April 28, 2022

Finding Christ in the Golden Menorah

 

The menorah is one of the most recognized objects of the Jewish faith. It is a sacred lampstand used for worship and remembrance. Within the Tabernacle of Moses the only source of light was the oil-lit menorah. The symbolism of the menorah can teach us about our true source of light, even Jesus Christ, who lights our path as we make our journey back to the presence of God.

As the priest entered the Tabernacle, the first thing that would likely draw their eye was the beautiful golden menorah. The menorah was to be made of a talent of pure gold, or about 75 pounds or 34 kilos. This means we know the weight of the menorah, but we don’t know its dimensions. Unlike the recognizable Hanukkah menorah with 9 branches, the Tabernacle menorah had 7 branches. The number seven often represents perfection or completion. When one considers the story of the creation, for example, it was not perfect or complete until the Sabbath day when God rested having finished His work. Likewise, our week is not complete without the Sabbath day.

The menorah arms were decorated with almond buds, blossoms, and flowers reminiscent of an almond tree, the first tree in Israel to blossom in springtime. This could be symbolic of Christ, who was the first fruits of the resurrection. The rod of Aaron within the ark of the covenant was also flowered with almond blossoms. According to Jewish tradition, the decorated menorah also represented the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. Thus, as the priest entered the holy place, he would find several symbols of Eden, the menorah, representing the tree of life and the cherubim on the veil, which guarded the way back to the presence of God. In Solomon’s temple, the room also had beautiful flowers and palm trees engraved on the walls, again connecting this sacred space with the symbolic journey back into the garden where God dwells.

The Bible teaches us that these beautiful tree-like details of the menorah were to be hammered into shape. This likely happened first by pouring the molten gold into a mold to get the general form, and then hammering the gold into shape. Through the hammering and beating of the gold, the beauty of the menorah came forth. Likewise, it is by the beating from the whip and the incredible suffering, bruising, and anguish of the Savior, which brought forth the resultant beauty of the atonement of Jesus Christ.

At the top of each of the seven branches was an oil lamp, which provided the only source of light for the Tabernacle. Only the purest of olive oil was used as fuel for the lamps to light the Holy Place. Olive oil was made by harvesting olives from an olive tree and then crushing the olives with a huge rolling stone. The mash of the olives were then placed into flat sacks and stacked beneath the olive press. A large beam with weights was cinched down, applying an incredible amount of pressure, causing the oil to run. The first oil to emerge was colored a dark red, almost the color of blood. The oil was then allowed to sit, the clean and clear oil rising to the top. Only the first pressing, which was the highest of quality, was used for lighting the temple menorah and anointing the priests. This pure oil would burn clean and clear because it had very few contaminants that would cause smoke. The next pressed oil, which was accomplished by adding more weight to the press, was used for cooking and for healing purposes. The last pressed oil was used for lighting the everyday Israelite home. This means that only the purest of the pressed oil was used to light the house of the Lord.

Beautiful symbolism that points to the Savior, can be found in the use of olive oil within the Tabernacle. Just before his crucifixion, the Savior prayed in what we often call the Garden of Gethsemane. The word gethsemane in Hebrew actually means an olive press, meaning that Jesus prayed in a garden that had an olive press. When describing this prayer, Luke wrote of the Savior, “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Similar to the pressed down crushed olives, the Savior was pressed down by the sins of the world, the weight causing him to bleed from every pore. Just as the incredible pressure of the olive press is used to bring forth light, healing and anointing power, so too the suffering of the Savior brought forth the power of the atonement that gives light to those in darkness, healing balm from the sins and sorrows of the world, and anointing power to sustain us on our journey back to God.

Every morning and evening, these oil lamps were to be cared for to ensure that they were always burning. Aaron, the first high priest, was the first to have this responsibility. Aaron would trim away the blackened, burned portions of the wick and replace the spent oil. This twice daily service to trim, fill, and tend to the menorah coincided with the morning and evening prayers and sacrifices. Later, other priests were assigned to help with this duty. Just as the high priest Aaron tended daily to the oil lamps to keep them lit, we too must allow Christ, the Great High Priest, to tend to us each morning and evening so that we may  have His light. 

Just as the menorah was the only source of light for the entire Tabernacle, Jesus Christ teaches us that He is the one true source of our light. “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). Each of us has the daily opportunity to not walk in darkness by drawing near unto God in prayer every morning and evening and always. This simple yet powerful act can allow the Savior to trim the black-sooted parts of our lives as we experience sin, grief, and pain. He can refill our lamps with the essential oil needed in every aspect of our life. Our path back to God is lit by the Light of Christ, only made possible because of the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Savior. 

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack and Daniel Smith

Special thanks to Elder Alex Ducos, Ethan Fullmer, Elder Ryan Sampson, and Brian Olson for their help with creating the 3D model of the Tabernacle.

April 13, 2022

Finding Christ in the Table of Showbread

 

Within the Tabernacle main structure was the beautiful table of showbread. Every Sabbath the priests would partake of the twelve loaves on this table, representing a communal meal with God. The bread was to be placed before the presence of the Lord and can be a reminder of our own need to partake of the true Bread of Life, even Jesus Christ.

The table of showbread was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold. Four golden rings were attached to the legs where wooden poles overlaid with gold could be inserted used for transporting. The table also had a golden crown molding and what appeared to be some sort of ledge that kept the objects on the table from sliding off as it was transported (see Exodus 25:25). Two stacks of six loaves, for a total of twelve, were placed on the table, likely representing the twelve tribes of Israel. This bread was called the showbread, bread of the face, or the bread of the presence because it was placed before where the presence of God would dwell. Surprisingly, each loaf was made from approximately 5-6 pounds of finely ground flour (see Leviticus 24:5), about the amount of a standard bag of flour! This would mean that the total weight of all the twelve loaves of bread would be around 60-75 pounds. The table also had a pitcher of wine that was used for the drink offering (Exodus 37:16). 

Before we study the meaning of the table of showbread, it will be helpful to first understand the importance of bread in the Bible. Anciently, bread was a highly significant part of every meal. Because bread was one of the cheaper items that could feed a family, large quantities of bread would be used. For this reason, bread was often called the bread of life, or the daily bread (see Matthew 6:11), because it literally sustained life. The task of making bread lay mostly with women, who would spend many hours each day grinding and sifting the wheat, then making it into small flatbread, and then cooking it over a fire. In addition, to being life-sustaining, the breaking and eating of bread could symbolize becoming at peace with your enemy. Inviting someone into your home to share a meal signified that you trusted them and also that you would protect them while they were under your roof. It was a sign of fellowship and unity. Bread also represented God’s provision to the people.

With this in mind, let’s now return to the meaning of the table of showbread. Though only the priests could enter the Tabernacle proper to partake of the showbread each Sabbath, because the priests represented all of Israel, it was as if all the twelve tribes were partaking of the bread. Included on the table were also two bowls of frankincense that would be burned on the altar of incense each Sabbath, as a “memorial” or “offering made by fire to the Lord” (Leviticus 24:7). In essence, the Lord partook of His portion of the bread, symbolized by the burning of the frankincense, thus sharing a meal with the priests. After eating the bread, the showbread would be replaced by new loaves of bread which would stay on the table till the next Sabbath, meaning the bread would be week-old bread!

Though the scriptures do not directly relate the partaking of the showbread with the sacrament or communion, the symbols are too strong not to mention. Each Sabbath Christians around the world partake of broken bread and wine or water, to represent and remember the flesh and blood of Christ. Just as anciently, the priests are the ones who break and bless the bread, but today all followers of the Lord, not just the priests, are able to participate in the meal. Similar to ancient times, the partaking of the broken bread—a symbol of the broken flesh of Christ—symbolizes that we can become at peace with God through the sacrifice of the Savior. During His mortal ministry, Jesus taught “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). As we enter our sacred places of worship each Sabbath, just like the priests entering the Tabernacle each Sabbath, we become at one with God, or at peace with Him, through the breaking of bread. Through this symbolic meal, we are nourished and strengthened, the bread literally becoming a part of us giving us life. So too the atonement of the Savior carries us from day to day, allowing us ultimately to have eternal life through Jesus Christ.

Another fascinating connection is that each loaf of showbread was to be made of two-tenths of an epha of flour–about two quarts or two liters (see Leviticus 24:5). This was the same amount of manna the children of Israel were to collect in preparation for the Sabbath day (see Exodus 16:22). This showbread would thus connect the collected Sabbath manna, with this symbolic meal. During the mortal ministry of Jesus, after he miraculously fed the multitude, the next day the people listening to Jesus asked for manna from heaven. In response, the Savior taught, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever:” (John 6:51). Just as ancient Israel had to daily gather manna, we must daily feast upon the Word so that we can be nourished and strengthened. As we prepare for the Sabbath, we too should collect a double portion of this “living bread” so that we might be able to come into the presence of the Lord and feast with Him!

It is noteworthy that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, which in Hebrew means the “house of bread.” Just as the showbread was finely ground and placed in the fire to cook, so too our Savior was ground down under the weight of our sins and sorrows and placed in the fiery furnace of affliction for our sakes. Truly it is through His suffering that we receive the true bread of life. Bread that if we will partake of, we will have eternal life!

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack and Daniel Smith

Special thanks to Elder Alex Ducos, Ethan Fullmer, Elder Ryan Sampson, and Brian Olson for their help with creating the 3D model of the Tabernacle.

March 30, 2022

Finding Christ in the Bronze Laver

The bronze laver in the Tabernacle of Moses was the location where ritual washings took place. It was here that priests were washed, clothed, and anointed prior to becoming a priest and where they became ritually clean before serving and representing Israel. These cleansing waters of the laver can teach us that it is only through the Savior that we can become spiritually clean.

The bronze laver was located in the courtyard of the Tabernacle and was placed between the altar of sacrifice and the door of the sanctuary. Of the six pieces of furniture in the Tabernacle, the laver has the fewest details. The one verse description only records that it had some sort of bronze bowl that held water, and that it had a base or stand that held it off the ground. The size of the laver is not given. In Exodus 38:8 we also learn that the laver was made “from the mirrors of the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting” (Exodus 38:8 NIV). Sadly, the Bible does not give us any details on what type of service these faithful women gave, but it does show that women not only contributed to the construction of the Tabernacle, but also somehow served there. These bronze mirrors would not be like our modern-day glass mirrors, but instead would be made from a polished piece of bronze that gave a vague reflection of the person. These donated mirrors were then likely hammered into shape, or melted down to create the laver.

The bronze laver was used only by the priests for ritual washing. Normal Israelites could only come to the altar of sacrifice and thus would not be ritually washed here. Animals sacrificed at the altar were also not washed here, but instead once they were killed were washed and cut into pieces on tables next to the altar.

Two main types of ritual washings of the priests took place at the laver. The first type of washing occurred prior to a high priest or a priest being able to serve at the Tabernacle or later Temples. This washing, clothing, and anointing ritual was preparatory for them before they could represent the people, and occurred only once in their life. In Exodus 40 it reads, “And thou shalt bring Aaron and his sons unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and wash them with water. And thou shalt put upon Aaron the holy garments, and anoint him, and sanctify him; that he may minister unto me in the priest's office.” (Exodus 40:12-13). This consecration of the priests included three important and symbolic acts: washing, clothing, and anointing. These gestures were to demonstrate and teach Israel that the priests were authorized to act on their behalf.

Moses anoints Aaron as high priest with a horn of oil

The priest would first be washed with water from the laver. The Bible does not give any details on this washing, but it would strictly be a ritual washing, meaning that it was not like washing with soap and water, but instead designed to symbolically show that the priest was now ritually clean to serve.

Once washed, the priests were then clothed with the holy garments. The bestowing of clothing in ancient times was highly symbolic and demonstrated a significant gift or endowing of power or authority. Similar rituals can be seen today with the wearing of robes during a graduation, or by a judge in a court. These ceremonial robes represent the receiving of power or special knowledge by the person wearing them.

Next, Moses was to anoint Aaron and his sons with sacred anointing oil and blood from the sacrifice. The oil would likely be stored in the horn of an animal, the horn a symbol of power and strength. The Bible does not give any details on the anointing process with oil, but we are told about the process of anointing with blood, which might give us hints to the full process. [3] Moses would first take the blood of the sacrifice of a ram and place a small amount of the blood on the right ear of the priest, then on his right thumb, and then on his right toe. (Exodus 29:20 and Leviticus 8:23-24).

Moses places blood on the right ear of Aaron

Blood is placed on the right thumb of Aaron

Blood is dabbed on the right toe of Aaron

While this ritual will seem quite strange to modern readers, the symbolism behind it is quite powerful. First it is important to remember that the Hebrew word for atonement simply means to cover, or blot out. Thus this act of covering with blood could directly relate to the act of atonement. Second, each of the body parts covered with blood can represent important aspects of service at the Tabernacle or Temple. The right ear can symbolize the need for the priest to listen to the word of the Lord as they serve and represent the people. The right thumb can represent the actions and labors of the priest. The right toe can symbolize the need for the priest to walk in the paths of righteousness. By covering each of these parts of the body with blood, it would hopefully remind the priest that it is only through the shedding of blood that they can be cleansed and thus be worthy to represent the people in the Tabernacle.

A priest washing his hands at the bronze laver

The second type of ritual washing at the laver took place each time the priest served. Before the priest would offer sacrifice at the altar, he would first come and wash his hands and feet. Again, this was not a washing like we might think with soap and water, but only a ritual washing. Once the priest had offered sacrifice at the altar, he would then wash again before entering the holy place when lighting the menorah, replacing and eating the showbread, or when praying at the altar of incense. Similar to the anointing process, the washing of the hands and feet can be a symbol of the required purity of the priest’s actions and their walk in the service of the Lord.

From these two main ritual washings, we can see that the laver was designed to be a constant reminder for the priests that they were to be clean before serving in the house of the Lord. It would be a physical act that would daily remind them of the importance of being spiritually clean. With this in mind, it is quite remarkable that the laver was made from bronze mirrors, an item used to inspect yourself. As the priests used the laver, they would look into the reflective bronze and water, and perhaps be reminded of their need to inspect their spiritual cleanliness on a daily basis.

These ritual washings at the laver can be reminiscent of baptism and other cleansing rituals that help teach us of the importance of becoming spiritually clean. Similar to the priests, as followers of the Savior, we each should daily inspect our lives and actions. We should ask ourselves if we reflect the countenance or image of Christ in our lives (see Alma 5:14). As we serve in the house of the Lord, however that might look for us, do we come prepared, clean, and clothed in the power of God? And perhaps most important, do we remember that it is only because of the blood of Christ that we can become clean and pure. While we always must seek to reflect the Savior in our lives and actions, it is ultimately only because of his atonement that we can become worthy to enter into his presence. 

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack and Daniel Smith

Special thanks to Elder Alex Ducos, Ethan Fullmer, Elder Ryan Sampson, and Brian Olson for their help with creating the 3D model of the Tabernacle.

March 4, 2022

Finding Christ in the Altar of Sacrifice

  

The altar of sacrifice in the Tabernacle of Moses, is one of the more powerful types and shadows of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. The altar was used by the priests for sacrifices and burnt offerings and was the place where Israel could be reconciled with God. Here Israel learned that the remission of sins could only come through the shedding of blood, ultimately pointing to the death of Christ on the cross.

Long before Moses was commanded to build the brazen altar, followers of God built altars where they could pray and come near to the Lord. Prophets such as Adam, Noah, and Abraham all built altars to offer sacrifice. These altars were built of uncut stones, which set them apart from the more permanent, yet portable brazen altar of the Tabernacle.

The altar of sacrifice was the largest of the pieces of furniture of the Tabernacle. It was constructed of shitim or better translated as acacia wood overlaid with bronze. The acacia tree is one of the few trees that grows naturally in the deserts where the Israelites wandered. Because the tree must grow with very little water, its wood is quite dense making it resistant to rot or decay. Overlaying the acacia wood with bronze made the altar able to withstand the fires of the many sacrifices. Bronze in scripture is often a symbol of judgment, as is seen in the story of the brazen serpent that was lifted up in the wilderness. The Israelites who trusted in the Lord’s promise of healing power, and looked to the brazen serpent, were healed from their poisonous bites. Likewise, as we look to the Savior on the cross, who was lifted up on our behalf, we can be healed of our sins and sorrows.

The brazen serpent lifted up by Moses
The altar itself was square in shape, which set it apart from all the other furniture except for the altar of incense which shared many similarities. On the four corners were horns, likewise made of acacia wood overlaid with bronze. In ancient times horns were seen as a symbol of power or strength. The altar horns were also a symbol of refuge, as Israelites who had sinned, could take hold of the horn and be promised safety and refuge until they could have a fair trial (see 1 Kings 1:50). The number four is often a symbol representing the four corners of the earth, perhaps pointing to the infinite sacrifice of Christ, which has power to reach to the four ends of the earth. The altar also had four rings, two each placed on the opposite sides. Two long poles made of acacia wood overlaid with bronze could be inserted into the rings allowing the altar to be carried as the Israelites traveled in the wilderness.

In Leviticus the Lord commanded three separate times that the fire of the altar was to be kept burning at all times (Leviticus 6:9, 12-13). This is likely because the Lord himself lit the fire, (Leviticus 9:24) consuming the first sacrifice offered by Aaron. As followers of Christ we too should always seek to keep the fires of our offering burning. While animal sacrifice was done away with by the death of Christ, we can offer to the Lord sacrifices of thanksgiving (Psalms 107:22), praise (Hebrews 13:15), and service towards others (Romans 12:1). 

Pillar of fire lighting the altar of sacrifice
The Bible also describes the bronze tools used for sacrifice, including basins and shovels for removing the ashes, bowls to hold the blood, meat forks used to place the sacrifice on the altar, and firepans used for taking coals from the altar to be used in burning incense.

In Leviticus 1-5 the Lord prescribed five different types of sacrifices that were to be offered at the altar, the burnt offering, the peace offering, the meat or grain offering, the sin offering, and the trespass offering. Each of these sacrifices varied in what type of animal or offering could be made and how they were ritually offered. Most of these were sacrifices of animals, but there were also offerings of grain as well. While we won’t attempt to cover the complexity of these five types of offerings here, there were common elements to most of these sacrifices.

First, the Israelite or priest would bring the animal through the gate and have the animal inspected to ensure it was without blemish. Next, the person would then lay their hands on the head of the animal which could be seen as symbolically transferring their sins to the sacrifice. The person then slit the throat of the animal, with the priest collecting the blood in a dish. Notice that for an individual sacrifice, it was the person who killed the animal, not the priest. This would vividly convey to the Israelites that it was their sins that caused the death of the animal and that the consequence of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

The collected blood, depending on the type of sacrifice, was then dabbed on the horns, splashed on the sides, or poured out at the base of the altar. The word atonement, or kaphar in Hebrew, actually means to cover or blot out. Blood represented the life of the animal, and thus by covering parts of the altar with blood, the priest was symbolically showing that atonement had been made because of the shedding of blood.

The animal was then cut into pieces, and depending on the type of sacrifice, parts of the meat were burned on the altar and the remainder of the meat was eaten by the priests or the family. Only in the case of the burnt offering was the entire animal completely burned on the altar. The eating of a portion of the sacrifice as part of a meal, is highly significant. Meat was rarely a part of daily meals and was mostly reserved for religious feasts and significant events. Because animals provide wool and hair for clothing, and milk and cheese for food, animals were far more valuable alive than dead! 

In addition, anciently the breaking of bread and eating a meal together often symbolized friendship between two parties. Enemies did not sign peace treaties like today to show they desired unity, but instead broke bread together. It was in the breaking of bread and sharing a meal that covenants were established and friendships renewed. Thus, it is significant that for most sacrifices at the altar, the partaking of a meal was a central part. God partook of His portion of the offering as it was burned on the altar, and then shared the remainder of the meal with the priests or family of the offeror.

Because of our sins, we are all enemies of God. Yet, each Sabbath, the Lord invites us to come to His table, and to partake of a communal meal that demonstrates that He is at peace with us. The tokens of the sacrament or communion, blessed by the priests, teach us that it is only because of Christ’s sacrifice that we can enjoy the friendship and presence of God. 

Bronze altar of sacrifice
The ancient altar of sacrifice taught Israel and all of us that before we can come into the presence of the Lord, we first must be reconciled with God. Death is the requirement for sin, yet God in His infinite mercy provided that another could be killed in our stead, that we might live. Just as Israel symbolically laid their sins on the head of the sacrifice, so too Isaiah taught that “the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 52:6). Similarly, as these animals were bled out, so too the Savior bled in Gethsemane and on the cross that we might have our sins blotted out or covered over. Because of God’s mercy, as we come to the altar of the Lord, we can find refuge, protection, and forgiveness because of the atoning blood of Jesus Christ.

(Special thanks to Elder Alex Ducos, Ethan Fullmer, Elder Ryan Sampson, and Brian Olson for their help with creating the 3D model of the Tabernacle.)

February 6, 2022

Finding Christ in the Tabernacle Gate and Courtyard

The very first thing that Israelite worshipers would see as they came to the beautiful Tabernacle was the large white linen fence of the courtyard and the beautiful and colorful gate. The Tabernacle was the place where Israel learned of the importance of repentance, atonement, and sacrifice and could symbolically reenter the presence of God through the priests. Learning of the gate and courtyard can help us better understand that it is only through the Savior that we can return to the presence of the Lord.

Before we can understand the gate of the Tabernacle, we first must understand the importance of gates in ancient times. The city gate was a place of protection and strength. Its fortified towers were one of the safest places of any ancient city. The excavated gates at Megiddo and Tel Dan are excellent examples of this with their massive fortified structures and flanking chambers. During an attack on the city, these chambers could be used to protect soldiers from invaders.

Ancient gates were also a place to perform covenants and contractual agreements. After the death of Sarah, Abraham stood at the city gate to negotiate and purchase the tomb where Sarah would be buried (Genesis 23:10, 18). When Ruth was to be married to Boaz, under the levirate law, he likewise did this at the city gate (Ruth 4:1, 10-11). Being at the gate, allowed all the city to witness the covenant or contract, becoming witnesses to the agreement.

Reconstruction of Tel Dan judgment seat (left); Tel Dan today (right, photo by Todd Bolen)

The Law of Moses also prescribed that those who had been accused of sin should be brought to the gate, making it a place of judgment (Deuteronomy 21:19). In fact, ancient city gates often even included an elevated seat, such as the one discovered at Tel Dan. Here the king or ruler would come and sit in judgment and hear the cases brought forward by his people. Because so many people entered and exited the city gate, it was also an excellent place to market goods and services. With the high amount of traffic, ancient prophets also found it an ideal place to preach to the people. Jeremiah stood at the gates when he called the people to repentance, proclaiming that Jerusalem would be destroyed if they did not repent (Jeremiah 7:2). Thus, the ancient gate was seen as a place of protection, covenant-making, judgment, and a place where the word of God could be heard.

Similarly, the Tabernacle gate had many of these same characteristics. As sinners, we all must come to the house of the Lord and seek protection and refuge through the grace of Christ. The Tabernacle and later temples in Jerusalem were also a place of covenant-making, where Israel could promise to obey the Lord. It also is a place of judgment, where Israel was to bring their sins to the Lord, and symbolically have them placed on the altar through the death of an innocent animal. The Tabernacle gate was also a place where Israel could hear the word of the Lord, proclaimed by prophets.

3D model of Tabernacle gate from the entrance

With this background, let’s now examine the construction of the Tabernacle gate and courtyard. Unlike ancient cities with their towering gates and walls of protection, the Tabernacle courtyard had only a linen fabric wall that separated the world from the sacred. This of course was largely because Israel needed the Tabernacle to be a portable structure that could move with them as they traveled in the wilderness. This outer fence was made from white fine linen, the same fabric used in the clothing of the priests. John the Revelator wrote that “the fine linen is the righteousness of saints” (Revelation 19:8). In ancient times the color white in fabric was very difficult to produce, having to go through a laborious process of bleaching or fulling. This would make it uncommon to see white fabrics used except for the wealthy and elite. These white fine linen walls would also stand in stark contrast to the thousands of black coarse goat hair tents. The white linen creates beautiful symbolism of a sacred space that is set apart from the contrasting surroundings.

Bronze bases and silver bands for the courtyard posts of the Tabernacle

This outer linen fence was hung on 60 wooden pillars. Unlike the inner sanctuary walls that rested on a foundation of silver bases, these outer pillars rested on bronze bases. These different metals show the levels of gradation of holiness. The outer courtyard is least sacred so bronze is used for most of the items, including the bases of the pillars. As you progress towards more sacred areas, silver and gold are used more prominently to show the symbolic progression of holiness. This outer linen fence was about 7.5 feet or just over 2 meters tall. Being above eye level would create a visible barrier that separated the profane from the sacred, blocking the view of those on the outside. This would mean that the only way to see inside was to enter through the colorful gate.

The Tabernacle gate itself was made of blue, purple, and scarlet fabric woven into white linen. The colorful gate was surprisingly wide at about 35 feet or over 10 meters, perhaps symbolically showing how despite the fact that there is only one way to enter God’s presence, it is wide enough to allow all who desire to enter. The Psalms gives us the requirement for entering by saying: “Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart” (Psalms 24:3-4).

3D model of the Tabernacle gate

The gate was located on the east side of the courtyard. This meant that as an Israelite entered the courtyard they went in a westward direction. When Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit and were cast out of the presence of the Lord, we are told that they went in an eastward direction. This means that to reenter the garden, they would have to turn around and then go westward, passing the cherubim who guarded the tree of life. Ancient Jews saw the similarities between the Garden of Eden and how the High Priest, who represented all of Israel, reversed the steps of Adam and Eve, bringing Israel back into the presence of the Lord. 

Beautiful symbolism can be found in both the outer fence and gate of the Tabernacle that point us to the Lord Jesus Christ. As we draw closer to the Savior, one of the first things that often will catch our eye is His purity and perfection (symbolized by the white linen fence). In many ways, we may want to turn away because of our own lack of cleanliness, but the Lord beckons us forward, showing us how we can become pure like He is pure. The fine linen used for the outer fence may also remind us of the fine linen strips that were used to wrap the lifeless body of Christ at his burial (Mark 15:46). The colors of the outer gate could symbolize the perfection and attributes of the Savior. The color blue in ancient times often symbolized heaven, the color purple royalty, and the color red death, blood, mortality and sacrifice. These same colors will be replicated throughout the Tabernacle, in the beautiful garments of the High Priest (himself a type of Christ), and the veils of the Tabernacle.

While teaching in the Temple at Jerusalem, Jesus taught: “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved” (John 10:9 NIV), teaching us that to return to God, the very first thing we must do is pass through the Savior. It is as if the Savior (represented by the beautiful colors) as the Great High Priest, stands at each of the main areas of division, the gate of the courtyard, the door of the Tabernacle, and the veil going into the Holy of Holies. From the very beginning to the very end of our journey back to God, the Savior stands beckoning us to enter through Him. As we pass from one point to the next on our journey back to God, it is always through Him and because of His infinite sacrifice and resurrection that we can progress back into the presence of the Lord!

See Exodus 27:9-19 and Exodus 38:9-20 for the description of the Courtyard and Tabernacle.

(Special thanks to Elder Alex Ducos, Ethan Fullmer, and Brian Olson for their help with creating the 3D model of the Tabernacle, and for Audra Coulson for help with the Tel Dan 3D model.).

January 12, 2022

Finding Christ in the Fall of Adam and Eve

The fall of Adam and Eve is perhaps one of the more misunderstood stories of the Old Testament. Many see it as a tragic event that ultimately brought sin and death into the world. Yet, the fall also is the catalyst that brought about the saving atonement of Jesus Christ. As we more fully understand this important event, we can see that it is a pivotal part of God’s plan. We also can find that the story of Adam and Eve is really our own story. Within the words of this account, we can find our own fall from grace, our longing for redemption, and our being raised up to eternal life with the Savior through his sacrifice and resurrection! 

The story begins in a beautiful garden, the garden of Eden. The Lord had just completed the creation of the world. With the beauty of the mountains, oceans, plants, animals, and all other creations completed, the Father’s culminating act was the creation of male and female in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). He then placed Adam and Eve into this beautiful Garden, a paradise on earth where there was no sin or death, pain or suffering. 

Here in the Garden, Adam and Eve were given two commandments. The first was to multiply and replenish the earth (Genesis 1:28). The second was that they could eat of any of the trees of the garden except for the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:16-17). If they partook, they would be cast out of the Garden to fend for themselves and eventually would die. Notwithstanding this command, they were given the opportunity to choose for themselves. If they did not eat of the fruit, they would remain in the presence of the Lord where all things would be provided for them. They would not know pain and suffering, anguish or death. Yet, if they stayed in the garden, they likewise would not know true joy or happiness. For it is only by experiencing pain and suffering that we can truly know joy. It is only by tasting the bitter that we can know the sweet.

Satan, desiring to frustrate the great plan of God, thought to tempt Adam and Eve into partaking of the fruit. As is always the case, Satan did not understand the plan of God, for the Lord knows all things. God knew that Adam and Eve would fall. He knew the consequences of their choice. He was never caught off guard or surprised. Because of this, before they had even made their decision to transgress the law of the Father, He had already laid the groundwork for them to return to the presence of the Lord. 

Satan tempted Eve to partake by first asking “Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” (Genesis 3:1). Eve responded that they could eat of all the trees except for the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Then, as Satan so often does, he mixed a lie with a truth. He states that Eve would not die if she partook (which of course was a lie), but would have her eyes opened, knowing good and evil (which was true). (Genesis 3:4-5). The Lord even recognized this when he later states: “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.” (Genesis 3:22). Thus, Satan was able to deceive our first parents, as he continues to do today, by mixing a truth with a lie, making it harder to recognize his deception.

With their eyes open, and now recognizing that they were naked, they both sewed fig leaves to make aprons to hide their nakedness and shame. The Lord God then called to Adam asking “Where art thou?” giving him an opportunity to acknowledge his transgression before the Lord. However, instead of admitting his wrong, he blames Eve, his wife. When the Lord asked Eve, she similarly blamed the serpent stating that he had beguiled or deceived her. (Genesis 3:7-14).

The Lord God then turns to the serpent and gives us the first messianic prophecy found in the Bible. He states, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; [He] shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15). Just as it was by a woman that the fall would occur, it would be through another woman that redemption would be born into this earth.

We often criticize Mother Eve for her choice, but it is because of her decision to partake that the Savior would be able to come into this world. It is because of the fall that suffering, pain, and death would now be in the world. These elements are the very things that would allow for the Savior to come and redeem us. There must be suffering to have the atonement. There must be death to have the resurrection. Equally, without sin we would never learn between good and evil, and we would never need to accept Jesus as our Savior. Without death, we would never have the chance to be resurrected and live forever with the Lord! Thus the fall of Adam and Eve sets in motion the very plan of God, providing the way for us to live with Him forever!

With infinite loving compassion, before the Father sends Adam and Eve out into the lone and dreary wilderness to learn to distinguish between good and evil, he first covers them with coats of skins to hide their nakedness (Genesis 3:21). While the Bible does not mention where these skins came from, it would only make sense that these skins were from the first animal, perhaps a lamb, that had been slain on their behalf so that they could be covered. The word atonement in Hebrew actually means to cover or blot out. Here we have a beautiful symbol of the coming Messiah. A sacrifice is made, an innocent animal dies, and Adam and Eve both are now covered and protected before being sent out into the world. The shame they felt for transgressing the Law of the Father is covered over because of the death of an innocent animal. These skins would be a constant reminder to them throughout their lives that it was only through the shedding of blood that sin can be covered over.

What a beautiful lesson we learn here. Adam and Eve both were given the chance to admit their wrongs. While they did acknowledge their transgression, they also sought to blame others. Yet, in his loving kindness, the Father takes them where they are, helps them see the seriousness of their actions, and then gives them protection and a symbol that would teach them of the coming Messiah.

As we study the story of Adam and Eve, we can find our own story within its words. Each of us comes to this earth as an innocent child of a loving Heavenly Father. As we grow, we are faced with the opportunity to choose between right and wrong. As a loving Father, God knows that the only way we can learn and grow is if we are allowed to make mistakes. Just as a parent must allow their young child to fall so that they may learn to walk, our Father allows us to choose for ourselves whether we will obey or disobey His commands. Just like Adam and Eve, we will often try to hide our sins from God. But He knows all things and gives us the opportunity to come unto Him as we are.

It is fitting that the story of our redemption began in a garden, the Garden of Eden, and that the culmination of the redemptive story ends in a garden near a hill called Calvary. After the Savior had suffered for the sins of the world, and had been crucified, his lifeless body was removed from the cross and placed in a borrowed tomb in a garden. (John 19:41). On the third day He rose from the dead, overcoming the effects of the fall. Because the fall took place, the Savior could suffer for our sins, covering the shame of our disobedience. Because of the fall, the Savior could die and be resurrected again, giving life to all! Truly, the fall set in motion the most critical event ever to take place, even the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Savior, Jesus Christ!

January 3, 2022

Finding Christ in the Creation

In the majestic words of Genesis, we read that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1 NIV). Here, in the first chapter of the Bible, we learn of how God wanted to teach us of the beginning, or genesis, of all things. We often read this incredible account of the creation almost as a scientific textbook, so to speak, yet the story of creation has far more depth and can symbolize many aspects of life. In particular, we can find within the creation our own story of how the Savior takes us from unorganized matter and converts us into beings of light in the image of God.

Before beginning the story, it is critical to realize that when the Lord revealed the story of the creation, it was meant to be highly symbolic. We should not expect that God meant to simplify one of the most incredible and complex acts into just a single chapter. Genesis 1 is designed to give us just the outline of what God did. This outline only gives us a glimpse into the true majesty of the actual process of creation. It is also important to realize that ancient and modern Jews see many connections to the Tabernacle and ancient temples. Simply put, the creation has always been seen as a temple text, and the temple itself was seen as a place of creation.

On the first day, we learn that “God created the heavens and the earth” and that the “earth was without form, and void” (Genesis 1:1–2), or in other words, was empty and without order. Darkness filled the expanse, yet even in the darkness, we learn that the Spirit of the Lord “moved upon the waters” (Genesis 1:2), or in the original Hebrew, the Spirit hovered or brooded over the earth. Here we learn that even amidst the darkness and chaos, the Spirit of God was present. In our own stories of creation, we each begin our journey in a symbolic state of darkness or chaos, yet the presence of the Lord is there from the beginning, watching over His creation. If we allow the Spirit of the Lord to move upon us, we will receive light!

With darkness covering the earth, the Lord speaks: “Let there be light!” (Genesis 1:3). With simply the word of the Savior, light penetrates the darkness and fills the expanse of His creation. Note that this light is not from the sun, moon, or stars! In fact, the lights in the firmament are not created until day four. This source of light stands apart from the later-created lights. During His mortal ministry, the Savior taught: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). In our own journey, once we have been moved upon by the Spirit of the Lord, we receive light from the word of God. As we study the Word, we are filled with light just as on the first day of creation.

At the end of the first day, the Lord sees the light and proclaims “that it was good” (Genesis 1:4). Even with so little completed in the creation, the Savior sees the good. For each additional day of creation, the Savior makes a similar statement, showing that He sees the progress even in the midst of His incomplete creation.

On the second day, the Lord divided the waters above the firmament of heaven from the waters on the land, creating the clouds above and the oceans below. The Hebrew word used here for “divide” or “separate” is used many times later in the Bible, particularly in a temple context when speaking of separating the unholy from the holy—for example: the veil of the Tabernacle that separated the holy place from the Holy of Holies (Exodus 26:33), the separation of the priests from the people (Numbers 8:14), and even separating Israel from the rest of the world (Leviticus 20:24, 26). This second day of creation can suggest that when we receive the light of Christ, we are then expected to be set apart and separated from the world. We are to live a higher—and holier—life as we follow the Savior.

On the third day of creation, the Lord gathered the waters of the earth together to form seas and oceans, and dry land, hills, and mountains. With the land separated from the water, the Lord then brings forth grasses, fruit trees, and all forms of vegetation to give beauty to the land. Keep in mind that the sun has still not yet been created, again suggesting that this light is the light of Christ that gives life to all. The plants are commanded to yield fruit so that their seed can fill the earth. The creation of life on the third day, in the fields of wheat, trees, flowers, and vegetation, may connect to the fact that, likewise, it was on the third day that the Savior rose from the dead, bringing true life to all the earth!

On the fourth day, the Lord created the lights in the sky, including the sun, moon, and stars. This was not only to give daily light unto the world but also “for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years” (Genesis 1:14). Unlike our modern calendar, which uses the rotation of the earth around the sun to set the months, the Jewish calendar was based on the cycles of the moon. The dates for each of the Jewish Feasts or seasons were determined by this lunar cycle. For example, the first of the feasts, Passover, occurs on the first full moon of the year. The last of the feasts, the Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot, occurs on the seventh full moon of the year. Thus, ancient Israel gathering to the temple to worship during these feasts was directly connected to the creation of the moon and the sun.

During His mortal ministry, the Savior taught of Himself, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12), yet Jesus also taught during the Sermon on the Mount that “[We] are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:15). How is it that if the Savior is the light, we also can be the light? Perhaps these two seemingly contradictory statements can best be understood if we compare this to the light of the sun and moon. The sun is the ultimate source of all light. Its rays of light create growth and life in all things. The moon, however, does not actually create its own light but instead reflects the light of the sun to the earth.

So, too, it can be in our own lives. We are never the ultimate source of light. We only reflect the light of the Savior to others. It is interesting that during a lunar eclipse, the moon becomes darkened, no longer reflecting the light of the sun. Why is this? Because the earth has come between the sun and the moon, blocking the light. Similarly, as we allow the cares of the world to come between us and the Son of God, the ultimate source of true light, we, too, lose the ability to reflect His light to others. Just as these lights, the sun, moon, and stars, were “to separate the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:18 NLT), as Christians, we also should live lives that set us apart from the world, bringing light to those in darkness.

On the fifth day of creation, the Lord created the living creatures of the seas and the birds of the air. Then on the sixth day, the beasts of the land were created, including sheep, goats, horses, insects, and all creeping things. The Lord commands these beasts to “be fruitful, and multiply” (Genesis 1:22). 

Finally, on the last part of the sixth day, the Lord “created mankind in His own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female” (Genesis 1:27 NIV). Here the culmination of the Lord's creation, the very last act of creation, is male and female, in the image of God. “And God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Genesis 1:28). The act of creating all living creatures could relate to our own journey of not only having families and bringing forth children but also in bringing forth “fruits” of repentance, service, love, devotion, and kindness towards others (see Matthew 3:8). These fruits should not only nourish and bring life to ourselves and our families but to all the world.  

Throughout the entire creation story, each day the Lord stated that His creation “was good,” but with the creation of humans, the Lord now states that creation was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). In our own lives, as we allow the Savior to form us into a “new creature” (see 2 Corinthians 5:17), the Savior always sees the good in us. If we are progressing, even if we are not complete, the Lord sees the good in our life. Once our creation story is complete, and we are seen as “very good,” we can then be seen in the image of God. After seeing His marvelous creation completed, the Lord rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2).

The story of the creation is a story of putting things in order. We are each symbolically in a state of darkness and chaos as we first come unto Christ. As we allow His Spirit to move upon us, we receive light. The Lord then commands us to be separated from the world and follow Him, just as the waters were separated. As we continue in Christ, we are to bring forth fruits of repentance, multiplying and replenishing the earth with life, not just life in ourselves but in others. As we culminate our journey back to God, we will find that we can become like our Savior through His atonement (2 Nephi 2:3). Once we have completed our own story of creation, with the Savior there every step of the way, the Lord God will rest from His labors, knowing that His work and glory is complete (see Moses 1:39)—complete because we are now created after His own image, even in the image of our Savior and Redeemer!

December 5, 2021

The Annunciations - The Nativity



Luke begins his Nativity narrative with the annunciations of the angel Gabriel to Mary and Zacharias. It seems that Luke purposefully places these two stories next to each other to not only contrast Mary and Zacharias, but also to compare the two miraculous birth stories of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ.

The first annunciation of Gabriel occurs in Jerusalem at the temple to Zacharias, a priest of the course of Abia. The courses of the priests were established during the reign of King David, when there were too many priests to serve in the temple at one given time. Because of their large numbers, King David divided the priests into twenty-four courses, Abia being one of these courses. Each of these courses would serve for one week twice throughout the year, meaning that Zacharias would only have the chance to actually serve in the temple for two weeks during each year.

Temple assignments for the priests, ranging from performing sacrifices to lighting the menorah, were chosen by casting lots. The most honorable assignment was to burn the incense before the veil of the temple. This burning incense was offered every morning and evening in the Holy Place and represented the prayers of Israel ascending to heaven before the veil. This was the closest that Zacharias would ever come to the Holy of Holies, and it appears to be an assignment that he had never previously received.

As part of the ritual, Zacharias, while praying, was to burn a combination of incenses on the golden altar, including interestingly enough, frankincense, one of the gifts of the wise men. Outside, the people would be praying and waiting until Zacharias had finished. After which he would come to the door of the temple to pronounce a blessing upon them. Of course, Zacharias would never be able to pronounce this blessing, because he had been cursed by the angel, adding to the awe and wonder of the people.

The second annunciation of Gabriel occurs in the small village of Nazareth, to an obscure young girl named Mary, who was probably around 12 or 13 at the time. The contrasts between these two annunciation stories is remarkable, and it seems that Luke hopes that we will notice the differences. One occurs to a notable and respected elderly man and temple priest, the other to an unknown young girl. One occurs in Jerusalem, and at the temple, the most holy place in Israel, the other in an obscure village of Galilee, likely in a meager and simple home.

Luke also contrasts the very words of the vision of Gabriel, perhaps to teach us of how we should respond to inspiration from God. Both Zacharias and Mary are visited by the angel Gabriel. Both are told to fear not, and that they would be blessed with a child. Both Zacharias and Mary ask for a sign or for understanding. The angel then gives both of them a sign; in the case of Zacharias he is made dumb and possibly even deaf, and Mary is given the sign that her relative Elizabeth, who has been without child, will conceive a son.

It is interesting to note that while these two visions are very similar, there are also some striking differences, that perhaps help teach us why Zacharias was cursed, while Mary was blessed. One of the differences seems to be in one simple word. When responding to Gabriel, Zacharias asks, "Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years." Yet, Mary responds, "How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" Zacharias is seeking for a sign to know if the angel is really speaking the truth, while Mary simple believes, and only asks how this miracle will actually happen. One other difference is how Mary responds when she says with faith: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." Mary not only believed without doubting, she immediately was willing to follow.

It is remarkable to think of the consequences of these annunciations for both Zacharias and Mary. For Zacharias, having a son would be one of the greatest blessing he could receive. Yet for Mary, being unmarried, and pregnant, would likely mean that she would be tried before the local synagogue, and be mocked and scorned for years possibly her entire life. Yet Zacharias, a man, a priest, and a respected individual, is the one who seeks a sign, and waivers in believing. While Mary, a young girl, and really a nobody in society, simply believed and trusted that she would be blessed for following God. What remarkable faith and determination Mary had. No wonder, the Father of us all, chose her to be the mother of the Son of God.

April 2, 2021

The Women at the Cross of Jesus

As Jesus hung in agony, many women stood by as witnesses to the very last moment as their Savior and friend suffered at Calvary’s cross. Among these women experiencing heartbreaking pain were Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and other women. While most of the other disciples fled, these women stood by as witnesses of the Savior’s death, and then helped cared for his body, [1] and became the first witnesses to his resurrection. 

The devotion to the Savior these women showed, when he suffered the most, cannot be overstated. They not only had to witness one of the most gruesome forms of execution, but they were risking their own lives to support Christ at the cross. Accomplices to a criminal, including women, could be crucified as well. [2] Think of the courage they had to remain knowing this, even as others mocked the Savior. These women show us how we can stand with Christ, even when others do not.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus 

Perhaps the most significant woman standing by is Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary is a unique witness of Jesus Christ. She saw the Savior open his eyes for the first time and close them for the last time as a mortal on earth. Perhaps in that heart-wrenching moment, she reflected back on when as a youth an angel told her she would be the mother of the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:26-38). At such a tender age, could she have fully comprehended what that actually meant? Or she may have thought back to when Jesus was still an infant of just a few weeks old and she and Joseph brought him to be presented at the Temple in Jerusalem. As they entered the Court of the Women, Simeon, a devout and righteous man, prophesied that “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel” (Luke 2:34 NKJV). And then to Mary he said, “And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35 NIV).

The Earthquake by James Tissot

As her tiny infant slept in her arms, or as the young child followed in her steps, could she have anticipated the moment when she would watch him crucified on the cross? How desperately she must have wanted to soothe his pain, and yet she stood by his side, watching him die, so that through his death we all might live. What a debt of gratitude we owe to this woman who raised Jesus as a child. 

In our own lives, we might be asked to do the unthinkable and watch a loved one suffer as we stand by helplessly. However, we can follow the example of Mary and keep our eyes focused on Christ. With no power to change the situation, we can find the strength to endure by looking to the Savior and encouraging those around us to do the same.

Mary Magdalene

Another woman named Mary who stood at the feet of Jesus was Mary Magdalene. Earlier in her life, she had been possessed by seven devils and had been healed by the Savior (see Luke 8:2). As a devout disciple of Christ, she remained at the cross after other disciples fled. Perhaps she did not want to leave him alone to suffer, for he had come to her in one of her moments of greatest suffering. 

Mary Magdalene by Heinrich Matvejevich Maniser

Although the Sabbath was quickly approaching, Mary did not leave Christ’s side, even after he had died. We know that she was one of those who stood by as Jesus’ lifeless body was lowered from the cross. Mary, with other women, then tenderly helped to prepare his corpse for burial. Additionally, she returned in the early morning hours that day after the Sabbath to finish preparing his body. To her surprise, she sees the Savior risen from the dead and becomes the first witness of his resurrection. Her intense sorrow has been replaced with pure joy. (John 20:1-18).

Mary Magdalene’s life teaches us that no struggle we face excludes us from having momentous spiritual experiences. We can choose to stay close to the Savior no matter what trials we may face or what our past may have been. And like Mary, we can find the sweet joy found on that Easter morn and run to invite others to come and see. 

Other Women at the Cross

Scripture records that most of the male disciples fled, [3] except for the “Beloved Disciple” (John 19:26), often assumed to be John, yet several women are mentioned as being present at the cross. Though the Gospels don’t agree on the names and number of these women, in addition to Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Jesus, it appears that among the many other women standing at the cross were the sister of Mary, Jesus’ mother (John 19:25), Mary the mother of James and Joseph, an unnamed woman who was the mother of James and John (Matthew 27:55–56), Mary of Clopas (John 19:25), and Salome.

Throughout his mortal ministry, many women traveled with the Savior and were among his closest associates. Significantly, many of these women provided financial assistance that helped to move the work forward (see Luke 8:1-3). They showed an unwavering commitment and love for Jesus. Just before his death, these women traveled with the Savior more than 100 miles from Galilee to Jerusalem to attend the Passover. As Christ was welcomed to the city with waving palm branches and shouts of praise, could any of these women imagine that just a few days later they would stand at his feet in his final hours and watch him die? And yet, despite the extreme turn of events, they did not flee or turn away as other disciples had done. Together, as a unified sisterhood, they not only stood with the Savior in his last moments, but they stood together. How beautiful that among these women was Mary’s own sister, who supported the mother of the Savior, helping to bear the burden she had to carry. 

Like Mary Magdalene, these women came to the tomb and helped to prepare the body of the Savior for his burial. Despite what appeared to be the complete collapse of all their hopes, Jesus’s followers stayed near the tomb. They could have left town, but even though they did not understand what had or would happen, they remained close to where Jesus was. These women then returned after the Sabbath, to finish the burial process, only to find the tomb empty. As they left the tomb, the Savior appeared to these women. They clasped the feet of Jesus, touching his risen body, and then ran to tell the glorious news to the other disciples. (Matthew 28:9-10).

Jesus Appears to Women by James Tissot

As we contemplate the feelings of these women at the cross, we gain a powerful window into our own experiences. If you have ever felt fear and anguish as a result of unexpected events, these women can relate. They show us that we can hold steady even when nothing is turning out how we had planned. If you have ever felt the devastation of watching your loved ones suffer, these women can relate. They teach us of the importance of standing together as family and friends, and that just our presence can be a comfort to others. 

Because of Christ’s Atonement, we too can look forward to a time when the Savior “will swallow up death forever . . . [and] wipe away the tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:8). We can find hope and strength in the faith of these women who endured this painful experience at the cross of our Lord and Savior. On that Easter morning, their sorrow turned to joy. Because the Resurrected Savior lives, so too can our tears dry, our sorrows can be swallowed up, and we can feel the joy that only Jesus Christ can bring.

Script written by John Hilton III adapted from Considering the Cross.

March 17, 2021

The Seven Last Words of Jesus on the Cross

Bruised and bleeding, the Savior’s final hours were spent crucified on a cross. Although racked with excruciating pain, he made seven significant statements as the last words of his mortal ministry. As we look more closely at these final statements, Christ shows us how he is a healing, human, and divine Savior to each of us.

A Healing Savior 

Though in desperate need of comfort himself, Jesus Christ’s first three statements show his compassion and desire to heal others.

First Statement 

The first statement was spoken as the soldiers crucified him. The Savior said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). Amazingly, the Savior generously pleaded for mercy for those who were in the very act of crucifying him. He is showing by example what he taught during the Sermon on the Mount that we should love our enemies and “pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;” (Matthew 5:44). Christ is teaching us how we should be willing to extend forgiveness and mercy, even when it is not merited, asked for, or acknowledged.

Second Statement 

The Savior’s second statement also displays tender compassion for others even while he himself suffers. As Christ hung between two thieves, one of them taunted him by saying, “If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.” (Luke 23:39) But the other man rebuked him, by saying that they both were getting what they deserved (see Luke 23:41).

At this point, this penitent thief then pleads with the Savior, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” (Luke 23:42). These words, spoken by a convicted criminal, are the final recorded words addressed to the Savior before his death. His plea captures a special intimacy as he is the only person recorded in the Gospels as asking Christ to remember him. 

Christ and the Good Theif by Titian

Others might easily see this thief as worthless or beyond redemption. Yet, in his response to the man hanging beside him, Jesus shows us what he truly thinks of the human race. The Savior makes the second statement by saying, “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43). Can you imagine the reunion when Jesus and this man see each other after they have died? Christ would personally minister to him and teach him that very day. 

According to Luke, Jesus began his public ministry at a synagogue in Nazareth stating that he would “proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;” (Isaiah 61:1). How appropriate that he ends his mortal ministry by proclaiming freedom to one who is physically bound on a cross and spiritually bound by sin. Like this thief who hung beside Christ, we too can be freed from our own bondage and sins because of a healing and merciful Savior.

Third Statement 

When Jesus saw his mother Mary and the disciple whom Christ loved watching him as he suffered on the cross, he said the third statement. First to Mary, “Woman, behold thy son!” Then, directing his words to the beloved disciple (often assumed to be John), “Behold thy mother!” (John 19:26-27). Even in his greatest agony, the Savior focuses on the needs of his mother. He is showing by example how to obey the commandment he gave to “Honour thy father and thy mother” (Matthew 19:19). In John, the first miracle Christ performed was at the request of his mother by turning water into wine. Here, again, Christ lovingly attends to her needs even in his moment of greatest need. He inspires us to look outward, even when we are suffering.

Jesus Hangs on the Cross by Gebhard Fugel

The Savior demonstrated his healing power by forgiving the soldiers, comforting the thief and honoring his mother. Just as Jesus met them where they were, he will also meet us where we are—even those who make serious mistakes. No one is beyond the reach of the Savior’s healing love. 

A Human Savior 

In the next two statements we are reminded that though his Father was our Immortal God, Jesus was born of a mortal woman. In agony on the cross, he shows us his humanity through his suffering.

Fourth Statement 

As Christ experiences the effects of shock due to the loss of blood, with parched and shriveled lips, he cries out his fourth statement., “I thirst!” (John 19:28). During his ministry, Christ said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14). What a powerful testament that he truly bears all of our pains as our Savior. Christ thirsted so that we can drink the cool, refreshing, water that he himself so desperately needed. As the Living Water, he strengthens us in our own challenges.

Fifth Statement

As the time of his death approached, Jesus “cried with a loud voice, ... My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34, see also Psalm 22:1) making his fifth statement. In his moment of greatest distress, Christ is left to bear the full brunt of the sins of the world without the accompanying help of his Father. [1]

During his ministry he told those who loved him, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (John 14:18). Even in his final painful hours he has sought to forgive, comfort, and honor those around him. And now he is the one in need of comfort, for even his Father has left him to suffer these pains alone. In this statement, we more fully see a human Savior who is suffering. In our pain, we can connect with Christ, for he knows how to heal our pain perfectly.

Jesus on the Cross by Jean Francois Portaels

A Divine Savior

As the end of the Savior’s life nears, we become acquainted with his divinity in his final two statements. Despite intense suffering, as the Son of God, he retains power over all things and completes his atoning sacrifice. 

Sixth Statement

In great agony, Christ makes his sixth statement, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Earlier in his ministry, Jesus taught that his purpose was “to obey the will of the one who sent me and to finish the work he gave me to do.” (John 4:34, GNT). In spite of earth and hell combining against him, thirsty, forsaken, and in agonizing pain, Christ has indeed completed the work his Father had sent him to accomplish. We can be confident that even when our lives spin out of control, Christ is completely in control. He is always at the helm. 

Seventh Statement 

Finally, moments before Jesus ended his mortal ministry on earth, he cried, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). [2] Perhaps the keyword in this seventh and final statement is I—indicating the Savior’s personal agency—he willingly gave up his life (see John 10:17–18). Note also the Savior intimately addresses God as “Father.” In the Gospel of Luke, Christ’s first recorded words at a young age of just 12 years are when he asks Mary and Joseph “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49, NKJV)—and now Mary’s witness provides the heart-wrenching answer. He had finished the work his Father sent him to do. Christ gave himself completely to God. Do we do the same? Are we willing to allow our will to be completely swallowed up in the will of the Father? 

Reflecting on these seven statements Jesus said from the cross, we see Christ as a healing Savior who extends mercy and comfort even in his own agony. We see Christ as a human Savior who can relate to our anguish and our suffering. He is a divine Savior, able to help us in every circumstance because he is all-powerful. In these seven simple yet poignant statements made in Christ’s final moments when he suffered the most, we see that Jesus Christ is the Messiah who has come to save us all. 

Script written by John Hilton III adapted from Considering the Cross: How Calvary Connects Us with Christ (Deseret Book, 2021).