Week 7, February 14-18
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.
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