Visitation

Luke’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem included a unique aspect of his approach that revealed Jesus’ feelings at the time. Luke reported:

And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thy eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee: and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation. (Luke 19:41-44)

Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem showed his foreknowledge of the end result of his ministry. The Jews rejection of their Messiah would bring about a severe punishment of their nation and divine sentence against their false religion.

The Greek term translated visitation in Luke 19:44 is episcope (ep-is-kop-ay´). “This word expresses that act by which God looks into and searches out the ways, deeds, and character of men in order to adjudge them their lot accordingly, whether joyous or sad” (G1984). One of the reasons Jesus came to Earth was to show God’s people he was a real person and was able to see everything that was going on in the physical realm. Jesus existed before he was born as a man and was involved in God’s work which included the creation of the universe (John 1:1-3). Jesus was sad when he looked down on the city of Jerusalem because in spite of all he had done to demonstrate God’s love and concern for his chosen people, they were not interested in the kind of salvation he had to offer them: peace with God and their fellow man.

Jesus’ visitation to Earth culminated in a series of orchestrated activities during the final week of his life. One of those activities was a private dinner at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. John said of this event, “Much of the people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus” (John 12:9-11). The authenticity of the miracle Jesus performed was indisputable. Therefore, the religious leaders knew that in order to stop his work they had to not only get rid of Jesus, but also the evidence of his miraculous power; Lazarus, the man that he had brought back to life.

Matthew indicated that Jesus lodged in Bethany (Matthew 21:17), most likely at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus until his arrest a few days later. During that time, Jesus had an opportunity to fellowship with some of his closest friends and associates of his ministry. Jesus may have intended to lay the groundwork for the church that would be established in that area after his resurrection. Jesus’ visit with the believers in Bethany and Bethphage was probably filled with both joyous and sad moments. One thing that is certain is that Jesus knew he was going to die before the end of the week and wanted to spend as much time as possible preparing his followers for what lay ahead.

 

Baptism

John’s baptism was meant to cleanse sinners from the stains upon their spirits that caused them to separate themselves from God. Just like Adam in the garden of Eden, everyone that commits a sin against God knows that he is guilty and deserves to be punished for what he has done. The key to understanding the effect of John’s baptism was to realize that God didn’t want people to live with the guilt they felt for the rest of their lives and had made a way for their sins to be removed from their spiritual awareness. The description of John’s ministry found in Mark 1:4 states, “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” The Greek word translated remission basically means freedom, but it also has a legal connotation that suggests a pardon, such as when a prisoner is set free and is forgiven of his offense. Although John’s baptism was welcomed and there were many who took advantage of his offer of forgiveness, John made it clear that he was preparing the way for Israel’s Messiah, Jesus. “And he preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the lachet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost” (Mark 1:7-8).

John’s baptism of Jesus is recorded in all four of the gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Although the details vary, there is one aspect of Jesus’ baptism that is the same throughout, the arrival of the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit on the earth. Mark described it this way, “And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: and there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:10-11). The baptism of the Holy Spirit was different than John’s baptism because it signified the beginning of a new life. Not only did God intend to forgive the sins of those who accepted his Son as their Savior, but he also wanted to enable believers to live a life similar to that of Jesus Christ, one that would be consistent with his commandments. The Holy Spirit, who is also God in the same way that Jesus is, dwells within believers and causes them to be convicted or aware of their sins. The Holy Spirit’s job is to cause believers to repent and to seek out God’s will for their lives. Only through the Holy Spirit can one really understand what it means to be a child of God. Without the help of the Holy Spirit, no one can realize what Christianity is really all about.

John recognized that Jesus did not need to be baptized by him, because he had no sins to repent of. John tried to forbid him from doing it, but Jesus persisted, “And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). What Jesus was saying was that the Holy Spirit needed to be introduced to humanity through his own baptism. You could say that Jesus’ baptism was symbolic of the baptism of everyone that would follow in his footsteps. As the Holy Spirit descended upon him, Jesus represented all of mankind in its sinful state being reborn by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit appeared immediately after Jesus was raised up out of the water (Mark 1:10), because it is the Holy Spirit’s presence that regenerates the believer’s heart and makes him alive spiritually or what we think of now as being “born again” (John 3:3). In his first gospel message, Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Jesus’ instruction to believe the gospel was intended to be a reminder that repentance was not enough. In order to be truly born again, one must believe that a new way of life is possible.

Filled with the Holy Ghost

The miraculous birth of John the Baptist was accompanied by the unusual involvement of the Holy Spirit in not only John’s life, but also in the lives of his parents. It says in Luke 1:15 that John was “filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.” Although there could be several explanations as to why John needed to be filled with God’s Spirit before he was born, the most obvious was that God hard wired John’s supernatural intelligence into his genetic code when he created him. Therefore, John’s mind couldn’t function properly without the help of the Holy Ghost, or Holy Spirit. John’s mother, Elizabeth was also filled with the Holy Spirit before her son was born (Luke 1:41). The last family member to be filled with the Spirit was John’s father Zacharias. After Zacharias confirmed that his son’s name was to be John as foretold by the angel Gabriel, it says in Luke 1:64-67:

And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake; and praised God. and fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judea. And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him. And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost.

Prior to the birth of John the Baptist, there was only one instance where someone was filled with the spirit of God (Exodus 31:3). Afterward, it wasn’t until the day of Pentecost when everyone who believed in Jesus Christ was “filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:4) that the Holy Spirit was fully manifested in the world. When someone was filled with the Holy Spirit, it meant that God himself was dwelling inside the person. Apparently, before Jesus was conceived, it was only possible for the Holy Spirit to dwell in one person at a time. The fact that John, his mother Elizabeth, and father Zachariah were all filled with the Holy Spirit at the same time demonstrated that things had changed dramatically. God’s presence in the world was no longer limited; he could be in many places at the same time through the indwelling of his Holy Spirit.

Outward appearances

A discouraging aspect of the rebuilt temple was that it didn’t measure up to the same standard that the first temple had. Solomon’s temple was magnificent. Its outward appearance was stunning. Before his death, King David had laid out plans and stored up materials for the temple’s construction. In one of his last speeches to the people of Israel, David said, “Solomon my son is young and tender, and the house that is to be builded for the LORD must be exceeding magnifical, of fame and of glory throughout all countries” (1 Chronicles 22:5). In essence, David was saying that God’s temple had to be more impressive than any other building on earth. The words David used to describe the temple’s outward appearance, fame (8034) and glory (8597), suggest that David wanted God’s earthly home to be the epitome of his divine character.

In his second message to the people that had returned from exile in Babylon, the prophet Haggai focused on their delay in rebuilding God’s temple. Haggai asked them, “Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? And how do you see it now? Is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?” (Haggai 2:3). The people knew they could not replicate the awesome appearance of God’s first temple and probably felt it was a wasted effort for them to even try to build something that wouldn’t measure up to the previous temple’s standard, but God encouraged them to go forward. He said, “Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the LORD; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts” (Haggai 2:4). The Hebrew word translated work, asah is associated with creation and could indicate a partnership between God and his people in constructing the temple. At the very least, God was telling the people that their effort was necessary for his work to be completed.

God’s people were probably shocked when they learned that the reconstructed temple would surpass the former one in its glory. Haggai told them, “The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace” (Haggai 2:9). The reason the reconstructed temple would be more glorious than the first one was not because of its outward appearance, but because Jesus would be there. When Christ came to the earthy temple, God’s presence was evident as it had never been before (note on Haggai 2:7). The Apostle John declared, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, “And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,” full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). God’s temple was supposed to make it possible for him to dwell among his people. In actuality, the purpose of the temple was to remind the people that he was not there.

God’s time-table

The reconstructed temple in Jerusalem was finished on March 12, 586 B.C., almost 70 years after its destruction (note on Ezra 6:15). Darius the king of Persia was primarily responsible for this accomplishment because of a decree he made to help the Jews.  He said to Tatnai, governor beyond the river, Shethar-boznai, and his companions  the Apharsachites, who were making trouble for the Jews, “Moreover I make a decree what ye shall do to the elders of these Jews for the building of this house of God: that of the king’s goods, even of the tribute beyond the river, forthwith expences be given unto these men, that they be not hindered” (Ezra 6:8). The Aramaic word translated hindered, betel (bet – ale´) means to stop (989). This word corresponds to the Hebrew word batel (baw – tale´)  which means to desist from labor (988). Basically, Darius was commanding that resources be given to the Jews so that their work could be continuous until the temple was completed. In other words, he expected the men to work night and day or around the clock until they were finished.

God’s time-table for the Jews’ captivity appears to have been based on the destruction of his temple in 586 B.C. and the finish of the temple’s reconstruction in 516 B.C., seventy years later. These events were probably meant to be noticeable milestones that would alert the Jews to their status with respect to God’s predetermined period for their captivity. The reason God chose to use the temple’s destruction and rebuilding as markers on his time-table was most likely its connection to his presence among his people. An interesting thing to note about the second temple was the most holy place remained empty after its reconstruction “because the ark of the covenant had been lost through the Babylonian conquest” (note on Ezra 6:15). Although the absence of the ark didn’t seem to keep the Jews from conducting their normal worship services, they may have wondered if God really was there with them because there is no indication that God’s glory ever returned to the temple after it departed during Ezekiel’s ministry (Ezekiel 10:19).

According to Ezekiel’s prophecy, the glory of the Lord would return at a future date (Ezekiel 43:4). It can only be assumed that God’s time-table for complete restoration of his relationship with his people still included future events. After the Jews returned from their captivity, there was evidently a lack of interaction between God and his people. Unlike the first dedication, when Solomon brought the ark into the temple and offered a prayer to God and blessed the people (1 Kings 8), it says in Ezra 6:17 that the children of Israel merely made an offering to God and set the priests in their positions. The only positive outcome as a result of the temple’s completion seemed to be a joyfulness that the Jews were able to celebrate their feasts again (Ezra 6:22).

The sword

The transition that occurred during the Israelites’ period of captivity was focused on a change in the type of relationship God had with his people. Beginning with Abraham, God sought to establish a personal relationship that included ongoing communication between him and his chosen people. Once the nation of Israel came into existence, God’s messages were delivered primarily through prophets that were often ignored and sometimes punished for what they said (Jeremiah 26:11). In order to reestablish communication with his people, God sent them to a place where the absence of his presence would force them to reevaluate their behavior and admit they had been living in sin (Ezekiel 20:43).

A part of God’s judgment of his people was designed to separate out those who wanted salvation from those who thought idolatry would provide for them a better way of life. God told Ezekiel to say to the land of Israel:

Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I am against thee, and will draw forth my sword out of his sheath, and will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked. Seeing then that I will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked, therefore shall my sword go forth out of his sheath against all flesh from the south to the north: that all flesh may know that I the LORD have drawn forth my sword out of his sheath: it shall not return any more. (Ezekiel 21:3-5)

The LORD’s sword was described as a cutting instrument (2719), perhaps a dagger or knife that he could use against his enemies. The reference to drawing the sword out of his sheath rather than its sheath may indicate the sword was not a physical sword, but actually a person. Talking to his disciples about their mission on earth, Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).

Even though Jesus was known as the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), the result of Christ’s coming was conflict “between Christ and the antichrist, between light and darkness, between Christ’s children and the devil’s children” (note on Matthew 10:34). When Jesus was presented in the temple for dedication to the Lord, a man named Simeon was given a special insight by the Spirit so that he would recognize the Christ. It says in Luke 2:28-32, “Then he took him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” Afterward, Simeon spoke directly to Mary, Jesus’ mother and said, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).

In the sixth chapter of the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul talks about putting on the whole armour of God “that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 5:11). In his description of our armour, Paul tells us to “take up the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). Obviously, the armour Paul was talking about was not comprised of physical items that we put on our body. Spiritual warfare must be dealt with in our spiritual capacities that we are not always aware of, so Paul used physical items to relate their usefulness to us, and the means by which we can activate them.

The sword of the LORD was activated when God’s people went into exile. Since we know that Ezekiel was already in exile when he received his message from the LORD, the sword was most likely activated some time after the first wave of refugees was taken to Babylon, but before the fall of Jerusalem took place in 586 B.C. In a symbolic act of mourning, God told Ezekiel to sigh before the eyes of the people. Perhaps also, as a signal to antichrist with whom the spiritual engagement was about to begin to take place, God said, “And thou, profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have an end, thus saith the Lord GOD; remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn it; and it shall be no more until he comes whose right it is; and I will give it him” (Ezekiel 21:25-27).

Face to face

Moses had a unique relationship with God in that the LORD spoke to him face to face, “as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Exodus 33:11). When Moses spoke with God, he didn’t actually see his face. “The Bible clearly teaches that God is a spiritual being and ought not to be depicted by an image or any likeness whatever” (6440). God himself said, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live” (Exodus 33:20). Although it’s impossible to see God, Ezekiel’s vision showed him a man upon a throne that had the appearance of the glory of the LORD (Ezekiel 1:27-28).

Ezekiel’s interaction with the man upon the throne suggests that he was seeing the resurrected Jesus Christ. In other encounters in the Old Testament, when the preincarnate Christ was seen, he did not have the glory of the LORD associated with him. It wasn’t until the book of Revelation was written, after Jesus had ascended, that images of God (Jesus) were depicted in the Bible. Not only did Ezekiel see the man on the throne, but he also heard his voice. It says in Ezekiel 2:1-2, “And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee. And the spirit entered into me when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that heard him that spake unto me.”

Ezekiel’s commission as a prophet was unique in that the spirit that entered into him was able to cause him to do things against his will. As you might think of a person that is demon possessed, Ezekiel was in a sense possessed by an angel or spirit of God. Ezekiel told us that the spirit took him up and supernaturally transported him to another location, against his will. It says in Ezekiel 3:14, “So the spirit lifted me up, and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the LORD was strong upon me.” Ezekiel was furious that God was able to overpower him in such a way, but could not do anything about it.

Afterward, Ezekiel was devastated, as though he had been violated by the spirit. His anger toward God was clearly an impediment to his ability to carry out his mission, and yet, God was determined to use Ezekiel as his spokesman. Seven days later, Ezekiel received a message from the LORD. He said, “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me” (Ezekiel 3:17). Ezekiel was told that if he didn’t warn the people as God instructed him to, he would be held responsible for their eternal damnation (Ezekiel 3:18).

God’s Presence

Although God is invisible, he is not without substance. When the ark was brought into the temple, it says in 1 Kings 8:10-11, “And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of the LORD.”

The word translated cloud, “‘anan is used especially of the ‘cloud mass’ that evidenced the special presence of God” (6051). Solomon intended the temple he built to be an actual home for God because he said, “I have surely built thee a house to dwell in, a settled place for thee to abide in for ever” (1 Kings 8:13).