April 8, 2020

The Cleansing of the Temple

As the Savior entered and cleansed the Temple after arriving with his disciples for his last Passover, he teaches us a powerful message. The Lord’s honor and respect for the temple shows us how we too can become clean and pure through the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

According to Matthew and Luke, the cleansing of the temple took place on Sunday immediately after the triumphal entry. Mark, however, places the cleansing on Monday, the following day. Jesus and His disciples had come to celebrate the Passover, which would begin in just a few days. As they entered the city, they would have first likely entered through the southern gate of Jerusalem near the Pool of Siloam. They would then ritually wash in this pool or one of the many other mikvahs or ritual pools in Jerusalem. Jesus and His disciples would have then climbed the hundreds of steps up the Tyropoeon Valley until they arrived at the base of the Temple Mount.

The Temple itself was on a massive platform about 35 acres in size built over the top of Mount Moriah creating a large courtyard for the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims that arrived during Passover. As the Savior and his disciples entered the large court of the Gentiles, they encountered the money changers who were selling items and exchanging money in the house of God!

Tyrian shekel coin used to pay the temple tax
All Jewish males were required by the Law of Moses to offer a half shekel of silver once a year to help support the Temple. Because of the command against graven images, coins made in Palestine were minted with only depictions of nature such as grapes or sheaves of wheat. However, because the Temple authorities mandated only the purest of silver, these local and less pure coins were required to be exchanged for the Roman shekel and half shekel. These coins were minted with the image of the Greek divine hero Heracles. They also included the phrase "of Tyre the holy [city] and [city] of refuge." Many Jews found this requirement by the Temple leadership to be highly offensive since these coins were stamped with a pagan image and words denoting that Tyre, not Jerusalem, as the Holy City. In addition, these money changers charged an exchange rate of about 8%, much of which likely was pocketed by the corrupt temple leadership.

Jesus, upon seeing the money-making endeavors in the temple, made a whip from cords and began overturning the tables and driving out the money changers. In a loud voice, the Savior proclaimed: “It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13). This is one of the few examples in the Gospels where Jesus shows true righteous indignation. The Temple was to be a sacred place designed to help Israel come closer to God, yet, the Jewish leadership were using it just to make a profit and gain worldly power.

Cleansing the home of leaven products
Within the context of the events of Passover the timing of this cleansing is highly significant. Leading up to Passover, which would be only in a few days, Jews were to cleanse their homes of all leaven products. This ritual dates back to the time of the Exodus when the Israelites fled Egypt. In their haste to leave captivity, they did not have time to allow their dough to rise. To commemorate their haste, just prior to Passover, families scour their home until they have removed all traces of leaven. The Bible states, "seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith … for thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt in haste: that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth." (Deuteronomy 16:3). The seven days without leaven began the day after Passover and was called the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Jews saw this time of cleansing their homes of leaven as a time of preparation in which they not only physically prepared, but also spiritual prepared. Leaven was often seen as a symbol of impurity or corruption because of how quickly it can spoil. A small amount of leaven raising an entire batch of bread was seen as symbolic of how a small amount of corruption could lead someone into darkness. This cleansing was a time of inner reflection and repentance so they could more fully enjoy the joyous festival of Passover.

Thus, as hundreds of thousands of Jews were cleansing their own homes of leaven, a symbol of impurity, Jesus cleanses his Father’s house of corruption. Desiring to properly prepare for this most sacred of weeks, Jesus does exactly as the Law prescribed. While Passover was a time to celebrate the miraculous story of the Exodus and deliverance from Egyptian bondage, little did these Jews know that this man who was cleansing the temple, would be their true source of complete deliverance.

Just as the Jews were commanded to cleanse their homes, and Christ cleansed the temple, so too should our own temples be cleansed, even our body and spirit. Paul taught “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? … for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). How beautiful the message of the cleansing of the temple that teaches us that just as Jesus cleansed the ancient temple, it is only through Him that we can also be cleansed. As we repent of our sins and come unto Him, He will cleanse us of all impurity! Only once we are purified through His atonement can we then truly enjoy perfect deliverance through Christ, our Passover Lamb.

April 4, 2020

Jesus Christ, the Passover Lamb

The events of the last week of the life of the Savior, Jesus Christ are the most significant in all of history. These eight days, from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday change everything. They give us hope. They show us that sin and death will never prevail. These eight days begin with Jesus coming to the beautiful city of Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover festivals. As we better understand Passover and the spring Jewish Feasts, we can gain powerful insights into Holy Week, the atonement, and the ultimate triumph over all things by Christ, our Passover Lamb.

Passover was first celebrated by the ancient Israelites as they were freed from Egypt after living in bondage for over 400 years (see Exodus 12). As part of this deliverance, the Lord commanded that on the 10th day of the first month, the people were to select a lamb without blemish and to bring it into their homes for the next four days (Exodus 12:3-5). During this period the family would examine the lamb for impurities and would likely become very attached to this young innocent lamb. The family also cleansed their home of all leaven products, leaven often symbolizing impurity because it can quickly spoil and mold (see Luke 12:1). On the 14th day of the month towards the evening, the people then killed the lamb without breaking any of the bones (Exodus 12:6). Using a branch of hyssop, they covered their door post with the blood of the lamb (Exodus 12:22). This was to be a sign for the destroying angel to pass by and spare the firstborn of that home. The Lord then commanded the family to gather that evening and share a meal of the slain lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs (Exodus 12:8). The unleavened bread represented the haste in leaving Egypt, the Israelites not having enough time to allow their bread to rise (Exodus 12:33-34). The bitter herbs represented the bitterness of bondage and slavery. According to later Jewish tradition, wine was also part of the feast as a symbol of joy and redemption. [1]

Unleavened bread used during the Passover meal
Once freed from slavery, Israel was commanded to celebrate the Passover every year thereafter, to commemorate and help them remember the powerful hand of God in delivering them from bondage. In addition to Passover, each spring the children of Israel were also to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the observance of the First Fruits. The Feast of Unleavened bread started the day after Passover and ran for seven days from the 15th through the 21st of the month (Leviticus 23:6-8). During this period no leaven was to be consumed, again commemorating the haste with which the children of Israel fled Egypt. The offering of the First Fruits was celebrated the day following the first Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened bread (Leviticus 23:10-14). On the evening of the Sabbath, the priests would cut the best sheaf of barley and bring it to the temple to be threshed and ground. In the morning the flour would then be combined with oil and frankincense and a handful would be burned on the altar. The offering of the First Fruits symbolized the gratitude of the people by first giving to God an offering before enjoying for themselves the harvest of that season. [2]

With this understanding of the Passover celebrations, let us now examine the powerful significance of the timing of the events of Holy Week. According to the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus entered Jerusalem on the 10th day of the month, the same day when all the people would be selecting their Passover lambs preparatory for the coming feast. [3] At this same time, on the day we now call Palm Sunday, Jesus was welcomed with shouts of praise and acclamation (Matthew 21:7-9). Jesus, the true Passover Lamb, then entered His Father’s home, the temple of Jerusalem, just as the lambs were being brought into the home of all Jews to live for the next four days. Upon entering the temple courts, Jesus cleansed His Father’s house of impurity, driving the money changers from this sacred space (Matthew 21:12-13). At the same time all Jews would be cleansing their own homes of all leaven products.

The next few days of Holy Week, Monday through Wednesday, were days in which Jesus taught the people, spending much of His time again at the temple, in His Father’s house. During this same period of when the priests and people would be examining the lambs for impurities, Jesus was interrogated by the Sadducees and Pharisees asking Him of His authority and power.

According to Matthew, Mark and Luke, on the eve of the 14th day of the month, the Savior celebrated the Passover meal with His disciples (Matthew 26:19-30). As Jesus sat with His disciples during His Last Supper, he took the symbols of the Passover feast and converted them into symbols of His own deliverance that He would soon bring. He took the unleavened bread and broke it and taught His disciples that this represented His broken body, which the following day would be torn and bruised for their sakes. He then took the wine, a symbol of joy and redemption, and taught that it signified His blood which would be shed for them that evening in Gethsemane. These two symbols became what is now known as communion or the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. It is interesting to note that Jesus did not incorporate the bitter herbs into the symbols of the sacrament, perhaps symbolizing that Christ in our stead would consume the bitter cup so that we can instead partake of the sweet cup of joy and redemption.

That evening Jesus entered a beautiful garden just outside the city of Jerusalem, and atoned and suffered for our sins (Matthew 26:36-46). As hundreds of thousands of Jewish families celebrated the ancient redemption of Israel, Jesus was suffering in Gethsemane providing true deliverance. Just as the blood on the doorpost protected ancient Israel from the destroying angel, so too the blood of Christ, shed in Gethsemane and on the cross, can protect us from the effects of sin and death.

In the dead of night, Jesus was arrested and taken and tried before Caiaphas the High Priest (Matthew 26:57-68). The remarkable fact is that, as the leading priest for the temple, Caiaphas had the ultimate responsibility for all Temple offerings. Here Jesus Christ, the true Lamb of God, was condemned to death by the very man who oversaw all temple sacrifices. Jesus was then taken to the palace of Pilate in the upper city, then Herod, and then Pilate again where He was condemned to death.

According to the Gospel of John, Jesus was crucified at noon and hung on the cross in pain for several hours (John 19:14-16). As he hung, a branch of hyssop, the same kind of branch used to cover the doorposts with blood, was raised up to Jesus (John 19:29-30). On the end of the branch was a sponge soaked in vinegar, or cheap wine to help with the excruciating pain. Then at 3pm Matthew tells us that Jesus died, breathing His last breath of mortal life (Matthew 27:46-50).

Concerning the events of Holy Week, there are some discrepancies in the timing among the four gospels, and one of the most significant differences is that John places the Passover on the following day, not the night of the Last Supper (John 19:14). This means that according to John, at the exact same time that the Passover lambs would be slain in the temple, which was from about 3-5pm, Jesus died on the cross for all of God’s children. [4] The symbolism is extraordinary! Jesus Christ, who was sinless, without blemish, is killed the same hour as the Passover lambs. John also notes that while the other two condemned men had their legs broken, Jesus instead only had a spear driven into His side, fulfilling the requirement that the Passover Lamb was to be killed without breaking any bones.

The body of Jesus was then laid in a borrowed tomb where on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, Jesus’ mortal body rested from all labors. The following day, on Sunday, the first day of the week, Jesus rose from the dead, overcoming all things. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus rose from the dead at the same time when the first fruits were being offered at the temple, thus fulfilling this aspect of the law, and as Paul stated becoming the first fruits of them that slept. (1 Corinthians 15:20)

The powerful symbolism is undeniable. Jesus seems to use every aspect of the spring feasts to help the Jews understand His ultimate redemptive power. He is chosen by the people on the same day as the Passover lambs. Jesus cleanses His Father’s home when the people are cleansing their own homes of all leaven. He teaches in the Temple and is examined and tried by the very priests who are responsible for all Temple sacrifices. He suffers and dies as the Passover lambs are slaughtered at the Temple. He then rises from the dead when the first fruits of the harvest are offered before the Lord. Jesus Christ is our true Passover Lamb. Because of Him we are redeemed from bondage and slavery. Because of His blood we are protected from the destroying angel and allowed once again to enter the presence of the Father. Truly as John the Baptist stated, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

[1] The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, by Alfred Edersheim, p. 185.
[2] Edersheim, pg. 203-205.
[3] There is a lot of debate on the exact timing of the events of Holy Week, but I will attempt to do my best to show likely connections between Passover and the last week of the Savior's life.

March 8, 2020

The Triumphal Entry of Jesus Christ

Amid shouts of praise and the waving of palm branches, Jesus triumphantly entered into the city of Jerusalem. This event marked the beginning of the most significant week in human history. Understanding the historical setting of this singular event can teach us of the ultimate mission of the Savior as the Lamb of God and the true King of kings!

To better understand the importance of the triumphal entry, it is helpful to first understand its correlation to the feast of Passover or Pesach. Passover was the first of three major Jewish feasts celebrated each year. The feast was to commemorate the deliverance of ancient Israel from bondage in Egypt. According to Exodus 12, the Lord commanded Israel to select a lamb without blemish on the 10th day of the first month. Once selected, the lamb was then brought into their homes to live with the family for the next four days. On the eve before the start of the fifteenth day, they were then to kill the lamb, smear the blood on the doorposts, and share together the Passover feast. If they did this, the Lord promised that the destroying angel would pass by them and spare the firstborn of the home.

Blood being placed on the doorpost for Passover
Every year afterward, Israel celebrated Passover to remember this great deliverance from bondage. In addition, the Jews at the time of Jesus were looking forward to a coming Messiah who would hopefully likewise during Passover deliver them from their Roman oppressors. With this background in mind, let’s study the events of the triumphal entry.

Shortly before Passover, the Savior began his last mortal journey to Jerusalem. Like Jesus, hundreds of thousands of Jews were also arriving to celebrate the Feast. With the city swelling beyond capacity, many would have camped on the Mount of Olives and surrounding areas. Jesus chose to stay in nearby Bethany with the family of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus whom he had just raised from the dead. News of this remarkable miracle spread like wildfire. The promised Messiah had come! As the Savior and his disciples climbed over the Mount of Olives with the Temple glistening in the morning sun, the people cut branches from palm trees, waving them excitedly, and laid their garments on the ground to cover His path.

The significance of the timing is unmistakable. According to the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the day Jesus entered was the tenth day of the month, five days before Passover. This would mean that on the very same day that the Jews were selecting their Passover lambs, Jesus, the true Lamb of God, rode into Jerusalem and was symbolically chosen by the people. Also, just as the lambs would be brought into the homes of the people to stay for the next four days, so too Jesus came into his Father’s house, the temple, and taught for the next four days before his death.

This act of worship by the Jews during the Triumphal Entry fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah which stated: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9 NKJV). Sadly, as the week progressed, the Jews saw that Jesus did not come as the conquering Messiah they had hoped for. They realized that Jesus would not bring them the political deliverance they so desired. Yet they did not understand the true deliverance He would bring through His atonement and death. Only five days later, some of this same crowd who had previously shouted praises at his arrival, would now shout for the death of the Lamb of God.

Often, we are faced with the same question as these Jews in Jerusalem. What type of Messiah are we hoping for? One who will immediately free us from all our challenges and trials? Or are we humble enough to trust in the Lord’s timing for redemption?

In essence, we all have our own personal exodus story. A story where we are in spiritual bondage and can be released only by the blood of the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. We each have the opportunity daily to select Jesus Christ as our Lamb of God and allow him into our homes. When we lay down our all before him as the Jews laid down their garments shouting Hosanna, we chose to accept the Savior, seeing Him for who He really is. Only then can we, like ancient Israel, be spared from the destroying angel of death and sin, and enter into the Promised Land because of the triumphal entry, death, and resurrection of the Lamb of God!

February 23, 2020

The Anointing of Jesus by Women

When studying the events of Holy Week, we read two different recorded occasions when a woman anoints either the feet or head of Jesus. Many scholars have combined both events because of their similarities; however, by studying them as two separate events, we are able to learn powerful insights into the possible timing of the stories. Timing that foreshadows the Savior as the anointed King and the Great High Priest of Israel.

In ancient times three main groups of people were anointed: prophets, priests, and kings. Both the words Messiah in Hebrew, and Christ in Greek mean the “anointed one” and refer to anyone that has been anointed. The anointing often took place by a priest who would pour olive oil from an animal’s horn onto the head of the person. The horn is often a symbol of power. [1] The anointing oil was combined with myrrh and other spices to create a beautiful smelling ointment. Anointing with this holy oil took place as a symbol of setting apart, or making sacred an individual for the service of God. It spiritually prepared the person for the mission they would lead. What better act to proceed the events of the atonement, death, and resurrection than the anointings performed by these two faithful women!

Reenactment of Aaron being anointed by Moses
The first anointing, as recorded by John, took place on Saturday six days before the Passover; in an unnamed home in Bethany. It was done by Mary the sister to Martha and Lazarus; wherein she anointed only the feet of Jesus. (See John 12:1-8). The second anointing, as recorded by Matthew and Mark, took place two days before Passover; in the home of Simon the leper in Bethany. This was done by an unnamed woman who anointed only the head of Jesus. (See Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9).

Comparison chart of the two accounts of the anointing of Jesus by women
John’s account places Mary’s anointing on Saturday. It may be that John was trying to foreshadow how Jesus, being anointed the day before the triumphal entry, was symbolically being anointed as the King of Israel. Remember that one of the reasons it was so significant that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey was because when Solomon was anointed as the king of Israel, he similarly rode into Jerusalem on a mule.

Mark’s and Matthew’s accounts places the anointing by the unnamed woman two days before the Passover. It may be that they were trying to show that Jesus was being anointed as the Great High Priest, who would intercede on our behalf. Anciently, the high priest was the only individual who could enter the most sacred part of the ancient temple, the Holy of Holies, and only on one day a year, the Day of Atonement. The high priest entered on behalf of Israel, symbolically bringing them back into the presence of God. As Jesus suffered in Gethsemane, died on the cross, and rose from the dead, he acted as our Great High Priest, who intercedes before the Father, allowing us to once again enter God’s presence through Christ. [2]

Reenactment of the high priest entering the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement
These accounts offer two women as powerful witnesses of the Messiah and their sacrifice and testimony are striking. The ointments used by both women valued 300 or more pence. A pence was a day’s wage, making the total value equivalent to almost a full year’s earnings. Sadly, both women were also criticized by a disciple adding even more to the magnitude of this great gift.

Up to this point, the apostles did not fully understand the mission of the Savior. They had all witnessed great miracles by Jesus, heard His mighty teachings, and had powerful spiritual experiences. However, they clearly did not yet understand that ultimately through Jesus’ death true redemption would come. In contrast these two women, even before witnessing the resurrection, appear to understand the need for Christ to die. For them, anointing the Messiah with oil, preparatory to His death, was a token of their faith. Faith that would in turn be planted in the hearts of others as they witness who the Savior actually is. [3] In a culture where a woman’s voice was rarely heard let alone respected, Jesus wants the men to understand the poignancy of the unnamed woman’s service, “Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Mark 14:9 NIV).

Whether it was just one or two different women that anointed Jesus during Holy Week this incredible service to their Lord and Master will always be remembered. A service that testifies of the Savior’s most often used title, that of Christ—the Anointed One.

In our world today where the gap between what is right and what is popular increasingly widens, we can remember these women and honor their memory by also standing as powerful witnesses of the divinity of Christ. As believers we can tell those who do not yet fully understand, “This is the Messiah, the Anointed One.”

Special thanks to Heather Pack for helping to review and write the conclusion of this script. Also, I am grateful for the research done by Eric Huntsman in his book God So Loved the World (see below).

[1] The Lost Language of Symbolism by Alonzo L. Gaskill, pages 49-50.
[2] God So Loved the World by Eric D. Huntsman, pages 44-45 and 133-135.
[3] Huntsman, page 45.

December 12, 2019

The Remarkable Story of Joseph

Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus Christ, is perhaps one of the most overlooked characters in the life of the Savior. Yet, there is no question that Joseph left a powerful impact on Jesus, Mary, and their other children. He was a man of solid conviction. His love for Mary, the mother of Jesus, is unmatched. Because Joseph’s story is only covered in four chapters of the Bible and he most likely died before the ministry of the Savior, we often gloss over him, and sadly miss the powerful witness he left of his adopted son, the Messiah of the world.

We know relatively few details about Joseph from the scriptures, but through insights from the historical background of life in Israel, we can actually weave together a beautiful tapestry on the life of Joseph.

Joseph was of the tribe of Judah, and in particular a direct descendant of King David (Matthew 1:20). This would mean that he, at least in some regards, had a legal right to the throne. Consequently, any of his descendants, including Jesus through adoption, would also have this same status. Despite his royal lineage, the scriptures tell us that Joseph was only a poor carpenter or craftsman. Joseph is typically portrayed in art as working with wood, but because Israel has a limited number of trees and stone is by far the more abundant resource, Joseph would have actually been a carpenter of mostly stone.

According to Jewish custom, we also know that Joseph was most likely quite young. In fact, he probably was only about seventeen to twenty years old when he was engaged to Mary. We also know that from a very young age Joseph had been trained in the law at the synagogue, and that he had a profound understanding of the scriptures because of his faithful, yet merciful way of obeying the law.

To better comprehend the significance of the story of Joseph and Mary, it will help to understand the marriage customs during the time of the New Testament. Ancient Jewish marriage included three main parts, the betrothal, the period of preparation, and the actual wedding feast.

A young bride typically between eleven and thirteen years old would be formally betrothed to a groom aged about seventeen to twenty. [1] While comparable to an engagement today, it was a far more significant commitment. The bride and groom were actually legally married at the betrothal as wedding vows would be exchanged. The distinction being that the marriage is not yet consummated nor do the couple live together. A period of waiting and preparation would follow when the groom learned a trade, in Joseph’s case stone masonry and carpentry, and built a small home for his future bride.

The two families would also prepare for the wedding feast. Unlike today with the convenience of modern-day stores, everything for the wedding would be made by hand, grown, or traded in the market including harvesting all the food, making white robes for each participant, and other significant preparations. This enormous amount of preparation meant that it was very common to wait a full year before the actual wedding feast. Once ready, the groom would go to the home of his bride with a large procession of his family and friends with torches and oil lamps. He then would take his new bride to his father’s home where the marriage feast would occur and the marriage would be consummated. The wedding feast was huge often lasting for seven days—all the more reason for a yearlong preparation!

With this understanding of marriage customs, let’s read from the Gospel of Matthew. “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18 NKJV). According to the Law of Moses, if a young man found that his bride was pregnant before their marriage, he had two options. First, he could publicly divorce her, meaning he would bring formal charges against her before a court. If found guilty, she would be stoned to death. Second, the young groom could divorce her privately, or in other words, he would not bring formal charges against her, but simply end the marriage. In this situation both the life of the mother and child would be preserved. Both options were legal under the law. Matthew tells us that Joseph chose to be merciful and “and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.” (Matthew 1:19 NKJV).

However, before Joseph was able to divorce Mary, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream telling him to take Mary as his wife. The angel also directs Joseph that he is to name the infant Jesus. By naming the child, according to Jewish tradition, Joseph would formally adopt Jesus as his own. We often just gloss over these few verses, but the implications are massive for Joseph! Consider this story from the perspective of the townspeople who all would know that Mary got pregnant before marriage. By taking her as his wife, Joseph is saying that either he broke his own vows and got Mary pregnant before the wedding feast, or he does not mind being the father to what the people would consider an illegitimate child. Either option would forever brand Joseph as a father of questionable background. Yet, the text seems to imply that Joseph shrugged off these massive consequences, and the instant he awakes from his sleep, does exactly as the angel commands.

The love and compassion Joseph showed to Mary and the unborn Messiah is absolutely remarkable. He disregarded all cultural consequences of marrying Mary, forgoes the elaborate wedding feast that every young couple would be looking forward to, and took in the young innocent Savior of the World as his own. Truly, God could not have chosen a better man to raise His own Son, then Joseph, the humble carpenter. Though we have no recorded words of Joseph, no recorded witness of his testimony, his actions of obedience, kindness, and love speak volumes about the character of this most remarkable man and his testimony of the Savior. As followers of Christ, we can learn much from Joseph the carpenter.

[1] As there always is a debate on the age of Mary, here are a few notes regarding the age of betrothal for women in the Bible. The Midrash and Talmud both state that young men were married by the age of eighteen and girls by the time they were thirteen (Midrash, Aboth 5:21 and Talmud, Pesachim 113). "For the other parameter, age at marriage, no real statistics exist for ancient Israel.... In Egypt, girls were married between twelve and fourteen; boys, between fourteen and twenty." (Life in Biblical Israel, page 37). "The consent (betrothal), usually entered into when the girl was between twelve and thirteen years old" (The Birth of the Messiah by Raymond E. Brown, page 123). "The earliest age for marriage, which typically follows betrothal by a year, is twelve years and a day [meaning betrothal could be at the age of 11]." (BYU New Testament Commentary, The Testimony of Luke by S. Kent Brown, page 107). "According to ancient Jewish custom, Mary could have been betrothed at about 12." (Wikipedia, Mary, mother of Jesus)

December 8, 2019

What the Genealogy of Jesus Teaches Us About the Messiah

The story of the birth of Jesus Christ has been told for centuries. The account usually begins with the annunciation to Mary or the appearance of the angel to the shepherds, yet Matthew begins his Nativity story with the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17). The long list of names intermingled with almost 40 "begats" can cause us to skim or even skip this portion completely. But Matthew appears to be teaching us a powerful message about the Messiah by recording His lineage. Let’s see if we can discover some of these lessons.

Matthew divides the genealogy into three main sections of fourteen names each. The first section lists the patriarchs, the second lists kings, and the third lists names of people mostly unknown to us (Matthew 1:17).

First Section
The genealogy begins with Matthew stating, "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1). This first section recounts the names of the great patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These were each men of great faith who with their wives left us great examples of righteousness. Right from the start, Matthew appears to be giving us a key to understanding his message, that of the promises made to Abraham, the great Patriarchal prophet. Each of these men were promised that through their seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed, a blessing that would be fully realized only through the birth and coming of the Messiah.

Second Section
The second section includes a list of Judah’s kings from David to the Babylonian captivity, emphasizing the importance of the dynasty of King David. David was seen by the Jews as one of their greatest kings. Through him the nation of Israel was united. Under his command, the temple was built by his son Solomon. Through his seed the nation was ruled by the line of the kings. Only two of the fourteen kings mentioned though were considered righteous—very few of the kings actually sought to guide their people to the Lord. [1] The true King of Kings in David’s royal line would only be fulfilled through Christ, the anointed one (see 2 Samuel 7:11-16).

Third Section
The last section lists names of those that are otherwise mostly unknown in the Bible. Matthew shows us the critical role these unknown helpers played in the birth of our Savior. We can easily view ourselves as nothing special when compared to great spiritual and political leaders like the prophets and kings in the previous two sections. But just like the unnamed widow who offered her two mites, our contribution—no matter how small—is acceptable before the Lord (Luke 21:1-4).

From these divisions we can see that God is able to work through the spiritually powerful, the politically powerful, and the commoners that appear to be powerless. It teaches us that each of us can play a critical role in helping to build the kingdom of God. [2]

Another intriguing aspect of Matthew’s genealogy is the inclusion of five particular women. Women are rarely mentioned in genealogies in the Bible (or anciently) except to teach a message or connect a name to a particular story. Thus, it would again seem that Matthew is trying to teach us something by including their names. Four of these women could be considered to have questionable or suspect backgrounds: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.

The first woman, Tamar, dressed as a harlot so that Judah, her father-in-law, would give her a descendent because of the Levirate law of marriage, which was her legal right (Genesis 38:13-30). Rahab, often called a harlot, though possibly just an innkeeper, was a Canaanite woman who lived in Jericho and helped hide the Israelite spies before they prepared to conquer the city (Joshua 2). Ruth, though a faithful and incredible woman, was a Moabite and not of Israel making her a foreigner (see Ruth 1:1-18). Bathsheba, perhaps a Hittite like her husband, was seduced by David and likely always seen as tainted by this act committed against her (2 Samuel 11:1-5).

Because of their backgrounds, each of these women were likely looked down upon at some point in their lives. Yet Matthew reminds us of their great contribution as heroes of the Bible. The last woman mentioned is Mary. Like the other four women, she too had a suspect background because of the miraculous yet misunderstood way she conceived the Christ child. Perhaps Matthew was trying to teach his audience that if you question Mary’s story, remember that many of the greatest prophets and rulers came from women who might have been questioned by society. [3]

As we read the genealogy of Jesus Christ and consider the people mentioned in His lineage, we learn from this long list that different types of people were used so that God’s Beloved Son could come to earth. Whether a righteous prophet, an imperfect leader, an unknown helper, or someone with a questionable background or reputation, all are known to the Lord. No matter our status, background, or station in life, we too can have our name added to the long beautiful list of those who play a critical role in gathering Israel in preparation for Christ’s second coming to earth.

Special thanks to Heather Pack who helped write the script for this video.

[1] A Coming Christ in Advent by Raymond E. Brown, pg. 21
[2] See Advent of the Savior by Stephen J. Binz, pg. 15-16 for commentary on the three sections
[3] A Coming Christ in Advent, pg. 23-24

December 1, 2019

Christmas Study Resources

One of the things that has helped me better prepare for Christmas each year is to take up a study of the story of the Nativity about a month before the actual holiday. Advent (the four Sundays before Christmas) is a great time to begin, and gives you plenty of time to read at least one book, and the two accounts of the birth of Jesus Christ as found in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. Adding this to my study during the weeks before Christmas makes this special day become all the more holy. Below are a few of the books I have enjoyed reading to prepare for Christmas:

Good Tidings of Great Joy by Eric D. Huntsman

An excellent resource for Advent. The book is divided into five main sections, which are designed to be read during the four weeks before Christmas, with the last chapter studied on Christmas eve or day. The book includes commentary, music, and activities that can be added to Advent to help increase the overall feel of this special season.

Advent of the Savior by Stephen J. Binz

Short (only 69 pages), yet concise and powerful. This has become one of my new favorites for the study of the birth of Christ. A verse-by-verse commentary on the Nativity story, yet it does not have the feel of most commentaries. Excellent insights and highly recommended!

The Nativity by Alonzo L. Gaskill

A simple, short, yet very interesting study of the Nativity story. The book is divided into sections that discuss the account of Matthew and Luke, with other supplemental material (including a short quiz to see how well you know the Nativity story). If you want a simple quick read, this is the best book to read.

Mary and Elisabeth by S. Kent Brown

BYU professor, Kent Brown, examines the lives of two of the most important women in scripture (the two mothers of the Messiah and the greatest prophet ever). As we so often gloss over the lives of Mary and Elizabeth, and focus on the birth of Jesus (who is of course the reason for the story), this is an excellent study of the lives of these two women. There is much we can learn from their examples of faith and devotion.

A Coming Christ in Advent and
An Adult Christ at Christmas by Raymond E. Brown

Short, yet very detailed and doctrine heavy booklets on the story of Christmas by Raymond Brown, one of the greatest American Catholic scholars of our day. The first booklet covers Matthew 1 and Luke 1, the second booklet covers Matthew 2 and Luke 2. This is the very condensed version of his 750 page Birth of the Messiah.

October 20, 2019

The Laver and the Washing and Anointing of Priests

Within the outer courtyard of the Tabernacle of Moses was the bronze laver (see Exodus 30:17-21). It was here at the laver where Aaron and his sons were washed, clothed, and anointed prior to becoming a priest. The laver was also used by the priests for daily ritual washing prior to serving at the Tabernacle. The washing at the laver can symbolize our need to be spiritually cleansed through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

Only the tribe of Levi, and in particular the family of Aaron, could officiate at the Tabernacle; therefore, the Lord commanded that Moses first consecrate them for this sacred service here at the laver. 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.

In ancient times, washing with water often symbolled becoming ritually clean, allowing the person to perform sacred acts such as prayer or sacrifice. Though we are not given any details about the washing process, many scholars speculate that it would include the washing of the full body. [1] The scriptures include many references to ritual washing including one from Psalms “Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalms 51:2).

After the washing with water, the high priest and priests were clothed with the holy garments. Unlike today, clothing in ancient times was very costly and difficult to make. The hand spinning and looming process could take possibly hundreds of hours for a single piece of clothing. Thus, the giving of clothing, especially ceremonial clothing, represented a significant bestowing of authority and power. Interestingly the word atonement in Hebrew, or kaphar, actually means to cover, possibly connecting the sacred priestly clothing, which covered the priests, with the atonement of Jesus Christ.

Moses anointing Aaron with oil, the oil is stored in the horn of a bull
Next, Moses was to anoint Aaron and his sons with sacred anointing oil and blood from the sacrifice. The oil was a special combination of pure olive oil with liquified myrrh and other spices (see Exodus 30:22-30). Several stories in the Bible state that anointing oil was stored in an animal’s horn (see for example 1 Samuel 16:13 and 1 Kings 1:39), the horn often being a symbol of power and strength. [2] The scriptures again do not provide any details how the priests were anointed with oil, but we are told about the process of anointing with blood which may give us hints to the full process. [3] Moses would first kill a ram and then save the blood in a dish. He would then place the blood on the right ear of the priest, then on his right thumb, and then the right toe of his foot. (Exodus 29:20 and Leviticus 8:23-24).

Moses dabbing blood on the right ear of Aaron
Blood being placed on the right thumb of Aaron
Moses placing blood on the right toe of Aaron
This act of covering with blood certain parts of the body might seem strange to modern readers of the Bible, but understanding its significance can help us learn several powerful lessons. First, again the meaning of the word atonement in Hebrew means to cover. Second, each of the body parts could represent the service at the Tabernacle and to the Lord. The ear can symbolize the need to hear and follow the word of God. The thumb can represent our actions and ability to labor in the work of the Lord. The toe often is a symbol of our daily walk possibly teaching the priests that they were to walk in the paths of righteousness. By anointing with blood these parts of the body, it could serve as a reminder to the priests that all their actions and deeds should bring others to the Lord. According to one scholar, it could also symbolize that the priest, who represented Israel, was taking upon him the tokens of the death of the sacrifice. Thus, reminding him that it is only by the blood of the sacrifice that he is worthy and able to enter the Lord’s presence. [4]

After being consecrated just once in their life before becoming a priest, the priests then would ritually wash their hands and feet daily at the laver before performing sacrifices and entering the Holy Place (Exodus 30:19-21). This served as a constant reminder that they were to be spiritually clean prior to coming before the Lord.

The priest ritually washing his hands at the laver
After completing these sacred cleansing rituals, the priests were authorized to serve at the Tabernacle and in particular, enter the presence of the Lord into the Holy Place, and in the case of the high priest, the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. Though Israel would not participate in these sacred cleansing acts individually, the priests represented them all as if they too were able to be washed themselves. This would hopefully be a reminder to ancient Israel that as they watched the priest physically and spiritually prepare to act on their behalf, they knew they likewise had to be prepared to enter albeit symbolically through the services of the priests.

These powerful symbolic acts at the laver can teach us of our own need to be cleansed by the waters of baptism, clothed in the power of the atonement, and anointed by the blood of the Lamb of God having our sins covered over or blotted out. These rituals can be an outward representation of the truth that it is only through the atoning power of the Savior that we can ultimately be worthy and able to enter the presence of the Lord!

[1] The Gate of Heaven, by Matthew B. Brown, pg. 79.
[2] The Lost Language of Symbolism, by Alonzo Gaskill, pg. 49-50.
[3] The Gate of Heaven, pg. 79-80.
[4] The Anchor Bible, Exodus 19-40, by William H. C. Propp, pg. 530-531.

October 8, 2019

Understanding the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur

The Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, is the most holy and solemn day of the Jewish calendar. It is the only day when the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, the most sacred place within the Tabernacle and ancient temples. It was the only day when the high priest reconciled Israel with God and symbolically brought them back into the presence of the Lord. No other day and no other ancient ritual comes closer to the full meaning and purpose of the atonement of Jesus Christ.

The fall season of festivals begins with Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashana marks the start of a ten-day period of repentance and preparation for the Day of Atonement. During these ten days, Israelites would seek to draw closer to God in preparation for these sacred rituals. On the Day of Atonement, all of Israel would be forgiven for their sins of the previous year, thus allowing them to be cleansed and prepared for the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot to occur five days later. Feast of Tabernacles was the final and most joyous of the three major Jewish feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.

The Day of Atonement followed a complex, yet beautiful ritual, symbolizing that all of Israel now had been forgiven and was able to re-enter the presence of the Lord through the high priest (see Leviticus 16).

The ritual began with the high priest, dressed in his normal colorful golden garments, offering the daily morning ritual of sacrifices and burning of incense on the altar of incense. He then would wash his flesh and change into simple white robes. The act of washing and changing clothes would actually occur five separate times throughout the ritual. The wearing of just the white robes could symbolize the Savior who leaving His heavenly throne, “laid aside all the glory … [and] put upon Himself the plain robe of humanity … becoming like one of us.” [1] The color of white is also a powerful symbol of purity, representing the absolute purity of the true Great High Priest, even Jesus Christ.

The high priest selecting lots for the goat for the Lord and for the scapegoat
Next, the high priest would bring two goats into the Tabernacle or temple and cast lots for each of them. One lot was for Azazel, or the scapegoat, and the other was for the Lord (Leviticus 16:7-10). A red ribbon was tied around the horns of the scapegoat to distinguish it from the other goat.

The high priest would then take a bullock, or young bull and place his hands on its head, symbolically transferring his own sins and the sins of his fellow priests to the bull. He would then slit the throat of the bull and catch the blood in a dish to be saved for later services. (Leviticus 16:11)

The high priest entering the Holy of Holies with incense on the Day of Atonement
He then would bring a burning coal from the altar of sacrifice and incense into the Holy of Holies through the veil for the first time. Here dressed in all white, the high priest would burn the incense before the Lord. The room would fill with smoke, the cloud of smoke often being a symbol of the presence of God. (Leviticus 16:12-13).

The high priest then would exit the Holy of Holies, wash again, and take the blood of the bull and re-enter the Holy of Holies for a second time. He would then sprinkle seven times the blood of the bull on the Ark of the Covenant. (Leviticus 16:14). The shedding of the blood of the young bull represented that the high priest was forgiven and reconciled to enter into the presence of the Lord.

The high priest entering the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement
The high priest would then kill the goat that was chosen for the Lord, again saving the blood in a dish. He then would enter the Holy of Holies with this blood for the third and final time. As he did before, he would sprinkle the blood of the goat seven times before the ark. (Leviticus 16:15-16). As the goat was the offering for the people, this act of bringing its blood into the Holy of Holies represented that all of Israel was symbolically able to enter the presence of the Lord, through the high priest and because of the shedding of the blood of the sacrifice. Just as the high priest could only enter by blood, so too it is only by the shed blood of Jesus Christ that we can enter God’s presence.

As the high priest exited the Holy of Holies, he would then sprinkle the combined blood of the bull and the goat before the veil of the Tabernacle. He would also use the blood to cover the four horns of the altar of incense. The remaining blood was poured out at the base of the altar of sacrifice in the outer court. (Leviticus 16:18-20).

High priest laying his hands on the scapegoat for the Day of Atonement
The high priest would then return to the scapegoat and place his hands upon its head symbolically transferring the sins of all the people to the goat. He then would utter the sacred name of the Lord, which was never to be said except on this holy day, “Oh, Jehovah! I intreat Thee! Your people, the House of Israel, has been iniquitous, sinned, and erred before you. Oh, then Jehovah! Cover over, I intreat Thee, upon their iniquities, their transgressions, and their sins!” [2] The goat was then taken outside of the Tabernacle and led into the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:20-21). The guiltless goat, dependent upon its owner for its care and protection, would become lost and die in the desert. Perhaps no symbol of the Savior is more powerful than the scapegoat. Innocent of any wrongdoing, just like this goat, the Savior has had laid upon Him the sins of the world. As Isaiah so beautifully stated, “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6).

The scapegoat being led into the wilderness on the Day of Atonement
Modern readers often gloss over the significance of the Day of Atonement as simply an outdated, archaic ritual of death and covering of blood. However, as one better understands each of the aspects, it teaches a powerful message of the atonement of Jesus Christ.

The word atonement, or kaphar in Hebrew, actually means to cover. Thus, as the high priest literally covers with blood the ark, the veil, and the altars of the Tabernacle, he symbolically shows that atonement has been made, and that the way is now open to progress back through the Tabernacle because of the shedding of blood.

From the scriptures we learn that when the Savior went to pray and suffer in Gethsemane, He first left eight disciples at the entrance, then took Peter, James, and John further into the garden, and then by Himself, went further in to pray. Though it is impossible to know the exact reason for this three-level progression the Savior creates within the garden, it has a strong correlation to the three levels of the Tabernacle with the outer courtyard, the holy place, and the holy of holies. It is as if the Savior desired to recreate these three levels, to show that He was officiating as our Great High Priest and interceding on our behalf.

How beautifully the symbolism of the Day of Atonement teaches us that it is only through the shed blood of the Lamb of God, even Jesus Christ, that we can once again enter the presence of the Lord. It is only because He took upon Himself our sins and iniquities, that we can be forgiven and our burdens made light. Because of Him, we can have our sins covered over, blotted out, or atoned for. The book of Hebrews teaches, “But Christ being come an high priest … Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12). How wonderful it is that unlike ancient Israel, who only could be forgiven once a year, we can daily come to the Lord, lay our sins and guilt upon Him, and continually be forgiven and cleansed because of His atonement!

[1] Thus Shalt Thou Serve, The Feasts and Offerings of Ancient Israel, C.W. Slemming, pg. 151.
[2] Paraphrased from: The Temple, Its Ministry and Services by Aldred Edersheim, pg. 253-254 and Carta's Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem by Israel Ariel, pg. 146-147.

October 4, 2019

Day of Atonement - Leviticus 16

Over the years as I have studied the Tabernacle of Moses, I have been fascinated by the ritual of the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. It was the most significant event of the Jewish calendar. It was the only day when the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies. It was the day when he reconciled Israel with God.

As part of the ritual, lots would be cast for two goats. One for the Lord, the other for the scapegoat. The blood of the first allowed the high priest to enter into the Holy of Holies on behalf of the people. The second goat (the scapegoat) had the sins of Israel placed upon its head and then he was led into the wilderness to die. No other sacrifice comes closer to the atonement of Jesus Christ, as it is the only one where full intercession was made allowing Israel to enter God's presence.

After years of studying, and several film shoots, I finally have enough footage to create a full video for the text of Leviticus 16. I did remove some of the verses that were more complicated, so this is not the full ritual, but it hopefully is enough to give you the idea of what is going on. The text of the video comes directly from the KJV of Leviticus 16:2-5, 7-8, 11-15, 18, 20-22, 24, 34. I hope you enjoy! In a few days, I will be publishing a video that goes more in-depth into the Day of Atonement and its powerful foreshadowing of the Savior Jesus Christ.

September 17, 2019

The Tabernacle and the Messiah

According to the book of Genesis, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden where they lived in God’s presence. After Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, they were cast out of the Garden. This separation was not permanent; however, because God the Father would send His Only Begotten Son to be the Savior of the world to overcome the effects of sin and death.

In anticipation of the Savior’s great and last sacrifice, God instructed righteous followers such as Adam and Noah and their families to offer sacrifices. Eventually, God made a special covenant with a righteous man named Abraham and his wife Sarah. Their descendants came to be known as Israel.

After Moses freed Israel from bondage under the Egyptians, the growing family of Israel renewed the covenant of Abraham, promising to be God’s people. However, full of fear and quick to turn to idol worship, they were unprepared to enter into His presence. Instead, they relied on Moses and the priests that were called to commune with God on their behalf.

To help the people of Israel draw closer to Him, God revealed His law to Moses with many detailed instructions, including directions for building a holy sanctuary, or Tabernacle, where God could dwell among them. In this Tabernacle Israel, through the priests, would participate in special sacrifices and rituals.

The detailed design of the sanctuary and the symbolism of the rituals performed within, pointed Israel toward the coming Savior, the Messiah, who would redeem them from sin and death. Let’s take a tour of the Tabernacle to better understand its Messianic symbolism.

The progression through the Tabernacle is symbolic of mankind ascending from the fallen world back into the presence of God. The Tabernacle is divided into three spaces: the outer courtyard, the Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies. The outer courtyard invites one to depart from the cares of this world into a space focused towards God. The Holy Place, lit by oil lamplight, can be suggestive of one moving closer to God through the light of the Holy Spirit. The Holy of Holies represents returning into the presence of God.

A closer look at each space of the Tabernacle reveals more about the symbolic journey heavenward. Only one entrance leads into the outer courtyard. Through this beautiful and colorful gate on the eastern wall, Israelites symbolically began their ascent towards God. The Savior taught during His mortal ministry, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved” (John 10:9 NIV).

A priest offering sacrifices at the altar
Entering through the gate into the Tabernacle courtyard we come to the bronze Altar of Sacrifice where Israelite men and women offered sacrifices to God as a means of showing devotion, expressing gratitude, and seeking reconciliation for transgression. These sacrifices were all a type and shadow of Jesus Christ, the unblemished firstborn Lamb of God, slain for the sins of the world.

Next, we come to the bronze Laver where ritual washings took place. Here, the sons of Aaron were washed, anointed, and clothed in the priestly robes prior to becoming a priest. The priests would also ritually wash their hands and feet here before performing sacrifices and entering the Holy Place. The cleansing water of the Laver can remind us of the Savior, whose words and love are the Living Water in which we can be washed, cleansed, and filled.

Moses anointing Aaron as the High Priest
We now enter the door of the tent into the Holy Place in a symbolic ascension closer to the presence of God. On the right is the Table of Showbread where twelve loaves of bread were kept and eaten by the priests every Sabbath. Tradition holds that a pitcher of wine was also kept on the table. The bread serves as a reminder of our need to be spiritually nourished by Jesus Christ, who declared, “I am the Bread of Life” (John 6:35). Together, the bread and wine can be a reminder of Christ’s flesh and blood, as taught by the sacrament or communion.

On the south side of the Holy Place stood the golden Menorah, or oil lampstand. The Menorah had seven branches, each decorated with almond flowers, buds, and blossoms. Every evening, the priests would trim, refill, and make sure that the lamps were burning with pure olive oil. This was the only source of light for the Holy Place and can serve as a reminder of Jesus Christ, who said, “I am the Light of the World” (John 8:12).

Next we come to the Altar of Incense where a priest burnt incense each morning and evening in front of the veil. The altar’s position before the Holy of Holies shows the importance of prayer in preparing to enter the Lord’s presence. Just as the sweet smoke of incense rises heavenward, so also the prayers of the righteous rise up to God, drawing them closer to Him.

High priest praying at the altar of incense in the Holy Place
The linen veil separates the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. Embroidered on the veil are figures called cherubim which symbolically guard the presence of God. When Christ was crucified, the veil of Herod’s temple was rent in twain from top to bottom, signifying that through the Savior’s sacrifice, the way was now open for all to enter God’s presence. The writer of Hebrews taught that because of Christ, we can go boldly into the Holy of Holies “By a new and living way … through the veil, that is to say, [the] flesh [of Christ]” (Hebrews 10:20).

We now enter the Holy of Holies representing the ultimate goal of living in the very presence of God. In the center is the Ark of the Covenant, the most sacred object in the Tabernacle. Atop the Ark was the Covering, often called the Mercy Seat or Seat of Atonement, with two cherubim made from solid gold. These cherubim stretched their wings over the ark, symbolically guarding the place where the presence of the Lord would dwell. Inside the Ark were kept sacred objects, including Aaron’s rod, a bowl of manna, and the stone tablets of the Law given to Moses on Mount Sinai.

Only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies. Here he sprinkled blood from the sacrifice on the Mercy Seat, symbolizing that through the blood of the Lamb of God, Israel could obtain mercy and the opportunity to once again live in God’s presence. Although the children of Israel were not allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, the High Priest represented them. Jesus Christ is our Great High Priest, who intercedes on our behalf before the Father.

The high priest entering the Holy of Holies
During Israel’s time in the wilderness, the Tabernacle moved from place to place as a portable structure. Eventually, it was replaced by a more elaborate and permanent structure called the Temple of Solomon. Built after the pattern of the Tabernacle, Solomon’s temple was the crowning jewel of Jerusalem for almost 400 years until its destruction by the Babylonians.

Seventy years later a second temple was rebuilt after the same pattern, which Herod the Great extensively remodeled during the first century. It was here Jesus, the foretold Savior of the world, was brought as an infant. He was born into the world to fulfill the law of Moses and complete God’s plan to open the way back into His presence through a new covenant.

At the last supper, Jesus taught His disciples about this new covenant made possible by His suffering and death. The following day as Christ, the ultimate Passover Lamb, hung on the cross, He offered a sacrifice bringing deliverance to all from sin and death, replacing the need for animal sacrifices. From this point forward, a new kind of sacrifice would be asked of God’s followers—that of a contrite spirit and a heart willing to turn and follow Jesus.

The ancient Tabernacle that became the temple in Jerusalem, with all its sacrifices and rituals was centered on Christ. His life and ministry, culminating in His death and resurrection, fulfilled every law and ordinance and shows the path that will lead us back to our Father in Heaven.

Text written by Jane & Clark Johnson adapted from an earlier video I produced in 2018.

June 17, 2019

Holy Week: His Blood Be On Us

After the Savior was judged by Pontius Pilate within the confines of the palace of Herod, Pilate again brought Jesus before the Jewish leaders. Here Pilate exclaimed that he had found no fault with Jesus and sought to release him because of His innocence, symbolically washing his hands of the matter. The most vocal of the crowd would hear nothing of Pilate’s verdict of innocence for the Lord. The Gospel of Matthew records the profound interchange: "When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children." (Matthew 27:24-25).

Here among the group were many of the priests of the temple, including the high priest himself who well understood the concept of a blood atonement. The word atone, or khapper in Hebrew means to cover, blot out, expiate, condone or cancel. For the priests, this term of atonement or covering also had a literal application during temple sacrifices. Depending on the type of sacrifice that the priest was offering, a portion of the blood of the animal was dabbed upon the horns of the altar, splashed against the sides, or poured out at the base. On the Day of Atonement (the holiest day of the year), the High priest would, in addition, dab blood on the horns of the altar of incense, and sprinkle blood before the veil. The High Priest would also enter the Holy of Holies and with blood from the sacrifice sprinkle it seven times upon the Ark of the Covenant. This “covering” with blood of the various pieces of furniture within the Tabernacle and later temples represented that the blood of the sacrifice covered, or made atonement for the sins of all Israel. Because of these rituals, the act of covering with blood, and atonement were almost interchangeable for the Israelite people.

How ironic that here the people ask that Christ’s blood be upon them. Of course, the Jewish leaders did not mean to imply that Jesus’ blood would atone for them, or cover them, but the symbolism of the wording they choose still vividly remains. How true their request would be that the blood of the Lamb of God, who would be slain for their sins, would come upon them or cover them; for Christ did suffer for all, even His accusers. Even more powerful is the statement that Christ’s blood be upon their children, for all, both Jew and Gentile, are to be grafted into the lineage of Abraham, thus becoming children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Each of us, in essence, are part of the crowd who requested that Jesus' blood cover them. As sinners we each have the need of having our sins blotted out, or covered over to be remembered no more by God. Truly, it is by His blood coming upon us that we are forgiven. How prophetic the words of these wicked men, who in attempting to place blame on their children, actually helped in providing the means of salvation to their children through the blood of the Lamb of God. The Lamb, that on their behalf, and by their request, was slain!