mother of God, God-bearer- rather than ‘Christ-bearer’. Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, and Jesus’ unborn cousin John, are without hesitation: the Holy Spirit has brought to know that the baby in Mary’s womb is not just a special child, a chosen vessel, an exalted man. The tiny cluster of cells is the LORD of Israel, the divine Messiah, the Son of the Most High.
If we join Nestorius in shrinking back from calling Mary theotokos we join him in wrenching Jesus of Nazareth out of the eternal fellowship of the Trinity. He is no more than a specially anointed Messiah: not a divine one. Yet Elizabeth warns us against this, and the scriptures require us to confess the divinity of the foetus in Mary’s womb.
August 28, 2009
[I believe] in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
So says the Nicene Creed. This affirmation should be the touchstone of our Christology. That the Person of Jesus Christ (whether pre-incarnate, incarnate, resurrected, or ascended), is of the same being of the Father, while being begotten by (i.e. distinct from) Him.
Whether we say about the eternal Logos in eternity beside the Father, we may say about the baby in the manger in Bethlehem. And whatever we say about the Galilean on the cross, we may say about the second Person of the Trinity.
In the incarnation the Son took our flesh- added it to Himself. This humanity or flesh is not outside of his relationship to the Father, because as one of us Christ is one with His Father. The man Jesus of Nazareth is entirely within the divine unity of the Trinity. It is a temptation to put the ‘humanity’ of Christ in a different category to his ‘divinity’ which remains within the divine nature:
‘Only the humanity of Jesus bore the curse of our sin on the cross.’
‘It was with His ‘God bit’ that Jesus walked on water.’
If we take seriously our commitment to ‘one Lord Jesus Christ’, we will reject these and say that God was crucified on the cross, and that the Man Jesus walked miraculously on the water.
August 15, 2009
In ‘Writings on the Trinity, Grace, and Faith’ Jonathan Edwards asks ‘In what sense did the saints under the Old Testament believe in Christ to Justification?’.
His answer is in 11 parts, outlined below and online in full here.
I. The person that in Jeremiah 2:2 and in many other places is spoken of as espousing that people Israel to himself, and that went before them in the wilderness, and brought ’em into Canaan, and dwelt amongst them in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle and temple, was the Son of God, as is most manifest by that, that he is often called the “angel of the Lord,” “the angel of God’s presence,” “the messenger of the covenant,” etc.
II. It was plainly and fully revealed to the church of Israel that this person was a different person from him in heaven that sustained the dignity and maintained the rights of the Godhead, and acted as first and head and chief in the affairs of God’s kingdom; and that this person, that had espoused the church of Israel to himself and dwelt amongst them as their spiritual husband, acted under him as a messenger from him. And as this was sufficiently revealed to that people, so the church of Israel all along understood it.
III. One of the names by which that divine person, that was with the Jews in the wilderness and that dwelt with them in the land of Canaan, was known among them, was “the son of God.”
IV. The church of Israel understood that this person which has been spoken of had united himself to them in the strictest union, and had espoused them and become their spiritual head and husband, and had most nearly interested himself in their affairs.
V. The church of Israel had it plainly signified to ’em that God, the first person in the deity, had committed them to the care and charge of this angel of his presence, that he had set him over them to be in a peculiar manner their protector, guide and Savior, and head of their communication and supplies, and God’s people trusted in him as such.
VI. The people of Israel could not but understand that this person was transcendently dear to God, i.e. to the first person in the deity.
VII. The saints in Israel looked on this person as their Mediator, through whom they had acceptance with God in heaven and the forgiveness of their sins, and trusted in him as such.
VIII. The saints in Israel were led to that apprehension, that their prayers and all the sacrifices which were offered in the temple were accepted, and that God was reconciled to those [that] worshipped and made their offerings there, as though atonement were made and a sweet savor offered. Not on account of the value of their offerings as in themselves, but through that person called God’s name who dwelt there as their Mediator, and through his worthiness.
IX. God’s people of old must needs understand that that divine person that had espoused that people, and that formerly went before ’em in the wilderness and dwelt among them as their Lord, protector, Mediator and Redeemer, was he that was in future time come into the world in the human nature, who was the Messiah so often promised.
X. God’s saints in Israel supposed that the Messiah, when he came, or the angel of the covenant, when he should come to dwell amongst men in the human nature, would make an end of their sins and wholly abolish the guilt of then by an atonement which he should make; and that the guilt of their sins, though removed from them and as it were laid upon that divine person who dwelt on the propitiatory in the temple, and was by him taken on himself, yet would not properly [be] abolished and made an end [of] till he should come.
XI. The saints in Israel understood that the way that the Messiah was to make a proper and true atonement for sin, and make an end of it, was by his own suffering and by offering up himself a sacrifice for sin.
XII. God’s people brought and offered their sacrifices, depending upon them for reconciliation to God and acceptance to his favor, no otherwise than as representations of that great sacrifice and atonement of the Messiah, or as having reference and respect to that.
XIII. Such a dependence on the divine Mediator as has been spoken [of] was the revealed and known condition of peace and acceptance with God.
And thus I suppose the saints under the old testament trusted in Christ and were justified by faith in him.
August 11, 2009
Apparently Mark Driscoll is starting a preaching series on Jesus. He says it will explore both ‘the glory of Jesus as God, and the humility of Jesus as man.’ That’s a common distinction to hear. Another is that only the humanity of Christ bore our sin on the cross. (On the grounds that His divinity could not, becuase God cannot die.) This position is often affirmed by leading UK evangelicals.
It’s time to think about Christology. Our motto? ‘One Lord Jesus Christ’.
June 3, 2009
Usually, ‘Israel’ in the Bible is taken to mean ‘the Jewish people’. When Abraham is promised descendants more numerous than the stars, it’s usually taken to mean that his physical descendants, via Ishmael and Isaac, will be a vast quantity of people. Yet the New Testament appears to interpret these Old Testament themes in ways that would challenge our general outlook.
In Galatians 615-16, Paul links the term ‘Israel’ with the spiritual rebirth given through the cross- whether circumcised (Jewish) or uncircumcised (gentile). And in Romans 4:11, Abraham’s fathehood is defined not physically but spiritually
So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
Not only are gentiles who have faith in the Living God Abraham’s children, but his physical children who do not follow in his footsteps of faith are excluded! Jesus makes this very point himself with great force in John 8:39-47. So is this a New Testament invention? A spiritual spin on the obvious physical interpretation of the Old Testament understanding? Has something new happened with the arrival of Jesus to transform our understanding of the word ‘Israel’?
Of course not! In Genesis 17:23, Abraham circumcises his whole household as a sign of the covenant the LORD has made with him; including slaves and servants. At this stage only Ishmael is born- no sign yet of the promised son, Isaac and therefore nobody that we could call ethnically Jewish. From the start, the people gathered around Abraham- the people of God- were international in flavour.
In Exodus 12:48, the LORD anticipates foreigners joining Israel to celebrate the Passover, and they are permitted to do so on the condition that they too receive circumcision, the sign of the covenant. And v38 shows that this did happen- many people of other nations joined Israel!
Later, Joshua 8:33 recalls,
All Israel, aliens and citizens alike, with their elders, officials and judges, were standing on both sides of the ark of the covenant of the LORD, facing those who carried it
There’s a clear reference there to the fact that Israel included people who were not physical descendants of Abraham. It’s clear then that even in the Old Testament, ‘Israel’ is not an ethno-political group or even really a nation. That’s why it is so abhorrent to the LORD in 1 Samuel 8 that the people ask for a king, and why Balaam says of them in Number 23:9 that they are ‘a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations.’
Israel is not a group bound together by shared genetics, national identity, or even a common culture: it is an international gathering of those men and women redeemed by the God of Abraham, and included in the gospel promised to him way back in Genesis 12 (Galatians 3:8). The definition of ‘Israel’ throughout the Bible is, then, identical to the one we might forward today for the word ‘Church’. And in fact that very word- ‘ekklesia‘- is the one Stephen uses in Acts 7:38 to refer to the Israelites in the desert with Moses.
Israel is not a people-group, but the community of faith gathered around Jesus Christ- Old Testament and New.
May 13, 2009
A couple of bloggers are exploring issues that will interest any Christ-centred theologian:
Martin Downes at the Coffee and Bible Club
Whatever Happened to the Angel of the Lord?
May 12, 2009
We very often read the Bible in ways coloured by the secular academia, modern science, sociology and our own historical biases, rather than approaching it on its own terms. As a result, we look at issues in theology in cultural, sociological, and historical ways instead of biblically.
How about this one for starters: the relationship between ‘Christianity’ and Judaism.
‘Modern Jewish people believe in and worship the God of the Old Testament. They keep the Feasts of the LORD, they would return to the Temple if they could. They have so much of the truth but have simply missed out on the identity of the Messiah. They’re so close! The Messiah has come: they just need to realise that He has.’
Those things all sound true and make logical sense, but they are not really the way the Bible encourages us to look at the Jewish people. Paul in Galatians 1 speaks about his ‘previous way of life in Judaism’, how he ‘persecuted the church of God’, and how he was brought out of this by a revelation of ‘Jesus Christ’. Far from simply adding ‘the missing piece of the puzzle’, Paul says he has experienced a radical conversion when he met the risen Christ.
The reason it’s so radical is that Judaism by the time of Paul (and by the time of the Incarnation of Jesus) was so far departed from the religion of the Old Testament. In fact the religion of the Old Testament was often very far removed from the faith of the patriarchs. The Bible is clear that the true religion of Israel under the Old Covenant was exhaustively Christ-centred: the sacrifices, feasts, laws, and promises all proclaimed to Him (Galatians 3v16, Colossians 2v16-17); the patriarchs and the saints knew Him (John 12v41, Hebrews 11v26) ; He was present ministering to His people throughout appearing variously as the LORD, the Angel of the LORD, El Shaddai, the Word of the LORD, Melchizedek, the Voice of the LORD, the fear of Isaac, I AM, the Rock of Israel, the Commander of the Armies of the LORD, the Glory of the LORD, the Presence of the LORD, Son of Man, etc.
Yet by the time of Jesus’ earthly days, the religion had become so Christ-less that they were blind to the very Christ that their ancestors loved and served (Mark 4v12, Romans 9v33); they had departed from pursing righteousness by faith in Him (Genesis 15v6) to pursuing it through the keeping of the law, which is Paul’s great burden (Romans 9v31-32). It is vital that we realise this: modern Judaism is not the continuation of the religion of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and the other patriarchs- these were believers in the coming Seed of Abraham, and therefore their faith is carried-on not in modern Judaism, but in all ‘children of Abraham’ who trust in Christ (Romans 9v6-8). ‘Christianity’ is not a ‘sect of Judaism’, it was not founded 2000 years ago by a Jewish peasant. It is the genuine prophetic, historical, theological, spiritual, revealed continuation of the faith of the patriarchs and saints from the very beginning of history. Or to put it another way, if Abraham was allowed back to earth for a time he would be pleading with his Jewish brothers and sisters to trust in Jesus.
When we fail to assert this, we’ve simply conceded to a secular view of history which is apart from the Lord’s revelation of His work. This means that Jewish evangelism is a different kettle of fish to that which we might conceive. It’s far from being a casual nudge towards accepting the Messiah they failed to spot: it is reclaiming His position as the heart of the heritage that is theirs (Romans 9v4-7). It is far more than adding the missing piece of Jesus to their nearly complete jigsaw picture of God. It is showing that unless they call on the name of Jesus Christ, they are not calling on the name of the LORD of Israel at all (Romans 10v9-15). It shows that the law they are pursuing is dead and useless unless they have been convicted of their sin by it, and led to Christ whom it proclaims (Galatians 3v19). Indeed unless this has happened, they are condemning themselves (John 5v39-40). It is not about persuading them with all our energy that they must upgrade to Jesus: it is about realising that they are spiritually blind (Romans 9v16, 10v2, 11v25) and need the proclamation of the gospel to open their eyes. This works out in anguish and prayer (Romans 9v3, 10v1) and provocative living by Christians (Romans 11v14). Most of all, it means speaking about Christ who is the cornerstone of the faith of their forefathers which has become twisted (Acts 4v10-12, Romans 10v14-15). It also takes into account the promise that even though they have rejected God by rejecting His Son (John 6v45, 8v20, 8v42), God has not similarly rejected the Jewish people (Romans 11v1) but has held-out for them the offer of salvation in Christ. He has not turned his back on them forever (Romans 11v11) because within the Jewish people are many of his chosen remnant (Romans 11v5, Revelation 7v9).
If we are to examine the relationship between Christianity and Judaism biblically (not socio-historically) we will see that modern Judaism has little in common with the religion of its claimed patriarchs. What we call ‘Christianity’ is in fact the true faith of the Old Testament saints- even if we tend to imagine it dressed in post-Enlightenment, Western categories. Those who love and trust in the Son of the living God for salvation are the heirs of the patriarchs. Alec Motyer says this,
When men and women of any ethnicity trust in Christ, they are joining the true ‘Israel of God’, the company of the sons and daughters of Abraham, the long line believers in the true and only living God. There is no issue of national Israel being ‘replaced’ by a new entity ‘the Church’: the matter is all believers today pointing to believing Israel in the Old Testament and saying ‘That’s us!’, claiming the patriarchs as their genuine forefathers, and the Hebrew scriptures as a genuine proclamation of their own Saviour.
Even the study of modern religions must be subjected to the Truth that is found in Christ alone.
May 7, 2009
Here’s Ephesians 3:2-6.
Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is…
The doctrine of the Trinity?
A new way of salvation through faith in Christ?
The ‘arrival’ of the Holy Spirit?
New eschatological depth to all the physical promises to Israel?
No, it is
…that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
The big issue in the New Testament is the inclusion of the Gentiles in Israel. Nothing more, nothing less. What is the great privilege of Israel that these newly introduced Gentiles share? Christ Jesus.
What’s new about the New Testament? Not very much, really.