God tells Moses that when the people offer up an animal, it must be visibly perfect. There are to be no blemishes, no broken bones, and no deformities. God is absolutely worthy of our very best. Cain’s sin was that he did not offer his best to the Lord, and it mattered. What we offer is a product of our heart, our disposition toward God. Jesus Christ was a perfect lamb, completely sinless and unblemished. None of his bones were broken, which John points out explicitly (19:36).
This also directly impacts the Christian in worship. We do not offer the blood of bulls and goats, but we offer a living sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15). Do you treat worship as less important than your job? Do you show up late every single week? Do you “take off” some weeks to watch online when you are otherwise healthy? If anything else comes up, do you let it take the place of Sunday morning worship, no matter how trivial?
If the law was worth the blood of the very best from your bulls and goats, what is grace and truth worth?
The feasts served as regular reminders throughout the year of God’s provision. There were seven feasts every year. The Sabbath is taught in the context of the feasts, so there was even a weekly feast.
The Passover looked back to the exodus from Egypt and God saving his people from the angel of death. It took place at the beginning of the Jewish calendar. The feast of firstfruits took place after the harvest. The feast of weeks takes place seven weeks and fifty days after the feast of firstfruits. The feast of trumpets took place in the seventh month, and the day of atonement immediately followed, followed by the feast of booths. Most of these festivals are celebrations. The only fast for the Jews was the day of atonement.
The year of jubilee was not a feast per se, but almost a reset for the land and the people. It happened every fiftieth year, which was like a Sabbath of Sabbaths (seven years x seven years, followed by a fiftieth Sabbath year). Prisoners and servants were released, the land could rest from agriculture, and debts were forgiven. This is a beautiful picture of the gospel. Jesus begins his ministry in Luke 4 quoting Isaiah and preaching about the release of the captives because of his arrival. Jesus is the Christian’s Sabbath, of which the year of jubilee was a foreshadow.
There were many provisions for releasing debts and property. If a man had to sell some land to make ends meet, he knew that at a point in the future his debt would be forgiven and his land returned to him. The buyer also knew that eventually he would have to sell the land back. This protected the seller and his family from poverty, and it protected the buyer from losing all of his income. The poor man could sell his labor to another Israelite for a period of time up until the year of jubilee. The poor man was not a slave but an employee. The law protected the exploitation of those in poverty and the property of those who held it. Scripture teaches both the dignity of rich and poor, as well as the right of private property. They are not mutually exclusive.
Because the law is a part of the covenant, it carries with it blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. God made promises to guard and protect his people when they obeyed. He also promised that neighboring nations would attack them as an act of judgment when they disobeyed. Horrible atrocities would follow naturally from a breaking of the covenant. The Mosaic covenant was not unilateral, as was the Abrahamic covenant. The new covenant is unilateral, like the Abrahamic covenant is. God carries all of the obligations in salvation, paid for by the blood of Christ. Christ received all of the curses, and we received all of the blessings.
Numbers begins by taking a census of the people to find out how many soldiers the nation has. The people are getting close to coming into the promised land. That is going to mean a lot of combat. It’s not as if the Canaanites are going to leave peacefully. The Israelites need an army.
But the nation will not only need soldiers. It will also need priests. So God has Moses count the number the Levites (Aaron was a Levite and go the whole priest-ball rolling). And instead of taking the first son born to every family to be a priest, God had set aside one tribe to take on the entirety of the priesthood. With the sacrificial system focused in the tabernacle, it was better for one tribe to send men throughout the year to manage it (which chapter 4 will outline). It also imaged the redemption of sinners. Instead of all the elect dying for their own sins, Christ would redeem us by taking our sins on himself, paying for them all at once.
Jesus begins his teaching ministry in Nazareth. As people are wont to do, they resent Jesus for not tickling their ears. This changes over time. Many want to hear more of what he has to say about the kingdom of God, but those whom Jesus warns of being left out do not receive his teaching enthusiastically. Jesus then sends out the disciples (of which he had many) who would be the twelve apostles calling for repentance and performing many signs. This was a taste of what they would become after Christ’s ascension and the Spirit falls at Pentecost.
King Herod (a different one than the king who tried to have Jesus killed as a baby) is conned in to having John the Baptist murdered. Herod had been an adulterer, and John called him to repentance. Herodias, the other woman, resented John and came up with a scheme to have him killed. Herod seemed upset enough to regret going through with it, but not upset enough to be a man and stop his mistress from having a man killed.
Jesus performs many miracles. He feeds thousands, walks on water, and continues to heal the sick. These are all recorded in other gospels, as well. Details may vary, but they do not contradict themselves. This actually testifies to Scripture’s authenticity. A manufactured story would line up neatly and not need any reconciliation. Eyewitnesses and those who studied the events would necessarily arrange the events in a manner that suits their intent.
He spends the majority of his ministry teaching. He will correct the Pharisaical misreadings of Scripture, correctly define what ritual purity is, and warn the people about following the expansive and wooden demands of the priests. Jesus does not change the law on any point. He only shows the fallacious interpretations of those who would use it to their advantage.
When Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, he first says that the people are thinking that either John or Elijah has come back to life. The prophet Malachi says that Elijah will return (4:5), and many were looking for a resurrection. But Elijah had returned in John, not in a weird kind of possession, but in spirit. It is only after a good confession of faith does Jesus begin teaching about the resurrection.
The transfiguration of Jesus is presented just like it was by Matthew in chapter 17 (to read that commentary, click here). What stands out about this telling is that Jesus charged Peter, James, and John not to say anything about what they experienced until after his resurrection. This has been referred to “the Marcan secret.” Jesus is ensuring that the truth of who is is not overshadowed by a show of miracles and the extravagant. Only after his death, burial, and resurrection do the people truly understand who he is.
Psalm 41: We know God loves us by his provision and protection.
Psalm 42: In our days of doubt, we can still hope in God alone.
Psalm 43: Lord, guide me by your truth during my days of doubt.
Psalm 44: Only God can help in the most difficult days.
Psalm 45: God sits on an eternal throne.
Leviticus is a book all about how the clean and the unclean, the authorized and the unauthorized, can never touch. For instance, when Moses teaches the people about the clean and unclean animals, what distinguishes the animals as clean or unclean? Some have argued that there were hygienic components to it, but does that flow naturally from the text itself? Also, how does that square with Jesus declaring all foods clean in Mark 7:19 and God repeating the same truth but applying it to Gentiles in Acts 10? Did hygiene rules really fly out the window overnight?
The distinctions between clean and unclean, while not entirely arbitrary, are not for physical cleanliness but spiritual cleanliness. God is teaching the people through living parables that he is holy, and no unclean or defiled thing can enter his presence.
This also helps us see that the purification rights for childbirth are not arbitrary or oppressive, either. Other cultures and nations in the time of ancient Israel had fertility goddesses and temple prostitution. They worshiped female deities who could “promise” successful childbirth. The Jewish purification rights for childbirth demystify fertility. God closes the womb, and God opens the womb. The ability to birth children is beautiful, but it is not to be worshiped. A woman would follow a rite of purification and make sacrifices as thanksgiving, not have a temple where she would pray to idols. After giving birth, she would offer a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, because it was God who gave her the child, not the fertility goddesses.
The leprosy laws teach us the same truth, that God used everyday conditions to teach about his holiness. He cannot be in contact with anything defiled, which is us in our sinful condition. Lepers were not to be mistreated, but they were a living parable about the holiness of God. That’s why there were regulations for how they could re-enter communal life after the disease had been overcome. Leprosy was obviously not the only disease in the ancient world, but it was selected as a visible representation on the skin of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness.
This is also why Nadab and Abihu are killed. They were sons of Aaron, so they were priests. How much time has Moses spent telling the priests how God has told him how he is to be worshiped? And they have the gall to do it their own way? They think they know better?!
There are two patterns for worship: regulative and normative. The regulative pattern of worship says that the church can only do what is commanded in Scripture when it comes to worship of God. The normative pattern of worship says that the church can worship God however they want as long as it’s not prohibited in Scripture. If we read passages such as Leviticus 10, what do you think God’s perspective is on regulative vs. normative?
The sacrifices were also to be done meticulously. The Day of Atonement had specific regulations, from the animals, to the priestly garments, to the timing. The laws against eating blood are also related to the sacrificial system, which the context indicates. What was blood to be used for? The blood of an animal was to be sprinkled on the altar for sacrifices. The fact the life is in the blood is what gives blood its power. To the one in relationship with God, blood is sacred. Other ancient religions would drink blood as part of rituals. The law of God gives us its true purpose.
The laws against certain sexual relations were put in place for a couple of reasons: they are against nature, and the people who were currently living in the promised land practiced such things. That is also why the prohibition against child sacrifice is mixed in with these laws: it goes against nature, and the people in Canaan practiced it. Again, the point is holiness—God’s holiness. Even the Canaanites knew these practices were abominable, because the light of nature told them. And yet, they are wicked and do horrific things to each other.
Jesus continues to show mercy on diseased people by healing them and forgiving their sins, two things that only God can do. This is the point of the story of the friends lowering another man through a roof to Jesus. Mark tells us, “And when Jesus saw their faith” he forgave the man’s sins. This has given grief to some readers, because it seems as though Jesus is forgiving a man’s sins based on the faith of someone else. But all we’re told is that he forgave the diseased man’s sins, not even that he healed him.
But throughout the Old Testament, healing and forgiveness go hand-in-hand. One of the most commonly used, taken wildly out of context verses in the whole Old Testament is 2 Chronicles 7:14, where God promises to both forgive the sins of the people and heal their land (Israel) if only they will turn to him. Psalm 103 describes God as one who “who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases”. Did Jesus forgive the man based on the faith of his friends and not his own? Of course not. So much is left out of that story that to assume something foreign to the rest of Scripture is to make wild assumptions that don’t jive with the text itself. The point of the passage is that Jesus did two things that only God can do, thereby proving his deity.
The scribes and Pharisees are continually out to get Jesus from the very beginning of Mark’s gospel. They charge Jesus with blasphemy for healing the paralyzed man. After healing the man with the withered hand, the Pharisees decide that he must be destroyed.
Jesus also exorcised a demon out of a man living in the tombs, which made him unclean. The city of Gerasa (hence the Gerasenes) were mainly Gentiles, or Greeks. Once the demons are exorcised, they are sent into pigs. Jesus is immediately targeted by a man named Jairus to heal his daughter, who we find out later was dead by that time. Before getting to the young girl, Jesus is approached by a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years.
All of these details are there to show us that Jesus was among the ceremonially unclean: possessed, Gentiles, pigs, death, and the unstoppable flow of blood. Yet Jesus approached each of these people with mercy and healing. You read in Leviticus about the ceremonial uncleanness of a woman’s normal blood flow, but here Jesus draws near to heal what is abnormal in mercy and grace.
Earlier, Jesus is approached about his position on the Sabbath. Jesus and his disciples are feeding themselves by plucking grain on the Sabbath. The act of plucking grain from the edges of a neighbor’s farm was permitted in Old Testament law, but you could not use a sickle. It's not unlike taking a snack from a friend's fridge. The issue was that reaping grain was explicitly not permitted on the Sabbath. But simply plucking some grain to eat it was completely legal. The Pharisees are just looking for reasons to start a controversy around Jesus. Jesus pulls an Old Testament example of why the Pharisees are wrong in the story of Abiathar and David, in 1 Samuel 21, showing that David did an even more egregious thing by eating the Bread of the Presence, not just grain along the side of the road. Jesus is simply making an analogy.
He reminds the Pharisees that the Sabbath is a gift to humanity. It’s written into creation. Perhaps the most amazing statement is that “The Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” The Sabbath laws were clear and did not need the extra boundaries of the Pharisees, well-intentioned or not.
Jesus himself is charged by the scribes with being demonically possessed. But he shows them the fallacy in their logic. If Satan has possessed Jesus, and Jesus is casting out demons, the Satan’s kingdom is divided and he is losing power. But clearly, through all the possessions that Jesus’s presence has exacerbated, that is not the case.
Only one who is stronger than Satan can bind him. Satan is the prince of the power of the air, so someone who is prince over all the world must destroy him. By casting out demons, Jesus shows that he is more than up to the task (to put it mildly). Jesus fully intends to “plunder [the] house” of Satan and ransom, or rescue, many of those under Satan’s hold.
The scribes were actually the ones guilty of blasphemy by charging Jesus with doing Satan’s work. Blasphemy is the deliberate defiance of God’s Spirit. It is the Spirit who opens the spiritual eyes of the people to see Jesus for who he is, and the scribes are guilty of having their eyes closed.
Psalm 36: God’s steadfast love always follows his people.
Psalm 37: The wicked try to trap the righteous, but God stands up for the righteous.
Psalm 38: I may be crushed, but God hears me and forgives me.
Psalm 39: The Lord is in control of the number of my days.
Psalm 40: Trusting in the Lord brings mercy.
This section simply concludes where you left off last week. To read about the significance of the elements of the tabernacle, check out last week’s commentary.
Think for a minute about how detailed the tabernacle was. No corner was left unattended. Everything had to be perfect. But was it because God cared about the little things? The very end of chapter 40 tells us why things had to be just so. The tent of meeting, or tabernacle, was to be the special place where God dwelt among the people. God’s special presence was so filling that not even Moses was able to enter it.
If God is omnipresent, then how is his presence felt in a special way in a particular place? When God’s presence is special, Scripture often calls it “the presence” or “the glory” of God. It would become tradition to call this the “shekinah glory” of God. “Shekinah” isn’t a word from the Bible, but it's a Hebrew words that simply means “he caused to dwell.” We could do a whole etymology of the word, but I find that those get off track way too quickly and people start transporting meaning into the word that’s not intended. Suffice it to say that God’s presence wasn’t just felt or sensed by the people. He was actually present among them in the Holy of Holies.
I have no doubt you have heard someone say, either in person or in some show, “I feel the presence of God here in this place.” It sounds innocuous enough, but you have to ask them what they mean. God says he is present in all places and that the earth is his footstool. To a well-meaning believer, it may simply mean that they feel God’s love in a special way. And clearly, there is nothing wrong with that. The Christian life should be one of truly experiencing God’s love, not just intellectual exercises about it. But “feeling” God in some ambiguous way has roots in charismatic circles that goes far beyond the experiential and biblical.
This is the point where people wonder what they have gotten themselves into. If that’s you, fear not. It has nothing to do with intelligence or assurance of faith. It has everything to do with context. The sacrificial system is as foreign to us as Klingon. But remember, Jesus Christ is the interpretive lens for the whole of Scripture.
The book of Leviticus is the set of rules of obligations for the priests of the Israelite people, the tribe of Levi. Like the tabernacle, the sacrificial system is incredibly detailed and intricate, for much of the same reason: we're dealing with the glory of God.
Burnt offerings had existed long before this time. For instance, Noah offered burnt offerings when they got off of the ark. But here, God gives specific rules for doing them that carries real meaning. The purpose of a burnt offering was atonement for sin, because God always requires blood for sin. That is where the life is. Individuals could offer them at any time, and there were specific holidays for burnt offerings, as well.
For agrarians, a grain offering recognized God’s provision. Therefore, it was an offering of thanksgiving. It could be raw or baked, and there were no minimums or maximums. The only stipulation concerning amounts was what would be set aside for the priests.
The peace offerings were similar to burnt offerings. We are introduced to them in chapter 3, and we get more instruction in chapter 7, which tells us that they were for thanksgiving. There were specific instructions for certain animals, but they were joyful offerings.
Chapter 4 introduces offerings for specific sins. These were for sins that were unintentional. Blood would be sprinkled in various places. Again, God requires blood for sin, because the wages of sin is death. But can the blood of bulls and goats take away sin? This is why Jesus is the better sacrifice. As an innocent lamb, he is sacrificed for us. And because he is God, he is pure. Because he is man, he is able to be our priest. The sin offerings prepare us to see Jesus Christ for all that he is.
Guilt offerings were different from sin offerings in that restitution to a certain person was also required (5:16). Still, these were unintentional sins where a person realized his guilt after the fact.
It may seem like there was some redundancy in going through the sacrifices again around chapter 5, but this time the instructions were more specifically for the priests. The first set of instructions was intended for everyone to know the requirements of what to sacrifice and when.
Jesus is in Bethany and only a couple of days away from being crucified. Plotting is going on for Jesus’ demise. While there, a woman begins anointing Jesus for burial. In Matthew’s gospel, we’re told that all of the disciples are curious as to why Jesus would let her “waste” the expensive ointment. John’s gospel makes clear that Judas was not just curious but furious. The very next thing he does is set up Jesus’ betrayal with the chief priests. Nothing done for Jesus is a waste, no matter the cost. Everything is his anyways, and we are just stewards.
Jesus then institute’s the Lord’s Supper. The upper room is both the final Passover and the first Lord’s Supper. The continuities and discontinuities between the two are important. Jesus took the normal elements of a Passover seder (meal) and showed how each element foreshadowed what he would do. And then, he gave them a new ordinance in the Lord’s Supper. Instead of looking forward to the final sacrifice of the Passover lamb, Christians look back to the once-for-all sacrifice of our savior.
Jesus and the twelve go to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. As he detaches himself from the main group, he takes Peter, James, and John with them. He prays three times to have what is coming undone, but it is simply the Father’s will that the Son give himself as a sacrifice. And Jesus does so willingly. Jesus is arrested as Judas brings the cabal with him. As awful as this scene is, Jesus is clear that it is the fulfillment of prophecy and not simply the result of circumstance.
The court throws everything they can at Jesus, but nothing sticks. Their charge of blasphemy only makes sense if everything Jesus has said is false, which they cannot prove. Their witnesses don’t line up. In the meantime, Peter is waiting outside the the courtroom like a good disciple waiting for his rabbi. But he’s scared, and just as Jesus foretold, he denied knowing Jesus three times throughout the night. After realizing what he had done, he wept and felt defeated.
Compare this to Judas’ response in chapter 27. He has a sense of remorse, and his response is to commit suicide. One interesting commentary sees Judas as a Zealot, which other disciples were, as well. “Iscariot” might have ties to a group called the Sicarri, meaning “dagger”, who killed officials in public to make a point (think Julius Caesar and Brutus). And because the Zealots were revolutionary, Judas now sees Jesus as a failure since he is going to be killed. So his remorse is not repentance but the natural guilt of seeing an innocent man die.
When he’s before Pilate, Jesus hardly says a word. He’s silent as a sheep going to slaughter. He’s not a weak-willed man, but a servant of God being obedient. Why dignify treachery with words? As a way of showing how the mob never knows what’s best, when given the option to release Jesus or Barabbas, a true insurrectionist guilty of murder, the people choose Barabbas.
Jesus is then beaten and spit on. They shove a crown of thorns into his head. Thorns are mentioned explicitly as the curse on the land in Genesis 3. Jesus quite literally bore the curse for us.
In his weekend state, he cannot carry his own cross any further, so a man from the crowd (Simon) is forced to carry it for him. Such a detail further shows the reliability of the accounts. This man could be asked about what happened.
Jesus is crucified and left to die. Two robbers are mentioned, but it’s not until Luke’s gospel that we read about one of the robbers being redeemed while he dies. The sixth hour would have been noon, and for three hours the land was darkened. Jesus quotes the Psalms as he dies. In the most evil moment in world history, the Lord looked to his heavenly Father for peace. But in that moment, the Father looked away. We cannot imagine that kind of wrath. All peace, grace, and mercy was taken away from Jesus. That was hell on earth, and Jesus experienced it on our behalf.
Then we’re given a series of proofs that Jesus was vindicated in dying. The curtain of the temple was torn in two. Because Jesus has reconciled us to God in his death, we may approach the throne of God (symbolized by the ark of the covenant) through Christ, not an earth-bound priest. An earthquake followed his death. As he bore the curse of the thorns on his head, the curse on the earth is being lifted. And even more incredible than that, many dead saints were raised (after his resurrection, but it’s mentioned here). All of this forced even a pagan Roman soldier to say, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
Jesus is buried and guards are placed in front. Two women saw where he was laid, Mary and Mary Magdalene. Jesus is buried before Friday evening (the Sabbath being Friday evening through Saturday evening), so the women return Sunday morning, on the third day. As they arrive, another earthquake begins as an angel descends and rolls back the stone. Jesus is already gone, though. The stone didn’t matter; it was created by the one inside, so the stone obeyed the Lord.
The men faint, and the women talk to the angel. The angel tells the women to tell the other disciples what they have seen. In Matthew’s gospel, the interaction between Jesus and the women where they confuse him with the gardener is left out. We’ll have to wait until John for that one.
Jesus gives the disciples the Great Commission, then he ascends to the Father. This itself is a fulfillment of Daniel 9 when one like a son of man ascends to the Ancient of Days. Jesus promised the chief priests in Matthew 27 that they would see this happen, meaning that they would still be alive when it took place. If it were referring to his second coming, they would not not be around.
Different gospels give different perspectives on the same events: the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. This fact is one of the strongest arguments in favor of the truthfulness of the four gospel accounts. They do not disagree with each other, but they corroborate the witness of all the others. If they were identical so-called eyewitness accounts, that would be a sure sign of falsified records. There might be corners to investigate, such as how many Passovers Jesus attended and the timing of the cleansing of the temple, but those are minor Bible studies compared to the agreement between the four gospels.
Mark’s gospel stands out in that it begins not with a genealogy or a birth record but with the ministry of John the Baptist. Mark’s whole gospel will be a fast-paced retelling of the life of Christ. But it’s important that even while Mark focuses on Christ, he cannot do the life of Christ justice without beginning with John.
John was an eschatological prophet. What in the name of John Wayne is eschatology? It’s the theology of how the world will be consummated in Christ, its opposite being protology, or the theology of the beginning of the world. The world has a purpose, and that purpose is to have the world given over to Christ as a kingdom. John’s purpose as a prophet was to announce that the one who would inaugurate the last days was soon to arrive, of course that being Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 1:2 tells us that we are in the last days, though this could be referring to the last days of the Jewish aeon before the destruction of the temple. Something similar could be said about 1 Peter 1:20. But Paul is clear in 1 Corinthians 7:31 that “the present form of this world is passing away.” And Jude 18 says the last days will be full of “scoffing” and “ungodly passion”, the days that are after the days of Christ on earth.
After John announces that Christ has come, Jesus is baptized and sent into the wilderness for testing. That takes up much of Matthew 4 while it only takes up 5 verses of Mark 1. But then Jesus immediately begins his ministry. In both Matthew and Mark so far, Jesus does not begin his ministry of proclaiming the kingdom of God until he is baptized and tested.
Jesus then calls Simon, Andrew, James, and John to be his disciples. As in Matthew, they drop everything and follow him. By way of reminder, being called by a rabbi was like being offered a free ride to Oxford. You don’t turn it down.
Immediately, Jesus begins exorcising demons and healing people of diseases. But the first thing to draw recognition to Jesus is his teaching. He teaches “with authority”. The respected teaching style of the day was for the scribes (who handled and copied the scrolls that held the torah) to simply accumulate and regurgitate the wisdom of past rabbis. The whole point wasn’t to say anything new but to show that you were in alignment with the wisdom of men from previous ages. But Jesus does not call on the authority of great men (rightly so-called) of the past. There was nothing wrong with standing on the shoulders of giants. But because Jesus is the giant, he simply teaches the Scriptures and exposits their meaning for the people.
Psalm 31: God cares for those in distress. Likely the final words of Jesus, quoted on the cross (v.5).
Psalm 32: Confession brings forgiveness.
Psalm 33. God raises up and tears down nations.
Psalm 34: Those who seek the Lord will turn from evil.
Psalm 35: The Lord fights for his people.
This week’s Old Testament summary and reflection won’t be long. I mainly want to touch on one main point: God teaches us about himself through worship.
One of the difficulties of this section of the Old Testament is the excruciating detail about the tabernacle, the priests, and the sacrifices. These passages are very easy to skip over or get lost in. But a few key takeaways will help explain why these details are there and what they mean.
As the tabernacle is described and then constructed, we see that as the plans get nearer to the center of the structure, the more reverent and holy the structure becomes. And once you arrive at the innermost room, the Holy of Holies, you see the ark of the covenant, the holiest artifact of Judaism. The tabernacle was the forerunner to the temple, the house of God. You cannot get near to God without a deep and abiding awareness of his holiness and your lack of it apart from his intervention. That is why the high priest was the only person allowed inside the Holy of Holies, and even then only once a year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Let’s discuss the actual details of the temple. Going back to the story of creation, there are all sorts of details about the garden that describe it as a (prototype of a) temple. God created, made it beautiful, lived and walked in it, and then put his image/priest inside of it to care for it. The tabernacle is meant to be seen as a reflection of Eden, when God and mankind were in a right relationship. The entrance to both Eden and the tabernacle faced the east, gold has a prominent place, the lampstand reflects the tree of life, and the law at the centermost part reflects the tree of knowledge. The point is that the redemption and restoration of the cosmos is underway!
Even the priestly garments had a purpose beyond the practical. Exodus 28:2 tells us they were “for glory and for beauty.” The priests wore the breastplate with the names of the tribes on it to represent the people before God. The specific pieces were to have a visible representation that the priests were set apart for God. In another sense, the entire nation of Israel was to be set apart for God, and the priests were a representation of that truth. In other nations of the ancient Near East, it was only the priests who were circumcised. Circumcising every male in the entire nation represented that they were a nation of priests. This explains the role of circumcision in the covenant and why a corresponding sign for women was never established. The fact that every male had it done to them eight days after their birth was an image of the priestly nature of Israel.
The priestly breastplate was also covered with precious stones, one for each of the twelve tribes. Here's a good example of why simply knowing many of these details matters in interpreting other passages of Scripture. Some people have tried to argue that Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 are about the fall of Satan, but for many reasons I think that interpretation falls itself. For example, in Ezekiel 28, the king of Tyre is said to wear these priestly garments with these stones as a metaphor for his kingly/priestly role. Spoiler alert: Satan wasn’t a priest, and the passage clearly says that it is a lament about the king of Tyre, not Satan.
Jesus was the final, ultimate high priest. All of these symbols and signs were fulfilled in him. Once we get to the book of Hebrews, we’ll talk about that just about the whole time.
So what is God teaching us in the details of the tabernacle and priestly garments? He is teaching us that he cares about how he is worshiped, and that he gets to decide how he is worshiped. This has come to be known as the “regulative principle”. Scripture regulates what the church includes in worship. Not every church adopts the regulative principle, and no church does it perfectly.
Jesus warns the people about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Ultimately, their problem is that they love the social standing of being a respected teacher in the community over actually shepherding people into deeper obedience to the law of God.
He gives seven “woes” to the scribes and Pharisees. He chastises them for hypocrisy, raising tradition over the law, and failing to live up to the standard of the law themselves. He finally warns them they will bear the righteous blood of the prophets sent by God because of their teaching and hypocrisy. This will come true in his crucifixion, the murder of the final prophet.
Jesus then goes into a lengthy teaching about the end of the age. This is always a thorny issue because there are many views, all of which use the same passages to make their case. When someone tries to lay out all of major three views, it just gets more confusing because you’re interpreting the same passage three different ways. That kind of lesson may have its place, but it’s not always helpful.
Let me make a case for the view that was held by the first several generations of Christians after the apostles, historic posttribulational premillennialism. For example, the bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp, was a disciple of the apostle John and held this view. It is different from dispensational premillennialism, which holds to a pretribulational rapture.
Jesus told his disciples that one day the temple will be destroyed again. The disciples then asked two questions: when will that happen, and what will be the sign of your return? Realizing that those are two different questions and that Jesus answers them separately is key to interpreting this passage.
In verses 15-31, Jesus is answering the first question, “When will these things (the destruction of the temple) be?” Do not be fooled into thinking that the destruction of the temple was the sign of his coming. This rules out a view called preterism, which says that Christ has already come. Don’t worry: when he does come again, it will be more visible than the destruction of the temple. In the same way a whole village sees the same lightning bolt across the sky, the whole world will see his return.
Jesus isn’t saying that the “abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel” is exactly what they should expect, in the sense that Daniel had in mind the destruction of the second temple, but that one like it is coming. The abomination of Daniel had a direct fulfillment, and Jesus uses it to show his disciples what to expect next. Not to be crass, but it’s like using a television show that everyone has already seen to describe a show you know is coming out soon. This is a prophecy of Rome coming to destroy the temple within a generation, and Jesus is telling them not to fight but to flee. When Jerusalem was attacked a few decades before, the people fought. But why would you fight for a temple that no longer serves a purpose since Jesus will have ascended by that time? The destruction of the temple was an act of judgment on Jerusalem.
Verses 29-31 are almost entirely Old Testament allusions, so they must be interpreted as such. This passage continues Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ first question. The imagery of the sky falling is Old Testament prophetic language for judgment on a nation, which takes place when the temple is destroyed and Rome sets up the “abomination of desolation”, which was the sacrifices of unclean animals (pigs) in the temple. Without having to do any mental gymnastics, we must take verse 34 at face value when it says, “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” Jesus is referring to the destruction of the temple, which took place roughly 40 years later, or easily within one generation. For instance, the apostle John was alive most likely into the early 90s, 20 years past the destruction of the temple.
It is in verse 36 that Jesus begins to answer the second question from verse 3, “and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” It seems as though the disciples, that side of the resurrection, still equate the fall of Jerusalem with Jesus setting up his kingdom. Many have tried to interpret the connection with Noah to the rapture, but a close reading shows the opposite. In the story of Noah, the ones who were taken away were the ones taken in judgment. Noah and his family were the people who were left safe. In Matthew 24, Jesus says that two men will be in the field, one taken and one left; two women will be at the mill, one taken and one left. By comparing that future event to Noah and the flood, it only makes sense that the ones who are left are the ones who are righteous, not being taken in judgment. If this actually is a reference to the rapture, then it supports a posttribulational rapture, which means the rapture is simultaneous with the second coming.
Part of the draw of a pretribulational rapture is the notion that we will be spared from the tribulation. But you must ask the question, why does Jesus teach us how to live in the tribulation if we will be spared from it? Were the Jews spared when Jerusalem was sacked? That certainly is not what Jesus had in mind.
Some have asked what the motivation for holiness is if you hold to a posttribulational rapture and return of Christ. But why would there not be a motivation for holiness if you’re truly born again? In a pretribulational rapture view, Jesus could return at any moment, and you must be ready, which is always propped up as the motivation for holiness. But despite one’s view of the timing of the rapture, the same motivation for being ready is true. That’s actually why Jesus continues with several parables about being ready for his return and the end of chapter 24 and throughout chapter 25.
The parables of the faithful and wise servant, the ten virgins, and the talents all teach every believer to be spiritually awake in anticipation of Christ’s second coming. Why? Because that’s our blessed hope, not that we’ll be spared from persecution! If you are a Christian, then your motivation for holiness is Christ himself, not your scheduled absence from the great tribulation.
Beginning in Matthew 25:31, Jesus teaches about the final judgment. There is no time difference implied between his second coming and the final judgment. They are simultaneous. Jesus returns with the angels, and he will gather the nations for judgment. There is no context for dividing his second coming into two sections, one for a rapture and one for judgment.
I firmly but charitably hold to a posttribulational premillennial return of Christ. Of course, there are plenty of other passages to harmonize (plus a whole framework of whether prophecy is fulfilled in Christ or Israel and the relationship between the church and Israel), before we land definitively on a position. But it might be telling that when Jesus was asked specifically about his return, he only mentioned one return followed by a judgment, not one and a half separated by a period of seven years. If you’re interested in learning about amillennialism, postmillennialism, or dispensational premillennialism and the multiverse of madness, feel free to reach out.