Christ in the Temple
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!