Our Final Dwelling

A fundamental aspect of God’s plan to redeem the world is mend is the idea that sin caused a break in the relationship between humankind and God, so God’s plan is to mend that break so that we can dwell together forever.

When God first makes man and woman, he puts them in a garden, and he walks and talks with them there. When they sin, they are cast out of the garden, and therefore barred from entering his presence. Mankind rapidly increases in wickedness until the whole world is filled with corruption.

However, God makes a covenant with the people of Israel that they will be his people, and he will be their God. After the covenant is first enacted, and before it was broken in any way, seventy elders of Israel could enter God’s presence and not suffer harm (Ex. 24:9-14).

This shows that God had, through this covenant, already begun to mend the severed relationship between mankind and himself, so that people could enter his presence once again, even if only temporarily. The break in intimacy was beginning to be healed, but it still was only partial: only a few could enter God’s presence, from one nation that he had chosen to extend his covenant.

When the Israelites left the presence of God on Mt. Sinai, he gave them instructions on how to make a portable facility where they could meet with God once again, the tabernacle. God said to Moses,

Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. (Ex. 25:8)

Notice what is significant in this sentence: God tells them to make a sanctuary for him, but his goal is not to dwell in it, but to dwell among them. His goal is to have intimacy with his people, for them to live in his presence. After it is built and consecrated, God’s Holy Spirit indwells it, and his people can worship him in the desert wherever they go.

When the Israelites sin by worshiping the golden calf, God threatens that his presence would not go with them into the Promised Land. He relents, however, after Moses pleads for them, and says they do not want to go if his presence does not go with them (Ex. 33). Later, Moses reminds them that they are unique among the nations in having their God so near them (Deut. 4:7). This was a central aspect of the blessing of Israel, that they could come near the true God.

Looking ahead to the New Testament, we see fulfillment of the messianic imagery of God’s presence coming near his people in a powerful new way. Certainly, when Jesus walked on earth as Emmanuel, God with us, God’s presence was at its peak in the person of Jesus. Yet he said there was coming something better: God’s presence as the Holy Spirit being poured out on humanity.

While before the people worshiped God in the temple where his presence dwelt, now God’s presence dwelt in the people, making God’s people the temple. The blood of the first covenant made it so that the seventy elders could enter God’s presence, but the blood of the new covenant by the atonement of Christ made it so that God’s presence could be poured out into the whole world.

Sing for joy and be glad, O daughter of Zion; for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,” declares the LORD. “Many nations will join themselves to the LORD in that day and will become My people. Then I will dwell in your midst, and you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you. (Zech 2:10-12) 

Here, God had accomplished an even greater thing than in his first covenant, in terms of healing the breach between himself and humanity. While the first covenant allowed a few to enter his presence, this new covenant allowed people of all nations to repent and enter his presence. His presence would flow out into the world through them!

The final picture of God’s presence fully among his people is that of heaven in Revelation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:1-4)

It is impossible to imagine the glory of God we will experience when we are present with him in heaven, but if there is any doubt that this is not the ultimate goal from the very beginning of scripture, we only need to compare the vision of heaven at end of the book of Revelation with the garden of Eden in the beginning of Genesis.

In Revelation, we read a description of heaven that includes a tree of life, a river of life, no sin, no death, and many other things that remind us of the the garden of Eden in Genesis. In Hebrew, the word for “heaven” is actually gan eden, the Garden of Eden! It is a picture of what all of the Bible is about, that the Lord made humans to dwell with him in intimate relationship.

When that relationship was severed by sin, God immediately made a plan to redeem humanity. Over history he worked out that plan so that the end is even more glorious than the beginning. At first only two people live in the presence of God, but at the end an entire kingdom of people live with God for all eternity!

Forever and Ever … Hallelujah!

by Lois Tverberg 

An overarching theme in both the Old and New Testaments is the idea of God becoming king over all the world. In Zechariah we read:

The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name. (Zech. 14:9)

In Revelation, we find a similar vision of God becoming king over creation:

Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying,”The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” (Rev 11:15)

It seems odd to us that the creator of all the universe would not be considered its king at all times. The biblical picture, however, is that even though God is creator over all of his creation, once humanity fell, they excluded themselves from God’s kingdom because of their disobedience.

After the fall, the world was in bondage to sin, and was given over to worshiping other gods. While God is the sovereign judge over all creation, the Bible says that only those who accept him as their king are actually a part of his kingdom.

One of the main themes of the Bible is that after the fall, God’s plan is to repair the breech and bring humans back into his kingdom. Only a couple stories after the flood, the time of man’s worst rebellion, we begin to hear about how God finds one man who will be faithful to him, Abraham. God tells him that he would make him into a great nation.

Later, God makes a covenant with Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites, that he would be their God and they would be his people. God’s kingdom started with one man and expanded to the nation of Israel. The goal was that the whole world would see the true God through this nation who worshiped him as King. He would give them a land that was in the middle of the international trade routes, so that their culture would impact the world as they lived according to his instruction.

In addition, God promised that one of king David’s descendants would be king, and have a kingdom without end. The plan was that this righteous king, the Messiah, would come to establish God’s kingdom over the whole world. The Bible’s vision is that finally, at the end of all things, the LORD will be king over the whole world once again, through the messianic king that God promised to send.

Jesus and the Kingdom of God

We can imagine there would be much speculation about how God would establish his reign over the whole world. At the time of Jesus’ coming, this was especially important to Israel, who was under oppression by the pagan Romans. Obviously, when the Messianic King came, he would establish God’s reign by conquering the Romans. They read many prophecies about the Messiah that were images of a mighty king who defeated his foes and then took the throne. For instance:

The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One (Messiah, in Hebrew). Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill. You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery. (Ps. 2:2, 4-6, 8)

They also read about the “great and dreadful day of the Lord,” where he would come to judge the enemies of Israel, and they longed for that day.

Messianic prophecy also talks about a “suffering servant” and a “Prince of Peace,” but the people of Jesus’ day expected the Messiah would bring God’s judgment. They imagined that there would be one sudden event when he would assert his power and vanquish his enemies, the “wicked” of the nations around them. Then, God’s kingdom would be established because God had destroyed all his enemies. Only the righteous would be left to be God’s Kingdom. They assumed they were the righteous who would survive the judgment, and their enemies would not survive.

When Jesus comes and proclaims himself as Messiah, he spends much of his time talking about the Kingdom of God, because it was the role of the Messiah to establish God’s kingdom on earth. Much of his teaching deals with the fact that God’s way of establishing his Kingdom on earth would be very different than their expectations:

Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Luke 17:20-21)

Jesus explained that the kingdom was not going to be established by a sudden, great war to kill all the wicked, but would grow like a mustard seed, as each person repented and enthroned God as their king. It would be a spiritual kingdom that would expand as people heard about the mercy of God, that he would forgive their sins and they could have new life as his people.

It would be good news to the poor in spirit, those who were humble and realized their need to repent, but not to the arrogant who wanted his judgment to fall on the other “sinners.” God would hold off his judgment, allowing the wheat and tares to grow together: he would allow his kingdom to grow in the midst of evil, rather than wiping it out. Only at the end would Jesus return as judge between good and evil, and then his kingdom would be fully established and have its greatest glory.

Jesus explained that God’s way of establishing his kingdom over the whole world was just the opposite of what humans had imagined. The Messiah had come to extend mercy to humanity rather than judgment. God’s kingdom would be established by the atoning death of the Messiah, by which sinners, even the most wicked, could enter by repenting of their sins and being forgiven. In that way, God’s kingdom could expand as the whole world would hear about his amazing grace. Jesus came and brought God’s kingdom to earth, and its expansion is unstoppable, as God’s spirit is poured out, the lost are found, and God’s glory fills the whole earth.

For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea! (Habakkuk 2:14)

The Kingdom Breaks Forth

In Matthew 2:6 we read a famous prophecy from Micah about the town of Bethlehem:

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. (Micah 5:2)

This is one of several messianic passages in the minor prophets, especially in the book of Micah. Another prophecy in Micah describes the coming of the kingdom of God. It brings together much of the Messianic prophesy of the Old Testament, and Jesus uses it to describe his mission.

I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob; I will surely bring together the remnant of Israel. I will bring them together like sheep in a pen, like a flock in its pasture; the place will throng with people. One who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out. Their king will pass through before them, the LORD at their head. (Micah 2:12-13)

This passage was understood as quite messianic in the time of Jesus. To us, however, it doesn’t make a lot of sense unless we understand the imagery behind it.

Regathering His People

It begins by describing the gathering of the remnant of Israel. What does that mean? At the end of the book of Deuteronomy, God forewarns Israel that they will wander from the covenant he made with them. He says that if they forsake him, they will lose the promised land, where they worshiped him and will be scattered to different lands, where they will serve other gods.

However, he promises that if they repent, he will regather this remnant of his people who seek him. To “regather” doesn’t just refer to a physical gathering. It also speaks of a spiritual regathering. God will give them hearts to worship him, to bring them back to him. Deuteronomy 30 says,

So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, … and you call them to mind in all nations where the LORD your God has banished you, and you return to the LORD your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, then the LORD your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you….Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live. (Deut 30: 1-3, 6)

Even back when Israel made the covenant, God promised them that even after they broke his covenant, God would search them out and bring them back to him again if they repented. Several times in the Old Testament, God is described as a shepherd that will search for his people (see Jer. 23, Ezek. 34). When Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd, he is claiming that he is the fulfillment this promise.

The Flock and the Shepherd

Looking back at the Micah passage, it says the flock will be gathered together like many sheep in a pen, and “one who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out.” What does this mean? Here, you need to know how shepherds took care of sheep in biblical times.

The shepherd would lead the sheep around open land to graze all day, and at evening, would herd them into a makeshift pen made out of boulders rolled near the mouth of a cave. Sometimes the shepherd would even sleep just inside the rocks so that he blocked the exit for the sheep himself, as if he was the “gate” for the sheep (think of John 10:7-9).

In the morning, one of the shepherd’s helpers would “break open the way” by pushing aside a boulder, so that the sheep could exit from their overnight confinement. The sheep wouldn’t just leave calmly: they would be hungry, wanting to graze and have their freedom, and they would burst out in a stampede, breaking through the other boulders in their way. The shepherd would exit along with them, and they would follow the shepherd out to pasture.

In the time of Jesus, the passage in Micah 2 was understood to be messianic. They knew two figures were supposed to come, a messenger to prepare the way, and the Messiah, who was going to be a king who would reign over his people. In this passage, they imagined that the “one who breaks open the way” was the messenger, who would cause people to repent and be ready for the Messiah, and then the Messiah was the shepherd with the sheep. Interestingly, the passage says that the Shepherd is the LORD, hinting that the Messiah is God himself! We can see how this would apply to John the Baptist and Jesus.

The picture in this prophecy is really that of a people who are full of joy at the coming of their Messiah. Like sheep that are stampeding out of their pen after a night of being confined, the “sheep” of the messianic shepherd will be exuberant at his coming, and eager to follow where ever he leads. A very similar thing is said in another messianic passage in Malachi:

But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. (Mal. 4:2 )

The Kingdom Suffers Violence, or Bursts Forth?

It is not immediately clear to us that Jesus speaks about this image in Micah 2, because difficulties in translation have obscured the meaning of the passage. Older translations of Matt 11:12 read,

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.

As it has been translated, it sounds as if Jesus was talking about the kingdom “suffering violence” in terms of the persecution he and John went through. Some have even said that Jesus was advocating a kind of violence in order to be a part of it.

It has been assumed that the kingdom is the victim of violence. The word “suffers” is not literally there in Greek at all: it is a way to explain how the kingdom and “violent” can be connected. However, the word for “violence,” biazo in Greek, can also mean “forceful,” or “bursting out.” Biazo can even mean “explosive,” poretz in Hebrew, which is the word used in Micah 2.

Instead of the kingdom being victim of violence, it appears Jesus is describing the bursting out of the kingdom! In the New International Version (1984) this verse is translated:

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.

Jesus appears to be alluding to the bursting out of the sheep with their shepherd, as in the Micah 2 passage. He is speaking of John the Baptist as the “breaker” who has begun the explosive effect of the kingdom of God on earth. A similar verse appears in Luke 16:

The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing (biazo) his way into it. (Luke 16:16)

What does this mean?

This is one more example of how we see Jesus using the messianic imagery of the Old Testament to describe the amazing implications of the Kingdom of God being among them. He is saying that God had begun doing a powerful new thing on earth at the coming of John the Baptist, who with his ministry called people toward repentance.

Now that he the Messiah had come, the movement was exploding outward, as people were filled with joy at the coming of their redeemer and telling others about him. This movement was like yeast or a mustard seed that had started small, but was rapidly gaining force and power. When people realized its worth, like a pearl of great price, they were excitedly forcing their way into it.

Jesus is giving us a potent picture of the fulfillment of the promise of the ages: the Lord would come to his people, to forgive their sins and restore their relationship with him. The messianic age had arrived with his coming! The Spirit of God would propel this movement outward until it would fill the whole earth.

It is easy for us to become complacent, to feel that the need to grow and expand has waned. From this passage, it seems that Jesus is reminding his followers of the force behind them, that the Spirit was bursting out on earth in an entirely new way, and they should be filled with excitement. So should we be too!

Gracious, Compassionate, Slow to Anger

Like many prophets, Joel tells the nation how angry God is with their sins, and then warns of a time of judgment that is coming if they don’t repent. But then, surprisingly, he says:

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “Return to me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments.” Now return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of evil. (Joel 2:12-13)

This description of God, that he is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness…” is quoted nine times in the Old Testament. The first place that this is heard is on Mt. Sinai, when the Lord passes by and shows all his glory to Moses, and utters these profound words about himself:

The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. (Ex. 34:6)

Because they are God’s own revelation about himself, they are some of the most important words in all of the Bible about the nature of God. It begins with God saying his divine name, so holy that for thousands of years Jews including Jesus did not utter it out loud, even to this day. Then it describes his great mercy, patience and willingness to forgive even the worst sin.

This description of God comes up several times in the psalms (Ps. 86, 103, & 145 and others) and was probably part of many worship liturgies during Bible times. It is traditionally called by Jews the “Thirteen Attributes of God,” counting thirteen ways God’s mercy is described, though some are not obvious as we read it. The Jewish people still recite this every morning as part of their congregational prayers, and every time they read from the Torah. On Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement, and on other fast days, many prayers focus on this verse.

In the Exodus passage, God says another thing about himself that is usually not included with the first verse when it it is quoted later in the Bible:

…Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation” (Ex. 34:7)

The reason for not including this, according to rabbinic scholars, is because of the words of Ezekiel 18, which say that children who are innocent are not punished for the sins of their fathers. They interpret the verse about God’s punishment of children as only applicable as long as the children do not repent, but carry on in their father’s sin.

While God does not let the unrepentant go unpunished, he is ultimately forgiving. Therefore, in Jewish prayers, they focus on the first verse about his mercy.

In the book of Jonah, this passage used in anger with God. God sent Jonah to Ninevah to warn them of God’s judgment, and Jonah ran the other way to Tarshish. Why? Jonah knew about the incredible cruelty of the Assyrians in war, who were well-known for the horrific things they did to their prisoners. He knew that of all peoples, they deserved punishment.

Finally, he did go to Ninevah to tell them to repent, and they did! When God saw how they turned from their evil ways, he did not bring the destruction he had threatened — and Jonah was outraged at God’s mercy. We read:

He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 3:10-4:3)

It is amazing to hear that Jonah is so furious with God for his forgiveness, he wishes he was dead. What a contrast between the emotions of sinful humanity and the grace of a holy, but compassionate God! While we usually look to the New Testament for stories of God’s mercy, we find one of the most powerful accounts of God’s grace in the Old Testament in the book of Jonah.

Christians sometimes think that the God of the Old Testament was an angry, unforgiving God, until he poured out his wrath on Jesus. Yet we see here that when God reveals himself in all his glory, he describes himself in terms of his grace, love and mercy.

His mercy runs through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Because Jesus says he does nothing but what he sees his father in Heaven doing, we know that his life and death reflects his Father’s great desire: that we be forgiven and reconciled with him.

Seeing Prophecy Through Jesus

Both the book of Daniel and the book of Revelation are apocalyptic in nature, meaning they are filled with visions of end times. Christians spend a lot of time discussing the end times and have many viewpoints on how to read prophetic material.

One way to gain wisdom about prophecy is to look at it through the life and words of Jesus. How prophecy was fulfilled at his coming? What did he himself say about it?

Surprisingly, according to Jesus, God doesn’t necessarily fulfill prophecy as we think. Many of the prophecies that describe the coming of the Messiah also describe a time of judgment by God. For instance, in Luke 1:17, the angel tells Zechariah that his son John “will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children.”

The angel was quoting a prophecy from Malachi which says,

Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse. (Mal. 4:5-6)

The Malachi passage appears to describe the “great and terrible day of the Lord” as coming right at the time of Elijah. John the Baptist knew scripture well, and in his ministry we hear him preaching that judgment is right around the corner, in accordance with his scriptures.

These prophecies are also the reason why John sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one to come, or should we look for another?” John knew he was to be the “messenger” prophesied in Malachi 3, and he had expectations for the one coming after him:

See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap… So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty. (Mal 3:1-2, 4-5)

John’s question for Jesus came from the fact that Jesus wasn’t fulfilling prophecy as he expected. It appears he was thinking that Jesus would be a mighty warrior who would destroy the wicked, including those who had imprisoned him.

Jesus replies by quoting other prophecies about the Messiah, that “the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Luke 7:22-23). John probably still believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but he was asking the question to show how perplexed he was at how Jesus fulfilled prophecy.

Jesus specifically avoids passages about vengeance, demonstrating that his ministry is one of healing and forgiveness. In one place, Jesus selectively quotes a passage to avoid words about judgment. In Luke 4, he says,

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18 -19)

He is quoting from Isaiah 61, but stops in mid-sentence, because after “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” it goes on to say, “and the day of vengeance of our God.” Jesus made a point of saying that he was the Messiah, and that his time on earth then was to bring forgiveness and a new relationship with God, but the judgment would come later. He was to suffer as in Isaiah 53, and only later come to judge and to reign.

Often, Christians say that Jesus’ people rejected him as Messiah because they just wanted a political leader, not a spiritual leader. It is more likely that many rejected him because he did not fit their reading of prophecy. They wanted vengeance and expected Jesus to come in judgment, as the Bible appeared to say.

Even Jesus’ disciples were waiting for him to announce when he would begin the war, and they would take their thrones to reign in power. They expected he would kill all his enemies, and then usher in a great messianic age where he would reign as Prince of Peace.

Instead, he fulfilled the prophecies about the “suffering one” in Isaiah 53, who by his own death would justify many and make atonement for their sins. He ushered in the Kingdom of God by his death, not by war. Only in his second coming will he come in judgment.

God surprised everyone, even the most faithful, in the coming of Jesus. It should humble us to realize that he does not use our logic to fulfill prophecy, and should make us very careful to say we have definitive knowledge about the future from Bible prophecy. Jesus said of his second coming, “of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Mark 13:32).

One thing Jesus does say about his second coming that we often hear is the need to repent and to be prepared. He will return when he is least expected. As Peter says, God is not tarrying: he is waiting patiently for as many to come to faith to avoid judgment as possible. As we read Revelation and other prophecies about the end, it should give us a special urgency to share the gospel and live lives that are a witness to Christ.

Son of God, Son of Man

The book of Daniel has many symbolic visions, and even though they are strange, some of them are very important for describing the coming of Jesus and his kingdom. One of the most important passages is in Daniel 7:13-14:

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

This passage is about the Messianic king. God had promised David that one of his own offspring would have a kingdom without end (2 Sam 7:13), and this is who is being described here. Daniel has visions of many kingdoms rising to power, but the final kingdom that conquers them all is this kingdom of the Messiah. This is the scene of the the great King coming to take his seat of honor and receive authority over all creation.

The most significant part of this passage is the description of the Messiah as “one like a son of man.” The term “son of man” is often used poetically in the Old Testament to refer to a human being. Often, it emphasizes that the human being is merely mortal and not divine, like in Psalm 8:

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens… what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:1, 4)

Many Christians have assumed that when Jesus uses the phrase to describe himself, he is emphasizing his humanity. That appears to be true in some places. However, people are often unaware that the phrase “Son of Man” was one of the most powerful Messianic claims, because of this passage in Daniel that describes the incredible glory that is given to this particular “Son of Man,” who is also the Son of David who is the Messianic King.

When we now look closer at how Jesus uses the phrase “Son of Man” to refer to himself, we can see that he is often referring to himself in terms of this passage.

If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:26)

At that time, the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. (Matt. 24:30 )

We can see in these scenes the Son of Man coming in the clouds, and the picture of Jesus having great glory, just as in Daniel. Here, Jesus is hinting to his great glory as the Messiah by alluding to these passages, as he does many places.

While Jesus frequently refers to himself using the term “Son of Man,” it is rare in the rest of the New Testament for anyone else to refer to him in this way. In the places where they do, they are clearly reflecting the picture of the glorious messiah in Daniel 7:

Stephen, about to be stoned to death, looks up and says, “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56)

And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a Son of Man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. (Revelation 1:13-14, see also Rev 14:14)

The passage in Daniel predicting the Son of Man coming in glory is central to what Jesus says about his own future, and is a prominent image in the New Testament to describe the glorified Christ on the throne in heaven. This explains Jesus’ usage of the term as prophetic toward his return as judge at the end of time, and also shows that he didn’t regard himself only as a humble human being, but as the predicted messiah who would have a kingdom without end.

The Suffering of the Son of Man

While it is clear that Son of Man is often used by Jesus to describe himself as the Messianic King who has authority, glory and power, he also says something paradoxical— that the Son of Man must suffer and die:

Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? (Mark 9:12) 

And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Luke 9:22)

One scholar, Dr. Steve Notley, has shared his hypothesis of how the Jewish people had come to understand who the “Son of Man” was going to be. In the few hundred years before Jesus, during the rule of the Greeks, the Jews had suffered terribly for trying to be faithful to God. This was very difficult for them to understand theologically, because before they had been attacked by enemies when they lapsed into idolatry, but now they were killed if they were faithful to God. They began to ask how could God bring justice to all the people who had been killed because they refused to forsake him.

The Jews looked back to their scriptures and saw the first innocent victim of murder in the Bible, Abel. He was murdered by his brother Cain, after God accepted his worship because he was more righteous than Cain (Genesis 4:4-8, 1 John 3:12). Abel became the forerunner and representative of all the righteous people that had been killed for being faithful.

Jesus says so in Matt. 23:35: “And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.”

They noted that Abel was the son of Adam, or ben Adam. In Hebrew “adam” can be a proper name, or it can just mean “man” or “human,” so “ben adam” can mean either son of Adam or Son of Man. They imagined that in Daniel 7, the messianic king who came on the clouds of heaven was one like Abel, the first Son of Adam, who had died for being righteous.

Like him, he would suffer and be murdered, but then would come on the clouds in glory to judge. It appears they understood that the reason God gave Jesus authority to rule over all mankind is precisely because he walked on earth as a human, and suffered and died as a righteous man!

This understanding of “Son of Man” links two paradoxical things we have known about the messiah, that he would suffer and die, as in Isaiah 53, but yet he would be a victorious king, as in Daniel 7. This has been a problem for many, and some even postulate that two messiahs would need to come: one to suffer, and one to reign.

This figure of the Son of Man would first die as a righteous man, then would be resurrected to glory, and be given authority to judge. It is fascinating that Jesus could link, extract, and create multidimensional meanings with such a “simple” phrase to teach us so much about himself!

Living Water Flowing…

Ezekiel is a strange book, filled with symbolic visions that are hard to understand. Several of these images describe the coming of Jesus and his kingdom.

In Ezekiel 47, the prophet has a vision where he observes a little trickle of water flowing out from under the threshold of the temple. The trickle becomes ankle-deep after walking 1000 cubits downstream, and then further down it becomes knee-deep, then waist-deep, and then finally it becomes a river so deep and wide that it can’t be crossed.

Throughout the Bible, it is understood that God is the source of living water, or mayim hayim: rain or springs that deliver life-giving, precious water to this dry land. In Eden, water flows out from the garden, where God dwells with man, and in Rev. 22:1, a river flows from under God’s throne.

In Jer. 17:13, God is called the “source of living water.” Living water is a picture of the Holy Spirit, God’s presence that flows out from him into this world. Several times, God promises to pour out his Spirit on the world in the last days:

For I will pour out water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring and My blessing on your descendants; they will spring up among the grass like poplars by streams of water. (Is. 44:3-4)

In the gospel of John we read this same idea:

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39)

It is beautiful to see how the image of living water flowing from the temple in Ezekiel 47 describes the outpouring of the Spirit that occurred at Pentecost. The Spirit first fell on the people at the temple as they were worshiping there, as tongues of flame settled on them. It was as if the Spirit started trickling out of the sanctuary to that little “puddle” of believers.

The trickle became ankle deep as they shared the gospel and many in the city believed, and then knee deep as they carried the gospel to the surrounding countries. Instead of running out of energy as it flowed, the river of God’s Spirit got deeper and wider as it flowed.

Ezekiel tells us even more about this river of God’s Spirit and its effects:

On the bank of the river there were very many trees on the one side and on the other. Then he said to me, “These waters go out toward the eastern region and go down into the Arabah; then they go toward the sea, being made to flow into the sea, and the waters of the sea become fresh. “It will come about that every living creature which swarms in every place where the river goes, will live. And there will be very many fish, for these waters go there and the others become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. “And it will come about that fishermen will stand beside it; from En-Gedi to En-Eglaim there will be a place for the spreading of nets. Their fish will be according to their kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea, very many. “But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. “By the river on its bank, on one side and on the other, will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither and their fruit will not fail. They will bear every month because their water flows from the sanctuary, and their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing.” (Ezek 47:1-12)

This picture describes the river flowing from Jerusalem southeast until it reaches the Dead Sea, about twelve miles away. The Dead Sea and the surrounding country is an image of total desolation. No fish or wildlife live in or near it, and surrounding it is a wasteland in which nothing grows because of the high salt content of the soil.

The vision describes a stream that can accomplish the seemingly impossible, to heal the poisoned land and the dead water. This is what the Spirit can do, bring life to the spiritually dead, and bring healing to what looks hopeless. The trees remind us of Psalm 1:3 and Isa. 44:4: they are people who bear much fruit because of God’s presence in their lives. Even in times of drought, they bear fruit because their source of living water is without fail.

The En-Gedi Resource Center gets its name from this passage and others. En-Gedi is a spring in this area of the Judean desert near the Dead Sea. The Essenes in Jesus’ time decided to live in camps at En-Gedi and Qumran, a few miles away. They were convinced that God would soon make this vision a reality, and make the desolate land a paradise. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found at Qumran, evidence of their expectant waiting for God’s outpouring of living water.

We choose the name of En-Gedi because we want to be like it ourselves. En-Gedi is an oasis, a place of refreshment in the bleak desert. Jesus said that “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life,” (John 4:14) and also of those who believe in him, “from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38)

Encouraging Evidence

In the early 20th century, scholars had a profound cynicism about the historicity of the Bible. This was mainly because very little archaeology had been done, and scholars didn’t understand the results well enough to see the evidence that was there.

Just in the past twenty years, key evidence has been found for many of the characters in the biblical text. For instance, in 1990, the ossuary of the family of Caiaphas the high priest was found, and some of the bones that were found were those of a man in his 60’s, presumably Caiaphas himself. We even have the very bones of one of the people present at the trial of Jesus. Inscriptions with the names of Herod, Pilate and others have also been found. Next time you read the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, think about that!

Christians tend to be intimidated by scholarship and are fearful of higher study, feeling that it is more spiritual to not fill our heads with lots of facts. This is unfortunate because if we believe that God is who he says, and that the message of the gospel is true, we should not lose confidence that it will hold up under scrutiny.

The “good news” is that the archaeological evidence points our way, and we can study with integrity and see that the story holds up. If anything, the message only gets stronger when put into its native context.

In my own “walk,” I have found that the more knowledge I have under my belt about the evidence for the scriptures, even for potential difficulties in the text, the more bold my witness has been. Before, I felt like the ground I stood on was a tiny patch of knowledge. I was poised on one foot trying to keep my balance while defending it from others, as well as from my own doubts! The more I study, the more the ground becomes solid around me, and the bolder I become in sharing with others.

Jews say that “study is the highest form of worship” — and it is, because the more we study the real world, the more the reality becomes clear that God truly is here, and that he is acting powerfully in our midst.

The Fragrance of Christ

 

Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:3)

In Matthew 26 we read the story of Jesus being anointed by Mary with very expensive perfume. Most Christians focus on the story of the anointing as pointing towards Christ’s death at the end of the week, because of Jesus’ comment that she did it to prepare for the day of his burial (Matt 26:12).

Another thing was likely going on, however, that would have been obvious to the disciples, so obvious that Jesus didn’t even need to mention it. While fragrant oils were used on the dead, they were also used to anoint kings. Mary’s extravagant, worshipful action was quite likely intended as her own personal declaration of Jesus as the “Anointed One,” the mashiach in Hebrew, or christos in Greek.

Usually, the ceremony of anointment was reserved only for sacred objects in the Temple and for anointing priests and kings, to show that they had been chosen by God. Instead of being crowned during a coronation, kings were anointed with sacred oil that was perfumed with extremely expensive spices, making it like diamonds in terms of its preciousness. The fragrant, flowing oil was like an invisible crown that conferred an aura of holiness. Everything that had that unique scent would be known to all as God’s special possession. 

After their initial anointing, kings would anoint themselves with other precious scented oils for special occasions. We read that both king David and Solomon did this:

(From a psalm for King David) You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of joy above Your fellows. All Your garments are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia. (Ps. 45:7-8)

What is this coming up from the wilderness like columns of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all scented powders of the merchant? Behold, it is the traveling couch of Solomon; sixty mighty men around it, of the mighty men of Israel. (S. of Sol. 3:6-7)

In ancient times, the majesty of a king would be obvious to those around him, not only because of the jewels and robes that he wore, but by the scent of extremely expensive oils that were poured on him. These royal figures would parade through the streets with the fragrance of the oils, telling all of the bystanders a king was passing by. We see this after the anointing of Solomon, who is placed on a donkey and parades through the streets of Jerusalem, while people stand by and cheer:

So Zadok the priest… went down and had Solomon ride on King David’s mule, and brought him to Gihon. Zadok the priest then took the horn of oil from the tent and anointed Solomon. Then they blew the trumpet, and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!” All the people went up after him, and the people were playing on flutes and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth shook at their noise. (1Kings 1:38-40)

As much as anointing portrayed a person as being set apart by God for a purpose, the ultimate “Anointed One,” that everyone hoped for was the Messiah, the Christ, the King of Kings who God would someday send to reign over the earth.

Mary’s action was not an “official” anointing, but an expression of her own extravagant, worshipful love of Jesus. She knew that he was the one that God had chosen to redeem the world and reign over it as Messiah and Lord.

I wonder if Jesus’ comment about her preparing him for his burial is somewhat ironic, because she intended to glorify him, but he saw her action as pointing toward his suffering and death. Indeed, it was through that death that he was glorified! But I’m not sure that Mary would have thought of it at the time, given that all of Jesus’ disciples failed to grasp the greater plan.

Yet, this scene has profound implications for Jesus’ final week before his death. Jesus owned only one garment that he wore every day, and washing and bathing were not done daily. Because of Mary’s anointing, Jesus likely smelled like royalty during the final week of his life. In a very subtle way, God gave the people who interacted with Jesus a powerful message about him. Every where he went, he smelled like a king!

John 12 relates that the very next day after his anointing, Jesus rode on a donkey on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, in a scene very reminiscent of the coronation of Solomon. As he rode past, the people who were cheering must have sniffed the air and said, “It was a king that just passed by!”

Imagine the passion week in that light. As Judas entered the garden with the guards to arrest him, the guards must have sniffed the air and wondered what royalty stood before them. As he stood trial, was mocked and stripped naked, this aroma would have quietly clung to him, suggesting who they were beating. Even when the tomb was empty except for his grave clothes, that odor would have wafted in the air when the women entered. What an amazing God we have!

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. (2 Cor. 2:14-16).

The Great Shepherd

When we hear the term “the Good Shepherd,” many of us immediately think of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…” But there are actually several messianic passages about “the Shepherd” in the Old Testament, and we can learn a lot about Jesus’ mission and message by what these passages say about him. Let’s look at a few:

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” … He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And He will be their peace. (Micah 5:2, 4-5)

We can see many truths about Jesus as our shepherd even in this passage. It says that he will be born in Bethlehem, like his ancestor David, who was a shepherd. His origins are from many ages ago, suggesting that he was co-eternal with his Father. It says he would have a kingdom that would expand to the ends of the world, and that he himself would be the source of the peace of his people. What powerful words!

Another passage about the shepherd describes his suffering too. Jesus quotes Zechariah 13 which says,

“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man, my Associate (one who is close to me),” declares the LORD of hosts. “Strike the shepherd that the sheep may be scattered; and I will turn my hand against the little ones. (Zech. 13:7)

This passage suggests that the messiah would have an especially close relationship with God, but yet God would allow him to be attacked and harmed by others. Jesus quotes this passage to tell his disciples that he expects to suffer, and that they as his “sheep” would be scattered: they would abandon him at his death (Matt 26:31, Mark 14:27).

Another passage where the shepherd is mentioned is in Isaiah 40. There, we hear about a person who would come before him who would be a voice crying out, “In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.” We recognize this as the passage referring to John the Baptist (Jn 1:23). The rest of the passage talks about the shepherd who is coming after him:

A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. …You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, His reward is with him, and His recompense accompanies Him. He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; He gently leads those that have young. (Isaiah 40:3, 9-11)

Here, the amazing thing is that the shepherd who comes after the one who calls out is actually the Lord God himself! If this passage is about John the Baptist and Jesus, the implications are quite clear — the Messiah that John was proclaiming would be God incarnate.

Many messianic prophecies describe the coming of a great king, but do not explicitly say that he would be divine. This one, however, seems to imply that the LORD himself will come as the shepherd.

One of the most important passages about the Good Shepherd is in Ezekiel 34. It also has some very powerful things to say about the Shepherd:

For thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day.” “I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest,” declares the Lord GOD. “I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick; but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with judgment. “As for you, My flock, thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, I will judge between one sheep and another, between the rams and the male goats. …“ (Ezek. 34:11-12,15-17)

This passage contains several rich things that are in the background of Jesus’ statements about himself. We can hear the background of Jesus’ parable about the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to look for the one lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7), or when he said he will judge between the sheep and the goats when he returns (Matt. 25:31-34). We even find a reference to this passage in his words to Zacchaeus: “…the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:9-10).

The Ezekiel passage clearly says it would be God himself who would come to seek out his lost sheep, and Jesus repeatedly says he is the fulfillment of these words. Through this, his listeners would have heard his very bold claim that not only is he the Messiah, he is God incarnate, coming to earth to rescue his people.