Heaven on earth

Exodus 24:9-10 tells us that “Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel went up and they saw the God of Israel.” The place that these men went up to isn’t identified, but it can be assumed that they went up to Heaven because the Bible identifies Heaven as the place where God lives. Moses said, “There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness” (Exodus 24:10). In other words, the Lord was standing on something that appeared to be a solid surface, but its transparency made it seem as if he was suspended in mid-air. The Hebrew word shamayim (shaw-mah’-yim), which is translated heaven, describes everything God made besides the earth…The heavens that humans observe with their senses are indicated by this word…The invisible heavens are the abode of God…He dwells in heaven (1 Kings 8:30, 32); yet He is not contained in even the heaven of heavens, the most exclusive part of the heavens (1 Kings 8:27)” (H8064). Luke indicated that after Jesus commissioned his disciples to take his gospel to the whole world (Matthew 28:16-20), “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51).

After the Israelites confirmed their covenant with him, God instructed Moses, “And let them make for me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture so you shall make it” (Exodus 25:8-9). A sanctuary is a physical place of worship (H4720). In that sense, the sanctuary that Moses was expected to make was supposed to be a place where the people could enter into God’s presence and commune with him. This was a distinct privilege that only the Israelites among all the peoples of the world were given because of their relationship and covenant with God. Jesus told his followers, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). The word that Jesus used that is translated midst, mesos (mes’-os) means in the middle (G3319). This is very similar to what was depicted by the sanctuary that traveled with the Israelites wherever they went. Moses was told to construct the sanctuary according to a pattern that was shown to him while he was on top of Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights (Exodus 24:18). “The Lord commanded Moses to build a sanctuary in which he would dwell among his people. It was to be a tabernacle or movable tent that would be suitable for the Israelites’ nomadic lifestyle. The Levites would have responsibility for it (Numbers 18:1-7). Its general designation was ‘the house of the LORD’ (Exodus 34:26), but it was also known as ‘the tabernacle of the testimony’ (Exodus 38:21) because it served as a depository for the tables of the law or testimony. Another designation was the ‘Tent of Meeting’ because the Lord met his people there and the sanctuary was filled with his glory and presence (Exodus 40:34-38). From this tent, God would lead the Israelites on their journey” (Note on Exodus 25:8, 9).

The most prominent feature of the tabernacle was an area identified as the Most Holy Place where the ark that contained the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments engraved on them was kept (Exodus 26:34). The ark was a wooden box that was overlaid with pure gold inside and outside. The ark was approximately 45 inches in length, 27 inches wide, and 27 inches high (Exodus 25:10) and was covered with a solid gold lid that had two cherubim on top of it, one on each end facing toward each other, that were also made of gold (Exodus 25:18-20). The estimated cost of the ark in todays dollars is $28 million and it may have weighed as much as 1300 lbs. It was carried using two poles that were also overlaid with gold and were placed in 4 gold rings, one at each corner of the ark. The gold lid for the ark with the two cherubim on it was called a mercy seat. The LORD told Moses:

Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel. (Exodus 25:19-22)

The mercy seat was symbolic of the covering over of sins that was made possible by the shedding of blood through sacrifice (H3727). The term propitiation was used by both Paul and John to describe what happened when Jesus died on the cross (Romans 3:25, 1 John 2:2). John said, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). It seems likely that the exorbitant cost of making the ark and its mercy seat were meant to represent the priceless cost of our salvation. Paul said that the person that is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him (1 Corinthians 6:17). “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

The image that is created by the cherubim that were on top of the mercy seat was one of intimacy as well as spiritual union. The cherubim were “of one piece” (Exodus 25:19), meaning they were connected to each other and their faces were “one to another” (Exodus 25:20). The Hebrew word that is translated faces, paniym (paw-neem’) is sometimes translated as countenance and refers to the look on one’s face (H6440). Paniym is derived from the word panah (paw-naw’) which means to turn. “Used of intellectual and spiritual turning, this verb signifies attaching oneself to something” and in an even stronger sense “represents dependence on someone” (H6437). It was from between the two cherubim that God spoke to the Israelites. God told Moses, “I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (Exodus 25:22). In other words, God intended to give Moses step by step directions, somewhat like how a GPS system guides us to our desired destination. For this reason, there needed to ongoing communication between God and Moses and a continual awareness of the Israelites’ location.

One of the ways that the phrase “in the midst” (Exodus 25:8) can be translated is “at the heart” (H8432) which suggests the possibility that the tabernacle or perhaps the ark of the testimony was symbolic of the human heart. It seems that the primary purpose of the tabernacle was a depository for the tablets on which God wrote the Ten Commandments (Exodus 25:15). The prophet Jeremiah was given a message about the New Covenant that God intended to establish with his chosen people after they returned from exile. He stated:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

The Hebrew word leb (labe) which means heart, can be used figuratively to represent the centre of anything. “However, it usually refers to some aspect of the immaterial inner self or being since the heart is considered to be the seat of one’s inner nature as well as one of its components” (H3820). God’s ability to write his law on people’s hearts has to do with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In a similar way that the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34), the Holy Spirit fills believers and makes it possible for them to preach the gospel (Acts 4:31).

Jesus used parables to describe the kingdom of heaven in a way that would only be clear to those who are filled with the Holy Spirit. He compared the kingdom of heaven to a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field (Matthew 13:31-33), a treasure hidden in a field (Matthew 13:44), and “a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45-46). The common theme in each of these illustrations is the invisible or you might say immaterial nature of the kingdom of heaven. The point that Jesus was trying to make was that the kingdom of heaven can be discovered and has great value to those who possess it. The link between the Ten Commandments and the kingdom of heaven could be their ability to transform the human heart. One way of looking at the kingdom of heaven might be that it is a state of being that one enters into when the word of God is operative in his or her heart. Heaven is therefore not just a place that we go to when we die, but a state that we can live in that is eternal and connected to God.

Peter, who was recognized as “the predominant disciple during the ministry of Jesus and had a tremendous impact on the early church” (Introduction to the first letter of Peter) understood that heaven on earth was not an idyllic state, but one that ran counter to the culture and mindsets of the Roman Empire and therefore, often resulted in suffering and sometimes persecution. Peter encouraged his followers to share in Christ’s sufferings so that they might be glad when his glory was revealed and said, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, your are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:13-14). Peter asked the question, “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (1 Peter 4:18) and then stated, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19). Peter asserted that it is sometimes God’s will for his children to suffer because that is the example that Jesus gave us. Sharing in Christ’s sufferings means that we enter into a partnership with our Lord and Savior that is based on equal responsibility, goals, and rewards. After he denied three times that he even knew Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75), Jesus asked Peter if he loved him and then gave him this instruction:

“Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:17-19)

Peter said that we should clothe ourselves with humility toward one another and indicated that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). The Greek word that is translated humble, tapeinos (tap-i-nos’) means depressed and is used figuratively to signify being “humiliated (in circumstances or disposition)” (G5011). God’s grace is the divine influence upon the heart that enables us to act the way Jesus did when we are faced with difficult circumstances (G5485). Peter said that God gives us grace when we intentionally humble ourselves and admit that we can’t handle things on our own. He said, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).

Jesus indicated that people’s hearts can grow dull and be unreceptive to God’s word (Matthew 13:15). In his explanation of the Parable of the Sower, Jesus stated, “When anyone hears the word of of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart” (Matthew 13:19). The evil one, who is known as Satan or the devil (G4190), is described by Peter as our adversary. Peter said that we should “be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The image of a roaring lion that is seeking someone to devour makes it seem as if the devil feeds on believers, but it could be that Satan’s appetite for evil is quenched through our sins against God. Peter was well aware of the tactics Satan uses to deter believer’s from sharing their faith. Peter’s denial of the Lord involved an innocent question that sparked his fear and made him unwilling to risk the slightest implication that he was associated with Jesus. Matthew’s gospel states, “Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, ‘You also were with Jesus the Galilean.’ But he denied it before them all, saying, ‘I do not know what you mean.'” (Matthew 26:69-70).

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians indicated that the physical and spiritual realms are intertwined and that believers are involved in spiritual battles on an ongoing basis whether or not we are aware of it. Paul said that believers should “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12). The idea that we can have hand to hand combat with spiritual forces in the heavenly places makes it seem as if believers are caught in the middle of the two realms that continually compete for their attention. Paul said that we must stand against the schemes of the devil if we want to enjoy the spiritual blessings that God has given us. Even though we have received salvation, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are safe from the adversary that wants to make our lives a living hell. Peter said that you must resist the devil, “firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:9-11).

God’s presence

God was personally involved in the children of Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. God instructed Moses to tell the people, “About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle” (Exodus 11:4-5). God protected the Israelites by means of a sacrificial lamb that served as a substitute for the firstborn of each of the children of Israel’s families. The blood of the lamb was put on the doorposts and the lintel of their houses and God said, “The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:13). Moses described the Israelites departure from Egypt as a night of watching and said, “The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. It was a night of watching by the LORD, to bring them out of the land of Egypt, so this same night is a night of watching kept to the LORD by all the people of Israel throughout their generations” (Exodus 12:40-42).

The night of watching that took place when the Israelites left Egypt was a night vigil in which the LORD went through the land of Goshen looking for the blood of the lamb on each individual doorpost and lintel of the children of Israel’s houses. Extreme care was taken to make sure that the destroyer didn’t enter any of the houses that were displaying the lamb’s blood (Exodus 12:23). In the same way that the LORD had carefully watched over the children of Israel the night they left Egypt and protected them from the destroyer, Moses said the Israelites were to observe “a night of watching kept to the LORD by all the people of Israel throughout their generations” (Exodus 12:42). In other words, the annual Passover celebration was intended to be a night vigil in which the Israelites looked for their Savior, the Lamb of God’s arrival. John the Baptist’s announcement, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) should have triggered the Jews awareness that their Messiah had arrived on the scene, but the Passover celebration that took place the night of Jesus’ death seemed to go unnoticed by those who were supposed to be watching for God’s fulfillment of the Old Testament Covenants (Major Covenants of the Old Testament, KJSB, p. 16).

Psalm 114 focuses on God’s presence among his people. The psalmist stated, “When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language, Judah became his sanctuary, Israel his dominion” (Psalm 114:1-2). A dominion is a territory over which one rules or governs. The Hebrew term memshalah (mem-shaw-law’) often “denotes the ruling power which one in authority exercises over his domain or kingdom” (H4475). Another way of looking at a king’s dominion is that it signifies the area over which he can exercise his sovereign authority (H4474). The reason why Israel was the Lord’s dominion was because God redeemed the children of Israel from slavery, making them his personal possession (Deuteronomy 7:6-8). Judah was thought of as the Lord’s sanctuary because Jesus was a direct descendant of Judah and was later referred to as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Revelation 5:5) when he “took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne” in heaven (Revelation 5:7). Revelation 5:9-10 states:

And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.”

Ultimately, Jesus’ dominion will be over the entire earth, but initially, the blood of the lamb only covered the Israelites who were delivered from slavery in Egypt and were specifically chosen by God to be his treasured possession because of the covenant he made with Abraham (Genesis 15:9-21, Deuteronomy 7:8).

It was through his deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt that God’s presence on the earth first began to be felt. Psalm 114:7 states, “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob.” The Hebrew word that is translated Lord in this verse, ‘adon (aw-done’) when applied to God, signifies His position as the “one who has authority (like a master) over His people to reward the obedient and punish the disobedient…In such contexts God is conceived as a Being who is sovereign ruler and almighty master” (H113). The Hebrew word chuwl (khool), which is translated tremble, conveys two basic ideas: to whirl in motion or writhe in pain. This word is often used to describe the labor pains of giving birth (H2342). The children of Israel’s supernatural deliverance from slavery in Egypt may have been likened to the labor pains of childbirth because in the process of birthing the nation of Israel God overthrew Pharaoh by means of a long agonizing process that included ten plagues and ended with “a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead” (Exodus 12:30). Afterwards, the children of Israel were thrust out and “the Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, ‘We shall all be dead'” (Exodus 12:33).

Like an annual birthday celebration, Moses told the children of Israel, “Remember this day in which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by a strong hand the LORD brought you out from this place” (Exodus 13:3). The strong hand of the LORD was not only a symbol of his personal involvement in a situation but also the exercise of his power to accomplish a specific task. Israel’s deliverance from slavery had to do with their loyalty and devotion to God. The Passover celebration required the children of Israel to follow God’s instructions exactly in order to preserve their lives. What they were asked to do may not have made sense to them, but because the Israelites lives depended on it, it says in Exodus 12:28, “Then the people of Israel went and did so; as the LORD commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.” This was an important turning point in God’s relationship with his chosen people, and therefore, it needed to be remembered. On a national level, it was like being born again. God saved the children of Israel collectively, as a group they became the children of God.

Psalm 114:7 describes the world’s reaction to God’s presence as trembling because there is always an emotional element to God’s involvement in our lives. The Hebrew word that is translated presence, paneh (paw-neh’) means the face. “In a more specific application, the word represents the look on one’s face, or one’s countenance” (H6440). The Bible clearly teaches that God is a spiritual being, but Jesus’ birth changed the way we interact with God and made it possible for us to see God in a physical form. Jesus’ presence in the world evoked different reactions from people depending on their relationship with God. Some people like Zacchaeus, a man described as a chief tax collector, were anxious to meet Jesus in person (Luke 19:3), but others like the ones who witnessed Jesus casting a legion of demons into a herd of pigs, “began to beg him to depart from their region” (Mark 5:17). Jesus’ strength was physically demonstrated when he calmed a storm that threatened his disciples lives (Mark 4:39) and made a fig tree wither (Matthew 21:19) because it failed to provide him with the nourishment he needed. After Jesus’ resurrection, “When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God'” (Matthew 27:54).

When the children of Israel departed from Egypt, God went with them and his presence was manifested to them in the form of two pillars that were visible at all times. Exodus 13:21-22 states:

And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.

The Hebrew word paneh is translated “before” in Exodus 13:21-22 to convey the fact the God was physically present with the Israelites as they traveled. The tall pillars made it possible for everyone to see God’s presence no matter where they were in the camp.

Exodus 13:17-18 tells us, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’ But God led the people around by way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle.” God’s decision to lead the people by way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea had to do with their lack of experience with warfare. The people of Israel had been trained to submit to Pharaoh’s authority and to fear his soldiers. When it says that they went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle, it most likely meant that the people of Israel were physically capable of fighting, but were being defended by God’s army. Exodus 14:13-14 states, “And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

The phrase “you have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:14) is translated “ye shall hold your peace” in the King James Version of the Bible. The Hebrew word charash (khaw-rash’) means “to scratch, i.e. (by implication) to engrave” (H2790). What this seems to suggest is something being etched in one’s memory. The salvation of the LORD was intended to be a memorable event in which the Israelites played no active part. Moses said they would “see the salvation of the LORD” (Exodus 14:13). The Hebrew word that is translated see, ra’ah (raw-aw’) basically connotes seeing with one’s eyes. “This verb can also mean ‘to observe’…The second primary meaning is ‘to perceive,’ or to be ‘consciously aware of’…It can also mean ‘to realize’ or ‘to get acquainted with’…It can represent mentally recognizing that something is true” (H7200). The Hebrew word that is translated salvation, yeshuw’ah (yesh-oo’-aw) means deliverance. “Many personal names contain a form of the root, such as Joshua (“the Lord is help”), Isaiah (“the Lord is help”), and Jesus (a Greek form of yeshu’ah)” (H3444).

As the people of Israel approached the Red Sea, it says in Exodus 14:19-20, “Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.” Traditional Christian interpretation has held that the angel of God “was a preincarnate manifestation of Christ as God’s Messenger-Servant” (note on Genesis 16:7) and is here associated with the cloud, a visible symbol of God’s presence among his people (notes on Exodus 13:21 and 14:19). The purpose of the angel of God moving behind the host of Israel was likely to separate and to protect them from the Egyptians, but he also may have moved and went behind them to keep the Israelites from running away. During the night, “the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided” (Exodus 14:21).The strong east wind that divided the waters of the Red Sea might have had similar characteristics to a hurricane. Hurricane Irma, which was described as having unfathomable power and was estimated to have winds of approximately 200 mph, caused an estimated $50 billion in damage. In order to separate the waters of the Red Sea and make the sea dry land, there would have had to have been a supernatural force at work.

The Hebrew word that is translated wind in Exodus 14:21, ruwach (roo’-akh) is more often than not translated as Spirit or spirit. “It is clear that the wind is regarded in Scripture as a fitting emblem of the mighty penetrating power of the invisible God. Moreover, the breath is suppose to symbolize not only the deep feelings that are generated within man, such as sorrow and anger; but also kindred feelings in the Divine nature. It is revealed that God and God alone has the faculty of communicating His Spirit or life to His creatures, who are thus enabled to feel, think, speak, and act in accordance with the Divine will” (H7307). By resemblance breath is associated with the wind , “i.e. a sensible (or even violent) exhalation” and it could be imagined that the parting of the Red Sea was somewhat like God take a deep breath and blowing the waters aside so that his people could cross the land on dry ground. One of the key characteristics of this supernatural feat was that God made the sea dry land. In other words, it was as if the water had completely evaporated. The ground became parched like the desert (H2724). Exodus 14:22-25 states:

And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.”

Moses described the LORD’s deliverance of the people of Israel this way:

At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up;
    the floods stood up in a heap;
    the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,
    I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.
    I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’
You blew with your wind; the sea covered them;
    they sank like lead in the mighty waters. (Exodus 15:8-10)

Moses’ tribute to the LORD focused on the visible evidence of God’s overthrow of the Egyptians. He said:

“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
    the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song,
    and he has become my salvation” (Exodus 15:1-2)

Moses indicated that the LORD had become his salvation when he triumphed gloriously over the Egyptian army. The Hebrew word that is translated triumphed gloriously, ga’ah (gaw-aw’) generally means to rise (H1342). This seems to connect the Israelites’ deliverance with Jesus’ resurrection. It could be said that the Israelites’ crossing of the Red Sea was similar to being baptized in that it portrayed the death, burial and resurrection that believers are identified with through baptism. Exodus 14:30-31 states, “Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.” The Israelites’ belief was a direct result of their personal experience and was based on what the LORD did to save them. Much like the disciples that witnessed Jesus’ resurrection, Israel saw the great power that the LORD used to defeat their enemy and “came to experience a personal relationship to God rather than an impersonal relationship with His promises” (H539).

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).

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).

The problem of sin

When  the Israelites left Egypt, God traveled with them in the form of a pillar of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21). While they were in the wilderness, before entering the Promised Land, the Israelites were instructed to make a tent of meeting, referred to as the tabernacle, so that God could dwell or live among his people. The tabernacle was assembled and then torn down every time the Israelites moved from one location to another (Numbers 10:17).

The temple built by king Solomon in Jerusalem was meant to be a permanent home for God (1 Kings 9:3). In connection with this, God made a covenant with Solomon that he would establish his throne for ever and would dwell among his people on the condition that Solomon and his descendants obeyed his commandments. The LORD specifically stated:

But if you shall at all turn from following me, you or your children, and will not keep my commandments and my statutes which I have set before you, but go and serve other gods, and worship them: then will I cut off Israel out of the land which I have given them; and this house, which I have hallowed for my name, will I cast out of my sight; and Israel shall be a proverb and a byword among all people; and at this house, which is high, every one that passeth by it shall be astonished, and shall hiss; and they shall say, Why hath the LORD done thus unto the land, and to his house? And they shall answer, Because they forsook the LORD their God, who brought forth their fathers out of the land of Egypt, and have taken hold upon other gods, and have worshipped them; therefore hath the LORD brought upon them all this evil. (1 Kings 6:6-9)

The Assyrian attack on Jerusalem in 701 B.C. was the first step taken to bring down the city that Solomon erected to glorify God. Referring to Judah’s distress, Isaiah declared, “Now will I rise, saith the LORD; now will I be exalted; now will I lift up myself” (Isaiah 33:10). Solomon’s attempt to contain God in a man-made structure was a failure because God’s presence was dependent on the absence of sin in his people.

Referring to God as a devouring fire, Isaiah asked, “Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire?” (Isaiah 33:14). God wanted to dwell among his people, but his holy nature made it impossible for him to coexist with sinners. The Israelites failed to understand that justification was a requirement for fellowship with God. Referring to the redeemed city of Jerusalem, Isaiah stated, “The people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity” (Isaiah 33:24).

God’s judgment of sin would not be isolated to his people. Ultimately, there would be universal judgment of sin (Isaiah 24:6) in order to eradicate it from God’s creation. Isaiah prophesied that in the end, there would be a complete destruction of God’s enemies.

Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye people; let the earth hear, and all that is therein; the world, and all things that come forth of it. For the indignation of the LORD is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies: he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter.

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).