Biblical Covenantalism

Covenant in Isaiah (Pt.4)

Part Three

The Suffering Servant

God’s Servant reappears in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. This passage is of great significance because in it the Holy Spirit puts emphasis not on the reign of Messiah (if I may at this place call Him that), but upon His sufferings.  It is a singular fact that the Old Testament prophecies are more concerned with the reign of the coming Ruler than with his death.  This point has even caused interpreters to question whether we are dealing with the same person or with two “servants”, a sufferer and a conqueror.  This passage answers that question decisively I think.

It starts with the exaltation of the Servant (Isa. 52:13), but immediately the mood changes to His degradation (52:14ff.).  Since Philip identifies the Suffering Servant as Jesus in Acts 8:35, and 52:13-15 is really part and parcel of that portion of the prophecy in chapter 53, we might look at these verses as a kind of prelude to it.  Verse 13 certainly draws a parallel with what has been spoken of the great King to come in Isaiah 9:7 and 11:2-5.  The exalted One who shall “deal with prudence” over the earth’s affairs will also have to undergo great humiliation in the earth.  As we know that His reign will be eternal (Isa. 9:7), we are compelled to conclude that His degradation will occur prior to His being coronation (hinted at in Isa. 53:12a).

Even without seeing Jesus in the remarkable words of Isaiah 53 one feels sympathy for the man being described.  Oppressed and afflicted, yet having the meekness not to object (53:7).  A man despised by men (53:3) and “smitten and bruised by God (53:4, 10), and yet one who bears our iniquities so successfully (53:5, 6, 11, 12) that He can be made a sin offering to God (53:10), even making intercession on behalf of sinners in a way impossible for any mere animal (53:11).  This again is the Servant (53:11), but it is not Israel by any stretch of the imagination!  In no believable circumstances could Israel, who remember were under a complex sacrificial cultus, ever be thought of in this fashion.  This impression is intensified when we consider that those justified by the Servant (who though afflicted by God was nevertheless serving God – 53:4, 10), included Israel (“My people” in 53:8).

While the Servant is subjected to terrible treatment at the hands of men the prophecy makes it clear that it is for mankind that the transaction was allowed to happen.  No wonder then that after all He has to endure God exalts Him (53:12).  What a wonderful verse is verse 11:

He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. – Isaiah 53:11

The righteous servant does all this not only for God but for Himself!  “The labor of His soul” is such a beautiful phrase.  Once we couple this together with the developing portrait of the Messiah and we recall His connection, in fact His identification with the New covenant, and we remember how the New covenant gives new vigor to the other covenants I think we begin to see how the covenantal Creation Project comes together in and through the Person of Christ.

Humiliation before Exaltation

We might do well to pause here for a moment to reflect on the remarkable fact that the Old Testament dwells far more upon the victorious ascendancy and rule of the Promised One than with His being dishonored and put to shame by His enemies before coming to the throne.  Even in the first promise in Genesis 3:15 the serpent is said to crush the heel of the woman’s seed before He vanquishes the serpent.  In Genesis 49:10 and Numbers 24:17 speak only of His glory, as does Micah 2:13 and 5:2.  Psalm 22:1-21 is the only other passage so far in the progress of revelation where a similar shameful treatment is recorded, but there the specific individual remains prophetically uncertain until the death of Jesus.  In Isaiah the prophecies in 7:14; 9:6-7; 11:1-10; 32:1; 40:10 all refer to the reign of the Lord, there is no mention of any suffering.  This will be the consistent theme of Isaiah from chapter 54 onward.

We shall observe the same phenomenon all the way through the Prophets.  Zephaniah 3:15-17 and Jeremiah 23:5-6 and 33:14-16 teach us to expect someone who will usher in righteousness under His purview.  The “smiting stone” of Daniel 2 and the great Ruler of Daniel 7:13-14 again draw the reader’s attention to the glory of the Coming One, not to His misery.  Zechariah’s post-exilic visions do briefly mention that Yahweh will be valued at thirty pieces of silver (Zech. 11:13), and then there is the enigmatic pronouncement that “they will look on me whom they pierced” in Zechariah 12:10, but otherwise that writer’s more Messianic predictions follow the descriptions of splendor we find nearly everywhere else (e.g. Zech. 2:10; 3:8; 6:12-13; 8:3; 9:9; 14:3-5, 9, 16-17).  Finally, Malachi 3:1-3 and 4:1-3 raise the same expectations. (more…)

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Covenant in Isaiah (Pt.3)

Part Two

The Intertwining of the Covenants: A Little Summary of the Coming Kingdom

In these kinds of passages Isaiah presents a picture of the future kingdom of the Branch that is glorious in many respects.  It is fair and just and safe and beautiful.  After the initial battles, there will be a realization of the dream of world peace, brought about by the great mass of people turning to the true God; a New covenant era.  Additionally, the beautification of the earth, the desolate places made verdant, and the increase in natural productivity, will be matched by the pacification of the animal world.  This might readily be seen as a New covenant effect on the Noahic covenant.  Peace, both outward and inward, will not be the elusive thing for which men have unsuccessfully sought throughout history.  It will be present as a felt reality.  It will be a natural part of human experience.  And humanity will not be left to itself, but will know itself to be under the benevolent and judicial eye of the everlasting One.  For God Himself, through “Immanuel,” will dwell on the earth in Jerusalem,[1] and all eyes will be on the great nation of Israel.  This is where the first two parts of the Abrahamic covenant, together with the Priestly and Davidic covenants come in.

What happens in the Prophets is that the covenants of God intertwine.[2]  Even parts of the Mosaic covenant are refocused in the New covenant.  The New covenant is the key, because through it the other divine covenants can be realized.  The great obstruction of human sin is dealt with.[3]

This is the outlook of the prophetic witness we have studied so far.  It will be repeated and expanded as we move forward.  The future kingdom will be wonderful in many ways.  The believing will find “perfect peace” (Isa. 26:3) and “learn righteousness” (26:9).  In fact God will work it all within them (26:12. Cf. 35:17).

Many of these great themes are present in Isaiah 32.  There is the pouring out of the Spirit in 32:15, which is followed by the revitalization of the wilderness and super abundance of the field.  But a noteworthy thing is that these normally uninhabited places will be places of justice and righteousness (32:16).  The ethical and the physical are beautifully intertwined in the passage.

Until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is counted as a forest. Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field. The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever.  – Isaiah 32:15-17

In his Religio Medici, the 17th Century polymath Sir Thomas Browne supposed that while there is only one world open to the senses, there are two open to the reason; the visible and the invisible.[4]  It is my belief that the end of the Creation Project is where the two worlds unite in our sensory experience as well as in our understandings.  That is what is portrayed by the Prophet here.  “Peace,” that elusive dream often rather rudely confronting us on preachy bumper-stickers and placards, will indeed be “felt” in the former nether regions of the earth when the righteous King reigns (Isa. 32:1).

But it will not be completely perfect.[5]  Already we have read that the Messiah, if I may at this point call Him by that title, will still have to keep sin in its place.  When the last book of the Bible tells us that this “Lord of lords and King of kings” will rule the nations “with a rod of iron” (Rev. 19:15-16), it is because it is picking up on the language of Psalm 2.  Isaiah has also described how “He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth” (Isa 11:4).  Micah, in the midst of predicting a scene of the kingdom (Mic. 4:1-8), has to report the continuance of idolatry (Mic. 4:5a. cf. Zech.13:2-6).

The “Little Apocalypse”

What has been called “the little apocalypse” in Isaiah 24-27 begins with a description of God’s wrath upon earth (24:1-23),[6] before introducing an era when God “will swallow up death forever, and… wipe away tears from all faces” (Isa. 25:8).  Yahweh says that He will expand “all the borders of the land” (Isa. 26:15), which obviously recalls the Abrahamic oath of Genesis 15:18-21.  Judgment gives way to blessing.  There is even a mention of resurrection (Isa. 26:19 cf. Job 19:25-26), places this section at the time of the Lord’s establishment of His kingdom.  Pain is substituted for joy because God “will establish shalom,” having done all their works within the redeemed (Isa. 26:12; 27:9).  This will be an era of true justice, not just politics under the name of justice (Isa. 26:9); an era of a resurgent and resplendent Israel (Isa. 27:6).

In sum, Isaiah’s Little Apocalypse shows that a global kingdom follows global tribulation.[7]

————————————————————————————–

[1] So many covenant theologians assume that these prophetic references to a glorified Jerusalem are to New Jerusalem that comes down from heaven (Rev. 3:12; 21:2), because their theological covenants force them to.  However, “heavenly Jerusalem“ is not a concept that occurs in the Old Testament.” – See Andrew T. Lincoln, Paradise Now and Not Yet: Studies in the Role of the Heavenly Dimension in Paul’s Thought with Special Relationship to His Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), 18-19

[2] Thomas E. McComiskey refers to the way the “redemptive” or “promise covenants” (e.g. Abrahamic) work in tandem with what he calls the “administrative covenants” (e.g. Mosaic).  Hence the covenants function “bicovenantally.”  – The Covenants of Promise, 139-177.  His work is stimulating, but the Abrahamic covenant is not a redemptive covenant.  Only the New covenant contains the means of redemption.  Furthermore, McComiskey holds a necessary correlation between Israel and the Church on this bicovenantal pattern (Ibid, 189-190).  This fails, for example, to account for the raising of specific expectations by God in the three strands of the Abrahamic covenant and the repetition of these expectations under New covenant conditions.

[3] As we shall see, the New covenant itself is embodied in the Messiah, making Him the center of the covenantal picture of the Bible.

[4] Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici, Hydriotaphia, and The Garden of Cyrus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), edited by R. H. A. Robbins, 37

[5] Note, for example, that not until the creation of the new heavens and new earth is there “no more curse” (Rev. 22:3).

[6] In Isaiah 24:5 we read of the earth’s inhabitants breaking “the everlasting covenant.”  The phrase is found in relation to the Noahic covenant in Genesis 9:16, and I believe that is the covenant Isaiah mainly has in mind here (John D.W. Watts, Isaiah 1 – 33, 318).  Still, I think Motyer is correct in saying that human beings have failed to live in right relationship to God within the terms of every divine covenant.  See his discussion in Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, 199.  Less likely in view of the Noahic connections is the view that it may convey a less technical sense meaning the relationship between man to the Word of God under which he is to live, as in e.g. Harry Bultema, Commentary on Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1981), 236-237.  The term is also found in reference to the New covenant in, for example, the Book of Hebrews (Heb. 13:20).  In each of its usages the onus is not on “eternity past” but upon the future.  It will take a work of God Himself to rectify the persistent failure.

[7] Michael J. Vlach. He Will Reign Forever, 167

Covenant in Isaiah (Pt. 2)

Part One

Isaiah 11

A great monarch, called the “Branch” (Isa. 11:1. Cf. 4:2) will be possessed of the Holy Spirit (11:2).  His wisdom and justice will be equal to Yahweh (11:2-4).  Already Isaiah has taught us that this person will be miraculously conceived by a virgin (7:14 cf. Gen. 3:15); and no wonder, because He will be “Immanuel” – God with us.

Now we understand more clearly the import of Micah’s words about the coming One, “Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2), and our thoughts are turned to “the one who breaks open” of Micah 2:13.  In Isaiah chapter 9 we come across an extraordinary personage “called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isa. 9:6).  He is of Davidic origin (9:7), just as this mighty and benevolent king in Isaiah 11:1 (cf. the Ruler from Bethlehem in Micah 5:2).  The details are clamoring for attention: the Prophets speak together of a great Potentate who will hail from Judah (Gen. 49:10; Mic.5:2), from David’s line (1 Chron. 17:12-14; Isa. 9:7).  He will rule in wisdom and righteousness and equity, aided by God’s Spirit (Isa.11:2, 4-5).  As Dumbrell indicates, His concern with righteousness and faithfulness (Isa. 11:5) shows His allegiance to God’s covenants.[1]

The Gift and Names of a King

But this person will be more than just an ideal human king.  His ancient provenance (Mic. 5:2), and special titles (Isa.7:14; 9:6) show Him to have close affinities with Yahweh Himself.  He will be “wonderful,” like no other ruler in human history.  Isaiah 9:6 refers to Him as “mighty God” (El Gibbor).[2]  Whoever this person of Isaiah 2 and 11 is then, even from the prophet’s perspective, He is very possibly divine!  By “everlasting Father” or “Father of eternity” is probably meant “protector of the people,” although He will remain so in perpetuity.[3]  The verse ought never to be misconstrued as equating this king with God the Father.  Although the description of Him as “everlasting” points to His divinity, the name “Father” does not.[4]

The first three names of Isaiah 9:6, along with the promise of the virgin born “Immanuel” in Isaiah 7:14,[5] could easily lead someone to the conclusion that God Himself will be this promised Ruler, this “great light” (Isa. 9:2).  Who else could preside over a world where the reaper could overtake the sower? (Amos 9:13).  Or bring about shalom among men and among the animal kingdom? (Hos. 2:18).  And if one is making connections with previous revelation, then who else could vanquish Satan (Gen. 3:15)?  The Psalmist had spoken about an individual so exalted that He was seated at God’s right hand until the kingdom was given to Him (Psa. 110:1).[6]  In fact Psalm 45:6 alluded both to His divine nature and the “scepter of righteousness” that He would wield (cf. Gen. 49:10; Num. 24:17; Psa. 2:8-12).

The fourth name of Isaiah 9:6 is “Prince of peace.”  This peace is what Micah 4, Isaiah 2 and 32 envisage.  The Prince of peace doesn’t negotiate peace, He exudes peace!  His shalom influences the coming New covenant Kingdom which He is present in.

The early chapters of Isaiah’s prophecy bring many strands of hope together, and they all coalesce around one man, whom the prophet speaks of variously as the Branch, Immanuel, the Servant.  Further on in the Book more information will be added, although some of it will be perplexing in light of what has been said (i.e. Isa. 53).  Yet it will not be contradictory.  But the strong kingdom promises within the great covenants (Abrahamic, Priestly, and Davidic), require a special key to unlock them.  That key is salvation from sin.

There is no kingdom or participation in the kingdom without atonement.[7]

Will atonement too be accomplished by this Divine Ruler?  And if so, how will He accomplish it?

The Man who is the “Branch”

The answer to these questions lies ahead of us.  The reintroduction of the “Branch” from the Davidic line alludes to a kingly figure who will rule, not only over Israel, but the whole created order.[8]  As such the person of the “Branch” is a king par excellence.[9]  But in the setting of Isaiah 11 there are more extraordinary things of which to make mention.

After the opening description of the Branch of verses 1-5 there comes an enthralling description of a transformation of the instinct and temperament of the wild beasts of the earth:

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.  They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. – Isaiah 11:6-9 (more…)

Covenant in Isaiah (Pt. 1)

This post and those to follow are extracts from a draft chapter in the book ‘The Words of the Covenant: A Biblical Theology’ Vol. 1 (forthcoming d.v.)

The prophet Isaiah prosecuted his ministry between around 755 to 685 B.C.[1]  Isaiah has a lot to say about both the developing picture of the Creation Project and the person of the promised King who will reign upon the earth.  His presentation of both of these broad themes furthers the developmental picture of the covenant program greatly.

The Prophet before his God

Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord in chapter 6 of his book helps us to understand the rest of what he had to say.[2]  The prophet is confronted by the unimaginably majestic vision of the throne room of God, being brought face to face with the King of the universe (Isa. 6:5b).  In this environment he quickly becomes acutely aware of his own decrepitude and unworthiness.  He is a sort of microcosm of the people of Israel to whom he is sent, and to every reader of his work.

The vision of the holy King in Isaiah 6 grants a glimpse of God, albeit terrifying, but with a lining of hope, that not only enables us to make (some) sense of God’s difficult words in the book, but also invites us to examine ourselves personally and corporately…[3]

The prophet sees his own sin before denouncing the sins of Israel, and is given many indications of sin’s vanquishing by the Judge on the throne.  Restoration, salvation, healing, and harmony are brought before the chosen race in this book; especially in and through the Messiah, whom Isaiah likes to call God’s “Servant,” in the second main division of the work.  Although there is an irony in that the prophet’s message will only accelerate Israel’s decline.[4]

Be that as it may, the hope which punctuates this book originates directly from the One who sits exalted on the throne.  If there was no hope from that quarter there would be no point in asking “Who will go for us?” for it would only be a fool’s errand of one doomed sinner telling every other doomed sinner what bad things God had in store for them all.  The vision of God in chapter 6 may be strategically placed so that, as Oswalt comments: “Just as the man of unclean lips had to abandon all hope before being cleansed by fire, so too must the nation.”[5]

The Lord (‘adonay) is seen in a temple (Isa. 6:1),[6] and the whole vision concerns the created earth (6:3).[7]  The fact that the Almighty cleanses the prophet before He asks for a volunteer (6:7-8) shows that a redemptive mission is in His mind.[8]  Isaiah goes forth “for Us” (the plurality that is the Lord[9]).  And even though there will be judgment against willful sin (6:9-10), yet in the end some, the “holy seed,” will be saved (6:13 cf. 4:3).

The Introduction to the Book

As Isaiah’s prophecy begins he wastes no time in coming to the point about Israel’s (i.e. Judah and Jerusalem’s) spiritual condition.  Isaiah employs several memorable images to show the people their abandonment of God: they are “laden with iniquity” (Isa. 1:4), “the whole head is sick, the whole heart faints” (1:5).  The trouble is the people don’t think (1:3).  Still, God tries to reason with them:

Come now, and let us reason together,” says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.  If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land. – Isaiah 1:18-19

It is unclear whether this is simply a statement that we reap what we sow, or is also a prophetic oracle, looking at the cleansing action of God that will qualify His people to inherit what was promised to them many centuries earlier.  But as the first chapter draws to a close, Isaiah foresees a time when God will turn His people back to Himself.

I will turn My hand against you, and thoroughly purge away your dross, and take away all your alloy. I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.  Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and her penitents with righteousness. – Isaiah 1:25-27 

With the benefit of hindsight we know that at no time was there a national repentance that led to Jerusalem being known as a “city of righteousness.”  The prophet is definitely on predictive ground again.  Furthermore, although it is not given the name, these are New covenant words; true righteousness will only come once the Law is satisfied. (more…)

The Cosmic Temple and Spiritualized Eschatology (Pt.4)

Part Three

Block’s Challenge

Recently the Old Testament scholar Daniel Block has vigorously challenged the whole Cosmic Temple thesis.[1]  Even if his counter-arguments are somewhat provisional[2], and he retains certain questionable positions on some matters (e.g. the presence of a covenant in Eden[3]; violence beyond Eden[4]; Jesus replacing the Jerusalem temple[5]), I think he has banged more than a couple of nails into the coffin.  Allow me to set out several of his major criticisms[6]:

  1. The depiction of Eden in Genesis 1 and 2 stresses, says Block, not a sacred space, but a “royal world, with the man being cast as a king.”[7] I may add that the concept of sacred space may be present, but it need not include a priesthood[8], and there are reasons to think it does not. The office of priest seems to make sense only whe,n others are excluded from the priesthood.  But that cannot be maintained out of what we read in Genesis.  There is no reason to believe that all Adam’s offspring would follow their father in a priestly function, but then who would they represent?  The existence of a priesthood presupposes not a congenial divine-human economy but a broken relationship.[9]  Hence it is simply out of place in Eden.[10]
  2. God’s “walking” (hithallek) in the garden in Genesis 3:8 relates much more to His relationship with man than to the garden as a “sanctuary.”[11]
  3. The presence of cherubim guarding the tree of life need not imply that Eden was sacred space. Block notes that strange composite creatures are found in other settings in ANE parallels like palaces and gates.[12] They are not confined to sanctuaries, so appeals to ANE parallels won’t work.  On top of this is the fact that no presence of these creatures is recorded until after the entrance of sin into the world.
  4. The clothing given to Adam by God was also given to Eve. If Adam wore priestly garments then so did Eve. But the Old Testament knows nothing of women priests.[13]  This incongruity has not been addressed by the promoters of the theory.  But neither has the change of wardrobe from glorious apparel before the Fall to animal skins afterwards.  An explanation is required if Ezekiel 28:13 is truly a description of Adam as Beale insists.
  5. Genesis 3 is silent on whether the entrance to the garden was located in the east.[14] It may have been, but we will never know for sure.
  6. Block notices that the tripartite nature of the primeval environment (garden, Eden, beyond) does not match that of the sanctuary, which had Holy of Holies, Great Room, Court, and beyond. Hence the analogy breaks down upon closer inspection.[15]
  7. Block asks if Genesis 1-3 ought to be read in light of later texts, as the espousers of the Eden/Temple-as-microcosmos approach assert. He replies that “By themselves…the accounts of Gn 1-3 offer no clues that a cosmic or Edenic temple might be involved.” He rather indicates that the sanctuaries of Israel recall what was lost in the garden through the Fall.[16]  He continues by observing that Genesis 1-3 is not based upon the concept of temple theology, but the other way round; temple theology is based in Creation theology.[17]  That is to say, the later temples memorialize the lost Paradise.
  8. Neither Eden nor the Cosmos are described in language which defines temples as places of worship.[18] He points out that the Old Testament calling Israel “the holy land” does not make it a temple, and even if we retain the terminology of calling Eden a “sacred space” it does not make it a temple also.[19] Furthermore, God does not require a dwelling place.[20]  I might add that in this scenario the cosmos is a defiled temple (as evidenced by the presence of evil) and hence the garden becomes a sacred temple within a defiled temple which it is meant to picture.

Even if Block is right about all this, and I think he is, this does not require us to back completely away from linking Eden and the Temple.  But it is best to view the tabernacle/temple as containing a remembrance of God’s paradise, and the ready access to God that was squandered.  I fully endorse the following sentiment of Block’s:

In its design as a miniature Eden the Israelite temple addressed both the alienation of humanity from the divine Suzerain and the alienation of creation in general.[21]

I think this is a crucial point.  The note of alienation is what pushes against the notion of an expanding and finally inclusive cosmic temple.  And alienation is central to the meaning of the physical temples of Israel.

We may expect more scholars to poke holes in the Cosmic Temple thesis in the coming years.

The Cosmic Temple and the Sufficiency of Scripture

As I have shown, several advocates of this Temple > Eden > Cosmos thesis inform us that it is nowhere spelled out in the Scriptures themselves.  We have also seen that interpreters old and new do not always agree with each other about what symbolizes what.  But this could be lived with if the Cosmic Temple imagery were kept as an interesting speculative feature of the Bible, say like the presence of certain chiasmic patterns, or even the view that the early chapters of Genesis comprise a microcosm of Bible history.[22]  Unfortunately this is far from the case.  Leading lights of Covenant and New Covenant theology have pressed this concept into doing major work in service of their eschatological preferences.  The logic is attractive: If the church is now the “true temple” which is to expand as God’s dwelling, and the garden of Eden and the physical Jewish temples were merely anticipations of this actual “end times temple”, then there appears to be no need for a millennium after Christ returns.  All that remains is the consummation of God’s temple in the New Heavens and New Earth.  Premillennialism loses.  But so, I would argue, does the sufficiency of Scripture.    (more…)

The Cosmic Temple and Spiritualized Eschatology (Pt. 3)

Part Two

Objections to the Cosmic Temple Motif in Scripture

In Beale’s book The Temple and the Church’s Mission, both the garden of Eden and the Jerusalem temple are types of the Church, which is confusingly called the literal non-physical temple.[1]   Beale’s thesis, which is fed by many ingeniously interpreted though vague allusions – mainly reliant upon reinterpreting OT texts by privileged interpretations of the NT – is that the OT stories of Adam, Abraham, and Israel recapitulate the same story of failure to extend God’s spiritual kingdom throughout the world.  Jesus, the final Adam, the final Israel, and the final temple (though apparently not the final Abraham), will set everything to rights when He comes, and then it’s a wrap as far as this present creation is concerned.[2]

This is it in a nutshell.  While its supporters readily admit that the cosmic temple has little support from the text of the Bible[3], the main assertion is that ancient temples were mini-universes: models of the cosmos.  Following this understanding, it is the function of the sacred space in Scripture that becomes dominant, not the literal meaning conveyed by the words in context.  This maneuver concentrates the mind on ideas beyond the prima facie wording of the texts and starts it thinking along very different lines, with its own assortment of motifs, types and recurrences.[4]

Alongside of this it is proposed that the tripartite temple structure mirrored the same threefold structure in the cosmos.  Further, we are instructed to view the garden of Eden as a proto-temple which God intended man to gradually push out over the untamed earth until all was claimed for God.[5]

It is clear from some inter-testamental Jewish writings and from Philo and Josephus that some Jews in the second temple period (c. 200 B.C. – 70 A.D.) understood the temple and the priesthood to reflect realities in Heaven.[6]  It is also clear that some ancient cultures saw the act of temple-building as a sort of re-enactment of the creation of the universe.

Josephus attributes cosmic significance to various aspects of the structure.  The veil hanging above the temple gate itself symbolizes the universe ([Jewish War] 5:212-213).  The twelve loaves placed on the table symbolize the zodiac and the months, while the menorah… symbolizes the seven planets (5:218)[7].

Very well, but these sources are not from the time of Moses, never mind Adam.  True, there are some resemblances between Genesis 1 and God’s directions for the construction of the tabernacle in Exodus 25 – 31[8], but these possible comparisons are not at all decisive for inferring that the tabernacle was designed as a mini-cosmos.

What about the assertion that, “the three sections of Israel’s temple represented the three parts of the cosmos”?  Beale is convinced that the truth of this is undeniable, and he stakes a lot upon it.  But is it really a fact that ancient peoples of the Near East held to this three-tiered conception?  And is it an established fact that the biblical writers assume the same three-storied view of the cosmos?

Biblical theologian Gerhard Hasel and his son, the archaeologist Michael Hasel argue convincingly that neither is actually the case.  They have shown from Canaanite records that “the gods did not always dwell in the heavens or the upper story of a supposed three-storied universe.”[9]  As a matter of fact,

“The most comprehensive study on Mesopotamian cosmic geography concludes that there was no belief in a three-storied universe…”[10] 

After examining the figurative expressions in the Bible they conclude that “the widespread assumption that the biblical cosmology is that of a three-storied universe cannot be maintained.”[11] If they are right then the theory of the temple reflecting such a three-tier cosmos is in serious trouble.  But again, surely the more important point is how dependent upon speculations and mild possibilities all this is?

What Did the Temple Stand For?

When one narrows ones focus down to the Bible the question “did the earthly temple sometimes stand for the whole cosmos?” needs to be reconsidered.  It is perhaps best to think about it in relation to the question of whether the earthly temple stood as a replication of the heavenly temple.  Of this latter thesis there ought to be no argument, for as Exodus 25:9 and 40 show, God gave Moses a blueprint to follow assiduously.  And the enlargement on this given by the author of Hebrews fills out the picture when he calls Jesus in His High Priestly function,

a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected… – Hebrews 8:2[12]

On the face of it this plainly indicates that there is a “true tabernacle” in heaven of which the earthly one was a replica.  But once this is accepted then the temple = cosmos motif seems less viable, because it would seem to go too far to assert that the heavenly temple itself symbolized the whole cosmos.  This would force one to have to assert a double symbolism; (1) temple = cosmos plus (2) earthly temple = heavenly temple.  Unless the entirety of heaven is right now “the true tabernacle”, which is not the impression one gets from reading Hebrews 8 and 9, then the (1) temple = cosmos parallel won’t work.  This impression is sustained by recalling the picture of New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 and 22, which is clearly distinguished from heaven (Rev. 21:2-3).

What this means is that since the true tabernacle is not coextensive even with heaven it cannot picture the cosmos, and for the same reason it cannot represent the cosmos as three-tiered as is maintained by Beale.  (more…)

The Cosmic Temple and Spiritualized Eschatology (Pt.2)

Part One

Firmer Ground

Following the biblical narrative it appears that the design and furnishings of the tabernacle/temple have some correspondence with the Paradise which Adam forfeited.  This “remembrance” would only increase the sense of what was lost and what the Promised One (Gen. 3:15) would restore.  It would act as an encouragement to faith.  And the expectation would only be heightened once it was also revealed that the sanctuary was modeled after one in heaven (Exod. 25:9; Heb. 8:1-5).[1]  These ideas taken together form the backdrop for viewing the earthly temple sanctuary as a place of meeting between God and (one) man.[2]  Once the Redeemer completes eventually His work[3] however, all saints may enter the true Holy Place (cf. Rev. 21:21-26).

If this view is accepted then neither Eden nor the later temple should be seen, in the first place, as a model of the whole Cosmos, but as a “pattern” or “imitation” of “the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.” (Heb. 8:2).[4]  Of course, if the true sanctuary does model the Cosmos then so would the copy.[5]

Cosmic Temple and Typology

However, the usual way this idea is presented in evangelical theology is as a theological motif: a launching pad for a certain typological reading of biblical eschatology.  This motif also depends much on seeing parallels in the way the ancients in other civilizations built their temples to represent their understanding of the universe.  As we’ve seen, sometimes the idea of Eden as a tri-tiered arrangement of garden, land of Eden, and outlying lands is invoked.[6]  Then extrapolation takes over, as one inference is laid upon another.

As imagination kicks into top gear we soon have Adam the priest-sentinel charged with pushing out the borders of Paradise into the wild spaces beyond his habitat while combating the evils which dwell there.  Adam does this so as to supposedly reenact the struggle of God against Chaos in Creation week.[7]  As the biblical story continues Abraham and Israel are “new Adams”[8]  doomed to recapitulate the same scenario, which only ends with Jesus, who, in His resurrection, empowers the Church (which is seen as the “new Israel”) to finish the job.  Presumably Adam (and the other “Adams”) was expected to do this feat literally, but it is now being done spiritually by Christ in the Church.

So according to Beale, who has written many pages describing the garden of Eden as a temple,

The prophecy of the latter-day temple begins in Christ’s first coming and the church through God’s special revelatory presence, the essence of the old temple…Christ was the first expression of this divine presence that had left the old temple, and then his Spirit indwelling the church was the continuing ongoing expression of the beginning latter-day temple.  All along, the symbolic design of the temple was to indicate that God’s “holy of holies” presence would eventually fill the entire cosmos, so that the cosmos, instead of a small physical house, would be the container of this glorious presence…at the climax of all history, the inaugurated indwelling presence of God completely fills the entire cosmos, which appears to have been the design of the Ezek.40-48 temple prophecy all along.[9]  

This scenario plays nicely into the hands of amillennial and postmillennial advocates.[10]  Eden, Adam, the land covenanted to Abraham, the tabernacle and the Jerusalem temple, the people of Israel, are all types of Christ and the Church: the “true temple,” which may typify the Divine Presence filling the whole Cosmos.  The proper interpretation of God’s program resides in the types.[11]  And they supposedly contain the grand story of the Bible, not the covenants, which (naturally) resist typological interpretation!

The groundswell of enthusiasm for this view comes into focus once one has bought into the typology.  The garden of Eden and its recapitulations are interpreted as types of the “true” eschatological temple being extended through Christ’s Church – Christ and His Body being the antitype.  This encourages; indeed it necessitates a supercessionist view of the eschaton.[12]

—————————————————————————-

[1]A straightforward reading of the texts in question makes it unmistakable that this was intended.  The problem then, for both Christian and Jewish interpreters, is what to do with this information.  Sadly, many Christians simply choose to disbelieve it because they adopt theological positions at variance with it.  Some Jewish writers see the Book of Hebrews as a piece of supercessionist polemics, and do not take seriously the agreement between Exodus and Hebrews.  For the latter, see Jonathan Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, 243.

[2] That man being the High Priest on the Day of Atonement.

[3] What I mean by this is that Christ only completes His great work once Satan is forever vanquished and the “Creation Project” is at an end.  There is much still to be said about this theme.

[4] I.e. As opposed to the one Moses pitched.

[5] The reader is reminded that in the case of Israel’s temple the three-tiered arrangement of the structure is said to correspond to the three-tiered structure of the universe.

[6] This is what G. K. Beale does in, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 32-33, and G. K. Beale and Mitchell Kim, God Dwells Among Us, 52

[7] G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 40.  Here is a contrary opinion: “The red thread of opposition to pagan mythological notions is also visible in the fiat creation by raising the firmament or expanse (Gen. 1:6, 7) without any struggle whatsoever…The ancient cosmologies are not absorbed or reflected in Genesis but overcome.” – Gerhard F. Hasel and Michael G. Hasel, “The Unique Cosmology of Genesis 1 against Ancient Near Eastern and Egyptian Parallels”, in The Genesis Creation Account and Its Reverberations in the Old Testament, (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2015), ed. Gerald A. Klingbeil”, 22.  Cf. John W. Oswalt, The Bible Among the Myths, 67-68.

[8] E.g. G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 39, 60, 62.  Israel is called a “corporate Adam”.

[9] Ibid, 647.

[10] Even though it’s major proponents tend to be amillennial.

[11] I refer to this as typological predetermination.  It will be necessary to enter for a while into the subtleties, not to say the meanderings of typological interpretation.  But I shall do that in volume two.

[12] E.g. Beale entitles chapter 19 of his A New Testament Biblical Theology ; “The Story of the Eden Sanctuary, Israel’s Temple, and Christ and the Church as the Ongoing Eschatological Temple of the Spirit in the New-Creational Kingdom.”.  One cannot escape the prevalence of replacement theology in this book (e.g. 161, 173, 182 n.65, 215, 307, 574, 770, etc.). On page 211 the redeemed nations are called “authentic Israel,” and new covenant believers (i.e. the church) are “true Jerusalemites.” (671). In his comments on the supercessionist test-text Matt. 21:41 Beale speaks of God “rejecting ethnic national Israel as God’s true people” (680), and of Israel’s stewardship being taken from them and given to the gentiles (681). He says, “Jesus identifies himself with Daniel’s stone which smashes the ungodly nations, which also includes…Israel.” (682).  Proponents of this kind of approach regularly complain that they are not supercessionists, but that is because they have so attenuated the word that it no longer retains its true meaning.

The Cosmic Temple and Spiritualized Eschatology (Pt.1)

“Israel’s temple was a symbolic shadow pointing to the eschatological “greater and more perfect tabernacle” (Heb. 9:11) in which Christ and the church would dwell and would form a part.  If so, it would seem to be the wrong approach for Christians to look in hope to the building of another temple in Jerusalem composed of earthly “bricks and mortar” as a fulfillment of the OT temple prophecies.” – G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 634

The above quotation presents one of the logical outcomes of adopting the position that the garden of Eden was designed as a “temple,” which in turn symbolized the created cosmos, which needed to be subordinated to its Creator.  This micro-cosmos Eden “temple” was to be expanded by mankind, we are told, until it covered the surface area of planet earth.  The tabernacle and the temple of Israel were related to the Eden “temple” in that they too were mini-cosmoses; yet they also functioned as types of the final temple, the church in Jesus Christ.  The church is the new and real temple which is to expand its “sacred space” until it spreads over the whole of creation.

Explaining the Cosmic Temple Idea[1]

If one spends time reading the older commentaries, articles and Old Testament theologies, one will find no mention of the idea of a Cosmic Temple.[2]  Today the situation has changed and there is a widespread consensus about cosmic symbolism in the ancient world, the Hebrew Bible included.[3] There are, to be sure, impressive parallels between ancient views about temple complexes, the concept of rest, the symbolism of trees and so on, in Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures, and certain ideas in the Old Testament.

If we put to one side the vital question of the sufficiency of Scripture for the moment and concentrate on the issue at hand, we can put together a decent picture of the way the ancient Jews, among other peoples, saw the temple as symbolizing the universe.  But whether the Bible ought to be thought of as reflecting this same outlook, as some evangelicals claim[4], is an altogether separate question.

The basic concept involved is well expressed in the following quotations:

It is now widely known that archaeological ruins and texts from the Ancient Near East portray ancient temples as small models of heavenly temples or of the universe conceived of as a temple.[5]

The setting for the world’s true story is the cosmos God made.  In this cosmos he intends to be known and worshiped by his image and likeness.  In that sense, the world God made is a cosmic temple.  Within the cosmic temple God planted a garden, and it appears that [man] was charged to expand the borders of that garden until the glory of the Lord covered the dry ground as the waters covered the sea.[6]

The Ancient Near Eastern temples are also compatible with the…conclusion that the three sections of Israel’s temple represented the three parts of the cosmos.[7]

Our thesis is that Israel’s temple was composed of three main parts, each of which symbolized a major part of the cosmos: (1) the outer court represented the habitable world where humanity dwelt; (2) the holy place was emblematic of the visible heavens and its light sources; (3) the holy of holies symbolized the invisible dimension of the cosmos, where God and his heavenly hosts dwelt.[8], [9]

Eden as a Cosmic Temple?

    Greg Beale, who has been at the forefront of this movement, thinks that seeing Eden as a temple, fated for worldwide expansion, has a lot of promise, helping us to comprehend the Bible’s grand narrative.  His case is built up from allusions, hints, strands, and possible scenarios.  Beneath the surface it is all very speculative, and he often has to qualify his assertions (“possibly”, “perhaps”, “no explicit evidence”).  Rarely does he point to plain and clear statements of Scripture to prove his thesis.  For example, if one asks, where is this idea most clearly spelled out?  Beale answers with Ezekiel 28:

Ezekiel 28:18 is probably, therefore, the most explicit place anywhere in canonical literature where the Garden of Eden is called a temple.[10]

The passage in question reads:

You defiled your sanctuaries by the multitude of your iniquities, by the iniquity of your trading; therefore I brought fire from your midst; it devoured you, and I turned you to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all who saw you. – Ezekiel 28:18

As Beale explains in another place, “Ezek. 28:18 says that the sin of the glorious figure ‘profaned your sanctuaries,’ which alludes to Eden as a temple being profaned.”[11]

The Hebrew word miqdashim (“sanctuaries”) is plural, but it may be that the plural is used simply for emphasis[12], so that in itself does not derail the identification of Adam as the “glorious figure” or Eden as a profaned temple.”  But everyone will admit that the passage has been given many interpretations, and the “Adam interpretation” feels less than airtight.[13]  Bruce Waltke believes that, “the description of the king of Tyre is not apt for Adam.  Rather, the imagery fits Satan quite well; an angelic cherub in God’s court…”[14]  When all is said and done, if Ezekiel 28:18 is the most unambiguous place where Eden is referred to as a temple the thesis does not enjoy a very solid biblical foundation.  (more…)

King & Kingdom in Genesis?

This was written as an Excursus for a chapter in the book ‘The Words of the Covenant’

I am well aware of the view held by many respected scholars who believe that “the Kingdom of God” is the main theme of the Bible.[1]  But it must be admitted that it has not been an overarching theme of Genesis, and therefore of the first several thousand years of history.  Though it may be rightly intimated from the image of God of Genesis 1:26-27, and the creation mandate of Genesis 1:28f., that man was to rule over the world for His Maker[2], the idea of a kingdom of God had not yet taken clear shape in the biblical text, especially from the time of the Fall.[3]  What we see, rather, is the story of fallen humanity moving away from their Creator and His program, and a providential counter-movement through Noah to Abram finalizing at some future point in a coming potentate from Judah.  Hence, the kingdom theme emerges very gradually from the Hebrew narrative.  Surely a more prominent theme has been the figure of the coming “Deliverer King”[4] who is promised at the beginning and the end of the Book (Gen. 3:15; 49:8-10).

I am prepared to accept this thesis about the important status of the kingdom of God, but only if one allows certain objections to have their full weight.  The fact is that there are several reasons which militate against this opinion, and it withstands them only on the strength of the totality of the Bible’s broader teaching about the Messiah, seen mainly through the prophetic writings in both Testaments.  Let me unpack these objections below.

Firstly, one cannot brush over the fact that the Book of Genesis places little or no direct emphasis on the kingdom of God, and it is only through making the term do several chores at once that an argument from Genesis can be made.  By “kingdom of God” are we to mean the universal rule of God over all He has made?  If so then I respectfully point out that we are asserting a truism about providence which hardly requires an argument[5]: God is going to be God!  Of course, what can be said about God in this sense cannot be said of man.

Secondly, we might agree with “the recent scholarly consensus [which] largely contends that the kingdom, while present in some sense, nevertheless still awaits a future consummation at the second coming of Jesus Christ, although the kingdom came in provisional fashion at his first advent.”[6]  That is how many people view it, but it requires us to read Genesis, and in fact the Old Testament, with the New Testament already in hand; something which my method here does not permit me to do.

Thirdly, if we define the kingdom of God as God’s reign over the earth and mankind in fellowship with us as vice-regents, we shall have to admit that such a kingdom is eschatological; that it is the goal of the Bible’s eschatology.  Hence, teleology and eschatology move towards the realization of the kingdom of God.  It has not been manifested yet in history.  As Saucy observed,

God’s kingly rule is brought to the earth through the mediation of the kingdom of the Messiah… This pervasive mediatorial kingdom program, ultimately fulfilled through the reign of Christ, is the theme of Scripture and the unifying principle of all aspects of God’s work in history.[7] 

With this I agree, and here the realization of the kingdom of God and the Creation Project are virtually synonymous.  Here one encounters the “mediatorial” idea where God entrusts aspects of the nascent kingdom of God to chosen vessels (e.g. Abraham, David, etc.).  I think this view has been successfully championed by men like Peters, McClain, Pentecost, Saucy, and Vlach.  But in my opinion the actual kingdom of God, understood as “the earthly kingdom of Messiah” is proleptic; that is, seen in advance of its materialization.  It is anticipated more than it is perceived.  The Law of Moses and the throne of David provide concrete yet imperfect instances, not so much of Messiah’s kingdom, but rather of intensified illustrations of God’s universal reign in a fallen world.  Understood this way it is rightly called “mediatorial.”

We find a theocracy, but not the one ushered in at the end of history by “he who comes to whom it belongs” (Gen. 49:10).[8]  If we wish to look for such a kingdom where God’s blessings are mediated to the nations, we will have to wait.    However one sees it, “the earthly kingdom” will always suffer from contingency until the prophesied Messiah comes to rule.[9]

This is why I prefer to think of the arrival of the coming King as the telos of the Bible. It is the King who brings about the realization of the Kingdom of God.  For example, in the time of Jesus, as we shall see, the kingdom was thought of mainly in terms of the future, not the present.  The same is true in the Prophets, as I hope to show.  The mediatorial kingdom view prior to the advent is at best a shadow of the actual kingdom of Messiah.[10]  The consummation of the mediatorial kingdom will be when it is “brought into conformity with God’s Universal Kingdom (see 1 Cor 15:24, 28).”[11]  It oughtn’t to surprise us that the idea emerges as the person of the Messiah comes more and more into focus in the progress of revelation.

King and Kingdom

The term “kingdom” occurs only twice in Genesis (Gen. 10:10; 20:9), and neither usage concerns the kingdom of God.  Genesis 3:15 is at best a pale intimation of this kingdom, with nothing of any substance on the issue being broached to Noah or Abraham.[12]  What can be asserted is that God’s covenant with Abraham included the grant of a land in perpetuity to Abraham’s heirs (Gen. 15).

It is a similar story with the word “king” (melek).  Although it is used many times in Genesis it is not employed to designate the coming Ruler over the future kingdom until Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 24:7.  Added to this, and as was already noted above, Genesis 41:40 is the sole mention of “throne” in Genesis, and that is a reference to Pharaoh’s throne.  So, to repeat, we find no real development of the kingdom of God concept in the Genesis period.[13]   (more…)

The Apocalyptic (Wrong) Turn (Pt.3)

Part Two

Going Far Beyond the Bible

All of the major advocates of apocalyptic gather data, albeit not exclusively, from outside of the Bible.  Brent Sandy demonstrates his procedure of going beyond Scripture when he says, “In order to understand the language of apocalyptic, we must review the period of world history relevant to Daniel 8 and then examine Daniel’s language.”[1]  He is not alone.  Notice what is entailed in this statement about the genre:

Apocalypse was a literary genre that flourished in the period between the OT and NT (though apocalyptic visions of the future can be found in the OT as well as the NT).[2] 

Here is another statement from the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery:

Apocalyptic forms of expression were very common outside the Bible, and contemporary readers need to become familiar with that mindset to understand biblical apocalyptic literature and symbolism.[3]

What the author of this article is saying is that one cannot comprehend large parts of Daniel and Revelation, not to mention certain parts of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Matthew, and some Pauline letters[4], unless one goes beyond the Bible for clues of how the ancients used this sort of imagery.

Holding to this understanding of apocalyptic involves an implicit denial of the sufficiency of Scripture.   Whenever we go foraging into profane history, for example, to try to determine genre[5], ideas which are foreign to the Bible are inevitably brought to bear on the text of the Bible, thus essentially undermining the Bible’s own ability to explain itself.

We encounter this again in a recent evangelical work:

Old Testament apocalyptic literature belongs to a genre of Jewish writing that includes both canonical and non-canonical texts.  For a proper understanding of this genre within the context of its historical development, neither of these groups of texts should be examined in isolation from the other.[6]

Notice the position that inspired Scripture is being forced to take.  It must remain content to be analyzed alongside of non-inspired writings and until the accidental artifacts of ancient history have been sifted through.   But letting the Bible be its own interpreter clears away a lot of confusion.  For one thing, one sees the likelihood that later Jewish apocalypses (e.g. The Book of the Watchers; The Testament of Levi) are attempts to copy the biblical writings and put them to use in circumstances of hardship and hopelessness.[7]

Again, if we are going to insist that it is wrong to think of apocalyptic as serving up specific prophetic content, but rather leaving us with an image or impression of something it seems natural that we ask just how God will wrap up history, since basically all the passages that speak of it are lumped together as “apocalyptic” texts.  Will He do it by “rolling up the heavens as a scroll” (Isa. 34:4)?  Will Jesus really come “in the clouds with great power” (Mk. 13:26)?  Will the armies of heaven really follow Him (Rev. 19:14)?  Will there be a great earthquake (Rev. 16:18)?  Will the moon become blood red (Rev. 6:12)?    The answer coming from the apocalyptic corner is No, these are symbols meant to create impressions.  For the record, my answer is Yes!

Reminding Ourselves of the Bible’s “Wild” Worldview

Let us assemble some of the things that people actually saw and experienced in Old Testament times.  It would be a salutary exercise to ponder these events before considering apocalyptic as a genre. (more…)